Call for Royal Commission of Inquiry into the mass failures of non-Malay candidates in MCE Bahasa Malaysia paper and Malay students in MCE science and mathematics

Speech by Opposition Leader and DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat in the debate on the Royal Speech on Wednesday, 17th April 1973.

I rise to join in the expression of thanks of this House to His Majesty, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, for his Gracious Speech in opening the Third Session of the Third Parliament.

I have listened with attention and interest to His Majesty’s Gracious Speech, as it sets out the government’s policies and intentions for the coming year.

I must confess deep disappointment and regret, share by decisive sections of the people in the country, that the government in this policy pronouncement has conspicuously omitted reference to the burning issue in the country – namely, the mass failures in the 1972 MCE/SPM examinations merely because of failure in Bahasa Malaysia paper.

When the Prime Minister took over the reins of office three years ago, he promised to break from the previous administration which had the habit of sweeping unpleasant things under the carpet. It would appear that the present government is sweeping unpleasant things under a bigger and more capacious carpet.

Since the release of the MCE/SPM results on 19th March 1973, the whole country has been astir with shock, fear and gloom at high rate of mass failures in last year’s examination.

The results of major English and Chinese schools, which had traditionally maintained very standards, are particularly unbelievable. Thus, in Penang, St. Xavier’s Institution had a passing rate of 26 per cent; Chung Ling High School, 26 per cent; Han Chiang High School 27 per cent; Methodist Boy’s School 27.1 per cent; Penang Free School 57 per cent.

In Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Cochrane English School scored only 28.3 per cent passes, Bukit Bintang Boy’s School in Petaling Jaya 30 per cent; Assunta Convent in Petaling Jaya 58per cent; Methodist Boy’s School, 62 per cent.

One of the best schools in Perak, St. Michael’s Institution has the shocking result of only 17.4 % passes. In Malacca High School Malacca has 57 per cent passes.

It can be asserted without contradiction that these schools were typical of all other Chinese and English schools, which in the past, had maintained 80 per cent, 90 percent and even exceeding 90 per cent passes.

These figures, bad as they are do not convey the enormity of the problems, especially for English and national-type secondary schools. For instance, in the case of the Jerantut Secondary School, Pahang, although the schools scored 45% pass, there were 100% non-Malay failures.

According to figures given by the Minister of Education in his statement of April 4, 1973, out of 37,126 who sat for the M.C.E last year 21,061 failed – including 14,331 who failed because of Bahasa Malaysia. A total of 27,784 non-Malay and 9,342 Malays sat for the MCE examination. Of these 9,314 non-Malay and 6,751 Malays passed. Out of the 14,331 who failed because of Bahasa Malaysia, 14,166 were non-Malay and 165 Malays.

In percentage terms, this means:

&nbps; Malays Non-Malays
Passed MCE 1972 6.751(72.25%) 9,314(33.5%)
Failed Bahasa Malaysia 146(1.5%) 14,116(51%)
General Failures 2,445(26.25%) 4,354(15.5%)
Total 9,342(100%) 27,784(100%)

This means that 24,430 non- Malay students or 84.5% would have passed the 1972 MCE if not because of Bahasa Malaysia paper, instead of the present incredibly low 33.5% pass. An education system which fails 66.5% of the non-Malay students, 51% of whom for failures in Bahasa Malaysia, warrants an open, public and impartial inquiry.

What makes a public inquiry all the more compelling and necessary is the fact that the overwhelming majority of these 14,000 students who failed because of Bahasa Malaysia are above-average, even brilliant, and conscientious students, large numbers of whom score a string of distinctions, some even six, seven or eight distinctions. I estimate that out of 14,330 at least 10,000 would have got Grade One if not for failure in Bahasa Malaysia.

This is not the first time that thousands of brilliant and conscientious students have been failed and their future wrecked because of Bahasa Malaysia. Over the last three years, over 30,000 students have become victims of the government’s MCE education and examination system. At the rate things are going, unless there are drastic remedial measures, by the end of this decade, these victims are going to be joined by 100,000 others suffering the same fate.

There is no reason at all why every year, thousands of brilliant and conscientious students should fail Bahasa Malaysia and therefore the entire MCE, when they can distinguish themselves in difficult subjects like Mathematics and Science if the examination is fairly and justly carried out, and the education system is competent and adequately-staffed with qualified teachers in Bahasa Malaysia.

