(Channel News Asia) KUALA LUMPUR : Malaysia's affirmative action-based economic policies have raised concerns among the country's educationists.
Some fear that the New Economic Policy (NEP) may cause polarisation and prevent national integration efforts.
12-year-old Wan Murneela is an ethnic Malay Muslim who lives in one of the new villages outside Kuala Lumpur.
Her parents enrolled her in a neighbourhood vernacular Chinese school six years ago. She now speaks perfect Mandarin.
Her classmate Teik Choon also lives in the same neighbourhood.
His best friend whom he rides to school with every day is a Malay.
"My school has Chinese, Malays and Indians. My best friend is a Malay. His name is Khairul," says Teik Choon.
These children, who are brought up in a multi-ethnic environment, do not see each other differently. They consider themselves Malaysians regardless of their race or religion.
But some educationists fear that may not be the case, if the affirmative action policies continue.
Targeted to raise the economic status of a socially disadvantaged Malay community, the New Economic Policy has produced a large number of bumiputra graduates.
Thousands of scholarships have been awarded to help them complete their education at top universities in the UK, US and Australia.
But that has led to the feeling among some non-Malays, that they have been unfairly denied equal opportunities to local universities and scholarships.
Lydia Lim and her peers were among those who sought private education.
"Why should there be any segregation? Why don't we work together as Malaysians? We should also be given the same opportunities that they have. If they are going to continue this policy, we may feel marginalised," says Lydia Lim, an MBA graduate.
"For non-bumi, we have to study really hard in order to get into the courses that are popular. We have to study very hard to fight for a place," says Soo Yau Zhang, also an MBA graduate.
Educationists say such affirmative action policies need to stop in order to prevent further polarisation among Malaysia's races.
"The government should find ways and means to make sure that the people do not continue to look at themselves in ethnic terms. I think we've been allowing that since 1957. If they continue to think of themselves in ethnic terms, they are going to continue to compare who is doing better and who is not, and the problem will never be solved," explains Associate Professor Khoo Kay Khim at University Malaya.
One of the challenges facing Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is how to foster closer ties among Malaysia's different races.
Education, say analysts, is the key to moulding a united future generation of Malaysians. - CNA /ls
tags : channel news asia singapore malaysia bumiputera nep new economic policy
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