Thursday, January 27

Another good lesson from Sarawak

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DESPITE hazy conditions, the past week certainly brought some good news for the Chinese community in Sarawak and a lesson definitely to be learned from this state when it comes to unity in terms of race and religion.

A report in this paper lauded the Chief Minister’s move to go about principally recognising the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) used in Chinese independent schools.

As a result, UEC holders will be able to apply to join the state civil service.

The UEC is the Chinese standardised examination of the country’s Chinese secondary schools, equivalent to Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM).

When the recognition has been formally worked out, it will also mean that UEC holders with outstanding results will have the opportunity to apply for scholarships or loans from Yayasan Sarawak.

This proves to be another feather in the cap for Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem in making Sarawak a shining example of many firsts and a state that utilises the unity of its many races and ethnic groups for its success.

This in stark contrast to sentiments towards vernacular schools in the peninsula, which we here in Sarawak have read about many times over the years.

While we do not have Tamil vernacular schools in Sarawak, we are quite comfortable with Chinese-medium schools.   As a matter of fact, Chinese-medium primary schools and independent secondary schools here are held in high regard by the general public and recognised as schools that produce students who are advanced in mathematics, accounting and science.

There is also a long-standing belief that if you want your kids to do well in business in the future, then you should have them enrolled in Chinese-medium schools.

In contrast, vernacular schools – both Chinese and Tamil – in the peninsula have been accused of causing segregation among the races there. It is said that vernacular schools will only encourage races to group together, instead of coming together in government schools.

Well, perhaps this happens in the peninsula. Why? It is beyond the comprehension of Sarawakians who are so used to living, eating, studying, working and mingling together, regardless of race or religion.

Sarawak, again, through its people have proven just how wrong such perceptions are. It is common to have students made up of different ethnic races here in Chinese schools. All it takes is to peek into one of the classrooms.

Chinese primary schools along the fringes of major towns have more non-Chinese students enrolled in them than you would ever see in 10 vernacular schools in the peninsula. And there are no issues as to racial segregation, religion or food served in the canteens.

Chinese schools have long been a part of the Sarawak education landscape, alongside mission schools.

A paper by Ooi Keat Gin (Centre for South East Asian Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia) found that Chinese schools in Sarawak were already established during the Brooke rule.

While the Brookes were said to have adopted a laissez-faire approach towards education in Sarawak and left much of education to private agencies and missionaries, they still gave limited grants to aid Chinese vernacular schools that were established here.

This is yet another example how just even a little support towards the different ethnicities here can go a long way in building unity.

Back then, the syllabus was mainly modelled after the education system in China and eventually evolved. We still have independent Chinese schools here, besides the Chinese-medium primary schools, both of which are openly embraced by the many ethnic groups in Sarawak.

Here, we believe that our kids can learn from the Chinese system, and at the very least, a primary education in a Chinese school can mould a child for a brighter future by providing the foundation in maths, science and the opportunity to master Mandarin as a language.

Again, in stark contrast with Peninsular Malaysia, where some shallow-minded and insecure people who don red shirts have called for the abolishment of Chinese schools.

So, well done Sarawak in leading the way, and again showing that progress is not just about physical development but really about the people and progressive thinking.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.