It is no easy thing to score a string of distinctions in the MCE. It is probably easier to become Minister or Assistant Minister in Malaysia. I will like to know how many Cabinet Ministers or Assistant Ministers can claim to have achieved six, seven or eight distinctions during their Cambridge examination. Yet today, our younger brothers and sisters and children who could do what the Assistant Minister and Minister cannot do are being failed in the thousands every year, wrecking their entire future.

When I asked in this House last year for the reasons for the mass failures of MCE candidates in Bahasa Malaysia in the previous two years, the Minister of Education gave the ridiculous reply that the students did not pay adequate attention to the subject as they do to science and mathematics.

Such an explanation is not borne out by facts. The students know that if they fail Bahasa Malaysia, they fail the entire examination, and they have the example of thousands if their predecessors failing the MCE despite a host of distinctions in other subjects as reminders and warnings.

The student, their parents and the public know that the MCE candidates had tried their level best in Bahasa Malaysia. Neither can it be said that the 14,330 who failed the MCE Bahasa Malaysia did not have a grounding in Bahasa Malaysia, as they passed the common Bahasa Malaysia paper when they sat for the Lower Certificate of Education examination in 1970.

Furthermore, large numbers of the 14,330 students had either excellent or creditable school records of their performance and attainments in Bahasa Malaysia. Students who scored distinctions or credits during their school’s mock M.C.E. examination fail as miserably as those who get poor passes or failed. In Chung Ling High School, Penang, the student who won the Bahasa Malaysia contest for the whole school also failed in MCE Bahasa Malaysia.

Many conscientious teachers wept when they saw the results, for that was something they had never expected in the wildest of nightmares.

Surely, something is fundamentally wrong with the MCE examination and education system where students who can get distinctions in a string of other subjects, and who have tried their level best supported by excellent school record of their attainments in Bahasa Malaysia, cannot pass the MCE Bahasa Malaysia paper, not in one instance, or ten, or hundred, or one thousand, but 14,330 and not for one year, but year after year.

The sins and defects of the MCE examination and education system must not be visited on the heads of tens of thousands of innocent young Malaysians. There must be an immediate full- scale and public inquiry into the grave and many defects of the MCE examination and education system, find out the true cases of the mass failures in Bahasa Malaysia by non-Malay students, look into the inadequacy of genuinely qualified teachers in Bahasa Malaysia, the teaching methods, the setting and marking of examination scripts, and propose remedies.

The scandalous and atrocious MCE results have created a deep- seated crisis of confidence, and it will be no exaggeration to say that no issue since the reconvening of Parliament has so shattered the people’s confidence not only in the integrity of the whole education system, but of the whole government as well.

The national unity which His Majesty mentioned in his Gracious Address has suffered a grievous setback as a consequence.

There can only be national unity, or movement towards national unity if the government and those in authority regard every problem which touches and concerns large sections of the population as a national problem. It will be the surest way to national disunity and disharmony if the problems of one community are considered as national problems, while the problem of another community are downgraded as sectional problems.

It has been obvious for sometime that there are groups in the country, representing some very influential and highly-placed persons, who are delighted at the present system which fails some 10,000 candidates a year because of Bahasa Malaysia.

To these people, the recent MCE results must have come as an even greater pleasure. These are people with narrow, petty and small minds, who do not want to see the creation of a genuine multiracial society and nation, and are true anti- national elements in the country.

These people vehemently oppose the establishment of any public inquiry into the causes of the mass failures, not for any high-sounding national considerations, but for the most unspeakable of reasons.

Let me stress here that the questions of the position and place of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language is not in question here, and let no Member of Parliament let go with a big speech on it in the hope of evading and clouding the issue, with emotion and sentiment in the absence of reason and good sense.

It will also be appropriate here to rebut one argument that will be advanced in the course of the debate, namely, why nobody made any noise when in the old days English was a compulsory language in the Cambridge examination.

This argument is invalid.

Among other things, there is one big difference between the two instances, for I do not believe that you have a parallel situation where tens of thousands of candidates fail the Cambridge examination despite the fact that they get a string of distinct one in other subjects.

The Finance Minister, Tun Tan Siew Sin, recently in his speech in Washington said that to solve the present international monetary problems, instead of groping and floundering until the next crisis arises, “ what is needed now and badly needed too is the political will and the political courage to do what is right.”

I would command to the Finance Minister and his Ministerial colleagues to do precisely what he preached, and do in Malaysia, and with reference to the scandalous MCE results of 1972, to have the ‘political will and political courage to do what is right’ for the educational welfare and entire future of all Malaysian children, regardless of race, colour or tongue.

