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Thursday, December 30, 2021

Vernacular schools were recognised even before Merdeka, says judge

 

The High Court has ruled that since a vernacular school is not a public authority, the use of a non-Malay medium of instruction for teaching is not for an official purpose.

KUALA LUMPUR: Vernacular schools have long been recognised in the legislative framework of the education system even before Merdeka and the existence of a federal constitution, a High Court judge said.

Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali said this was evident in the Education Ordinance 1952 and the Education Ordinance 1957.

He said that following the country’s independence on Aug 31, 1957, vernacular schools were given due recognition under the Education Act 1961 as well as the Education Act 1996.

According to Nazlan, the exercise of this constitutional right by the government was not only confined to the study of Tamil and Mandarin, but also extended to their use as the medium of instruction.

Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali.

“Applying a prismatic approach to the construction of constitutional provisions, I would construe the use of Mandarin or Tamil as a medium of instruction is to teach other subjects,” he said in his summary judgment when dismissing a suit questioning the constitutionality of vernacular schools.

He said the government, through the Education Act, was therefore continuing to preserve and sustain the use and study of the languages of the communities in the country.

“This is protected under Article 152 (1) (b) of the Constitution,” he said.

As such, he said, “if the federal government wishes, it has the power to preserve and sustain the use and study of Mandarin or Tamil in this country”.

Nazlan made these remarks when quashing the suit brought by three Malay-Muslim groups that the existence of vernacular schools and the use of these languages had sidelined the use of Bahasa Malaysia, the nation’s official language.

He said that unlike a university, a vernacular school was not a public authority and, as such, the use of a non-Malay medium of instruction for teaching was not for an official purpose.

He said the Razak Report in 1956 introduced a measure of compromise where vernacular schools were allowed to retain the use of mother tongue languages while Malay would be the main medium of instruction in national schools.

Historical records and background, therefore, demonstrated that before independence, the establishment and existence of vernacular schools had long been recognised and accepted in this country.

“The position of the Malay language as the national language has never been in doubt and, at the same time, expressly intended not to affect the use of other languages in the education system,” he said.

“It could be fairly said that the purpose and intent of Article 152 on the national language was not to prohibit the use of other languages in vernacular schools.”

The suit was filed by the Federation of Peninsular Malay Students (GPMS), the Islamic Education Development Council (Mappim) and the Confederation of Malaysian Writers Association (Gapena) in December 2019.

They had sought a declaration that Sections 2, 17 and 28 of the Education Act to set up vernacular schools using Mandarin and Tamil as the main languages were inconsistent with Article 152(1) of the Constitution. - FMT

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