DAP proposes parliamentary Select Committee to review Cabinet Education Committee Report

(Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday, 9th June 1980 on the motion to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee to review the Cabinet Education Committee Report)

DAP proposes parliamentary Select Committee to review Cabinet Education Committee Report which has failed in its twin objective of assessing the success of the education policy in nation building, or in assessing whether it meets the short and long-term national manpower needs

I rise to move:

“BAHAWA Dewan ini memutus untuk menubuhkan sebuah Jawatankuasa Pilihan Parlimen untuk meneliti dan mengkaji Laporan Jawatankuasa Kabinet mengkaji Pelaksanaan Dasar Pelajaran, serta juga membuat satu taksiran mengenai perakuan-perakuan yang dibuat oleh Laporan Kabinet tersebut samada perakuan-perakuan tersebut akan memastikn sistem pelajaran kebangsan akan melahirkan masyarakat yang bersatupadu, berdisiplin dan terlatih serta juga memenuhi keperluan tenaga rakyat Negara.”

In September 1974, the Cabinet established a Committee under the then Education Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, as Chairman, with the following terms of reference:

“Mengkaji semula matlamat dan kesannya sistem pelajaran sekarang, termsuk kurikulumnya, dalam rangka dasar pelajaran kebangsaan yang wujud, dengan tujuan untuk mempastikan bahawa keperluan tenaga akyat Negara dapat di penuhi sama ada dari segi jangka pendek mahupun jangka panjang, dan lebih-lebih lagi untuk mempastikan bahawa sistem pelajaran itu dapat memenuhi matlamat Negara ke arah melahirkan masyarakat yang bersatupadu, berdisiplin dan terlatih.”

The Cabinet Committee originally gave itself one year to complete its report, but it eventually took over five years, and the Report was made public in December last year.

During the intervening years, educationists, parents and Malaysians generally were expecting an important document reviewing the national education system’s achievements or otherwise in nation building and in meeting the country’s manpower needs.

Apart from the initial press publicity during its publication, there has been very little public interest, including from the government side.

I had in fact expected the Government to present this Report which had taken a Cabinet Committee over five years of work, to Parliament for debate, as was the case with the Razak Report and the Abdul Talib Report.

But for reasons best known to the Government, it did not think this Report rate such importance, and I had today to move a motion to enable Members of Parliament, not only from the Opposition but also the Government5 side, to have an opportunity to debate on a subject which is of such fundamental importance to Malaysians.

After studying the Cabinet Committee Report, I probably understand the government’s attitude, for the Report had in fact failed in its twin objective of assessing the success or otherwise of the education system in nation building, or in assessing whether it meets the short and long-term manpower needs of the country.

It is more an administrative report, produced by government officials in the name of eight Ministers who make up the Cabinet Committee.

That the Cabinet Committee Report is more the work of officials can be gleaned from the Report itself. The Cabinet Committee set up a Committee of Officials, which , according to Paragraph 2 of the Report, defined the terms of reference for the Cabinet Committee.

The Committee of Official in turn set up two-committees, Unity Sub Committee and Manpower Sub Committee.

According to Chapter 1 of the Report, the Committee of Officials and the two sub-committees studied the 302 memoranda received by the Cabinet Committee. The Committee of Officials then presented views and proposals to the Cabinet Committee for consideration and decision.

It would appear therefore that the Cabinet Committee of eight Ministers did not study the 302 memoranda, and directly consider the representations of organisations and individuals who sent in their views on the education system.

This raises the question of the use of having a Cabinet Committee if the work is to be done by officials. It would have been more desirable to have a separate commission to study and make recommendations, to publish its report, and then for the Report to considered by the Cabinet, which could issue a Cabinet paper on the Report.

Be that as it may, I am sure that all those who were responsible for sending in the 302 memoranda are very disappointed that the Cabinet Committee had not directly read, studied and considered their views.

Before I leave the subject of the Committee of Officials and two sub-committees, I want to express my dissatisfaction with the composition of the Committee of Officials and the two sub-committees, which should reflect the multi-racial composition in the country.

A study of the composition of the Committee of Officials and the two-sub-committees shows that they are too lop-sided and do not reflect the multi-racial make-up of the country.

Although the Cabinet Report made various proposals which are educationally acceptable, it suffers from major defects. I have already mentioned two of these major defects, which is its failure to fulfil its two specific objectives to assess the education system’s achievements or otherwise in nation building and in meeting the national manpower needs.

Why no assessment of how far the education system has created a ‘united, disciplined and trained’ society?

In view of the fundamental importance of nation building in Malaysia, I will deal with this objective first.

Although the Committee of Officials defined its the terms of reference of the Cabinet Committee as to “review to what extent the national education policy through its education system at present had ……. succeeded in producing a united, disciplined and trained society”, I searched the 310-page Report, which took the Cabinet Committee more than five years to complete, in vain for such an assessment.

There should have been a complete chapter on the education system’s results in creating national unity, giving an assessment as to whether after 23 years of the national education policy, the diverse races and their children are being more united into one distinct Malaysian people.

It is interesting that in its definition of the key words in the Cabinet Committee’s term of reference, the Committee of Officials defined “masyarakat bersatu padu” as “Masyarakat majmuk Malaysia yang mempunyai keazaman, bersanggupan dan kesediaan untuk hidup bersama dengan rukun dan damai serta mempunyai kesedaran, keperibadian dan nilai-niali sebagai rakyat Malaysia”.(Para 3(b)(i))

The Cabinet Committee should then have presented to Malaysians a report as to how far the national education policy and system had produced such a people with Malaysian consciousness, identity and values as a Malaysian citizen, distinct from their racial identities whether as Malay, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans or Ibans.

Here and there in the report, there are scattered references to national unity in connection with curriculum and discipline, but this does not justice to the central theme of the establishment of the Cabinet Committee.

In fact, the terms of reference of the Unity Sub Committee appeared to be more concerned with private schools than with the evaluation of how national unity had been advanced by the national education system.

I had expected not only a separate and long chapter on the effects of national education system on national unity, but also the commissioning of studied and papers on this crucial question by experts, educationists, researches, which are also published with the Report for public study.

