"The administration and the culture (of independent Chinese schools) are directed at enhancing patriotism and unity among Malaysians," he said.
The Chinese community is very pleased with Najib’s remarks and recognition of the role of Chinese Independent Secondary Schools, but they cannot help wonder whether such statements are purely motivated by the objective to lure Chinese votes for the coming election, or whether it represents a major change of heart of the Barisan Nasional to Chinese education as a whole and Chinese Independent Secondary Schools in particular.
I remember when I raised the issue of permanent instead of annual registration for Chinese Independent Secondary Schools in Parliament in the seventies and eighties, I was regarded as a Chinese chauvinist and quite anti-national.
At that time, Chinese Independent Secondary Schools were regarded as hotbeds of anti-national and disloyal activities.
In my maiden speech in Parliament on February 23, 1971, I said:
"I challenge the government, which has taped all opposition rally speeches at great public expense, to produce a single instance where we have done so.
"What we raised were the unhappiness and frustration of the people at the failure of the Government to ‘preserve and sustain the use and study’ of other languages as enshrined in the Constitution because of the extreme demands by influential UMNO circles for the immediate implementation of the policy of ‘one nation, one language’.
"The most extreme call was one which laid down a seven-point programme to build a Malaysian nation, namely the banning of all non-Malay languages, non-Malay schools, non-Malay signboards, non-Malay newspapers, non-Malay symbols, non-Malay buildings and non-Malay costumes.
"There were leading Malay intellectuals who demanded that Malay shall be the only recognised Malaysian language, and that Malaysian literature should only be written in the Malay language.
"There was a Minister who described Chinese as ‘Mao Tse Tung’s language!
"For speaking out against these excesses and infringement of the spirit and letter of the Constitutional guarantee to ‘preserve and sustain the use and study of other languages’ , I was detained for 17 months under the Internal Security Act. Did the government arrest the advocate of the seven-point programme to eliminate everything non-Malay in the country?
"The message is clear. Those who seek to uphold the Constitutional guarantee that other languages be preserved and sustained are regarded as enemies of the National Language."
When DAP MPs first entered Parliament after the 1969 general election, we consistently took up the cause of Chinese education it to be emplaced in the mainstream of the national education system - and I paid a heavy price for it, painted as a Chinese chauvinist, anti-Malay and therefore an unacceptable Opposition leader!
I have no regrets as I was only doing what I had to do in the discharge of my duty as an elected representative of the people, not only of one constituency, but throughout the country.
In the last few days, praises and favourable announcements about Chinese education have come thick and fast, with the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad himself praising the commitment and discipline of Chinese primary schools as compared to national primary schools and the announcement that the government would build four new Chinese primary schools in Kuala Lumpur.
The nagging question is whether there is a fundamental change in the Barisan Nasional government’s policy towards Chinese education as to be prepared to emplace it in the mainstream of national education system, or these are just pre-election gimmicks to get the Chinese votes - like the grants given to Chinese Independent Secondary Schools on the eve of previous general elections.
The place of Chinese education in the national education system should not be electoral plaything once in five years.
If the government is serious and sincere in its recognition of the great contribution Chinese education, whether primary or secondary, have made to nation-building as well as to national development, the time has come for the government to make a major policy announcement on Chinese education.
For a start, the government should recognize the Unified Examination Certificate of the Chinese Independent Secondary Schools as one of the academic qualifications for entry into national higher learning institutions, especially as it has received such recognition from foreign universities of international repute, including that of Singapore!
For close to four decades, the 60 Chinese independent secondary schools have survived despite the lack of permanent registration. While the grant of permanet registration to Chinese independent secondary schools is welcome, although it should have been given in the last four decades, only government recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate of the Chinese Independent Secondary Schools can give real meaning in terms of government recognition of the role of Chinese Independent Secondary Schools.
The building of new Chinese primary schools should not become an election bait for votes. Is the Barisan Nasional government prepared to announce that it accepts the principle that Chinese primary schools would be built in areas whenever this is justified by the demands of parents?
In this connection, the Government should act on my proposal in Parliament in March 1982 that it should accord official recognition to Dong Jiao Zhong as the two organisations in the country qualified because of its composition and representation to authoritatively represent the interests of Chinese education in the country, and to accord both of these bodies official consultative status to the government on Chinese education, requiring the government to consult them before it takes any new step, measure or policy towards Chinese schools.