Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Student Exchange Curbs Polarisation?

In an earlier post entitled "The Separation of Races", I have argued that "political universities" such as Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) are contributing to accentuate and cement racial polarisation between the various ethnic communities in Malaysia.

The President of Malaysian Chinese Association, Dato Seri Ong Ka Ting may envision that UTAR will become "The People's University", but in reality, isn't it more a university for Malaysian Chinese? After all, 98% of students in UTAR belongs to the Chinese ethnic group. On the other hand, the bumiputeras will have their matriculation colleges, Universiti Teknologi Mara and possibly an UMNO University.

It is extremely disappointing to see that while many of our leaders preach national unity and integration, the policies which they advocate are instead entrenching the racial separation and segregation in the country.

So when UTAR council chairman Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik proposed a student exchange programme with other universities to "ensure that students of all races are not segregated in their pursuit for higher education", I had to laugh.

Tun Dr Ling said the programme would help create a multi-cultural environment in Utar.
We would like these students to work together or become business partners after they graduate which is in line with the national objective of multi-racialism.

Since the time I was an active politician, we have been pushing for this national objective to foster greater racial integration where students can study together under the same roof and later work together or become business partners."
Another programme, "Titian Integrasi", as reported in the New Straits Times, the brainchild of the State National Unity and Integration Department, aimed to enable students, "particularly those from Sabah and Sarawak, to get acquainted with the culture of the people in Peninsular Malaysia."

The programme involves 25 students staying for 4-5 days with their foster parents in another state. Nineteen-year-old Goh Bee Eng from Sibu, a first-year student from Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman (TARC) will stay with a Malay family in Bukit Mertajam.

The question I have is, how will these very micro-measures affecting a handful of students going to contribute significantly to breaking down the walls created through years of racial polarisation in the Malaysian education system?

Will a student exchange programme, often taking place over a period of 1 month to a maximum period of one term create everlasting friendship and understanding, to become future "business partners"? Isn't having student exchange programmes just to create an apparent "multi-cultural environment" absolutely superficial?

There is a fundamental flaw with our education system from primary schools to universities, involving both national and vernacular schools which is resulting in a highly polarised community, which can only worsen in the future. These cracks must be tackled at their source, and not be papered over with "noble" student exchange or foster care programmes. Should these cracks be properly sealed, these superficial programmes would not have been necessary in the first place.

Politicians or former ones should not harp on their honourable intents when their actions to date are to very much to the contrary. It's hypocritical and it peeves me mightily.


Anonymous said...

Where are the ministers’ children studying?

I would suggest that Pak Lah draw up and publicly disclose a list of our politician’s sons and daughters and where they are studying now.

Believe me, almost all of them are studying in private schools, private colleges, overseas boarding schools or universities. And why? Because they are much better than our national schools and most importantly, have English as the medium of instruction!

The present education system is a continuation of the colonial legacy that was established as a political patch-up to garner the support of the various divergent groups at that time.

To a large extent, each group was interested in safeguarding its own interests rather than thinking of a united nationhood. After that, even minor changes have met with resentment from these groups as they have become more and more uncompromising.

Once upon a time we Malaysians took pride in living as a multiracial society. It was with great joy that we shared our cultural diversities, information and knowledge with one another.

Today, sadly, the reverse has happened. Each ethnic group in the country is unabashedly looking after their own self-interest. It appears that the respective race groups in the country are only too glad to maintain the welfare of their own self-interests.

As Malaysians, are they to be blamed for the fast eroding sense of affection and compassion towards fellow Malaysians? Maybe not, looking at the way in which some 'leaders' here are busy politicising racial issues and interests.

People’s empowerment through education must be a foresight to be pursued. Education is no longer seen as a privilege of the ruling class to be manipulated for political interests. It is a basic human right to which all Malaysians are entitled. Therefore every Malaysian has a right to envisage what form of education he or she wants.

I believe education has to be democraticised by introducing into the curriculum values which will guard against abuse of power, corruption, cronyism, discrimination and racism. Socialisation of education is the next step in education reform where the people are empowered to formulate what kind of education they would want for their children.

