3 Major Issues That BN Must Bear Full Responsibility For Allowing Education To Divide Rather Than Unite Malaysians

- a
t the Selangor DAP State Ordinary Convention
by Lim Guan Eng

(Klang, Sunday): Education is not just a window of opportunity for the poor and disadvantaged to raise themselves up to a higher standard of living but also an opportunity to unite Malaysians. The Chinese have a famous phrase that “we should not let our children suffer neither should we allow their education to be poorer”. Unfortunately, by not allowing educational democracy but preferring to use it as a political weapon, education has served to divide rather than unite Malaysians. There are 3 major  issues where BN must bear full responsibility for allowing education to divide rather than unite Malaysians. 

1. Quotas Cloaked With Meritocracy: Sacrificing Our Best And Brightest

BN’s assurances that the educational system has abandoned the quota system in favour of meritocracy was shown to be false when 128 top students who obtained the full 5 As in the STPM results failed to qualify for medicine. The government’s callous response that the 128 top students were just not good enough is unacceptable. Unless the Ministers tell me that they obtained 5As in the STPM, let me ask how much better can one perform with 5As? This shows that the quota system is alive and well cloaked with meritocracy.

At a time when the country is spending RM 40 million yearly to employ 700 foreign doctors, the refusal to allow the country’s best and brightest to study medicine is incomprehensible, illogical and irresponsible. Apart from saving RM 40 million in foreign exchange, such discriminatory policies have caused a serious brain drain.

The government’s ambitious “brain gain” policy announced by then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed to attract 5,000 talents annually failed spectacularly.  Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, Datuk Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis in Parliament  said in Parliament on 20 September 2004 that between 1995 and 2000, the “brain gain” scheme attracted 94 scientists, including 24 Malaysians in the fields of pharmacology, medicine, semi-conductor technology and engineering, there is only one left.

Even the 23 Malaysians who returned have given up on the discriminatory policies that sacrifices meritocracy and reward mediocrity. We do not have to look very far at how serious the problem of brain drain. Look at Singapore hospitals, more than half of the doctors there are Malaysians. Singapore must be delighted that Malaysia can be so generous as to spend so much money to readily send our best and brightest to them.

Higher Education Minister Dr Shafie Salleh's extremist remarks in the UMNO General Assembly that as the Higher Education Minister, he will never allow non-Bumiputera students to enter UiTM and  that the number of Bumiputera students in public universities will always exceed the given quota. For example, he said in 2002, there were 69 % Bumiputera students, while the quota was only 63%, while in 2004, there were 64 %  Bumiputeras (the quota was only 53%). Clearly quota policies for university entrance continues to sacrifice our best and brightest despite the government’s claims of adopting meritocracy. 

2.  Need For A National And Not A Racial Perspective Towards Education.

DAP fails to see how the government can succeed in its Vision 2020 objective of creating a Malaysian race when the new Form V history textbook, under Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah, contained words of “Ketuanan Malayu”, which had never been used for history textbooks for students in the past 47 years. Instead of focusing on common values amongst our young that unite all regardless of race and religion, the government is highlighting differences that divide by stressing on the inherent racial dominance and superiority. Where is fairness when the history book highlights only the constitutional rights of one race without mentioning  the constitutional rights of citizenship and mother education of non-Malays.

Such a racial approach would only harden sentiments of injustice on the one hand and encourage an unhealthy right of dominance in the other. In effect our young are “brainwashed” to accept first-class and second-class citizenship. DAP calls for references to “ketuanan Melayu” be removed from our schools’ history books to encourage the establishment of a bangsa Malaysian. MCA, Gerakan, SUPP and MIC Ministers can not escape responsibility for not daring to oppose the inclusion  or press for the removal of the “ketuanan Melayu” words from  history textbooks.

Another example of a racial approach towards education is the Education Minister Datuk Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn’s refusal to honour his promise to over-rule in writing   the handing over of the power to appoint school canteens in Chinese primary schools from the school’s Board of Governors to the Education Department. Without a written directive civil servants can not be blamed for applying the rule that it is the Education Department that appoints the school canteen for Chinese primary school. Such arrogance, insincerity and irresponsibility of Datuk Hishamuddin to honour his promise to restore such powers to the school’s Board of Governors would not have happened if national schools were involved.  

3. Recognition Of The Role Played By Mother-Tongue And Religious Education

BN government has refused to fully recognize the role and contribution made by mother-tonguie and religious education. Independent Chinese schools and then Sekolah Agama Rakyat were denied government assistance. Such discriminatory policies is most evident in the development allocation for fully and partially aided 1,284 Chinese and 576 Tamil primary schools.

There are some 60,000 non-Chinese students in the Chinese primary schools in the country, which should have meant the building of some 60 new Chinese primary schools just to cater to this demand - but Chinese primary school enrolment have doubled from 310,000 students in 1957 to over 620,000 students in 2,000, yet the number of Chinese primary schools in the past 43 years has seen a decline of 49 schools!

Under the Seventh Malaysia Plan 1995-2000, national primary schools with 75% of the total primary school enrolment received 96.5% of the allocations, while Chinese primary schools with 21% of the total primary school enrolment was allocated 2.4% while Tamil primary schools with 3.6% of the enrolement allocated one per cent of the total development funds for primary schools for the five-year period. Such discrimination and injustice to Chinese and Tamil primary schools  should be rectified, and allocation be made on the basis of enrolment, i.e. 75% to national primary schools, 21% to Chinese primary schools and 3.6% to Tamil primary schools.

As the total development allocation for  primary schools  for the next five years from 2000-5 under Eighth Malaysia Plan is RM 6.6 billion, an equitable distribution of the  allocation would mean the  national primary schools would get RM 5 billion or 75%, Chinese primary schools RM 1.4  billion or 21% and Tamil primary schools RM 240 million or 3.6%.

DAP challenges MCA, SUPP, MIC and Gerakan to state how much of the 8th Malaysian Plan(8MP) 2001-2005’s development allocation for primary schools of RM 6.6 billion is allocated to Chinese and Tamil primary schools.  MCA and Gerakan should not be so irresponsible as to make the Chinese community look ridiculous by being happy with tens or hundreds millions of ringgit in development allocation for Chinese primary schools when we deserve billions just as “Small fish see big fish”.

Such lack of courage from the MCA or Gerakan to fight for a fair share of development funds for Chinese education has resulted in the government either refusing to build more Chinese primary schools or the Chinese community being forced to spending money to build Chinese schools that should be funded by the government. The commercial value of Chinese and Tamil cannot be overstated in view of the importance of the growing Chinese and Indian market.

The time has come for BN not to look at education from a racial perspective but from a national outlook. Only then can Malaysia concentrate on utilizing education as a tool that is beneficial to the country’s development, and not as a weapon to divide Malaysians. BN should adopt a three-prong approach of democracy, equal opportunity and optimal commercial application to make education:-

·        a unifying force for a multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia with an informed and educated population;

·        an opportunity for the poor and disadvantaged to raise themselves to a higher standard of living; and

·        create a well-trained, knowledgeable and versatile work force that allows Malaysia to enhance our international competitiveness.


* Lim Guan Eng, DAP Secretary-General