It was both a sensitive subject and at the same time a very broad subject - basically not a very fun subject to talk about at a forum ;-) Hence, I limited my talk pretty much to the fact that for racial integration to work in this country, it has to start with our education system.
(Warning: Long post ;-))
Before I spoke, I asked the audience of about 100 on whether there were any others in the hall who had his primary education at a national school. As expected, I was pretty much the only person.
I spoke of the fact that I often reminiscence on my primary school days where there was a great deal of mixing of students of all races. Til today, I can meet one of my Malay or Sikh classmates back from Batu Pahat whom I've not met for years, and we can have an "intimate" coffee session talking about all things under the sky. I took part in Malay debates, quizzes, played football, badminton without having to worry to much about being discriminated against.
And for those who had followed my Education blog long enough, I've written on the dilemma of where I should send my 3 year old daughter to school when the time comes. For many Malaysian Chinese today, whether they are Chinese educated or otherwise, Chinese primary schools have become the default choice. Possibly, the stubborn, idealistic side within me continues to hope (tiny though it may be) that there may be salvation for our national schools.
I then listed down some of the recent outrageous examples of national school excesses in the last 1-2 years. Unfortunately, despite not having anywhere near a comprehensive list, I didn't have sufficient time to cite all of the following, most of which I've blogged about at Education in Malaysia.
- Parents of Indian students of SK Sri Baki in Senawang are upset that their children, who are in Year One, were forced to take Arabic in school. Many of the pupils were forced to sit for the examinations even though there were no classes for the first six months, reported Malaysia Nanban.
The officer in-charge of languages, Ustaz Hafizi of the State Education Department was queried, he argued that "headmasters were compelled to introduce Tamil, Chinese or Arabic to children of other communities."
- An old boy of Kajang High School expressed his concerns in relation to the current situation at the school. He noticed seven new signboards with religious verses put up at some expense. The image conveyed to anyone driving up to Kajang High School is that one was entering a religious school.
- The Star has reported a story in Batu Pahat, of a Punjabi student being asked to shave his beard, moustache and sideburns.
- The administrators of SK Bukit Jelutong have told non-Muslim pupils that they can't bring "wet food" to the Children's Day celebrations, only snacks like murukku or chips are allowed.
The school's senior assistant for curriculum, Ishak Mohd Zazuly, confirmed the directive and said the decision was made "to respect each other's religions. We are just worried that there may be non-halal ingredients in the food.
Ishak said if non-Muslim children, for instance Hindu pupils, could not eat beef and had problems with the food brought by Muslim pupils, they should not eat it.
- YB Loh Seng Kok said the syllabus of history textbooks ignored the contribution of non-bumiputeras and only emphasised on the Islamic civilisation. Terming it as "incomplete and imbalanced", he said the syllabus does not encourage critical thinking among the students.
And as if on cue, the party that seems to attract plenty of members with way too much hot air, sent a team from Sdr Loh's own parliamentary constituency to present a show cause letter to their MP. 50 Umno Youth members, led by Kelana Jaya division chief Abdul Halim Samad, paid Sdr Loh a visit with an ultimatum.
- Two netball teams from SMK Abdullah Munshi were forced to quit the Jelutong district inter-school competition in Penang. The principal of the school, Pn Fazillah Shaharim made the decision after being told that some players in the under-15 and under-18 teams had removed their tudung while playing. Apparently, the school rules prohibit students from removing the tudung during school hours or in activities where they represent the school, as reported by the New Straits Times. On top of that, they are required to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants during sporting activities.
- When there was outrage over an ustaz selling "holy water" to the students, the Perak Mufti, Datuk Seri Harussani Zakaria, one who is not a stranger to controversy, said that "there was nothing wrong with selling the holy water".
"It's a form of prayer to enhance memory, just like gingko biloba is a memory booster... It is not wrong to sell it unless the ustaz is dishonest about how he produced the water."
