Statistic show that the number of students at SJKCs nationwide has been declining over the past five years, losing a total of 41,172 students over the period.
Among the reasons for the decline are lower birth rates among Chinese Malaysians and competition from international schools and private schools.
Population ageing and lower birth rates are universal trends today mainly due to changes in the attitude of modern parents in having children while also reflecting the prevailing economic development trends, quality of life and education level, as suggested by the education ministry.
Such a phenomenon is almost irresistible and has had a severe impact on many aspects of this country.
Instead of lamenting it as a crisis, perhaps we need to identify the right solutions to tackle this situation.
International schools, private schools and home schooling have sprung up like wild mushrooms in recent years as a consequence of education liberalization. These institutions use English as the teaching medium, put remarkably less homework pressure on students, have small classes and relatively comprehensive equipment and facilities, making them ideal choices for urban parents.
These parents are generally in the high-income bracket although some are not that well off but have been tightening their belts just to make sure their children get into private or international schools.
International and private schools do not just impact SJKCs, even national primary schools and independent Chinese high schools are affected.
Instead of interpreting it as a crisis whereby Chinese Malaysians are gradually abandoning their mother tongue, why don’t we see it as a form of positive competition?
SJKCs still have their advantages and unique strengths, especially in the student’s moral education.
When selecting a school for their children, parents should ponder which education model suits their children best and which will help shape their children’s value system and cultural traits, in addition to factors like teaching medium and staying connected with the world.
SJKCs still command an advantaged position, as evidenced by the fact that more and more non-Chinese parents, and parents with non-Chinese education backgrounds, are sending their children to SJKCs.
In the face of stiff competition from a more liberalized education sector, SJKCs indeed need to reinforce their curriculum, teacher qualifications and infrastructure. For example, they must strive to improve their students’ BM and English standards to meet the demands of parents as well as to promote stronger national unity.
On top of that, with more and more Malay parents sending their children to SJKCs, the schools must make sure their learning environment is friendly to non-Chinese students in terms of their lifestyle and religious needs. This will make SJKCs the preferred schools for Malaysians regardless of race, and reverse the misperception that SJKCs are an obstacle to national unity.
Indeed we need the education ministry to map put a workable blueprint and reform strategy to enhance the quality of Chinese schools in the country, but stakeholders like school boards, school authorities and parents must also work together to come up with effective solutions to improve their schools.