Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the Penang DAP Wanita inaugural meeting held at Bukit Mertajam DAP premises on Saturday, 7.5.1983 at 8 p.m.
DAP calls for the immediate restoration of allocations for Pupil’s Own Language as a mark of government commitment to fully respect the constitutional right of mother-tongue learning and teaching.
The Pupil’s Own Language programme in the schools is a scandal and disgrace, especially after the arbitrary and deplorable decision to cut the original allocation of $18 million for POL by $13 million, resulting in the reduction of the allowances of college-trained teachers from $20 to $5 an hour, and of graduate teachers from $25 to $8 an hour.
Article 152 of the Malaysian Constitution guarantees free and unhampered study and teaching of mother-tongues in the country, and the Education Act provides that where there are fifteen pupils in a school who wish to study their own language, the school should provide a class for them.
However, ever since the 1961 Education Act, the POL provision has worked most unsatisfactorily, and the whole intent of the Constitutional guarantee in Article 152 and the Education Act had been defeated by inadequate commitment by the Ministry of Education to make Pupil’s Own Language classes a successful and integral programme of the school, instead of some nuisance imposition which are ignored and disregarded as best as one could.
Pupil’s Own Language involves the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right with regard to mother-tongue learning, and to reduce the $18 million POL allocation is nothing less than to belittle the constitutional right of mother-tongue learning in the government schools.
If the Ministry of Education, and in particular the Deputy Education Minister, Dr. Tan Tiong Hong, and the Barisan component parties like MCA, Gerakan, SUPP and MIC, are sincerely committed to the constitutional right of mother-tongue learning, then the POL allocation of $18 million should be immediately restored so that the POL programme could operate satisfactorily. The Ministry of Education, with its allocation of $4,000 million for 1983 should have no great difficultly to effect the saving of $13 million from other expenditures.
In actual fact, far from chopping off what is already grossly inadequate provision for POL programme, the Education Ministry should consider ways to make POL more successful, so that all Malaysians would be conversant in their mother-tongue.
The DAP had tried to bring national attention to this problem at the last Parliamentary meeting in March when our MP for Sibu, Sdr. Ling Sie Ming, sought to amend the 1961 Education Act to provide for, among other things, that the POL classes become compulsory instead of ‘permissible’ as at present, so that whenever there are 15 pupils in a school, it is mandatory for the school to provide POL classes for them, unless the parents in writing state that they do not want their children to be taught in their mother-tongue.
This will remove once and for all the problem of school principle and school authorities who sabotage the POL programme by their indifference and disinterest. Unfortunately, this DAP effort to put the POL classes on a compulsory footing as to become an integral part of the education system was itself sabotaged by the MCA, Gerakan and SUPP MPs, with the Gerakan MP for Tanjong, Dr. Koh Tsu Koon playing the leading role.
Dr. Koh Tsu Koon can argue and deny but he knows in his heart of hearts, and other Barisan MPs also know, that he set out in the March Parliament to sabotage the DAP motion, and he succeeded very well. I only hope that the expose of his action would have helped to prick his conscience, and that in future in Parliament, he would cease to be accomplice or ‘executioner’ of actions inimical to the interest of Chinese education and culture.
There is an urgent need to upgrade the importance of POL classes in all government schools. For instance in 1979 and 1980, only 10,858 and 12,798 SPM/MCE year students enrolled in Chinese language, when the percentage should be raised a very much higher.
The Ministry of Education should appoint a special officer in each state entrusted with the specific task of ensuring that POL classes are organized satisfactorily, and even more important, to promote POL classes so that it becomes the exception than the rule for a student to opt out of mother-tongue learning!
Call on the Malaysian Government to ‘look East’ and emulate the Japanese example of popularizing university education.
It is now the fashion of the day for government leaders to call on the people to learn from the Japanese. But the Malaysian government itself has failed to learn from the Japanese, especially in areas which had been critical in determining Japan’s economic miracle.
Compared to Malaysia, Japan has even less natural resources, yet Japan’s economic development has been phenomenon. This is because Japan’s principal source of energy has been the ingenuity of its extraordinarily talented, disciplined and highly motivated people. The cause of this human power is Japan’s education system, where university education had been popularized.
Thus, Japan has some 2 million university and college students and some 400 universities, three-quarters of which are private universities. Taking into account Malaysia’s population, which is about one-tenth of the Japanese population, by the Japanese proportion we should have 200,000 university students and some 40 universities.
However in Malaysia, the government is set against the establishment of private universities, while at the same time, dragging its feet in the matter of the establishment of the sixth university to cope with the great demand for university places in the country.
The DAP therefore calls on the Malaysian Government to review its higher education policy and liberalise its approach to expand local university places in the country, whether by way of government or private universities.