Case Study of Vision Schools in Malaysia.Case Study of Vision Schools in Malaysia.
Undoubtedly, education is one of the most important key factors in process of achieving sustainability in every society. However, this notion faces many different challenges based on the society in which it wants to be implemented.
The role of education in multi-ethnical/cultural societies is vital to guaranty their sustainability of development. On the other hand, because of the diverse nature of multi-ethnical/cultural societies and communities, designing and applying an educational pattern which can answer the needs of each minority in regards to its unique identity and promote tolerance, respect and understanding among them is a challenging task.
This paper examines and analyzes some of the mechanisms (curriculum designing, activities, structures, etc), necessary to be addressed in the educational system of a multi-ethnical societies together with challenges these mechanisms face by refereeing to the case study of Vision Schools (Sekolah Wawasan) in multi-ethnical society of Malaysia.
As it has been officially described, Vision schools are primary schools with the concept of children learning together within an area without regard for race or religion to foster solidarity, integration and respect among the students by sharing of school facilities and implementation of other activities in school.
Full paper: Introduction:
If you plan for one year; plant rice, if you plan for 20 years; plant trees, but if you plan for 100 years; educate the people.” -An Eastern proverb
Education has been always a key factor in existence and development of every society throughout the history of human being. As the matter of fact, this very important factor plays a central role in achieving a sustainable developed society. However, before entering to any further discussion, we have to define the meaning of a sustainable society and its relation with the concept of education.
Based on the classical definitions a sustainable society provides a high quality of life for all of its members without harming the integrity and efficiency of the natural systems and resources upon which all life depends. We have to pay attention that the limit of the human desires is nature. Human can design its dreams based on the borders of nature. Therefore, Sustainability can be defined as achieving a pleasing existence for everyone within the means of nature for now and in the future.
On the other hand, we have to be aware of this important fact that a sustainable society is not just about environment and nature. It covers a wider range of issues and phenomena. A sustainable society has to provide opportunities for each member of the community to reach his/her potentials. Some issues such as cultural diversity, providing adequate food, clothing, shelter, and a life of dignity for all people should be also addressed in a sustainable society.
Diversity is one of the most important issues that a sustainable society has to recognize and promote its existence as diversity gives birth to strength and flexibility of the human community. This cannot be achieved without a system of education designed to address these issues. There fore a system of education for a sustainable society has to make a balance between the human needs and natural systems.
As it has been mentioned, an appropriate system of education is a key to a sustainable society. In order to achieve such appropriate system of education, many elements should come into consideration such as; the geographical situation of the society, the population texture of the society, socio-economical background of the society, etc. however, the issue of designing and running a suitable system of education in societies with a mix ethnical backgrounds is very different from a homogenous society.
Malaysian System of Education:
This will lead us to the notion of a multiethnic society and the challenges that the education system of these societies faces to address the needs of every individual ethnic groups of that society. Based on official definitions, a multiethnic society is in contrast to mono-ethnic societies; integrate different ethnic groups irrespective of differences in culture, race, and history under a common social identity larger than one “nation” in the conventional sense.
The issue of ethnic diversity makes many things more complicated in a multiethnic society such as; the governing system, political system, economical system and of course education system. The backbone of all these complexity is how to address the needs and wills of each single ethnicity equally in the frame work of national identity and solidarity.
Malaysia is one of the examples of multiethnic (multiracial) countries around the world. In fact Malaysia represents the true meaning of a diverse society in many ways such as; race, language and religion. Population wise, Malaysian society is consisted of Malays 50.4%, Chinese 23.7%, Indigenous 11%, Indians 7.1% and others 7.8% (2004 est.). In term of language we witness a huge variety such as; Bahasa Malaysia (official), English, Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi, Thai and several indigenous languages which most widely spoken are Iban and Kadazan. The same goes to religion as Malaysian society practices many different religions like; Islam, Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Bahaism and also Shamanism in East Malaysia.
Looking at the statistics above shows us how difficult it can be to keep such diverse texture of society in harmony and provide a fair and equal system of education for it based on understanding and respect. In such a diverse society, the education system should be able of adopting a guideline to address the cultural and ethnical needs of each group and at the same time keep the society in the frame of national community.
The Malaysian education system is consisted of three different forms of schools; firstly the government-sponsored schools (National Schools), secondly, private schools and thirdly, home- schooling. As the matter of fact, the Malaysian system of education is extremely centralized especially when it comes to primary and secondary schools.