Globalisation will force us to adopt a more cosmopolitan approach towards our education system and this is something we can't avoid. Our country's education system has to be tailored to fulfill the needs of the international atmosphere while taking into account its responsibility to ethnic groups, local communities and national demands.

The present Malaysian education system is no more than a certificate-manufacturing factory. It lacks a vision despite that fact that Malaysia is only 15 years away from the year 2020.

Anonymous said...

If we observe the educational backgrounds of those most zealous Umno leaders who now champions of the 'national' education system, we cannot fail to find that most of them are not products of the system they claim to be the best for 'national integration', 'national unity' and what not.

If they themselves have no confidence in the local or so-called 'national' education system, why do they insist that it is the best for the children and grandchildren of ordinary Malaysians?

Have we forgotten the slogan of 'leadership by example'?

It is sad that mother language education should yet again, be victimised by our ethnic politicians. That Chinese and Tamil medium primary schools are in short supply is patent.

Despite the government's lavish spending on national schools and its zealous denial of vernacular education's contribution to national progress, both Chinese and Tamil schools still thrive.

Given this circumstance - and the fact that the right to mother language education is enshrined in our constitution - the government's present education policy is both myopic and undemocratic.

Even if we ban all vernacular schools in the country, it will not mean that national integration will be achieved. Students would not integrate if they feel they are being denied equal chance to universities or government assistance.

We are tax-paying citizens and it is our right to demand for more schools of our choice. We as parents want to have a say in how we educate our children.

But please don't stop us from choosing what is best for our children. This is something that is very sensitive to the Chinese community and I hope that just as the sensitivities of the malays must be respected, the same would go for the Chinese and Indian communities in Malaysia.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Lee said...

It's just like with vernacular (and ostensibly national) schools - each ethnic group retreats into its own educational enclave, and then a handful come together in a stop-gap programme like NS.

Anonymous said...

Before making any comment, I admit that I am a utar freshman. I am not defending utar from any critics and constructive comments from anybody. It is just my opinion pertaining to the above issue.

Despite the fact that utar population is made up of 98% chinese students as Tony has claimed, it certainly helps to alleviate the trauma that the students(public U applicants) face after being rejected by UPU. It is very fortunate for me, a public U 'destitute' to have the opportunity to further my studies in utar. For your info, I barely eked out an average results in my STPM last year. With my so-so results, I've been denied any places in any public U. Scholarships are light years away from me. Given no choice, I've to look for alternatives in private ones.

Before enrolling for utar, I've considered monash, nottingham, MMU and many other U colleges and compared their costs. The search was over after the price comparisons between them. The courses offered in utar are relatively cheaper and more reasonable than many others. As I come from a middle class family, I decided to apply for utar. Until today, everything is going fine and so far so good for me.

In fact, almost all my coursemates were applying for utar using STPM certs. Only one applied using the UEC cert. Irregardless of their results, it can be concluded that those who were rejected by the public U are STPM cert holders(mostly Chinese).(Have I jumped to conclusion?) And utar serves as a 'savior' for all of us to acquire an affordable tertiary education equally.

Anonymous said...

The truth is that the ability of education to bring people together is limited. On top of that, education - at least secular one - is about the pursuit of truth and knowledge and hence, whatever is taught in schools should be based on the truth and reality in order to unite the students.

But when our society is already polarised by the law and other economic realities, and we tell our children otherwise in school, its likely that the unity lessons will never stick for long or even worse result in a backlash.

What is more distressing is the fact that national education policy is only meant for the masses while our political leaders send their children overseas. Can we believe they have faith in our own educational facilities and that they are sincere in wanting the best for us?

In Malaysia, unfairness is institutionalised. For example, it is alright for certain schools or universities like the Universiti Institut Teknologi Mara to bar non-bumis.

So it piques me to hear some blaming vernacular schools for racial tensions. Vernacular schools have never barred bumis from enrolling into them unlike Mara educational institutions. If vernacular schools are to be blamed, so too must the Mara institutions.

