Saturday, January 26, 2008

Racial Integration Starts In Schools

I was asked to give a talk by the KL Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall women's wing in conjunction with Oriental Daily last Monday on the state of racial integration in our country with a title "若即若離", roughly translated as "So near, yet so far (apart)" (View the reports in the Chinese media here)

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.
As we can see, these discriminating events happen at both the primary and secondary schools of our education system.And it happens all throughout the country from Penang to Perak to Selangor to N Sembilan to Johor.

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...

...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.
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.

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...


Shawn Tan said...

Personally, I think that sending kids to a Chinese school doesn't help the situation at all. These kids end up living in an ethnic bubble. I can't see how this could be a good thing. This was already the case, during my days in school. If 90% of the Chinese parents send their kids to Chinese schools, it must've gotten worse by now.

It's been my experience that kids from these schools will typically get a 'cultural shock' when they go out into the real world. I've blogged about this a while ago here.

School administration has always been a problem. I could remember that during my days in school, there were plenty of complaints against teachers and principals who disciplined the children excessively and often physically. The problem is one with the system. When a principal abuses his/her power, the typical solution by the education department is to transfer the principal to another school, preferably in another state. In Kajang High School, there was once a rumour about a principal who was transferred to the school for just such a reason. This merely spreads the problem around, and doesn't solve it.

So, if we're not part of the solution, we're part of the problem. Over-hauling the education system is a good thing. Sending our kids into an ethnic puddle isn't.

Anonymous said...

If there was just a lack of political will, I think Malaysian, left to their own device, would still be able to manage. The problem is not lack of will but rather political bias to the right-wing of UMNO. There is no comparison in any other country in the world even the now affirmative action South Africa where there is no great religious divide. The only way to imagine it is to think of the US being dominated by Neocons for decades.

You believe that unity begin with education which I have my doubts. For a comprehenisive solution to unity, it must begin with out constitution that spells it out clearly about equal rights and secularity of our nation. We are a blessed nation and people, we don't need more government and intervention but we need protection of rights and accountability. Just let the people decide is what I say and stop getting involved and it will go a long way.

Look at Chinese primary schools where many Malays attend it BY CHOICE. They come out of it more Malay, more Malaysians and beacon of hope for all of us. But what happens after they leave? They get hit by the real world they enter which don't support their idealism and they hold back even turn away.
What we need is not for the government to get involved but for people to make free choices to built relationships, to protect their rights to associates and speak their minds.

There are many place that can begin and you can argue that the best place to start is education but its no more than a useless start if the foundation, our constitution is not corrected.6 years in a primary schools even 16 years of formal schooling, does not make up for half of that time outside of schools and decades as a working adult. I would also argue that its impossible to get that 16 years of ideal conditions without fixing the constitution.

Dr Boulevard said...


Anonymous said...

I don't think that many Chinese school students have a problem integrating. I think the problem of integrating is due to the perceived fairness of the situation. Most non-Malays are so pissed off with the unfairness in Malaysia that they equate Malays to NEP and rent seeking behaviour, rightly or wrongly.

Going to a national type school in the current situation won't help. I've seen enough of my classmates to know that it doesn't help any with integration if the current system persists. I have to agree with the 2nd poster that the foundation needs to be changed. Packing everyone off to the same school and hoping for integration while unfairness is everywhere is just a recipe to make the discriminated against bitter. You have to ask yourself why so many parents choose to send their children to Chinese schools when they themselves were a product of National schools. I think that the answer is that the situation has taken a turn for the worse with the introduction of NEP and the Mahathir years rather than some Chinese chauvinism.

In the meantime, I'd rather send my children to Chinese type schools and give them the edge of knowing an additional language. My only concern would be the (perceived) heavy workload that the teachers like to dish out and rather rigid learning system (again, perceived).

Anonymous said...

All my three kids went to National School. It was decision along the way I do regret. Thanks to God and my wife, we managed to ensure that all three of them did not suffer the racial and religious bigotry attitute of the majority malay teachers. We were there all the time for the kids to ensure that my kids gets the right and correct explaination to counter the racial slurs and religious bigotry remarks made by these under qualified & unmatured malay teachers. And top of that the dauble standards they practice towards the malay students, you just can't believe it. My frank advise advise to the parents who wish/plan to send their kids to the National Schools, be prepared for the above mentioned situations and be there to guide your kids all the time.

Anonymous said...

Yatim story make the main point with national integration in national schools which is the quality of the schools. If you make good schools, students will integrate, if you make bad schools, things will get worst.

Its got nothing to do with language or common curriculum etc. These things become an issue only when the schools are bad.

But the problem is that making good schools isn't that simple. A lot of people like to say our schools are bad because its unmeritocratic, politicised etc. While there is merit to it, fundamentally making good public education is a very hard thing to do. The awefull truth is that fundamentally the challenges of making good public education is NOT that different from others. Its hard. But it is compounded by our unmeritocratic and polticised situation which is why there is not a lot of hope of real excellence for the vast majority of students. That is the real crime of our education and the root of our problem with national integration.

Yatim point out how they have to spent much time with the children. In fact, the only saving grace of our education system IS it forces parents to be heavily involved. One can say parents really are the one doing the education and preventing disintegration of the worst kinds. But such a formula is afforded only by middle class and rich and some middle class parents can't afford it either.