Based on the Malaysian constitution, the Malaysian Ministry of Education is responsible of providing the National Education Policy based on the National Ideology or as it called “Rukunegara” in Malay language. The principles of the National Ideology are; Believing in God, Loyalty to the King and the country, Upholding the constitution, Rule of law and Good behavior and morality.
The main aims of the Government Educational Policy are to 1) Equip students with the essential skills in a holistic and integrated manner, in order to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced; as well as functionally literate; 2) Inculcate and nurture national consciousness by promoting common ideals, values, aspirations and loyalties to foster national unity and national identity 3) Produce skilled manpower for economic and national development;
4) Instill desired moral values in students so that they can contribute effectively towards nation building.
The chart below demonstrates the general public education system of Malaysia. Curriculum wise, there are several different types of primary and secondary schools available in Malaysian education system. The main source of division in this case is their colloquial speech languages. All the schools use the national curriculum and Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction along with their vernacular languages as their subject. For the Chinese or Tamil schools students prior to the promotion to Form 1, have to undergo a year in “Remove Form” to enable them to become accustomed to the national curriculum effectively. Based on the factors mentioned above, there are four types of governmental schools in Malaysia; 1) National Schools (Malay), 2) National Chinese Schools, 3) National Tamil Schools and 4) National Arabic Schools (The number of them is few).
Source: Malaysian Ministry of Education.
In January 2003, a mixed mode of instruction has been introduced so that from standard 1, science and mathematics are taught in English whilst other subjects are taught in Malay. Tamil and Chinese vernacular schools usually conduct classes in Mandarin and Tamil.
The issue of race and language has been always a challenge in front of the Malaysian education system since the establishment of Malaysia. There has been always argues on how to make policies and run this system with considering an equal opportunity and right for every member of diverse Malaysian society. The idea of vernacular schools has been always criticized by different sectors of the society as a barrier in front of sharing common experiences among different races. On the other hand, the supporters of this system claim that this will give students from different racial backgrounds to preserve their own culture within the frame of national unity.
In order to tackle these issues, the Malaysian government decided to introduce a new type of primary schools in 2004 under the name of Vision Schools (Sekolah Wawasan). Vision schools are primary schools with the concept of children learning together within an area without regard for race or religion. Under this concept, two or three primary schools of different streams are placed in the same area. Each school will have its own building which can be joined to the other schools by a link-way.
This system is at its testing period and there are just 5 of them throughout Malaysia. In this system, as it has mentioned before, 3 main types of schools (National, National Chinese and National Tamil) gather together at a same place under the name of Vision School Complex. Each school is separated from the other one and acts independently from its administrative system to its curriculum. Each school follows its national curriculum without interfering with the other one.
The most important factor which makes this type of school different from the ordinary schools is the notion of making students from different ethnic backgrounds enable of interacting with each other during the break times and also some other joint co-curriculum activities. This plan is being considered as an innovative option to address the main issues of preserving ethnic cultures and supporting inter-racial integration to sustain the national unity of the country.
Some of the main objectives of this system of schooling have been demonstrated by the Malaysian Ministry of Education as; fostering solidarity among the pupils of different races and backgrounds, instilling the spirit of integration among pupils of different streams, producing a generation that is tolerant and understanding so as to realize a united nation and encouraging maximum interaction among the pupils through the sharing of school facilities and implementation of other activities at school.
However, can this pattern of schooling system fulfill the principles of education in a diverse multiethnic society like Malaysia? What are the challenges, advantages and disadvantage of this plan? How successful this plan has been in achieving its goals and objectives? In order to answer such questions, we have to look at some basic and fundamental characters and principles of multiethnic education systems and evaluate the out put of Vision Schools based on them.
As the matter of fact, there are still arguments of how to define a multiethnic education system. Some experts believe that a multiethnic education system can be achieved by adding some special courses to the current curriculum to make it possible for each ethnic group to have a voice in the mainstream curriculum. And on the other hand, some other experts believe that the change should be happen in the classrooms and the climate of schools to make it possible for the students from different racial backgrounds to interact and integrate with each other in a more constructive way.
It is clear that the Malaysian Vision Schools follow the second school of thought in which the climate of classrooms and social interactions among students with different racial backgrounds is prier to the change of curriculum. As it has mentioned before, the Vision Schools follow the national curriculum which has been designed for them based on their language type and the interaction of the students happen outside of the official curriculum and classrooms.
At the same time we have to pay attention to this important fact that even National (Malay), Chinese National and Tamil National schools are not homogenous schools. There are a lot of students from different racial backgrounds in each school and calling these schools Chinese or Tamil does not mean that here is no other students rather than Chinese and Tamils in those schools. The naming has been made based on the majority of the students. This fact makes the issue of addressing the needs of each individual student in term of his/her identity even harder and more difficult.
