Repeal of Clause 21(2) of the Education Act 1961 a clear test of Government’s sincerity in accepting Chinese and Tamil primary schools as an integral and eternal part of the national education system


Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Friday, 20th June 1980 when introducing private member’s bill to delete Clause 21(2) of 1961 Education Act

Repeal of Clause 21(2) of the Education Act 1961 a clear test of Government’s sincerity in accepting Chinese and Tamil primary schools as an integral and eternal part of the national education system

I rise to move:

“That this House pursuant to Standing Order 49(1), grants leave to the Hon’ble Lim Kit Siang to introduce a Private Member’s Bill intituled the Education (Amendment) Act 1980 to amend the Education Act 1961 to provide for:

(i) the repeal of Clause 21(2) of the Act which empowers the Minister of Education to convert a
national-type primary school into a national primary schools;
(ii) the enactment that where there are fifteen or more pupils in a class or standard/form in a national
primary school or national secondary school being Malaysians of Chinese or Tamil descent, such
pupils shall be instructed in their mother tongue for a period of at least 3 hours in each week
within the hours of general instruction of the school.”

This motion seeks to repeal Clause 21(2) of the Education Act 1961 which reads:

“(2) Where at any time the Minister is satisfied that a National-type primary school may suitably be converted into a National primary school, he may be order direct that the school shall become a National primary school.”

On Tuesday, the Minster of Education, Datuk Musa Hitam, was quoted as having given an assurance at a meeting with MCA Youth Delegation that the Chinese primary schools would not be converted into national schools as long as they are in demand.

It is significant that this reported assurance was not announced by the Education Minister to the Press himself, but was made by the MCA Youth leader, Datuk Lee Kim Sai, after the meeting.

What is even more significant is the failure of the MCA Youth Leader to explain why the Minister of Education and MCA, UMNO, Gerakan, SUPP, Berjaya Ministers and MPs refuse to repeal Clause 21(2) in order to give substance to the reported Ministerial assurance that ‘Chinese primary schools would not be converted into national schools as long as they are in demand.”

That loyal Malaysian Chinese wants to exercise their constitutional right to have their children receive mother-tongue education is easily demonstrated from the phenomenal increase in the enrolment of Chinese primary schools, as when we see the figures as follows:

Enrolment in Chinese primary schools
1947 139,191
1957 310,458
1967 355,771
1978 498,311

These figures show that as in 1978, 87.9% of Malaysian Chinese children are enrolled in Chinese primary schools. For the same year, 49.2% of Malaysian Indian students are enrolled in Tamil primary schools.

It is also not clear what the Education Minister means, assuming the correctness of the report, when he assured that ‘Chinese primary schools would not be converted into national schools as long as they are in demand.”

Who is to decide whether the Chinese primary schools are still “in demand”? Is this to be decided by the Malaysian Chinese themselves, or by the MCA allegedly claiming to represent the Malaysian Chinese, or by UMNO Big Brother?

When we consider that in 1961, when Chinese secondary schools were in great demand, and this fact did not prevent UMNO and MCA Ministers and MPs from withdrawing government funds to Chinese Secondary Schools unless they comply and convert themselves into national secondary schools, the latest reported Ministerial assurance is not assuring at all.

The Education Minister’s reported assurance can mean one thing for the Minister, another thing for the MCA, and a completely different thing for Malaysian Chinese who want to exercise their constitutional right to have their children receive mother tongue education, and have Chinese (and Tamil) primary schools entrenched as an integral and eternal part of the national education system.

There must be no ambiguity on the position of the future of Chinese and Tamil primary schools.

The Mahathir Cabinet Committee on Education Report’s recommendation on Chinese and Tamil primary schools had perpetuated this ambiguity, and highlighted its transitional and temporary nature.

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

What is this ‘keadaan sekarang’, and when will this ‘keadaan sekarang’ cease and the invocation of the Minister’s powers under Clause 21(2) to close Chinese and Tamil primary schools begin?

The repeal of Clause 21(2) of the Education Act 1961 will be a clear test of the Government’s sincerity in accepting Chinese and Tamil primary schools as an integral and eternal part of the national education system.

There is no doubt that Clause 21(2) was enacted with the objective of being used against Chinese and Tamil primary schools – for it’s the target is merely to convert the formerly English primary schools into national primary schools, then there is no reason for the great resistance by UMNO, MCA, Gerakan, SUPP, Berjaya Ministers and MPs to its repeal, as it would be now completely redundant with the full conversion of the English primary schools into national primary schools.

Let me caution those who are minded to invoke Clause 21(2) of the Education Act to convert Chinese and Tamil primary schools into national primary schools, if not now, but in the medium term ahead, for such measure will destroy overnight all possibility of successfully creating a united nation out of the diverse races, languages, cultures and religions in Malaysia.

Such an act will also violate the constitutional guarantee enshrined in Article 152(1) on the free use, teaching and learning of any other language; and the government duty to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation. It will also violate the Razak Report which lays the national education policy on the basis that the national language is to be the main medium of instruction, and not the sole medium.

So long as Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act is not repealed, it represents a hangman’s noose, the Sword of Damocles, for Chinese and Tamil primary schools.

The very existence of the provision, not yet applied, represents the policy that it is to be applied at some not too distant date. This attitude and mentality is itself detrimental to the healthy growth and development of Chinese primary schools, for what is the purpose of spending too much money or attention on schools which are one day to be closed down and converted by the government? Why developm and expand schools, or build new ones, despite the great demand for them, as this will make it more difficult to close and convert them later?

Hence, the long history of neglect and discrimination against Chinese and Tamil primary schools, as could be seen from the plight of these schools in trying to cope with an expanding enrolment without corresponding physical and school expension, the negligible amount of government funds allocated to Chinese and Tamil primary schools as compared to national primary schools, shortage of trained and qualified teachers for Chinese and Tamil primary schools, the indifference to complaints that teacher-training for Chinese primary schools must be held in the Chinese medium to ensure a high level of language command for the teachers; government indifference to the shockingly low level of passes in Bahasa Malaysia in Chinese primary schools; lack of educational teaching programmes in Chinese and Tamil languages over Television for Chinese and Tamil primary schools.

Chinese and Tamil primary schools could only get equal and proper government attention if the Government clearly and unambiguously discard any notions of converting Chinese and Tamil primary schools ‘at an appropriate time and situation”, and this is why, I am seeking the House’s support for the move to repeal Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act.

Compulsory teaching of Chinese and Tamil for Malaysian Chinese and Tamil students

Clause 36 of the Education Act 1961 provides that where there are fifteen or more pupils professing the Islamic religion, such pupils shall be instructed in the tenets of that religion.

I propose that where there are fifteen or more pupils in a class or standard/form in a national primary or secondary school being of Chinese or Tamil descent, such pupils shall be instructed in their mother tongue for a period of at least 3 hours in each week within the hours of general instruction of the school.

This will be a signal contribution to nation building in according the languages in the country their rightful Constitutional place.

At present, the Education Act provides that at the request of at least 15 pupils, a Tamil or Mandarin teacher would be provided from Std. III upwards to secondary schools.

But this P.O.L. (Pupil’s Own Language) education is a complete farce as the majority of students are not taught POL although they want it. Although the Education Minister has said that the government proposes to increase allowances for P.O.L. teachers, and this is to be welcomed, this would not solve the problem. There is no proper organization and gradation of the P.O.L. classes to enable a student progress year by year, or for a student who has a higher standard to continue his language studies by joining students of otherwise higher forms.

The only satisfactory solution is through my proposal, and I hope that it could find support.

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