Any insidious  attempt to make education a fifth “sensitive” issue outlawing full and free public debate on the best  way to deliver quality  education in multi-racial Malaysia is unconstitutional, undemocratic and grave human rights violation

- at DAP Pusing political talk
by Lim Kit Siang

(Pusing, Wednesday): Yesterday, 10th December, was the International Human Rights Day, celebrated worldwide by governments and political leaders who cherish democracy and uphold human rights. 

It was the occasion for governments and countries to commemorate  the 54th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and for messages and  speeches by presidents, prime ministers and cabinet ministers to renew their commitment and resolve to promote and protect human rights.


Malaysia, however, stood out as an exception as the International Human Rights Day – as in past years – was  completely ignored by the Barisan Nasional government, with no one in power – not even the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad who otherwise  always have something to say on anything under the sun – prepared to grace the occasion with any comment.


This refusal to recognize the International Human Rights Day which reaches the intensity of sheer hostility is the most eloquent testimony of the lowly place human rights occupy in the Barisan Nasional order of priorities – and explains why three years after the establishment of the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) by an Act of Parliament, human rights in Malaysia is facing the  worst crisis in the post-September 11 scenario.


Human rights is not a luxury nor should it be the sole concern of political parties and human rights NGOs – as they affect the quality of  life of all Malaysians and the future of the country.


There has recently been a  wholesale violation  of human rights whether freedom of the press, speech, assembly, association and the right to information in controversies over education  – and which Suhakam has turned a blind eye.


Public discourses on  educational controversies whether  on the quality of education, failures of the national education system or  the use of English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One have virtually been  driven underground as they are  not allowed full and free discussion and debate in the media on the ground that they have become  “sensitive” issues in the eyes of the Barisan Nasional.


Why should education in Malaysia suddenly become a “sensitive” issue where full and free debate on how best to deliver the best quality education system in a multi-racial society is   virtually banned from the mass media and the public domain, permitting only one voice to be heard in the country?


Any insidious  attempt to make education a fifth “sensitive” issue outlawing full and free public debate on the best  way to deliver quality  education in multi-racial Malaysia is unconstitutional, undemocratic and a grave human rights violation.


In 1971, the Malaysian Constitution was amended by a brute two-thirds parliamentary majority to entrench four “sensitive” issues which could not be questioned, rendering  any challenge even in speeches in  Parliament and the State Assemblies as  automatically an offence of sedition involving disqualification of a sitting MP or State Assembly representative and five-year disenfranchisement of his civil and political rights, such as standing for elective office.


These four “sensitive” issues are Article 152 on the  National Language and the constitutional protection for the use, teaching and learning of other languages; Article 153 on Malay Special Rights; Article 181 on Malay Rulers and  Part III of the Constitution on citizenship.


Education, whether meritocracy, polarization in schools and universities,  quality of education, school curriculum and the use of English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One, is not a fifth “sensitive” issue  prohibited from public discussion or debate  like these four entrenched “sensitive” issues – and Malaysians must assert their constitutional rights  as citizens of a democratic society to participate in all major policy decisions in the country.


DAP is advocating the “1-2-3” Formula on the English controversy, firstly to strengthen English, secondly maintain the traditional high standards of mathematics and science in Chinese primary schools and thirdly, preserve mother-tongue education and proficiency.


No  Barisan Nasional leader has been able to make a convincing case that the government’s  “2-4-3” proposal of two new periods in English, four additional periods of teaching mathematics in English and three additional periods of teaching science in English for Std. One pupils for Chinese primary schools is the most educationally sound formula in the best interests of the pupils to achieve the “1-2-3” objective.


MCA and Gerakan Ministers and leaders are doing Chinese primary schools and Malaysian nation-building a grave disservice by agreeing to regard educational issues like the use of English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools as the “fifth sensitive  issue”,  prohibited from public discussion and debate – for they are setting a dangerous precedent which will open the gates for greater erosion of the human, democratic and constitutional rights of Malaysians in the years and decades to come.



* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman