Phase Two of DAP’s “Restore Freehold Status for Chinese education” movement  to emphasise the great contribution of  multi-lingual education to successful Malaysian nation-building and to be a  key player of the international global community

- DAP Bagan  “Restore Freehold Status for Chinese education” dinner 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Bagan, Thursday): The first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks  in New York and Washington last year has  come and gone without incident worldwide, but no one can escape  the far-reaching repercussions of the traumatic events last year which killed over 3,000 innocent lives from over 80 countries. 

Malaysia is no exception.  I would trace the following five  events as the result of  the post-September 11 new political scenario: 

The Barisan Nasional leaders know that the people are not  happy about all these five developments, but they are confident that come next general election, they could get the voters to support the Barisan Nasional because their trump card is to tell the people that they have to choose between the extremist Islamic state proposed by PAS and the “moderate” Islamic State of UMNO despite  all their unhappiness  with regard to various aspect of Barisan Nasional policies. 

If the voters in the next general election fall into the Barisan Nasional into believing that the only choice they have is to choose between the “extremist” Islamic state of PAS and the “moderate” Islamic state of UMNO, there is no doubt that they will choose the latter, whatever their unhappiness over a whole range of Barisan Nasional policies. 

But this is a false choice, for Malaysian voters have a third option – to say “no” both to the  PAS Islamic State and the  UMNO Islamic State and  to make clear that while Malaysians do not want terrorism or any form of extremism to rear its ugly head in Malaysia, they want the 45-year fundamental constitutional principle that Malaysia is a democratic, secular and multi-religious nation where Islam is the official religion but Malaysia is not an Islamic state to continue to be the nation-building cornerstone for generations to come. 

It is in the light of this 45-year constitutional principle that the DAP has launched the “Restore freehold status of Chinese education” movement to instil national consciousness that the status of Chinese mother-tongue education has undergone drastic changes from the Razak Education Report in 1957, when it could be construed as having “freehold status”, to the 1961 Education Act where it was reduced to “TOL” status and the 1996 Education Act where it was no different from that of “squatters” as they were  not given legal recognition or even mentioned. 

Claims by Barisan Nasional leaders that Chinese primary schools cannot be closed or “touched” because of clear provisions in the 1996 Education Act is without basis or merit, as I had mentioned during the debate on the bill in Parliament in December 1995.

The time has now come for Phase Two of DAP’s “Restore Freehold Status for Chinese education” movement  to emphasise the great contribution of  multi-lingual education to successful Malaysian nation-building and for Malaysia  to be a  key player of the international global community. 

This should be one outcome of the recent educational controversy over the use of English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One.

On Tuesday,  the Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad gave a parliamentary reply to the DAP Secretary-General Kerk Kim Hock, citing four studies which he said supported the government’s policy to use English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools.

What is shocking about  all these four studies is  that they are about the effects of bilingual education and the academic performance of ethnic and linguistic  minorities like Greeks and Spanish-speaking Mexicans trying to master English in the United States – which can have no bearing on the performance of  Malay students in national primary schools, where Bahasa Malaysia is the mainstream medium of instruction. 

I must stress here that there is national consensus among all communities on the urgent need to raise English proficiency in Malaysian schools and universities, but the issue here is whether the right way is by using English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One.

If the four studies on bilingual education and academic performance of language-minority students in the US mentioned by Musa  are to be quoted, it is in support of the preservation and development of mother-tongue education, whether Chinese or Tamil primary schools in multi-racial Malaysia and the  opposition to the use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One for national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools. 

Although the United States is a mainstream English-speaking country, it is a nation  of great ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious diversity, with  over 80 different mother-tongues of ethnic minorities although 75 per cent of the language-minority (LM) school-age population are Spanish-speaking, the largest language-minority  group. 

Musa should have produced studies from countries like China, Russia,Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, which are power-houses in mathematics and sciences but which do not use English as the medium of instruction or local studies of Malaysian students in the different streams of education.  In fact, while the schools in the US have bilingual education for language-minority students, the Chinese schools in Malaysia are one step ahead in offering trilingual education. 

Before I came to the dinner, I saw a Malaysiakini report quoting Musa as advocating “bilingual education in the broader sense”. 

Musa and the educationists in government seem to be quite confused as to what is the real objective of introducing the policy to use English to teach mathematics and science. 

At first, they said  that the objective is to raise the standard of English. When it is  pointed out that only limited terms in English are used in mathematics and science, raising the  proficiency in mathematics and science became the objective.  When it is pointed out that most of the countries which are power-houses in mathematics and science, topping the world in Mathematics and Science Olympiads and other international assessments do not use English to teach in these two subjects, such as China, Russia, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, there is now a third objective – that bilinguals are academically better than monolinguals. 

DAP welcomes a full and proper debate on whether Malaysia should adopt a new policy of bilingual or even trilingual education. 

For the past few decades,  the linguistic, cultural, ethnic and religious diversity in Malaysia have been regarded as a “nation-building problem” instead of as a “nation-building resource” and educational and nation-building policies had been designed to make such a “problem” disappear based one  one-language, one-culture, one-religion principles. 

In an era of globalization, a society that has access to multilingual and multicultural resources is advantaged in its ability to play an important social and economic role on the world stage. 

The challenge of Malaysian educators and policy-makers is to shape the evolution of the Malaysian national identity in such a way that the rights of all citizens, regardless of race, language, culture or religion, are respected, and the cultural, linguistic and economic resources of the nation are maximized. 

The second phase of the “Restore Freehold Status for Chinese education” should send out the clear and important message that Malaysia’s cultural, linguistic and intellectual capital will increase dramatically if policy makers stop seeing culturally and linguistically diverse children as “a problem to be solved” and instead accord proper recognition to the enormous contribution multi-lingual children can make not only to the nation but also to the international global community.   


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman