The following article is an English translation by Darren Ong, of an opinion piece written in Malay. The original article can be found on Malaysiakini here, or on sosialis.net here.
Which schools create more ethnic division? National or vernacular schools?
Which political parties create more ethnic division? Single-race or multiracial parties?
Where did Wan Ahmad Fayshal, Head of Bersatu’s Armada get the idea that we should eliminate vernacular schools in stages as a way to promote national unity? What research did the Armada chief bring forward to support his position? He also said that this effort should be a national priority and not be manipulated for political convenience. But how can we believe him when the Bersatu party was initially founded as a Bumiputera-only party and then suddenly out of political convenience allowed membership to non-Bumis?
Wan Ahmad Fayshal’s proposal has significant support. Those who advocate the elimination of vernacular schools see themselves as champions and heroes of national integration, but the fact is that every time they bring up this matter they cause more problems and unrest on ethnic relations in this country.
I hold that the ideology of a party characterizes its approach towards race issues. So using Wan Ahmad’s logic, let us abolish all race-based parties like UMNO, Bersatu, MIC, MCA because, like vernacular schools they consist primarily of a single race. Would Wan Ahmad agree with this?
In response, some supporters of vernacular schools will quickly demand that religious schools be closed because for the same reasons. This is a knee-jerk reaction rather than a thought-out policy position, but it arises whenever vernacular education is threatened. The funny thing is, nobody opposes the existence of international schools that only teach in English, not to mention the fact that they exclusively serve children of the rich and elite.
Among the leaders of Parti Sosialis Malaysia who are alums of vernacular Chinese schools are Soh Sook Hwa, Choo Chon Kai, whereas from the Tamil schools we have Sivaranjani and Bawani KS. I have found that they have no racist inclinations at all in their thoughts and words, compared to even myself who studied in the national school. They have been passionate fighters for a class-based politics, and completely oppose religious and ethnic-based politics.
At the same time, many of my friends that have studied in national schools do have some extreme racial attitudes and tendencies. Maybe if these PSM leaders I mentioned instead were leaders of MCA or MIC, would they be able to advocate the same politics free of racial division? How then can we explain this phenomenon, since it seems to go against the perception that vernacular schools breed ethnic division?
Let me bring forth the following analogy. During the May 13, 1969 events that is considered a black mark of ethnic strife in our country, one important observation we can make is that clashes between races occurred in the west coast of the peninsula, but there was no fighting at all in east coast states like Terengganu and Kelantan. Chinese businesses in those two states were not threatened or destroyed.
The reason this happened is that in those states, Malays made up about 95% of the population so they did not feel insecure about the existence of other races. Whereas in the west coast with its more diverse population, where the numbers of Malays and non-Malays were about equal, there was a greater sense of insecurity and vulnerability.
Those living in diverse societies were more easily provoked and frightened. The Kampung Medan issue, the Seafield temple issue, the cow’s head incident all occurred in Selangor which has a very ethnically diverse population. So where indeed do we see more racial tension?
As another example, when I observe the gangsterism issue among the Indian community I found that this problem doesn’t seem to exist in Tamil schools and in the estate communities where the Indian population is high. In those places they don’t feel threatened or insecure. But in national schools, the gangsterism problem is prevalent. This is because in national schools, Indian students (not all of them, of course) feel more vulnerable, they feel discriminated against by the majority race and therefore join these gangster groups partly to get a sense of personal safety. From our observations, it seems that racial attitudes to be more common in national school students compared to vernacular school students.
It is said that the first Chinese school in this country began in 1815 in Malacca, and by 1920 there were more than 500 Chinese schools in this country. The first Tamil school on record was founded in 1816 in Penang, but the British introduced the Labour Ordinance of 1912 that made it necessary for plantation estates to open a Tamil school if there were more than 10 students. Hence Tamil schools were founded simply to enable the plantation estates to maintain control over their workers. Thus the conditions of those Tamil schools were terrible.
Even though these schools have existed for hundreds of years, blaming them for racial division only came about after the founding of race-based political parties. We note also how whenever they are attempts and policies to restrict minority language rights, there arises a strong opposite reaction to defend them, which plays into the machinations of these race-based parties.
Like it or not – Malay is the main language of all Malaysians. This fact is irrefutable and really most people can speak Malay. All races have accepted this reality, and if you don’t believe me, go down to the market and see for yourself how people there interact. No other language can threaten Malay’s position as the national language, so this matter should be put to rest.
The existence of vernacular schools have never threatened national unity or challenged the position of the national language among Malaysia’s populace. But every time politicians seek to abolish vernacular schools, racial feelings, tensions, and threats emerge on the national agenda and this is what threatens Malaysia’s unity.
This essay is not intended to belittle the importance of national schools. I only want to say that there has been no scientific evidence that vernacular schools weaken unity between races and no evidence that national schools strengthen unity between races. But it is very clear that race-based political parties with a race-centric agenda are a great threat to national unity. So we should not point our fingers at vernacular schools, but put our blame on the root problem.
Wishing everyone a happy Merdeka!
Parti Sosialis Malaysia