Chinese schools have come a long way since the colonial days. Over the years and with the evolution of the national education system, Chinese schools have had to face countless threats to their survival. Despite this, Chinese schools have gained popularity and have enjoyed high enrolments, even among non-Chinese students. It has been reported that at least 10 percent of students studying in Chinese schools come from non-Chinese backgrounds.
A number of factors contribute to this growing phenomenon. First, Chinese schoolteachers are well known for their high level of commitment. For this and other reasons, students from Chinese schools often excel in public examinations especially in Science and Mathematics. The other attraction of Chinese schools is that students are required to learn an additional language, Mandarin, which is a highly marketable skill in the job market.
Chinese Education: A Historical Perspective The beginnings of Chinese education in Malaysia can be traced to the early nineteenth century. It was recorded that by 1815, there were already three Chinese schools in Malacca. One was founded by the London Missionary Society. With regard to the other two, sociologist Yang Qinghuang suggests that "at least one would be a school founded by the Hokkien people." Scholar Zheng Liangshu suggests that some old-type Chinese schools might have existed in the Straits Settlements since the end of the eighteenth century.
For a long time, Chinese schools in the Straits Settlements received neither help from the British government nor assistance from the government in China. Despite this, they thrived —funded mainly by clan and dialect associations.
When faced with political and financial difficulties at the turn of the twentieth century, the Ching government of China changed its attitude towards overseas Chinese and began to promote Chinese education outside of China. It implemented educational reforms based on a proposal by Zhang Zidong. Following the reforms, the curriculum was revised to include Chinese Classical Literature, History, Geography, Mathematics, Moral Education, Physical Education and other optional subjects like Commerce and Drawing. In Malaya, Chung Hwa
Confucian School in Penang not only adopted this new curriculum (it was the first to do so), it went further to include English as a subject. Support from the Ching government, however, was short lived. It ended with the fall of the dynasty.
Chinese schools that attempted to run modern educational programmes (with a modern curriculum and incorporating English as a subject) faced enormous challenges. On the one hand, they were constantly in need of more funds. On the other hand, they lacked competent teachers. Furthermore, they had to compete with the more established English schools.
Even so, there were five hundred Chinese schools with modern educational programmes established in Malaya and Singapore in 1920. By this time, textbooks for these schools had departed from the classical into the vernacular Chinese language (baihuawen). Because of their impressive growth, the British government decided that it could no longer afford to ignore Chinese schools. On 29 October 1920, it introduced the Regist ration of School Ordinance to restrict the activities of Chinese schools in the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States by way of registration and inspection. In 1935, control was further tightened: textbooks and teachers from China were prohibited. Only local materials and Malaysian-born teachers were allowed, and activities in Chinese schools came under strict scrutiny. Despite these challenges, Chinese education continued to thrive until it was suspended at the time of the Japanese Occupation of Malaya.
After the war, Chinese schools resumed operation. By 1946, their number had ballooned to more than one thousand in Malaya. However,...