Speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in Committee Room No.2, Parliament House, on Friday, 26th April 1974 at 4 p.m. when convening a meeting of Members of Parliament to form a Parliamentary Group to campaign for the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools
Amendment of 1961 Education act to remove from the Education Minister the power to convert Chinese and Tamil secondary schools is the only way to secure preservation of these schools
In replying to my speech in the Dewan Rakyat last week calling for clear government assurance that the Chinese and Tamil primary schools would not be abolished, the Minister of Education, Tuan Haji Mohamed Ya’acob, said on Monday that it was “not the intention of the government to close National Type Chinese Schools or Tamil Schools.”
The Minister of Education referred to the 1956 Razak Report to back up his statement.
I find the Minister of Education’s reply most unsatisfactory, and I am sure that the Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians who are very concerned about this issue share my feelings.
In the first place, when the Minister used the words “it is not the intention of the government to close National Type Primary Chinese Schools or Tamil Schools,” does he also mean that it is not the intention of the government to convert National Type Primary Chinese Schools or Tamil Schools?
Secondly, is the Minister of Education talking about the government intention for the year 1974 and 1975 not to close down Chinese and Tamil primary schools, or is he making a policy statement that the government has decided to allow Chinese and Tamil primary schools to develop, grow and expand as part and parcel of the national education system for all times to come?
Thirdly, if the government will definitely not close down Chinese and Tamil primary schools, then why should the Minister of Education be vested with power as provided by Clause 21(2) of the education Act 1961 to convert any Chinese or Tamil primary school at any time he deems appropriate.
The MCA Education Bureau Chairman, Mr. Michael Chen, said that the Minister’s power under Clause 21(2) would not be used against Chinese and Tamil primary schools. The Minister of Education said in his reply to me in the Dewan Rakyat that Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act is meant for converting English primary schools.
If Clause 21(2) are meant only for the conversion of English primary schools into national primary schools, surely the Alliance and National Front Government should have no difficulty in either repealing this sub-clause (especially as English primary schools would be fully converted by next year), or by making a small amendment to Clause 21(2) to specify that the powers of the Minister of Education to convert national-type primary schools into national primary schools as and when he deems suitable does not include Chinese and Tamil national-type primary schools.
Can the Minister of Education, Tuan Haji Mohamed Ya’acob, the MCA Education Bureau Chairman, Mr. Michael Chen, and all the National Front component parties explain to the of Malaysia why they find such a small amendment so difficult, when they can overnight amend fundamental clauses in the Malaysian Constitution?
Fourthly, in quoting the 1956 Razak Report to support his statement that it is not the intention of the government to close National-type Chinese and Tamil primary schools, the Minister of Education has not strengthened his statement at all. On the contrary, more anxieties are aroused.
This is because in the last 18 years, many of the recommendations of the Razak Report have been departed from. I will give two examples here.
First instance of departure from Razak Report 1956:
Thus 72 of the Razak Report said that there should be some flexibility in our secondary school system, and added: “For example, we can see no reason for altering the practice in Chinese secondary schools of using Kuo Yu as a general medium provided that these Chinese school fall into line with the conditions mentioned in the previous two paragraphs. We see no educational objection to the learning of three languages in secondary schools or to the use of more than one language in the same school as the medium of instruction.”
Paragraph 18 of the 1956 Razak Report recommended that “the teaching of Malay to and the learning of Malay by all pupils shall be a condition of Government assistance in all schools.”
However, five years later, this vital section in the 1956 Razak Report was departed from, and following the 1961 Talib Report, government assistance was given only to Chinese secondary schools which accepted conversion to terminate Chinese as a medium of instruction, and its substitution by English or Malay.
Second instance of departure from Razak Report 1956
Paragraph 13 of the Razak Report recommended the “development” of Chinese and Tamil primary schools.
Has there been development, establishment and expansion of Chinese and Tamil primary schools to meet the demands of the Malaysian parents?
In Petaling Jaya for instance, there are 15,000 – 20,000 primary school-going children, and while there are over 10 national (primary schools (talking into consideration English-primary schools which will be fully converted by next year) there is not a single Chinese primary school in the whole of Petaling Jaya although in terms of demands of the parents, there should be at least five Chinese primary schools.
This is why the Minister of Education, Tuan Haji Ya’acob, in quoting the Razak Report to strengthen his statement that the government has no intention to close Chinese and Tamil primary schools have in fact raised more alarm, as the Razak Report have been departed from in many important respects.
Fifthly, the Minister of Education has no full-time teachers training programme for the Chinese and Tamil primary school stream, although the Chinese and Tamil primary schools are most short of trained teachers. The inescapable conclusion is that in the future education planning of the Ministry of Education they do not envisage any continuation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools.
A look at the shortage of trained teachers for Chinese and Tamil primary schools will show the enormity of this problem. In 1968, the Chinese primary schools were short of 1,172 trained teachers, but by 1973, this figure has not only not been reduced, it has trebled. As of last year, the Chinese primary schools are short of 3,504 trained teachers. For the Tamil primary schools, they were short of 568 trained teachers in 1968, and in 1973, they are short of 581 trained teachers.
In 1971 and 1972, not a single Chinese and Tamil-medium teacher was trained in any one of the teacher-training colleges, while about 1,000 teachers were trained for national schools.
The apprehensions and anxieties of Malaysians about the continued existence and growth of Tamil and Chinese primary schools are therefore fully legitimate and justified, and it is the responsibility of Member of Parliament, regardless of party, race or location, to do our part to fulfil the people’s aspirations.
The aspirations of Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians to see the growth and expansion of Chinese and Tamil primary schools are not communal or sectional aspirations, but Malaysian and national in character. No one need feel ashamed or shy campaign for the attainment of these national aspirations.
I am convinced that the only way to assure and convince Malaysians that Chinese and Tamil primary schools would not be converted and would be accepted as an integral part of the Malaysian education system is by the amendment to the 1961 Education Act to remove from the minister of education the power to convert Chinese and Tamil primary schools when he deems it suitable.
I have tabled a motion in the present session of parliament asking the House to resolve that Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act should be repealed, and I have also written to the Prime Minister, Tun Razak, asking for time to be allocated for the debate of this motion in view of the fact that large sections of Malaysians are deeply interested with the issue concerned.
When several Members of Parliament met in Parliament House on April 13 to consider this question, it was decided that a Parliamentary Group to campaign for the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools should be formed, and that such a Parliamentary Group be open to all Members of Parliament who think and feel alike, regardless of their party affiliation. Such a Parliamentary Group should discuss and work out a more concerted strategy, inside and outside Parliament, to secure the unqualified acceptance by the Government that the Chinese and Tamil primary schools should be allowed to exist, and not merely to exist, but to grow and expand, by the establishment of more classes and more Chinese and Tamil schools, the training of more teachers for Chinese and Tamil schools.
If Members of Parliament and the people at large manifest their will clearly and unequivocally on this issue about the continued existence of Chinese and Tamil primary schools, I am sure that any elected government must comply with the popular will if it is not to forfeit more and more national support. The question is whether MPs and he people can manifest this aspiration of theirs clearly, loudly and unmistakably to the government, within the framework of the law and the democratic process.