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Najib woos Chinese vote with $10m for schools

Publication Date : 22-10-2012


The Malaysian government has pledged 30 million ringgit (US$9.74 million) for the upkeep of 78 government Chinese secondary schools with 125,000 students, as it continues to woo Chinese voters ahead of impending elections.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who announced this at the Malaysian Chinese Association's (MCA) annual assembly yesterday, said the allocation was in addition to the 100 million ringgit already budgeted for all government Chinese schools next year.

This followed the government's approval in July for an independent Chinese secondary school to be set up in Pahang, the first to be set up in the state - a decision analysts say would have been unthinkable just four years ago.

Chinese educationists, however, expressed disappointment that the latest allocation left out the country's 60 independent Chinese secondary schools, which have 72,000 students.

Some analysts questioned the government's sincerity and timing of the gesture, given that a general election must be called by April next year.

"This allocation is on an ad hoc basis during election season," Dr Hsu Dar Ren, who writes extensively on Chinese education issues, told The Straits Times yesterday. "We need a long-term plan to support all Chinese secondary schools."

Government Chinese schools, or Chinese national-type schools as they are called, receive government funding and teach in Malay using the government syllabus and examinations. Their students have the option to take the Chinese-language Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) tests.

Independent Chinese schools, on the other hand, do not receive government funding. They use Mandarin as the medium of instruction and follow the syllabus developed by the United Chinese School Committees Association, better known as Dong Zong. Their students take both government and UEC examinations.

The 78 Chinese secondary schools opted for the national school system in 1962 in exchange for government funding in order to stay open.

Datuk Seri Najib's Barisan Nasional (BN) government has worked hard in the past months to reach out to Chinese voters, who left the ruling coalition in droves at the 2008 general election. The loss of Chinese support was partly responsible for causing the BN to lose its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time since independence in 1957.

Malaysian Chinese make up 31 per cent of 13 million registered voters, a significant voting bloc. They form roughly 25 per cent of the country's 28.3 million population.

Last Wednesday, Najib reminded the people that Malaysia was the only country besides China to recognise and offer Chinese-based education under the national system.

However, Chinese educationists continue to urge the government to recognise UEC grades for entry into the country's 20 public universities. The UEC currently is recognised by only private institutions of higher learning here and abroad.

MCA president Chua Soi Lek had asked for an additional 50 million ringgit in funding each year for government Chinese secondary schools after Najib presented his annual budget on September 28.

The Dong Zong has been pushing the government to give financial assistance to independent Chinese secondary schools to no avail, according to Chow Siew Hon, its deputy chairman. He told The Straits Times that 60 million ringgit would be needed each year.


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