It is understood that the marks for the subject will be based on practical coursework (60 per cent), which requires multi-racial group participation, with 40 per cent on examinations. The strong bias towards practical multi-racial course work is indeed encouraging as you will never be able to achieve the objective to reduce racial polarisation in universities through textbooks.
"This is to explain to them the reasons behind those incidents and give undergraduates an idea of how important racial integration is," said Dr Zaid Ahmad, head of the Government and Civilisation Studies department of Universiti Putra Malaysia. He said undergraduates would also be required to undertake assignments in multi-racial groups.As highlighted by Universiti Utara Malaysia vice-chancellor Datuk Dr Nordin Kardi, the subject will certainly not guarantee that students would be better integrated, "but these efforts are needed to bridge the gap among undergraduates of different races".
A copy of the guidelines on the subject revealed that students would also be instructed on Islam Hadhari and its effects on ethnic relations, and receive an overview of the nation’s various cultures and religions.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Centre for General Studies director Prof Dr Abdul Latif Samian agreed that community work was a good way to teach racial integration. "Lecturers should also arrange field trips to places of worship to get a better understanding of the different cultures," he said.
I fully support the teaching of the Ethnic Relations in the Malaysian universities to help curb racial polarisation. In fact, I will strongly support these Ethnic Relation studies and activities being carried out at primary and secondary school levels. This subject, which may be a compulsory but non-examinable subject should replace the irrelevant and often abused "Moral Studies" subject taken by non-Muslim students for SPM.
My only and major concern will be how these "sensitive" historical events will be portrayed in the "textbooks" and whether they will be the "sanitised" version. An attempted politicisation and revisionism of the historical events will not only result in the objectives of teaching the ethnic relations subject not being met, it may actually cement the racial polarisation through perceived bias and injustice in our education and administration system.
This new subject also raises an interesting question - how are privilege Malay institutions such as Universiti Teknology Mara (UiTM) going to conduct their multi-racial project assignments? Not to mention the fact that institutions such as Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman are practically all Chinese (read post on "Political Universities"). Is it time then to stop all these political and race-based university programmes?