Vincent LauKUALA LUMPUR, Oct 23 — Chinese associations have insisted today that primary school students from the ethnic community are conversant in the national language, Bahasa Malaysia or Malay, contrary to popular belief.

United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) chairman Datuk Vincent Lau pointed out that over 80 per cent of students from national-type Chinese primary schools (SJK(C)s), where the medium of instruction is Mandarin, go on to national-type secondary schools (SMJK) that teach in the national language.

“If their Bahasa Malaysia is no good in primary school, definitely when they go up to secondary school, there will be a lot of dropouts. But doesn’t happen.

“So the Bahasa Malaysia foundation for our Chinese primary schools is quite good,” Lau told Malay Mail Online.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak reportedly said on Saturday that the government would build more SJK(C)s if there were requests and sufficient capacity.

In return, state news agency Bernama quoted Najib encouraging the schools to focus on students’ mastery of Bahasa Malaysia too.

The prime minister reportedly said it is important to master the national language as it is a medium of communications capable of promoting unity among the people in the country and should be mastered by all Malaysians.

According to Dong Zong’s data sourced from the Education Ministry, the number of SJK(C) schools numbered 1,298 as of last December compared to 1,346 in 1970. There are currently 81 SMJK, including three branch schools.

SMJK students follow the same syllabus and sit for the same examinations as their counterparts in national secondary schools (SMK), but SMJK schools allocate more time for Mandarin classes with five periods per week, compared to three periods in SMK schools.

There are only 61 Chinese independent high schools in the country, where the medium of instruction is Mandarin. Their syllabus and textbooks are prepared by Dong Zong, which also prepares and conducts the Unified Examination Certificate exam for the Junior Three and Senior Three years, the equivalent of Form Three and Form Six in national schools.

Datuk Chin Yew Sin, deputy secretary-general of Huazong, the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia, said Chinese students’ fluency in Bahasa Malaysia was now better than 10 years ago.

“Every Malaysian should try to improve their standard of Bahasa Malaysia. Bahasa Malaysia is the national language,” Chin told Malay Mail Online.

He also noted that the Najib administration had allowed 17 new SJK(C) schools to be built, compared to former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who only allowed such schools to be transferred from rural to urban areas.

“[Dr] Mahathir’s time didn’t allow any new Chinese schools,” said Chin.