Policy vs Practice: The Multicultural and Anti-Racism Education in Malaysia's National School

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jul 24 15:05:14 UTC 2008

Policy vs Practice: The Multicultural and Anti-Racism Education in
Malaysia's National School

by AWhite for Writing Contest 2008

The heart principle of multicultural and anti-racist education lies on
equality of opportunities in education. Foster (1990) recognized the
equality of opportunities as the inherent differences in the talents
and abilities of individuals, and achieve a fair and just allocation
of social positions and rewards. When equality of opportunities is
linked with multicultural education, we then look at educational
opportunities; where students succeed despite being are from diverse
ethnic, race and linguistic communities with different socioeconomic
backgrounds. Thus, it can also be argued that multicultural and
anti-racist education can only be successful through eliminating
racist practices and restricting the chances of success of a
particular racial group.

In terms of education in Malaysia, the national schools are government
funded and it caters for a diversity of students. Moreover, national
schools follow the Article 26 of Universal Declaration of Human
(1948-1998) right where it state:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at
least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education
shall be compulsory…

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human
personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and
friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups..."

In addition to the above, multicultural and anti-racism education was
part of process of realisation the "The Way Forward - Vision 2020"
proposed by former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir
Mohamad. The part of the proposal that involves education stated,

- To form a community that has high morale, ethics and religious strength.

- To cultivate a community that is matured and tolerant.

- To cultivate a community rich in values and loving culture.

Therefore, in order to achieve these goals, the government began by
looking into an education that can uphold cultural values as well as
creating an anti-racism system to cultivate a community that is in
rich values and supports the different ethnics with mature and
increased tolerance of religious and issues. Vision 2020 was further
strengthen by the current Prime Ministerr, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi under one of the Ninth Malaysia Plans (2006) where he intends
to make Malaysian national schools a school of multicultural education
with choices for all ethnic groups.

With the above endorsement from the government, the schools act as an
agent to support diverse cultural practices. These practices utilize
the students in order to promote the understanding the sensitive
aspects and rights of the diverse races and ethnics. However, the
purpose of multicultural practices in schools have lost essence in
supporting this.

According to opposition government leader, K.S. Lim (1966 – current),
in receiving a letter from concerned parents of whose children attend
Sekolah Menangah Kebangsaan Bandar Utama 4. The letter expressed that
the school principal had been insensitive to the needs of other ethnic
groups as she had introduced Islamic practices into the school system.
For example, the school banned shorts for Physical Education as
according to Islamic belief, it is considered inappropriate to reveal
too much "flesh". In addition, she went as far as banning the beating
of drums during Chinese New Year lion dance performance with no
apparent reason.

If the drums are banned, it has been questioned, "what is the point of
having a lion dance?" because a lion dance without drums will not
bring the significant meaning in the Chinese New Year tradition. In
other words, how could Vision 2020 be constructed with a community of
rich values and loving cultural when students are not taught to
appreciate and understand other cultures.

Another case of cultural insensitivity occurred at Penang Free School.
According to Chee A. a student who studied at Penang Free School,
there were two new signage installed at the main entrance of Penang
Free School where one was in English language and another one was in
Jawi language. The question raised was why was the signage in Jawi
language, which is used in Al-Quran instead of Bahasa Malaysia (the
Malaysian national language) since Bahasa Malaysia is the medium used
for all national schools. Furthermore, Penang Free School is not an
Islamic school. It can be accepted the fact that Jawi signage could be
one of the ways the school is trying to introduce the Islamic cultural
values to non-Islamic students but, why only Jawi signage. If the
school is promoting the cultural values to achieve Vision 2020, then
the school should also place Chinese and Indian signage. Furthermore,
this action has also highlighted the school as being racially
insensitive where only a small number of students will be able to
understand and read the signage.

The lack of multicultural and anti-racism education practices can
further be evaluate in the "Pokkiri" incident that happened at Sekolah
Kebangsaan Hi-Tech. A concerned parent, Vimaleson sent a letter
(please refer this post) to principle of Sekolah Kebangsaan Hi-Tech
demanding to know why "Pokkiri", a movie with a number of violent and
sexual scenes was aired for two consecutive days during school hours
to a group of non-Malay students who are just in primary one. However,
Vimaleson did not receive any reply.

With the above incident, coming back to Vision 2020 (where it states
that government would like to generate a community with high morale),
it has been question the type of morales the school trying to achieve
by airing the inappropriate movie. As a school that practices
multicultural education, the school should be focusing on the cultural
values as well as human personalities instead of misleading the
students. In addition to that, there was no reasonable reason why the
movie was only shown to non-Malay students. Moreover, what was the
Malay students doing at that same time? Assuming that the Malay
students are studying during that time, the school has failed to
provide equal educational opportunities to non-Malay students by
segregating them with different curriculum content.

