Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, at the dialogue between leaders of DAP and the 15 Chinese National Organisations on Chinese education at Chinese Assembly Hall, Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, 20th August 1987 at 2.30 p.m.
DAP proposes the convening of a National Chinese Education Congress to adopt a Chinese Education 20-Year Plan which is subsequently ratifies by all Chinese organizations and individuals to embody the objectives of the Chinese community in Malaysia.
In the past few months, the Malaysian Chinese community has been greatly upset and agitated by the government’s decision to revise the Education Act, 1961. The Chinese community fears that this will be another serious threat to the rightful place of mother-tongue education in Malaysia, and the government must be aware and understand these fears of the Chinese community.
There are some Chinese Ministers and Deputy Ministers who have publicity stated that these fears of the Chinese community are imaginary, excessive or even injustified, and it is these Ministers and Deputy Ministers who are doing the Chinese community and the malaysian nation a grave disservice by trying to camouflage the intensity of the doubts and fears of the Chinese community over the government’s efforts on the revision of the 1961 Education Act.
If these Chinese Ministers and Deputy Ministers could dismiss the Chinese fears about the revision of the 1961 Education Act as imaginary, excessive or unjustified in Chinese language newspaper, one could imagine that they would use even stronger language when they speak in private to UMNO leaders and Ministers to dismiss the fears of the Chinese community.
If the UMNO leaders are not aware or do not understand the reasons for the widespread unease and fears of the Chinese community over the revision of the 1961 Education Act, they will even misunderstand and misinterpret the ‘concerns’ of the Chinese community on Chinese education as a systematic campaign to challenge Bahasa Malaysia, or to use the omnibus terms of the Acting UMNO Youth Leader, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak two days ago, “challenge to Malay rights, dominance, dignity and sovereignty.’
It is the duty and responsibility of the Chinese Ministers and Deputy Ministers in the Barisan Nasional to make the UMNO Ministers and leaders understand the background and basis of the fears of the Chinese community over the government proposal to revise the 1961 Education Act, and if UMO Ministers and leaders continue to misconstrue and misinterpret the issue, then the Chinese Minister have failed not only the Chinese community, but also the entire Malaysian nation!
The Chinese Ministers and Deputy Ministers in Cabinet and Government must convince the UMNO Ministers and leaders that the Chinese community has very good reasons to have great fears about the present revision of the 1961 Education Act, including:
1. In the 30-year history of the nation, every time there is a new government study, proposal or legislative change involving Chinese education, it is for the worse and never for the better;
2. The recentless process to change the character of Chinese primary schools, firstly by legislative and later by administrative actions, making it necessary for those concerned with the preservation of mother-tongue education to be eternally vigilant against any new encroachments or erosions against the rightful place of Chinese education in Malaysia;
3. The secrecy with which the revision of the 1961 Education Act had been carried out in the past one year, to the extent that even the Chinese Ministers and Deputy Ministers are excluded from the process and kept completely in the ‘dark’;
4. The repeated breach of government promises on Chinese education, the latest and most outstanding of which was the breach of the Prime Minister’s solemn promise to amend Section 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act in the first meeting of the new Parliament after last year’s general elections. How can the government’s assurances on Chinese education be trusted, and MCA and Gherkin Ministers are behaving as if nothing had happened?
Last Friday, when a DAP Parliamentary team, comprising Dr. Chen Man Hin, Sdr. Lee Lam Thye, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, P.Patto and I met the Education Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, on educational matters, we told him that the government’s ‘secrecy’ to undertake the revision of the 1961 Education Act and the breach of the Prime Minister’s personal undertaking to amend Section 21(2) of the Act last year, have reinforced the Chinese community’s fears about the government’s intentions on Chinese education in the 1990s.
The Education Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, had said in September last year that ‘Problem such as polarization will no longer be an issue once the Education Act is revised’. How could the revision of the 1961 Education Act succeed in resolving the problem of racial polarization, when the highly secretive manner in which the government had set about revising the Education Act has already created such intense communal fears that racial polarization has got worse?
We stressed to the Education Minister that no government committee on its own will succeed in any educational blueprint which will achieve national unity or resolve racial polarization without the fullest public participation from all sectors and communities in the country.
Revision of 1961 Education Act to resolve racial polarization is an admission of failure of the Education Act as an instrument of national unity
In fact, the statement by Anwar Ibrahim that the 1961 Education Act was being reviewed to resolve racial polarization is itself an admission that the 1961 Education Act has failed as an instrument of national unity!
At the meeting with the Education Minister, we strongly objected to his giving a briefing on the revision to the 1961 Education Act to UMNO Youth, as reported in the press, when all other organizations, including MCA, Gerakan and MIC, knew nothing about it. Anwar Ibrahim denied he had briefed UMNO Youth on the revision to the Education Act, clarifying that he had only given a briefing to UMNO Youth about the Education Ministry.
We suggested that the whole process of reviewing the 1961 Education Act should be opened up and the public involved in every stage of the revision. I also remarked that MPs should not be presented with the government Bill to amend the 1961 Education Act two days before Parliament is to debate and approve it.
Anwar Ibrahim said he is a ‘democrat’ and he would do no such thing. He said that the government committee on the 1961 Education Act revision was to collate data, and that it had received some 100 memorandum. He said once the Cabinet has decided on the guidelines for the review of the Education Act, 1961, he would make a public announcement, and interested organizations would be invited to submit views and memorandum.
He said that some ideas as guidelines for the revision of the 1961 Education Act would include:
• Enhancement of Bahasa Malaysia standards in schools;
• Arrest decline of standard of English language;
• Enhancement of standard of Chinese and Tamil languages in schools;
• Effective monitoring and supervision of private educational institutions.
The DAP MPs had called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into educational problems and objectives 30 years after Independence. If the Government is not prepared to have a Royal Commission on Education, then it should allow public participation in every step of the process of revision of the 1961 Education Act, right from the very beginning.
National Congress on Chinese Education
The government’s revision of the 1961 Education Act undoubtedly presents new challenges and dangers to the future of Chinese education in Malaysia.
However, the DAP feels that the Chinese community must not just react to the Barisan Nasional’s revision to the 1961 Education Act, but must take the iniative to set out the long-term objectives of the Chinese community in Malaysia with regard to Chinese education.
For this reason, we propose that a National Chinese Education Congress should be convened to formulate, debate and adopt a Chinese Education 20-Year Plan, which will embody the aspirations and objectives of the Malaysian Chinese community on mother-tongue education. This Chinese Education National Congress should be fully representative of all sections of political and social groups in the Chinese community, and to make it more authorities, the Chinese Education 20-year plan should be subsequently ratified by all Chinese organizations and individuals, as well as groups which support or sympathise with the cause of mother-tongue education in Malaysia.
The Chinese Education 20-Year Plan should work out the short-term, medium-term and long-term strategies to defend the promote Chinese education in Malaysia. We suggest that the 15 Chinese Organisations should convene this National Chinese Education 20-Year Plan Congress.
In the final analysis, the Malaysian Chinese community should recognize the fact that the future of Chinese education in Malaysia is not an educational problem, but a political challenge. Unless we give full recognition to this reality, in particular in our actions, we will never be able to mobilize the pressures and forces necessary to defend and promote Chinese education in Malaysia.