A minister responsible for higher education who can make such inflammatory statements confirms that the so-called meritocracy system of university entrance is a sham, since he is able to promise that the percentage for malay applicants will never fall below the previous quota percentage.

Is he suggesting that we should rejoice over our poor education? Please do not confuse quality with quantity.

I cannot help but think that the politicians have an ulterior motive. If so, please be honest and brave enough to admit it.

With such narrow-minded people in charge, it is difficult to have confidence in any of their suggestions.

When it came to choosing a career, I avoided public services for the fear of being excluded from promotions just like how I was excluded from matriculation etc. Many employers are also very racially defined. Now, as much as I miss hanging out with people of other races, I end up being with people of my own race.

Looking back, I don't think our primary vernacular system is the cause of disunity. On the contrary, it enriches our Malaysian heritage. The real problems are with the uneven playing fields that split bumis and non-bumis from secondary school onwards.

Another example are the Chinese Indonesians. Most of them don't even speak their mother tongue, nor do they even carry Chinese names anymore, yet come any major political turmoil, they are targeted by the majority. Is this due to vernacular education?

The government should be aware of the fact that the number of Chinese schools has not increased over the past 30 years despite the need for them due to increased demand from both Chinese and non-Chinese students.

The diversity of education methods in the country is a national treasure and should be upheld. Unity will come from mutual respect and fair treatment for all - not necessarily from a uniform education.

Whether they will take concrete steps to address the imbalance is another matter for while I am optimistic about the people of Malaysia, I have very little faith in politicians.

Anonymous said...

Racial polarisation in the country is not caused by the country's vernacular school system but more by the government's discriminative education, economic and political policies, an educationist said today.

The prime minister and all the Umno ministers will never admit that polarisation arises more out of the race-based policies and privileges one race gets over another.

Similarly, there are other areas of our daily lives where terminologies used have made us view certain practices as privileges rather than sacrifices. For instance, the bumi discount for houses.

The total sale value to the developer is still the same. It is just that the non-bumi buyer is likely to be required to pay for some of the discount given to the bumis.

But the longer the NEP's policies continue and the greater the vehemence with which Umno politicians issue threats, terminologies will change and more people will talk about these policies or practices in words that may not sound as pleasing to the ears of the beneficiaries.

Obviously, at that point we shall probably see a new round of disagreements and discriminations. Unfortunately, as long as only weak people take on leadership roles within Umno, threats will continue, NEP policies will be sustained and corruption will prevail.

That unfortunately is the legacy we have as Malaysians.

The basic building blocks of unity, whether you are trying to re-engineer a corporation of differing cultural values or uniting different ethnic groups in a country, are the same.

The principal parties have to be treated as equals - no favours nor special privileges that would favour one group over another. Any privilege that is given should be given to all on the same basis - for example, special privilege given to the financially poor regardless of race or ethnic origin.

It is only on this equitable footing that you can foster true nationalism and build lasting unity, since each component group will have the same stake in the nation and has equal likelihood in reaping the rewards or suffering the consequences.

My recommendation to the government, not simply as a businessman but also based on pragmatism, is not to waste any more taxpayer ringgit on nationalism programmes until it has established the pre-conditions for its success.

What is sad is that, after almost five decades of independence, we have been unable in Malaysia, to bring globally-visioned leaders to the forefront - leaders who can see beyond racial boundaries to recognise the immense sociological and economic potential that can benefit all Malaysians.

Anonymous said...

Here is the thing, there is nothing to stop any bumiputra from applying and entering UTAR except merit. There is nothing to stop any bumiputra from applying an entering a vernacular school except, again, merit. While there is substantial number of bumiputras in vernacular school, the fact is that its still a small minority compared to the whole.

What it tells us is that the vast majority of bumiputra, deep down, is still racially discriminatory first in their sentiment. Otherwise, there would be many many more bumiputras lining up to get into vernacular schools and UTAR. Either they fear the competition from the start or they are plain ignorant of the real facts. Either way, the issue is real and cannot be changed without substantial political leadership.

