Archive for April, 2012




Neutral dimension to



national schools


BEFORE independence and in the years immediately after, Malaysian parents’ school of choice for their children was the English-medium school. A legacy of British rule, these schools attracted a good mix of the country’s ethnic groups, with the Chinese dominating in urban areas. Malay parents were persuaded to enrol their children directly or in the Special Malay Class of the English schools after their primary education in Malay. Like most urban Malays and Chinese, the town Indians saw value in a good English education.

All subjects in the school curriculum save for the languages and Islamic religious studies were taught in English – the socio-culturally and politically “neutral” language in the country. Paradoxically, although touted among certain quarters as the Christian colonialists’ expansionist tool, it was English that united teachers and school children of all ethnic backgrounds as they studied, communicated and bonded in the language. Most importantly, learning in English opened minds to a broad base of knowledge and sharpened language and communication skills in the international language.

In studying English literature, Malaysian students were constantly exposed to universal human values espoused in the classics and in history, including the history of world religions, they were enlightened on significant events as well as to the deeds of visionary leaders. Except in mission schools where Christian prayers were said at school assemblies and to celebrate festive occasions, the English schools remained secular in orientation and ambience with no domination of one set of cultural values over another. Malaysians were then a culturally confident and secure people in their homes and ethnic communities.

The first transformation occurred with the formulation of the Education Act of 1961 (input by the Razak Report of 1956 and the Rahman Talib Report of 1960) when the federal education policy became ostensibly defined by the nation’s political ideals of establishing “a national system of education … to promote the cultural, economical and political advancement in this country, besides making the Malay language the national language …” With the complete switch to Malay-medium national schools in 1970, the public school system has continuously accommodated the growing demands of Chinese and Tamil-language education of national-type schools.

Thus, from the language and culture neutrality of an English education, the country’s education system has become linguistically and culturally fragmented with all its socio-cultural ramifications. The growth of the Malay language and culture has been advanced along with that of Chinese and Tamil. Successive educational reforms have attempted to add value to a multi-layered education system which equitably reflects the multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural composition of the rakyat.

However, over the last three decades there have been disconcerting developments with each school-type promoting its cause in less discreet ways, each pointing a finger at the other for its popularity or lack of it. One of the reasons proffered for the mushrooming of private schools and national-type schools, especially Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina, is that Sekolah Kebangsaan have become predominantly Malay in the composition of their staff and students. Their Muslim veneer and ambience, it is said, are frightening the Chinese, Indians and other non-Muslims away – all disturbing developments in a secular education system.

So, apart from cosmetic reforms like the PPSMI or the MBMMBI, or abolishing examinations and opting for innovative learning methodologies, what can be done to prevent the more substantive erosion of a unifying national education policy?

Fifty years on and with a more enlightened and confident Malaysian public, it is time to embark on a second transformation of the education system. To balance the Malay, Chinese and Tamil linguistic and cultural silos entrenched in national and national-type schools, a neutral dimension must be added by way of a more rigorous English education. English, after all, is the first language of many Malaysians.


What the country needs to move forward is a transforming bilingual education system supported by a sound Bilingual Education Policy. To circumvent the continuous bargaining between the country’s three major ethnic groups in their bid to assume linguistic and cultural superiority, the English language must resurface as a peace and pacemaker.

Among others, the following changes can be implemented:

— Make English the language of instruction for the English language, literature and history in all the school types;

— Incorporate English reading and references for other subjects taught in Malay, Chinese and Tamil;

— Phase out Malay-Muslim cultural elements of national schools;

— Balance the appointments of school heads and teachers from all ethnic groups in national and national-type schools;

— Balanced the intake of students from all ethnic groups in national and national-type schools.

The Malay-medium national school must be transformed to become the school of choice for Malaysian parents and their children because it is seen as upholding the spirit of inclusivity and oneness of the national ideology. The transformation requires courage and conviction, and a transparently structured implementation plan.








and vested interests

THERE is much talk about volunteerism these days and many groups purporting to be doing voluntary work in the community. There are individuals, friendly groups, corporate departments as well as registered charities and organisations who have defined for themselves the kind of work to be undertaken for the betterment of society.

Volunteerism can be defined as “a societal responsibility to join in, to give freely of one’s time to assist others”. In its purest form it is a selfless, altruistic and philanthropic deed that has as its motive the desire to do good, to help oneself and others achieve the same. Its manifestations however are huge and cover the whole gamut of societal concerns. There are movements and organisations galore declaring volunteerism as their modus operandi, all claiming to do selfless work and inviting people to contribute generously of their time and effort.

Indeed, the calling to do good is clear in all faiths and religions. In the holy books of each religion are urgings such as in Islam: “And everyone has a goal to which he turns himself, so vie with one another in good work”; in Christianity: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good work, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity and sound speech that cannot be condemned”; in Buddhism: “Teach this triple truth to all – a generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity”; in Hinduism: “Through selfless work, love of God grows in the heart. Then, through His grace, one realises Him in course of time”; and in the Baha’i faith: “The fruits of the human tree are exquisite, highly desired and dearly cherished. Among them are upright character, virtuous deeds and a goodly utterance”.

Looking at the policies and programmes of government departments and agencies through grants, financial aid and welfare schemes; corporations and businesses through CSR; and charities, NGOs, citizen movements and community groups through their work on the ground, one can see that Malaysians are indeed striving to do good and contributing their bit to society. The country is not lacking in people who have the intention of helping the disadvantaged in society by giving in cash or kind, and by contributing knowledge, skills and expertise. It can be argued that Malaysia has all the characteristics of a welfare state with a well-developed welfare system in the making.

I am, however, more interested in the kind of voluntary work whose objectives are to improve the mindset of the people; to create awareness; to equip them with information and knowledge; to uplift their thinking and attitudes; to encourage good habits and conduct. Unlike voluntary work that focuses on meeting people’s basic need for food, shelter and physical comforts which are visible and more easily measured, efforts to improve the people’s mental and psychological capacities are more difficult to assess. Educating and creating awareness of issues that matter are a continuous process and require ongoing programmes and activities. While you may see immediate improvements in the former, the latter may defy short-term results and instead have long-term, more lasting outcomes.

Voluntary organisations which focus on engaging the rakyat in face to face interaction and discourse on issues of national concern are at the forefront of this important civil society movement. In the country’s current socio-political mood, it becomes all the more urgent that the people are not only exposed to sensible and reasonable arguments but that they themselves have the opportunity to speak up and make their voices heard (in speech or writing). It is crucial that ordinary citizens input the national discourse and express their views to be taken cognisance of by those in power. In this way, any societal change is executed with the people’s interest at heart.

These organisations then bear the responsibility of ensuring that the right target groups are mobilised to partake of these discussions. At a recent forum on religion and unity organised by Insap and Yayasan 1Malaysia, it was disappointing to see the dismal turnout and less than substantial input by the audience. As the moderator of the panel discussion, I wondered why the organising committee had invited such prominent speakers to volunteer their time to engage the public on a Saturday afternoon, and yet did not ensure a larger audience and a fuller participation.

For those of us who believe in volunteerism, let it not be said that we are doing it for “vested interests”. Let our objectives be transparently relevant to the groups we identify and let our outreach among them be impactful

April 2012