Constitutional misconceptions around vernacular schools — ANR Hussin
Thursday, 03 Sep 2020 03:18 PM MYT
SEPTEMBER 3 — I refer to several legal and constitutional misconceptions in Nur Farrah Nadia Najib’s article which must be addressed.
Firstly, it is clearly against the clear and express wordings of the Federal Constitution to call or request for the abolition of vernacular schools. Article 152(1) of the Constitution states that the Malay language (the actual words used) shall be the national language, but, Article 152(1)(a) and (b) qualify this by saying: “[p]rovided that no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise than for official purposes), or from teaching or learning, any other language” and that “nothing in this Clause shall prejudice the right of the Federal Government or of any State Government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation.”
Two points are crystal clear. First, the principle that BM is the national language is qualified because of the words “provided that.” This means that the moment the people are prohibited or prevented from using, teaching or learning their language, Article 152(1) shall cease to be in force, valid and justifiable.
This view is even fortified, and one cannot simply go against this reading when the Federal Court had in the case of Indira Gandhi a/p Mutho ruled that “the protection of the minorities” forms the Constitution’s basic structure.
Besides, “nothing in this Clause” in Article 152(1)(b) means that notwithstanding the official status of BM, the Federal or any state government has the absolute right “to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation.”
As long as the federal or state government wishes, there is nothing in the Constitution to stop the government from sustaining the use and study of the language of any other community in whatever medium or manner.
Second, Farrah appeared to imply that since Bahasa Malaysia (BM) is the national or official language of our country, there is an obligation to learn BM. I afraid I cannot concur with this view when we again refer to the Federal Constitution which simply only provides for the use of BM for “official purposes.”
In brief, “official purposes” include government functions and communications and that could include national schools.
The teaching of BM in national schools is therefore mandatory not because, as what Farrah said, for the purpose of assimilation, but simply because the national schools are treated as public bodies. Thus, one will find that the teaching or learning of BM is not mandatory in non-national schools such as International schools.
On the point of assimilation, one must first refer to the spirit of the Merdeka Constitution before a comparison with other countries is made. Unlike Indonesia, an example Farrah alluded to, the Constitution was the product of negotiations and agreements achieved between all races.
Tunku Abdul Rahman and other framers of the Constitution recognised that each race has the freedom to preserve and practice their culture, language and their communal way of life.
Therefore, other than for “official purposes”, nowhere in the Constitution is there any reference to the obligatory use of BM for the purpose of unity or some other purposes not stated in the Constitution.
To describe the language of other communities as the “language of disunity” is clearly against this spirit and the wordings of the Constitution. This is also an affront to national unity, and to substantial populations of other communities who mostly converse in their mother tongue in their daily life as what we everyone also do so naturally.
It also does not help when the National Language Act 1963/67 is not in force in Sarawak as more emphasis is placed on English as an official language.
Therefore, in fairness to the teenage boy, it is wrong to place fault on those who are not fluent in BM when it is not one’s mother tongue whereby one has more opportunities to converse other than in schools.
It is now clear that the liberal use of language is part of the Merdeka Constitution’s spirit.
Otherwise, the safeguards in Article 152(1)(a) and (b) would not exist. It is also clear that forced assimilation through language and education would be unconstitutional and implausible due to the ingrained communal way of life of Malaysian. Multiculturalism is therefore the only plausible solution.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.
Do we need vernacular schools in Malaysia? ― Nur Farrah Nadia Najib
Saturday, 29 Aug 2020 07:55 AM MYT
AUGUST 29 ― One Sunday afternoon, an elderly lady came into clinic with her teenage grandson. After greeting them, I invited them to take their respective seats, the teenage boy being the patient then sat on the examination chair. I started asking the boy questions about his condition in Malay but he just stared at me blankly. The grandmother quickly started translating every word I said into Chinese language to her grandson.
I was quite astonished that this boy didn’t even know simple words like “demam”, “batuk” or “selsema”. I could have tried speaking in English but this poor grandma will be more confused then. She then said “Sorry Dr, saya tak pandai cakap Melayu tapi saya boleh faham apa Dr cakap, tapi ini cucu tak boleh faham”. I then reassured the grandma that I appreciate her being able to converse in Bahasa Malaysia and throughout the consultation she was able to interact well. History and examinations done, I wrote the prescription and they left the room.
Well, I was quite taken aback with the incident although I must admit that this isn’t the first time something like this happened to me.
How can a teenage boy, living in Malaysia with Bahasa Malaysia as the Bahasa Kebangsaan not understand a single word of Malay? I myself have picked up a few Mandarin words from my patients because I know this will help in building rapport with them.
We live in a multicultural community and picking up each others’ language is most often useful and gives the sense of tolerance and friendship.
However, Bahasa Malaysia is the national language of our country, so how can ANYONE with a Malaysian identity card not being able to understand the language? I am sure this situation has not occured in any other country in the world. We know that the French and Japanese for instance, are very proud of their own language more so than the international English language.
A multicultural country like Indonesia is another example of how racial and cultural differences are assimilated into a common Bahasa Indonesia.
Cultural and language diversities are to be appreciated but in order for a country to be blessed with unity and stability, a common language is the key. If we are unable to interact with each other effectively, how can we develop the bonding, care and respect that we need for Malaysia to become a stable country?
If we look into history, the earliest development of the education system in Malaysia dated back to the 15th century in which formal education was still a privilege of feudal societies. During the British colonialisation, workers from China and India immigrate to the land of Malaya. With the growing demand for education, each ethnicity developed their own vernacular schools and curriculums under the British divide and rule policy. This resulted in 4 different types of language based schools. After World War II, the education system in Malaysia started to face the challenges of a mutual agreement on the language that unites us all.
The Barnes Report in 1951 states that all primary vernacular schools became national schools to use one single standardised system with bilingual languages (Malay and English). However to protect mother-tongue education, the United Chinese School Teachers’ Association of Malaysia (UCSTAM) or Jiao Zong and later the United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia (UCSCAM) or Dong Zong were established in response. This is later known as Dong Jiao Zong which is responsible until today for the fight for vernacular schools in Malaysia.
Although the newly independent country identified that language disunity is a problem early on, which was stated in The Razak Report Clause 12 “the ultimate objective of educational policy in this country must be to bring together the children of all races under a national educational system in which the national language is the main medium of instruction…”, sadly due to strong protest from the non Malay communities, the ‘ultimate objective’ was not included in the new Education Ordinance 1957. Since then the language issue has been put forth on and off depending on who is the Education Minister at the time.
So, to keep it in a nutshell, Malaysia has never been united in a “language” sense eversince independence day. If we look at the chronology of the development of the education system, we can clearly see which generation the grandmother and her grandson came from.
This article is not meant to become an essay on history, BUT to understand the implications of vernacular schools in this country, we need to know the above facts. Some may argue that vernacular schools also teach the Bahasa Malaysia subject, but learning the subject alone without interacting with each other at school is not going to serve the purpose of unity which needs to be nurtured from small. This interaction will later result in patriotism, helping each other and a deep sense of belonging to this country.
In fact, by saying that vernacular schools should be abolished, is far from being racist. It is not targeted at diminishing racial rights but we need to realise that is has been a big block in preventing racial unity in this country.
I believe if we manage to solve this issue, we will even bring the economic, knowledge and leadership gap in between different racial groups in Malaysia closer.
For the first time in history Malaysians will be united in hands and at heart.
* Dr Nur Farrah Nadia Najib works in Johor Baru.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.