Educational Issues in Multiethnic Malaysia

Penulis (Author) : Tan Yao Sua & R. Santhiram

Genre: Education

Tarikh Tamat (Date finished) : 4 August 2017

Rating: 4.5/5


As I’ve written before, one of the tips to keep reading books is to read books that you have interest in reading prior to knowing that book.
My main motivation for this book is to understand the underlying issue that caused the ethnic segregation in education.
Consider this; you can live your whole life in Malaysia without having any friends from other ethnic groups. From your pre-school to primary education to secondary and up till tertiary, it is possible that you only have friends from your own race. How harrowing does that sounds despite us living in a supposedly multiethnic country?
One of the impetus for it is the ethnic segregation in education from the primary level. Yes. The polarisation of races began as early as the primary stage. We have three distinct primary level education that uses different medium of instruction; Malay, Chinese and Tamil. The segregation starts from there and developed up till tertiary level.
The question that needs to be asked. Why such thing happened in the first place. Why such disparity? Why the need? Who’s responsible for the state of education as to be divided as such? These are the questions that need to be tackled and this book will provide the answers.

I’ll start with the conclusion. Because this post is pretty long.

1. Ethnic segregation in education contributes to the difficulty of nation building and cohesive unity between the races.

2. The role and strong stand of Chinese educationists on Chinese education is commendable albeit detrimental to the efforts to foster national unity.

3. The government policies also contribute to the disparity between ethnics. Policies that clearly biased to one race at the expense of others. The objectives are noble, but is it the best and justified?

4. Some people call for the abolishment of vernacular school. I believe it will never happen. Even with initiatives to incorporate the Chinese and Tamil language into the national school. The question should also be asked of what to be done of boarding school as well if vernacular school are to be abolished? Both clearly contribute to segregation in education.

Now to the gist of the points in the book.

1) Historical Progression

To cut things short, we look back in time, when British was in control of Malaysia.
The British employed divide and rule strategy in managing Malaysia (I’ll just use Malaysia here for convenience despite the historical inaccuracies.) Well, manage is the wrong word. More like rule Malaysia.

Indians and Chinese, mostly are brought to Malaysia to extract the natural resources and work in the economy. The Chinese are tasked to work in the tin industry, mostly in the urban areas. The Indians in the estates, and the indigenous people (Malay) are tasked to fishing and agriculture, usually in the rural areas.
Boy, this strategy works. Doing this, the British prevented ethnic contact that possibly could lead to unity and uprising against them. But this also created the issue of disparity in socioeconomic standing among the races. The Chinese are better off with the opportunities in urban areas. The Malays and Indian lagged behind.
This also caused the segregation in education that persists until now. Because the demographic of the races are scattered, so are the education.

Other important historical events:-

– Ethnic riot 1969

– Razak Report

– Rahman Talib report

2) Preservation of mother tongue language and acquisition of national language

– The objective of education in Malaysia is the preservation of mother tongue language and acquisition of national language.

– Both of these are natural and should be celebrated. However, the issue lies on the timing and the system to incorporate both these objectives into education. Too much emphasis to one would naturally deprive of the other objective. And that’s where Malaysian system of education fail to address adequately.
3) Additive / Subtractive Billinguism 

– There are two types of billinguaism; subtractive and additive. Theoretically the additive are the desirable method. The success in acquisition of the second language are linked with the success of mastering the first language.

– Additive: First language continued to be developed and the cultures valued while adding a second language.

– Subtractive: Second language is added at the expense of the first language.
4) Chinese Educationist 

In the education setting, the Chinese educationists have a substantial influence in the preservation of Chinese medium of instruction school; namely the

– UCSTA (United Chinese School Teachers Association)

– United Chinese School Committees Association (UCSCA)

– Their role in developing the Chinese stream of education up to tertiary level is immense as well. They act as the pressure group to the government and also use the economical prowess of their members to develop the Chinese stream of education.
4.2) State of Indian Education

– Unlike the Chinese, the Indian education is in a sorry state. I refer to Tamil stream of education. Most prefer to enrol their children in the English medium of instruction school.

– This is due to the lack of cohesion and awareness among the Indian society and the issue of class among the Indians.
5) The stages of education

– primary level (Three main segregated types)

– secondary level (NTSS, NSS, ICSS)

– tertiary level (public & private)
6) Ethnic Segregation in education

What contributes to the ethnic segregation?

First and foremost the British divide and rule.

Second, the influence of three types of different school system in at the primary level.

Third, the Chinese stream of education from primary to tertiary. This lies in the role of the Chinese educationists that persist strongly to the preservation of the Chinese as a medium of instruction.

Fourth, the formation of formal Islamic school.

Fifth, the quota system initially, and despite the abolishment of quota system, the remnants of the old system persists. Worse to some extent.

Sixth, boarding schools. MRSM and SBP that caters the bumiputra.

Seventh, government policies with the objective of correcting the inequality in economics standing between the races.
7) The process of nation building

– Now, I hold to the provision that a common language is essential in the process of nation building.

– Language has the instrumental and sentimental value in itself that functions to unite people. A language that people are proud of. That they can relate to.

– Rightly so, Malay Language is the national language as stipulated in the Constitution. And the government since independence has put it as a major goal, despite with varied emphasis.

– Phasing out of English as medium of instruction to Malay at all levels (up to tertiary level) happened up till 2003. However, with the introduction of Malay as the medium of instruction, the drawback is worse proficiency of English.

– The liberalisation of English as the medium of instruction for Science and Technology and the loosening  of government’s policies that allows for booming of private education took place. This occured during Mahathir’s time as Prime Minister.
8) English as a force of globalisation: language mahagony and imperialism

– The idea of vision 2020 to achieve the status of developed country pressurised the government

– The government embraced globalisation and hence view that by using English to teach science and mathematics would propel Malaysia to the global stage.

– In doing so, policymakers ignored the potential language mohagony and imperialism and deprive of the notion of nation building.

– Also create the problem of Diglossia. Where one language is of higher status than the other.
9) A clear tension between private and public

There is also a clear tension between the private and public. Whereas the national objective is for Malay Language as the national language, private sectors prefer usage of English.

– The policy is not embraced by the private sector.


Conclusion is in the first part of this post.


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