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Single-stream education no longer relevant in today's world

  • The “ultimate goal” that suits the country best is a fair, equitable, liberal and diverse education policy. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

Sin Chew Daily

"Multi-stream education is an obstacle to national unity while single-stream education allows students to mingle and helps promote solidarity."

If we were to look back at history, such a discourse had already been proposed even before the country's independence.

In 1953, then education ministry senior advisor Aminuddin Baki proposed to set up only national schools with English and Malay as the only medium of instruction, so that students from different ethnic backgrounds could learn and live together under one roof. This proposal has later become an important reference for the government's plan to implement the policy of single-stream education.

Subsequently, the Razak Report 1956 further proposed to make single-stream education policy the “ultimate goal”. After the Education Act 1961 came into effect, we began to see the emergence of national-type secondary schools as well as national schools.

Meanwhile, Chinese and Tamil primary schools are still struggling to overcome the mounting challenge that may erode the advantage of vernacular education of this country. Up till this day, the Malaysian Chinese community is still fighting tooth and nail to safeguard the integrity of Chinese primary schools.

This is the historical background quoted by Umno's MP for Rembau Khairy Jamaluddin.

Khairy said Malaysia had missed the golden opportunities to introduce single-stream education system in 1957 and 1963.

He was right. However, given the trend of increased openness in the country's education sector, it is very difficult now to force through a single-stream education policy in the country.

That said, that “ultimate goal” remains a “mission” yet to be fulfilled.

In 2012, the BN government launched the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, with the same “ultimate goal”. Even after a change of the federal administration last year, the new PH government has no intention of making any revision to the blueprint, as evidenced by the recent controversies over the teaching of Seni Khat at vernacular schools.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has mentioned his intention of bringing back the old policies of Vision School program and teaching of science and mathematics in English.

The “ultimate goal” of making national schools the only language stream for the country's education means Chinese and Tamil primary schools will eventually be washed out.

Nevertheless, national schools no longer become the choice of many Malaysians today, as they did in the past. Chinese primary schools, on the other hand, have gained in popularity as a consequence of the elevated international status of the Chinese language.

Thanks to the internationalization trend in education, we have also witnessed the rapid growth of international and private schools in the country, including those with Islamic backgrounds.

All this points to the increasing advantage of multi-steam education as well as its wide acceptance. Such a phenomenon will only keep advancing and not retreating, and has effectively rebutted Khairy's viewpoint as well as contradictions in the implementation of the “ultimate goal”.

Taking the example of Singapore which Khairy has quoted, single-stream education was indeed one of the strategies adopted by the Singapore government to promote unity in the city state, national service and housing policy being the other two. Singapore's government nevertheless found out later that it was not easy to materialize the goal of national homogeneity, as ethnic identity and national identity were of equal importance/

Differences among the ethnic communities will in no way become an obstacle to national unity, but the continued practice of multi-stream education will actually help fortify the country's competitiveness because a more diverse and liberal education system has proven to be effective in grooming talented people who will better meet the demands of an increasingly globalized world, besides producing more open-minded citizens with enhanced democratic awareness as well as broader scope of vision, a factor that will certainly expedite Malaysia's race towards the vision of a developed nation.

In other words, the “ultimate goal” that suits the country best is a fair, equitable, liberal and diverse education policy. Single-stream education is no longer the appropriate policy to mould a people of reinforced national identity.


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