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Author Topic:   CONSTITUTIONAL AND LEGAL PROVISION FOR MOTHER TONGUE EDUCATION IN MALAYSIA
sjkc
Kawan Lama
posted 26-02-2002 10:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sjkc   Click Here to Email sjkc     Edit/Delete Message

[Dong Zong (United Chinese School Committees' Association of Malaysia) and Jiao Zong (United Chinese School Teachers' Association of Malaysia), referred to as "Dong Jiao Zong" in the following]

[sjkc is the Subang Jaya/USJ SJK(C) Working Committee]

MOTHER TONGUE EDUCATION OF MALAYSIAN ETHNIC MINORITIES


Papers presented at the seminar on Mother Tongue Education of Malaysian Ethnic Minorities organised by Dong Jiao Zong Higher Learning Centre at its Kajang campus on 1 & 2 November 1997


Edited by Dr. Kua Kia Soong

CHAPTER 3

* CONSTITUTIONAL AND LEGAL PROVISION

by (Lawyer) Yang Pei Keng

It is a common practice in Malaysia to repeat the apparent truism that the peoples of Malaysia consist of only three ethnic groups, namely, the Malays, the Chinese, and the Indians, to the exclusion of other communities living in the country. These minority communities tend to be frequently overlooked.

In fact, this has been the common belief among a large segment of the population all these years, particularly immediately before and after the country’s independence which took place on the 31 August 1957, exactly 40 years ago.

Such a “misconception” was brought home to the writer in an international forum on indigenous peoples in December 1993, when an Orang Asli participant, seated next to the writer, posed a very pertinent question. Rather diplomatically, he said, “If you don’t mind my saying this...the Malaysian elite always talk about the three races (referring to the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians), but what about us, the Orang Asli?”

The message was loud and clear: the Orang Asli have been totally marginalised all these years in almost every aspect, whether socially, politically, economically or culturally. There is no denying that, in the educational field, the Orang Asli community as a whole has not been given a fair deal at all as far as their mother tongue education is concerned. They have been neglected or conveniently forgotten.

1. Who are the Peoples of Malaysia?

The term “Orang Asli” has been aptly described in the following words:

“The Orang Asli are the indigenous minority peoples of Peninsular Malaysia. The name is a Malay term, which transliterates as “original peoples” or “first peoples”. It is a collective term introduced by anthropologists and administrators for the 18 sub-ethnic groups generally classified for official purposes under Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay. They numbered 95,529 in 1995 representing a mere 0.5% of the national population.” (See Collin & Rajeen: “Indigenous Peoples of Asia”, 1996)

The Orang Asli first inhabited this country some 30,000 years ago, long before the three major ethnic groups referred to above set foot on the soil of the land, and therefore, the Orang Asli, are in fact the original “sons of the soil”.

According to the 1995 estimate of the Encarta 97 Encyclopaedia, the peoples of Malaysia comprise the following ethnic groups:

Malays* 61.5 %
Chinese 30.0 %
Indians 8.0 %
Orang Asli* 0.5 %

(* In the 1995 estimate of the Encarta Encyclopaedia, Orang Asli, Kadazans, Dayaks, etc. were inappropriately merged into the ethnic group under the heading “Malays”.]


2. What is “Mother Tongue” ?

What is “mother tongue”? This seems to be an easy enough question to answer. But at one time, it was not the case in Malaysia. Unexpectedly, the term “mother tongue” stirred up unnecessary controversy in the Eighties.

A Government Minister, for reasons best known to himself, suggested the unusual view that the “mother tongue” of all Malaysians was Malay, the national language of the country.

Such an opinion was expressed with total disregard for the existence of the various ethnic minority communities consisting of different linguistic groups, each having its own native language.

There is no doubt that such an opinion was erroneous and misleading. Fortunately, the controversy did not last long and was soon brought to an end when Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the statutory body entrusted with the task of conducting research into the national language and promoting its growth and development, came forward and corrected the erroneous view.

For purposes of clarification, one may look into the definition of the term “mother tongue” given in each of the following dictionaries:

(a) “The language which one first learns to speak (and which one mainly speaks)” (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English : 1987]

(b) “One’s own native language” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English]

(c) “The first and main language that you learn as a child” (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English : 1995]

It is crystal clear from the definition given by each of the dictionaries mentioned above, the term “mother tongue” is none other than the native language of any ethnic group. It has nothing to do with the national language of a country unless Bahasa Malaysia happens to be one’s mother tongue.

To learn one’s mother tongue or to receive mother tongue education is certainly an inalienable human right. Every ethnic minority community is entitled to enjoy this human right, irrespective of the numerical strength of the community concerned.

This is established in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR], and also in Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR].

The writer proposes to deal with the relevant provisions of the various legislation relating to the preservation and maintenance of mother tongue education as well as the use and study of the mother tongue of the ethnic minorities in the three stages of development in Malaysia:

• The colonial period in the fifties;
• Post-independence period (1957 - 1995); and
• The contemporary situation.

The relevant review committee reports on education policy are also touched upon wherever necessary, in order to help one understand the background leading to the passage of the various statutes related to mother tongue education over the decades.

3. Legal Provision For Mother Tongue Education

Throughout the history of Malaysia, the negative attitude of the ruling elite towards the mother tongue of each and every ethnic minority community leaves much to be desired.

The relevant statutes enacted before and after independence of Malaya relating to the use and study of the mother tongue of ethnic minority communities are as follows:

• Education Ordinance 1952
• Education Ordinance 1957
• Education Act 1961
• Education (Amendment) Act 1972
• Education Act 1996

Since the fifties, those in power have been adopting an attitude far from friendly towards mother tongue education. In the early fifties, there was even a proposal to abolish vernacular schools (i.e. schools providing mainly mother tongue education) as evidenced by the recommendations made in the Barnes Report 1951.

Even today, in the midst of advocating for an open and caring society, the recent Education Act 1996 provides that, Bahasa Malaysia shall be the main medium of instruction for all schools, giving cold comfort to the ethnic minority groups in respect of their mother tongue education. They face the prospect of having to give up their mother tongue if they lack the will power to persevere in their efforts to preserve and maintain their mother tongue education.

3.1 Education Ordinance 1952

Before independence in 1957, Malaya was under the British colonial rule. The colonial government presented the Barnes Report in 1951, followed by the introduction of the Education Ordinance in 1952, and subsequently the Razak Report in 1956 followed by the Education Ordinance 1957.

Barnes Report 1951

In 1950, the Barnes Committee was set up for the purpose of making an in-depth study of Malay education in Malaya. However, its report went beyond its terms of reference to be a report on the gradual abolition of mother-tongue education for the ethnic minority groups.

The 1951 Barnes Report, known as the “Report of the Committee on Malay Education, Federation of Malaya, 1951”, aimed at introducing only two languages to be taught in the Government primary schools.

The colonial administration seemed to be interested in promoting only the Malay language, the mother tongue of the ethnic majority community in the colony, but ignored the right of the other ethnic minority communities to use and study their mother tongue, to say nothing of preserving and protecting such right. In fact, under the recommendation of the Barnes Report,

“ ... Chinese and Indians are being asked to give up gradually their own vernacular schools, and to send their children ... to schools where Malay is the only oriental language taught...” (pp.23-24)

Without doubt, their ultimate objective was to see that the ethnic minority groups gave up their mother tongue education in favour of the study of the Malay Language in the primary school level, but eventually in favour of the English Language at the secondary and tertiary levels.

The rationale suggested by the colonial master for the ethnic minorities to give up their own mother tongue education was the so-called “loyalty” to the country. In reality, the colonial government was bent on depriving the ethnic minorities of their legitimate right to mother tongue education, when such right has been universally recognised all over the world. Mother tongue education is a fundamental right. It has nothing to do with loyalty or disloyalty to a country.

