7:02 pm - Tuesday May 30, 2017

Education should be based on our Constitution – Faidhur Rahman Abdul Hadi – Young Professionals

Wan Saiful Wan Jan’s article, “Let’s have more Chinese schools” (The Malay Mail Online, September 8, 2016) seemed to me rather anomalous. Responding to another article appearing in Sin Chew Daily, “Chinese schools a stumbling block to national unity?” which as he said, argued that Chinese schools are not a stumbling block to unity, he made some odd observations and thus derived faulty conclusions as a result.

He started by saying that the Sin Chew Daily article is defensive in its tone. I agree with this. The main argument of that article is actually a rehash of a tired claim usually put forth by Chinese language educationists who insist that teaching and learning in Mandarin does not hinder national unity and even somehow strengthens it.

But the writer seems to have overlooked simple logic that would cause one to ask, how can the use and promotion of Mandarin, a language the vast majority of the Malaysian population, including many of those of Chinese origin, do not understand, have no adverse consequences for unity? If a section of our population routinely speaks and writes in a language others do not, then how is togetherness achieved?

Surely the writer must also be aware that Mandarin is not even the native tongue of most Chinese in Malaysia, and its promotion at the expense of other Chinese languages such as Hokkien and Cantonese has caused considerable intra-ethnic tension between Chinese in countries without a native Mandarin speaking population, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and even here in Malaysia. If even the Chinese can disagree amongst themselves as to the status of Mandarin, what more when the language is used in an environment where other ethnicities are present?

It should also be pointed out both to the writer and others, that while almost every Malaysian understands the Malay and English languages, others, including Mandarin, are only understood by a minority of the population. It is not difficult to infer that this tends towards misunderstanding and division between those who speak Mandarin and those who do not, as those who do not would be handicapped by their inability to comprehend what is being communicated. This is only natural.

One may argue that those who don’t understand a language used by others should endeavour to learn it themselves, but this ultimately is an individual’s choice. Between having so little time and so many languages to learn, for practical reasons, short of knowing Malay which is our national language, as well as English as the world’s most dominant international language, there really shouldn’t be any expectation on one to learn yet other languages, although this pursuit should be encouraged.

What particularly struck me as odd about the article by the writer is the crux thereof, namely, his argument that instead of favouring Mandarin on the basis of Chinese culture and its benefits (why shouldn’t they? They are after all, Chinese and wish to preserve their culture) they should change their strategy and make the debate a national one centred on “superior quality education that is demanded and chosen by the parents regardless of race and religion,” and that more Chinese schools should be set up since “that is what the rakyat wants,”

Most people would agree that Chinese schools don’t have a monopoly on what he has termed “superior quality education”. Nor are they the preferred choice of Malaysian parents, the vast majority of whom still send their children to national schools. The writer also failed to substantiate his contentious claim that the rakyat in general want more Chinese schools to be built. Statements of fact should be proved, not merely asserted.

But beyond this, while he has provided some contextual background to his abovementioned argument by reference to the various education reports and policies issued in our country over the years (such as the National Education Philosophy) as well as stating our laws that put the same into practice (such as the Education Act 1996), he has rather dubiously omitted to mention what our supreme law, the Federal Constitution has to say about the subject matter of his article.

Article 152(1) of our Constitution states clearly and unequivocally, that our national language is the Malay language. This of course is subject to the proviso that no person is to be prohibited from teaching or learning any other language. But this does not confer on any person the right to schools or other educational institutions that use a language other than Malay as its medium of instruction, as held in the case of Merdeka University v Government of Malaysia, since teaching or learning other such languages does not include the right to teach or learn in them. In short, while teaching and learning Mandarin itself is protected, teaching and learning in Mandarin is not. This is a subtle but important difference, and notice must be taken of the same.

Further, by virtue of the same precedent, institutions of the public sector, being public authorities, are bound to use solely the national language, i.e. Malay, for all official purposes. This render vernacular schools, including those using Mandarin, unconstitutional to the extent they are state owned and/or publically funded. The Education Act 1996, to the extent that it provides for the possibility of vernacular schools, is thus similarly unconstitutional. Even the 1956 Razak Report, which Wan Saiful says is a compromise between the Barnes and Fenn-Wu reports, envisaged doing away with all vernacular schools at some point.

So why is the writer proposing a solution that is not sanctioned by, and even contravenes, our highest law? Is not our Constitution, by virtue of Article 4(1) thereof, our grundnorm and our apicem lex? And does not our national philosophy, Rukunegara, recited in schools every week precisely to foster national unity, contain Keluruhan Perlembagaan or supremacy of the Constitution as one of its principles?

The writer also made yet another suggestion in his article that flies in the face of our Constitution. This is that the Government should question the existence of Islamic schools and we should somehow be worried about their mono-ethnicity. Again, if he had bothered to peruse our supreme law, particularly Part II thereof which concerns fundamental liberties (i.e. human rights) he would have come across Article 12(2) which upholds the right of every religious group to establish and maintain schools for educating children in their own religions, and this is not limited to Islamic schools only, but cover other faith based schools, such as missionary schools. Islamic schools in particular, by virtue of the same Article, are allowed to receive state funding. This is in no doubt due to the position of Islam as the religion of the state as provided for in Article 3(1). As such, yet again, the question must be asked of him as to why he is encouraging the breach of a sacred human right, no less, and one which is protected by our Constitution?

The writer is right, however, in his claim that our education system has always been subject to the prevailing political sentiment of the day. This is the primary reason why the abolition of Chinese and vernacular schools, long overdue, has yet to take place now despite public support for such a move.

Rather than advocating moves that clearly contravene our Constitution, what he should have done was to make clear, both to his friend Mr Tan Yew Sing of the Malaysia China Chamber of Commerce as well as the writer of that Sin Chew Daily article, that while Chinese language and culture can be preserved in tandem with the promotion of greater understanding between peoples of various races and religions, the existence of Chinese schools, as schools that fail to use the national language as their medium of instruction, in reality undermine our unity by fostering an environment of incomprehension and encouraging misunderstandings in communication. They are also unconstitutional. To desire national unity, therefore, is to see to their abolition.

-– Faidhur Rahman Abdul Hadi

*Faidhur Rahman Abdul Hadi is a lawyer and a member of Young Professionals (YP), a non-governmental organisation formed for the purpose of defending the supremacy of constitutional ideals in the determination of public affairs.

Filed in: Nasional, Rencana, Topik Pilihan

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