Basic principles of Multiethnic Education System and their relation with Vision Schools:
However, there are some academically recognized principles in preparing Curriculum Guidelines for Multiethnic Education Systems which should be addressed in all multiethnic societies like Malaysia.
The first important principle in this issue is that the Ethnic and cultural diversity should be advocated in whole school environment. The sense of celebrating, accepting, understanding and respecting different cultures and ethnics should be well portrait not only in the subjects and the official curriculum of the school but the setting, atmosphere and the climate of the school as well. The unofficial curriculum of the school is as important as the official one in recognizing the ethnic diversity of the society and trying to address everyone equally.
To promote the understanding of ethnic diversity in whole school environment, the students should be able of accessing to first hand updated materials such as books, notes, audio-video resources, magazines, newspapers and internet which provide correct reliable information on different racial groups of their society, their beliefs, their traditions, etc. this can be achieved through at-school libraries or media centers.
This issue has been well understood in the concept of Vision Schools in Malaysia and all the 5 Vision Schools throughout Malaysia are equipped with libraries which provide such information for the students in order to increase their level of understanding about different ethnic groups at their school and society. These libraries contain an acceptable range of materials like literature, music, history, etc on different racial groups of the society.
The setting of the classes, gathering halls, corridors, cafeterias and offices of the schools should also reflect the notion of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism. The decorations of the spaces at school play a very important role to make students from different ethnic backgrounds aware and familiar with each others’ traditions and cultures.
In term of Vision Schools, although the administrative offices and classes of each school are separated, however, all the students share many common spaces such as the cafeteria, school yard and gathering halls. Based on the notion has been mentioned above, all these common areas are decorated by cultural signs of each different main cultures namely Malay, Chinese and Indian. In one of the Vision Schools which is located in eastern part of Malaysia, we can see more cultural signs of the indigenous cultures of that are in compare with mainstream cultures.
Co-curriculum activities occupy a very important position in term of advocating and making students aware of the cultural diversity of their society. Participation of students from different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds should be promoted. Such activities can provide priceless opportunities not only for the development of self-esteem, but for students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to learn to work and play together, and to recognize that all individuals, whatever their ethnic identities, have worth and are capable of achieving.
In Vision Schools as the official curriculum of the school is the same as the national one, co-curriculum activities are the most important ways of encouraging students to mix together and work for a common goal. As a multicultural society, Malaysia celebrates many different cultural events of different races and cultures. These celebrations provide a unique opportunity for the students to experience the cultural diversity of their society in a first hand way.
Vision Schools celebrate some national cultural festivals such as Hari Raya (Islamic festival of ending the fasting month), Diwali and Thaipusam (Hindu festivals) Chinese New Year and Malaysian National Day with participation of all students from different racial background to make the sense of national unity and promote the understanding and respect for other cultures. The students participate in different activities such as drawing competitions, singing competitions, etc in order to celebrate these events together.
Some other activities such as visiting mosques, temples or churches are provided by the school officials to make students familiar with each others’ cultural and traditional backgrounds.
The second important factor or principle in multiethnic system of education is the issue of school rules, regulations and policies. These rules and regulations should serve the process of cultural understanding among different racial groups of students with respecting to each individual cultural and religious belief.
In order to keep the school in order, we need some rules and regulations and implementing these rules and regulations can be challenging at some schools especially with a diverse racial and religious background of their students. This is a challenge most multiethnic schools face everyday. This issue will lead us to a very important fact which is the issue of equality for everyone in a multiethnic society and how to maintain this equality without disturbing the harmony and sustainability of the diverse racial texture of the school.
The issue of being fair in a multiethnic school is too different form a school with homogenous texture. In a multiethnic school we have to be aware that the definition of being fair is too different. We cannot use the same rule and logic to treat everyone with it. Something which looks fair to one special racial or religious group may seem unjust to the other. That is why the school administration in a multiethnic school has to adopt a policy to attend each ethnic group individually based on respect for their cultural identity and beliefs.
This concept can be translated into everyday rules and regulations of the school. For example in case of Malaysian Vision Schools, there are some certain concerns about the food which should be served at the school cafeterias. As each school has many Muslim students, the food in cafeteria should be Halal (prepared based on Islamic regulations) and at the same time to respect the Hindu students, beef should be eliminated from the menu. The same policy should be taken during the Muslims’ fasting month of Ramadhan to ensure the equality for Muslim students.
