Investing in national schools

If the national school is to remain at the centre of our national integration, we must make it our school of choice:

ON the surface of it, the removal of the Malaysian student quota in international schools here has done a great service to monied parents who want more and better options of where to send their children for their schooling, and the type and quality of education they are to have.

The previous ceiling of 40 per cent allowed only 12,000 Malaysian students to access an international education, which is perceived to be better than that offered by local government schools, not only because of the higher standard of English (which is the medium of education), but also because of a more holistic approach to education.

With the removal of the quota, not only will more Malaysian children be able to enrol in the international schools currently in business, but the increase in demand is likely to result in more international schools being set up, which will make tuition fees more competitive, and, therefore, make these schools more affordable to more people.

From the consumer perspective, this addition of yet another type of school and education from which to choose is a good thing; and the same benefits the individual student. But can the same be said for nation-building? For what builds a nation? — Relationships. And what builds relationships? — A shared life. A generation or two ago, everyone sent their children to schools which had the same curricula, and the same examinations. So, not only the children, but also their parents, had something in common: the national school, through which the national agenda was realised.

However, through the years, this togetherness has slowly unravelled. For various reasons, the perception of the good quality of a national school education has taken a beating. Islamic religious schools, vernacular schools, private schools, and now international ones, which were once on the fringe, moved to become competitive alternatives.

Instead of investing their children in national schools, hammering a stake into the ground and fighting for the right to participate in forming a good education system, the people with money and who had the most clout in society and the wherewithal to be the strongest agents of change, withdrew their investment; because they have a choice. If national schools are to remain at the centre of our national integration, more Malaysians — from all racial backgrounds and walks of life — must turn around and invest in them; and make them their school of choice once again.

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