History textbooks biased, say writers

By Zakiah Koya, The Sun

History textbooks are biased and littered with errors, claim two authors and academicians. Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi and Ng How Kuen, who writes history textbooks for Chinese schools, say their experience with officialdom does not augur well for the teaching of history in our classrooms.

Ranjit, author of secondary school history textbooks since 1990, and adviser to the Ministry of Education (MOE) on history textbooks, said such material were littered with factual errors and distortions. He said that when he pointed out the errors and distortions, a ministry official labelled him “anti-national”.

“Secondary school history textbooks have been used to promote political interests. It should be a scholarly pursuit and not politically-motivated,” said Ranjit who showed theSun history textbooks with errors and exaggerated facts.

“Five out of 10 chapters of the Form Four history textbook deal with Islamic history as compared to only one chapter in the earlier textbook. The intention of the earlier syllabus was to expose our students to World History,” he said when commenting on the announcement that the history syllabus is being reviewed and that the subject will be made a compulsory pass in the Sijil
Pelajaran Malaysia from 2013.

“The coverage of important historical events such as Renaissance and Industrial Revolution has been reduced by more than half,” he said.

He also said certain historical personalities, such as Yap Ah Loy (the third Kapitan China of Kuala Lumpur), were not given due recognition. Yap played a major role in the development of Kuala Lumpur as a commercial and tin-mining centre, particularly after the fire of 1881,” he said, adding that the Form Two history textbook had only one sentence on Yap as “one of the persons
responsible for developing Kuala Lumpur”.

“There is also no mention of freedom fighters such as Gurchan Singh (“Lion of Malaya”) and Sybil Karthigesu who resisted the Japanese Occupation of Malaya,” he said. (Gurchan secretly distributed a newspaper during the Japanese occupation while Sybil, who was tortured by the Japanese, and her husband treated wounded guerillas of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army).

The most glaring example of bias, he said, was related to the downfall of the Malay Sultanate of Malacca.

“The 1996 Form One textbook stated inter alia that a few Indian merchants lent their junks to the Portuguese in their attack on Malacca. I know of no historical evidence to support this fact,” said Ranjit.

“Six Chinese captains agreed to lend their junks to the Portuguese due to their hatred for Sultan Mahmud who had earlier detained them and their men to help attack Aru. The Portuguese used only one junk provided by one of the Chinese,” he said.

Ranjit pointed out that the decision to make history a must pass subject for SPM from 2013 was rooted in a wrong premise. “It is not right to assume that students will study history seriously and will be more patriotic after clearly understanding the Federal Constitution and the social contract.

“Patriotism thrives when citizens have a ‘sense of belonging’ and perceive themselves being treated equitably,” he said.

Ng, meanwhile, fears that making history a compulsory pass subject would mean one would have to subscribe to one’s version of events or risk failing the entire examination.

Ng, whose textbooks are still used in Chinese-medium primary schools, however stressed that it was timely to review the syllabus. “We always had to follow the curriculum given by the MOE and therefore the ruling parties have the upper hand in defining our history.”

As an example, he said when writing on the fight for independence, the contributions of the communists were left out.

He said history books should be written by historians and not teachers as the former were not bound by the curriculum. “Students do know the truth but as textbooks are written according to approved curriculum, students end up learning history that is skewed,” said Ng. — theSun