Education Race

Is Malaysia ready to get rid of Chinese and Tamil schools?

So… We all pretty much know how new DPM Zahid Hamidi is a purveyor of racial unity, so much so he has recently pushed for vernacular schools to be abolished. Doing this will improve unity in the country, he stated. But Lim Guan Eng said it would do the complete opposite and destroy unity. Aiyo, which is which now? Will it strengthen or destroy unity if we have single-stream national education?

Actually both sides do have their points, which we’ll be talking about in a bit. We know it’s a sticky subject and people might have different ideas about how we should revamp the education system, so there’s bound to be head butting. But is Malaysia ready to abolish all Chinese and Tamil schools?


Removing Chinese and Tamil schools can unite people…

cropped photo of chinese indian malay student

Yes, this pictured is badly cropped… but only coz we have something to reveal later. Pic from MCA

Imagine if a 7-year-old kid is only taught in Mandarin or Tamil, and speaks that same language to classmates, where probably only one majority race exist, for 6 to 11 years of his life… some people believe this creates polarisation. It wouldn’t be surprising if the kid sticks with his ‘own kind’ all the way into adulthood. Not ideal for unity, right?

So to remedy this, people who are AGAINST vernacular schools say we should look to countries with a single-stream school system – like Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand – and teach students using 1 standardised syllabus, in 1 language.

Even the Sultan of Johor wants Malaysia to follow Singapore’s example: “The use of English as a medium of instruction has been effective in the development of the country and uniting their people regardless of race or religion.”

Yeahh, we can see how standardising the learning medium will break down communication barriers. On one hand, the US is home to so many different ethnicities, but at the same time got issues of discrimination. If you look at Japan and Thailand on the other hand, they only have one culture and live cohesively with fellow countrymen. Aiya, if like that, then who do we blame for everything?

win liao meme tourists foreign workers vernacular schools


Question is… are we READY for it?

Even if anti-vernacular school flers have points for going fully national school, is it achievable? Are we ready to get rid of vernacular schools? Zahid himself said it would take a long time – “an entire generation” and not just “one or two decades”. Here are 3 possible reasons we may not be ready to do something so drastic:

1. Kebangsaan schools also got racism la

let pupils use school canteen during ramadan Free Malaysia Today

Article from Free Malaysia Today

Maybe it’s not just vernacular schools causing disunity – can we say that national schools are the perfect model of 1Malaysia? Some people agree that national schools, we’re not saying all, but some national schools are seen to only protect the interests of 1 particular group. 

We’ve spoken to some students from a sekolah menengah in Klang who told us that their Christian Fellowship club was not recognised because the principal wouldn’t sign off on it, so the students have to find other ways to meet up (sometime’s in a nearby student’s house). However, there’s no problem for the Persatuan Pendidikan Islam to meet up. They even have a spot in the school yearbook, smiling happily in the photo. But its neighbour schools in the vicinity don’t have the same issue setting up Christian clubs.

We also shouldn’t ignore the few cases that support this, like a principal telling her noisy students to “balik India dan China” and not letting non-Muslims eat during Ramadan. Sadly, many teachers have been reported for the same attitude. How will the problem go away if these educators are transferred around instead of being disciplined?

Of course, we’re not saying stuff like that doesn’t happen in vernacular schools. In a Chinese primary school, a girl was asked to sit next to a boy. He burst out crying and said, “I don’t want to sit next to a Malay girl.” This story was reported in The Star. Believe us, we looked for cases of racism in vernacular, only to find it’s reported more prevalently in national. If ugaiz know of any more cases, let us know so we can update it here.


2. We wanna learn other languages also, ok or not?

vernacular school protest supporter Image from The Malaysian Insider

Image from The Malaysian Insider

We remember during our school days, if teacher tangkap us for speaking in a language other than BM or English, we’ll kena demerit points or get yelled at. Dunno if it’s still the same now, do ugaiz know?

Anyway, in national schools, BM and English are compulsory, whereas learning Mandarin and Tamil is only applicable if the parents of at least 15 students request it. Well at least got chance to learn, but some schools set inconvenient timetables for the lessons, like night time! Some schools don’t even have the resources for this, like not having qualified teachers to teach languages.

Why is there not a single Tamil secondary school in Malaysia?

Last time, we even used to have Punjabi schools. Eventually they all closed because of the dwindling number of students. Now if students wanted to learn Punjabi language, the role falls mostly to Gurdwaras to teach them. Anyone would fear losing their culture and language – Malays, Chinese and Indians alike. So why not be fair to all and allow for proper lessons?


3. Parents believe in the quality of vernacular schools

original photo chinese indian malay students Image from MCA

Back to this earlier cropped pic… ehhh, why are Indians and Malays going to Chinese school??

Almost every article we researched talked about the quality of education. One of the reasons parents choose vernacular is because they believe kebangsaan schools fall short on standards and dedicated teachers. Mastering Mandarin is another reason! Do vernacular school kids perform better in life?