But there is completely nothing in the Report about this. This is the biggest blemish of the Cabinet Report.

Are we to believe that when we talk about education and national unity, the only problem is private schools? Can we assume that the national education policy and system had in fact produced a united Malaysian people with distinct Malaysian consciousness, identity and values?

I have said in this House before that education has become the most divisive issue in the country, and instead of contributing to national integration, has the opposite effect of causing national disunity and furthering racial polarisation.

In 1968, in a survey of 34 Secondary Schools in the country, it was found that, contrary to accepted belief, students in racially-mixed schools were far more alienated and more distrustful of other ethnic groups than those in racially homogeneous schools. (John C. Bock Education and Nation Building in Malaysia: A study of institutional effect in thirty-four secondary schools’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Stanford University 1970)

Thus, Bock wrote:

“The Chinese pupils fear that their academic performance will not be sufficient to assure their selection – that Malays will be selected over them on the basis of ascriptive criteria. The Malays, on the other hand, express fear that they will not be able to compete successfully with the high level of Chinese performance norms. They also anticipate the application of ascriptive selection criteria for jobs within the Chinese-dominated private sector of the economy. Hence, both the Chinese and the Malays tend to feel that the examination system, as the most visible and the most immediately pertinent extension of the formal adult status selection system, is serving to sponsor the mobility of the rival group.”

This study showed that a common syllabus, common medium of instruction, common examination and a common roof need not necessarily lead to national unity, but could instead exacerbate ethnic relations.

When we bear in mind that this study was made in 1968, it is more than likely that any such similar study today would in all probability show an even more aggravated case of ethnic relations in the schools among our students.

It is remiss on the Cabinet Committee’s part not to have made such a study, for our school children, who are the inheritors of tomorrow, cannot be allowed to remain distrustful and hostile to other ethnic groups, if national unity is to be the goal of the national education system.

That the national education system has been productive of intense division, antagonism and alienation, is an acknowledged fact in the country.

The evidence can be seen everywhere. One such evidence is the migration of professionals overseas. A recent Study by the Malaysian Medical Association Council through a Committee headed by Dr.M.K. Rajakumar, reported that there had been an increase of registered medical practitioners from 2,064 in 1972 to 3,168 in 1979. The total number of doctors eligible to register for the year 1979 should have been 4,017. However the actual number registered was 3,168, showing a deficit of 849 doctors between 1972 and 1979. The net loss reflects the losses from deaths, retirement, resignation of contract doctors and finally migration of our doctors. The MMA study, entitled “The Future of the Health Services in Malaysia”, stated that there is reason to believe that the majority of losses were due to those who migrated to other countries.

The MMA report found that out of all the doctors surveyed, 16.3% or 161 doctors had expressed the intention to emigrate, while 34.6% or 340 doctors were not sure. The MMA report found that there is not much variability in the reasons given by doctors in government and private practice for intending to emigrate, and that the two most frequently mentioned reasons are uncertain future and their children’s education.

Another evidence is the large number of Malaysian parents including Barisan leaders who send their children abroad for primary and secondary education.

The causes of the disintegrative effects of the national education system are many, and it is beholden on us, as the elected representatives of the people, to discuss these problems dispassionately, rationally, motivated by our love and unquestioned loyalty to Malaysia. If we as the Parliamentarians cannot discuss this urgent national problem without resort to racist emotions, then there is little hope for successful nation-building in Malaysia.

I will outline below the main causes for the disintegrative effects of the national education system.

(i) Barisan Nasional’s deviation from national education policy

A parimary causes of national disunity is the Barisan Nasional government’s own deviation from the National Education Policy.

The basic education policy document, in the country is the Razak Report of 1956, later enacted as the Education Ordinance 1957. The Razak Report education policy, defined in Section 3 of the Education Ordinance, reads:

“The educational policy of the Federation is to establish a national system of education acceptable to the people as a whole which will satisfy their needs and promote their cultural, social, economic and political development as a nation, with the intention of making the Malay language the national language of the country while preserving and sustaining the growth of the language and culture of the peoples other than Malays living in this country.”

The conclusion of the Razak report emphasised:

“We believe that an education policy acceptable to the people as a whole must provide for at least two things: It must satisfy the legitimate aspirations of each of the major cultural groups who have made their home in Malaya and it must offer the prospect of a place in a school for every child born in this country.”

The Cabinet Committee Report quoted the preamble to the Education Act 1961 to define the national education policy:

“WHEREAS the educational policy of the Federation, originally declared in the Education Ordinance, 1957m, is to establish a national system of education which will satisfy the needs of the nation and promote its cultural, social, economic and political development;

AND WHEREAS it is considered desirable that regard shall be had, so far as is considered desirable that regard shall be had, so far as is compatible with that policy, with the provision of efficient instruction and with the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, to the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents;

AND WHEREAS further provision is required for securing the effective execution of the said policy, including in particular provisions for the progressive development of an educational system in which the national language is the main medium of instruction.”

It is significant that the Cabinet Report did not quote Section 3 of the Education Ordinance 1957, because the Abdul Rahman Talib Report had deviated from the national education policy laid down in the Razak Report, especially with regard to the education policy’s role to preserve and sustain the growth of the languages and cultures of the non-Malays.

The Razak Report, in paragraph 72, regard the introduction of a syllabus common to all schools in the Federation as the “crucial requirement” of an education policy in Malaya. It said:

“It is an essential element in the development of a united Malaya nation. It is the key which will unlock the gates hitherto standing locked and barred against the establishment of an educational system acceptable to the people of Malaya as a whole, a common syllabus.”

The Report continued:

“Once all schools are working to a common content syllabus, irrespective of the language medium of instruction, we consider the country will have taken the most important step towards establishing a national system of education which will satisfy the needs of the people and promote their cultural, social, economic, and political development as a nation.”

As a result, the Report stated:

“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 schools fall into line with the conditions mentioned in the previous two paragraphs. (i.e. Malay and English compulsory and common final examination). 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.”

The Rahman Talib Report 1960, later embodied in the 1961 Education Act, deviated from this principle in the Razak Report and withdrew government aid to Chinese secondary schools which did not convert to National-type Secondary Schools discontinuing Chinese as a medium of instruction.

