Thursday, February 23, 2006

Education: The Root Cause of National (Dis)Unity?

I remember studying the authoritative books written on the History of Malaya by Professor Khoo Kay Kim, Professor Emeritus at the History Department of Universiti Malaya. I would not be wrong to say that he is one of the most respected academicians at our local universities today. While I do not know him personally, I have huge respect for Professor Khoo for staying back to educate young Malaysians instead of venturing to teaching overseas, where there would almost certainly be abundant demand for his services.

In an interview with the New Straits Times on Sunday, Professor Khoo who was one of the architects of the Rukun Negara after the race riots of May 13th, 1969 expressed his disappointment that "race relations between Malaysians are at their most fragile in nearly 40 years."

This clear cut statement from one of Malaysia's most respected academics clearly carries weight and it runs contrary to the perpetual feel good messages which are political leaders are prone to spew, particularly during the festive seasons.

More importantly, he sees one of the root cause of disunity amongst the various ethnic groups in Malaysia as "a national school system that has become more communal despite its supposed non-ethnic and non-religious status".
He blames the education system which has become more communal despite its supposed non-ethnic and non-religious status for the growing division between the races. Khoo, 69, says politicians planned their strategies according to the actual situation and hence fed on the problem.
"They feel that if they strengthen the position of the Malays, the Malays will think as one, and then they will always get votes from the Malays," he said.
The response from various parties came fast and furious. From some, it was the predictable "same old, same old". In a follow up report by the New Straits Times the very next day, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Maximus
Ongkili who is in-charge of national unity, gave the predictable spew on how pretty the picture of race-relations are in the country.
I disagree with Khoo’s statements. The tolerance level and maturity among Malaysians have increased, although sensitivity about certain issues remains high.

In a multiracial society, what’s required is appreciation of diversity, tolerance of differences and full commitment by all parties to eliminate obstacles to unity.
It is unfortunate that our government leaders continue to act like the Emperor with his new "clothes".

I am further impressed by the fact that Professor Khoo places the need to be a Bangsa Malaysia first, and Chinese second. After all, we are all Malaysians.
"If I were very much a champion of the Chinese, how could I get across to the Malays? What we need today are more bridge builders, not ethnic champions."
Professor Khoo, being an educator by nature calls for the teaching of "cultural history" to help bridge the race-relations gap. He believes that the teaching of history in Malaysia is "too political" and hence probably faces high levels of revisionist pressures, "preventing children from learning more about other cultures".

Hence by teaching "cultural history", there may be less revisionist pressures on the text and children can be exposed to "cultural reality". It will not be easy in todays world of increased religious sensitivity though. By teaching on Chinese cultures, without will inevitably deal with the semi-religious practices which is part and parcel of events like the Mid-Autumn Festival or Vesak Day, there will be segments of the communities who will argue that the teaching of such will violate the sanctity of their religion.

We cannot have leaders who continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that our education system is creating a significant racial rift in our Malaysian communities and continue to claim that everything is well. Not only is the system not helping the integration process, with racial markers present all over our education system e.g., vernacular schools and Mara Junior Science Colleges, we are helping the disintegration process as well.

Read also "The Separation of Races" and "Our Education, Our Future".


Anonymous said...

What Prof Khoo said is definitely true, the truth that most of us aware but pretended it was never there. This applies mosly to the politicians, whom we may label them as selfish.

Do they help the people they represent? Of course they do. Anyone can do that. But more on their personal agenda is to maintain their "bowl of rice" Anyone of you know the amount of money they get, i mean their "salary" funded by the civilians? It's even more than the professors in local universities, much more. So why dont we cut that amount and give to professors to boost their morale?

These politicians just follow whatever their "boss" says, without ever thinking of the consequences in the long run. The "boss" has been spoilt and trick into thinking "he" is right. These then precipitate more and more so-called beneficial policies, athough the actual "benefits" are deemed to further distance the relationship among Malaysians.

Somehow, i feels that as long as those people exist, we are not going anywhere at all, except venturing deeper into the pithole.

All these are too obvious in some sense, especially when you observe how peer groups are formed at different ages. Chinese with Chinese, Indians with Indians, Malays with Malays. Arent these alarming?

Anonymous said...

Whilst our politicians continue to create havoc on our education system, it sickens me to see that they themselves choose to send their children to International Schools for probably a more rounded and secular based system. The latest "evidence" was when a newly re-appointed minister posed for a picture with his wife and 2 kids in their school uniform (looks like from Alice Smith) following the recent cabinet reshuffle announcement.

Talk about unity when our future leaders are also probably educated in an international school.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Prof. Khoo and anonymous ( Feb 24 - 12.48pm and 8.36am).

First of all, we ARE all Malaysian. When I am in high school ( I am in one of the local university now), there are countless times when me and my friends had own opinions on the education system. All of us ( Malay, Chinese and Indian) feel that it is just screw-up. We seriously believe that a MAJOR revamp is needed, with no "racial school" like MRSM etc. There have been numerous debates among ourselves, all leading to one conclusio - FAIR PLAY.

I am an average student in high school, with my Malay friends helping me with English and myself helping them with Maths. I have Indian friends who are great with Biology and they help us with that subject. We ARE one big happy family.Even the teachers called us the "kampung muhibbah".I really enjoyed our school days.Deep down, we all appreciate each other for who they really are, and not based on their skin colour.

All I want to say is that - sometimes, it does not matter that any one race is lacking, because we are all Malaysians. If we are not good at one thing, there ill always be people to help. Pride should not be a factor. That is one of the main reasons that I feel its causing discord among races these days. Just try to imagine yourself being denied a chance because of race, because of the pride someone. It hurts and in the long run, it will make you do the same. This will be passed down to your children and they will pass it down to theirs. Imagine a country with everyone having a grudge against everyone.