The ultimate objective of the British colonial ruler, in so far as the mother tongue was concerned, was well summarised in the Barnes Committee’s Summary of Recommendations and Suggestions thus:

“ In principle, we recommend the end of separate vernacular schools for the several racial communities, and their replacement in a single type of primary school common to all. We recognise, of course, that since the end can come only gradually, vernacular schools will continue for some years, concurrently with the development of the National Schools (i.e. government primary schools).. We ask, however, that in the allocation of public resources to primary education priority should be given to the National School.”

It is evident that the colonial administration was interested in bringing about the ultimate abolition of the mother-tongue education for the ethnic minority groups by a gradual process. However, realising that annihilation of mother tongue of the ethnic minority groups would certainly encounter much resistance, they decided to achieve this ultimate objective gradually.

In order to achieve such an ultimate goal, they provided little or no financial assistance to the ethnic minority communities which persisted in preserving and maintaining their mother-tongue education.

Such was the indifferent attitude of the British colonial ruler towards the fundamental right of the ethnic minority communities to the use and study of their mother tongue.

Fenn-Wu Report 1951

It should be noted that there was another report by another committee appointed to look into Chinese education in Malaya in 1951. It was better known as the Fenn-Wu Report 1951. It was stated in the report:

“... any restrictive imposition of a language or two languages upon the peoples of Malaya (would) not provide a healthy atmosphere for community understanding and national unity”.

Education Ordinance 1952

In line with the 1951 Barnes Report, the British administration proceeded with the enactment of the Education Ordinance1952. The recommendations of the Barnes Report on mother-tongue education, although unacceptable to the ethnic minority communities, were incorporated almost wholesale into the Education Ordinance 1952.

The relevant provisions relating to mother-tongue education are found in sections 8 - 10 and section 21 of the 1952 Ordinance. These provisions were meant to implement the recommendations of the Barnes Report.

Vernacular schools

In the 1952 Ordinance, the right to mother tongue education was not given due attention. Any school using mother-tongue education as a medium of instruction was described as a “vernacular school”. Under s.2 (the Interpretation clause) of the 1952 Ordinance, a “vernacular school” is defined as “a school which is not a national school and in which the principal medium of instruction is a vernacular language.”

No definition has been given to the term “vernacular language” in the Ordinance, but it was understood to mean “mother-tongue” or pupils’ own language (POL).

The other provisions of the 1952 Ordinance relating to the mother tongue education are sections 8 (relating to the wishes of parents), 9 (relating to the national-type schools) and 21(relating to national schools).

From these provisions, it can be seen that the colonial government showed little interest in preserving and developing the mother tongue education for the ethnic minority groups. Their intention was one of avoiding “unreasonable public expenditure” on such mother tongue education. That was another way of saying that they were not prepared to expend the necessary public funds on mother tongue education for ethnic minorities.

What are POL classes?

POL classes are “pupils’ own language” classes. They serve the purpose of providing mother tongue education for children of any community in a country.

To provide POL classes in the course of promoting and preserving the mother tongue of any community is the obligation of any country that professes to practise democracy and uphold human rights. Taking the necessary measures to provide POL classes for any community in any country is certainly in keeping with the notion of protecting the human right of ethnic minority groups to mother tongue education.

However, Malaya was slow at implementing a liberal policy of providing POL classes for the minority ethnic groups. Only when there were 15 pupils of the same standard requested for POL classes would the authorities provide such classes. Besides, only limited public fund would be utilised for such purpose as recommended by the Barnes Report. Therefore, the sincerity of the colonial government in conducting POL classes was open to suspicion.

The term “POL classes” was first introduced in Malaya when the 1952 Ordinance was passed. However, it never appeared in any of the provisions of the Education Ordinance 1952 itself. It was implied in s.21 (relating to the establishment of “national schools”) of the 1952 Ordinance

Mother tongue education sidelined

In the early fifties, the legislation passed by the colonial government placed great emphasis on the study of Malay and English as the main media of instruction. The mother-tongue education for the ethnic minority groups had been sidelined or marginalised by the 1952 Ordinance, giving way to the implementation of Malay and English as official languages in Malaya. In reality, the English language was given top priority.

Mother tongue education would be provided only if the parents of at least 15 pupils in a primary class requested for such instruction: s.21(3), (4) and (5). In other words, no POL classes would be available, even if as many as 14 pupils of the same class wished to study mother tongue. At the secondary school level, no POL classes were provided

Another point to note is that the British colonial administration provided mother-tongue education (Mandarin and Tamil) for the Chinese and Indian communities only. They seemed to be oblivious of the existence of the mother tongue of other relatively smaller ethnic minority groups, e.g. the Orang Asli. Such deliberate omission on the part of the Legislature was obvious in view of the fact that Orang Asli had never been treated with dignity by the colonial government.

3.2 The Education Ordinance 1957

There was disquiet over the Education Ordinance 1952 for it was undeniably prejudicial to the mother tongue education. 1955 saw the first elections prior to the independence of Malaya in 1957. After the 1955 elections, in the same year another committee headed by the late Tun Abdul Razak, the then Minister of Education, was appointed to review the education policy. The Razak Report was released on 6 May 1956, about one year prior to the Independence of Malaya.

Though one of its terms of reference stated that “ ... the ultimate objective of educational policy in this country must be to bring together the children of all races under a national education system in which the national language is the main medium of instruction”, its recommendations were nevertheless beneficial to the development of mother tongue education. It proposed the establishment of:

“... a national system of education acceptable to the people of the Federation as a whole which will satisfy their needs to promote their cultural, social, economic and political development as a nation, having regard to the intention of making Malay the national language of the country whilst preserving and sustaining the growth of the language and culture of other communities living in the country” (emphasis mine)

The 1956 Razak Report provided for mother-tongue education at the primary school level to be integrated into the national education system.

The Education Ordinance 1957 was enacted pursuant to the Razak Report of 1956. It came into force on the 15 June 1957, (just before the Independence of Malaya on 31 August 1957). That was the appointed date of its coming into force though the Ordinance was gazetted about two months earlier, on 23 April 1957. It became the first piece of legislation relating to education applicable to the newly independent Federation of Malaya.

The education policy recommended by the Razak Report 1956 was incorporated into the Education Ordinance 1957 and adopted by the newly independent nation. In fact, the relevant passage in the Razak Report relating to the philosophy of the education policy was fine-tuned so as to render it suitable for insertion as a provision (s.3) in the 1957 Ordinance.

S.3 (relating to education policy) of the 1957 Ordinance reads:

“3. The educational policy of the Federation is to establish a national system of education acceptable to the people of the Federation as a whole which will satisfy their needs to promote their cultural, social, economic and political development as a nation, with the intention of making Malay language the national language of the country whilst preserving and sustaining the growth of the language and culture of peoples other than Malaysia living in the country” (emphasis mine)

Other provisions in the 1957 Ordinance relating to mother tongue education can be found in s. 4 as well as s.2 (the interpretation clause). It is to be noted that s.3 quoted above was qualified by s. 4 in that only limited public expenditure would be incurred for the development of mother tongue education.
Under the 1957 Ordinance, mother tongue education at the primary school level was integrated into the national education system.

The term “national-type secondary school” was defined to include any secondary school using mother tongue e.g. Chinese or Tamil as the medium of instruction. However, only some non-governmental secondary schools funded by the ethnic community concerned used mother tongue as the main medium of instruction.