The Rahman Talib Report went further, for the Education Act 1961, under Clause 21(2), empowered the Minister of Education to convert Chinese and Tamil primary schools into national primary schools when he should deem fit.

Thus, the then Education Minister, Abdul Rahman Talib, when presenting the 1961 Education Bill, said in the Dewan Rakyat on 19th Oct. 1961:

“Saya berhajat mengadakan aliran bahasa kebangsaan di-dalam sekolah2 rendah Kerajaan jenis kabangsaan, dan di-bawah Fasal 21(2) dalam rang Undang-undang ini saya berkuasa mengarahkan perubahan sekolah rendah jenis kebangsaan kepada sekolah rendah kebangsaan apabila saya puas hati bahawa peratoran ini sesuai dijalankan.”

When he presented the 1961 Education Bill, Abdul Rahman Talib, promised that in Chinese secondary schools which convert to national-type secondary schools, “sahingga 1/3 daripada waktu kanak-kanak itu di sekolah-sekolah boleh, dengan undang undang, ditumpukan kapada pelajaran bahasa dan kesusasteraan China.”

The MCA President, Datuk Lee San Choon, then serving his first term as Member of Parliament, said in the Dewan Rakyat on 20th October 1961 that “with the introduction of the National-type secondary school, people will be able to send their children to those schools where Chinese language and Chinese literature will be taught.”

But these promises are today a dead letter.

Another major deviation from the national education policy as laid down in Paragraph 12 is with regard to medium of instruction. Paragraph 12 of the Razak Report said:

“We believe further that the ultimate objective of educational policy in this country must be to bring together the children of all races under a national education system in which the national language is the main medium of instruction, through we recognise that progress towards this goal cannot be rushed and must be gradual.”

The important word here is that the national language will be the main medium of instruction in the national education system, and not sole medium of instruction.

This policy was reaffirmed in the Preamble to the Education Act, 1961. Today, apart from primary education, national language is the sole medium of instruction, including university education by 1983.

The future of Chinese and Tamil primary schools are also uncertain with the existence of Clause 21(2) of the Education Act, 1961, empowering the Minister of Education to convert them into national primary schools with a stroke of the pen, without even having to refer back to Parliament.

Paragraph 31.1 of the Cabinet Committee Report recommended, with regard to Chinese and Tamil primary schools; that “memandangkan keadaan sekarang ini, adalah diperakukan supaya sistem persekolahan peringkat rendah yang sedia ada diteruskan.”

This recommendation is very eloquent in its implication that Chinese and Tamil primary schools are tolerated for the present, but pending the right timing, they are to be converted into national primary schools through the invocation of Clause 21(2) of the Education Act 1961.

This runs counter to the Razak Report, and even Article 152 of the Malaysian Constitution, which reads:

“152(1) The national language shall be the Malay language and shall be in such script as Parlaiment may by law provide:

Provided that –

  1. no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise than for official purposes), or form teaching or learning, any other language; and
  2. nothing in this Clause shall prejudice the right of the Federal government or of any State Government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation.”

Use of any other language must include its use as a medium of instruction, as envisaged by the Razak Report and the 1961 Eduation Act when they refer to Bahasa Malaysia as the ‘main’ and not ‘sole’ medium of instruction.

Clause 152(l)(b) of the Constitution must be considered in the light of the Razak Report policy, subsequently embodied in the 1957 Education Ordinance, that the national education policy is also aimed at “preserving and sustaining the growth of the language and culture of the peoples other than the Malays living in this country.”

This means that “to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation” is not only a right, as understood in Clause 152(l)(b), but a duty of the Federal Government in the light of the Razak Report and the 1957 Education Ordinance.

This duty will be violated in the event of the closure of Chinese and Tamil primary schools, and that is why, it is question of keeping faith with the Malaysian Constitution and the national education policy as laid down in the Razak Report that Chinese and Tamil primary schools should be integral and eternal parts of the national education system.

It is the declared policy of the DAP that Clause 21(2) of the Education Act should be repealed to restore to Chinese and Tamil primary schools their integral and eternal place in the national education system.

In the sixties and seventies, in response to demands for the repeal of Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act, UMNO and MCA leaders were fond of stating that the people have nothing to fear from Clause 21(2) because it would never be invoked.

But after the release of the Cabinet Committee Report, MCA leaders went round the country claiming that the MCA had waged a great and successful battle to prevent ‘extremists’ from having their way to close Chinese and Tamil primary schools. In the words of one of these MCA LEADERS, THE MCA succeeded in ensuring that Chinese primary schools maintain their present position, and therefore fulfilling the aspirations of the Malaysian Chinese.

This post-Cabinet Report MCA claim begs the question as to what victory the MCA had scored, if, as UMNO and MCA leaders had repeatedly claimed in the sixties and seventies, Clause 21(2) would never be invoked.

Secondly, the MCA is completely wrong when it claimed that it had fulfilled the aspirations of the Malaysian Chinese, for the aspiration of the Malaysian Chinese is not to maintain the status quo as far as Chinese primary schools are concerned, where they could be converted into national primary schools with the stroke of the pen of the Education Minister, but to repeal Clause21(2) of Education 1961 so that Chinese primary schools is fully recognised as an integral and eternal part of the national education system.

This is also fully in conformity with the Razak Report policy that the education policy should be ‘acceptable to the people as a whole’, meaning that “it must satisfy the legitimate aspirations of each of the major cultural groups who have made their home in Malaya.”

Let us state here and now, firmly and categorically, that the policy of having Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act is not “acceptable to the people as a whole” in the sense that it does not satisfy the “legitimate aspirations” of two of the major cultural groups in Malaysia, namely the Chinese and Indians.

Why, then, has the Government refused to repeal this clause. I have a private member’s bill on June 20 seeking the repeal of Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act, and I hope that the government parties, and in particular, the MCA, Gerakan, SUPP, MIC and Berjaya, would support my motion.

This is all the more imperative in the light of the Cabinet Committee recommendation of temporary reprieve for Chinese and Tamil primary schools.