The right thing to do is to institute a Royal Commission Malaysia failures into the causes and reasons for the high rate of Bahasa Malaysia failures; and to give conditional pass to M.C.E. candidates who would otherwise have passed if not for failure in Bahasa Malaysia with the proviso that they repeat the Bahasa Malaysia paper.

MCE candidates who would have qualified to proceed to sixth form if not the failure in Bahasa Malaysia paper should also be given sixth form places subject to the proviso that they repeat the Bahasa Malaysia paper.

If the government can spend so much time and money to have a parliamentary committee to hold public inquiries into such an inconsequential problem as whether to permit the screening of X-films, it is a sad commentary on the leaders of this country if non such a matter of overriding importance as the education and future of young Malaysians, it should treat it as of even less import as X- films.

The argument the Minister of Education so far for refusing to grant conditional pass to the 14,330 candidates for failure in Bahasa Malaysia is that the award of MCE, fixed by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate, does not allow the award of conditional passes. These rules are man-made and can man-unmade, especially when there are cogent and overpowering reasons that special exceptions should be made for the 14,330 students. To require these students to repeat the MCE for another year, despite the fact that they have get distinctions which they cannot improve on, is a most wasteful and short-sighted policy.

In any event, are there places for the 25,000 MCE/SPM failures, when even now, many national-type secondary schools do not have enough teachers for subjects required to be taught in Bahasa Malaysia although one school term has ended? Is the government going to give these failures one year of free retention, as it is basically the defect of the system which is the cause of the failures?

I urge the Cabinet to give serious consideration to this entire problem, and view it not as a sectional, non-Malay problem, but as a national problem with the view towards releasing the force of unity and goodwill and not towards setting free of division, hatred and deep and simmering resentment against the presently constituted society.

More than the education future of 14,330 persons and involved in this issue, what is being decided is whether the essence and spirit of multi-racial Malaysia are to be salvaged or destroyed beyond redemption, and let the rot set in.

The continued high rate of failures of Malay students in science and maths

Another cause of grave concern for the nation arising from last year’s MCE/SPM results is the continued high rate of failures among Malay in mathematics and science.

Mathematics and Science hold the key to the modernisation of the rural Malaysians, and although this has itself been preached ad nauseum by the government, very little seems to be done to pitchfork for the rural Malays into the age of technology and science.

Up to today, we do not have detailed analysis from the Ministry of Education on the performance of Malay students in science and mathematics, apart from the general information that the failures continued to be high.

The high rate of Malay failures in science and mathematics can only be solved if a strong base in these two subjects is laid in the primary school levels.

A study of the mathematics and science attainments in the national primary schools will show that this is not being done. Thus in the 1972 Std. V Assessment Test for national primary schools, 49% failed in mathematics and 40 per cent failed in science.

Unless the primary base in mathematics and science is laid firmly, Malaysia will not get the corps of Malay scientists, technologists, engineers, doctors, needed by the nation.

The Minister of Education has announced that the special survey on school drop- outs has been completed, and called on the members of the public to help solve this problem, which he described as too big for the government alone to handle.

Firstly, I would suggest that the government should release the School Drop-Out Report, for study and discussion by the public. If the government wants the public to help it to solve this national problem, then it must take the public into its confidence, and not treat the public with suspicion. I say this for the Minister has been reported as saying that it may not be in the public interest to release the entire report to the public. I hope the Minister concerned can tell this House in greater detail what he meant by this statement.

There is no doubt that the entire education system from the primary up to tertiary level needs a drastic review and reform, the standard and quality of education in the primary schools is particularly appalling.

Thus, in the 1971 Std. V Assessment Examination, 221 national primary schools had 100% failures, with Trengganu with the dubious honour of leading with 59 schools, Kelantan 44 schools, Pahang and Johore 39 schools each and Kedah 33 schools.

I do not have the figures for the 1972 Std. V assessment Examination, which I hope the Minister can furnish during his Ministerial reply. Here is an urgent need for a thorough-going inquiry into the deep-seated causes for the contributed high rate of MCE failures among Malay students in mathematics and science.

Before leaving the subject of the 1972 MCE/SPM examinations, I would like to summaries here the DAP’s proposals as to the right thing which the Government should have the ‘political will and political courage to do.’

Firstly, a Royal Commission of Inquiry or a Parliament Committee should be established to inquire into the causes and reasons for the high rate of MCE Bahasa Malaysia failure by non-Malay candidates; and the continued high rate of failures in mathematics and science by Malay candidate, and to propose remedies and to allay public doubts and reservations about the integrity of the MCE examination and education system.

