A fifth proposal for New Deal for Chinese Mother-tongue Education in Eighth Malaysia Plan - make Pupil’s Own Language a compulsory subject for all pupils in national  primary and secondary schools

“New Deal For Mother-tongue Education in Eighth Malaysia Plan” Conference
Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Sunday): The multi-pronged  “Save Damansara School” campaign, whether through mass-signatures, ceramahs, walkathons or visits to the Damansara school, is gathering national momentum because it  is a just cause for mother-tongue education to demand that the 70-year-old 25-classroom original Damansara school should be re-opened to be a model community Chinese primary school for students in the vicinity and adjacent areas in Petaling Jaya in addition to the building of a new Chinese primary school in Tropicana, Petaling - hopefully within eight months!

At present, there are only 14 Chinese primary schools in the Petaling district although the total Chinese primary school enrolment is more  than  25,000, with  at least six  of them having an enrolment of over 2,000 students.  There is a pressing need not just for the building of a new Chinese primary school, but a powerful case to be made  for the urgent building of a dozen Chinese primary schools in Petaling to meet increasing needs so that pupils do not have to get up at 5 a.m. to catch the schoolbus and get home from school some 12 hours later at 4 or 5 p.m.

The root cause of the Damansara school controversy is the long-standing unfair policy of the Barisan Nasional government which refused to give fair treatment to mother-tongue education as its refusal  to build new and adequate  Chinese primary schools to meet ever-increasing demands not only from Chinese pupils, but also from Malay, Indian, Kadazan and Iban students.

There are some 70,000 non-Chinese students in the Chinese primary schools in the country, which should have meant the building of some 120 new Chinese primary schools just to cater to this demand - but Chinese primary school enrolment have doubled from 310,000 students in 1957 to over 620,000 students in 2,000, yet the number of Chinese primary schools in the past 43 years has seen a decline of 49 schools!

The “Save Damansara school” controversy and campaign have acted as a catalyst to arouse greater nation-wide consciousness of the unfairness of such mother-tongue education policy and this is why apart from the “Save Damansara School” campaign, there is an imperative need for an accompanying campaign for a New Deal for Mother-tongue Education in the Eighth Malaysia Plan 2001-2005 to be adopted by Parliament in April.

All political parties, whether government or opposition, mother-tongue educational bodies and concerned Malaysians should come together to develop a national consensus for a New Deal for Mother-tongue Education in the Eighth Malaysia Plan.

In the fifth decade of Malaysian nationhood, all Malaysians regardless of race have accepted Bahasa Malaysia as the national and official language as the common unifying bond.  There is need, however, to strengthen mother-tongue education, which will be in the spirit of the Constitutional guarantee in Article 152 which stipulates that “ (a) no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise than for official purposes), or from teaching or learning, any other language; and (b) nothing in this Clause shall prejudice the right of the Federal Government or any State Government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any  other community in the Federation”.

Article 152 envisages not only preserving and sustaining Chinese and Tamil mother-tongue education, but also those of other ethnic groups in the country, like Telegu and the indigenous groups in Sarawak and Sabah.

The New Deal for Mother-Tongue Education in the Eighth Malaysia Plan, which should be  the result of a national consensus in a nation-wide discussion involving all political parties, both Barisan Nasional and Barisan Alternative, mother-tongue educational bodies, NGOs and concerned Malaysians, should consider the claims for mother-tongue education status by all ethnic communites and groups as Malaysia’s ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity must be regarded as the country’s greatest heritage and resources for the nation’s future in the era of IT and globalisation.

The DAP is hosting a roundtable conference on Tamil mother-tongue education in Ipoh on March 18, 2001.

As far as Chinese mother-tongue  education is concerned, it could incorporate five  important features, viz:

All these decades, the POL provision had been  a farce as the law that a Mandarin or Tamil teacher would be provided  at the request of at least 15 pupils in national primary and secondary schools had been observed more in the breach.

The government had persistently refused to accept the DAP proposal made in Parliament since the seventies that the Education Act be amended to provide that where there are at least 15 pupils asking for Mandarin or Tamil instruction, the government is obligatory in providing such instruction, as is the case with Islamic instruction in schools.

Is it  too unreasonable to ask for the building of 250 new Chinese primary schools in the New Deal for Mother-tongue Education in the Eighth Malaysia Plan?

During Independence in 1957, there were 1,333 Chinese primary schools with a total  enrolment of 310,000 students. Forty-three years later in 2000, Chinese primary school enrolment has doubled to over 620,000,  but  there had been  no
matching doubling of the number of Chinese primary  schools in the past four decades, but  a reduction of 49 schools instead to 1,284 schools.

In 1968, there were 2,770 national primary schools with a total enrolment of 666,389 students.  In the 32 years from 1968 to 2000, total enrolment in national primary schools reached  2,218,747 (an increase of 1,552,358) while the number of national primary schools increased by 2,637 new schools to reach a total of 5,407 schools.   This works out to an average of an increase of 588 students for a new national primary school.

If this principle of a new primary school for every increase of 588 students is applied to Chinese primary schools, there should be an increase of 527 new schools in the 43 years from Independence in 1957 to 2,000 for the doubling of the Chinese primary school enrolment from 310,000 to over  620,000.  As in the past 43 years, there had been a reduction of 49 Chinese primary schools, this would put the shortfall of Chinese primary schools to 527 + 49 = 576.

Asking for the building of 250 new Chinese primary schools from 2001 to 2005 when there should have been 576 new Chinese primary schools built by 2000 is not being excessive,  unreasonable or “extremist”.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman