Sunday, November 6, 2011

Forging true unity in Malaysia

FOR a country that has witnessed mixed marriages for more than 500 years, producing generations of multiracial and multicultural communities such as the Baba Nyonya (Straits-born Chinese) and the Chittys (Straits-born Indians) of Malacca among others, it seems strange that we should still approach the topic of mixed marriages and racial unity with a measure of trepidation in this day and age.

One would think that thanks to the cultural melting pot that we are and the growing number of mixed marriages that we witness, we should have transcended race and religion to forge unity, and race relations should no longer be a thorn in the flesh especially in a world of growing diversity and internationalisation. But more can be done.

Granted, mixed marriages alone cannot foster unity but it can play a significant role in building communities where racial lines are blurred and where one can eventually identify oneself as Bangsa Malaysia. But what is even more important, if not the most, is to sow the seeds of unity among the young.

Children, as we all know, are colour blind and it is the prejudices that adults perpetuate that often taint their vision. It is important, therefore, to give them a healthy exposure to different cultures, languages and religions from a young age so that they learn to accept and respect these differences rather than fear them.

And there is no better avenue to do this than to instil such positive traits while they are still in school. However, are we doing enough to expose our children to such differences in schools? Are we making our national schools attractive enough to be the school of choice among Malaysian schoolchildren of all races? The mid-term review of the Ninth Malaysia Plan revealed that the enrolment rate of Chinese and Indian pupils in national primary schools was below target. Thus, the major concern is that national schools do not reflect the character and spirit of a multiracial Malaysia. While major steps have been taken to memperkasakan sekolah kebangsaan (strengthening of national schools), it remains that many schools continue to have a largely Malay student population, with Chinese and Indian students opting to study in vernacular, private, or international schools. The continual improvements to the national education system is a matter for optimism. What will also be a step in the right direction is to ensure a good racial mix of teachers and school administrators sensitive to the needs of every child, irrespective of race or religion.

New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur

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