Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Ethnic Bubble in Malaysia

DISCLAIMER: Some people may not like what I have to say in this blog. So, there. You've been warned.

When I went home for my short vacation, I could sense a growing change in things back home. Of course, the price of petrol has gone up tremendously and there are many issues with the government. However, I could also sense a changing trend in communal identification.

I was surprised to read an article in TheStar on the demographics of the Malaysian Chinese. The article was written to illustrate how the Malaysian Chinese would vote in the next GE. One thing I took away from the article was the statistic from SinChew that 95% of Malaysian Chinese families send their kids to Chinese schools.

My nephew will be old enough to start schooling next year. So, I have some thoughts on this issue. According to the article, some families choose to send their kids to a Chinese medium school because of the perceived "better quality of education" that they receive there. Mostly send them there as it's considered a central "pillar" in Chinese life. However, I advised my sister not to do so.

Chinese schools are ethnic bubbles. A typical child who attends a Chinese school, probably lives in an area with many Chinese (that's why there was a school nearby) and has mainly Chinese friends. This is not a good thing as it gives the child a distorted sense of reality. On top of that, unfounded and often incorrect racial prejudices get propagated easily.

The Malaysian Chinese is a minority ethnic group. Granted, our numbers are more than double that of Chinese in Singapore. So, we're able to survive in our little ethnic bubble. But when the time comes to enter the real world, experiences within the ethnic bubble aren't going to help at all. We live in a multi-racial society and we should teach our children to learn to deal with it from a young age.

I've seen situations first hand at university, where some students from Chinese schools received a cultural shock when having to work with other races in group projects. Some learn to manage it and get the work done while others end up having to do everything themselves (one leg kick). It's impossible to avoid dealing with people of other races in Malaysia. So, it would be useful to get a head start and learn how to handle working with people from different races at a young age.

Also, by growing up in an ethnic bubble, one may not be prepared to deal with the harsh realities of racial policies practised by our government. Students of Chinese schools are rarely subject to these policies. These students may rant all that they want about discrimination, but I laugh whenever I hear that. Only by throwing a child in an environment where 90% of the fellow students and teachers are not on your side, builds character and teaches a child how to handle difficult situations.

There are of course more reason than these to not send a child to a Chinese school. However, only the 5% of Malaysian Chinese parents seem to understand it. Another 85% can never understand it, while about 10% are merely being pragmatic.


goliku said...

Shawn, I agreed with you to a certain extent, but not all. This is because even Chinese students in national school say that they are unfairly treated by their teachers, who are mainly Malay. We cannot blame the Malay teachers for this as all of us are the product of policies and system which are not based on merits and are not equitable. So, to solve the problem of racial polarisation, Malaysia need to re-look into the whole system of the country. Those in the government cannot keep on closing one eye in dealing with such problem.

I agreed with you that Chinese school education have its flaws as no thing in this world is perfect. If the authority can deal with the need of learning Mandarin in national school in sincere manner, then more Chinese parents will definitely send their kids to national school. I have non Mandarin speaking Chinese friends confided to me that they regretted they cannot speak or write Mandarin. How about you, Shawn?

Shawn Tan said...

1) That's my point. Chinese students in national schools feel the effect of racial policies directly, while the Chinese school students don't. But the ones complaining the loudest about racial problems are the ones from Chinese schools, which is quite weird.

2) Yes, I do think that more languages should be taught in national schools. Not just Chinese, but French, German, Spanish and Japanese. If we want to prepare our kids for a global future, we need to equip them with the right tools. Being multi-lingual helps.

3) My ex used to tell me that I speak Mandarin like an "angmo" and Cantonese like a "gangster". No matter how good I get at it, I'll never pass off as a native speaker. So, I have no regrets for not being good at it.

Dan said...

i agree with shawn here. after 2 years studying in uk, i find a lot of the syllabus more practical than what i was exposed to in malaysia. introduce and proliferate more foreign languages in malaysia... i quite hate the snobs i meet who are rich enough to afford foreign language classes and then go show off at me as if it is damn exclusive and shit.

haha, shawn, i speak english like a gangster and still pass as a native speaker. you dunno how many people i fooled at freshers fair yesterday :P

Xuan said...

I have no regrets that I have attended Chinese school for my primary and secondary. But I agree with you that Chinese school kids are shielded too much from the "real" Malaysian society and it is not healthy.

And I have decided that it is wrong to say that you speak Mandarin like an "angmo". In my 1+ year stay in Beijing, I have come across "angmos"who speak good Mandarin.....

But don't be too disheartened,I don't speak Mandarin like Beijing local either. So? I still love Mandarin and love the fact that I can read and write fluently.

Hmmm, a bit off topic.. It is not a matter about learning Mandarin, eh? Hehe.

goliku said...

Shawn, you can appreciate better the scenario facing by Chinese school if you were there before. Fund allocated to Chinese schools are very limited. That is the reason, it is not weird.

I agreed that more languages to be taught but there must be sufficient resources to do that, otherwise, worse.

Shawn Tan said...

Evil!!! Hehe.. But yes, this blog isn't about learning Mandarin. I've nothing against learning Mandarin. In fact, I think we shouldn't stop there but also pick up other languages too.

This blog was about an "ethnic bubble" and how current trends will probably end up making things worse. I just think that the local Malaysian Chinese parents are being blind and delusional when sending their kids to Chinese schools. They're part of the problem, not the solution.

Shawn Tan said...

goliku: This blog isn't about how difficult it is for Chinese Schools to survive. Please do not think that things are rosy in National schools either. In my experience, the Chinese schools are in better condition than National schools. Not many National schools get a RM 25 million budget injection.

It isn't about learning Mandarin either. We're all in agreement that learning more languages is better. Everyone in the world knows that. That's why I took as many language classes here as I could fit into my schedule.

It is about creating and propagating an artificial ethnic bubble that does nobody any good. And that, I believe is a problem.

goliku said...

Shawn, you were in the 'boat' before and I think this was the reason why you landed in Cambridge. You expect your nephew to follow your footsteps and ultimately reside in foreign land?

There are some privately run schools in KL where Mandarin is taught, but they fare badly as the students ultimately not proficient in Mandarin. This was what I was told by a parent concerned. Put it this way, Malaysian Chinese put their kids in at least primary Chinese schools so that their kids know Mandarin and also Chinese cultural. These kids still can mix with other races when joining secondary national schools. I still think this is the best arrangement.

Shawn Tan said...

goliku: I'm not too sure what 'boat' you refer to. As to why I landed in Cambridge, I'd like to think that it's due to my own achievements and efforts and not to any sticky label on my back.

As for my nephew, he's free to become whatever he wants to become. It's not my decision anyway, it's up to his parents. I'm only the uncle, and I can only give advice. At least he's thinking of becoming an engineer, which is a Good Thing (tm). d:

As for residing in a foreign land, I'm not sure where you get the idea from. I've only lived overseas for 3 years of my 20+ years. I don't think I can be considered a foreign resident as yet. I'm still too Malaysian for my own good. That's why I blog the way that I do. d:

To properly learn any language, we need 'full immersion' (as a friend of mine puts it). To learn French, live in France. To learn Mandarin, live in China. Otherwise, we will never learn it properly.

As for placing kids in a Chinese primary and then a National secondary, it may or may not work. A language needs to be used, lest it gets forgotten. I know some people who end up forgetting Mandarin, as they don't use it later in their lives. Even people who spend their entire lives in Chinese schools end up forgetting it later.