A primary school in Malaysia has drawn flak for having a two-canteen policy.
Pictures of a separate “Malay Canteen” found behind the main canteen at SMK St Francis is inciting ridicule from leaders as well as the general public and serious accusations of racial segregation.
Instead of being an isolated scenario, the issue has only revealed that the practice is not uncommon among schools in the multi-cultural country.
Malacca State Education Department director Abu Bakar Saharim pointed out that many schools have been practising the system for a “long time now”. He insisted that the setting up of separate canteens in several schools in the state is to cater to Muslim staff and students has nothing to do with racial segregation.
He stated that the running of canteens is under the schools’ jurisdiction, with the government only providing guidelines.
“Why not have separate canteens? It only gives the pupils more choices,” he said. “This has nothing to do with segregation of races. This has been going on for a long time, why pick on it now? It is a non-issue. But if this becomes viral, we will get a directive from above.”
SMK St Francis, as well as several other missionary and vernacular schools, have had the policy in place for over 10 years. It is also alleged that separate canteens were introduced in schools even if the main canteens are certified halal, reported Malaysiakini.
A former pupil at the school told media that non-Muslim staff and students were not allowed to eat at the second canteen.
A canteen operator from another school said that despite the main canteen being certified halal, some teachers and students insist on a canteen run by a Muslim operator.
“Even if you employ Malay staff to help you, they don’t want to eat here... We have no choice. This is Malaysia now,” he said.
A pupils’ welfare unit officer at the Ministry of Education said that it’s the school’s prerogative to decide whether to provide separate canteens and that only core operators need to make applications through the ministry.
The ministry is investigating the matter nonetheless.