Tak kenal maka tak cinta. Jom Kenali Universiti Awam (UA) Malaysia.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Policy vs Practice: The Multicultural and Anti-Racism Education in Malaysia's National School

Born as a Malaysian, the author scored herself a lucky Permanent Residency "ticket" to stay in Perth, Australia. Currently, she is doing her last year studies in Murdoch University. The author's age is a secret as age is seen as a woman's secret between her and herself. Apart from that, the author is a perfectly normal human who loves to indulge herself with strawberry flavor ice-cream and be pampered with holiday tours. To stay "hype" with the technology, she plays MapleSEA and watch lots of TVB dramas. When she is doing nothing, she will either be reading or sleeping and when she does sleep, it would be best not to disturb her =)

Policy vs Practice: The Multicultural and Anti-Racism Education in Malaysia's National School

by AWhite for Writing Contest 2008

The heart principle of multicultural and anti-racist education lies on equality of opportunities in education. Foster (1990) recognized the equality of opportunities as the inherent differences in the talents and abilities of individuals, and achieve a fair and just allocation of social positions and rewards. When equality of opportunities is linked with multicultural education, we then look at educational opportunities; where students succeed despite being are from diverse ethnic, race and linguistic communities with different socioeconomic backgrounds. Thus, it can also be argued that multicultural and anti-racist education can only be successful through eliminating racist practices and restricting the chances of success of a particular racial group.

In terms of education in Malaysia, the national schools are government funded and it caters for a diversity of students. Moreover, national schools follow the Article 26 of Universal Declaration of Human (1948-1998) right where it state:
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory…

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups..."

In addition to the above, multicultural and anti-racism education was part of process of realisation the "The Way Forward - Vision 2020" proposed by former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. The part of the proposal that involves education stated,
- To form a community that has high morale, ethics and religious strength.

- To cultivate a community that is matured and tolerant.

- To cultivate a community rich in values and loving culture.

Therefore, in order to achieve these goals, the government began by looking into an education that can uphold cultural values as well as creating an anti-racism system to cultivate a community that is in rich values and supports the different ethnics with mature and increased tolerance of religious and issues. Vision 2020 was further strengthen by the current Prime Ministerr, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi under one of the Ninth Malaysia Plans (2006) where he intends to make Malaysian national schools a school of multicultural education with choices for all ethnic groups.

With the above endorsement from the government, the schools act as an agent to support diverse cultural practices. These practices utilize the students in order to promote the understanding the sensitive aspects and rights of the diverse races and ethnics. However, the purpose of multicultural practices in schools have lost essence in supporting this.

According to opposition government leader, K.S. Lim (1966 – current), in receiving a letter from concerned parents of whose children attend Sekolah Menangah Kebangsaan Bandar Utama 4. The letter expressed that the school principal had been insensitive to the needs of other ethnic groups as she had introduced Islamic practices into the school system. For example, the school banned shorts for Physical Education as according to Islamic belief, it is considered inappropriate to reveal too much "flesh". In addition, she went as far as banning the beating of drums during Chinese New Year lion dance performance with no apparent reason.

If the drums are banned, it has been questioned, "what is the point of having a lion dance?" because a lion dance without drums will not bring the significant meaning in the Chinese New Year tradition. In other words, how could Vision 2020 be constructed with a community of rich values and loving cultural when students are not taught to appreciate and understand other cultures.

Another case of cultural insensitivity occurred at Penang Free School. According to Chee A. a student who studied at Penang Free School, there were two new signage installed at the main entrance of Penang Free School where one was in English language and another one was in Jawi language. The question raised was why was the signage in Jawi language, which is used in Al-Quran instead of Bahasa Malaysia (the Malaysian national language) since Bahasa Malaysia is the medium used for all national schools. Furthermore, Penang Free School is not an Islamic school. It can be accepted the fact that Jawi signage could be one of the ways the school is trying to introduce the Islamic cultural values to non-Islamic students but, why only Jawi signage. If the school is promoting the cultural values to achieve Vision 2020, then the school should also place Chinese and Indian signage. Furthermore, this action has also highlighted the school as being racially insensitive where only a small number of students will be able to understand and read the signage.

The lack of multicultural and anti-racism education practices can further be evaluate in the "Pokkiri" incident that happened at Sekolah Kebangsaan Hi-Tech. A concerned parent, Vimaleson sent a letter (please refer this post) to principle of Sekolah Kebangsaan Hi-Tech demanding to know why "Pokkiri", a movie with a number of violent and sexual scenes was aired for two consecutive days during school hours to a group of non-Malay students who are just in primary one. However, Vimaleson did not receive any reply.

