Kuan Yew is right about the persistent problems of communalism and national disunity in Malaysia but wrong in blaming the multi-stream education system where there are national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools as the cause of communalism and national disunity.
What is most unfortunate is that Malaysia has an Education Minister who does not accept or understand the importance of multi-cultural and multi-lingual education in the process of moulding national unity in a plural society like Malaysia that he could be so quick to agree with Kuan Yew, declaring that the Malaysian education system “segregates” Malays, Chinese and Indian students in national and national-type schools and disrupted attempts to foster national unity among Malaysians.
Musa had said that Kuan Yew’s statement on our education “has some truth, as currently 90 per cent of Chinese students are in national-type Chinese schools while more than 65 per cent of the Indian students are in national-type Tamil schools. The Malays make up more than 95 per cent of the students in the national schools”.
He said: “If we continue with this system, the unity among the different races would continue to deteriorate and future attempts to create a united Malaysia would be tougher as these students would have become adults and it would be too late.
“This is due to the fact that once students grow up they would prefer to mix with their own race, thus not understanding and respecting the other races, religions and cultures in Malaysia.”
Musa is belabouring under multiple fallacies.
Firstly, Musa is wrong when he said that 65 per cent of the Indian students are in the national-type Tamil schools as in reality, the majority of the Indians students in the country should be in the national primary schools.
However, his most serious fallacy is to believe that communalism and national disunity are caused by the existence of the multi-stream primary educational system.
In recent years, the greatest threat to the nation is not communalism pitting Malays against the Chinese or vice versa, but what the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had oft declared - the problem of Malay unity, to the extent that UMNO has initiated “Malay Unity” talks with PAS.
If Mahathir is right that the lack of Malay unity is the greatest threat to national unity, it could not be because of the existence of multi-stream national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools in the national education system but due to other causes.
Another serious fallacy is Musa’s assumption that primary education is the end of one’s education and socialisation process before one becomes an adult - ignoring the secondary and tertiary levels of education.
Although some 80 per cent of the Chinese students enrol in the Chinese primary schools, the overwhelming majority of them proceed to national secondary schools. The question Musa and other Barisan Nasional leaders must answer is why the ten to eleven years of secondary, post-secondary and tertiary education where the different races come under one common roof could not engender greater Malaysian oneness transcending ethnic differences among the new generation of Malaysians!
Racial polarisation in the public universities is even more serious in the previous decades - and this cannot be blamed on the multi-stream education system at the primary school level.
Just like Mahathir’s worry about the crisis of “Malay unity”, the real causes of communalism and national disunity are unfair and unjust nation-building policies in all fields of national life which give a premium to ethnic divisions rather than to common Malaysian nationality, starting with the most abiding cause of communalism and national disunity in Malaysia - the communal politics of “divide and rule” and the existence of communally-based political parties whose raison d’etre is to make every ethnic group more Malay, Chinese or Indian rather than to be more Malaysian.
All national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools use the common national education syllabus and inculcate Malaysian values and consciousness to produce good Malaysian citizens - unlike communally-based political parties which exhort Malaysian citizens to be Malay, Chinese or Indians first and Malaysian last!
Before anyone talks about closing down Chinese and Tamil primary schools in falsely accusing them of being obstacles to national unity, let UMNO, MCA, MIC and other communally-based political parties be dissolved first to remove the real obstacles to national unity and Malaysian nation-building.
Musa should have greater respect and understanding of the importance of multi-cultural and mult-lingual education in the Malaysian nation-building process. It is because of his failure to do so that he is unable to resolve the very simple and straightforward Damansara school controversy - the legitimate aspirations of the parents in and around Damansara school to have a local community Chinese primary school in addition to the new building of a new Chinese primary school in Tropicana.