Its not just the politicians who are to be blamed for exploiting the problem but its a real issue that cannot be easily papered over. The only real way to change this is for the people themselves to change first. Perhaps if the government allow more vernacular schools, the problem can be easier solved but that would be incredibly too enlightened to expect. In the end, it will take either a disaster or change on part of the everyday bumis to change this. My bet is on the former rather than the latter.

Golf Afflicted said...

Hi sigh.. and Kok,

sigh... - don't feel "guitly" or anything of that sort for signing up with UTAR. I have nothing against the students of UTAR or the academics at the university. This is also not a critique of the quality of UTAR as I have at this point of time little opportunity to interact with students of UTAR.

For Kok, I'm not blaming vernacular education per se. And I'm not arguing that vernacular education do not produce quality students from an academic perspective.

My argument has to do with the overall education system structure which entrenches polarisation, and the accentuation of these polarisation structures through setting up universities by Malaysia's racially based political parties. When we look at our education system which contributes to this seggregation and separation of races, a lot of things need to be restructured. This will include to a large extent turning around the national school system.

It's not an easy task, nor is it a task which can be performed over a period of say, two years. It'll be an incremental task over a period of say 10 years to reform the nature of our education system, which includes the national, vernacular and other often racially based institutions.

Tony P

Anonymous said...

You suggested that UTAR are contributing to the racial polarization between the various ethnic communities in Malaysia since 98% of students in UTAR are from the Chinese ethnic group. I disagree with this. Everybody can eligible to apply for admission into UTAR, regardless of race. Is it the university fault that most applicants are from the Chinese ethnic group? There is no quota on the intakes based on ethnic backgrounds. Is it a mere coincidence that this happens? In my opinion, the racial composition in UTAR is a direct effect of a larger crisis choking our society, where the unfair and short-sighted policy marathon over the decades have promoted polarization with huge success in ALL aspects in our life, and not limited to education alone. It is a reflection of the current state of affair in our society. We do not condemn a victim for the ill fate that befalls her. We condemn the real root of the problem. In this respect, we are honored to have our respected Kit in the frontlines fighting for all of us. Being denied their well-deserved place in public universities by the twisted version of meritocracy, the private universities are the only venue where some of our young ones can see light in their future.

It is my opinion that racial composition is irrelevant in this context; after all we are all Malaysians. What a student wants is a fair chance to get the education that he/she deserves. What matters more is the quality of the education in the institution and how the university is being run. Does it provide a fair entry system? How honest is it in providing good education to drive Malaysia into a knowledge-based society? Does it produce solid and well-grounded graduates that are marketable and competitive internationally? Does it strive for excellence in R&D? These are the things that we seek in a university, not the racial composition of the university. Could UTAR make a difference by achieving what our national universities fail to achieve? Could it shrug itself free from the political abuse despite it being established by a political party? Being a relatively new university, I think it is much too early to judge. Give her a chance to prove her relevance to our society. It is unfair to pass a death sentence at such a ripe age and undermine her existence over a problem which is not really a fault of hers.

Anonymous said...

Our DPM's children study at GIS btw.

Anonymous said...

You can study at an international school if you get permission from the MOE.

Since you are the boss of the MOE, you can order them to allow your children to study there...

Mere mortals like us have to send our children to study in schools where our politicians screw it up.

BTW, with a Minister's official salary, can one afford international school?

Anonymous said...

This is one point that I beg to differ, strongly. And I do not think that UTAR should be singled out for this commentary. Although UTAR was setup and is being run by the MCA, I would hesitate to label it a POLITICAL university. It does not implement any racial barriers or consider (at least not upfront) any political affiliation unlike MARA and the like. It is funded by privately sourced donations and I am proud to say that I contributed during its initial fund-raising stages.

Many contributors are Chinese, whatever their political allegiance, and donated because this is seen as a balance, a protest and a solution to the problem of Chinese students who are denied places in public universities. It simplu owes its existence to the unfair and racially motivated education and university admission policies.