The segregation of differential racial and ethnicities of students can
further be seen with an incident that occurred in Sekolah Kebangsaan
Sungai Payu Butterworth. According to the opposition government
leader, K.S. Lim, non-Malay parents of students from Sekolah
Kebangsaan Sungai Payu Butterworth expressed their disappointments on
"Program Didik Cemerlang Akademik" as it was based on racial omission
for non-Malays. These letters mainly state that for the past few
years, certain volunteer teachers from Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Payu
Butterworth have been conducting the extra classes out of normal
school hours to prepare students who are weak in their studies for the
coming Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah. These extra classes are free of
charge and all students who are taking the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah
Rendah examination are encouraged to attend. However, one of the
letters continues to states that:

…recently the extra class for Ujian Pernilaian Sekolah Rendah has been
politicised and the government started to give payments to all teacher
who teach those classes BUT there is a condition. The teacher who is
to be paid must be MALAY and the extra classes are open ONLY for the
MALAY students.

Moreover, if the non-Malay students decided to go for the extra class,
they will need to pay a fee of RM$15.00 (AUD$5.50). This incident has
highlighted the inequality of education because it has marginalized
the non-Malay students on their education righ-ts by imposing a fee on
them while Malays students could attend free. The school and the
government has shown Malaysian the extent racism exist in the
education scheme because Program Didik Cermelang Academic offer has
restricted the chances of success for non-Malay students and they were
treated like second class citizens in the school. In addition, this
incident has violated the Article of 26(1) of the Universal
Declaration of Human right where it states, "Everyone has the right to
education. Education shall be free, at least in elementary and
fundamental stages...." (1948-1998). However, even after violating the
Article 26(1) and receive numerous complain letters, the school and
government did not take an appropriate action but instead, they sent
away two teachers who supported the complaints.

Therefore, it is clear that multicultural and anti-racism education
policy was not modeled or carried out correctly but has also been seen
as having a stopgap solution to keep the concerned silent. In fact,
such solution has caused the many unhappy parents to lose their
democractic voice. Since the unhappy parents cannot voice on their
dissatisfaction, how can Vision 2020 (which is to cultivate a
community rich in values and loving culture) be accomplished? These
students will one day be parents themselves and with racial omission
in their education may leave an implication to them. They will
certainly find it hard to be racial tolerant, especially with racial
disadvantages that they received.

With the racial segregation and the lack of encouragement in
multicultural education, the government's commitment itself is
questionable on its validity and reliability. A further example to
illustrates why there are doubts as of the government's allegiance.
Minister Ong Ka Ting from Malaysia Chinese Association held a press
conference and announced that there will be a list of several new
primary schools that will be built at Cheras Sungai Long to solve the
school's capacity issues within the large growing population. However,
according to Liu R. (1988-current) from Malaysia's opposition party,
Democratic Action Party, this conference was confined only to Chinese
language media and not a single English or Malay media agency were
invited. Therefore, questions were raised on why non-Chinese language
based media were not invited. Liu believes that by doing so, there
would be no record that Ong has pledges on building new primary
schools. It was argued that this was one of Ong's political campaigns
to allow the opportunity for him to say whatever he wishes to say to
Cheras Sungai Long communities as a process to garner votes. If this
is true, Ong has indirectly uses the educational prospective without
having to be responsible on his promises. If a political figure like
Ong could misuse his political power to mislead the communities,
program from the educational aspect (that were proposed by the
government under the Ninth Malaysia Plans) could also be part of the
political campaign.

Consequently, with the current organisation of "education aparthied",
it cannot be clearly seen how Malaysia could achieve multicultural and
anti-racism education practices. The government may recommend a grand
educational project that could cost billions of dollars but without an
attentive effort, schools and children will continue to solitude under
totalitarianism. However, there are many who hope that the government
will one day abolish the racial preferences and desegregate education
at all levels. Children must be taught that education is not there to
serve to a particular racial group and that education itself is basic
for early social interaction between races and ethnics, particularly
in the early stages. By this, it is believed that if the best
resources were brought forward, interests into creating a
perfectionist multicultural and anti-racism education could easily
achieve Vision 2020.

School is a place where ethical values and cultures can be learnt
alongside with the education curriculum. Its valuable heritage should
be shared and appreciated by children and their children. Let the
school be a place where children should be given a guidance on how
Malaysia can achieve Vision 2020.


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