Monday, October 25, 2010

History to be Compulsory Pass?

The Deputy Prime Minister's call to make History a compulsory subject for a SPM pass reek of attempts at revisionism and indoctrination of our young Malaysian students

According to Bernama, history will be a must-pass subject in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination from 2013 along with the Bahasa Malaysia subject, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said. He also said the education ministry would also make improvement to the subject, with emphasis on enhancing the understanding of the Constitution so as to enlighten students about the country’s nation-building process.

The call to make History a compulsory subject came totally out of the blue, and stands in stark contast against the country's past policies to focus on science and mathematics to promote industry as well as to ensure employability.

While we have no objections in principle to making the subject a compulsory pass, we are extremely concerned with the proposal on two aspects.

Firstly, the underlying rationale behind the move appears to be to “teach” students about the constitution, and given the announcement of the measure at a Umno national convention, the focus will naturally be on the Article 153 and other related articles with regards to Malay “rights”. Malaysian students should however, but taught on all aspects of the constitution including the Reid Commission report which was the basis of our constitution when it was drafted.

Will there for example, be an equal emphasis on say, the Article 8 which states that “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law” and “Except as expressly authorized by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority or in the administration of any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment”?

Hence, we fear this new measure is a blatant attempt to indoctrinate our students with a narrow and biased interpretation of our Federal Constitution and our country's founding history. We call upon the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to first convene a independent advisory and review body comprising of representatives from the Bar Council, eminent retired judges as well as renown academics on the History of Malaya.

To quote veteran journalist Zainon Ahmad who wrote last year “the history textbooks for schools should no longer be left to individual authors to decide what to include or emphasise and what to be left out. They must be supervised by a multi-racial panel of experts which must include educationists and historians.”

Secondly, the current teaching of the subject “History” for the various examinations leaves much to be desired. The focus is currently almost entirely based on memorisation and regurgitation of “facts” during examinations and does not at all involve critical thinking, analysis and interpretation.

In the light of the fact that the Ministry intends to improve our student's learning and thinking abilities, the approach used to teach history must first be overhauled before the subject can be made compulsory. Otherwise, “history” will just become a meaningless subject just like the subject “moral studies” today where students just memorises answers word for word to comply with a rigid marking scheme which punishes analytical variants and interpretations. It will only make Malaysian students even more incapable of independent thought.

Hence we call upon the Ministry to resolve these 2 critical issues first and not put the cart before the horse by making the subject compulsory without the necessary critical reforms.
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