- Recently, in the beginning of this year, there was an instruction in English College, Johor Bahru which I believe came from the teacher advisor to the Prefectorial Board, that Prefects have to start wearing the Songkok as part of the official uniform. At first, the instruction was that it would only be required during "official functions" like school assemblies and during interschool events or major events like sports day and speech day. However, this has now been revised to include daily prefectorial duties.
There are reasons to believe that the practice of getting Prefects to wear the Songkok, is a prelude to getting ALL the students of the school to eventually follow suit.
- SMK Bandar Utama 4 Damansara recently appointed a new Malay lady as a headmaster. All this while, the school has a proud tradition of good old days where students can wear shorts for PE lesson, celebration of major Chinese festival like Chinese New Year, cheerleading team and secular school type of school assembly.
Unfortunately, all these good times are gone with the coming of a new Malay headmistress who is a religious bigot. With 10% Muslim students, she is now imposing "bacaan doa" during assembly, banning of the cheerleading team, not more wearing of shorts for PE and the worse of all is that for the coming CNY, the school can have a lion dance performance by WITHOUT the DRUM.
- Last year also saw Universiti Utara Malaysia attempting to implement a ridiculous dress code on all students, before deciding to withdraw the regulation following an uproar in the Chinese press.
- Apparently according to Wong Chun Wai, in one of his editorials for The Star, a dean from the business faculty of a top Malaysian public university "makes alleged spot checks during lectures to check on the dressing of female students."
Students who he perceives are wearing tight T-shirts or blouses are singled out. At least on one occasion, they were asked to bend down to see whether parts of their bodies would be exposed.
Why is it that when I was studying in national schools before, I don't seem to have faced such issues? What is the government doing to prevent such irresponsible actions which affects Malaysian unity from happening?
Are these school teachers and administrators taught in teachers training school that the above actions are prohibited and they will be punished accordingly? Are they even punished for their actions?
And what are our nation's eminent legislators doing about it?
No, what you get is more of the same amongst the Barisan Nasional members of parliament. Most recently for example, 2 UMNO MPs called for religious symbols in all former missionary schools in Malaysia to be demolished.
Tuan Syed Hood bin Syed Edros of Parit Sulong said:
Saya rasa kecewa di dalam negara Islam, Malaysia ini, kalau saya pergi ke sekolah convent, ada terpampang patung St. Mary di depandepan sekolah convent...The above can only be construed that Barisan Nasional (BN) which comprises of 14 component parties are not interested in achieving national unity, but instead is only interested in further racially divide and Islamising our schools.
...tengoklah salib Kristian diletakkan di depan-depan sekolah. Saya tidak faham Kementerian Pelajaran, adakah pegawai-pegawai tidak nampak atau memang dasar kita membenarkan perkara ini. Walau bagaimanapun, saya sebagai orang yang bertanggungjawab kepada diri saya, agama, bangsa dan tanah air ini, saya menyatakan pendirian saya bahawa patung-patung ini hendaklah dirobohkan, salib-salib ini hendaklah dimusnahkan dan pengaruhpengaruh gereja di sekolah-sekolah ini hendaklah dihentikan.
Why has it come to this state of affairs?
Very simply, the BN government has no political will nor intent to take action and make the necessary corrections. UMNO acts as the big brother in the coalition, while the others such as MCA, Gerakan and MIC serves as UMNO's apologists.
Take for example, the first instinctive reaction by MCA Youth Chief, YB Liow Tiong Lai was to attempt to defend the Deputy Prime Minister's statement (that it was misunderstood), when the latter proclaimed that Malaysia was "an Islamic state" and that it was "never, never a secular state". Or the fact that MCA President waxing lyrical about his beautiful relationship with UMNO, at the MCA General Assembly, no less.
In Chinese, the appropriate phrase will be "為虎作倀" - transliterated as "striking/groping rashly on behalf of the tiger". That's why, it is our fervent contention that a vote for MCA or Gerakan, is equivalent to a vote for UMNO.
In the meantime, Malaysians live peacefully but separately...