By Clara Chooi
KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — A few Chinese DAP leaders have defended members of their community who are unable to converse well in the national language, claiming this was likely the fault of the present education system.
The leaders also brushed aside talk that an individual’s inability to speak Bahasa Malaysia could hamper the process of national integration or that the existence of Chinese vernacular schools should be blamed.
DAP Socialist Youth chief Anthony Loke (picture) admitted that BM proficiency among the Chinese was unsatisfactory but pointed out that the government had failed to give enough emphasis to assisting those who were weak in the language to boost their skills in national schools.
“I think that probably this is because the learning of the language is not really enhanced in both the primary and secondary levels.
“I am sure that there will be critics blaming the vernacular schools but I disagree... because even there, BM is a compulsory subject and after that, they go to secondary school where BM is even more prominent,” Loke told The Malaysian Insider.
“There is just no proper programme in place to help these Chinese primary school students to adopt when in the secondary level,” he added.
The Rasah MP was asked to respond to a survey conducted by The Malaysian Insider to gauge the proficiency level of the Chinese community in their daily use of the national language.
In the survey, 107 Chinese adults were polled and only 75 were deemed able to converse or understand BM.
Of the 75 polled, 21 per cent said the use of Mandarin or other Chinese dialects were more important than BM.
In a separate national study by a well-known teachers’ association recently, it was shown that one in every three Chinese primary school pupil cannot understand BM or English when they prepare to enter national secondary school.
The school survey by the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) also found that one in every four Chinese child who enters national secondary school will drop out.
This has led to claims that the dropout rate and the low level of BM proficiency have created a group of Chinese adults who only interact with other Chinese, creating a barrier for greater inter-ethnic integration in plural Malaysia.
But Loke disagreed with failure in national integration would be the sole outcome of an individual’s failure to master BM.
“Of course I fully agree that every Malaysian should master the language, especially the younger generation, but when it comes to integration, there are many other pertinent factors involved.
“There are also government policies where every Malaysian wants to have a place here, to be treated equally. “Of course language is important because it enhances communication between all the races but still, it is the policies of the government that truly help to promote integration,” he said.
Loke added to him, the most important language was BM and not any Chinese dialect, due to his duties as an MP.
DAP deputy secretary-general Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham expressed shock that there were those among the Chinese community who were unable to converse well in BM.
“I do not see how this is possible. If a person has gone through at least primary school... even Chinese school, they should be able to converse in BM.
“I suspect these people did not go to school.... was the survey done in the rural areas? Did these people go to school?” he asked when contacted.
Ngeh said “something must have gone wrong” during the teaching of the language in schools if individuals were to emerge from the institutions without any knowledge of BM.
“I do not see why they cannot speak if they are properly taught. In any case, this environment where people are unable to converse in BM is no more in Malaysia, except in the more rural areas,” he pointed out.
He added national integration had nothing to do with a person’s inability to converse in the language and explained that it was likely that many people saw it more beneficial to master English or Mandarin than BM.
Ngeh noted the civil service was taken up by at least 80 per cent of Malays, causing the non-Malays to focus their attentions on obtaining jobs that do not require extensive knowledge of BM.
“We master a language for the betterment of our future, like finding a good job, a good career and so on. So since many non-Malays do not opt for posts in the civil service where BM proficiency is required, their focus on learning the language is almost negligible,” he said.
However, Ngeh stressed that every Malaysian should at least possess basic knowledge of conversational BM for their everyday lives.
He said it was not justifiable for a person to be unable to understand basic BM. “Everyone in Malaysia should understand BM as a language of communication and unity,” he said.
DAP national vice-chairman Chong Chieng Jen also strongly disagreed that national unity would be affected by the Chinese community’s lack of proficiency in BM.
He pointed out that 30 years back, racial polarisation and segregation were less rampant than it is today despite the widespread lack of understanding of the BM language among the community.
“Less people understood BM then but there was less segregation. People mingled better than they do today. “So at the end of the day, national unity and integration is more about fairer policies.... Barisan Nasional politicians should stop playing racial politics,” he said.
He added that it was his personal belief that while BM is important in Malaysia, an individual could still get by without having mastered the language.
“It is good if you can speak well in BM because yes, it is our national language, but life goes on even if you cannot do so. It is just a bonus,” he said.