With the above incident, coming back to Vision 2020 (where it states that government would like to generate a community with high morale), it has been question the type of morales the school trying to achieve by airing the inappropriate movie. As a school that practices multicultural education, the school should be focusing on the cultural values as well as human personalities instead of misleading the students. In addition to that, there was no reasonable reason why the movie was only shown to non-Malay students. Moreover, what was the Malay students doing at that same time? Assuming that the Malay students are studying during that time, the school has failed to provide equal educational opportunities to non-Malay students by segregating them with different curriculum content.

The segregation of differential racial and ethnicities of students can further be seen with an incident that occurred in Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Payu Butterworth. According to the opposition government leader, K.S. Lim, non-Malay parents of students from Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Payu Butterworth expressed their disappointments on "Program Didik Cemerlang Akademik" as it was based on racial omission for non-Malays. These letters mainly state that for the past few years, certain volunteer teachers from Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Payu Butterworth have been conducting the extra classes out of normal school hours to prepare students who are weak in their studies for the coming Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah. These extra classes are free of charge and all students who are taking the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah examination are encouraged to attend. However, one of the letters continues to states that:
…recently the extra class for Ujian Pernilaian Sekolah Rendah has been politicised and the government started to give payments to all teacher who teach those classes BUT there is a condition. The teacher who is to be paid must be MALAY and the extra classes are open ONLY for the MALAY students.

Moreover, if the non-Malay students decided to go for the extra class, they will need to pay a fee of RM$15.00 (AUD$5.50). This incident has highlighted the inequality of education because it has marginalized the non-Malay students on their education righ-ts by imposing a fee on them while Malays students could attend free. The school and the government has shown Malaysian the extent racism exist in the education scheme because Program Didik Cermelang Academic offer has restricted the chances of success for non-Malay students and they were treated like second class citizens in the school. In addition, this incident has violated the Article of 26(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human right where it states, "Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in elementary and fundamental stages...." (1948-1998). However, even after violating the Article 26(1) and receive numerous complain letters, the school and government did not take an appropriate action but instead, they sent away two teachers who supported the complaints.

Therefore, it is clear that multicultural and anti-racism education policy was not modeled or carried out correctly but has also been seen as having a stopgap solution to keep the concerned silent. In fact, such solution has caused the many unhappy parents to lose their democractic voice. Since the unhappy parents cannot voice on their dissatisfaction, how can Vision 2020 (which is to cultivate a community rich in values and loving culture) be accomplished? These students will one day be parents themselves and with racial omission in their education may leave an implication to them. They will certainly find it hard to be racial tolerant, especially with racial disadvantages that they received.

With the racial segregation and the lack of encouragement in multicultural education, the government's commitment itself is questionable on its validity and reliability. A further example to illustrates why there are doubts as of the government's allegiance. Minister Ong Ka Ting from Malaysia Chinese Association held a press conference and announced that there will be a list of several new primary schools that will be built at Cheras Sungai Long to solve the school's capacity issues within the large growing population. However, according to Liu R. (1988-current) from Malaysia's opposition party, Democratic Action Party, this conference was confined only to Chinese language media and not a single English or Malay media agency were invited. Therefore, questions were raised on why non-Chinese language based media were not invited. Liu believes that by doing so, there would be no record that Ong has pledges on building new primary schools. It was argued that this was one of Ong's political campaigns to allow the opportunity for him to say whatever he wishes to say to Cheras Sungai Long communities as a process to garner votes. If this is true, Ong has indirectly uses the educational prospective without having to be responsible on his promises. If a political figure like Ong could misuse his political power to mislead the communities, program from the educational aspect (that were proposed by the government under the Ninth Malaysia Plans) could also be part of the political campaign.

Consequently, with the current organisation of "education aparthied", it cannot be clearly seen how Malaysia could achieve multicultural and anti-racism education practices. The government may recommend a grand educational project that could cost billions of dollars but without an attentive effort, schools and children will continue to solitude under totalitarianism. However, there are many who hope that the government will one day abolish the racial preferences and desegregate education at all levels. Children must be taught that education is not there to serve to a particular racial group and that education itself is basic for early social interaction between races and ethnics, particularly in the early stages. By this, it is believed that if the best resources were brought forward, interests into creating a perfectionist multicultural and anti-racism education could easily achieve Vision 2020.

