Tragedy spurs Chinese school funding debate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2005, 12:00am

The death of a Chinese primary-school teacher, killed when the wooden floor of a classroom collapsed under his feet, has rekindled a debate on the future of Chinese-language education.

Chinese community leaders blame the government for the death of Chan Boon Heng, 42, on September 11. They say if it had given enough funding for Chinese education the floor would have been long repaired.

About 80 per cent of the government allocation for primary education goes to national schools where Malay and English are the medium of instruction and open to all.

But most Chinese prefer Chinese schools because of what they see as better-quality teaching and their non-Islamic character.

About 600,000 students registered to study in 1,300 Chinese primary schools in 2004. Most of these schools are managed on public donations. Because of increasing demand, Chinese schools are overcrowded and always looking for money to add new classrooms and hire more teachers.

The government prefers national schools. For political purposes it does give money to Chinese schools but never enough, according to the Chinese community.

The old debate has revived with Chan's death.

His funeral was a grand affair attended by hundreds of students, teachers, community leaders, members of parliament and even Chinese ministers in the government.

Students have a website honouring Chan and highlighting the plight of Chinese education.

The government quickly announced a 'special allocation' to inspect and repair Chinese schools.

But critics say more Chinese schools are urgently needed.

'Why put money into national schools when parents prefer Chinese schools?' asked a Chinese-school headmaster.