The 1972 Mass MCE Bahasa Malaysia Failures

I must confess deep disappointment and regret, shared 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 M.C.E./S.PM, examination merely because of failure in the Bahasa Malaysia paper.

I had hoped that the Government would take this opportunity to show to the people and the world that it is a liberal, broadminded and statesman-like one, which genuinely cares for the interest and welfare of all sections of the population.

When the Honourable 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 not only afflicted by the same disease, but is actually 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 the high rate of mass failures in last year’s examination. The results of major English and Chinese schools, which had traditionally maintained very high standards, are particularly unbelievable.

Thus, in Penang, St. Xavier’s Institution had a pass rate of 26 percent; Chung Ling High School 26 per cent; Han Chiang High School 27 percent; Methodist Boys School 27.1 per cent; Penang Free School 57 percent.
In Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Cochrane English School scored only 28.3 percent passes; Bukit Bintang Boys’ School in Petaling Jaya 30 per cent; Assunta Convent in Petaling Jaya 58 per cent; Methodist Boy’s School, 62 percent.
One of the best schools in Perak, St. Michael’s Institution has the shocking result of only 174% passes. In Malacca, Malacca High School has 57 per cent passes.

These figures, bad as they are, do no convey the enormity of the problem, especially for English and National-type secondary schools. For instance, in the case of the Jerantui Secondary School, Pahang, although the school scored 45% passes, 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 MCE last year 21,061 failed including 14,331 who failed because of Bahasa Malaysia. A total of 27,784 non-Malays 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-Malays and 165 Malays.
In percentage terms, this means:

Malays Non-Malays
Passed MCE 1972 6751 (72.25%) 9314 (33.5%)
Failed Bahasa Malaysia> 146 (1.5%) 14116 (51%)
General Failure 2445 (26.25%) 4354 (15.5%)
Total 9342 (100%) 27784 (100%)

This means that 23,430 non-Malay students or 84.5% would have passed the 1972 MCE if not because of Bahasa Malaysia instead of the present 33.5% pass. An education system which fails 66.5% of the non-Malay students, 51% of whom for failure 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 failed because of Bahasa Malaysia are above-average, even brilliant, and conscientious students, large numbers of whom scored a string of distinctions, some even six, seven or eight distinctions, while out of the 14,330 at least 10,000 would have got Grade One if not for failure in Bahasa Malaysia.

This is 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 some 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 adquately-staffed with qualified teachers in Bahasa Malaysia.

It is not easy to score a string of distinctions in the MCE. It is probably easier to become a Minister or Assistant Minister in Malaysia. I would like to know and the people would like to know, how many 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 our children who could do what the Assistant Ministers and Ministers could not do are being failed in the thousands every year wrecking their future.

When I asked in this House last year for the reasons for the mass failure of MCE candidates in Bahasa Malaysia in the previous two years, the Honourable 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 however well they may do in science and mathematics, and they have the example of thousands of their predecessors failing the MCE despite a host of distinctions in other subjects as reminders and warnings.

The students, 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 schools records of their performance and attainments in Bahasa Malaysia. Students who scored distinctions or credits during their schools mock MCE examination in Bahasa Malaysia failed as miserably as those who got poor pas ses or failed. In Chung Ling High School, Penang, the student who won the Bahasa Mal aysia contest for the whole school also failed in MCE Bahasa Malaysia.

Many conscientious teache rs wept when they saw the results, for they were 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 to find out the true causes of the mass failures in Bahasa Malaysia by non-Malay students, to look into the inadequacy of genuinely qualified teachers in Bahasa Malaysia, the teaching methods, the setting and marking of examination scripts, and to propose remedies.

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

The national unity which His Majesty mentioned in his Gracious Speech has suffered a grievous setback as a consequence. There can only be national unity if the Government regards every problem which touches and concerns large sections of the population as a national problem. It will be the surest recipe to national disharmony if the proble ms of one community are considered as national problems, while the problems of another community are down-graded as sectional problems.

It has been obvious for some time 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 resent 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 multi-racial society and nation, and are the 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 question of the position, status and place of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language of Malaysia is not in question, and let no Member of Parliament stand up and 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 distinctions in other subjects.

The Honourable Finance Minister 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 commend 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 of Inquiry into the causes and reasons for the high rate of Bahasa Malaysia failures and to give conditional passes to MCE candidates who would otherwise have passed 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 1f not for the failure in the 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 on such a matter of overriding importance as the education and future of young Malaysians, it should treat it as of even less import than X-films.

The argument of the Minister of Education so far for refusing to grant conditional passes to the 14,330 candidates for failure in Bahasa Malaysia is that the award of MCE fixed by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, does not allow the award of conditional passes. These rules are man-made and can be man-unmade, especially when there are cogent and over-powering 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 got distinctions which they cannot improve upon, 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 forces of unity and goodwill and not towards setting free forces of division, hatred and deep and simmering resentment against the presently constituted society.

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

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 students 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 nauseam by the Government, very little seems to be done to pitchfork 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 continue to be very high.

The high rate of Malay failure in science and mathematics can only be solved if a strong base in these two subjects are 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, 40 per cent 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 and 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.

I am happy that during Question Time it was announced that the report would be released to the public and that if Members of Parliament wish it will also make available the original report, because it is important that if members of the public are to help in solving this problem, then they must be fully taken into confidence. It is in this regard that I am surprised that when he made the announcement he said that in the public interest, it may be necessary that some portions of the report should not be released, and I hope the Honourable Minister will be able to clarify on that.

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 Examinations, 221 national primary schools had 100% failures, with Terengganu with the dubious honour of leading with 59 schools, Kelantan 44 school, Pahang and Johore 39 schools each and Kedah 33 schools.
A decade or two ago, holders of MCE certificates could find jobs easily.

Today, they are only qualified to join the army of unemployed and probably pride themselves for being educated unemployed. If these youngsters, who have the academic ability to go to university and university places are denied higher education opportunities, then they will be condemned to unsatisfying and secondary jobs for the rest of their lives, nursing a bitterness against society. We urge the Minister of Education to give HSC places to every successful MCE candidate with good grade and that every MCE first grader should be offered a HSC place in schools.

The Government should expand HSC and university places to meet the thirst and demand 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 Nation al 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 on the Opposition Parties, namely Parti SNAP, Parti PEKEMAS and the DAP, I wish to submit a joint amendment, of which written notice has already been given to the Setiausaha, 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 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 problem and allow every one of its Members of Parliament freedom to speak and vote according to his conscience so that the Government can be guided by the true cross-section of the views, hopes and wishes of the people who elected us into office.

(Speech by Ketua Pembangkang and DAP member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on the Royal Address on April 18, 1973)