In the interpretation clause of the 1957 Ordinance, two types of primary schools, namely, the standard primary schools and the standard-type primary schools were defined.

The “standard primary schools” used the National language as the main medium of instruction, while the “standard-type primary schools” could use mother tongue (e.g. Chinese or Tamil) or English as the main medium of instruction.

It is to be noted that mother tongue education was available only if the parents of at least 15 children in the school so requested. Even if there were 14 children whose parents requested for mother tongue education in the school, no mother tongue classes would be conducted.

Again, the 1957 Ordinance was silent on the mother tongue education for other ethnic minority groups, e.g. the Orang Asli. There was conspicuous absence of any provision relating to mother tongue education for other ethnic minority communities (other than Chinese and Tamil).

The unusual feature of the 1957 Ordinance was that it made no mention of the ultimate objective of using Malay and English only as the main medium of instruction in schools. This came about as a result of the strong objections raised by some ethnic groups against such move, particularly the Chinese community just before the 1955 elections.

3.3 The Education Act 1961

The 1957 Ordinance had hardly been implemented when controversy and student unrest occurred over the unsatisfactory approach adopted by the authorities towards mother tongue education. As a result, three years after the coming into effect of the 1957 Ordinance, another committee was set up to review it. It was known as the Rahman Talib Committee 1960 which was intended to:

“ review the education policy set out in the Report of the Education Committee 1956 ... in particular its implementation so far and for the future: to consider the national and financial implications of this policy including the introduction of free primary education; and to make recommendations.” (See Rahman Talib Report 1960, para 1)

It is clear from s.3 of the repealed 1957 Ordinance that the education policy as envisaged in the provision was:

(i) to establish a national education system of education acceptable to the people as a whole ; and

(ii) Malay was to be made the national language, but the national system of education was to preserve and sustain the growth of the language and culture of other ethnic groups.

The Rahman Talib Report 1960

Instead of making a study of the implementation of the national education system recommended by the Razak Report 1956 and incorporated in the 1957 Ordinance, the Rahman Talib Committee 1960 went beyond its terms of reference and effected a complete about-turn, reverting the more liberal national education system (acceptable to the people as a whole) to the conservative one recommended earlier by the colonial government in the Barnes Report 1951.

The Rahman Talib Report re-affirmed the ultimate objective of using Malay and English as the main media of instruction in all schools, at the same time sidelining mother-tongue education of the other ethnic communities. The “ultimate objective” proposed by the 1960 Report was:

“For the sake of national unity ... to eliminate communal secondary schools for the national system of assisted schools and to ensure that pupils of all races shall attend both national and national-type secondary schools.” (See Rahman Talib Report 1960, p.1)

All public examinations for secondary schools could only be conducted in the two official languages, Malay and English; whereas prior to the 1960 Report, the authorities conducted public examinations for educational institutions providing for mother-tongue education, e.g. the Chinese Secondary School Examinations (the junior middle public examination and the senior middle public examination) and also the Chinese Teachers’ Training Course Examinations.

All such former government sponsored public examinations conducted in the Chinese medium were abolished.

One of the important recommendations was that, as from January 1 1962, full assistance would only be given to schools which had converted to National-type secondary schools (government secondary schools conducting POL classes). Those which refused to comply would be left outside the national education system. (Kua: 1985)

The other ethnic minority communities, particularly the Chinese community, whose mother-tongue education was at stake, questioned the constitutionality of the recommendations of such report, since the Rahman Talib Committee was only commissioned to review the implementation of 1956 Razak Report and the 1957 Ordinance, but not to effect any radical change to the national system of education as envisaged by the Razak Report.

The Education Act 1961 incorporated the proposals of the Rahman Talib Report 1960. It is now known as Act 43/1961. It came into force on 1 January 1962 to be the first piece of legislation on education after the independence of Malaya.

The special feature of the 1961 Act was that, in its Preamble it purported to re-state the educational policy originally declared in the 1957 Ordinance. However, it was far from being the re-affirmation of the education policy declared in the repealed 1957 Ordinance. This is evident from the first paragraph of its Preamble, which states:

“Whereas the educational policy of the Federation, originally declared in the Education Ordinance 1957 that it was to establish a national system of education which will satisfy the needs of the nation and promote its cultural, social, economic and political development”.

In actual fact, it truncated the original version of the education policy as declared in the 1957 Ordinance, by leaving out some important words which are underlined below:

“3. The educational policy of the Federation is to establish a national system of education acceptable to the people as a whole which will satisfy their needs and promote their cultural, social, economic and political development as a nation, with the intention of making the Malay language the national language of the country whilst preserving and sustaining the growth of the language and culture of peoples other than Malays living in the country” (emphasis mine)

The underlined words, which are conducive to the development of the mother tongue education, seemed to have been deliberately deleted. No cogent reasons were given for the deletion of these words which are of great consequence.

The Education Act 1961, which was not beneficial to the development of mother tongue education, was the result of the exclusive reliance upon the Rahman Talib Report 1960 which had exceeded its terms of reference referred to above. The Rahman Talib Committee did not in fact review the educational policy set out in the Razak Report 1956.

Instead, the authorities showed an intention to achieve “the progressive development of an educational system in which the national language is the main medium of instruction”, as indicated in para 3 of the Preamble of the Act.

Other important provisions in the 1961 Act relating to mother tongue education can be found in s.21(2) (relating to the power of the Minister of Education to convert primary schools providing mainly mother tongue education into Malay schools) as well as another section 26A (relating to the abolition of school committees), which was subsequently added by an amending Act, namely, the Education (Amendment) Act 1972.

Some terms related to mother tongue education are defined in the interpretation clause, such as “national primary school”, “national-type primary school”, “national secondary school” and “national-type secondary school”.

Section 21(2)

The most important provision in the Act that adversely affected mother tongue education of the Non-Malay communities is s.21(2). Under this provision, the Minister of Education may at any suitable time convert all primary schools providing mainly mother tongue education (i.e. national-type primary schools) to national primary schools using Bahasa Malaysia as the maim medium of instruction.

National and National-Type Schools

A “national-type primary school” or “sekolah jenis kebangsaan” (i.e. a government primary school using the mother tongue as the main medium of instruction) has been defined to mean, inter alia, “a fully-assisted primary school using the English, Chinese or Tamil language as the main medium of instruction; whereas a “national primary school” is a “fully-assisted primary school using the national language as the main medium of instruction.”

Subsection (1) of S.21 appears to be innocuous enough since under this sub-section, primary schools providing mother tongue education may be established and maintained by the Minister of Education.

However, the subsequent s.21(2) operates to nullify the effect of subsection (1), the reason being that, with a stroke of the pen, the Minister of Education may at any suitable time convert all “national-type primary schools” (providing largely mother tongue education) to “national primary schools” (using the national language (Malay) as the main medium of instruction).

In such “national primary schools”, the teaching of the mother tongue (Chinese, Tamil, etc.) is not compulsory, but it will only be made available on two conditions:

(i) if the parents of 15 children in the school so request; and
(ii) if it is reasonable and practicable to provide facilities for such mother tongue education.

In other words, the authorities will not conduct any pupils’ own language classes unless the parents of at least 15 pupils in the school request for them and facilities are available for such classes.

Thus, the mother tongue education for minority communities was not given any fair treatment under the 1961 Act. In fact, s.21(2) posed a threat to the existence of all primary schools using mother tongue as the main medium of instruction.

On the face of it, s.21(2) only threatened the existence of the primary schools using mother tongue as the medium of instruction. However, in fact, it also posed a threat to the survival of the secondary schools providing mother tongue as the main medium of instruction, since the national-type primary schools are the lifeline of such secondary schools.

