Making a case for vernacular education in Malaysia

I am writing about a matter that is close to my heart and been unspoken for a long time, despite reading countless baseless allegations towards vernacular education system in Malaysia.

I studied for 6 years in SRJK(C ) and then a year in remove class before moving onto 5 years of SRP and SPM Syllabus, then another 2 years in STPM; finally 3 years in a United Kingdom base accountancy studies. I have had 6, 8 and 3 years in Chinese, Bahasa Malaysia and English medium of instruction environment respectively.

Over the years SRJK (C ) and SRJK (T) are accused by opportunists and stir agents as the reason for racial disharmony in Malaysia. These loudspeakers probably never studied in vernacular schools and never lived a day of their lives as a student in a vernacular schools, yet strangely see themselves qualified to slander and libel something that they are ill equipped to judge.

As far as I know, BTN’s racist slurs initiators, cow head protesters in Shah Alam, those 2 reporters who sneaked into churches and violated a prayer session probably did not hail from SRJK (C) or SRKJ (T). The current epicenter of communal rallying cry, Ibrahim Ali, surely did not emerge from any vernacular education system, albeit once feeding himself off Vincent Tan of Berjaya gaming fame.

I am proud of my SRJK(C) roots. I remember being taught to respect the environment, respect our elders and teachers, love our country and befriend with Ali, Fatimah, Muthu and Letchumy. I also remember singing the national anthem and state anthem plus the “Setia” song with gusto, believing there is no mother land except the one I was standing on, then and now.

There are many people who have emerged from vernacular school systems and have done the nation proud. Malaysian artists like Eric Moon, Angelica Lee (voted Asia’s best actress), Ah Niu (talented singer, composer and movie producer which "Kacang Merah Love Story" that received raved review in China), Michael Wong (great song writer, singer producer who have fans in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and mentored other Malaysian talents like Fish Leong), Victor Wong, Mohan (an Indian chap who sang in Hokkien and Mandarin so well that I heard he is making a living in China) and Tan Bee Keow (an Indian lass from Telok Intan who won a talent search contest in Singapore) and lately Jess Lee who overcame a host of international competitors to emerge as champion in a tough singing competition in Taiwan.

These people are creators of beautiful produce, not the ugly destroyers like their slanderous detractors, have made their names in Asia Pacific and proclaim themselves as Malaysians. They certainly present a better image of Malaysia then the likes of Ibrahim Ali, surely.

I do find myself sufficiently motivated to reply certain points written by this individual featured in Malaysia Today:


John Mallot's WSJ Article: A Response

By Umar Mukhtar

…the national-vernacular dichotomy in the school system has resulted in precisely the kind of early-age racial segregation that the busing laws, upheld by the U.S. supreme court justices, sought to eradicate in America.

• as mentioned above, I testify that I was taught to love my country and my fellow countrymen regardless of race and creed; not to distance myself from them. I do not think Umar can produce even half a slice of proof that vernacular school teachers actively telling non-Malay students to be antagonistic to others.

if there is any divisive element, look no further that those race-base political parties that run controlled media like their political parties’ mouth piece and profiting from dealing in racial politics over 5 decades.

• the celebrity casts of Ibrahim Ali, BTN indoctrinators, Awang Selamat and the likes probably never studied in a vernacular school before

The racial polarisation that we see so shamelessly capitalised on by politicians in Malaysia today is partly, if not wholly, attributable to that segregation in the school system. When you see not a few non-Malays unashamedly, even proudly, declaring that they cannot properly speak Malay, the national language, you can bet your life that these are the ones who graduated from the vernacular schools.
• I would like to know where in his hallucinations did Umar Mukhtar meet non-Malays who are proud of their language deficiency. Look, Chinese have strong survival instinct. If learning Bahasa Malaysia is necessary to cari makan in Malaysia, we will do whatever it takes to secure our rice bowl. My parents were civil servants schooled during the colonial times and both re-tooled themselves by studying Bahasa Malaysia to keep their jobs.