Anonymous said...

"I am further impressed by the fact that Professor Khoo places the need to be a Bangsa Malaysia first, and Chinese second. After all, we are all Malaysians."

This is NOT going to be possible as there is NO SUCH race as MALAYSIAN RACE but try "toying" again with MALAYSIAN NATIONALISM which may be a possibility.

Then again - ISLAM doesn't buy into nationalism. So, Malaysians, you have a catch-22 situation.

Further, with one-single religion in mind -- ISLAM, the dream will not come true until the cow comes home!

There is also no such system of nation-states such as a SECULAR ISLAMIC NATION -- unless someone creates one for Malaysia.

If one is created -- SECULAR ISLAMIC STATE -- The problem, then, will arrive as ISLAM FUNDAMENTALISTS will see SECULARISM as a threat to their belief which goes against the SUPREMACY OF GOD.

It is good that Dr. Khoo says it - in fact - Ah Kow or Ah Meiw or Ah Chu, and even Lachumaniam and Tangachi can express what is good for the nation-states such as Malaysia, bUT the bottom line is that Malaysia's ruling elites (top civil servants inclusive) REFUSED to listen.

These single-minded logger-head top elites steered Malaysians into brick-wall. They are "killing" the burning patriotism of all Malaysians and then Tun MM and Najib went forward with the brain-washing scheme of the Malaysian youths with Khidmat Negara(KN). If a simple KN will work, a fairy tale may come true.

No, they are creating another feudal mentality because KN is based on discipline - such as national service scheme of Pulau Tumasik.

This is 21st century and liberal democratic value must be the sole criteria, if not the most acceptable form of system, introduced and promoted to a nation-state with diverse people.

Malay Peninsular does not belong to the Malays but the indigenous people. It is kind for them to allow these foreigners from neighboring Palembam, Riau etc from Indonesia to settle this Peninsular.

These ORANG-ORANG ASLI are the most liberal people on EARTH and yet the current ruling elites took advantage of their vulnerability.

History will tell! History will tell.

Hmm... said...

im sorry but i'm in a dilemma. i came across this blog and thought that you guys might have some answers to it.

STPM or A levels (medicine)? After reading posts about the performance of public universities, I'm reluctant to pursue my tertiary education locally. But on the other hand, it is sure much cheaper. Any suggestion?

Anonymous said...

What Em Prof Khoo said, most Malaysians with common sense and fair play know for ages.

I'm sure our politicians know too. If all of us think of ourselves as Malaysians (e.g., Malay Malaysians, Chinese Malaysians, Indian Malaysians, etc.) instead of being divided into Malaysian Malays, Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indians, etc., by our government, we would be a truly great nation.

BUT out of self preservation, self interest, and greed, our politicians still cling to the original racial political existence. How can we expect to be a united nation of Malaysians when our ruling government is made up of racial political parties like UMNO, MCA, MIC, etc.?

Of course, our ruling politicians want to divide and rule, and keep reminding us of our racial groups, some of which at times conveniently become the bogeyman and punch bag for the ruling major race.

So, my friends, although our nation will become 50 soon, I don't think we will mature much - race, power, and corruption will always be with us!

Kian Ming said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kian Ming said...

With due respect to Prof Khoo, who has contributed immensely to the academic scene in Malaysia, I don't think that he's in a good position to make the statement that "race relations between Malaysians are at their most fragile in nearly 40 years." Race-relations, especially when one brings in the temporal dimension, is a tremendously complex issue and one cannot simply point to a few examples as 'proof' that race relations is at a very tenuous stage. Similarly, Max Ongkili, whom I also admire as a person and as a political leader, also should offer up more concrete proof that the tolerance level of Malaysians have gone up in general.

What do I mean by proof or evidence? When Robert Putnam, in his book 'Bowling Alone' argued that social capital in the US had been declining since the 1960s, he backed it up by giving evidence from individual surveys conducted by different organizations at different time periods, examining membership rolls of different organizations, looking at turnout rates for elections over time and so on. (Even after presdenting his evidence, his book was severly criticized from all quarters) We obviously don't have the same kind of data that they have here in the US but I'm sure that there is data and evidence which we can use that is out there - newspaper reports, television viewership trends, participation in sports clubs, surveys done by advertising agencies, shopping patterns, PTA memberships etc...

One cannot simply make these kinds of assertions by presenting selective and anecdotal evidence. We also have a tendency to romanticize about the past - the good old days - and by exaggerating the extent of problems in the here and now. As an academic, Prof. Khoo should know better.

What is even more surprising and dissapointing is that all of the academics interviewed by the NST did not give opinions that were grounded on their ACADEMIC training but on their PERSONAL life experiences i.e. I studied in MCKK, I want a good surgeon irregardless of race. If what we wanted was personal experience, then we might as well have just asked the man (or woman) on the street! That would probably have been more enlightening!

No one brought up two important questions in regards to this issue - (1) what do we know about the current perceptions of the Malaysian people in regards to national unity and race relations (2) how can we know if race-relations has become better or worsened over time? If we don't address these two questions, then when we bring up the issue of race-relations to academics two or three years later, we're going to get the same kind of anecdotal responses which doesn't tell us anything new or helpful.

Anonymous said...

Hm.. perhaps someone can start a site for people to voice out opinions then, and proceed to publish it as a form of thesis or book.

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming,

If we were to to use 'Putman's indicators,' a cursory scanned of 'public places' throughout Malaysia will indicate that the main racial groups are not 'hanging out' with one another like in Professor's khoo's time.

A better indicator may be to do a social-network analysis of the racial-mix of members in organization's lunching together.

-- Old Man

fishtail said...

I know Prof Khoo personally and i agree absolutely with what he said in the interview.