Independent Secondary Schools

The coming into effect of the 1961 Act led to the emergence of the “independent secondary schools” which have survived up to this day.

From 1 January 1962 onwards, only those schools which converted to “national-type” were to be given full assistance from the government, otherwise financial assistance would be withdrawn. By force of circumstances, 17 out of 41 secondary schools providing largely mother tongue education (Chinese) had to convert into “national-type secondary schools”. Only 14 of these schools refused to accept “conversion” and have remained “independent” until now. Hence the emergence of the “independent secondary schools”. (Kua: 1985)

These schools have since been left out of the national education system. They are compelled to fend for themselves, without any financial assistance from the government, relying solely on public donations and other resources.

3.4 The Education (Amendment) Act 1972

In 1972, the Education Act 1961 was amended as a result of the recommendation of the Aziz Report 1969 to the effect that the Boards of Management of fully-assisted schools should be abolished.

Abolition of School Committees - s.26A

A new section s.26A (relating to the winding up of school board of managers and governors) was added to the Education Act 1961. Under s.26A(1), every board of managers and governors may be wound up by the Ministry and will cease to be the employer of teachers and other employees.

Before the amendment, non-government teachers were employed by the board of managers (school committee) of any school using mother tongue as the main medium of instruction, and therefore, the school board was their employer. However, such power of the school boards was taken away.

In the Parliamentary debate on the amendment Bill, the then Minister of Education Datuk Hussein Onn, explained that the powers of the school board would remain unchanged except for the appointment and dismissal of teachers and other employees of the schools. (See Hansard 10-1-72)

However, the amendment created an ambiguity as to the exact jurisdiction of the schools boards after the amendment, e.g. over the issues of school administration, expansion and ownership of the school property. This in turn gave rise to misinterpretation of the amendment. A case in point was the posting of headmasters and clerks with no knowledge of mother tongue of minority communities to schools using mother tongue as the main medium of instruction.

Being the lifeline of the Chinese mother tongue education, the abolition of the school boards would lead to the extinction of the Chinese schools providing mainly mother tongue education. Consequently in 1973, resolutions were passed at a Chinese Education Congress to affirm support for the retention of the school committees.

3.5 The Education Act 1996

On 9 October 1974, a Cabinet Review Committee on Education, chaired by the then Minister of Education Dr Mahathir, was set up to review the implementation of the educational policy.

Among its terms of reference, inter alia, was:

“To review the aims and effects of the present education system ... and further to ensure that the education system is able to fulfil the national objectives of creating a community which is united, disciplined as well as skilled.”

The Government invited memoranda and opinions of the public. In all, three hundred memoranda and representations were made or presented by the various ethnic communities.

Mahathir Report 1979

The report of the Committee - Mahathir Report - was submitted in 1979, five years after its appointment. The report recommended, among other things, stringent control and supervision over private schools and examinations conducted by them. However, no new Education Act was introduced until 1990 when a new Bill came into being.

The Education Bill 1990 - A Bill withdrawn

Not long before the 1990 general elections, a new Bill to be known as “The Education Act 1990” was to be tabled in Parliament. However, the proposed Bill did not meet with the demands of the ethnic minority groups for the betterment of the mother tongue education. In fact, it appeared to be more to the disadvantage of the development of mother tongue education.

Representations were made and memoranda presented to the authorities concerned. Ultimately, the Bill was withdrawn and lay dormant for about five years, only to emerge with minor modifications as the recently enacted Education Act 1996.

The Education Act 1996

Before the 1995 general elections, the ruling parties gave various assurances through the Press that an Education Bill favourable to mother tongue education would be introduced in Parliament. The Malaysian public were given to understand that provisions in the then existing Education Act 1961 prejudicial to the development of the mother tongue education would be ‘deleted’. Provisions unfavourable to mother tongue education, such as s.21(2) and s.26A would be “deleted”, giving the impression that the amendments to be made to the Education Act would certainly be favourable to mother tongue education.

In the midst of rapid economic growth and repeated assurances mentioned above from the ruling elite, the ruling parties won a landslide victory in the 1995 general elections.

Towards the end of the same year (1995), it was announced that a Bill known as “the Education Bill 1995” would be tabled in Parliament for debate. However, the whole episode was shrouded in secrecy, for the Bill was not made public before it was tabled in Parliament. Those parties in the Government who knew, were reluctant to disclose the contents of the Bill for fear of being charged under the Official Secrets Act.

When the Bill was ultimately brought before Parliament, it was found that basically the previous Education Bill 1990, withdrawn earlier on, was re-introduced as “The Education Bill 1995” with little or no consequential modifications.

“The Education Bill 1995” was passed by Parliament early in the year 1996, so it was re-named as the Education Act 1996. The Education Act 1966 (1996 Act) received the Royal Assent on 15 July 1996 and was gazetted on 1 August 1996, but it shall only come into force on a date to be appointed by the Minister of Education.

So far as mother tongue education is concerned, the 1996 Act falls short of providing an improvement to its development. Instead, certain provisions in the Act are in fact more prejudicial to mother tongue education, to say nothing of its development. In this connection, one may take a look at the relevant sections, such as sections 2,17(1), 8, 69 (1), 69(4)(c), and 151.

All schools to use Bahasa as the main medium of instruction

One of the most important sections that have far-reaching effects on mother tongue education is s.17. Under this section, all schools in the National Education System have to use Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium of instruction. (Note: under the repealed Education Act 1961, only primary schools were affected: s.21(2))

There are only two exceptions to this provision: (1) schools which are given exemption by the Minister; and (2) the “national-type schools” to be established in the future under s.28.

The National Education System covers all educational institutions, consisting of three categories i.e. government, government-aided as well as private educational institutions (s.16). Practically it comprises all types of schools providing pre-school, primary, secondary, post-secondary and higher education, but not expatriate schools (s.15).

By virtue of the definition given by s.2, “national-type schools” are primary schools using mother tongue as the main medium of instruction. A “national-type school” is defined to mean a primary school (whether government or government-aided) using the Chinese or Tamil language as the main medium of instruction; whereas a “national school” means a primary school (whether government or government-aided) using the national language as the main medium of instruction.

It is significant to note that the term “national school” was also similarly used in the Barnes Report 1951 to denote a government or government-aided primary school.

National secondary schools

The definition of each of the three types of schools, namely the “national school”, “national secondary school” and the “national-type school” can be found in s.2 (interpretation clause) of the 1996 Act. .

A “national school” is a primary school, using Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium of instruction; whereas a “national secondary school” is a government (or government aided) secondary school using Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium of instruction.

In such schools, facilities for the teaching of mother tongue (including indigenous languages) will be made available if at least 15 pupils’ parents so request. ‘Indigenous languages’ will only be taught if it is ‘reasonable and practicable’ to do so.

However, no procedural provision can be found in the Act for the conduct of mother tongue education in such schools.

Solely for the purpose of comparison and not for any other purpose, it is interesting to note the vast difference in attitude of the authorities towards mother tongue education on the one hand and religious education on the other, as evident from the provisions of s.50 of the 1996 Act on religious teaching in schools.

Religious education

Under the 1996 Act, if there are five (Note: 15 under the repealed 1961 Act) or more Islamic pupils in a school, they must be given religious teaching of at least two hours a week during the school hours, without any request from their parents, and the school management must make the necessary arrangements for them. Various schools may have religious classes jointly.

One fails to understand why such procedural provisions are not made for mother tongue or POL classes, which will only be conducted on an “optional basis” at the request of the pupils’ parents. Surely, mother tongue classes are of no less importance than religious classes, in view of the fact that both are equally and universally recognised as human rights.