The racial composition in UTAR was never imposed unlike the ALL the public universities through its racial quotas, although they claim that they practice meritocracy. Most Malays just simply shun it probably it does not offer them any special privileges and considerations.

Of course, I agree that all this student exchange program is only a charade and is basically posturing to be politically correct and may even be some kind of arm-twisting due to pressures from the government. It does not contribute to racial integration in any tangible way much like the NS.

Racial polarisation in Malaysia is NOT due to physical segregation, but rather a racially motivated environment encouraged by the government and politicians where there is a racial divide in rights and privileges eg. NEP, university admissions, civil service promotions etc. Ask the man on the street, the top brains who have migrated overseas, the many Malaysian-born scholars, top-managers in the private and public service now working, residing or citizens in Singapore.

Convince me otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Tony P,

no one disagree with you that that we would be better serve if the education system was changed to reduce polarization as you suggested but what critics here are saying is that the issue does not begin with education and it does little to begin with education only.

The issue begin with our racial politics and no amount of tinkering with our education will do much unless the racial politics is worked on first. Its why people like Ling Liong Sik resort to making political brownie point rather than actually doing things that are more concrete. Its useless and it can't be done so he moves on to his own selfish motive.

Yes laugh at Ling Liong Sik and criticize him but you know what, he is doing what is logical for him to do only.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why no malay want to study in UTAR????

Maybe they are scared??? Just guessing. Anyway, that's not important.

But I know the admission is not race based (no quota).

What I know most chinese had no choice but go to university where there is no quota such as 20% chinese.

Most malays anyway got no problem admitting to local varsities, why the hell they need to apply for UTAR?

It is the government policies that created the polarising environment.

Shit, if the student exchange programmes is a solution to make people feel UTAR is racially mixed, that must be from a f**king stupid idiot! They think the public don't have brains or what!

Thought I don't study there nor any of my relative study there, UTAR should not be labelled as a POLITICAL university. It's not a fair statement! You know that, tony.

Golf Afflicted said...

Hey Daniel et al,

Just to clarify that I'm not singling out UTAR and I'm not saying that UTAR is the underlying cause of racial polarisation in our schools. I completely understand that under the current circumstances, UTAR provides education opportunities to students who may otherwise be denied such opportunities in our system.

While this article highlighted UTAR, my comments here and elsewhere have always been against institutions which will promote and entrench polarisation. The post focuses on the futility of a "student exchange" programme to overcome polarisation.

I do not fully agree however, with quite a few other comments to say that UTAR is totally different from other privilege Malay colleges and institutes. There are differences, yes, as noted by the readers, that there is no "enforced" racial policies in UTAR.

However, while one may argue that in theory, there's "nothing" stopping Malays from applying to UTAR - that's probably the wrong perspective to take. In substance there are so many factors which inhibits Malays from applying to UTAR - for example, it's almost a totally Chinese speaking university. I'd not be surprised if even the lecturers conduct parts of lectures etc. in Chinese. In essence, UTAR is so closely associated with MCA that it is in effect, a Malaysian Chinese university. (Anyone has statistics on how many Malay applicants are there?)

The alternative perspective is looking at the matriculation colleges. Even if the "quota" is raised from the 10% today to say, 25%, I doubt that there will be that many Chinese flocking to these colleges not just because of the quota, but becuase of the culture, identity and whatever is associated with these colleges.

Hence the "substance" of the nature of these institutions is more important than the "form" they take in determining if they become part of the polarisation culture.

I'm not arguing for UTAR to be scrapped. No way. But I'm arguing for re-looking at how the entire education system can be restructured. UTAR is just one of the many, that is part of the "system".

Tony P

Anonymous said...

Tony P,

Your perspective of the problem is basically, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. The liberal American entreprenurial influence ringing loud through the noise.

The problem is this, is such a principle fair or wise, if you have no choice whether to be part of the system or the game in the first place? If you are treated not as an equal in a game of chance and you are forced to play the game, can you blame the player for choosing just to minimize his lost rather than actually trying to win?

This is what our non-bumiputra community face. They have long lost the right of their citizentry where the outcome is pre-determined regardless of their work. It is the fool and desperate who continue to gamble and try in such a game.

