In the midst of criticisms against vernacular schools, especially the national-type Chinese schools (SJKC), there are Malay parents who send their children to the Chinese schools, seeing these as the best choice.
Although there were worries of their children being the minority when they enter an SJKC, including concerns over the differences in language, religion and culture, most of the parents are of the view that there is no issue of their children being sidelined in these schools.
They even feel that the schools' administration are understanding of the multicultural and religious backgrounds in their schools.
Speaking at a forum titled 'Anak Melayu di Sekolah Cina' (Malay children at Chinese schools) held at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall last night, three panellists who attended Chinese primary schools and sent their offspring to study there shared their experiences.
One of the panellists, E Nasaruddin Muhammad, who sent all four of his children to Chinese vernacular schools, said that the high level of discipline and strict learning methods had shaped his children to be more mature and think critically.
He said the decision to send his children to a Chinese vernacular school was based on his own experience having attended both SJKC and national school (SK) systems.
Comparing both school systems, Nasaruddin was of the opinion that teachers at SJKCs tend to be more encouraging when it comes to students asking questions.
This, he added, was starkly different to his experience in national schools, where students were often scolded for doing so.
"By sending our children to SJKC, they become more independent, mature and disciplined. Teachers teach them to think, rather than learning solely from books.
"I have experience learning at both SK and SJKC. As students, we need to learn by understanding, not by memorisation.
"Because when we understand, we can think about what is right and what is not. We also can think of new ideas and think outside the box," Nasaruddin said when speaking about the strictness of his teachers in SJKC.
Nasaruddin said that they had even denied him permission to leave class during recess time and would cane him when he had done something wrong.
Based on the Education Ministry's statistics last year, the percentage of non-Chinese students at SJKC had reached around 18 percent (approximately 93,600 out of a total of 520,000 students) and the number is inclusive of Malay students.
Accustomed to heavy workloads
Former SJKC student Joe Shekin had initially felt alienated when she was first sent to SJKC by her parents.
However, according to the panellist, she then slowly understood why they wanted to send her to an unfamiliar school.
Working as a Mandarin language teacher now, Joe said her parents had been teaching her to make friends with people from all races, and this had indirectly helped her improve her social skills.
Although some of her Malay friends had questioned her choice to teach Mandarin, which was seen as if she regarded the language as being more important, Joe said she had never let the criticism bother her.
She described that such thinking was akin to the Malay proverb 'seperti katak di bawah tempurung' (being ignorant).
"I, as a Mandarin teacher, was once questioned why didn't I prioritise the Arab language instead.
"I want to change the attitude towards SJKCs, which has always been so negative (among the non-Chinese)," she said.
Speaking of her experience studying in an SJKC, she said she previously questioned her parents' decision to send her there.
This is due to the heavy burden of schoolwork compared to her friends who had gone to national schools.
"But when I got into university, I was thankful because I have been used to having lots of assignments. That is the difference. Of course, when I was still a kid I would make a fuss of it (having lots of schoolwork).
"We were trained to be disciplined. Whatever challenges we face in the future, we will be tougher and get used to them because we have been trained since we were young," she said.
Responding to a question from the floor on other benefits of learning Mandarin, Joe and Nasaruddin attributed their skill in the language as a factor that also helped them to secure jobs.
Not true that Mandarin makes it easy to get a job
However, the third panellist, Rosly Yusof, who had admitted his third child into a Chinese vernacular school disagreed with Nasaruddin and Joe.
Rosly said he believed this was a form of racial discrimination.
"I'm sorry, but I see this as a negative thing. We are Malaysians, we have been Merdeka for 60 years, so we don't have to speak in other languages than Bahasa Melayu or English unless the audience is from our own race," he said.
Rosly, who sent his two other children to a national school and a religious school, said he sent his third child to an SJKC because he wanted the best for his kid.
He also fielded a question from an audience member on whether he has a message for certain politicians who call for the closure of vernacular schools in the country.
"The main reason parents send their children to Chinese schools is because they are confident that it is the best for their kids.
"This does not only happen with Chinese schools. There are some who have schools in their housing area but chose to send their children to an SK elsewhere.
"That is because the parents were confident that the school is better than the school in their own housing area," he said.
Thus, Rosly suggested, there should be healthy competition amongst SKs so that they can compete and gain confidence from parents who send their children to SJKC.