Indigenous language

It is to be noted that for the first time in Malaysian legal history, the term “indigenous language” appears in the definition of the term “national school” or “national secondary school ” in an Education Act or Ordinance.

In other words, in any government (or government-aided) primary or secondary school, “facilities for the teaching of ... indigenous languages shall be made available if it is reasonable and practicable so to do and if the parents of at least fifteen pupils in the in the school so request...”

However, notwithstanding the existence of such provision in the 1996 Act for the teaching of “indigenous languages” (e.g. mother tongue of Orang Asli, Kadazan, etc.), it is yet to be seen what serious efforts are to be made and concrete measures to be taken to implement it.

National-type Schools to be established under s.28

S.17 (relating to national language as the main medium of instruction) of the 1996 Act is not without ambiguities. Under one of the exceptions to s.17(1), primary schools using mother tongue as the main medium of instruction, termed as “national-type schools” to be established (in the future) under s.28 are not required to use Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium of instruction.

However, no mention has been made of the existing primary schools using mother tongue as the main medium of instruction established under the repealed Education Act 1961. This would mean that all existing primary schools (established under the repealed Education Act 1961 Act) using mother tongue as the medium of instruction e.g. Chinese or Tamil, will not be covered by the exception. They are not formally exempted by the Minister from using Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium of instruction.

From the legal point of view, such primary schools can be required to use Bahasa, instead of mother tongue, as the main medium of instruction in the future pursuant to s.17 (1) of the Act.

Currently, according to statistics available, there are 1,281 primary schools using Chinese and 534 using Tamil as the main media of instruction. Legally, they may be required under s.17(1) to convert their main medium of instruction from mother tongue to Bahasa Malaysia.

No formal exemption from using Bahasa as the main medium of instruction has been given by the Minister to such national-type primary schools so far. In the absence of such exemption, the reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is that s.17(1) (relating to national language as the main medium of instruction of all schools) is applicable to them.

Does S.151 cover existing primary schools?

Apologists for the ruling coalition have argued that, another section, namely s.151 of the Act (relating to transition and repeal) will come to the rescue of the existing primary schools using mother tongue as the main medium of instruction.

However, a careful study of the provision concerned indicates otherwise. S.151 merely states that all schools registered under the repealed Education Act 1961 are deemed to have been registered under this new 1996 Act, and the conditions imposed will continue to remain in force.

Registration subject to conditions

The word “conditions” referred to under subsection 151(b) is ambiguous. It may mean either “the conditions imposed on the school upon its registration” or “any conditions imposed on the schools”. A reasonable interpretation has to be given, taking into account the sentence as a whole.

The word “conditions” referred to under subsection (b) may only be read subject to the principal section 151 relating to registration of schools, i.e. those conditions imposed upon registration of the school concerned, and not any other condition.

If one cares to refer to the conditions imposed upon registration of a school under the Education Act 1961, one will note that none of the conditions have anything to do with the medium of instruction. Such conditions relate to other matters.

The registrar may, under s.51 of the repealed 1961 Act, require a condition precedent to the registration only relating to:

“(a) providing adequate equipment for the school, rendering it suitable for use, or for providing an adequate or satisfactory area for open air recreation, or for rendering the building safe;

(b) that a fit and proper person be appointed to be chairman of .... governors or headmaster;

(c) that another person apply for registration... in place of any person... refused registration as ... governor; or

(d) that the name of the school ... be changed to a name approved by the registrar.”

Certificate of registration

Under s.49 of the repealed 1961 Act, even upon registration of a school, the certificate of registration issued shall only contain the information about the description of the buildings; which rooms to be used for the purposes of instruction; the maximum number of pupils in each room; and other information as may be prescribed.

Such information does not in any way relate to the medium of instruction, which is to be prescribed by the definition in the interpretation clause relating to the types of schools, for example, “national-type primary schools”.

In any event, it is not within the jurisdiction of the registrar to prescribe any particular medium of instruction to be used in any school. The medium of instruction of a school is prescribed in another section, viz. s.2, the interpretation clause.

The requirement for mother tongue to be used as a medium of instruction for any school is referred to in the definition of the term “national-type primary school”, which means “a fully-assisted primary school ... using the English, Chinese and Tamil language as the main medium of instruction.”

S.151 is no guarantee for use of mother tongue in existing schools

Obviously, s.151 of the 1996 Education Act does not guarantee the permanent or continued use of mother tongue as the main medium of instruction in the existing national-type primary schools.

It would appear that the Minister is empowered under s. 8 of the 1996 Act to direct the officer concerned to exercise his powers and discretion to convert mother tongue to Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium of instruction in any school in the future.

The National Education Policy is to use Bahasa Malaysia ultimately as the main medium of instruction, which would inevitably mean doing away with mother tongue being used as the main medium of instruction in any school.

It is clearly stated in the Preamble of the Act that the National Education Policy “is to be executed through a national system of education which provides for the national language to be the main medium of instruction...”

The Minister may establish national-type schools (i.e. primary schools using mother tongue as the main medium of instruction) under s.28, but it is not obligatory on his part to do so.

Up to this date, no such primary schools have been established. In fact, not a single primary school using mother tongue as the main medium of instruction has been established under s.28 of the new Act. The existing “national-type primary schools” were established under the previous Education Act 1961 which has since been repealed.

S.69: Prohibitions on the conduct of examinations

On the issue of conducting examinations by any private body, there is a provision in the new Education Act 1996 that “no person or educational institution shall conduct ... any examination ... for any private candidate without the prior written approval of the Director of Examinations.”

This will certainly affect the development of mother tongue education of ethnic minority groups in Malaysia. No unified examinations for assessing the general standard of students using mother tongue as the main medium of instruction can be conducted, say, for students who have completed secondary schools using mother tongue (e.g. Chinese) as the main medium of instruction.

A good example is the Unified Examination which has been conducted by the national Chinese school committees and school teachers associations (Dong Jiao Zong) since 1975. For the past 22 years, such examination has been conducted for Independent secondary schools providing largely mother tongue education in Chinese.

The Unified Examination Certificate has gained worldwide recognition by universities in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, etc. although it is not recognised by the Malaysian Government.

S.69(4)(c): Schools may conduct own examinations

Despite the near-complete prohibition on the conduct of public examinations by any private person or educational institution, apologists for the ruling coalition argue that subsection (69(4)(c)) operates to legalise the conduct of the Unified Examination for the 60 Independent schools.

In fact, s.69(4)(c) merely says the a school may conduct its own examination for the purpose of assessing its own pupils.

s.69(4)(c) does not in any way legalise the conduct of the Unified Examination, for it merely says that s.69(1) (relating to the prohibition of conduct of public examinations) “shall not apply to ... an educational institution which conducts its own examination ... for the purpose of assessing its own pupils.”

It is to be noted that such provision applies only to an educational institution, and not to any other body or organisation, and the term “educational institution” is defined in s.2 to mean “a school ... and includes a kindergarten and a distance education centre... ”.

Dong Jiao Zong, which conducts the Unified Examination, comprises two associations (UCSTAM and UCSCAM) registered under the Societies Act 1966. They are by no means an educational institution in the eye of the law. They do not fall within the definition of an educational institution.

Therefore, it is legally incorrect to say that Dong Jiao Zong is entitled to conduct the Unified Examination under s.69(4)(c).

The Unified Examination is still being conducted these days, the reason being that its existence is a fait accompli for historical reasons. It has been conducted without fail every year for the part 22 years.

Without any doubt, s.69 is a provision detrimental to the development of mother tongue education in that no public examination can be conducted by any organisation for students studying in schools providing mainly mother tongue education.