We couldn’t find any studies to support this, but we found an article where DAP’s national organising secretary Anthony Loke said some vernacular grads can speak better BM than some Umno leaders. However, we did find an article contradicting this, where Sin Chew Media Corp’s Executive Director Rita Sim stated vernacular schools have not produced English and BM-fluent students, and this is how they ‘end up as DVD sellers’.

Then what about Malay families who choose vernacular? Surely they did that for a reason right? According to stats from Dong Zong (the association of Chinese schools), 14% (or 80,000) of 600,000 students enrolled in Chinese schools are not Chinese. We couldn’t find stats on non-Indian students in Tamil schools. So PKR Youth chief Nik Nazmi said perhaps we should fix national schools and stop blaming vernacular.


Shouldn’t people have the right to choose?

The constitution protects the rights of all Malaysians. And guess what, vernacular education is also protected as a RIGHT. It’s rooted in the social contract that was established by Malaysia’s founding fathers and is guaranteed under the Education Act. In 1982, a BN MP was even convicted of sedition for suggesting to get rid of vernacular schools in Parliament in 1978! So if people still want Chinese and Tamil schools, shouldn’t they have the right to choose?

[interaction id=”55c087b7a52231f60789d58e”]


How did the story of vernacular schools begin? During the colonial era, Chinese and Indians built them up, with syllabuses and teachers from China and India. Then when our forefathers were developing the education system close to Malaysia’s independence, they had a few models to choose from:

  1. Barnes Report – Provides primary education for 6 years in BM and English, hoping over a period of time to get rid of Chinese and Tamil schools. This was favoured by the Malays, but not by the others.
  2. Fenn-Wu Report – Chinese schools would continue to operate and teach kids Chinese, BM and English, while national schools teach BM and English. This was favoured by the Chinese, but didn’t meet Malay approval.
  3. Razak Report – Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil schools at primary level, and Malay and English schools at secondary level.

So apamacam? Finally, everyone settled on the Razak Report which compromised for both sides. And this is the system we’re using today. So should we see this as a heritage to be celebrated? Or a division to unity?


Maybe the best deal is for us to meet on middle ground

et finger touch moon

Image from

Surprisingly, Najib and Mahathir agree!! Even Mahathir said national schools have been “hijacked” and people are more worried about banning shorts and skirts than seeing students of all races study together. And Najib said if we wanna move into a single-stream system, we need a major perception overhaul. But that too should also come from within the gomen – walk the talk of 1Malaysia, improve national school standards, free schools from extremism…

It’s politicians looking for fame who keep using the vernacular education card policy analyst Dr. Lim Teck Ghee said. There is NO evidence that mother-tongue education causes disunity. Sooo, maybe, the fault is not in vernacular schools, but in racial politics!?

In the spirit of fairness to ALL Malaysians, political party NewGen Party Malaysia and student activist group Anak Muda Harapan Malaysia (AMHM) say, let’s get rid of vernacular schools AND pro-Bumi policies!

Can we work together on that? If we remove vernacular schools, can we remove agama schools too? Instead of fighting for ‘YOUR’ rights and ‘MY’ rights, let’s think of what’s best for all Malaysians and agree to meet on middle ground. It takes 2 hands to clap to the tune of unity.

Click to watch

Maybe these two can teach us how. Click to watch ‘SELISEH’ by Ismail Kamarul


  1. Tan Ah Kow

    23/08/2015 at 7:34 am

    Malaysia should really get rid of all vernacular and religious schools. You guys have no idea how racially polarised you guys are.

  2. DLHH

    22/08/2015 at 4:18 pm

    Not to forget the many MARA institutes where only one race can apply???

  3. David Chak

    21/08/2015 at 10:42 pm

    and yet, nobody talks about the even-more-exclusive religious schools and the countless sekolah berasrama penuh (MRSM, SM Sains, etc)

    Vernacular schools DOES NOT close their doors to people not of the background, but the religious schools do.

    • New Jo-Lyn

      24/08/2015 at 1:52 pm

      Hi David, thanks for sharing, but surely religious schools do open to other races as long as the student is of that religion right? Do you know?

    • David Chak

      25/08/2015 at 12:26 am

      I do. But this is an extremely rare example, for religious schools.

      As for MRSM, SM Sains, they have about 10% quotas for non-malays, and SBPs afaik is almost exclusively single race.

    • New Jo-Lyn

      25/08/2015 at 4:27 pm

      Ahh ok noted, the quota thing.

    • David Chak

      24/08/2015 at 8:38 pm

      True. Theoretically. But realistically? On the contrary, i have seen plenty of non-chinese or non-indian kids coming out from vernacular schools. I have also seen vernacular schools whereby more than 50% of the students are not from the same mother tongue.

      Name me an example from MRSM, SM Sains, SBPs, SMA, and I will rest my case.