• If he failed to produce a proper identity of a culprit, he is guilty of libel and the credibility of his long article will crumble like a deck of cards

• When I got into secondary school, we fear getting a P7 in Bahasa Malaysia in SPM exam more than death itself. I had a friend who memorized kamus dewan, all of us took BM tuition classes and I read countless magazines (Dewan Masyarakat) and newspapers (after 3 days of puking over Utusan Malaysia, I took up Bacaria and loved the juicy writings- in case Umar asks, I scored an A1 in my SPM BM and included a pantun in my syarahan)

The Chinese community jealously guard the existence of the vernacular schools,
• Chinese basing time and true colour emerging? In Chinese, we have a saying, “no matter how deprived we are, we shall never deprived our children of education”. That is why early immigrants escaping war, persecution, starvation and famine, despite having very little, proceeded to built schools and provide education for their off spring.

To guard these existence, is to value, salute, improve upon the sweat, sacrifice and contribution of our forefathers. Asia Values require us to respect and honour our elders, now what is wrong about preserving and improving upon their sacrifices?

• China’s 5,000 years of history and culture presents many valuable lessons. The Prophet Mohammed (Peace by upon him) mentioned that if seeking knowledge requires traveling even to China, so be it.

1Malaysia Prime Minister also taken up a famous Chinese proverb which came from a famous administrator of yore:

"There is a Chinese saying, 'Xian tian xia zhi you er you, hou tian xia zhi le er le', (resolve the people's problems before they suffer difficulties). Bring joy to the people before everyone is able to live happily."

So is Najib dividing the nation by quoting lessons from Chinese education?

That proverb only inspire me; not make me feel like distancing myself from Ali, Muthu, Xavier or Gurmit. If the slandering non-thinkers think otherwise, it is no point beri bunga kepada kera.

Often the excuse given by the Chinese for insisting that their children go to vernacular schools and for more such schools to be built is the poor quality of national schools. Surely the solution is not to build more racially-segregated schools but to join hands with Malays and Indians in insisting and ensuring that the quality of national schools be improved for the benefit of children of all ethnicities.
• Nowadays there are Malays sending their children to SRJK(C) because of the quality of the education there and the ability to speak and write Mandarin is an important skill in 21st century due to emergence of PRC. Even the Caucasians are at it.

• As for national schools, before we even talk about all races joining hands to improve their quality, issues involving Siti Inshah, Iskandar bin Fadeli , and the other guy in Kedah remained unresolved satisfactorily.

If the Deputy Prime Minister cum Education Minister dare not act against such agents of disharmony, how can we instill confidence in parents and students?

"Education minister has no power to act against officers, says Muhyiddin"

When a “Mandarin speakers only” requirement is stated in job advertisements, even for jobs which do not conceivably require much language skills, that surely is equivalent to saying “Chinese only”.
• Nonsense, Mandarin Speaking is a skill set. “Bumiputra is encouraged to apply” statement definitely specify the correct race is a prerequisite but Mandarin Speakers only means people who can speak Mandarin.

If Mandarin speaking is required for operational reasons, for instance, liasing with investors, customers, suppliers and staff from China and Taiwan, it is reasonable for employers to hire communication skills. Again, Umar probably do not know the operational requirement of the position advertised and yet form such a general and slanderous comment.

It is really Katak Bawah Tempurung to disregard the importance of learning Chinese language and culture as the PRC, like it or not, is the key economic player in decades to come.

I have yet to hear of any Chinese leader asking that the Chinese to join in and contribute towards the betterment of national schools.
• We are already paying taxes that goes to national schools without problem

Vernacular schools do not have secured and stable source of funding hence required countless annual fund raising activities. This is the result of Malaysia’s political landscape; it is necessary for the Chinese community to spend more resource on preserving the vernacular schools as they are left to their own devices. Surely one cannot be denied the chance of self preservation?

