Our school children as sacrificial lambs

Written by Dr Lim Teck Ghee, CPI

During the past year, there have been three controversies arising from regressive policy decisions of the Ministry of Education which have set our educational system backwards. The three controversies revolve around:

  1. The teaching of Science and Mathematics for Fourth Form students in Bahasa Malaysia instead of English
  2. The use of the Interlok book as a compulsory text in the schools
  3. The decision to make history a compulsory subject as well as a pass requirement for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM)

All three – though simmering for some years now – are rapidly coming to a head during the tenure of the Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin as the Minister of Education.

The controversies are not over minor or insignificant issues in the national education system. They are not sparked off by politicians with an axe to grind or by groups wanting to score points against the minister. They do not relate to narrow communal interests nor are they espoused by extremist organizations having their own agendas.

Rather they are the concern of parents and educators from all communities at grassroots as well as at mainstream society level.

They involve important pedagogical principles and ultimately, they raise the key question of whether the future of our younger generation is being made the sacrificial lamb for narrow political and bureaucratic interests.

Upon their wise resolution will rest the ability of our school children to compete with the rest of the world as well as the knowledge that they receive at school which will shape their adult mindset and values.

PPSMI: Math and Science in English

In the case of the campaign led by the Parents Action Group for Education (PAGE), the Minister has not only refused to meet with PAGE leaders but has also stated that providing parents and students the choice to use English “will result in chaos in our educational system”.

There is an unfair attempt to beat down the campaigners and the over 100,000 online supporters by wild claims about the potential negative impact of a policy reversal. In fact, it is the Ministry’s policy decision to insist on Bahasa only that is causing chaos and even worst, condemning students – especially Malay students – to a bleak future in undermining their capacity and ability to progress in an English language-dominated global system.

Interlok: Crude and rude propaganda

In the case of Interlok, the Minister has similarly refused to meet with the campaign organizers led by National Interlok Action Team (NIAT), who have argued that the novel is unfit for use by schools even going by the standards and guidance on compulsory school texts issued by the ministry.

The clear danger that the Interlok book poses in heightening crude racial (and cultural) stereotyping, bias and prejudice and its threat to a harmonious communal understanding among our young has been completely ignored with the decision to proceed with the book as a text for the literature component in the SPM compulsory Bahasa Malaysia language paper.

The book’s biased understanding and unmitigated prejudice against minority races has already legitimized the name-calling of ‘Keling pariah’ and ‘Cina babi’ in our secondary schools, with several cases of bullying ending up not only at the discipline master’s door but in the local police station as well.

The stubborn and unreasonable position of the ministry has left the organizers, NIAT – now joined by over 60 other multiracial civil society organizations – no choice but to take their appeal directly to the rulers, and to intensify and make national the campaign to remove Interlok from the school texts.