In the midst of criticisms against vernacular schools, especially the national-type Chinese schools (SJKC), there are Malay parents who send their children to the Chinese schools, seeing these as the best choice.

Of late, there has been a massive influx of non-Chinese students being enrolled into Chinese schools all over the country. While some parents find that the quality of education in these vernacular schools to be superior in comparison to national schools, others are convinced that being proficient in Mandarin is the key to future success for their children, hence the choice of SJKC. 

The increasing willingness among Malay parents to enrol their children in vernacular schools rather than national schools is due to several factors

1.0 High Level Of Discipline

E Nasaruddin Muhammad, who sent all four of his children to Chinese vernacular schools, said that the high level of discipline and strict learning methods had shaped his children to be more mature and think critically.

He said the decision to send his children to a Chinese vernacular school was based on his own experience having attended both SJKC and national school (SK) systems.

Comparing both school systems, Nasaruddin was of the opinion that teachers at SJKCs tend to be more encouraging when it comes to students asking questions.

This, he added, was starkly different to his experience in national schools, where students were often scolded for doing so.

“By sending our children to SJKC, they become more independent, mature and disciplined. Teachers teach them to think, rather than learning solely from books.

“I have experience learning at both SK and SJKC. As students, we need to learn by understanding, not by memorisation.

“Because when we understand, we can think about what is right and what is not. We also can think of new ideas and think outside the box,” Nasaruddin said when speaking about the strictness of his teachers in SJKC.

Nasaruddin said that they had even denied him permission to leave class during recess time and would cane him when he had done something wrong.

Based on the Education Ministry’s statistics last year, the percentage of non-Chinese students at SJKC had reached around 18 percent (approximately 93,600 out of a total of 520,000 students) and the number is inclusive of Malay students.

2.0 Accustomed To Heavy Workloads

Former SJKC student Joe Shekin had initially felt alienated when she was first sent to SJKC by her parents.

However, according to the panellist, she then slowly understood why they wanted to send her to an unfamiliar school.

Working as a Mandarin language teacher now, Joe said her parents had been teaching her to make friends with people from all races, and this had indirectly helped her improve her social skills.

Although some of her Malay friends had questioned her choice to teach Mandarin, which was seen as if she regarded the language as being more important, Joe said she had never let the criticism bother her.

She described that such thinking was akin to the Malay proverb ‘seperti katak di bawah tempurung‘ (being ignorant).

“I, as a Mandarin teacher, was once questioned why didn’t I prioritise the Arab language instead.

“I want to change the attitude towards SJKCs, which has always been so negative (among the non-Chinese),” she said.

Speaking of her experience studying in an SJKC, she said she previously questioned her parents’ decision to send her there.

This is due to the heavy burden of schoolwork compared to her friends who had gone to national schools.

“But when I got into university, I was thankful because I have been used to having lots of assignments. That is the difference. Of course, when I was still a kid I would make a fuss of it (having lots of schoolwork).

“We were trained to be disciplined. Whatever challenges we face in the future, we will be tougher and get used to them because we have been trained since we were young,” she said.

3.0 Commercial Value & Global Economy

The National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) deputy president, Abd Ghani Zainudin, commented on this, acknowledging that there was now a significant increase in the number of Malay parents who send their children to vernacular schools.

“They see children studying in vernacular schools as having advantages compared to national schools, especially in terms of mastering Mandarin,” he said.

He added that in general, Malays placed a high value on language mastery, thus studying Mandarin would give their children an advantage, particularly in future commercial interactions.

“Moreover, economically, I see that this country has a good relationship with China, and therefore those who are capable of mastering Mandarin certainly have advantages,” he said.

4.0 Quality Of Teaching And Learning (PnP) In Science And Mathematics

Abd Ghani said, in terms of management, vernacular schools, be it primary or secondary, had advantages in terms of fundraising for the school and for student development.

He said most vernacular school alumni were willing to contribute to school development and are seen to be more determined and better organised in launching various activities for the benefit of students.

