The problem of teacher shortage has been outstanding for three decades, and Wee Ka Siong deserves more than a phantom punch
Like the race card for Umno, Chinese education is one of the trump cards MCA keeps in its sleeves—to be used in desperate political situations.
Hence, it did not surprise observers when the party’s youth chief, Deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong, went to face the wrath of the Chinese at last month’s Dong Zong rally.
Some politicians may think they have managed to raise deception and hypocrisy to a fine art, but the truth of history cannot be easily erased or distorted and manipulated. And the truth is that MCA, in its impotence before Umno’s bullying, has failed to resolve the decades-old problems surrounding Chinese education.
Wee’s claim of being punched might win him some sympathy from sentimental sections of the public, but it does nothing to exonerate MCA, whose past and present leadership have been incompetent in dealing with the issue of Chinese primary schools being staffed with hundreds of teachers without Chinese language qualifications.
Neither has the party been able to overcome the problem of acute teacher shortage that has been haunting these schools for more than three decades.
Wee has not been able to prove that the punch he allegedly received was more than imaginary, but if his claim was meant to provide a side-show to deflect the public’s attention away from MCA’s failures, then he has failed miserably, at least in the eyes of those in possession of the historical facts.
“The sincerity of MCA support for the Chinese educationists was put to a most conclusive test in July 1959,” Singapore University’s Chan Heng Chee wrote in 1965 in a thesis for which she interviewed MCA leaders and examined minutes of party meetings and other documents.
The educationists had been raising a range of grouses following the Razak Report of 1956, which recommended a single system of national education and recognised the eventual objective of making Bahasa Melayu the main medium of instruction.
To try to placate them, MCA organised a conference to consider the report, attracting some 200 delegates who, almost in unison, demanded a revision of the proposals.
It soon turned out that the conference was no more than a perfunctory show of concern on MCA’s part.
“The MCA members in the Legislative Council voted without dissent for the Razak Report,” Chan wrote. The party had decided not to oppose Umno’s stand on language and education.
Party president Tan Siew Sin said that if MCA chose to back the Chinese demands on the language issue, “we may well have to part company with Umno. This the MCA cannot afford to do.”
Matters came to a head in March 1959 at a gathering of the Federation of Chinese Guilds and Associations, the Malayan Chinese School Management Committees (MCSMC) and the United Chinese School Teachers Association (UCSTA).
The participants numbered more than a thousand. They resolved to put up 15 demands, including the following:
· The medium of examination should be the same language as the medium of instruction.
· The various communities should get fair and equitable treatment in education.
· Chinese schools should get a fair share of the education budget
· Remuneration for Chinese school teachers should be equal with remuneration for other teachers
· The government should increase the existing grant to the Chinese schools by 100%
Chan wrote: “Lim Lian Geok, representing the 7,000-strong UCSTA, and Chin Chee Meow of MCSMC warned MCA that, unless the Alliance government heeded their demands, they would call on the Chinese in the country to boycott the MCA.
“For the first time, the MCA faced a power the party could not sneeze at.”
Yet, as it turned out, MCA refused not to give in to the “uncompromising” demands, as the leadership called it. The reason, according to Chan, was simple: “In order to save its relationship with Umno.”
Many members left the party, convinced that MCA had “sold out” the Chinese community.
From July 1959 onwards, it became increasingly difficult for MCA to persuade the Chinese that it was a sincere spokesman for their community.
The stigma remains today. Gone are the good old days when MCA was able to count on every existing Chinese association to give it electoral support.
The shortage of teachers qualified to teach in Chinese has not been resolved for some three decades, ridiculous as this may seem. And the problem will remain as long as BN kingpin Umno persists with its supremacist policies.
If MCA has any self respect left at all, it should tell Wee to resign his position as Deputy Education Minister, for on Sept 29, 1987, the party’s presidential council endorsed the following view: “The party cannot justify having a deputy minister in the Education Ministry when policies cannot be defended by the party in the face of criticisms from the Chinese community.”
That is the real punch that should knock Wee out.
Stanley Koh is a former head of MCA’s research unit. He is also a FMT columnist.