The Government should be guided by the Razak Report principle that the national education policy in a multi-racial society like Malaysia must be acceptable to the people as a whole, which mean, among other things, that it must satisfy the legitimate aspirations of each of the major cultural groups who have made their home in Malaya.

The Malaysian Chinese, for instance, have demonstrated beyond a question of doubt that it is their legitimate aspiration to have their children receive mother-tongue education in the Malaysian context.

This is the best seen from the enrolment figures for Chinese primary schools, although enrolment in Tamil primary schools showed the beginning of a decline, as are as follows:

Enrolment in Chinese and Tamil primary schools

Chinese primary school Tamil primary school
1947 139,191 33,954
1957 310,458 50,766
1967 355,771 79,203
1970 394,166 79,278
1971 413,270 77,192
1972 435,266 78,758
1973 450,903 78,854
1974 465,541 79,674
1975 480,984 80,404
1976 487,877 80,103
1977 493,809 78,841
1978 498,311 76,446

These figures show that as in 1978, 87.9% of Malaysian Chinese children are enrolled in Chinese primary schools, while 49.2% of Malaysian Indian students are enrolled in Tamil primary schools – clear-cut proof of the ‘legitimate aspirations’ of each of the major cultural groups in Malaysia.

Over the years, however, the Chinese primary schools, through the boards managements and parents-teachers association, have experienced disinterest from the Education Ministry about a fair and equitable share of the government’s educational expenditures in the upkeep and expansion of this Chinese primary schools.

The practical problems faced by Chinese schools is best put by the Memorandum submitted to the Cabinet Committee by All Malaysian Chinese Guilds and Associations on January 27, 1975, which reads as follows:

“Section II: The Building and Maintenance of School Premises
(Chapter II)

Application for grants to Chinese medium schools for purposes of renovation and expansion of schools premises have often been proved to be of no avail, despite the fact that the Deputy Director of Education Encik Murad has asked the Chinese Teachers’ Association and the United Chinese School Boards to furnish more details for due consideration and in some cases, the previous Minister of Education, Datuk Hussein Onn, has even approved the building projects in public. Moreover some projects under construction have been suspended without much valid reason. All these should not have happened under normal circumstances. We therefore list out our requests as follows:

  1. School funds for all various types of schools should be provided on an equal basis. We request the Government to provide the Chinese medium schools with a certain sum of money annually for purposes of renovation and expansion of school premises.
  2. We request the Government to build school halls for all various types of schools for purposes of school assemblies and other celebrating occasions.
  3. We request the Government to give grants to those Chinese medium schools which require additional classrooms to accommodate the ‘awaiting’ students.
  4. We request the Government to announce the number of additional schools built after Merdeka for the various types of schools so that the public are well-versed with the educational development of our country.
  5. We request the Government to take care of the maintenance of the school premises especially in painting and renovation works.
  6. We appeal to the Government to put up new school buildings to replace those old and about-to-collapse buildings of the Chinese medium primary schools especially those in rural areas.
  7. We appeal to the Government to provide funds for building a library for each of the Chinese medium primary schools do that students can borrow books in quest of knowledge.
  8. We appeal to the Government to provide funds for the building of headmaster’s room, staff room, canteen, store room, science laboratory, art and craft room and music room so as to improve the facilities and equipments of the various types of schools.
  9. The furniture and fittings in the classrooms and in the staff room should be supplied annually by the Education Department according to requirements.
  10. All Standard-type and National Type schools, irrespective of whether the school land belongs to
    the State Government or Board of Trustees, should be exempted from quit rent, assessment rates
    and so forth. Renovations of school premises, building of school reads and application for
    purchase of school equipment should be on a first-come-first-serve basis.
  11. To minimise school expenditure, no postage should be charged to all school official
  12. The Government should provide sufficient school buildings with adequate facilities to all various
    types of schools.
  13. All donations given to the non-profit making educational organisations should be exempted from

It is to be deplored that the Cabinet Committee, despite the presence of MCA Ministers, should completely ignore and disregard these legitimate requests and grievances of the Malaysian Chinese community for fair treatment for Chinese primary schools.

The problems and grievances of Chinese primary schools have been accumulated over the years from general indifference from the Education Ministry. A good example is the refusal of the Education Ministry to build new Chinese primary schools and expand existing ones to cope with increased enrolment demands.

In Petaling Jaya, for instance, where there are some 100,000 residents, and 80% of whom are Malaysian Chinese, there are altogether 15 primary schools, out of which only one is a Chinese primary schools. Every year, a large number of school-going children flock to the Chinese primary schools outside PJ, only to find that these schools had been filled to capacity. Why has the Ministry of Education bee perverse in refusing to accede to the legitimate aspirations of the parents in PJ to have another two or three Chinese primary schools? Thus, although the total number of Chinese primary schools students have increased by some 60% in 1978 as compared to Merdeka 1957, the number of Chinese primary schools have actually been reduced from 1,012 to 988.

Another problem is the shortage of trained teachers for Chinese primary schools. The government should, as a matter of policy, announce that it would absorb all the temporary teachers in Chinese primary schools, and give them training to be appointed to the teaching service.

Teachers to be trained to teach in Chinese primary schools should be taught in courses which use Chinese as a medium of instruction, so that these teachers would acquire a sufficiently high standard of the Chinese language to ensure a proper standard of the Chinese language in the schools.

In concluding this section, I want to reiterate that there is a need to understand clearly without distortion the national education policy. The preamble to the 1961 Education Act must be read with the Razak Report and the 1957 Education Ordinance, and there would be no misunderstanding or deviation from the national education policy, creating alienation, antagonism and national disunity.

Viewed in this proper perspective, all right-thinking Malaysians would even agree that the proposed Merdeka University is not only in conformity with Constitutional guarantee of Article 152, but also in line with the Razak Report.

It is in this context that the various proposals made by the Cabinet Committee Report, ostensibly to bring private schools under greater control, have raised considerable controversy in so far as they affect Chinese Independent Secondary Schools.

I have already explained why, with a true rendering of the national education policy as laid down by the Razak Report, the Chinese Independent Secondary Schools should have been brought within the national education system and framework and continued to receive government financial aid.