  4. Sean Thum

    21/08/2015 at 2:01 pm

    Hmm. The incident you cited about the boy bursting to tears in a vernacular school happened a long long time ago (and it was from an..opinion piece?). We might require more context too. Example, the kid might be in standard one and have not been taught correctly and appropriately. That is the role of our educators then, to ensure students receive proper education.

    I think at this age our educators would and should have adapted to the needs of the modern times and cultivate/nurture a more tolerant (and moderate) generation which upholds the notion of being Malaysians first, and not view things through the tainted glasses of race and religion. It is our decision makers who are coming up with weird statements dividing the country.

    Here’s a relevant Facebook post by Rafidah Aziz:

    Have a good day!

    • New Jo-Lyn

      24/08/2015 at 2:00 pm

      Hi Sean. Thanks for sharing the FB post and yep, def agree we need moderation in Malaysia. The boy’s case was from an opinion piece, but it was still an example to share and the girl who experienced it said it was a one off (yes, they were just kids 🙂 ) and she had a great time in vernacular school for the most part.

  5. lilblackdog

    21/08/2015 at 12:25 pm

    Chinese school was traumatic and caused me lots of agony throughout my schooling years, but at least I got to learn how to speak and write Chinese. That was the main reason my parents sent me to a Chinese school.

    IMHO, the reason that causes the racial gap is that students from vernacular schools are uncomfortable with speaking Malay, hence they mingle less with other races. Learning BM in school and speaking Malay in a casual conversation is totally different.

    Having said that, I think the solution would be to improve the quality of national schools and offer compulsory mother tongue language classes to all the students.

    • New Jo-Lyn

      24/08/2015 at 2:01 pm

      Hey, lilblackdog. Had friends that say the same thing about vernacular schools, hehe.

  6. synical

    21/08/2015 at 11:22 am

    As someone who (barely) survived Chinese school with some (read: A LOT) trauma, finger calluses, and half past six ability to speak Mandarin, I won’t miss it if they want to get rid of vernacular schools.

    That said, Chinese schools are really well funded and well equipped – we had pogo sticks and trampolines when I was there, I can’t imagine what’s there now – even non-Chinese parents are sending their kids to Chinese school these days because national school is just… bleh.

    If these “single stream” schools had Chinese school funds and technology and the pro-Bumi BS can be excised, why not.

    • lilblackdog

      21/08/2015 at 12:09 pm

      Ironic, as the funding from Chinese schools come from donations from the parents.

    • synical

      21/08/2015 at 12:43 pm

      Won’t deny that. It’s not just parent/family donations, but also other bigwig donations too…

    • lilblackdog

      21/08/2015 at 2:12 pm

      Was it just my school or were all Chinese school students made to ask for donations? I remember selling papayas for RM10 each, and getting all my uncles and aunties to donate a ‘brick’ for our new school building. lol…

    • synical

      21/08/2015 at 2:24 pm

      Yep, definitely had those LOL

      Unfortunately, probably worse now 😛

  7. Life

    20/08/2015 at 11:47 am

    Spent my whole formal education in Chinese primary and Independent Chinese Secondary, was once told ‘different race get lost’ by a junior girl while waiting for the lift. Many Chinese teachers also think that it is ok to single students out by skin colour or make racial based jokes just because it is ‘funny’ . Of my 12 years in Chinese education,I can’t recall the amount of times I was on the receiving end of racist ‘jokes’.
    i can’t blame students who ‘accidentally’ make racist jokes, this happens because even the teachers condone it,once brought it up to the Head of Studies and was told ” No la, the teachers must be joking only”

    • New Jo-Lyn

      24/08/2015 at 2:04 pm

      I’m sorry to hear that Life. 🙁
      That’s absolutely not cool. Whether we retain vernacular schools or not, I guess the issue we need to look into before anything that is moderation and tolerance among Malaysians.
      Thanks for sharing.

  8. MusaNg

    19/08/2015 at 9:56 pm

    Vernacular schools may have their disadvantages but their teachers are motivated, their students are interested, and the education provided is first class.

    The national school system is an embarrassment.

    Teachers struggle with the syllabus, students simply don’t care.

    The content and context of knowledge being disseminated is of such low quality that even dogs wouldn’t eat the homework 🙂

  9. Intimidated

    19/08/2015 at 7:54 pm

    I spent six years in vernacular school (primary) and five years in national school (secondary). In primary school, I was punished for not mastering BM and English, and classmates laughed at my poor command of second and third languages. In secondary school, I couldn’t make friends with similar group of people unless I communicate with them in my mother-tongue.

    Then in college, it was English or fail.

    These back and forth was baffling and challenging. But at least now I have some respectable skills in three languages, so I’m not complaining.

    Language barrier is not the main reason of prevailing racism, but it certainly doesn’t help when one can’t understand another.

    • New Jo-Lyn

      24/08/2015 at 2:06 pm

      Agreed on the communication thing. Cool that you can do 3 languages now 😀

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