Our national school is breeding a disaster waiting to happen. Its the parents that are holding back that disaster. But as we modernised and have more family problems, that system is unsustainable. We already have at least 20% of Chinese not finishing secondary schools. The numbers for Indians can only go up higher than that. While Malays have less than 10% not graduating, the number of unemployed graduates is more than 10% which is the same thing or make the situation worst. This is a bomb waiting to happen.

Jeffrey Chew said...

Hi Tony,

Deeply touched by your recollections of your school days. I was brought up to attend the SMJK and it's under a Christian Brother Schools charter. I am fortunate because my fellow classmates never looked at each other as Malay, Indian or Chinese. We were brothers then and we are still. I bumped into a Malay classmate 2 weeks back who happened to be a very successful chef. He spent his years overseas and finally decided to come back home. We spoke with lots of good memories about the good old days of the past....why can't our leaders stop doing this? Be open and be direct.

Anonymous said...

malaysian politics can make anyone lose faith in humanity. why are we so obsessed with race? as if racism on an indivdual basis isnt bad enough, our main form is institutional goverment implemented racism. just today i read about samy velu telling other bn component parties not to help the indian community and that the indian community is mic's concern, did they get a copyright on us? did we sign up when we were born to be humble slaves of mic? most of us were brought in as indentured labouers now we are being reduced to indentured voters.
whats samy's business if someone were to take an interest in the indian community? mahathir calling suharto a great man, why doesnt that suprise me. here is a tyrant who rules his county with an iron fist for 31 years, amassing a vast personal fortune, brutally stamping out any opposition and he is called a great man, oh wait that sounds suspiciously like mahathir too. i am sick of big government, i am sick of economic policies, i am sick of beareaucratic corruption. i would love to see the market reign like it does in hong kong. national leaders are probably the most usless ppl on earth, us common people are best left alone to conduct our own dealings, we dont need your subsidies, your handouts, after all its our own money. the east asian financial crisis was not the fault of currency specalutors, mahathir thought he was smarter than hedge fund managers, the managers found a region that rested on unstable economic ground and they exploited the oppurtinity, idiots like mahathir and mohamed yakcop should never be allowed to play in the markets, there are loads of people much smarter than them. get rid of the government, reduce its power dramatically, get rid of race based political parties, get rid of religious zealots, reduce the beareaucracy and its stifling control over us, sack the entire judiciary and install new, honest judges. do it now otherwise we will slowly but surely be seeing a death of a nation, a nation that could have shone a light for the world.

Full Time Mom said...


Like you, Hubby and I are also in a dilemma on where to send our 5-year old son in 2 years.

After some research and talking to friends / family / colleagues, we are quite likely to choose a sekolah kebangsaan in our area.

The reason may be idealistic, but we believe that we should do ALL that we can to make sure that the school - which serves the community, not just our son - is a "good" school. If that means parking myself in the PIBG from day one and be known as "that woman again!" then so be it :)

Yes, we are also sick of silly politicians and lopsided policies. We are also tired of racial and religious bigots. However, I don't think running away from the problem is the answer. Neither is crying and lamenting that "our leaders should do this" and "our leaders should do that".

We should try to solve the problem a little bit at a time. One school at a time. Citizens need to be more active in the community and that includes schools.

I take yatim's advice to "be there to guide your kids all the time". He is absolutely spot on. I think no matter which school you choose - national, Chinese or even private - parents HAVE to always guide their kids.

Anonymous said...

Full time mum, yeah that nosey lady again. But you are spot on. Don't run away but face the situation and be counted. Only then can the the national school administrators understand the common needs.

Anonymous said...

Lion dance without the drum? I'm speechless!

Anonymous said...

Go and see SMK Taman University, in Skudai Johor.

80% school students population are non-muslim, but islamic words are being placed in all over the school.

School girls and boys are seperated starting from entering school compound, in canteen, in class rooms.

Even Muslim students pays higher school fee than non-muslim because of islamic class, but the government said that there will be no school fee starting from 2008.

All muslim students are called "malay". The teacher use the word "malay" to address muslim students.

All muslim students are required to wear 'tudung' /head scarf including during their PE. And from the recent jogathon, so many Muslim students fainted during the Jogathon.

I am not sure either are they suppose to focus on 'education' or focus in surpressing both the muslims and the non-muslims in the name of Islam.

We are in a very sad stage...such things never took place those days, at least during my school days... 10 years ago?

Anonymous said...

How dare you called working mum a nosey lady? She is so nice sweet beautiful demure and best of all a modern lady.

Anonymous said...

hi tony,

would this happen??? can someone answer this?

Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong Declared a Muslim, Children ‘Disinherited’

i hope it will NOT turn out 2b true 10 years from now…

Anonymous said...

Working mum fan, pl dont get me wrong, I am saying this in jest. As a matter of fact it is a compliment, with these kind of people building bridges and be counted there will be more awareness and understanding amongst all the people. Having separate schools for each group is definitely divisive whichever way you look at it. Tony be brave and speak your mind, or that you dont see a Malaysia with chinese school, a hindu scool and Islamic school alongside national school a problem?

Anonymous said...

The Malaysian Edu System should change. Make all language (all that in Malaysia) as electives. Then everybody gets the benefit of learning the bahasa kebangsaan, mother tongue and as well as the english language. That sorta settles everything right? Don't you think so?