The increasing number of Non-Chinese students and SJK(C)s without Chinese students: problems and challenges

Although SKJCs still face many problems and inadequacy of resources, they remain the top choice in schooling for many Chinese students and have been attracting non-Chinese students, especially Malay students. SJK(C)s have always been known for their good efforts in teaching, being able to provide quality education and maintaining good discipline. Furthermore, with the rise of China, the economic value of the Chinese language in Malaysia has increased tremendously. These have become the pull factors in attracting non-Chinese students to enrol in SJK(C)s. In recent years, such students have been steadily increasing. In 2014, there were 87,463 non-Chinese students (15.47 per cent of the total student number) enrolled in SJK(C)s all over Malaysia (Oriental Daily News, 10 April 2017). By 2016, the percentage had increased to 18 per cent. These figures indicate that among all schools in Malaysia, SJK(C)s had the highest enrolment rates of students from all races. They have replaced SKs as the top schooling choice for all races.13 This trend triggered concern among Malaysia’s National Education Advisory Council (MPPK) as they feared that SJK(C)s would become the mainstream school of choice within the next ten years (Minderjeet, 2016). For example, of the ten SJK(C)s located in Kuala Pilah District, Negeri Sembilan, four had over 50 per cent Malay students (Tan, 2018, pp. 50-51). The increase in non-Chinese students did not occur only in mral SJK(C)s, but can also be seen in cities. For example, in Kuala Lumpur, both SJK(C) St Teresa Brickfields and SJK(C) Sentul Pasar had over 40 per cent non-Chinese students (Oriental Daily News, 11 November 2015). Rural SJK(C)s or SKMs generally had more non-Chinese students . Therefore, this led to the existence of SJK(C)s without any Chinese students. In 2013, there were five such schools in West Malaysia.

The steady increase in the number of non-Chinese students in SJK(C)s may be said to be a fortunate turn of events. However, it has also brought about new problems and challenges. Owing to the increase in non-Chinese students, the usage of Chinese as an administrative language in SJK(C)s has been steadily eroded. In some SJK(C)s located in the state of Sabah where more than half of the students are non-Chinese, the school administration, in a bid to communicate information more effectively to non-Chinese students and parents, has begun using Malay language in their school circulars, introduced dual-language broadcasts (Malay first followed by Chinese), and allowed the Chinese language to disappear from school notices (Wong, 2015, p. 278). Additionally, some SJK(C)s use Malay language during their school assembly and staff meetings. For example, a SJK(C) in Ipoh, Perak, has switched to using Malay language during their school assembly, thus losing the traditions and characteristics that a SJK(C) would otherwise be known for (Oriental Daily News, 20 March 2017). According to a new study, to cope with the increasing number of non-Chinese students, SJK(C)s had to make several changes and adaptations to their administration, teaching methods, and ways to develop their school culture (Tan, 2018). The usage of Chinese language as the main administrative medium is a characteristic unique to SJK(C)s. Various studies have indicated that this characteristic is slowly being eroded in rural SJK(C)s. Furthermore, the usage of Malay language in teaching is becoming increasingly more important. For example, in the teaching of Chinese subjects, Malay language has become an important teaching language. In their translations and explanations to non-Chinese students, teachers had to use Malay. This extends to even physical activities, weekly meetings, and official school letters, which had to be presented in both Malay and Chinese language. This trend in rural SJK(C)s has induced teachers to use both languages in their teaching (Tan, 2018, pp. 97-98). For SJK(C) Kuang Yah located in Malacca, research has indicated "the status of Malay and Chinese are equivalent, with the former sometimes being more important. This is to satisfy the needs of Malay students or parents” (Rong, 2018, p. 41). Although the leaders of Chinese educational organisations and the Chinese community in Malaysia recognised the seriousness of this problem, which is that of the changing characteristics of SJK(C)s, they still have not drafted any concrete measures to help those schools. The leaders of those schools could generally only lessen the impact of such trend with the help of their own personal administrative experiences. As the chair of the board of governors of SJK(C) Kampung Lalang in Baling District, Kedah, Lian Shousheng conceded that for a school where 60 per cent of the students are non-Chinese, it is a challenge to retain the characteristic of SJK(C)s where Chinese is the main language of administration and teaching. There would definitely be a problem if the school overly insisted on using Chinese as the language of administration and teaching. Mr Lian went on to say that if everyone insists on retaining the special characteristic of SJK(C)s and not accepting this harsh reality, it would be difficult for many rural SJK(C)s to continue operating (Kwong Wall Daily, 3 March 2018a).

