CHINESE SCHOOLS DESTRUCTIVE TO NATION-BUILDING, UNCONSTITUTIONAL
A group of lawyers question the claim that Chinese schools promote unity, saying there is ample evidence pointing to the contrary.
By Aidil Khalid, Free Malaysia Today
It was with interest, and grave concern, that the Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ) read the report published by Free Malaysia Today (FMT) dated Feb 4, 2017, quoting one Farah Halijah Halim, that Chinese schools in the nation allegedly promote unity.
Not only is the “personal experience” given by Farah susceptible to the fallacy of hasty-generalisation (when one example is taken to paint a beautiful, albeit not necessarily true, picture of the whole vernacular school system in Malaysia), it is also not backed by any solid data or statistics.
Instead, as clearly shown below, there is compelling evidence pointing to the fact that the current education system, allowing for the continuance of such racial-lingual schools to run parallel along a separate national school system, is actually destructive and damaging to nation-building and is unconstitutional.
In a report prepared by the Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (CEnthra) entitled Human Rights in Malaysia (2016), it was observed that the existence of vernacular schools such as the Chinese school system in Malaysia contributes to the poor grasp of, and in many cases apathetic attitude towards, the national language among the youths of the nation.
To quote the report:
“In February 2015 … the now defunct online portal, The Malaysian Insider, reported a survey on the lackadaisical attitude that the Chinese Malaysian youths have towards the national language.
“A year before that, Professor Dr Sharon Carstens of the PSU Institute for Asian Studies presented her findings at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) as to how Chinese Malaysians have “negative feelings towards using” the national language, despite acknowledging Article 152 of the Federal Constitution, as agreed upon by the nation’s forefathers.
“On Oct 25 of the same year, another academic, Professor Dr Teo Kok Seong revealed his findings that out of 14,000 trainees participating in the National Service Training Programme in the year 2010, a staggering 604 trainees could not speak the national language at all.
“These are intensified by the segregation in the education system, where children of different ethnic groups are being segregated along their ethnic tongues.”
Such lackadaisical attitude towards the national language runs contrary to the very spirit of the federation that the forefathers of our nation had had the wisdom to impart into the Federal Constitution as the highest law of the land, some 60 years ago.
In which regard, CLJ is guided by the strong words of the Federal Court in the landmark case of Merdeka University Berhad v The Government of Malaysia, wherein it was reminded that “the framers of the Constitution deliberately chose to use the expression “national language” because they intended that Bahasa Malaysia should be used not only for official purposes but also as an instrument for bringing together the diverse and polyglot races that live here and thus promote national unity… “[T]he use of bahasa could and should be used as an instrument for unifying the whole nation.”
In yet another landmark case, PP v Mark Koding, the Court pronounced it very clearly that there is nothing in the Federal Constitution to justify the operation of schools “where the medium of instruction is Chinese….”
In fact, Constitutional experts such as Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi and former Court of Appeal judge Mohd Noor Abdullah too had a couple of years ago stated that the Constitution does not provide for the existence of vernacular schools.
Further, apart from being seriously detrimental to national integration and clearly unconstitutional, there is also evidence to suggest that the continued existence of Chinese schools is damaging to the students’ future and livelihood as well.
The Khazanah Research Institute research director Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid noted that “a report from the Ministry of Education showed that between 2006 and 2010, the drop-out rates from Chinese national-type schools was the highest compared with Tamil national-type schools or national schools. A report by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) also noted that an estimated one of four students dropped out of Chinese schools by age 18, translating to a dropout rate of 25%.”
Therefore, CLJ calls for immediate steps to be taken to correct the unconstitutionalities in our education system that have been allowed to run for so long with impunity.
While CLJ is mindful that the proviso of Article 152(1) of the Federal Constitution allows for the teaching and learning of vernacular languages, such allowance however has been held by our courts in the cases cited above, as to cover only for the teaching and learning of those languages as subjects, and not the existence of a whole segregating system where the medium of instruction is in those languages.
Indeed, diversity is a virtue that must be celebrated, especially in the light of the richly plural and diversified society of Malaysia. But such celebration must be held within strict compliance with the constitutional framework of the nation.
Mutual respect and tolerance of the different cultures among diverse religious and ethnic groups can only be achieved when serious and immediate steps are taken to foster national unity and strengthen national identity through the use of the national language as the common unifying force.
This is especially so, because while being different in religious beliefs and cultural practices, the appreciation and use of one common language that is understood across the nation, and which is reflective of the nation’s cultural identity and worldview, would be paramount in fostering real and true unity.
Aidil Khalid is campaign coordinator with Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ).