4 Reasons Why More Malay Parents Are Choosing Vernacular Schools Over National Schools

The number of Malay students at SJKCs nationwide has increased by 6.18% between 2010 and 2020.

Cover image via Berita Harian & New Straits Times

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Over the last decade, the enrolment of non-Chinese students, particularly Malay students, in Chinese vernacular schools has steadily increased, climbing from 9.5% in 2010 to 15.33% in 2020

The Education Ministry provided data in a parliamentary reply on 10 November 2020, revealing a 6.18% increase in Malay students at Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina (SJKCs) nationwide during that period.

However, the ministry also highlighted that the proportion of Malay students enrolled at Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) or national schools has remained stable, hovering at around 93 to 94% from 2010 to 2020.

The increasing willingness among Malay parents to enrol their children in vernacular schools rather than national schools is due to several factors

These include the desire for their children to learn Mandarin, the comprehensive facilities provided by vernacular schools, and the improved quality of teaching and learning.

Vernacular schools are also perceived to offer many advantages over national schools, such as better facilities, a more dedicated and organised alumni network, and a strong focus on mastering Mandarin and English.

Many parents are also drawn to the strong academic reputation of these institutions.

Below are the four main reasons for the increase in Malay enrolment at SJKCs:

1. Language mastery for a better future

Parents recognise the value of multilingualism in a globalised world.

And Mandarin, with its burgeoning economic power, offers exciting career prospects. Vernacular schools provide an immersive environment for mastering this language, thereby giving students a competitive edge.

According to National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) deputy president Abd Ghani Zainudin, the number of Malay students studying in vernacular schools in Negeri Sembilan has increased significantly.

"[The parents] see children studying in vernacular schools as having advantages compared to national schools, especially in terms of mastering Mandarin," he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.

Malaysian Muslim Teachers Association (i-Guru) president Mohd Azizee Hassan also echoed similar sentiments, saying, "Parents now see Malaysia as a pluralistic country... they also want their children to learn other languages for economic and future career purposes."

2. Better facilities and learning environment

In addition to language, parents are attracted to the well-equipped infrastructure and organised alumni support found in many vernacular schools in the country. These factors contribute to a conducive learning environment, fostering better engagement and potentially leading to improved academic performance.

"Vernacular schools... [have] advantages in terms of fundraising for the school and student development... most vernacular school alumni... are seen to be more determined and better organised," noted Abd Ghani.

"Some Malay students who studied in Chinese schools could master English and Mandarin better because generally, both languages are the mediums of instruction in these schools," Rafizah Cian Ling Abdullah, a Malay parent who sent her child to an SJKC, told the English daily.

Rafizah Cian Ling Abdullah.

Image via Mohd Amin Jalil/Berita Harian

3. Quality teaching and diverse learning approaches

According to Mohd Azizee, the improved quality of teaching and learning (PnP) in science and mathematics has motivated parents to choose vernacular schools over SKs for their children.

Meanwhile, national school teacher Che Wan Rosida Wan Hasan said she deliberately chose to send her children to a vernacular school.

"I feel this can have a great impact on attitude, thinking, and increased learning diligence. The advantage of children studying in vernacular schools can help them master Mandarin and English well because both languages are the mediums of instruction in such schools," she said.

She emphasised that her personal experience in witnessing her children's performance and achievements in school was commendable and on par with other students.

4. Fostering cultural understanding and openness

Many Malay parents are also realising that attending a vernacular school exposes their children to different cultures and languages fostering understanding and appreciation for diversity and preparing them for a better life in a multicultural society like Malaysia.

Image via JUICE

While some Malay parents are worried about the availability of halal food and the inclusion of Islamic Education subjects in vernacular schools, these concerns are unwarranted

According to Che Wan Rosida, the canteen at the SJKC where her kids attend provides halal food, and there are male and female teachers teaching Kafa (Islamic Education).

Speaking of which, SJKC Ton Fah in Beranang serves as a unique epitome of unity and racial harmony in Malaysia:

Meanwhile, a 78-year-old rubber trader from Sitiawan, Perak has been exemplifying what it means to be a true Malaysian for 30 years:

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