Education not fifth "sensitive" issue prohibited public debate
Yesterday, 10th December, was the International Human Rights Day, celebrated
worldwide by governments and political leaders who cherish democracy and
uphold human rights.
It was the occasion for governments and countries to commemorate the 54th
anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and for
messages and speeches by presidents, prime ministers and cabinet ministers
to renew their commitment and resolve to promote and protect human rights.
Malaysia, however, stood out as an exception as the International Human
Rights Day - as in past years - was completely ignored by the Barisan
Nasional government, with no one in power - not even the Prime Minister,
Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad who otherwise always have something to say
on anything under the sun - prepared to grace the occasion with any comment.
This refusal to recognize the International Human Rights Day which reaches
the intensity of sheer hostility is the most eloquent testimony of the lowly
place human rights occupy in the Barisan Nasional order of priorities - and
explains why three years after the establishment of the Human Rights
Commission (Suhakam) by an Act of Parliament, human rights in Malaysia is
facing the worst crisis in the post-September 11 scenario.
Human rights is not a luxury nor should it be the sole concern of political
parties and human rights NGOs - as they affect the quality of life of all
Malaysians and the future of the country.
There has recently been a wholesale violation of human rights whether
freedom of the press, speech, assembly, association and the right to
information in controversies over education - and which Suhakam has turned
a blind eye.
Public discourses on educational controversies whether on the quality of
education, failures of the national education system or the use of English
to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One have
virtually been driven underground as they are not allowed full and free
discussion and debate in the media on the ground that they have become
"sensitive" issues in the eyes of the Barisan Nasional.
Why should education in Malaysia suddenly become a "sensitive" issue where
full and free debate on how best to deliver the best quality education
system in a multi-racial society is virtually banned from the mass media
and the public domain, permitting only one voice to be heard in the country?
Any insidious attempt to make education a fifth "sensitive" issue outlawing
full and free public debate on the best way to deliver quality education
in multi-racial Malaysia is unconstitutional, undemocratic and a grave human
In 1971, the Malaysian Constitution was amended by a brute two-thirds
parliamentary majority to entrench four "sensitive" issues which could not
be questioned, rendering any challenge even in speeches in Parliament and
the State Assemblies as automatically an offence of sedition involving
disqualification of a sitting MP or State Assembly representative and
five-year disenfranchisement of his civil and political rights, such as
standing for elective office.
These four "sensitive" issues are Article 152 on the National Language and
the constitutional protection for the use, teaching and learning of other
languages; Article 153 on Malay Special Rights; Article 181 on Malay Rulers
and Part III of the Constitution on citizenship.
Education, whether meritocracy, polarization in schools and universities,
quality of education, school curriculum and the use of English to teach
mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One, is not a fifth
"sensitive" issue prohibited from public discussion or debate like these
four entrenched "sensitive" issues - and Malaysians must assert their
constitutional rights as citizens of a democratic society to participate in
all major policy decisions in the country.
DAP is advocating the "1-2-3" Formula on the English controversy, firstly to
strengthen English, secondly maintain the traditional high standards of
mathematics and science in Chinese primary schools and thirdly, preserve
mother-tongue education and proficiency.
No Barisan Nasional leader has been able to make a convincing case that the
government's "2-4-3" proposal of two new periods in English, four
additional periods of teaching mathematics in English and three additional
periods of teaching science in English for Std. One pupils for Chinese
primary schools is the most educationally sound formula in the best
interests of the pupils to achieve the "1-2-3" objective.
MCA and Gerakan Ministers and leaders are doing Chinese primary schools and
Malaysian nation-building a grave disservice by agreeing to regard
educational issues like the use of English to teach mathematics and science
in primary schools as the "fifth sensitive issue", prohibited from public
discussion and debate - for they are setting a dangerous precedent which
will open the gates for greater erosion of the human, democratic and
constitutional rights of Malaysians in the years and decades to come.
- Lim Kit Siang -