While I am of Chinese descent, I am not 100 per cent fluent in spoken Mandarin and other than my name and a few simple words, I can't really read or write Mandarin. I am a third generation Malaysian Chinese. Both my paternal and maternal grandfathers came to this country (known as Malaya then) from mainland China, like millions of other mainland Chinese who emigrated those days, in search of greener pastures.
Is not being able to speak, read or write Mandarin well a disadvantage to me? It has not been of significant disadvantage so far for all the four decades of my life the way I see it. While knowing foreign languages is certainly an advantage in various aspects, I don't see not knowing any particular language in depth, especially one that is not required in daily use, study or work, any disadvantage either.
Colonialism played a part in my parents' and my generation's education I believe. It was perceived that an education in the English medium offered a better future with more opportunities since English is the lingua franca of the world. That was then.
In the recent years, with China moving at a rapid pace towards becoming the 'superpower of the east', some people here are saying that a Chinese medium education could give you better advantage, especially when the Malaysian national education system is fast becoming what I call 'Frankenstein', an ugly,confused monster resulting from all sorts of 'experiments' the powers that be have performed.
But is going to a Chinese-medium school the answer? Many are saying it's good, it's a must since China is "opening up". You should and must learn how to read, write and speak Mandarin. You are Chinese after all. Even the non-Chinese are sending their kids to Chinese schools. When you hear them speak Mandarin, you are put to shame. Sorry, I don't quite buy that.
Be really clear as to the real reason why you have sent, are sending, or plan to send your children to a Chinese-medium school. What do you want to see your child benefiting from by sending them there? Is it just because everyone says Chinese-medium school is the way to go, government schools are cr*p, you have no other choice because you can't afford private/international school? Is it because people are saying China is "opening up" and therefore it's "good" to know Mandarin? Unless you're dead set that you and your children are going back to live in China (if you're Chinese), work in China, and die in China, then I would say yes, you must know Mandarin, do or die.
People are always saying "People are saying...". Who are these people? Reseachers, scientist, education experts, fortune tellers? Everyone has an opinion, everyone gets drawn into the majority's consensus opinion. If you don't know how or what to think and have no opinion of your own, you tend to listen to these "people".
Why not learn German or Dutch instead since some countries with these languages are already very advanced countries and offer a high-standard education and better quality of life? And education in some countries using those langauges I believe is free. They're definitely way above China that's fraught with its corruption, rampant abuse in various aspects (remember the tainted milk case? and other dangerous products? pollution?) Why not?
What kind of education do we want to give our children? What is our definition of 'education'? What kind or style of education/learning is best for our children? How well do we know each and every child of ours to best develop their potential? If one child is in a Chinese-medium school and is flourishing there, does it mean another child should go to the same Chinese school too? And it's not only about Chinese schools, but even other types of schooling systems, be it private or international schools, government schools, boarding school, homeschooling, extra curricular activities or enrichment activities.....Does one size fit all our kids? We tend to think "if they can do it, why can't we?" Again, who are "they" that you must follow and why? Why think that way at the expense of our children's potential and wellbeing?
We are supposed to be the ones who know our children best and would want to provide a learning environment that best suits that child in relation to his/her inclinations and aptitude, and in relation to the family as a whole. In my humble opinion, Chinese-medium school is not the way to go for everyone, Chinese or not. It could work out really wonderfully for some Chinese, and non-Chinese people -- I am sincerely happy for them. But it may not be the way to go for other Chinese, and non-Chinese people. Those who are not sure might try, and even succeed - congrats. But if it doesn't work out for the child and family, and you choose to tread a different path, do not think you have failed or chickened out. You only fail when you stop trying, and in this case trying to do the best for your child. You have not chickened out, instead you have the courage to be the captain of your own ship. While we could be sailing on the same stormy ocean, we each have different ships of different shapes, sizes and strengths to weather the storm.