Secondly, that conditional MCE certificates should be issued to all those who sat for the 1972 MCE examination and would have passes of not for failure in Bahasa Malaysia subject to the proviso that they repeat the Bahasa Malaysia paper.

Thirdly, that those candidates for the 1972 MCE examination, who would have qualified to proceed to Sixth Form if not for failure in Bahasa Malaysia paper, be given sixth form places subject to the proviso that they repeat the Bahasa Malaysia paper.

Fourthly, that the proposed introduction of Oral Test for the MCE Bahasa Malaysia paper to be postponed indefinitely until the publication of the findings of the proposed Royal Commission of Inquiry or a parliamentary committee into the reasons for the high rate of failure in the MCE Bahasa Malaysia paper.

Fifthly, the increased intake of teachers genuinely qualified in Bahasa Malaysia for posting to all schools, so that the present gross inadequacy of trained Bahasa Malaysia teachers can be immediately resolved.

Sixthly, to conduct special Bahasa Malaysia classes for non-Malay students during weekends and the afternoon to prevent recurrence of such scandalous results for this year and subsequent year’s MCE examination.

Afterwards, on behalf of the opposition parties, I shall move an amendment to the motion paper.

Higher Education Opportunities

On 31st March 1973, Malaysians read that the Australian Labour Government has decided to abolish fees for all Australian university and college from Jan .1, 1974 and that the Australian Federal Government would take over full responsibility for financing tertiary education in Australia.

Let not the Malaysian Federal Government be seen on the public eye and internationally to be taking full responsibility for the reserves: wiz, denying maximum education opportunities to Malaysian citizens who have the ability, intelligence and qualifications.

Last year, large numbers of students who had good grades in the MCE could not find places in H.S.C classes. In fact, it was common to see MCE first graders loitering around, without any useful thing to do, as they do not have H.S.C places, and are too poor to further their education.

A decade or two ago, holders of MCE certificates could find jobs easily. Today, they are only qualified to join the army of unemployed. If these youngsters, who have the academic ability to go to university, are denied chanced of pre-university and university places, then they will be condemned to unsatisfying and secondary jobs for the rest their lives, nursing bitterness against society.

We urge Minister of Education to give HSC places to every successful MCE candidate with good grade and that every MCE first grader would be offered a HSC place in school.

The government should expand HSC and university places to meet the thirst for higher education among young Malaysians. It is reported that some 6,000 applicants for university places this year will be rejected. The DAP calls on the Government to allocate funds to absorb these students to give them places in pre- university and university institutions. Such money will be well invested.

We would also seriously urge the Government to set up a Cabinet committee to look into the question of providing free secondary and tertiary education, as the present system helps the children of the rich and wealthy, and reduces the chance of the poor to develop his potential and ability to the fullest through tertiary education.

During the National Day celebrations last year, the Alliance Government’s slogan was to build a ‘Masyarakat Adil’ – a Just Society. It is time the government, especially in the vitally important sphere of education which affects the entire future of our children, prove by deeds that they really cherish and desire a ‘Masyarakat Adil’.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, Sir, on behalf of the Opposition Parties, namely Parti SNAP, Parti Pekemas and DAP, I wish to submit a joint amendment to the motion standing in the name of the Honourable Member for Tumpat, that at the end of the motion, after the words “with which the Third session of the Third Parliament has Been opened”, to add the following words:

“But regrets that the government has conspicuously omitted reference to a matter of grave national concern, namely the high rate of failure in the 1972 MCE/SPM examination merely due to failure in Bahasa Malaysia although some of the candidates did very well in other subjects; and the continued high rate of failures in mathematics and science in the national schools; jeopardising the education and future of the new generation of Malaysians and setting the clock back in welding national unity in Malaysia.”

The Opposition Parties are acting as one on this amendment because of the magnitude and importance of the issue concerned. We urge all members of Parliament, including all those outside the three sponsoring opposition parties, to stand up in this Chamber and let the voice of the people from all corners of the country to be heard and weighed.

I urge the Government to treat this matter, which affects the future well-being of Malaysia as a united multi-racial nation, as a national problem, and not as a partisan or sectional one and let every one of its MPs whether UNMO, MCA, MIC or its coalition partners freedom to speak and vote freely so that the government can be guided by the true cross-section of views, hopes, and wishes of he people who elected us into his House.

I beg to move.