The Education Ministry proposal to make Mandarin and Tamil languages as part of the primary school timetable is a step in the right direction in the building of a plural society but the government should take full need of the reservations of the Chinese community in its implementation


Speech by Parnamentary Opposition Leader , DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong , Lim Kit Siang , at the Malacca DAP State Dinner to commemorate the 8th anniversary of Operation lalang held at Pay Fong Chinese Independent Secondary School hall on Friday , 27th October 1995 at 9 p.m.

The Education Ministry proposal to make Mandarin and Tamil languages as part of the primary school timetable is a step in the right direction in the building of a plural society but the government should take full need of the reservations of the Chinese community in its implementation.

Three weeks ago , the Minister for Education , Datuk Najib Tun Razak announced that the Education Ministry proposes to make Mandarin and Tamil languages as part of the primary school timetable rather than be taught outside school hours.

He said that all primary school pupils will learn Mandarin and Tamil when the new term begins in December depending on the availability of language teachers in their schools. He said some schools might not be able to offer these subjects next year due to unavailability of teachers but they were expected to get them by the following year.

The Education Ministry proposal to make Mandarin and Tamil languages as part of the primary school timetable is a step in the right direction in the building or a plural society but the government should take full need of the reservations of the Chinese community in its implementation.

I personally welcome the proposal to make Mandarin and Tamil languages as part of the primary school timetable as I had made such a proposal in Parliament as far back as the seventies and eighties.
However, the government must understand and be sensitive to the suspicions and fears of the Chinese community and Chinese educational circles about this proposal.

Chinese educationists have expressed their grave reservations and anxieties about the long-term implications of the new Education Bill 1995 on Chinese education as “the spirit and implementation of the ultimate objective of the National Education Policy still remained”.

The Bill has been described as being full of “Land mines” for Chinese education.

At present , these “Land mines” had been protected in great secrecy by the Official Secrets Act, and as I have not seen the new Education Bill and I do not know what are these “Land mines”.

This is way the DAP had repeatedly called for the new Education Bill 1995 and the other three sets of bills on the Higher Education Council Bill, the Private Educational Institutions Bill and the universities and University Colleges (Amenament) Bill to be made public to allow all Malaysians, whether educational organisations and individuals to have at least two months to study, discuss and give their feedback before the Bills are presented to Parliament for debate and passage.

Call on Education Ministry to establish a consultative council with Chinese educational bodies to dispel their reservations and fears about the adverse long-term implications of the Bill on Chinese education.

If the new Education Bills which the government proposes to present to the current meeting of Parliament for passage are to be a unifying and progressive force in Malaysian nation-building and an important factor in making Malaysia a modern and dynamic nation in the list century, it is then imperative that the Education Ministry should take special pains to allay the fear and reservations of the Chinese community and Chinese educational circles about the new Education Bill 1995.

To do so, the Education Minister must also understand the history of Chinese education in Malaysia without which it is impossible to understand these fears and reservations about the Education bill 1995, or why there are strong feelings against the proposal to make Mandarin as part of the primary school timetable.

These fears and reservations are best typified by the reaction of the Gerakan MP for Batu, Joseph Chong, to the proposal to make Mandarin as part of the primary school timetable.

Recently, Joseph Chong said the Education Ministry proposal to make Mandarin as part of the primary school timetable “is to slowly erode the spirit of running Chinese primary schools, and represent a poisonous injection for Chinese primary schools, which will affect the sources of supply of Chinese primary schools, and is of no help whatsoever to resolve the problems faced by Chinese primary schools.”

The Education Minister must take pains to understand why the Education Ministry proposal to make Mandarin as part of the primary schools timetable had been regarded as an insidious long-term effort to erode the existence of Chinese primary schools.

This is because of the history of the Barisan Nasional national education policy and in particular its “ultimate objective to have only schools using one language medium namely Bahasa Malaysia.
This was why Section 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act was drafted which gave the Minister of Education the power to convert Chinese and Tamil primary schools into national primary schools with the “stroke of the pen”.

For the past 34 years, the Chinese community had opposed Section 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act as a direct threat to the existence of Chinese primary schools and its implementation, and the history of Chinese education in the past 34 years is largely a history of the opposition to Section 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act and to prevent its implementation.

There can be no secret that if not for strong and widespread opposition , Sections 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act would have been implemented and the “ultimate objective” of the National Education Policy become a reality.

This was why during the Parliamentary debate on the Education Amendment Bill in January 1972 on the controversial Section 26B which empower the Education Minister to abolish Boards of Management of Chinese primary schools, I raised the fears and apprehensions of the Chinese community about the continued existence of Chinese primary schools.

However, the Education Minister at the time in his reply , did not give a categorical assurance that the government would not convert Chinese and Tamil primary schools into national primary schools , as all he said was that this was a question which would have to be decided in two or three years’ time.
The DAP MPs continued to press this issue in Parliament, and to a Parliamentary question in July 1973, the Education Ministry said it had yet to decide whether to convert all primary schools to national primary schools by 1975.

This prompted me to deciare in Parliament during the Royal Address Motion debate on 16th April 1974 that “the people at large do not want Chinese and Tamil primary schools only to be allowed to exists until 1975, which means merely for the next 21 months or for another 720 days, and see the Chinese and Tamil primary schools become a historical memory. The people of Malaysia have a right to expect that Chinese and Tamil primary schools should be allowed to exists not merely for another 720 days, but to grow and expand for as long as Malaysians want their children to be educated through the medium of their mother-tongue.”

A year later, I moved a private member’s bill motion in Parliament to repeat Section 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act. Although this move, together with subsequent DAP proposal in Parliament in the seventies and eighties to repeat Section 21(2) of the 1961 Act failed to get support from the Barisan Nasional government, there is no doubt that the DAP’s vigilance and resolute stand on the continued existence of Chinese primary schools had been an important factor why Section 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act had not been implemented.

MCA Ministers have claimed that in the new Education Bill 1995, Section 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act had been repeated.

The MCA Ministers had promised that Section 21(2) would be repeated in 1986, and it what the MCA Ministers claim is true , this means it has taken them 10 years to keep their word!

Education Ministry should set up a consultative council with Chinese education representatives to deal with suspicious and fears arising from 34-year history of Section 21(2)
ucation Minister should be understanding and sensitive to the suspicions and fears as to whether the Barisan Nasional government has abandoned its “ultimate objective in its National Education Policy and would not resuscutate Section 21(2) both in spirit and letter!

There can be two reactions to the proposal to make Mandarin as part of the primary school timetable:that it is made in the spirit of Section 21(2) with a hidden agenda to erode the position of Chinese primary schools in Malaysia or that it is part of the minor liberalisation in education and nation-building policies as a result of government recognition of the multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious characteristics of Malaysia.

I had in the seventies and eighties made this proposal in Parliament because of the second reason.

But there are suspicions and fears that this proposal is one of the “land-mines” in the new Education Bill 1995 because of the first reason, reinforced by problems of acute shortage of trained teachers and inadequate school premises and facilities in Chinese primary schools.

It is for the Education Minister to convince all Malaysians that the proposal is made not for the first reason, but for the second reason.

The Education Minister must prove his sensitivity to the history of this problem and why his proposal to make Mandarin as part of the primary school timetable has evoked suspicion and fear as to its long-term implications to the future of Chinese primary schools.

To resolve this problem, the Education Minister should establish a consultative council with Chinese educational representatives to deal frankly with these suspicions and fears arising from the 34-year history of Section 21(2) and create the conditions for a new confidence that the new education bill is not designed to achieve what Section 21(2) had failed.