On the other hand, any kind of discriminatory policies or regulations based on racial, religious or cultural stereotyping should be removed from the schools and classrooms. It has been cases that the academic achievements of the students have been tied to a stereotypical interpretation of their races and this matter has to be carefully monitored in multiethnic schools to prevent any kind of tension or discrimination.
The third important principle that has to be addressed is the ethnic texture of the academic and non-academic staffs of the school. It is a vital fact for a multiethnic school to have teachers, administrators and other staffs from different racial and cultural background. We have to keep it in mind that especially in primary schools; students view their teachers and school staffs as their patterns. At this stage, teachers and officials of schools have a great impact on shaping the personality and character of each student and this process should be carefully observed. A multiethnic texture of teachers and officials will help the student to practically experience a constructive interaction among different members of their society with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
As Ranjit K. Arora mentions in her book, a mono-ethnical schooling system within a multiethnic society can seriously decrease the level of interracial understanding, integration and sympathy among students.
So as to reduce such difficulties and problems at Vision Schools, the attempt has been made to choose the students and the administrators with different racial and cultural backgrounds in order to sustain the stability and secure the maximum interaction among different races at schools. There are teachers from different races who teach different courses at Vision Schools. This policy provides a trustful positive environment for the students to enjoy the interracial interactions. The role of teachers to navigate these interracial interactions to the proper channel is central on this issue.
The forth imperative principle that has to be paid attention in a multiethnic education system is the concept of making students aware of their unique racial identity in the frame work of respecting the ethnic and cultural pluralism of their society. The curriculum and co-curriculum activities of schools should be designed in the way to help students to discover their ethnic identity and feel positive and proud about it.
The school activities should be planed to enable each student from different ethnic backgrounds to learn more about his/her ethnic history in a positive way. Students should be celebrated and positively encouraged for who they are. Establishing a consciously positive ethnic identity can help the students to form a solid personality for themselves in future life. Students should feel safe and proud of expressing their ethnic identity and history. They have to be assured that in a pluralist society; every one would be treated equally regardless of his/her ethnicity.
At the same time, the multiethnic education system has to be aware that this sense of self identity has to be defined in the frame work of the pluralist society. Students should be taught that pluralism is against polarization. Students should be guaranteed that having a unique identity or ethnic background does not cause any kind of superiority or inferiority in their social life. At the same time, students should be informed about the realities of the situation. They have to know that there can be conflicts in their society over the ethnic issues; however, many of these conflicts can be avoided by understanding and respecting other cultures and ethnicities. They have to feel that the example of harmony at their school as a sample of their multiethnic society can be expanded to their society in larger scale.
In order to fulfill these concepts, Vision Schools teach the mother tongues of students from different ethnic backgrounds as a tool to make students aware of their roots and ethnic backgrounds. Language can be used as a very powerful mean to make students aware of their cultural identity. Apart from this, there are many co-curriculum activities provided by the Vision Schools for each ethnicity to celebrate their identity like art and cultural classes. At the same times, all the students from different ethnic background are obliged to learn Bahasa Malaysia the official and national language of the country in order to be able of communication with other ethnicities and also to comprehend the notion of national unity. During the curriculum materials and also co-curriculum activities, students are being informed of their ethnical and at the same time national heroes and heroines to make a balance of their self and national identities. Attitudes and values of living in a multiethnic society are always promoted by the curriculum materials and also co-curriculum activities at Vision Schools.
The fifth main element which has to be considered in a multiethnic education system is the subject of promoting personal cross-ethnical communication among students. This is one of the vital elements in order of having a sustainable multiethnic society in future. The students from different ethnic backgrounds should learn how to communicate with each other without any sort of religious or racial prejudices. Personal interactions between students should be promoted constantly by the education system.
These kinds of close interactions will bring a greater scale of understanding for students from different ethnic backgrounds and it will prevent any kind of cultural and racial stereotyping or misunderstandings in future. These kinds of cross-ethnic personal interaction should be endorsed from early ages at primary schools where the basis of social identity and personality of each student is under construction. Students should be well educated to realize that ethnicity is just one of the aspects of each human life and there are so many other aspects of human being which are common among all of us. Promoting the common aspects of social and personal life of human being can prevent many ethnical disputes and clashes in future.
In fact to achieve such goal, Vision Schools encourage students to mix up together during class time and especially the break time. Students from different ethnic backgrounds are encouraged to play together, eat together at school cafeteria, participate in group games and also in the process of decision making at school like student committee elections. These active participations will help students to have a better understanding of each others’ culture, traditions, beliefs and way of thinking.
The above principles are some of the key factors which have to be considered in every multiethnic education system. In term of Malaysian Vision Schools, as it can be seen, there has been a tremendous effort to make a fair and efficient education pattern (from designing those schools to running them) to address the needs of each student group based on the main principles of the multiethnic education system.
