Retain multi-stream schooling
Published on: Sunday, November 22, 2009
By: Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Herman Luping
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Our multi-stream educational system is found only in Malaysia. Most other countries, developed or developing have a one stream educational system. Even Singapore, I believe adopts a single stream system.

Our present system of education - multi stream, Bahasa Melayu, English, Tamil and Chinese - stream system has been adopted by our Founding Fathers, for right from the new dawn of the history of our nation our Founding Fathers had introduced for us an education system which was uniform and catered for the interests of our multi-racial country.

Thus we have emphasised the teaching of not only Bahasa Malaysia (now Bahasa Melayu) but also Bahasa Tamil and Bahasa Cina (Mandarin).

Private schools were allowed to teach in English. Indeed, this multi-stream system was introduced for us by the colonial government and we adopted the system which we found suitable for our multi-racial society.

The suggestion made by Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Peng, therefore, for a single stream national educational system has raised the eyebrows of many people and community leaders in the country.

Some elected representatives in Parliament apparently agreed to the suggestion, but I believe they were so moved because of the explanation by the professor that the single stream system will speed up the realisation of 1Malaysia concept.

But this is only the perception of the professor and has not been proven.

The reaction from the Prime Minister, YAB Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was well measured and to the point. He would abide by the decision of the majority of Malaysians and also by the various communities that make up the nation. Other elected leaders soon followed his lead.

Here in Sabah, the President of the Kadazan-based party, Upko, Tan Sri Bernard Dompok said that he would wait for the reaction of the other major communities such as the Chinese and the Indians. Both communities have Chinese schools (Mandarin) as the medium of instruction in school and Tamil for the Indian community. Tan Sri Bernard was instrumental in the promotion of the Kadazandusun language.

He formed the Kadazandusun Language Foundation for example, with a highly educated Kadazan lady to helm the Foundation. He was also instrumental to get the education department to teach the Kadazadusun language in national schools.

The setting up of the Kadazandusun Chair in the University of Malaysia, Sabah, was partly due to Tan Sri Bernard's efforts. The Chair is held by an Australian female academic.

The chairman of the Institute of Development Studies ( IDS) the Think-Tank of the State Government, Datuk Seri Panglima Dr. Clarence Bongkos Malakun when approached, said that in the long run, a one stream system would be ideal for the nation as it would indeed bring about the concept of 1Malaysia to succeed; however, this eventuality would not happen in the immediate future.

Malaysians have been trained to perceive and think in terms of communalism - the pursuit of communalism - that it would be difficult for each community to forgo what had been planted as a system - an institution ever since the beginning of our history, he said.

Silvester Disimond of the Kadazan Society (KSS) expressed similar sentiments and added that students going abroad in the past had the advantage over their counterparts from say, Thailand, because of their superior knowledge of the English language. This was made possible because of the multi-stream educational system. He said he is aware that these countries who were not colonised by the British are now taking pains to educate and train their students in the English language because the language is an international language.

The reverse might happen in the future when we send our students abroad for further studies, he opined.

The students from say Thailand would have a far better command of the language than our students if we are to decide on a single stream system with Bahasa Melayu as the language of instructions in schools.

Former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, told his audience in Kota Kinabalu recently that he is in favour of the 1 stream system, but at present this cannot be achieved as most people prefer the multi-stream system, he said.

Many NGOs too oppose the single stream system. They fear the loss of their unique cultural heritage.

They said a single educational stream will result in the loss of the unique identity of each community.

The Johore Bahru Tiong Hua Association manager, Eric Ku was reported to have said that a single stream education would dilute one's cultural identity. He said there are other ways to promote unity via the 1Malaysia concept. All other races, including Sabahans and Sarawakians must be considered before moving to a new direction, he said.

The National Association of Religious Teachers of West Malaysia, Johore Branch, said a single stream might not necessarily unite the country. He added, the current multi-stream system has been working fine. He said the most important thing is how we infuse unity in the younger generation.