• If anything, in DAP’s Economic Bureau’s alternative budget for 2010, DAP (happily slandered as “Chinese Party” by certain people) proposed RM250 million to secure public amenities for neglected primary and secondary schools, book vouchers amounting to RM160 million for household with income below RM1,000 among other initiatives to strengthen education sector of Malaysia.


  1. written by anakmalaysia777, February 11, 2011 18:18:17

    We are Tamils. My grand nephew just finished six years of primary school and has entered a secondary school some six kilometers away. The parents of his Chinese classmates transport him to his secondary school everyday now as they all attend the same school. Is that racism.

    They all speak and write Bahasa as well as any other children in the school system.

    Are these people racist? The only thing the parents desire is a good education for the children. Cannot you say something positive about this UMAR?

    Tamby, I once hired a tamil girl as my subordinate and she turned out to be one of my best decision ever..when we dealt with Indian nationals (we coined the term, Indian Indians, for our own work jargon) she informed me that she felt more at home speaking to the chinese and malays in our KL office.

    Similarly when I speak to mainland chinese, I feel less familiar compared to my fellow Malaysians....

    We are already very much at home. there is no such thing as balik tongsan or Bollywood. We are already home

  2. written by Eskay345, February 11, 2011 20:05:29

    That Umar bugger must have definitely attended pre-Tadika centres and religious classes run by some lady religious teachers who keep drumming into their young minds that it's haram to mix with the Nons.
    Continuing their schooling in Sekolah Kebangsaan Schools and topping-up with BTN brainwashing filth to graduate as a 100% racist umnoputra.
    A product of Bolehland.
    +14 ...
    written by educationist, February 11, 2011 19:39:05

    Wee Tak, a very eloquent response indeed!!
    But the problem with people like that Umar chap and the UMNOputras is that they based their arguments not on statement of facts. They use sweeping statements and unsubstantiated information as the the truth and only the truth.
    Your case for vernacular education in Malaysia is carried!!

  3. Thanks Educationist for your kind words. I am not worried about idiotic sweeping statements but how many unthinking people would actually buy the arguments

  4. These kind of people can be describe in one term, ' wang pang-pang '.

  5. Surely kids who are so use to speaking in mandarin, tamil or malay and mixing with kids of their own race can't be comfortable mixing with other races. How can they be when they seldom use the other language(other than their own during any social interaction ? A very good example are those English speaking versus Mandarin, Tamil or Malay speaking . You will find those english speaking talking amongst themselves, irregardless of race, however put the mandarin, tamil and malay speakers in the room...sure enough there would start talking amongst themselves in the language they are most comfortable with.Since the bulk of the same race go to the same language school, segregation occurs. When this happens, racism will set in . Heck, even those of the same race will polarised according to their school background. Banana man is one example. And the Hindus, don't see the Christian indians as indians either eg. HINDRAF.So please don't say that vernacular schools do not contribute to the segregation. Maybe not 100% but it certainly ain't helping in building unity and understanding amongst all race and culture.

    I have been in a room where the chinese and the tamil educated start talking in their own language amongst themselves and leave out the rest. They can speak english and BM, alright but they are just more comfortable in the language and the people of the same culture .When this happens a lot of misunderstanding can happen.It's easier to TELL a person that the other person is your enemy, when the person doesn't know you and when we continue to alienate them.

  6. Anom,

    Your personal experience suggest a bunch of people who are not social conscious. I have been with a bunch of Philippinos and immediately they switched from Tagalog to English when I joined them. It is just a simple awareness and common courtesy.

    It has more to do with the upbringing and value that we put in ourselves. You could have just suggested to them to speak in a language that everybody knows. If people are socially inept, just correct them on the spot. If they refuse to take an advice, I would say they are not worth our time and 8 times out of 10, I believe they would be embarrassed and correct themselves.

    For me, sometimes when a malay sales person spoke to me in English, I answered back in Malay because it is a language that they are more happy to do business in and I can get them to perform better. So there is a flip side to your observation.

