[lg policy] Malaysia: The language debate (1958 to 1969)

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jun 2 13:27:19 UTC 2013

The language debate (1958 to 1969)

THE major education review in this period was the Rahman Talib Report in
1961, which was incorporated into the Education Act of 1961.

The report called for all publicly financed secondary schools to only use
either Malay or English as the medium of instruction.

While Malay-medium secondary schools were free, English-medium secondary
schools required tuition fees.

Both English and Malay were required in examinations to enter secondary
schools as well as for post-secondary education.

The Chinese and Tamil languages were to be taught as separate subjects if
required, and remove classes were introduced for students who were entering
secondary schools from vernacular primary schools.

Chinese secondary schools meanwhile, had to change to either Malay or
English as the medium of instruction, or risk losing public financial

By the mid-1960s, then Education Minister Abdul Rahman Ya’akub initiated a
programme to convert the medium of instruction to Bahasa Malaysia. The race
riots of May 13, 1969 further accelerated this idea.

In July 1969, as Malaysians were still coming to terms with the events of
May 13, the Education Minister announced that English would cease to be the
medium of instruction in any school from 1970 onwards.

It has been said that the language policy was the most controversial aspect
of education policy post-1969, as Malay-language nationalists pushed for
the greater usage of Bahasa Malaysia while non-Malay language proponents
reacted by campaigning for the retention of their mother-tongue languages
and their respective vernacular education.

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