Most effective clarification is for a clear statement in Monday’s Royal Address in Parliament setting out government’s dual policy commitment to strengthen national primary schools as the first choice of the rakyat as well as to give fair treatment to Chinese primary schools by building new schools to meet increased enrolment needs
by Lim Kit Siang
(Ipoh, Saturday): The clarification by Dr. Vincent Lim, political secretary to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, which was front-page headline in all the Chinese press today, that Abdullah had never said on Monday that “building Chinese primary schools is inimical to national unity”, is most welcome.
It is however most unhealthy and undesirable that different language media are given different perceptions of what Abdullah has said or not said about Chinese primary schools.
For instance, there is no similar clarification for the other language media, although Utusan Malayia’s front-page headline story on Abdullah’s Monday statement had carried a basically similarly message as the Chinese media.
The first paragraph of the front-page lead story of Utusan Malaysia of 15th March 2005 under the headline “Perkasa sekolah kebangsaan – Pelbagai system pendidikan tidak baik untuk Negara – PM” reported: “PUTRAJAYA 14 Mac - Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi menegaskan sebarang tindakan untuk menambah Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (SRJK) Cina atau Tamil hanya akan mewujudkan pelbagai sistem dalam pendidikan dan ia tidak baik kepada negara.”
Without the clarification that Abdullah had not said the “building Chinese primary schools is inimical to national unity” being given and published by all language media in the country, Malaysians are given two different perceptions depending on the language media they rely for their information, viz:
Immediately after Abdullah’s Monday statement, UMNO Youth Education Bureau came out with a statement giving full support to the Prime Minister’s stand that building new Chinese primary schools “tidak selaras dengan objektif dan visi kerajaan untuk memperkasakan sistem sekolah kebangsaan” and “tidak memberi kesan positif kepada usaha untuk menyatupadukan rakyat Malaysia”.
There were also the statements by UMNO Ministers and leaders, as well as UMNO Youth leaders, reiterating their mistaken and baseless position that Chinese primary schools are obstacles to national unity and the cause of racial polarization in the country.
The situation has not been helped by the four-day delay in making prompt clarification as to what Abdullah had said or not said about the building of new Chinese primary schools on Monday.
Malaysia should be able to show a greater maturity in discussing national issues as in two years’ time, Malaysia will be celebrating half-a-century of nation-building since Merdeka in 1957.
There should be more and not less democratic space for a rational and responsible discussion of the hopes and aspirations of Malaysians, and there is no reason why the issue of building new Chinese primary schools to meet increasing student enrolment needs should suddenly become a “sensitive” issue that can only be discussed “behind closed-doors” between the UMNO President and MCA President, when for 48 years, it was never regarded as a “sensitive” issue which cannot be openly discussed whether in Parliament, State Assemblies, public meetings or the mass media.
The building of new Chinese primary schools to meet increased student enrolment needs is not only in conformity with the constitutional rights and guarantees of mother-tongue education in Malaysia, but is important to bring about quality reform of education in the country in keeping with Malaysia’s national aspiration to become a K-economy with the international competitiveness to meet the challenges of globalization on the world stage.
There is indeed an urgent need for a proper clarification of what Abdullah said or did not say on Monday on the building of new Chinese primary schools to meet increased student enrolment needs.
The most effective clarification is for a clear statement on Monday’s Royal Address in Parliament setting out the government’s dual policy commitment to strengthen national primary schools as the first choice of the rakyat as well as to give fair treatment to Chinese primary schools by building new schools to meet increased enrolment needs. These are two completely separate issues and they must not be treated as a zero-sum game, trying to achieve the former at the expense of the latter.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman