"Is SJK Better Than SK?" — M'sians Discuss The Divisive Vernacular School System In Video

In the 21-minute video, six guests discussed five contentious topics related to vernacular schools.

Cover image via RESERVOIR Channel (YouTube)

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The local vernacular school system is a contentious topic among Malaysians

On one hand, some Malaysians defend it for the sake of preserving culture, while on the other hand, some Malaysians are against it as they perceive it as a barrier to unity.

While lawmakers debate about it in parliament, parents indoctrinate their children with their views on the system, and adults voice their grievances or support of the system whenever the topic of unity or education enters the news discourse.

In fact, the abolishment of the system was even litigated in the High Court after three Malay-Muslim groups filed a suit questioning the constitutionality of vernacular schools in 2019.

A protest in 2015 against the vernacular school system in Malaysia.

Image via Itu Dia

To foster a healthy conversation surrounding vernacular schools, RESERVOIR, a local award-winning film production company, gathered a diverse group of Malaysians to discuss the issue

RESERVOIR posted the video, titled 'SJK Is Better Than SK?' on 30 August.

It is part of their Titik Tengah series, which brings together Malaysians with contrasting ideals and beliefs to share and debate their thoughts. The series title pays homage to Jubilee's Middle Ground series, which operates on a similar premise of facilitating discussions between opposing viewpoints in a confined space.

In the 21-minute video, six guests discussed these five topics:
– Vernacular schools are one of the main causes for racial disunity
– SJKs have better quality education compared to SKs
– SJKs should get the same funding as SKs
– Bahasa Jawi should be taken out of the Bahasa Malaysia syllabus
– Meritocracy is needed in the education system

A guest who studied at a Chinese vernacular school argued that learning in a language they are most comfortable with is vital for children to build interest for various subjects in their formative years

Hence, the presence of vernacular schools promote learning better than non-vernacular schools, as an environment of speaking and learning three languages could be overwhelming for children below the age of 12, according to the guest.

On the topic of vernacular schools offering better quality education than non-vernacular schools, another guest who studied at a Chinese vernacular school said that the large amount of homework given at a Chinese vernacular school is important to instil some resilience in children while they are still young. He cited that it provides a great environment for "character building".

A non-vernacular school graduate agreed that he observed his peers from vernacular primary schools treating homework more seriously than he did in secondary school.

However, another guest argued that excelling in academic subjects at the expense of developing good conversational skills is not prudent. Many of them agreed that vernacular school graduates often struggle to converse effectively outside of their mother tongues, especially with people of other ethnicities.

The majority of them agreed that all schools should receive equal funding and that learning Jawi as part of the history of Bahasa Melayu is not a problem, as additional knowledge is always welcomed

On the topic of meritocracy, both sides presented thoughtful arguments. However, the conversation ended with an example of Finland, whose education system is not based on merit but still produces a high-quality workforce in the country.

One guest argued that meritocracy is something most people are used to, hence they could not see an alternative of it that could work.

The group also discussed the flawed argument of meritocracy, highlighting that it is unfair to compare urban students with rural students. They pointed out that the latter often lack the same level of educational infrastructure and resources needed to excel academically.

Watch the full video below to see if you agree with the views presented by the six guests:

In December last year, the Selangor Menteri Besar said more independent chinese schools will be built in the state:

In 2020, a Malay married couple sent their child to a Tamil school:

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