Once the floodgates are opened…

There have been too may unfulfilled promises during the past 400 plus days. Can we trust another pledge made to the Jawi curriculum?

Tay Tian Yan, Sin Chew Daily

SOME SAY TO change a people will have to start from their school.

Anyone with a sober mind knows that a school can mold the personality of a people, or even transform the entire community.

For example, the Jews have been very insistent in their own education system, wherever they are.

Today, this group of people, which barely account for 0.2% of the world’s population, have wielded way more than 20% of influences over the world’s politics and economy.

On the contrary, the unique ethnic characteristics of Indonesian Chinese have been significantly obscured after the local Chinese schools, flourishing until the 1960s, were shut down by President Suharto.

And this is not a joke at all!

A people’s language, culture and value system to a very large extent have been molded through their education system.

The upper primary school level, in particular, marks a significant stage whereby the personality of a child is growing at breakneck pace and where knowledge begins to take shape in him or her.

We cannot afford to experiment with this, as the price is far too big for us to pay.

WE HAVE PERHAPS seen the outcome of such experiment.

Jawi has been introduced in Year One at national schools with the objective of eventually connecting the students with the Islamic Studies which is taught in Arabic.

There has been massive volumes of religious teachings incorporated into the curricula of SRKs, SMKs and public universities since the 1980s. Students must attend the religious classes that teach among others Islamic values and the requirement for a person’s attire and actions to meet the demands of religion.

With the change of the schools came the change of mindsets of new generation Malays, which are very much religion-centered now. Their pursuit of national and social goals are also increasingly geared towards religious standards.

The relatively more liberal, passionate and accommodating Malays we saw in the 1960s through 70s could perhaps only be seen in old P Ramlee movies.

Fewer Chinese parents are sending their children to SRKs nowadays, and SMKs and public universities are no longer the preferred schools for their children’s education.

The reason is very simple. The Chinese community is well aware that once religion gets into our schools, the nature of these schools will be permanently altered. Bound by the religious agenda, schools will gradually lose their secularity and diversity.

The only thing the Chinese community can do now is to steadfastly safeguard the last bastion of Chinese primary education that has so far allowed Chinese Malaysians to continue inheriting and passing down their linguistic and cultural legacies while maintaining the education standard to keep them continually competitive for seamless global connectivity.

THE PURPOSE OF Malaysian Chinese community opposing to the intrusion of Jawi in whichever form into Chinese primary schools is very straightforward: to prevent the opening of floodgates that may have disastrous consequences for their future.

The government’s reason to justify the teaching of Jawi in Chinese primary schools have been anything but convincing.

1. Lack of support from popular consensus.

Has the education ministry ever consulted the Chinese community over the teaching of Jawi calligraphy which is now in the guise of introducing calligraphy aesthetics?

Maszlee Malik and Teo Nie Ching said they had met up with representatives from education organizations and “most of them did not object to it”.

Have these so-called “representatives” been authorized to speak on behalf of the community in the first place?

Did we have any representative from Hua Zong, Jiao Zong, the National Union of Heads of Schools, the Chinese Language Council and other Chinese associations?

Chinese primary schools are the common assets of the Malaysian Chinese community. Without the consent of the Chinese community, the policy of introducing Jawi at vernacular schools is hardly acceptable.

2. Lack of a legitimate educational need.

There are two major factors to consider in the learning of a language: its relevance to ethnic culture and the conditions of this country; and its usefulness in the modern world.

Jawi script is unrelated to the native culture of Chinese Malaysians, nor has it been accorded the status of national language, and is therefore not needed by all Malaysians.

Based on the Arabic alphabet, Jawi is itself no longer a day-to-day medium of communication. Even in Malaysia, it is at best a kind of historical symbol.

Of course, Muslims can learn Arabic through Jawi in order to understand the Holy Koran, but such a need is non-existent among non-Muslims of the country.

As for the pretext of promoting mutual understanding among Malaysians from different ethnic backgrounds through Jawi, it is again unconvincing.

While Jawi is a total stranger to almost all Chinese, few Malays actually have a good command of the language. There are more than a hundred other ways to effectively promote inter-community communication.

3. Lack of trust mechanism.

Some politicians have rushed to endorse the learning of Jawi, arguing that it is only for the appreciation of an aesthetic writing art that will help promote mutual understanding.

The life cycle of our politicians is normally five years, and therefore the validity of their assertions and promises is only five years, or probably shorter.

Education, on the other hand, is a “hundred year plan”. Any inappropriate change introduced to our education system will have far-fetching effects on one whole generation, or probably even a few more generations.

There isn’t any existing mechanism that can assure us that a politician’s pledge can be fulfilled. There have been too may unfulfilled promises during the past 400 plus days. Can we trust another pledge made to the Jawi curriculum?

Moreover, they only told you Jawi would be introduced from Year Four. What they didn’t tell you is whether it would be extended to the fifth and sixth years, and even onward to the secondary school later.

It is not hard to imagine whether in the end it will still remain just “appreciation for aesthetics”.