Now, in the name of review of the nation building objectives of the national education policy, greater interventions are contemplated by the Education Ministry through the Chief Registrar of Schools and Teachers.

There is no coherent statement in the Cabinet Report about the result of the Committee’s review of the question of national unity and private schools, although various recommendations pertaining to private schools are to be found scattered about in the report. This is most unsatisfactory, and we cannot escape forming in the impression that the Cabinet Committee was deliberate about this. I hope that the Government could supply this omission in this House, especially in regard to the Government’s attitude to Independent Chinese Secondary Schools as it is public knowledge that the Cabinet Committee and the National Unity Sub-Committee spent considerable time over the future of Chinese Independent Secondary Schools.

To increase the of the Minister of Education over private schools, the Cabinet Committee has recommended, among other things;

  • To empower the Examinations Syndicate Director to prevent any private educational institution from conducting any examination that is considered not beneficial to local students or is contrary to national interest;
  • The Chief Registrar of Schools and Teachers shall have the power to supervise the levying of private school fees and oversee the conduct of examinations;
  • The Registrar shall also supervise the curriculum and the medium of instruction used in all private schools.
  • The Registrar of Schools is now to be empowered to close down any private school that has failed to register itself or infringes any of the conditions laid down in the registration permit.

The Chinese Independent Secondary Schools, which conduct a private joint examination for their students, are understandably upset by this these recommendations, although the MCA President had claimed that these proposals would not affect them.

I want a clear-cut statement from the Government that Chinese Independent Secondary Schools are to be exempt from these control measures, which should be embodied in statute. Otherwise, the Chinese Independent Secondary Schools appear to be beset with a new era of even greater challenges to their existence, when the Government should more equitably restore them to the mainstream of the national education system by according recognition to Chinese Senior Middle Three (Government or private) qualification as equivalent to MEC/SPM for further studies or employment and resumption of government grants.

The deviation by the government from the national education policy is a cause why in our schools, we are not succeeding in nation building. What is urgently needed is a review of the national education policy and system in line with the Razak Report principle that such an education policy must be “acceptable to the people as a whole”, meaning that it must satisfy the legitimate aspirations of each of the major cultural groups in the country.

The previous general elections have demonstrated conclusively of this fact, and it is only a question of whether the Government leaders want to see it or not.

(ii) The strident policy that in Malaysia, ‘ultimate loyalty is racial, not national’

Another reason for the failure of the education system to foster a Malaysian one-ness among children of various races, despite their having a common medium, syllabus, examination and environment is because of the strident demand and policy that in Malaysia, ultimate loyalty is racial and not national.

Malaysia is faced with the formidable task of creating a nation out of the disparate ethnic groups whose differences in language, religion, history, culture and conflicting perceptions provide few natural bases for national integration.

In this task of nation building, education is a primary instrument, the central aim being to replace primordial group (whether Malay, Chinese, Indian) loyalties with an overarching national identity.

Theoretically, at the most fundamental level of national integration is the development in individuals of a subjective feeling of loyalty to the nation. This involves complex psychological processes of individual change, and the outcome depends on the ideals of the society and the political process as much as, if not more than, the educational process itself.

It is clearly not possible for Malaysian children in schools to be socialized into one Malaysian identity, consciousness and values, when everyday and everywhere they are subject to the unrelenting, strident demand that in Malaysia, the ultimate loyalty is to race, and not to nation.

The recent Third Bumiputera Economic Congress, with its demand that the 30% bumiputera participation in commerce and industry should be raised to 51% displaying an utter disregard to the sensitivities and legitimate aspirations of other races, must have by otself undone ten years of nation- building efforts by the schools – even among the school children themselves.

Or the recent speech by the Director-General of the Socio-Economic Planning Unit in the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr. Mohd. Nor bin Abdul Ghani, at the Malacca UMNO Convention in April this year in a paper entitled “Apa akan terjadi jika matlamat dasar ekonomi baru tidak tercapai di dalam tahum 1990” where he said that if the NEP fails in 1990 “kegagalan kaum bumi itu akan merupakan kejayaan bagi kaum bukan bumi” and that “pulang yang di ujudkan oleh DEB untuk orang Melayu memperbaiki taraf ekonomi mereka adalah merupakan peluang utama dan terakhir. Peluang ini tidak akan muncul lagi kerana di masa-masa hadapan pihak bukan bumi akan lebah tahu bagaimana untuk menyusun tindakan sendiri bagi memperkukuh kedudukan mereka; and that if the NEP objectives failed in 1990 “ia akan meletakkan bangsa Melayu begitu rendah didalam dunia yang dikuasai oleh kebendaan pada hari ini, sahingga kita tidak ada jalan lain melainkan untuk mengenepikan prinsip demokrasi bagi memulihkan tempat yang sah di Negara sendiri.”

Such speeches will clearly undo all integrative effects of the education system.

In the ultimate analysis, how can the education system succeed in displacing ethnic loyalties with an overarching national identity, or how could a Malay, Chinese or Indian, think of himself first and foremost as a Malaysian, when he is repeatedly told by UMNO, MCA and MIC, with all the state resources of media monopoly at their command, that his ultimate loyalty is to race and not to nation, that he must unite with members of his own community first if he is not to be a traitor of his community?

In fact, every time the UMNO General Assembly, UMNO Youth and Bumiputera Economic Conventions are held with their fierce speeches and resolutions, ethnic alienation and distrust among our children in the schools are intensified.

It is most regrettable that the Cabinet Committee completely ignores this important aspect of nation building and the educational system.

(iii) Weak Commitment to the Policies of Multi-racialism

Another important reason for the failure of the national education system to unite the racial groups into one Malaysian people is the weak commitment by those in authority to the policies of multi-racialism.

The study by Boch which I mentioned earlier indicate that in the goal of national unity, it is not common educational socialization that is crucial, but rather the larger forces (political, social, economic) that impinge on the individual, particularly how he perceives his prospects in life and the justness or otherwise of the forces that determine these prospects.

One of the most deeply-felt and held, and immensely powerful, perception in our country, common to all racial groups, is the weak commitment by those in authority to the policies of multi-racialism.

