Summary and Keywords
Despite the fact that Mandarin is not accorded official language status in Malaysia, and that ethnic Chinese communities accounted for less than 30% of the country’s overall population, Malaysia is the only country outside China and Taiwan with a comprehensive and complete Chinese education system. It is also the only country in Southeast Asia that has perpetuated the Chinese education system established during the colonial era.
The prolonged endurance of the Chinese education system in Malaysia is the result of many factors: heavy brokerage and lobbying efforts by ethnic Chinese political leaders; incorporation of vernacular schools into the Malay-dominated national education system in the backdrop of the Malayan nation formation stage; social mobilization of the Chinese education movement in Malaysia; and the increasing significance of Mandarin proficiency in the world.
In particular, the assimilation policies for nation building by the Malay-dominated regime have threatened the cultural distinctiveness of the Chinese-speaking communities. Resistance from the Chinese speaking minorities is manifested through their support of the Chinese schools. Moreover, the elimination of English schools during the 1970s has unintentionally favored the Chinese primary schools. Despite their standing at that time as the “second-best” option after the English school, Chinese schools that offered the benefit of trilingual education, stricter discipline, and more competitive academic performance enjoyed an accelerated boost in student enrollments. More importantly, many parents who do not speak Chinese began to appreciate the quality of Chinese schools, and the enrollment of non-ethnic Chinese students has continued to rise ever since.
Above all, China’s rapid economic ascendancy and growing political influence since the 1990s has enhanced the importance of Mandarin as a global language. This has added value to the importance of Chinese schools as language and cultural learning institutions for Malaysian. Such opportunity has enabled the Chinese school model to become one of the most successful and inclusive educational institutions for multicultural Malaysians.
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