    I think it is just a simple message in schools : use BM when there are a multi-racial crowd. The education ministry can think of more inter-school competitions in sports, debates, esay writing etc to let our children mingle more, because at present we spend too much time in tuition classes and mugging the books away.Our children are not being developed in a holistic manner.

    Why give up the multi-language capability which is a form of national competitiveness? If there are a few selfish individuals, you want to bring the whole system down? I heard some Malay chaps speaking in dialect to the extend that it was not bahasa baku and I just let it be because it was a time for them to have a good chat among themselves.

    The real reason for racial divide goes beyond education. If you want schools base on racial delineation to be merged into 1 common base, then what about the race base political parties? MIC, MCA, UMNO? Their different statements to different audience on different occassions are remarkable.

    What about the recent spew of mind boggling contradictions from Dr Mahathir, from Vision 2020 to non-Malays must accept Tanah Melayu belongs to the Malay? Then what is the legal status of all those title deed pledge to banks to secure loans? What about the legitamacy of all those sales and purchase agreements, quit rent and assessment bills?

    Do not fall into the trap set by sweeping emotional and non-logic base rallying call of the selfish and sickeningly motivated.

    So is the sweeping statements by Ridhuan Tee, Ibrahim Ali, BTN indoctrinators not a worse form of racism?

    Do you also want to ban newspapers of different languages and put hundred and thousands of people out of a job?

  7. Mr Lee, the fact that you study in a vernacular school explains a lot. First and foremost your loyalty and whatever fond memories you have for the school long time ago, has lock your minda . You therefore bear some "favoritism and conservativeness" in your outlook.
    Social inept is one thing, real disdain for the other race is a very different matter altogether. I don't even want to repeat some of the comments I have heard from this group of people (same race) but vernacular school background.

    A language to me is a means of communication, not a means to "show off" or to make the other person feel uncomfortable. I switch with ease when speaking to different language groups of people, when I sense they are uncomfortable although I am "NO Expert" in their language. This I believe is very important. Most cases, people in the position to do so, do not do so but insist that we speak their language, although they can actually speak more than one language.Not pointing any fingers at any particular group but all groups of people.It takes two hands to clap.

    Social ineptness is very common in vernacular schools, I noted.Don't you agree ? Perhaps, they should teach this social ques in vernacular schools.They don't teach that in my school but I sensed it, because people often do that to me to ( they don't know I understand what they're talking and I took pains to learn the language) Silly people who assume that just because not of same race, so don't understand ?) Wake up.
    You also accused MCA, MIC and UMNO of race based politics and these are the very parties that are encouraging vernacular schools remain intact.That says a lot about you. You are blinded by your good old days vernacular school bygone days. Those day we are more trusting of our fellow Malaysians of all races. Now, when someone starts speaking in a language we don't understand in our presence, we DO GET SUSPICIOUS. Won't you ? The FACT remains, vernacular schools do not " CREATE More Understanding and Awareness among all race"
    Yes, vernacular schools are more "academically inclined" but it doesn't mean national schools cannot be more academically inclined when all our children study under the same school system.
    Sharing resources is the way to go.Vernacular schools can learn a lot from national schools too. Gangsters are very rampant in vernacular schools too.What do you think ?

  8. Mr Lee, a language is a language. It can be taught in any types of school( including a national school) , not necessary to set up a school specifically for that language only.The one school system is meant to create more understanding amongst all races. What better way to do it, when the eat, play and study together ? It's objective is not meant to abolish other languages. BM is already the national language (spoken in all government departments) and it's a compulsory pass subject in all school system presently.
    So why be afraid that BM will take over other languages ? This is what happens when the OBJECTIVE for the one school system is "hijacked" and turned into a political or a race issue. Can we put language aside and put UNDERSTANDING and AWARENESS amongsts all race as the MAIN OBJECTIVE here ?

  9. Anon, I can see that you are a very single minded person.