However, as it has been mentioned before, Vision Schools are new to Malaysian education system (established in 2004) and therefore they have still a long way ahead of themselves to reach the ideal point. However, it seems there are some urgent deficiencies which have to be addressed sooner than others to maintain the sustainable multiethnic education system at these schools.
The first important deficiency in this case is the lack of cooperative teaching. Co-Teaching is a service delivery model in which two (or more) educators or other certified staff, contract to share instructional responsibility, for a single group of students, primarily in a single classroom workspace, for specific content (objectives), with mutual ownership, pooled resources, and joint accountability.
This style of teaching will give the students this opportunity to learn the subjects from different points of view (in this case different ethnic pints of view) and it will enable them to have a better comprehension of issues regarding to social and ethnical issues.
The second important deficiency which has to be considered seriously is the lack of special trainings for Vision School teachers. Although all the Vision School teachers are trained in Teacher Training Centers or universities; but all of these trainings were mostly focused on the academic parts of their career. The teachers of such schools should be specially trained on some vital issues such as intercultural communication skills, history of different racial groups of the society, cultural sensitivities, etc. A well trained teacher on these issues can be very helpful in maintaining the harmony among different ethnics at school. The trainings can be easily obtained in short term courses, programs or workshops by the Ministry of Education with the help from different ethnic societies or associations.
The third vital issue which should be taken more seriously by the Vision Schools is the social background of the teachers. It is extremely important to make a balance between the social background of the students and the teachers’ in order to make them enable of understanding each other. It is proven that students from lower-income levels of the society are having more loyalty and sensitivity to religious and racial values and attitudes than those from upper classes of the society. These students may find the regulation and value system of their multiethnic school more difficult for them to adapt. It is caused because of their stronger belonging to their racial and religious values. Here, teachers who are familiar with such ideas and thinking can be a great aid to keep the school in harmony and manage the conflicts.
Apart from all the positive aspects and also the deficiencies of this plan, Vision Schools face some challenges from the public sectors and communities. For example in case of Tasik Permai Vision School Complex in Penang, Malaysia, the Chinese Schools refused to join the Vision School plan and they said that joining such complex will end up Chinese students to lose their culture and identity. They argue that having different races at one school can damage the sense of racial nationalism and in long term will make students to forget their roots and culture. That is why the Tasik Permai Vision School Complex is just consisted of one National School (Malay) and one National Tamil (Indian) School.
In another incident, there has been a number of complains from some of the parents of Muslim students at Vision Schools who were not agree with some of the cross-cultural activities at schools. They were arguing that some of these intercultural activities such as visiting Hindu or Chinese temples or introducing other religions and traditions to Muslim student can be considered as an act to convince Muslim students to convert to other religions.
However, a study about the social background of these parents showed that they were belonging to the rural parts of the society and this problem could have been solved easier if the school had some teachers or staffs from the surrounding rural areas. On the other hand, we should not under estimate the role of local communities and their constructive relations with the Vision Schools. Local communities with different ethnic background can play a key role in managing such conflicts between the public and Vision Schools.
The idea of Vision Schools has been introduced to the Malaysian Education System in order to increase and promote the sense of understanding and respect among the students from different racial and cultural backgrounds of the Malaysian diverse society. The long term goal of this plan is to educate students with a deeper degree of respect towards other members of the society who are racially and culturally different from them. The Vision Schools follow the National Curriculum of studying however, what makes them different from other schools is the multiethnic environment of them. This environment gives the students this unique opportunity to foster their sense of solidarity with other races through some special co-curriculum activities. As the matter of fact, there are always deficiencies and challenges ahead of them; however, most of them can be solved by time and also fair careful planning and evaluations.
- Arora, Ranjit K. (2005) Race and Ethnicity in Education. Ashgate Publishing Limited. USA. ISBN: 0-7546-1441-7.
- Blair, M. and Bourne, J. (1998) Making the Difference: Teaching and learning strategies in multi-ethnic schools. (Research Report 59). GB Dept. of Education and Employment, London.
- Bourne, J. and McPake, J. (1991) Partnership Teaching: co-operative teaching strategies for language support in multilingual classrooms, London: HMSO.
- Lynch, James. (1989) Multicultural Education in Global Society. The Falmer Press. USA. ISBN: 1-85000-557-5.
- Schneider, Donald. (1994) Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies National Council for the Social Studies Press.
* The references are mostly been used as a general guideline. Any direct quotation from them is properly mentioned within the article.