In fact, the smart one in such a game, the optimal choice is actually to destroy the game itself, cause havoc. But our non-bumiputra community choose to be tolerant or perhaps its their own weakness not to go further. Whatever, it is more enlightened to view such a game as being most fortunate for the discriminator. It is also wise for the discriminator not to take it for granted for their own good.

There is absolutely not advantageous to encourage the unfavoured player to continue playing the same game if it cannot win. Sure, if the player can make a stand and reach out to the other side to make him see the game cannot go on but in the end, its the other side that must be changed or they both end up without a game to play at the end.

Sure UTAR could do better to encourage bumiputra into its school by making changes. However note that a significant number of Indians apply and do well in UTAR. It may be a good thing to remind the favoured side that there is a part of UTAR that is undesirable and they are the first caused of it. Otherwise there would be no reason for them to change and we would end up without a game to play in the end.

Anonymous said...

I think Tony has raised some points for the policy makers to address the issue of racial polarisation in our institutions of higher learning, or rather the entire social systems..(but is too complex to unravel this..)

The decisions of our present day leader would have repercussions for the next 20 years, vision 2020 inclusive.

The effort on creating the opportunities for racial integration, how small it may seem, must be commendable in the context of Malaysian society today.

It is certainly ironic for our UMNO-led BN government to call for unity for all but at the same time
reserve only MARA unis for our BUMI brothers.

It is also ironic for our beloved higher education minister, to put in every effort to boot up the ranking of our IPTAs in THES, but at the same time still succumb to the practice of pseudo-meritocratic
policy for university entrance.

What are obvious do not get corrected, instead what are non-pragmatic and costly get conceived
and fed to the public straight in the mass media -- with the usual remark -- "Cabinet has approved so and so ...."

It is ironic to declare oneself as a democratic country, but every policy get churn out without proper consultation, debate and feedback, at least--- at parliamentary or sub-commmittee level.

If it is such policy that would affect thousands of people and generation to come, the whim and fancy (or non-tested) idea of the minister should get some debate and refinement before it is announced to the mass media.

The present outcome of 98% of the UTAR graduands belong to one particular ethnic is an coincidental fact, assuming that those who are both unable to secure places in our IPTAs and afford to go overseas happen to belong to the middle income group of that ethnic group

What choice do they have?

Do you know the value of RM power in the eyes of global currency ?

Even a working adult finds it hard to sustain part-time studies for an Aussie degree with the hard-earned given our monthly RM1800 graduate salary.

On principle, UTAR and KTAR admit students from all backgrounds. But whether our BUMI brothers and sisters would like to join UTAR or so are up to their decisions.

They just could not have the cream (a place to study) and eat the cake (come with scholarship or PTPN loan) as well.

This is too ideal for UTAR where UTAR still have to have monetary contributions for its operations/development.

Well, someone just have pen it down some of current facets of Malaysian lives....

IN short, whatever opportunity that would bring betterment to our society, albeit imperfections, need to be given the encouragement to try it out in the existing imperfect Malaysian environment.

So as our intergration plan for our varsities students...


Roti Canai said...

"The alternative perspective is looking at the matriculation colleges. Even if the "quota" is raised from the 10% today to say, 25%, I doubt that there will be that many Chinese flocking to these colleges not just because of the quota, but becuase of the culture, identity and whatever is associated with these colleges."

I am a form5 leaver, and I will say ALL of us is more than happy to enrol into the matriculation programme.
I got 10A for my SPM, but failed to be admitted into matriculation. my malay friend who has 1A, proudly shows off his offer letter for matriculation.
so much for fair education.

UTAR has no discrimination at all.
if u have 10As, u get the scholarship for foundation. NO MATTER malay indian chinese iban or anyone else matters.
You are blaming UTAR for making it so chinese-oriented, but please, it is not the responsibilty of UTAR to make more malays enter. they opened the door, coming in or not is all their choice.
we chinese have no doors to go, except TARC and UTAR. so this is our choice.

UTAR, my choice.