(Penang, Thursday): In an interview with seven Chinese newspapers yesterday, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said he felt completely "helpless" as to how to assure the Chinese community that under the new Education Act 1996, the government cannot close any Chinese primary school and that any such action could be challenged in the courts.
The answer is quite simple. There are two prerequisites for the Barisan Nasional government to fully allay the legitimate concerns and fears about the continued existence and development of Chinese primary schools in Malaysia.
Firstly, adopt what I had proposed in Parliament on 18th December 1995 in the debate on the new Education Act when referring to the legitimate reservations, fears and aspirations pertaining to mother-tongue education - that although section 21(2) and section 26(A) of the 1961 Education Act had been repealed, the "ultimate objective" of the National Education Policy remained the guiding philosophy of the new Education Act.
I had stressed in Parliament that it was imperative that
the Preamble to the new Education Act should reiterate the spirit of the
constitutional guarantee in Article 152 on the free learning and teaching of
other Malaysian languages, and in particular section 3 of the Education
Ordinance 1957, which reads:
"The educational policy of the Federation is to establish a national system of education acceptable to the people as a whole which will satisfy their needs and promote their cultural, social, economic and political development as a nation, with the intention of making the Malay language the national language of the country while preserving and sustaining the growth of the language and culture of the people other than Malays living in the country."
Unfortunately, the DAP proposal in the debate on the new Education Act in December 1995 for the repeal of the "ultimate objective" of the National Education Policy was rejected by the Barisan Nasional government and the Members of Parliament from all its component parties.
Secondly, adopt a New Deal for Mother-tongue Education to make up for the neglect in the past five decades, and as far as Chinese mother-tongue education is concerned, the New Deal for Mother-tongue Education should comprise the following seven important elements, viz:
Build 50 new Chinese primary schools a year;
Re-open the original Damansara Chinese primary school in Petaling Jaya as a "community school" for the pupils in the immediate locality;
Suspend all Vision School projects until the repeal of the "ultimate objective" preamble in the 1996 Education Act;
RM1 billion special allocation for the 60 Chinese Independent Secondary Schools and the 1,200 Chinese primary schools to be paid out in the next five years in recognition of their contribution to nation-building;
Allow building of new or re-establishment of previous Chinese Independent Secondary Schools;
Government recognition of Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC) of Chinese Independent Secondary Schools;
Make Pupil's Own Language (POL) a compulsory subject for all pupils in national primary and secondary schools.
It is most unfortunate that leaders of
MCA, Gerakan and other component Barisan Nasional parties could not
explain and convince Mahathir as to the reasons for the deep-seated
reservations, anxieties and fears about the continued existence and development
of mother-tongue education in general and Chinese primary schools in particular.
They should explain to the Prime Minister that such reservations, anxieties and fears had been deepened rather than relieved by recent events, in particular the manner in which the 44-year "social contract" reached by our forefathers in the three communities in the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, and reaffirmed by the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak in 1962 on the formation of Malaysia, on the fundamental constitutional principle and nation-building cornerstone of a democratic, secular, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive Malaysia could be jettisoned overnight with an unilateral announcement by the Prime Minister that Malaysia had always been an Islamic state - something even the first three Prime Ministers knew nothing about!
The Ketari by-election on March 31 will be important for this will be a rare occasion for the Ketari voters, on behalf of all Malaysians, to speak loud and clear that the only way the Barisan Nasional government can allay their concerns and fears about the future of mother-tongue education are the two-point programme of the repeal of the "ultimate objective" of the National Education Policy and a New Deal for Mother-tongue Education.