The latest primary school enrolment figures point to a slide in popularity in national schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan, or SK) among Chinese and Indian parents.
The numbers also show national-type vernacular Chinese schools (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina, or SJKC) have become more popular among non-Chinese parents in the past decade, especially Malay parents.
In a Nov 10 parliamentary reply to Setiawangsa MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, the Education Ministry’s data showed Malay student enrolment in SJKCs jumped a significant 6.18 percent from 2010 to 2020.
Malay students now comprise about 15 percent of students at SJKCs nationwide.
Indian student enrolment rose 1.08 percent, and students classified as “other races” increased by 0.65 percent compared to 10 years ago.
While Chinese students remain the majority at SJKCs, enrolment saw a marked 7.9 percent drop in the past decade. This suggests one of two things – either fewer Chinese parents were sending their children to these schools or SJKCs were becoming more diverse.
The ministry did not provide exact student numbers in its written parliamentary reply.
Trends at national-type vernacular Tamil schools (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Tamil, or SJKT) have remained unchanged over the past 10 years, said the ministry.
Such schools are almost exclusively (99 percent) attended by Indian students.
No change in Malay student enrolments in SKs
The ministry also said the percentage of Malay students enrolled at SKs have remained stable from 2010 to 2020.
At “around 93 to 94 percent”, they constitute an overwhelming majority.
No specific figures were provided for non-Malay bumiputera students.
Over the same period, enrolment figures of Chinese and Indian students dropped slightly, by 0.44 percent and 0.52 percent respectively.
SKs continued to see very few non-Malay students – Chinese students (0.73 percent) and Indian students (2.63 percent).
How our children are growing up in separate bubbles
Reporting by Aidila Razak. Published on 30 August 2019.
Where are the non-bumiputera children?
The concentration of bumiputera students in SRK happens when fewer and fewer non-Malay students, particularly Chinese students, enrol in national primary schools.
The Education Ministry said it cannot reveal data on enrolment by ethnicity, but according to the National Education Blueprint, in 2011, some 96 percent of ethnic Chinese parents were sending their children to national-type primary vernacular Chinese schools (SJKC).
The figure today is estimated to be 99 percent, ministry sources say. As the ethnic Chinese make up the bulk of the non-bumiputera numbers, it leaves a compounding impact on diversity in SRK.
For example, in Peninsular Malaysia where the bumiputera are largely made up of Malays, non-Muslim students are a hyper minority, creating situations unpalatable for many non-Muslim parents.
Islamisation and homogeneity
One father, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Islamisation and the homogeneity of SRK, including among teaching staff, was his main concern and the reason his son attended SJKC.
This concern was even secondary to the quality of teaching in national schools, which he felt can be as good as private schools.
Indeed, Islamisation was one of five reasons cited by non-bumiputera parents when asked why they do not want to send their children to national schools, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia professor Teo Kok Seong said.
This was revealed in a study by the government’s Education Policy Research Division (EPRD), said Teo, who sat on the National Education Advisory Council.
He said non-Malay parents told researchers they had no issues with the recitation of the doa during assembly or even having Quranic verses on classroom walls, but did not like that the teaching time was used for various school celebrations related to the Islamic calendar.
“The parents complain that this may take half a day, which leaves only a few hours after that for teaching,” he said.
Other reasons given was the perception of lower academic quality, poor discipline, and poor school infrastructure.
“My boys were in Chinese schools for language and discipline, because we heard of discipline and bullying cases (in SRK),” said Marsha Beh.
“Of course it doesn’t hurt gaining an additional language. He came up trilingual instead of bilingual like the mum who went to national school.”