I don’t want my children to grow up segregated

I don’t want my children to grow up segregated

By Zan Azlee

The timelines on my Facebook and Instagram pages have been filled with photos of my friends sending their children to boarding schools like Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) and Fully Residential Schools (SBP). Rightfully so, since the schools in Malaysia are all fully operational now albeit with strict SOPs.

I went to a fully residential school and I have to say, boarding school is a good place to learn, not just academics, but also about life. Being surrounded by intelligent students and having to be independent, it is one of the best environments to grow up to be an all-rounded individual.

However, there were also aspects of boarding school that I did not appreciate. The one thing that disturbed me most was the fact that the environment in my boarding school was extremely homogenous. A majority of the students in the school were Malays.

Of course, I am Malay too (although I need to stress that I am mixed!) and there is nothing wrong with being together with other Malays. However, spending 24 hours of every day with the same group of people during your young and formative years, it will have an influence.

Let me relate to you another story. My eldest daughter is now 10 years old and is in Standard Four. She goes to a normal public primary school in the area. The school is good and is a High Performance School but the demographics aren’t ideal because it consists of mainly Malays.

Now my second daughter will be turning seven and going to Standard One next year. My wife and I have been discussing her education. I have applied online for her to go to the same school as her sister. But the concerns that my wife and I have are still the same.

What good is a High Performance School if it does not have the correct environment for students to develop holistically? In an ideal situation, I would want my children to grow up in an environment that exposes them to diversity and differences.

So a school, where children spend so much of their time in, needs to have a balanced environment so that they can develop into complete human beings. I want them to socialise and interact with many different people of different backgrounds.

I live in a housing area where there are many Malaysian Chinese households. In the three streets that make up our enclave, there are only a handful of Malay and Malaysian Indian households. It’s a nice neighbourhood and we are actually friends with most of our neighbours.

We were having breakfast with another couple who lives behind our house – let’s call them Mike and Jenny – and we started to have a conversation about our children’s education. Mike and Jenny have two children aged 10 and eight and they are Malaysian Chinese.

My wife and I talked about our concern for our two daughters and Jen suggested that we send her to the Chinese school in the area. She said Chinese schools these days aren’t as strict towards academics as they used to be (I am not a fan of strict academic focus).

Then I asked about the demographics. And admittedly, Jenny said a huge majority are Chinese Malaysians. Of course, that isn’t ideal in my opinion. But my wife said that it is no different than going to the current school where the demographics are just of a different race.

However, I feel that although the current school is quite homogenously Malay, our eldest daughter still gets a balanced exposure because, at home, all of her neighbourhood friends are Chinese Malaysians. She also goes to gymnastics class where it is quite diverse as well.

Now, if our daughters went to a Chinese school where the majority of the students are Malaysian Chinese, and then they come home and their friends are also mainly Malaysian Chinese, then there wouldn’t be any diversity. And that wouldn’t be ideal either.

For me, ideally, schools should be the last place where students are segregated, be it boarding schools or daily schools. I’m sure there is no intention for segregation. However, the systems in place have just contributed to this kind of early, ingrained, segregation among the races.

I would consider my children lucky because both my wife and I come from mixed families where we practice the culture and tradition of all sides. We speak multiple languages, celebrate multiple festivities, and see multiple religious beliefs being practiced.

At the end of the day, my wife and I are still at a conundrum of what would be the best decision to make when it comes to the education of our children. I feel this is a problem we shouldn’t have to worry about if we were living in a more mature and progressive society.

I would have to say that the education system is the first place we go to in order to address the issue of racism. It starts early and we need to nip it straight in the bud when they are young and impressionable. Give them a positive holistic experience growing up.

I would definitely like to see a change for the better. But how can we change if we are still stuck in a society that is still stuck arguing about which race has more rights in the country than the other? We need to start getting past all of this and just see ourselves as Malaysians.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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