Making a case for vernacular education in Malaysia

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.

By Lee Wee Tak

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?

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