In this connection, an interesting insight into the objectives of education policy is thrown by an education lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan, Ibrahim Saad, in his book “Pendidikan dan Politik in Malaysia” published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, where he praised the Barnes Report on Malay Education 1951 as the ‘approach of assimilation” “dalam bentuk formula A+B+C=A, di mana A, B dan C adalah kumpulan-kumpulan sosial yang berlainan dan A adalah kumpulan yang utame”, and decried the Fenn-Wu Report on Chinese Education 1951 for its approach “dalam bentuk formula A+B+C= A+B+C.”

What Malaysia needs is an integration approach, and what we want is dalam bentuk A+B+C=D where D is the new Malaysian identity separate and distinct from Malay, Chinese or Indian affinities or ties.

It is a fundamental perequisite to the success of nation building in our schools that the school children do not perceive that the government employs racial or communal categories or criteria as a basis for national development and national unity.

But such perceptions are common to our children whether in schools or universities, because of placement policies, selection for From-Six classes, university intake or subsequent employment.

Form Six, pre-university and university educational opportunities have indeed become a very divisive area in nation building, but there is absolutely no reference to this problem in the Cabinet Committee Report.

Non-Malay students in schools, for instance, are painfully aware that they stand very little chance in getting places for Form Six. For 1979, out of 19,362 Lower Six students, 62.4% or 12,079 are Malays, 33.5% of 6,491 are Chinese, 3.7% or 711 Indians and 0.4% or 81 Others.

I would estimate that as high as 40 per cent of the non-Malay First Graders are not able to get places in Form Six in schools, when good Second Graders should actually be entitled to Form Six education.

For Malay students, Form Six education is only one of three avenues for pre-university education. The best Malay students are creamed off at the MCE/SPM level and sent overseas for higher studies. The second best group are taken into matriculation courses organised by the local universities for direct entry. Only the third group, after two processes of creaming, join the Form Six classes in the schools score 100% passes in MCE/SPM, but when that batch of students sit for the HSC/STP, they score 100% failures. This is because the best and second best have already been creamed off!

I understand that for the 1980/1981 academic year, the university student intake into local universities make a total of 5,454 students, comprising bumiputeras 3,398 or 62.3% and non-bumiputeras 2,056 or 37.7% as compared to the previous academic year’s figures of bumiputeras 3,384 or 64.3% and non-bumiputears 1,881 or 35.7%, making a total of 5,265.

This means that as compared to the previous year, there has been an increase of 14 bumiputera students and 75 non-bumiputera students, which are too meagre and too irrelevant.

The DAP rejects this type of university intake approach and policy. We do not suggest that Malay students’ intake should be reduced by 2%, implying that we want to see less Malay students in the local universities, as misschieviously twisted by one UMNO backbencher in a parliamentary question this meeting.

The DAP seriously proposes that for the sake of national unity and national development, Malaysians should break away from the prison of percentages, and stop seeing university education as a zero-sum game where what one community gains must be at the expense of the others.

The higher education policy should be guided by the principle that while full governmental assistance is given to help eligible bumiputera students to benefit from higher education, eligible non-Malay students should not be barred from higher education opportunities.

The government, which recently approved $600 million pay increases and other allowances to the public sector employees, cannot convince Malaysians that there are no public money to establish locally, especially in view of the shutting of the doors of higher education abroad, whether because of restriction of places or inflating costs.

The Government should be also publicly invite and welcome the establishment of private universities to help in relieving this problem, although this would mean the amendment of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971.

I think I can do no better in concluding this section than in quoting the Memorandum to the Government from the Associated Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia submitted on 31st January 1980 entitled “Towards Faster Economic Growth and Greater national Unity”, which in its “Manpower and Training”, ended with the following views:

“Restoring a Balance

“The Government has announced a two per cent increase in non-bumiputra enrolments in tertiary institutions for the coming academic year. This minor adjustment hardly scratches the surface of the problem.

“The Government has also announced that it plans to undxrtake further expansion of tertiary education, in the course of which it will gradually bring about an enrolment pattern that will reflect the racial composition of the national population. The fulfilment of that promise would take care of the future, but more must also be done immediately.

“It should be clear that the quantitative aspect of the problem is not the whole problem. The basic need is for selection systems that go some way towards meeting NEP objectives without totally outraging the sense of justice of non-bumiputras. Unless such systems are devised, and made known tot he public, ad hoc adjustment to student intakes in one year or another will not remove the present feelings of resentment. We suggest:

“THAT a publicly declared and substantial percentage of places at all levels of education where candidates exceed vacancies be filled on the basis of academic merit, leaving the balance for restructuring adjustments.

THAT THE Government announce as a matter of policy that the scope of the merit system will be progressively enlarged as the handicaps facing bumiputra students are removed.

“THAT a target date be fixed for making a single merit system the central system for selecting students for higher education.”

The Director Public Services Department recently announced that promotion in the civil service will be based on merit. This is indeed welcome for it will go a long way to help nation building process in the schools and universities.

For instance, it cannot escape student notice that in the five local universities, there had never been a single non-Malay Vice Chancellor, Are there no non-Malay academicians or administrators in Malaysia who are qualified or eligible for appointment as Vice Chancellor of one of the five universities?

(iv)Failure to educate our teachers and educators in a multi-cultural approach

Teachers, traditionally, have been called ‘carriers of culture’. They are seen as the primary professional social agents responsible for passing culture from adults to the next generation. By culture here, I mean “the total ways of living built up by a group beings and transmitted from one generation to the next” and considered in the broadest sense embrace influences on life style that reach beyond biological heredity to include environmental factors,

If Malaysia is a unicultural society, the assignment of teachers as ‘Carriers of culture’ to imbue children with the values and perspectives of a single tradition could be readily understood and carried out. But as diverse cultural patterns prevail in Malaysia , Malaysian teachers must maintain a multi-cultural approach in their professional duties. Implicit in such an approach is the responsibility to transmit the tradition of all cultures found in Malaysia – equally and respectfully. Students must be taught not only to cherish their own ways of life, but also to respect those of others,, Thus, teachers must take the responsibility of creating and maintaining learning situations that nurture and preserve the cultural traditions of all.

