DAP calls for an all-party conference to reduce politicizing education, especially Chinese education

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, at the Education Bill 1990 forum held at the Johore Bahru Chinese Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, 6th June 1990 at 10 a.m.

DAP calls for an all-party conference to reduce politicizing education, especially Chinese education

Recently, a favourite topic of the Education Minister, Anwar Ibrahim is his accusation that educational issues, whether the education reforms proposed under the Education Bill 1990 or the question of Chinese education and Chinese primary schools, had been politicized.

In actual fact, those most guilty of politicizing the educational issues are the Barisan Nasional parties and their leaders. This is why in formulating the new education system and law for the 1990s, the Education Minister and the Cabinet Committee on Education regard it as a sole Barisan Nasional prerogative and would not take the opposition parties and the public into their confidence.

Up to now, although Parliament is to meet in four days’ time to debate and adopt, among other things, the Education Bill 1990, all the Members of Parliament and the entire nation are still kept in the dark about the actual contents and details of the Education Bill 1990 – which is hidden under lock and key under the Official Secrets Act!

Anwar had greatly politicized the issue by refusing to make public the Education Bill 1990

By refusing to make the draft of the Education Bill 1990 available to all opposition political parties and the public, making it available only to the Barisan Nasional party leaders, Anwar Ibrahim had in fact greatly politicized the Education Bill 1990.

The Education Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, is one of the meet vocal Barisan Nasional leaders to attack the Opposition parties, particularly on questions of education. If this is not politicizing educational issues, I do not know what is.

Education is a highly political issue. Those who claim it is not are either trying to mislead the people, or are trying to camouflage their politicization of education, saying in effect that Barisan Nasional has the sole monopoly and legitimacy to politicize education. In other words, when Barisan Nasional leaders play politics with education, they are acting in the national interest; but when opposition parties and the people show political concern about education, they are being irresponsible and even anti-national.

Anwar Ibrahim cannot expect such political hypocrisy and double-standards to convince many Malaysians!

If education is not a political issue, then the Minister of Education should be a non-politician

If education is not a political issue, then the Cabinet Committee on the Education Bill 1990 should not comprise the six Barisan Nasional Ministers, but should comprise only educationists and non-political eminent Malaysians.

If education is not a political issue, then there should be no need for Members of Parliament from various political parties to decide on the Education Bill 1990. In fact, taking Anwar’s argument to its logical conclusion that education has nothing to do with politics, then the post of Education Minister should never be held by an active politician, but should be held by a bureaucrat without political ambitions.

Surely, Anwar will admit that he is first and last a politician, and not an educationist!

While education will remain a major political issue in Malaysia for a very long time to come, I agree that political parties, whether in the government or in the Opposition, should take steps to reduce politicizing of education, and in particular Chinese education and Chinese primary schools.

DAP proposes an annual $200,000 Federal Government and $100,000 State Government grant to every Chinese Independent Secondary School for the next five years

This can be achieved if all political parties can reach a national consensus on a board range of educational issues, including the pledge by every political party, especially the Barisan Nasional ruling parties, not to use educational issues to blatantly fish for votes.

At present, when there is by-election or general election, the Barisan Nasional party leaders would go around with government money-bags to give grants to Chinese primary schools. Recently, this practice has been extended to on-the-spot grants for a few Chinese Independent Secondary Schools, either during the visit of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister or the Mentri Besar.

Why should the Barisan Nasional Ministers and Mentri Besar go round with government money-bags to distribute grants only when there are by-elections and general elections? The whole exercise smacks of the politics of bribery and corruption and is designed solely to win Chinese votes.

If we want to reduce politicizing of Chinese education and Chinese primary schools, let all political parties for instance reach a national consensus that grants to schools, including Chinese independent secondary schools and Chinese primary schools, should be made in accordance with a certain set of criteria, which should be openly known to all and fairly administered, removing any room for bureaucratic bias or political interference.

For instance, all political parties can have a round-table conference and agree that for the next five years, every Chinese Independent Secondary School will be given $200,000 annual grant from the Federal Government and $100,000 annual grant from the State Government.

This will be one step to reduce the politicizing of Chinese education, for instance. Is Anwar Ibrahim and the Barisan Nasional parties prepared to subordinate their party and personal interests to the national interest of reducing the politicizing of education in Malaysia?

The DAP is prepared to attend such an all-party round-table conference to find ways to reduce politicizing of educational issues in Malaysia. I call for the convening of such an all-party conference. Are the Barisan Nasional component parties prepared to respond to this call?