School is a place where ethical values and cultures can be learnt alongside with the education curriculum. Its valuable heritage should be shared and appreciated by children and their children. Let the school be a place where children should be given a guidance on how Malaysia can achieve Vision 2020.
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  1. There are plenty of times bumiputra students have been discrimate in getting job in private sectors eventhough they graduated with cgpa 3.5 above from local and first class universities all over the world . The private sectors try to hide their racist take by saying "language barrier..can't speak Mandrin". Let's discuss about it because in the end a degree is useless if you cant find a job in your own country. The private sectors feels that the bumi should only be the clerical staff (i know i am right). This is true as the are over 45k bumi graduates who are jobless. Adding salt to it when the nonbumi is asking goverment to take them working in civil service..guess why.. because the salary is higher in civil servuce today because 10 years ago the nonbumi would laugh if any of their friends apply to work with the govement. So the 45percent scholarship to nonbumi students eventhough the demographic data revealed the number is below 40 percent..so where is the justice..!!Finally nonbumi students like to whine to STAR newspaper their MCA, DAP & Gerakan ADUN what a whiner..and please stop asking "tongkat" all the times..

  2. With reference to the issue you addressed, anonymous - I for one don't believe that the whole "Language barrier - can't speak Mandarin" comment or opinion is actually solely based on racism. It is undeniable that knowing the additional language (or languages, depending) really does help in securing jobs for graduates in the sectors.

    You could look at it this way, for one thing - it is irrefutable that China is growing to become a looming and increasingly influential powerhouse in many a field (business/economy, technology, science...) as of 2008. The graduates who know Chinese, particularly to write and speak the language (I know at least three different bumiputera friends who were Chinese-educated due to their more forward-thinking Malay parents foreseeing the potential in China, when it comes to business and the like) are more readily inducted into firms sometimes nowadays as long as they have a reasonable grasp of English as well, from what I've gathered.

    Now, sir, or miss, or ma'am - you could very well be extrapolating if you were to say that the private sectors feel that bumiputras should only be clerical staff. I digress. If the number is as high as 45k, my fellow Malaysian (I will assume you're residing here?), then you really cannot attribute these graduates' supposed joblessness due to the race issue alone granted how they are given some benefits by the government, when all is said and done. There are brilliant graduates and there are the lacklustre ones - race is irrelevant.

    Now, saying that non-bumis are solely asking the government to take them in to work for the civil service solely due to the salary would be inaccurate, anonymous. There're countless reasons why they could actually opt for working in civil service. Some are, contrary to what you might think, actually very patriotic. Some choose to not practice veterinary medicine overseas, privately, where the pay could be several times that back here, because they want to help the local SPCAs and the pets in Malaysia rather than stay overseas. Some just love this country and want the best for it. Not everyone is as callous or as shallow as you might think they are, or the way you perceive them to be simply because they are non-bumi.

    Well, it is common knowledge that most universities here do allocate a higher percentage of places for the bumis. Cases of exceptional young non-bumi minds being rejected in favour of the few bumis who scored less (compare, for example, someone with straight As in STPM and a lesser girl with 2As. Yes, it has happened before, and is still happening. You cannot deny the numbers, as you are implying) are rampant. To dismiss that and make such a blatant statement as you have regarding how they are 'whining' to the papers about their suffering and plights is, on the other hand, very insensitive of you.

    At the end of the day, education is more than just about the colour of your skin, and what kind of festivals you grew up celebrating. Does it matter whether you are Chinese or Malay or Indian in the pursuit of education? We are who we are inside, and I enjoyed my education along with my close Malay friends, my Chinese friends, Indian friends - mixed friends, what the hey.

    Let us give the future generation a chance to pursue education fairly in every aspect, where no one is favoured, no one discriminated against. They deserve it - to have that opportunity to be who they truly are, without being limited by unnecessary constraints based on their cultural background.

    I commend you for this article, AWhite. Very well-written. Salut!

  3. Let's put our dear reader in a situation where the RACE ALLOCATION for a tertiary education scholarship is 10% (or was it 5?)In small font on the FRONT COVER of the application - "non-bumis have 10% allocation of placings".

    Preferential laws were enacted in favor of the Malays because they wanted things to be fair. So to be fair, you made things unequal?

    It's a little ironic, anonymous, that you should speak of non-bumis whining, yet complain (Oh no, not whine, my dear, merely complain) about the difficulties bumis face when they have already have preferential laws and racial percentage on their side, eh?

    A language barrier is indeed a valid point. Would you hire someone who spoke nothing except Russian? If you refused to hire said person, can you be called a racist because your refusal was on the grounds that the Russian couldn't speak a particular language of your preference? Common sense.

  4. Hi AWhite, Congrats on winning for writing that article. I know im a little late but i just stumbled upon this. Yeah this is something close to my heart, because i do love my country yet it hurts to see the government contradicting itself and especially in education where the fundamental reasons for creating a national school is social integration, but it looks like the gap is widening. Yes, the preferential laws were enacted to balance the socio-economic situation at that time, but it's more than fifty years already, i think its time to move on, Malaysia!


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