It is because of such failure to maintain a multi-cultural approach and lack of a multi-cultural vision among educators that we had the deplorable incidents like the University Teknologi dress affiar for graduates at its Convocation.

The school, next to the home, is the major socializing agency. The individual student learns those behaviours, values, and norms espousxd by the home and school; when such are congruent, there is no conflicts. But when cultural traditions and priorities of the home differ from that imparted by teachers and educators, then the teachers have failed to help students live in a multi-cultural society.

Equally important here is the need for teachers and educators to maintain a multi-racial approach. There Bias recently be an attempt to rewrite history and downgrade the contributions made by noted non-Malay personalities, like Yap Ah Loy, in the making of modern Malaysia. Primary school curriculum for history, for instance, had been revised, whereby a chapter on Yap Ah Loy in Std. Four history book was removed, with now no or passing reference to him.

In the light of nation building, these are mal-integrative developments. This is another cause of the failure of the national education system in promoting national unity.

It is a major defect of the Cabinet Committee Report that it failed to make an assessment as to whether our education system is making bridges between the diverse cultures and customs to be found in the country.

There are very few, in fact hardly any, reading materials or literature which could socialize students into e multi-racial, multi-cultural, Malaysian viewpoint.

Even the Dewan Masyarakat, the official publication of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, is not peform.iny this role, as many articles in the magazine, in particular a recent one on ‘Kaum Pendatang’, is most offensive to non-Malays and their cultures.

250,000 drug addicts another facet of failure of national education policy

Another facet of failure of the national education policy and system, conspicuously ommitted in the Report, is the huge drug addict population of 250,000. This major problem, described by the Minister of Home Affairs as the No. l national problem, should have occupied a central place in the Report, especially in regard to the terms of reference in having a ‘disciplined’ society.

When announcing the establishment of the Cabinet Committee Report, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, said at a press conference on 9th Oct. 1974 a review is necessary because “we are not convinced that we are producing a society which is compatible with our beliefs in the democratic process and other values.”

But again, there is no reference or evaluation to the education system’s role in promoting democracy, as to whether the system encourages the development of people with independent minds and sharp critical faculties, or cultivate unthinking respect for hierarchies.

Assessment of Manpower Needs – Another Report Failure

Apart from its specific objective to assess nation building results of the national education system, the Cabinet Committee’s other specific objective is to ascertain whether the system has met the national manpower needs.

In this field, the Cabinet Report is another big disappointment.

As mentioned earlier, the Report completely excludes from its consideration university education. How can there be a sensible study of education system’s role in meeting national manpower needs when the university level of education is excluded?

Again, in this specific term of reference, I had expected specially researched studies of various aspects of national manpower needs, not only as guides for the Cabinet Committee, but for study by the public. But there is none.

Apart from very sketchy and flimsy three pages of tables about the stocks and needs for professional and technical personnel in 1975 and 1985, the question as to what are the manpower needs and how to meet them were completely dismissed!

Paragraph 16 of the Report tried to seek an excuse for this:

“Untuk mempastikan dengan tepat sejauh mana perkembangan sistem pendidikan kebangsaan kita dapat memenuhi keperluan tenaga rakyat negara adalah satu perkara yang sukar. Antara sebab-sebabnya ialah kurangnya kajian-kajian dibuat yang khusus meneliti kedudukan dan kerperluan tenaga rakyat bagi negara ini.”

This is no justification for virtually the whole subject of what are the manpower needs and how to meet them to be ignore so out of hand! What is even more surprising is that the Cabinet Report has completely ignored another Cabinet Education Report, the Report of the Higher Education Planning Committee 1967 under the Chairmanship of the then Minister of Education, Encik Mohd. Khir Johari.

The Mahathir Cabinet Report should have been a updated Report of the Khir Johari report. The Khir Johari Report had 69 ‘Relevant Papers, Articles and Memoranda’ to guide it in its deliberation, but the Mahathir Report did not appear to have commissioned a single study.

As a result, this area of post-secondary and university education is a dark area which needs the illumination of a comprehensive study.

In its terms of reference, the Cabinet Committee was given the task of determining the education system’s fulfilment of the “short term and long term needs.”

As the Cabinet Report did not assess the manpower needs and how to fulfil them, there is also no treatment, let alone separate treatment, of the short-term and long term manpower needs. This particular term of reference might as well not have existed! In passing, it is to be noted that the Committee of Officials spent some time to define ‘short-term’ to mean five years and ‘long-term’ to mean more than five years. As the Cabinet Committee took more than five years to complete its finding, probably it had exceeded its own ‘short-term’ span of time, and this distinction became academic!

This is not to say that, there is nothing worthwhile in the long list of 173 recommendations made by the Cabinet Committee, like extension of 9 year to 11-year schooling for every child, the abandonment of streaming of pupils into Arts and Science streams after the SBP examination, an open certificate system, but these specific educational matters and other administrative changes do not add up to the fulfilment of the Cabinet Committee’s terms of reference.

There can be many views as to the 173 recommendations. Because of the short-ness of time, I will give comments on some of them only. This is why I am proposing that there should be a Parliamentary Select Committee to consider these proposals so that MPs could have more time to think and deliberate on them.

Automatic Promotion

It really boggles the mind why the Education Ministry has taken so long to recognise and remedy the defects of the
automatic promotion system. This is a strictly educational problem, and if such problems could only be rectified only after a Cabinet Committee has been formed, then the educational system in our country is too rigid and inflexible.

Although the Cabinet Committee recommended rehabilitation programme for the slow learners, we really do not know how effective this programme is going to be.

With the proposed extension of 9 years to 11 years schooling, the problems of automatic promotion becomes even more compelling. It is indeed unthinkable that we should have a system where by a student is promoted year after year for 11 years, although after a few years, he had already been left behind, and is unable to read or even write.

In 1978, about 70% of the 1,000 Std, V and VI pupils of 22 rural Malay primary schools in Negri Sembilan were found to be still unable to grasp the basic requirements of mathematics – many could not even multiply 3 x 9. This was the result of a survey conducted by the Negri Sembilan Education Department through a common mathematics test.

What is significant is why the Education Department needs a special test to find out the educational backwardness of pupils, which were meant to be revealed by the Std. III Test and Std. V Assessment Test. Clearly, both these Tests are not performing their functions.

