The debate's still going on as some politicians are considering discarding the use of English to teach Science and Maths in schools because rural students can't keep up. If you're interested go to: http://www.jeffooi.com/MT3/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=4163 and read the comments. Not to be left out, I had put in my opinions as well. I don't want to see another generation of misfits who may find it difficult to survive in the job market due to their lack of communication skills caused by the see-saw decision makers.
I was schooled in St Xavier's Inst Penang, from 1960-1970 while my siblings went to the local SRJK (Chinese). It wasn't my choice. I had to bear the taunts of the neighborhood kids who called me "angmo sai" (red-haired (man's) faeces) for as long as I care to remember. I knew I needed an education, so I looked beyond the village boundaries and kept going. No narrow-minded, chauvinistic, name-calling villager was going to stop me from that.
In terms of communication with my family we could converse in Teochew, but it has it's limitations. I could not articulate with them in theological, theoretical dialogues or other complicated issues. I also discovered I had switched to thinking in English. I managed to learn the basics of Mandarin, but learning and practising are totally different things. With my "westernized'"and "christianized" influence I was sometimes in conflict with my family. It took me many years into my adult life before I realized it was my "western forthrightness" that didn't go well with my peers who were mostly Chinese educated. On the other hand, I discovered I could socialize more easily with members of other races or nationalities.
By the time my kids came along there were no more English schools, otherwise I was prepared to deal with the problems they'd have to face. At least we'd still speak the same language at home. Then came the day I had to make a choice for them. I had no way to find out exactly what's in store if I sent them to national schools. The things we heard about in the way they're managed weren't exactly encouraging. Tales of prejudice, discrimination, gangsterism and discipline problems abound. My fear was that I would put them through a worse precadiment than what I had to face as a kid. We had no way of knowing the truth of those tales. So, to be on the safe side I chose SRJK(C). They were practically on their own since both parents were English educated.
For secondary school, I let them make their own choices. They were accepted into "choice" national schools which offered places only to those from SRJK(C) with excellent results. I am happy that they'd done well. As with my own parents and siblings, we still couldn't go to intellectual levels of discussions at home, but so be it. Their English is “SMS level” while my Mandarin is only usable at home. It is good enough to be able to deal with daily issues. The knowledge gap can be narrowed in time to come. The basic foundation must be in place. This is most important to us.
I hope this story from a non-intellectual speaks for itself. I know what it is like being caught in between - without the mental capacity to be equally good in a few languages, all of which seemingly important to you. You just can afford to pick on one and be very good at it. I hope no self-styled nationalist misinteprets it for the sake of arguing for his own agenda. What we want is for our national leaders to decide and live with a decision and overcome whatever problems that come up from there. Not to keep coming up with new ideas after every change of leadership.
This is not to advocate that we bring English back as a main medium of education nor is it to promote Chinese schools. What we hope to see is a pragmatic approach to our education system and the will to implement and see it through without turning back whenever we see problems. And above all, to see beyond race and religion while making and implementing these decisions.