The Hindu association of Johore said he did not want a single stream system.

The overall consensus of opinion on the subject throughout the country is not in favour of the one stream system. If the aim is to speed up the realisation of 1Malaysia concept, many are of the opinion that both Sabah and Sarawak can be used as the best examples in which the 1Malaysia concept have been in operation over a long period of time. The Prime Minister, YAB Datuk Seri Najib mentioned this fact and so did the social activist, Tan Sri Lee Liam Thye.

Indeed, Datuk Haji Karim Ghani told me the other day that Sabah and Sabahans have been practicing the 1Malaysia concept all the time. He said practically every Sabahan, himself included, is a mixture of so many races or communities. He said that apart from his Malay ancestry, he also has Kadazan ancestry and even Chinese. Every one in Sabah is a mixture of so many races he stressed and is an example of the 1Malaysia concept, he said.

He worried, however, that the pursuit for a 1Malaysia concept means an eventual formation of a "unitary" nation. We are a "federation" of States.

not a "union" of States, he said. But then the 1Malaysia that the Prime Minister is advocating is not a change of the present Federation concept.

Rather, it is a call for the many communities to think as one Malaysian- truly integrated but not assimilated.

Those of us born much earlier are products of the multi stream system introduced by the Colonial Administration. When I started going to school after the 2nd World War at the mission primary school in Penampang, the medium of instruction was in Kadazan. We had wonderful teachers, the one I remember most was Mr Peter Lansing. He taught us the alphabets first, then slowly introduced us to read in Kadazan and later in English.

The Principal, a priest, Rev.Fr MacLindon-an Irish priest, was also a wonderful teacher and he even introduced Geometry as a subject! This was in Primary six. By then the medium of instruction at this level was in English.

When we moved to the Secondary level at the Sacred Heart Secondary school, in Kota Kinabalu, the medium of instruction was all in English.

The highest we could go in our studies then was Secondary Five. At this level we could sit for the Cambridge School Certificate examination. The Junior Cambridge School Certificate examination was upon reaching Secondary three, but this was gradually phased out in favour of just the Senior Cambridge examination.

We did not have the option then of either studying arts subjects only - meaning history, language, literature, geography etc - or science subjects such as Mathematics, Chemistry etc - at the time. The majority of Bumiputra students like myself, were not good with science subjects, and in my case, Maths.

So we faced an almost insurmountable problem with the Senior Cambridge School Certificate examination.

It was compulsory to take and pass both the English Language and Mathematics to qualify a pass in the Cambridge certificate examination.

Many natives or bumiputra therefore found it difficult to pass the examination. Some Chinese candidates for the Senior Cambridge Certificate examination also failed because they failed in their English language paper. I knew of a teacher ( Maths teacher) who sat for the prestigious examination three years in a row and failed. He only stopped when he saw that he was sitting next to some younger students at the examination hall. He stopped teaching too and went into business and became a millionaire! I know because we rented one of his shops in Gaya Street, later!

There were very few of us bumiputra students in my class then. There were only six of us-Kadazan and Malay; the rests were Chinese students.

Most of the latter came from Chinese stream schools. Seated next to me was a Chinese student, a very clever one. His maths was very good and he helped me with my maths problem. His spoken English was not very good at first, but his written English was perfect-all grammatically correct!

We were together since secondary three and by the time we reached our final year-secondary five, friendships were solidly bonded and we began to look at each other as not just friends, but "brothers".

We actually forgot our racial origins. Like many others in my class, we are born of a mixed race. In my case, Kadazan, Chinese and Suluk ancestries. Many of the others were similar - also a mixture of races, and of course many were also Sino-Kadazans.

When Datuk Haji Karim therefore mentioned that we Sabahans are a good example of 1Malaysia with himself as the epitome of being one, I know what he meant.

In the final analysis, our multi-stream educational system did not affect our sense of belonging as one people. If anything, it helped us appreciate each other and in fact brought us closer together as Sabahans and now as Malaysians.

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