Revision of Bahasa Malaysia syllabus for Chinese and Tamil primary schools

In this connection, there is a need for revision of the Bahasa Malaysia syllabus for Chinese and Tamil primary schools. At present pupils of all primary schools, regardless of medium of instruction, take the same Bahasa Malaysia paper.

As a result, we have every year shockingly high rate of failures. In the 1978 Std. V. Assessment Test for instance, the failure rate of of the Chinese primary school and Tamil primary schools in Bahasa Malaysia paper are as follows:

Chinese Primary Schools Tamil Primary Schools
Johore 88% 82.80%
Selangor 83 .8% 92%
Negri Sembilan 81.90% 77.60%
Melacca 60.60% 76.10%
Pahang 83.20% 53.20%
Trengganu 55.80%
Kelantan 49.30% 100%
Perlis 71.50% 50%
Kedah 61.70% 81.50%
Penang 77.40% 71.80%
Perak 88% 91.60%
Total 81.50% 84.80%
Sabah 63.30%
Sarawak 87%
Grand Total 81.30%

It is clearly uneducational to expect Chinese and Tamil primary pupils to sit for the same Bahasa Malaysia paper as national primary school pupils whose media of instruction is in Bahasa Malaysia. This is why Chinese and Tamil primary schools pupil go to an additional Remove Class on entry into secondary national schools to catch up on the language.

Apart from bureaucratic inertia, I have not heard a single reason justifying this system requiring a common Bahasa Malaysia paper for all primary schools. I commend on the Ministry therefore the proposal that there should be a revision of the Bahasa Malaysia syllabus for Chinese and Tamil schools.

Review of the Remove Class system

The time has also come for a thorough review of the Remove Class system, to ascertain whether it has helped Chinese and Tamil primary school pupils adjust to national secondary schools.

The Cabinet Committee should have made such a study, but there was no word about this matter in the Report.

It is general knowledge that the problem of adjustment of Chinese and Tamil primary school pupils to national secondary schools had been many and complex, and this educational weakness of the system must be rectified.

Mother-tongue learning

Although the Education Act provides that at the request of at least 15 pupils, a Tamil or Mandarin language teacher will be provided, from Std. III upwards to secondary schools, this provision is observed more in the breach.

There is no systematic P.0.L. (Pupil’s Own Language’) education so as to make this provision a farce.

All over the world, there is a greater emphasis on mother-tongue education. The DAP proposes that the Education Act should be amended to provide that where there are at least 15 pupils asking for Mandarin or Tamil instruction, the government is obligatory in providing such instruction, as is the present case with Islamic instruction in schools.

Ethics and Morals

The Cabinet Committee recommended that while Malay pupils receive religious instruction, non-Malay or non-Muslim students should be taught ethics and morals.

The DAP suggest that the non-Muslim students, in accordance with the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of worship, should be taught the religion of their choice.

There is room for all Malaysian students, regardless of their religion, to be taught a common subject to learn about each other’s beliefs and cultures, which make them appreciate the universalist values of the great religions and the commonality of the humankind.

Are Gifted Children being Catered for?

An important challenge to our education system is that it should provide an education that will allow the least advantaged, the most gifted, and the ordinary to grow together, to learn to communicate, to be able to work and live in communities marked by tolerance and mutual understanding.

A question that is often asked is whether in Malaysia, quantitative education is being pursued at the expense of qualitative education.

The fundamental weakness in our education system is the lock-step system o-f schooling – every child is placed in a particular grade according to his chronological age. It ignores differences among individuals and differences within individuals. Administratively, .the lock-step system is ideal and convenient but professionally it is unsound and ignores the reality of individual differences. This aspect of education has not been studied by the Cabinet Committee Report.

No Basic Re-Thinking of the Aims of Education

A major critique of the Cabinet Committee Report is that it provides no new re-thinking of the aims and functions of education, It should have undertaken a deeper scrutiny and understanding of the educational life of our country and probe far beyond the well-trodden trends of being mainly concerned with quantitative and qualitative aspects of education.

I will broadly discuss a two major areas which should engage our educational thinking:

1. A New Vision of Education

In an age of rapid scientific and technological changes, there is a need for a new vision of education which conceives of it as an enterprise transcending the framework of schools and universities. We must aim for a learning society, where the guiding principle for educational policies is the idea of lifelong education. Every individual must be in a position to keep learning throughout his life.

Such a concept of lifelong education should radically change promotion and certification procedures, stressing the value of real competence, aptitude and motivation over and above marks, class ranking and list of credits obtained.

Education must cease being confined within school-house walls. All kinds of existing institutions, whether designed for teaching or not, and many forms of social and economic activity, must be used for educational purposes.

Each person should be able to choose his path more freely, in a more flexible framework, without being compelled to give up using educational services for life if he leaves the system.

2. A national System of education for pre-school age children

Education must broaden its activity from schooling to learning, and from the traditional age groups (primary and secondary pupils and university students) to learning at every stage. If no one is too old to learn, no one is too young either.

Research has shown that about 50 per cent of the variation in measured intelligence occurs by the age of five, and about 80 per cent by the age of eight. It is argued that differences in the environment are a cause of variations in IQ and that the quality of children’s experiences during the first four or five years of life are therefore of great importance.

Studies have shown that far more can be learned at an earlier age than was formerly supposed. The educational investment in the very early years yields the largest dividends in developing talent, skills, perceptivity and creativity as well as in encouraging independence and self -discipline,, The acquisition of these attributes by children in their early years will make them more receptive and effective learners later on.

The provision of learning facilities for children of pre-school age of socially deprived classes will go a long way to rectify social injustices.

The Government, therefore, should seriously consider developing a national system of education for pre-school age children.

The Cabinet Committee Report and its recommendations, for the length of time it has taken to prepare, deserve a serious study. And in view of the fundamental importance of education, it is appropriate that the Dewan Rakyat should set up a Parliamentary Select Committee to consider these educational questions and issues, and others Emitted by the Cabinet Committee, with powers to hear and receive views and representations, so that there is a more representative and considered national opinion an educational matters in the country.