4. Constitutional Provisions for Mother Tongue Education

Article 152 of the Federal Constitution is the constitutional provision for mother tongue education. Article 152 provides:

“152. (1) The national language shall be the Malay language .... Provided that (a) no person shall be prohibited from using (otherwise than for official purposes) or from teaching or learning any other language”; and (b) nothing in this Clause shall prejudice the right of the Federal Government or of any State Government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation.”

In simple language, under the Article, whilst the Malay language has been recognised as the national language, no person is prohibited from teaching and learning his own mother tongue; every person has the right to use his own mother tongue for non-official purposes, but not for official purposes; and, the Government has the right to preserve and sustain the use and study of the mother tongue of any other ethnic minority communities.

This Article has been thought to be the constitutional safeguard or guarantee for the fundamental right to use and study mother tongue by the various communities in this country. However, seen in the light of the narrow interpretation given by the courts on the wording of the provision, many have been sadly mistaken and disappointed.

The Merdeka University Case

Article 152 came up for interpretation by the courts in the case of the Merdeka University Bhd v Government of Malaysia in 1981 (2MLJ 356 and (1982) 2MLJ 243).

One of the ethnic minority communities wished to set up a university catering for students studying in independent secondary schools, which provide mainly mother tongue education. However, the Government refused to allow the establishment of such a university using mother tongue of an ethnic minority group (Chinese) as the main medium of instruction. As a result, Merdeka University Bhd filed a suit against the Government in 1981. They were represented by Queen’s Counsel Michael Beloff.

The Federal Court Decision

The Federal Court decided against Merdeka University and dismissed its appeal from the High Court, which decided in favour of the Government. The judgement was delivered on 2 July 1982. It was a 4-1 majority decision with Mr Justice George Seah giving a dissenting judgement.

Among other things, two important issues were involved:

(i) The interpretation of the word “using” in Article 152 of the Federal Constitution; and

(ii) Whether a university (either public or private sponsored) established under the UUCA is a “public authority”.

Restrictive interpretation of “using”

Article 152(1)(a) provides: “no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise than for official purposes) or from teaching and learning any other language...”

The High Court judge decided that the word ‘using’ appearing in Article 152 (1)(a) is confined to a medium of expression or communication within the language or ethnic groups concerned. It does not extend to the use of the language as a medium of instruction. This narrow interpretation was adopted by majority decision in the Federal Court.

The High Court judge added that it was significant that the proviso spoke of “teaching or learning” the language, but omitted the preposition of “in” thereafter, as in “teaching and learning in” that language.

In other words, the judge was of the view that every person is entitled to teach and learn any other language, but he has no constitutional right to teach and learn “in” any other language.

This would mean that no person can use mother tongue as the main medium of instruction. He has to use Bahasa Malaysia only as the main medium of instruction to teach and learn his own mother tongue, e.g. Chinese or Tamil.

The judge had given an extremely narrow and restrictive interpretation to a provision in the Federal Constitution, which is meant to safeguard fundamental human rights, including the right to use one’s own mother tongue.
Such a negative approach is not in line with the general trend of giving a wide and liberal interpretation to the Constitutional provisions as practised in other jurisdictions. This is well enunciated by Soli Sorabjee, the former Attorney General of India. (See passages quoted below under the heading “Interpretation of the Constitution”)

Is a private university a “public authority”?

On 8 November 1981, the High Court decided that any university - whether public or private sponsored - established under the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) is a public authority.

The Federal Court also upheld this finding of the High Court that a university is a public authority on the ground that it is a statutory authority exercising powers vested in it by Federal law. As a public authority, the university has to use Bahasa Malaysia for official purposes, and therefore, only Bahasa Malaysia can be used as a major medium of instruction.

The use of a Non-Malay mother tongue in the university is therefore prohibited since the mother tongue of any ethnic minority community cannot be used for an official purpose.

Case for the establishment of Merdeka University

Queen’s Counsel Michael Beloff, counsel for Merdeka University, in his submission opined that there was no law to back the policy which stipulates that Bahasa Malaysia shall be the sole medium of instruction in the Malaysian education system. To do this, the Government has to amend the Constitution to implement the National Education Policy. Otherwise, the implementation of this policy violates Article 152 of the Constitution.

Queen’s Counsel was of the opinion that, based on Article 152 of the Federal Constitution, the National Language Policy which demands that only one language, Bahasa Malaysia, is to be used throughout the education system, is an unlawful policy. He maintained that:

“Merely because a policy is found in legislation does not mean it is lawful” (See Star 30-11-81).

Article 8(2), (relating to equality before the law) was specifically referred to. It provides:

“Except as expressly authorised by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law ... or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.”

He expressed the view that, while the promotion of the national language was a proper means of attaining national unity, there was also the right to use minority languages for non-official purposes. The right of minorities to use their own languages is a right of great sanctity and significance.

He reminded the Court that national unity also requires the guarantee of minority rights in fields such as language. The real threat to national unity in a multi-cultural multi-racial society comes only if and when the majority seek to ride roughshod over minority rights.

He added that the Government was entitled to protect the national language with all the vigour and resources at its command as long as that promotion stopped short of “suppressing” other languages other than in the official sphere. The right to use a particular language was deprived of much of its value if it did not include the right to use it as a language of instruction.

He submitted that the constitutional guarantees should be above the vagaries of politics and whims of the Government. In his final submission, Michael Beloff QC said:

“We should not be moved by prophesies of doom by politicians but by the tenets of the Constitution and the law ... Long ago, the Romans had a saying ... ‘Let justice be done though the sky fall down’.” (See Star 8-10-81)

Justice George Seah’s Dissenting Judgement

The lone dissenting judge, Justice George Seah took a different view from that of the majority judges and held that the constitutional right guaranteed by Article 152(1)(a) should be given a liberal interpretation and “no attempt should be made to whittle it down”.

“In my opinion, ‘using’ does not mean ‘speaking’ and it would be wrong to give such a narrow and artificial construction to the word ‘using’ when the only restriction imposed by Article 152(1)(a) is limited to using any other language ... for official purposes only ... There is nothing in Article 152(1)(a) to prohibit or prevent the using of the Chinese language for non-official purposes, and it is within the legitimate right of a businessman to put up his business signboard in the Chinese language as well as in the national language.” (p.253)

The judge explained that an “official purpose” meant any purpose of the
Government (whether Federal or State), and included any purpose of a public authority. As to whether or not a private university is a public authority, George Seah J. was of the view that:

“.... not every statutory authority would be a public authority ... Only a statutory authority exercising powers vested in it by Federal or State Law would come within the definition of a public authority ...” (p.253)

And the word “powers” should be confined to “governmental or quasi-governmental powers”, and not any other powers.

“A perusal of the powers under Reg. 4(1) of the constitution of a university established under the 1971 Act shows plainly that they are not what we may term governmental or quasi-governmental powers but general administrative powers ... concerned with the internal organisation and management of a modern university.” (p.254)

Merdeka University, if established, would not be exercising “governmental or quasi-governmental powers”, and therefore, could not be a public authority, and the proposed use of mother tongue (Chinese) as a medium of instruction in the university would not come within the ambit of using for an “official purpose”. George Seah J. said:

“Such use would not be unconstitutional but is expressly protected and guaranteed by Article 152(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution.”

Today, a Constitution is always given a wide and liberal interpretation. Viewed in the light of the current trend of interpretation of a Constitution, the dissenting judgment of George Seah J. appears to be more convincing and acceptable, and more in line with the liberal approach adopted by the courts of other jurisdictions.

