How the govt victimises vernacular schools

Apartheid was not all about physical segregation but more of separate and unequal social development.

By Dr. Boo Cheng Hau

It looks like the government’s game plan is to have Chinese primary schools implode from overcrowding.

Funds allocated for vernacular schools remain at the same level under the 10th Malaysia Plan (2011-2015) as previously under the 9th Malaysia Plan even though the number of pupils have increased tremendously over the past five years.

The 10th Plan does not disclose the ratio of government appropriation to national schools relative to vernacular schools. Nonetheless, if we were to examine the 9th Malaysia Plan (2005-2010), the figures are revealing.

Under the 9th Plan, primary schools as a whole were allocated a budget of RM4.83 billion for development. Enrolment in Chinese primary schools was 20.96% of the total number of primary school pupils. Going by fair proportionality, Chinese-medium schools should have gotten one-fifth of the funding, or roughly RM1 billion-plus out of the RM4.83 billion.

Instead the Chinese primary schools only received a meagre RM170 million.

There were 70,000 non-Chinese pupils in these Chinese primary schools during the 9th Malaysia Plan period. The majority of the non-Chinese pupils comprised Malays. Therefore, a good number of Bumiputeras ended up victimized by the government’s biased treatment of Chinese-medium schools.

In fact, if we were to look back at the 6th, 7th and 8th Malaysia Plans, we can see a trend where the funding for Chinese-medium schools had been progressively cut.

Appropriation of government funds to primary schools (1991-2005)

Type of primary school
Overall student enrolment
Overall student enrolment (%)
Actual state funds allocated 1991-2005 (RM/million)

If the student enrolment ratio had been followed

Actual fund received per student (RM)
National primary school (Malay)  6,210,055  74.86%  6,869.00 (95.04%)  5,448.80  1,106.10
Chinese national-type primary school   1,794,357  21.63%  262.30 (3.66%)  1,541.10  146.10

national- type primary school

 291,595  3.51%  95.50 (1.32%)  237.00  327.50
 8,296,007  100%  7,226.80

Source: Sin Chew Jit Poh (Nov 24, 2005)

Earlier, in 2005, Chinese primary schools accounted for about 21% of total enrolment, including more than 60,000 non-Chinese (mainly Malay) pupils.

If we scrutinize the 15-year period covered by the 6th to 8th Malaysia Plans, we can see that Chinese primary schools received as little as 3.66% of the total government funding appropriated to primary schools.

Meanwhile Tamil primary school enrolment was 3.51% of primary school pupils but the SRJK (Tamil) only received 1.32% of the total government allocations for primary schools.

Still looking at this 15-year period covered by the three Plans, we can see that the national schools or SRK received public funding of RM1,106 per pupil (mostly Malays). The SRJK (C) received public funding of RM146 per pupil (mostly Chinese), and the SRJK (T), RM327.50 per pupil (Indians).

The disparity in treatment meted to children of different races is shocking! And heartbreaking.

Heads you win, tails we lose

Malay supremacists and diehard fans of the English language like to point their finger at Chinese and Tamil schools as the cause of racism and ‘disunity’.

But the fact is that more than 90% of Chinese parents and more than 50% of Indian parents send their children to Chinese and Tamil primary schools respectively. And about 80% of Chinese primary pupils and almost 100% of the Tamil proceed to Malay-medium secondary national schools.

Non-Malay parents elect for their children to have their early education in their mother tongue, and then switch to Malay and English-medium at secondary and tertiary levels.

The Malay supremacists have been actively campaigning for ‘Satu Sekolah untuk Semua’ with the slogan ‘Satu Bahasa, Satu Bangsa, Satu Negara’.

They want ‘one school’ for all pupils. The system will have ‘one language’ as the medium of instruction. This will ultimately see as its end result the creation of ‘one race’. Children of the ‘one race’ — Umno’s version of the ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ vision — studying in ‘one language’ will make for a ‘one united country’, or so the 1-Sekolah movement claims.

Just for the sake of speculation, let’s allow for a day when Chinese-medium and Tamil-medium primary schools are indeed abolished. Children of various races complete their primary education under the same roof. When all have finished Standard Six, where will they go for Form 1?

The bumiputeras will be given places at the ‘Sekolah Cemerlang’, the Malay-only residential schools and Mara Junior Science Colleges. The non-bumiputeras will continue to be denied places in these Malay-only secondary institutions.

It’s not that we’ve not had past experience to learn from. When Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim had wanted to open the door of UiTM — a predominantly one-race university — just a crack to allow the entry of non-Malays, there was a massive uproar and demonstrations by Malay ultra nationalists.

The Malay reaction reminded us of the white segregationists of the American south who demonstrated in the 1950s and 1960s demanding that ‘Coloureds’ be barred from their public schools and universities.

Affirmative action advocates protection of minority rights including those of language and culture. Our Malaysia Boleh brand of affirmative action, on the other hand, is discriminative and more deserving of the term apartheid. Over the last two decades, all the elite schools have been catering for one race only. If this is not apartheid, what is?

We have in black and white the last four Malaysia Plans which prove beyond doubt the great discrepancy in funding accorded the different language education streams.

Historians have concluded that it was not the physical segregation during the apartheid era that was horrifying. Physical seperation could be dismantled overnight when apartheid was over, but it was the conceptualised ‘separate development’ suppressing the development of coloured schools that had hurt the self-esteem, and social and educational advancement of the non-whites.

Apartheid was not all about physical segregation but more of separate and unequal social development.

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