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

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Jul 25 14:49:11 UTC 2008

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

The heart principle of multicultural and anti-racist education lies in
the equality of opportunities in education. Foster (1990) recognized
that 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, racial and linguistic communities with different
socio-economic 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 Article 26 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights
where it states:

(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 the realisation of 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,

(1) To form a community that has high morale, ethics and religious strength.

(2) To cultivate a community that is matured and tolerant.

(3) To cultivate a community rich in values and loving culture.

Therefore, in order to achieve these goals, the government began by
looking into 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 Minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi under one of the Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006) where he made
Malaysian national schools schools 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 of sensitive
aspects and rights of the diverse races and ethnics. However, the
purpose of multicultural practices in schools have lost its essence in
supporting this.

According to Opposition member, K.S. Lim (1966 – current), in
receiving a letter from concerned parents whose children were
attending 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, that considered it
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 for 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 of 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 signs installed at the main entrance of Penang Free
School where one was in English language and the other in Jawi. The
question raised was why was the sign in Jawi, which is used in the
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 signs could be one of the ways the school
is trying to introduce the Islamic cultural values to non-Islamic
students but, why only Jawi signs? If the school is promoting the
cultural values to achieve Vision 2020, then the school should also
place Chinese and Indian signs. Furthermore, this action has also
highlighted the school as being racially insensitive where only a
small number of students would be able to understand and read the

The lack of multicultural and anti-racism education practices can
further be evaluated in the "Pokkiri" incident that happened at
Sekolah Kebangsaan Hi-Tech. A concerned parent, Vimaleson sent a
letter (please refer this post) to the Principal 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 were just in primary
one. However, Vimaleson did not receive any reply.

In the above incident, coming back to Vision 2020, it can be
questioned what type of moral values the school is 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 member, 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 stated that for the past few years, certain
volunteer teachers from Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Payu Butterworth had
been conducting the extra classes out of normal school hours to
prepare students who were weak in their studies for the upcoming Ujian
Penilaian Sekolah Rendah. These extra classes were free of charge and
all students who were taking the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah
examination were encouraged to attend. However, one of the letters
stated 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 RM15.00. This incident highlighted the
inequality of education because it has marginalized the non-Malay
students on their education rights by imposing a fee on them while
Malay students could attend the classes for free. The school and the
government has shown Malaysians the extent racism existing in the
education scheme because Program Didik Cermelang Academic offer has
restricted the chances of success for non-Malay students and treating
like second class citizens in the school. In addition, this incident
has violated Article of 26(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights where it states, "Everyone has the right to education.
Education shall be free, at least in elementary and fundamental
stages...." However, even after violating Article 26(1) and receiving
numerous complaint letters, the school and government has not taken
any appropriate action but instead, sent away the two teachers who
supported the complaints.

Therefore, it is clear that multicultural and anti-racism education
policy has not been modelled or carried out correctly and has also
been seen as a stopgap solution to keep the concerned silent. In fact,
such solutions have caused the many unhappy parents to lose their
democratic voice. Since the unhappy parents cannot voice 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 on them. They will
certainly find it hard to be racially tolerant, especially with racial
disadvantages that they have received and may continue to receive.

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
illustrate 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 would 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 one of Malaysia's opposition
parties, Democratic Action Party, this conference was confined only to
Chinese language media and not a single English or Malay media agency
was 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 pledged 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 wished to say to
the Cheras Sungai Long community as a process to garner votes. If this
is true, Ong has indirectly used the educational prospective without
having to be responsible for his promises. If a political figure like
Ong could misuse his political power to mislead the community,
programs from the educational aspect (that were proposed by the
government under the Ninth Malaysia Plan) could also be part of the
political campaign.

Consequently, with the current organisation of "education apartheid",
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 ringgit 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 ethnic groups,
particularly in the early stages. By this, it is believed that if the
best resources were brought forward, interests into creating a perfect
multicultural and anti-racism education system could easily achieve
Vision 2020.

School is a place where ethical values and cultures can be learnt
alongside 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 guidance on how Malaysia can
achieve Vision 2020.


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