Therefore, he added, it was no surprise that such matters attracted the attention of many parents.

For the Malaysian Muslim Teachers Association (i-Guru) president Mohd Azizee Hassan, he acknowledged that the parents’ desire for their children to master another language had influenced them to send their children to vernacular schools.

He said, in line with current economic trends, many parents sought to help their children get an advantage, such as by learning Mandarin.

“Parents now see Malaysia as a pluralistic country, so they also want their children to learn other languages for economic and future career purposes.

“Furthermore, the improved quality of teaching and learning (PnP) in science and mathematics, particularly in vernacular schools, has motivated them to send their children to such institutions,” he added.

5.0 Great Impact On Attitude, Thinking, And Increased Learning Diligence

Mohd Azizee emphasised that this was further compounded by the facilities provided in vernacular schools, which seemed to be a lot better.

A teacher at a national school, she said she deliberately chose to send her children to a vernacular school.

“I feel this can have a great impact on attitude, thinking, and increased learning diligence.

“The advantage of children studying in vernacular schools can help them master Mandarin and English well because both languages are the mediums of instruction in such schools,” she said.

She emphasised that her personal experience in witnessing her children’s performance and achievements in school was commendable and on par with other students.

6.0 Islamic Education & Halal Food

She said, generally, many Malay parents were concerned about sending their children to vernacular schools due to certain issues such as the availability of halal food, and also whether Islamic Education subjects were offered in vernacular schools.

“Usually, the main issue is about halal or non-halal food, and whether Islamic Education is prioritised or not.

“In fact, the school canteen in SJKC does provide halal food, but I provide food from home for my children, and in terms of Islamic Education subjects, there are male and female teachers teaching Kafa (Islamic Education) in vernacular schools,” she said.

7.0 Better Facilities And Learning Environment

In addition to language, parents are attracted to the well-equipped infrastructure and organised alumni support found in many vernacular schools in the country. These factors contribute to a conducive learning environment, fostering better engagement and potentially leading to improved academic performance.

“Vernacular schools… [have] advantages in terms of fundraising for the school and student development… most vernacular school alumni… are seen to be more determined and better organised,” noted Abd Ghani.

8.0 Fostering cultural understanding and openness

Many Malay parents are also realising that attending a vernacular school exposes their children to different cultures and languages fostering understanding and appreciation for diversity and preparing them for a better life in a multicultural society like Malaysia.

9.0 Latest Technology & Well-Maintained Infrastructure

Noraini, who is also Universiti Malaya STEM Centre adviser, said many of the Chinese schools she had dealt with had strong backing from their parent-teacher associations and alumni and instilled a sense of belonging in the students.

“While they use the same curriculum as the national schools, vernacular schools expose the latest technology to their pupils and teachers, as well as provide well-maintained infrastructure such as science laboratories.

“As a result, the students are more confident in using the equipment as well as explaining about technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of things (IoT).”

She added that a conducive learning environment was a crucial element in school that would help keep the children motivated in their studies.

10.0 Wider Career Opportunities

National Union Teaching Profession secretary-general Fouzi Singon said some parents tended to choose vernacular schools because they believed their children’s education, in terms of culture and mother tongue, would not be affected.

“They feel that it is better because they still learn 3M (reading, writing and counting) in addition to being able to socialise and communicate in Mandarin .

“I think now is the right time for a third language to be offered to pupils in national schools.

“This will offer parents the option for their children to learn and master the language,” he said, adding that parents had begun to open up wider career opportunities for their children with the mastery of Mandarin.

Educationist Datuk Teo Kok Seong said many parents enrolled their children in the vernacular schools due to the quality of education.

“Many Malay parents I spoke to also cited excellent work culture among the teachers at Chinese schools, as well as good leadership by their headmasters.

“I have posed this question before; and the ministry, in admitting this in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, said we should see improvement by the third wave, between 2021 and 2025, with the national schools becoming the school of choice regardless of ethnicity,” said Teo.

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