Wide and liberal interpretation of the Constitution

Jurists of other jurisdictions have expressed the view openly that constitutions can only map out the terrain, leaving much to be filled in by judicial wisdom. Therefore, judges may deduce fundamental rights which are not expressly set out in the Constitution. They may make explicit certain unarticulated rights which are implicit in the specific constitutional guarantees. There can be no objection to such judicial interpretation. (Soli Sorabjee: “Judges and the Constitution”)

However, the Malaysian courts have been slow in adopting such a liberal approach. They are more inclined towards a narrow approach.

Raja Aziz Addruse, former President of the Malaysian Bar and a highly respected member of the Bar, commenting on the approach adopted by the Malaysia Courts towards the interpretation of the constitutional provisions, aired the view that:

“In considering the scope and extent of fundamental rights, our courts appear to have been content to focus on the restrictions on those rights, as imposed by Parliament, rather than examine the purport and intent of the rights themselves.” (See Raja Aziz Addruse: “Constitutional Litigation” - a paper presented at the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Law Conference held at Kuala Lumpur on 15-16 August 1997)

Soli J. Sorabjee, former Attorney General of India, in his paper entitled “Judges and the Constitution” presented at the same Law Conference, gave a lucid enunciation of the manner in which judges should interpret a Constitution. He said,

“A most generous Bill of Rights can be reduced to a parchment of promises by narrow and insensitive judicial interpretation. The success of a Constitution, even of the most meticulously drafted, depends upon the way in which it is worked and interpreted by those who are entrusted with its implementation. If the persons who are to work the Constitution are men of vision and integrity, they would be able make the best even of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, no Constitution can help the country.”

“It is a sound principle that constitutional provisions must be construed not in a narrow and constricted sense, but in a wide and liberal manner so as to anticipate and take account of changing conditions so that the constitutional provision does not get atrophied or fossilized but remains flexible enough to meet the newly emerging problems and challenges.”

“This principle is particularly apposite to the interpretation of a Bill of Rights. It is a fallacy to regard a Bill of Rights as a gift from the State to its citizens. Individuals possess basic human rights antecedently of any Constitution by reason of the basic fact that they are members of the human race. A Bill of Rights does not ‘confer’ fundamental human rights. It confirms their existences and accords them protection.”

“Consequently, a Bill of Rights should be given a generous and purposive construction avoiding what has been called “the austerity of tabulated legalism”, remembering that “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life”. Courts should not interpret the Constitution in a literal and restrictive manner but in a way, which would enable the citizen to enjoy the rights, guaranteed by it and in the fullest measure.”

“The Constitution guarantees various rights which are not expressly referred to or are obviously a part of the expressly referred to rights. These additional rights have been termed ‘unspecified’ or ‘unenumerated’ rights.”

Read in the light of what the former Attorney General of India has said, our Federal Constitution ought to have been given a more liberal interpretation by our Courts. Particularly, the use and study of mother tongue should have been given the widest interpretation, and not the narrow and restrictive one given by our Courts.


Conclusion

Over the past few decades since the colonial days, the legal provision for mother tongue education has been far from satisfactory.

The manner in which POL (Pupils’ Own Language) classes are conducted on an optional basis in government schools (i.e. according to the wishes or at the request of the parents or pupils) leaves much to be desired. More financial or other forms of assistance are required for the private educational institutions providing mother tongue education to the ethnic minority communities.

The British colonial administration was insensitive to the needs of the ethnic minority groups, particularly the need for mother tongue education. They had in mind the long-term abolition of “vernacular schools” (i.e. schools catering to the need of ethnic minority communities for mother tongue education). Their intention of doing away with vernacular schools in the fifties was evident from the recommendations of the Barnes Report in 1951. However, because of resistance from the ethnic minorities concerned, they advocated the gradual process of “conversion”.

After independence, the authorities did not show much concern for mother tongue education either. The current Education Act 1996 is no exception. S.17(1) of the Act makes it abundantly clear that Bahasa Malaysia is to be used as the main medium of instruction for all schools (apart from the prescribed exceptions). No such provision has hitherto appeared in any previous legislation on education. The earlier controversial s.21(2) of the Education Act 1961 merely threatened the existence of primary schools, and not all schools.

After a lapse of nearly half a century (1951-1996), the gradual “conversion” of vernacular schools appears to have come about by way of s.17(1) of the 1996 Act. This provision has achieved what the Barnes Report 1951 had tried to do but without success.

The Barnes Report 1951 had, during the colonial days, recommended “the end of separate vernacular schools for the several racial communities, and their replacement by a single type of primary school common to all”. Now, s.17(1) of the recent Education Act 1996 provides that the national language (Bahasa Malaysia) shall be the main medium of instruction for all schools (other than the prescribed exceptions). Exemptions and establishment of national-type (primary) schools under s.28 come within the discretionary powers only of the authorities concerned.

There is a striking resemblance between the two. It is small wonder that this has been interpreted to mean the realisation of the authorities’ “ultimate objective” of bringing about the disappearance of those schools providing mainly mother tongue education.

The relevant provisions of the Federal Constitution relating to mother tongue education have been given a narrow and restrictive interpretation by the Malaysian courts, which is by no means conducive to the preservation and development of mother tongue education.

In line with the current trend of interpretation of a Constitution, Malaysian courts ought to review the hitherto negative approach and instead adopt a wide and liberal of interpretation as practised by the courts in other jurisdictions.

Most important of all, the various ethnic communities must value their own mother tongue and possess the will to make a concerted and united effort to protect their right to use and study their mother tongue. They must persevere against all odds to preserve and develop their mother tongue. Only then will the mother tongue education for all ethnic minority communities in this country have a future.

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edteam
Moderator
posted 04-03-2002 03:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for edteam   Click Here to Email edteam     Edit/Delete Message
NEW STRAITS TIMES
Monday, March 4, 2002

Chisel & Stone
On the right to learn in one’s mother tongue
By ONG KIAN MING im—ok—man@yahoo.com

THE right to be instructed in a pupil's mother tongue was under threat. New regulations were proposed to end teaching in all languages but the national language. The reason given was that exclusion from instruction in the national, and only the national language, was to blame for low test scores.

The fact that bilingual teachers were in short supply was ignored. The fact that some bilingual programmes were showing good progress was put aside. Those who were still deficient in their understanding of the national language would be put in a one-year immersion course which would prepare them for future education in the national language.

A nightmare come true for mother tongue primary education in Malaysia? Actually, this was in California in 1998. And thus was Proposition 227 passed, effectively banning bilingual education for the large minority community who still spoke their respective mother tongues, mostly Spanish.

There are many lessons we in Malaysia can learn from the example of education policies in other countries. To understand that education is as emotive an issue here as as in Western democracies.

The issue of education and language often come under the greater ambit of nationalism and identity. In Quebec, Canada, for example, education in French is undeniably linked with independence and autonomy for the French speaking state, while bilingual education in America arises from the steady flow of immigrants into the country, particularly in California and Florida. It is important that we keep the greater issues at the back of our minds so that we can understand the underlying stakes at hand.

For example, the issue of mother tongue primary education in Malaysia is tied up with the overall issue of the rights of minority groups in Malaysia.

The right to mother tongue primary education is seen as a barometer of how other mino-rity rights such as the freedom of worship and assembly will be protected and upheld.

When taken to extremes, the polarising tendencies of language can be ugly. Language "policemen" patrol the streets of Quebec City, issuing summons to shopkeepers who display English signs which are the same size or, God forbid, even larger than the French lettering.

But given the freedom to coexist, multi-lingualism can flourish and prosper as in the case of Switzerland with four national languages — German, French, Italian and Romanche. And this is not including the increasing pervasiveness of English.

