Has Chinese school principals and teachers themselves lost confidence in the future of Chinese education in Malaysia?

Speech by DAP secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, when speaking to the forum on “The mass failures of Chinese school Standard V pupils” organised by the DAP Chinese Education Sub-Committee held at 63-D Jalan Sultan, Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 13th August 1972 at 10 a.m.

Has Chinese school principals and teachers themselves lost confidence in the future of Chinese education in Malaysia?

In the last three weeks, the DAP has exposed a well-guarded Alliance and MCA secret about the shockingly low standard of education in our schools so that parents and the public are made aware of the painful truth of the wasted years our children have spent in schools.

Last year’s Standard V Assessment Examination results show a shockingly high rate of mass failures for students of all streams of primary schools.

In general, we can say that 40 to 50 per cent of our children in primary schools up to form III do not know what they are studying about.

The revelations of the shockingly low standard of education in our primary and secondary schools have shocked not only the parents and the public, the principals and teachers have been taken by surprise.

In fact, one Primary Schools principal told me that this was the first time that he knew about the details of the shocking results in last year’s Standard V Assessment Examination.

However, he argued that these results should have been made known to him and school teachers, but not to the public and the parents as they may use it wrongly.

This school principal was not very disturbed, however, by the high rate of failures. What did it matter, he said, if 50 per cent of our students fail academically. After all, in school, the students are not only educated for their academic studies, but also for their social, cultural and moral development.

That the school principals and teachers themselves do not know how badly their students have fared in their Std.V Assessment Examination shows that we have a very sick education system.

That there should be a school principal, in all seriousness, asserting that these examination results and details should be denied to parents and the public, and that it did not matter if there is 50% failure in examinations because of other social, cultural and moral development of the pupils, is indeed a horrendous thing, and show how very sick the entire Malaysian education has become.

The view of this school principal that the detailed examination results of the students should not be made public is not an isolated case. I am aware that the ruling parties, especially the MCA, do not want the examination results of last year’s Std. V Assessment Examination to be made public.

This explains the long MCA silence on this grave issue after we started releasing the results of the mass failures in our primary schools. This also explains why in previous years, the MCA, although it knew of the shockingly high rate of mass failures in previous Std.V Assessment Examination, had tried to cover up the matter instead of drawing public attention and pressing for a satisfactory solution.

It is also this attitude which explains why up to this date, the Ministry of Education has refused to divulge the number of Malaysian students who failed in last year’s M.C.E. examination solely because of failure in Bahasa Malaysia paper – although we know that two years ago, 8000 such students failed.

I want to make it very clear here that it is the inherent right of parents and the public to know about the detailed results of their children’s performance in examinations, and it is public irresponsibility of the highest order for the government and the MCA to try to deny the public such basic information.

There are some different sets of reasons for the shocking mass failures in the different languages streams of primary schools. As today’s forum centres on Chinese primary schools, I will confine myself this morning to Chinese school students.

Firstly, let us not delude ourselves into thinking that the Std.V Assessment Examination results last year in Chinese primary schools were not too bad, especially when compared to previous years. The blunt truth is, the results are shockingly low and disgraceful.

Thus, in Bahasa Malaysia I, the failures rate for the different states range from 32% to 70%; for English I from 40% to 66%; for Mathematics from 23% to 42%; for Science from 17% to 36%; for geography-history from 30% to 50%; Chinese language from 29% to 51%.

In a proper education system, there should not be more than 10% failure rate. What is even more shocking is that there are 40% to 50% students who have learned nothing in Std.V continue to be promoted upwards year by year, to learn even less!

It has been said that the Chinese schools are better than other language-stream schools in mathematics and science. A look at the failure rates in these two subjects in Chinese primary schools does not give either the Chinese pupils or teachers any cause for pride.

It has also been said that the Chinese schools are comparable to the English schools in academic standards from last year’s Std.V Assessment Examination. This comparison, again, is no cause for pride either for English or Chinese primary schools – as both had an intolerable rate of mass failures. The situation today, it would appear, is no more: which school is better, Chinese or English? But, which is worse?

The situation where 50% of the Selangor, Perak and Pahang Chinese school students fail in the Chinese language subject is another disgrace. There can be no excuse that this was a sudden development, for the results of the 1970 Assessment Examination has already shown that in the Chinese language, the Chinese school students were failing badly.

I earnestly urge all Chinese educationists, principals, teachers and public not to find false comfort in unjustified beliefs that the standard of education of Chinese primary schools is of a high quality. On the other hand, we should all accept the fact that they are deplorably unsatisfactory, which should be urgently upgraded.

The DAP Chinese education sub-committee, the organisers of this forum, has prepared a very thoughtful and perceptive memorandum for this morning’s deliberation. It has called for action to be taken in 13 areas in order to upgrade the quality of education in Chinese schools, the main points of which are:

1. Abolition of the automatic promotion system to permit a student to be retained for another year to achieve the academic standard of his grade;

2. Training of Chinese school teachers and the revival of Chinese Senior Middle Three Examination;

3. Holding of vacation training courses for teachers to upgrade their quality;

4. Free text books for poor pupils;

5. A national congress comprising all political parties, educational organisations, parents, old boys’ associations to undertake a comprehensive survey into educational policy and system at present to recommend a more appropriate educational policy and system.

I agree with the DAP Chinese education sub-committee that the problem as highlighted by the mass failures of the Std.V Assessment Examination last year is representative of a more deep-seated and intractable problem – the future of Chinese education in Malaysia.

As I see it, the Chinese school teachers and principals seem to have lost confidence themselves in the future of Chinese education in Malaysia. This has affected their spirit, zeal and dedication, which must be reflected in their teaching.

Over the years, the Chinese school principals and teachers are more and more oppressed by the feeling that they are coming closer and closer to their ‘Last Lesson’.

The actions of the government and the MCA have only intensified their feeling of hopelessness, futility and sense of doom.

Thus, the Parliamentary decision in January this year to remove all the traditional powers of the Chinese School Boards of Governors is the latest example.

The other is the evident unwillingness on the part of the MCA and the Alliance to give a categorical assurance to the people of Malaysia that the character of the Chinese primary schools will not suffer any change, as is undergoing in the case of English primary schools.

In actual fact, from all indications, the conversion of Chinese primary schools into national primary schools will begin in three years’ time.

It is important therefore that the Chinese educationists, educational organisations, teachers and parents should resist any change in the character of Chinese primary schools.

To seek the preservation of the present character of Chinese primary schools, I propose three programmes to be striven by Chinese educational organisations, teachers and others:

1. An immediate pledge in public by the MCA that it would never agree to any change in the character of Chinese primary schools, under any circumstances, without the agreement of the Chinese educational organisations and the parents.

2. Restoration to the Chinese School Boards of Governors their traditional powers and responsibilities of school management; and

3. The repeal of Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act which reads:

“Where at any time the Minister is satisfied that a national-type primary school may suitably be converted into a national primary school he may by order direct that the school shall become a national primary school”

as it confers on the Education Minister unquestioned power to immediately convert Chinese primary schools with the stroke of the pen.

The battle for Chinese education, which includes the quality of Chinese schools, would have been lost however if the Chinese school principals and teachers have themselves lost confidence in the future of Chinese education in Malaysia.

They must not give up hope or let up in their effort, however hard the struggle, heavy the burden or great the sacrifice.

Finally, I suggest that this grave question of the low quality and standard of education in our schools should be urgently discussed by all societies and organisations at all levels of the country, from national to state, district to village, so that the government will be made aware of the people’s great concern and sense of grief and anger, so as to bring pressure to bear on the government to take corrective action for the sake of our children and our children’s children.