Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Take On Chinese Schools



National schools will always be in the core of my character. I’ve grown up with and among all races and fully understand that while some racial stereotypes are unfortunately true, most are erroneous. It was through a sekolah kebangsaan that I got to know so many machas. It was through an SMK that I saw Malaysia for what it really was rather than a Chinaman’s enclave.



A Banana's Thoughts on Vernacular Education.

I am what most Chinese-educated people will call a Banana – yellow on the outside, white on the inside. I studied in a missionary school all my life and never learnt a word of Mandarin until I went to University Malaya. My father did not encourage nor discourage me from learning Mandarin. My grandfather did pressure me to take up Chinese from a young age but being a pompous know-it-all and getting by so comfortably in the local dialect, I brushed off his suggestions and have regretted it ever since.

I stepped into UM knowing not a word of Mandarin. I couldn’t communicate with the Chinese who spoke Hokkien, Hakka, Foochow and yes, Mandarin. I was like a foreigner in the midst of a Chinaman community. In a Malay-extremist land like UM, solidarity in something, anything was of utmost importance. Gradually, I picked up Mandarin and over the years, slowly learnt more from whoever I could learn from. I am still unable to debate with anyone in Mandarin and probably never will be able to, but I get by fairly well and for now that’ll suffice.

I never regretted studying in a missionary school though. It did after all, make me who I am today. I can sit through a whole episode of South Park and fully appreciate its sarcasm and wicked humor. I doubt I’d be able to do that if I were educated in Chung Ling.

Bananas may not think in Chinese, express themselves in Chinese or even listen to Chinese songs, but that doesn’t make them any less Chinese. Like I’ve said before, Ling Liong Sik speaks Chinese, speaks like a Chinese and looks like a Chinese, but everything he’s done during his tenure was never in the interest of the Chinese community. He sold off the Chinese race to UMNO while declaring himself more Chinese than the DAP. That’s beside the point, however.

National schools will always be in the core of my character. I’ve grown up with and among all races and fully understand that while some racial stereotypes are unfortunately true, most are erroneous. It was through a sekolah kebangsaan that I got to know so many machas. It was through an SMK that I saw Malaysia for what it really was rather than a Chinaman’s enclave.

That is why I was initially indifferent over DAP’s gung ho debates and demands for more Chinese schools. I could totally identify with a close friend’s condemnation of the Chinese schools, deeming it racist and not fostering national unity.

Look at the state of our national schools, however. With increasing Islamization, even the missionary schools are fast losing their golden identities. My own school is a shame, and don’t you La Sallians think that your schools are any better. It’s only a matter of time before UMNO and NEP come for you, and by then you have no Catholic brothers to stand up for you.

The top scorers in STPM are always from the national-type school. Even among the national schools, the top students were those with a background of vernacular education. There must be a certain distinct environment in Chinese schools that breeds such talent and diligence, a competitive atmosphere that is rarely felt in national schools these days.

Language is one’s identity and identity should never be lost. Language makes one more confident, more prepared to meet anyone anywhere. As a product of a national school, I will never find a place anywhere in China, and China is the country to do business with these days. Not knowing proper Mandarin is costly, not just to Chinese people but to any races in Malaysia and beyond. Language unites, and not every Chinaman speaks Hokkien and swears in Cantonese but would very well understand basic Mandarin.

Most students from Chinese schools may not speak English or Bahasa Malaysia as well as their national school colleagues. This was blatantly true when I entered first year of medical school. Our banana gang used to laugh and giggle when the Chinese school kid said ‘cigalette, led blood cell, and electile dysfunction’. As a university student, some of them could hardly speak a sentence of English without obvious grammatical error. As they progressed in university however, they make marvelous progress in their vocabulary and proficiency in English, though mostly limited to technical terms and expressions. They’d still be unable to appreciate the beauty in Chicken Soup for the Soul or express their thoughts about Barrack Obama though.

It was admirable nonetheless, and that’s exactly what’s truly respectable about these guys. They recognize their weaknesses and are keen to improve themselves while my dear friend is still so reluctant to take up Mandarin for communication’s sake.

If I appear to be over-patronising to the Chinese schools, I am not apologetic. I am sincere in my praises for the Chinese schools and I also have my reservations.

I will always support the DAP in its fight for Chinese education, though I may not do so with the same intentions or with equal gung ho spirit. I only believe that each of us has a right to choose the form of education that is most appropriate to our supposed needs and preferred identity.

Diversity is strength, not a weakness. Not all Chinese should be reading Naruto, and not all of them should be watching South Park.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

well said, hc...

Alan said...

The Chinese schools have slots in their timetable allotted for the English language (in compliance with the national education policy - COMPULSORY).. as such they have no excuse not to know English.. Is there an equal opportunity for the Mandarin language in the so-called missionary schools? (NOT COMPULSORY - even POL classes)

CK Tan said...

i was from the SRK and SM (not yet SK and SMK like now...) and i agree that allows me to have a better picture of the nation to be. im not banana cox i learned it on my own and i always believe that we should hav a choice. having said tat, i wish the vernacular schools should teach their students to be more open and receptive as i have uni coursemate who never speaks in malay before uni!!!