Owing to the structural changes in those schools, the Parent and Teacher Associations of rural SJK(C)s have also undergone transformation. There are currently many rural SJK(C)s where non-Chinese student numbers constitute more than 50 per cent. As a result, the Parent and Teacher Associations have to reserve certain positions for non-Chinese parents. For example, in SJK(C) Kuang Yah, there was an incident of a Malay parent recommending himself as the vice-chairman of the association. As over 60 per cent of the parents in the school were non-Chinese, the school's board of governors had no choice but to accept the recommendation. The Malay parent has held the position of vice-chairman of the Parent and Teacher Association since 2015. Furthermore, of the six positions in the association. three (50 per cent) were held by Malay parents. Faced with such development. the school's chairman of the board of governors, Mr Yuande Hou, can only express regrets to himself but remains powerless to make any changes (Oriental Daily News, 11 January 2017). The situation in SJK(C) Kuang Yah could very well be the case for other SJK(C)s whose students are predominantly non-Chinese. Another micro-sized SJK(C) in Baling District, Kedah, SJK(C) Seng Yok faces not only the problem of lacking Chinese student enrolment but also the worrying challenge in leadership renewal in their school’s board of governors and Parent and Teacher Association as Chinese parents became increasingly less enthusiastic and participated less in the development of the school. On this point, ironically, the non-Chinese parents have become more enthusiastic than Chinese parents (Kwong Walt Daily, 26 March 2018d). Similar trends were also noticeable in the study of other rural SJK(C)s (Tan, 2018). By actively participating in the activities conducted by the Parent and Teacher Association and holding significant positions, these parents would be more likely to become members of the board of governors of SJK(C)s.14 Such are the developments that the Chinese community cannot resist. What is more worrying to the Chinese community is the fact that the culture and administration of SJK(C)s are becoming more oriented towards the Malay and Islamic as more Malay parents become members of the boards of governors and Parent and Teacher Associations. Under such trends, it is becoming more difficult for SJK(C)s to retain their characteristics.

Additionally, the steady increase in non-Chinese students has resulted in the gradual weakening of the Chinese learning environment in mral SJK(C)s. As non-Chinese students often exceed the number of Chinese students in SJK(C)such schools, the learning of Chinese language would no longer exist in a monolingual milieu but instead would have to be taught in multiple languages. For example, students of SJK(C)s in the state of Sabah communicated with one another using Chinese, English. Malay, and Hakka (Wong, 2015, p. 278). Other than the increase in the usage of Malay language in teaching, teachers have also been using or interspersing Malay language in their communication with non-Chinese students. Among students, the use of Malay language as a communication tool has also gradually increased in mral SJK(C)s. The usage of Malay language as medium of communication between Chinese students and their peers is conspicuous in SJK(C)s with non-Chinese students exceeding 50 per cent. Studies have revealed that the Malay language results of these Chinese students in the Standard Six government examinations have improved significantly (Tan, 2018). This phenomenon reveals that, when being taught at the same location, smdents of all races need to adjust and adapt to one another. Consequently, the presence of non-Chinese students in SJK(C) has begun to change the school culture. When promoting cultural activities and organising traditional Chinese festivals, these schools have to consider the feelings of non-Chinese students, especially with regards to the sensitive religious issues of Muslim students.

When faced with the situation whereby non-Chinese smdents outnumber Chinese smdents, not only does the task of teaching for SJK(C)s’ teachers become more arduous, they are also forced to reduce their expectations so as to match the smdents’ learning capabilities. As non-Chinese smdents would not have grown up in a Chinese-speaking environment and might be clueless about the language, these students would definitely encounter more challenges than Chinese students in mastering Chinese listening, reading, and writing (Rong, 2018, p. 38). To allow non-Chinese students to be able to acquire the basics of Chinese writing and pronunciation, the teachers would have to be more attentive and patient than normal SJK(C) teachers and use a more multi-faceted approach in their teaching. For example, they would have to translate the contents from the textbooks so as to ease students' reading and understanding, or make use of different perspectives and methods to explain the meaning of Chinese phrases to students. Even if the quality of the teacher is high, the Chinese phrases are normally too difficult for the non-Chinese students to understand; hence teaching standards would have to be lowered to cater to the students' learning capabilities and to allow students to cope with the content (p. 39). Despite this, the Chinese standards of non-Chinese students were still far from satisfactory. There are many Standard Five and Six non-Chinese students who have still not mastered the Chinese language (Wong. 2015, p. 277). In this aspect, the teachers’ efforts and hard work were often not reflected in the Chinese language examination results. Owing to the increase of non-Chinese students, the examination results of several rural SJK(C)s did not meet their targets. As a result, these teachers would often be reprimanded by officials from the Ministry of Education (Tan, 2018, p. 112).

Another problem surfaced when the results of SJK(C) declined due to the admissions of non-Chinese students into rural SJK(C)s. Some Chinese parents are not willing to send their children to schools where non-Chinese students outnumber Chinese students. This in turn leads to the percentage of non-Chinese students in SKMs increasing. Chinese parents believe that the teaching quality of SJK(C) s declines if non-Chinese students outnumber Chinese smdents. As the Chinese standards among non-Chinese students are comparatively poor, the schools would have to reduce their expectations for students so as to meet the learning abilities of most smdents and also to allow non-Chinese smdents to adapt. SJK(C) Kuang Yah’s principal revealed that Chinese parents who paid more attention to results would normally send their children to smdy at SJK(C) Yu Ying, which is further away, despite the fact that their homes were just a five-minute drive from SJK(C) Kuang Yah. The school's geographical location is no longer a matter of consideration for Chinese parents. Instead, the teaching quality of schools becomes the most important criterion in consideration (Rong, 2018, p. 36).

This is why the number of Chinese smdents in SJK(C) Kuang Yah has steadily declined. Therefore, on average, the school receives four new Chinese students annually. Such a simation has also occurred in other rural SKJCs. For instance, in a bid to increase the number of Chinese smdents, SJK(C) Kuala Ketil located in Kuala Nerang, Kedah, had in previous years encouraged Chinese parents living in that area to send their children to smdy there. However, some parents prefer to send their children to schools located further away from their homes. They would rather spend 15 to 45 minutes on a single trip than send their children to smdy at SJK(C) Kuala Ketil (Kwong Wall Daily, 19 March 2018b).

176 Key Pong Thock

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