Racism in the framework of Malaysia’s education system…


Ho Jang Yang was the top student in his graduating class. Having been brought up with the belief that the greatest tool of empowerment is education, he threw himself into his studies with gusto. However, when the time came for him to pursue his tertiary education, Yang received zero scholarships, zero financial aid, and zero encouragement. This trend occurred throughout his academic career, as he was continuously denied financial scholarship from the government, despite being one of the top students with one of the lowest economic standings.

Yang is a personification of Malaysia’s flawed higher education system in which both acceptance to universities, as well as scholarships, are based on racial quotas rather than merit. In many ways it represents the wider picture of a country that is still ruled by racial policies that favour the majority Malay population over Chinese and Indian communities.

It all started in 1969, although many would say it started years earlier. The Bumiputra population made up of Malays and other indigenous groups were continuously economically marginalised. In general, they were poor, uneducated, and lived in the rural, undeveloped areas of Malaysia. Understandably, they developed an underlying social grudge. This tension erupted into what is now known as the 13th of May 1969 racial riots, where enough blood flowed freely in the streets that severe actions had to be taken by the government to pacify the Bumiputra community. And so, the country was introduced to several affirmative action policies.

One of these policies saw quotas and scholarships given exclusively to the majority ethnic group to improve their opportunity to receive higher education and ultimately equalise the financial standings of all ethnicities. Over time, these policies have changed in one form or another, yet the principle remains the same. Non-Bumiputras have a far more difficult time furthering their education, regardless of whether they deserve it academically or are struggling financially.

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