Some weeks back, I highlighted the need for national schools to improve the quality of teaching, choice and resources especially in the teaching of Pupil's Own Language (POL). The desired outcome of attracting a more representative mix of students in national schools must be through persuasion and not coercion.

From a theoretical point of view, the assimilation of all schools under one common umbrella might seem to be the road towards a national identity and social cohesion, but the reality is far from such.

The encroachment by one medium of instruction on another will inflate emotions even in a supposedly monolingual environment such as the United States. In a more polarised and sensitive environment like that in Malaysia the reaction could be even stronger.

Such an encroachment would inevitably result in a bunker-down reaction from the invaded, resulting in more extreme or even militant expressions in defence of one's own language. Again, one can look at the example of Quebec.

The call to improve the quality and choice of national schools is not an expression of an underlying strategy to phase out national type schools.

Rather, it should be viewed as a positive means to give parents the choice of a good quality education in a national or national type school.

Indeed, the improvement in quality and choice in national schools will spur surrounding national type schools to respond to the challenge.

It is clear that legislating away a legitimate choice of the people will polarise rather than unite.

It is also clear that more information and research on the strengths and weaknesses of national and national type schools are needed to lift the "veil" on these matters.

For example, if performance in science and mathematics is low in national schools compared to national type schools, then research should uncover the factors behind this.

Success stories among national schools should also be highlighted and studied, the findings disseminated and perhaps even implemented in other schools.

The outcome, hopefully, will be an increase in the standards in national and national type schools both of which are legitimate alternatives to parents.
_______

# Kian Ming can be reached at im—ok—man@yahoo.com . The opinions and content of this article are his alone.

SOURCE:
http://www.nst.com.my/Current_News/NST/Monday/Columns/20020304082053/Article/

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HJ
Kawan Baru
posted 05-03-2002 02:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for HJ     Edit/Delete Message

"...But given the freedom to coexist, multi-lingualism can flourish and prosper as in the case of Switzerland with four national languages — German, French, Italian and Romanche. And this is not including the increasing pervasiveness of English. ...."


Why can't Malaysia have 3 National languages - Malay, Chinese, Tamil like Switzerland as well ?

This will solve the issue of the so-called NATIONAL UNITY as claimed by the purpose of the Vision School. Only then the sincerity of the government will be trusted by the minority ethnic groups.

Why look at the national unity from the micro angle of Vision School? Look at it from the macro angle of the whole nation's policy. When all 3 languages are national languages : All primary schools are national schools. All Malay, Chinese, Tamil languages are Malaysian languages. They are not united? There are some other problems! Not the schools, not the languages problems!

Don't you think so ?

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kwchang
Administrator
posted 05-03-2002 04:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for kwchang   Click Here to Email kwchang     Edit/Delete Message
Correct me if I am wrong...

Switzerland has borders with France, Germany and Italy. As such the areas sharing the same borders share the same language preferences. Hence the multiple "national languages".
Don't think that is applicable here due to our sociological developments in our history. We are more like the US with a history of migrant citizenry. I'll leave the discussion hanging at this point while you ruminate on it.

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sjkc
Kawan Lama
posted 07-03-2002 02:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for sjkc   Click Here to Email sjkc     Edit/Delete Message

*The Swiss Education System VS Vision School

Some kind folks informed us the following web site regarding the Swiss education system :

Source - http://www.edk.ch/e/eurydice/framesets/mainBildungCH_e.html

[ ................................In 1990 the 4 national languages were spoken in the following proportions: German 63.7%, French 19.2%, Italian 7.6%, Rhaeto-Romanic 0.6%, others 8.9%. As far as federal affairs are concerned, the first 3 are deemed "official languages".

The Swiss Confederation, created in 1291, has been a federal state since 1848. The principle of direct democracy is firmly anchored in the federal constitution, but even more so at a cantonal and municipal level. Decentralisation and direct democracy - characteristics of the political and education system - have also given rise to a militia system: no professional army or permanent parliament.

The federal constitution stipulates that "state education shall be available to children of all confessions without any restrictions being placed on their freedom of conscience or belief" (article 27, paragraph 3). The following is an example of general principles laid down in the laws of one canton: "State education shall promote the harmonious development of the abilities of the child within the framework of the democratic tradition of western civilisation, teach him tolerance and a sense of responsibility towards others and his environment, as well as respect for other languages and cultures. At the same time it shall instil in the pupil such knowledge and skills that will allow him to go on to vocational training and take up a career."..........................]

According to the traditional practice aimed at fostering national cohesion, German speakers have learned French as their first foreign language, and French and Italian speakers have learned German. English had always come second or third. ------ Is not that the best way to achieve national unity rather than the self-confined Vision School?

To look at it selflessly, all schools in our Malaysia are VISION SCHOOLS, irrespective of National or National-Type Schools --- those names are merely results of the discrminating and segregating policy since the colonial times. We should all untiringly devote to the effort of upgrading the facilities and improving the academic achievements of all ethnic schools in the nation.

IP: 203.106.139.253

edteam
Moderator
posted 07-03-2002 06:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for edteam   Click Here to Email edteam     Edit/Delete Message
----- Original Message -----
From: "Mr U"
To: "sjkc " ; "usj 16 egroup"
Sent: Thursday, March 07, 2002 3:56 PM
Subject: [nwatch_usj16] Re: The Swiss Education System VS Vision School


> In the STPM result announced last month, as in the past, we have many bright students who score many As in the exams. From among these top scorers, one of our neighboring country is offering scholarships, FREELY, to many of our bright students to continue their tertiary educations there. Good education at no cost. No quota to worry about. Job prospect is bright. These are the offers no one student can refuse. What concerns me most is, if this trend continues, we, as a nation, will lose out. Our future leaders are going away from us. But than again, who can blame them? they do not have the same opportunity here at home. This is a sad news.
>
> U Chang Eng.

IP: 210.187.0.48

sjkc
Kawan Lama
posted 08-03-2002 09:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for sjkc   Click Here to Email sjkc     Edit/Delete Message

Our government spend at least 11 years (6-year primary education plus 5-year secondary education) to bring up a person of talent, but there are limited vacancies at the tertiary education (why?). If a brilliant one chooses to study and then settle down in a foreign country, that lucky country would only spend as little as 4 years, if it offers scholarship, to acquire a talent to contribute to the country.

Our country's precious assets have been flowing away for years now and we have not seen any sincere resolution by the government. Since the Vision 2020 was brought up, there have been schemess to simulate the back-flow of talented yet "patriotic" citizenry, but we should see that as a bid to attend to the superficial and neglect the essentials.

Some 2 billion ringgits was spent on the construction of the KLCC twin towers. That amount of money could have been used to build more than 10 universities nationwide. If we have a choice again today, what would we choose to build?

IP: 210.186.60.250

sjkc
Kawan Lama
posted 08-03-2002 09:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for sjkc   Click Here to Email sjkc     Edit/Delete Message

Our government spend at least 11 years (6-year primary education plus 5-year secondary education) to bring up a person of talent, but there are limited vacancies at the tertiary education (why?). If a brilliant one chooses to study and then settle down in a foreign country, that lucky country would only spend as little as 4 years, if it offers scholarship, to acquire a talent to contribute to the country.

Our country's precious assets have been flowing away for years now and we have not seen any sincere resolution by the government. Since the Vision 2020 was brought up, there have been schemess to simulate the back-flow of talented yet "patriotic" citizenry, but we should see that as a bid to attend to the superficial and neglect the essentials.

Some 2 billion ringgits was spent on the construction of the KLCC twin towers. That amount of money could have been used to build more than 10 universities nationwide. If we have a choice again today, what would we choose to build?

IP: 210.186.60.250

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