Friday, June 21, 2013

Anwar, the Unlikely Saviour of Vernacular Education

It seems Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is suddenly a fan of vernacular education – a fact that might surprise everyone who remembers the heady days before GE13 when Pakatan Rakyat sought to score political points from a scare campaign about Chinese and Tamil schools.

Back then it warned that Chinese children risked being left behind by the Government's reforms with students of 60 independent schools excluded from the examination system. Of course it was nonsense, but it proved how prepared the Opposition was to use an issue that is so important for parents to grab a few votes.

Now we should be equally wary that Anwar is suddenly such a fan. He said Thursday Malaysia should not abolish the vernacular school system but must instead focus on national unity in the wake of the racial tensions that flared during the GE13 campaign.

This is rank hypocrisy for so many reasons. First and foremost it was Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, not Anwar, who sought to calm racial divisions during the campaign. While Najib spoke about getting the best out of Malaysian youth regardless of their race or religion, his 1Malaysia campaign was derided as a vanity project by Pakatan Rakyat.

In fact, racial tensions were exacerbated by DAP-PKR-PAS where bitter disputes arose over whether Malays or Chinese candidates should fill key seats.

On school education, Pakatan sent out mixed messages, in turn supporting and criticising the National Education Blueprint and then using its manifesto to call for a totally unnecessary royal commission on school education should it gain power. Apart from the fact that this proposal would have been a total waste of time and money, it also served to remind us that Pakatan Rakyat had no ideas of its own.

The real supporters of vernacular education has been the BN Government, which has boosted funds for both Chinese and Tamil schools while introducing easier teaching modules to ensure Bahasa is well received in these schools. It has also insisted all 17-year-olds be proficient in English, which means Chinese and Indian students are now getting the best of both worlds.

Anwar's comments were a response to Former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah, suggesting vernacular schools be turned into national schools that teach all languages. His opinion is not Government policy but sneaky Anwar knew this when he trotted out his populist defence of vernacular education.

We should perhaps be thankful for one thing. After more than a month of wallowing in self-pity and bleating about the outcome of GE13, Anwar was actually commenting on a policy issue that impacts people.

It's a welcome change, despite the fact that he has again got it totally wrong.

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