‘English education for all’ counter-productive to national unity, say NGOs

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Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) disagrees with the calls by certain parties for a single stream education in English for all Malaysian children to bring about national unity.

Such a controversial proposal will not address the deeper roots of division in our society or the weaknesses in our education system. Instead, it will split Malaysians further with its far-reaching implications on the status of the national language and multilingualism.

GBM reminds Malaysians that, while the revival of English-stream schools as the fourth stream may provide parents and students another option, “English education for all” as the only stream immediately calls into the question the status of Bahasa Melayu as the national language ― how can a national language not be the medium of instruction in any public schools? Will this explosive question not cause more anxiety, distrust and division?

GBM stresses that, for all its imperfections, the current multi-stream education system is largely a mother-tongue education system for most students ― even the Malay-medium Sekolah Kebangsaan (SKs) provide virtually mother-tongue education for Malay-speaking students.

And where learning is concerned, mother-tongue education serves the best interest of the children. It has been recognised internationally that learning through the mother tongue of the child is the most effective and best form of education for the child and in the best interest of the child.

This was affirmed by a 2003 Unesco report which concluded that learning in a language which is not one’s own provides a double set of challenges: not only of learning a new language but also of learning new knowledge contained in that language.

Mother-tongue education hence enables students from weaker socio-economic backgrounds, who cannot afford extra resources to master a second language, to learn more effectively and not fall behind.
Abolition of mother tongue education instead means the aggravation of socio-economic inequalities and growing gaps in wealth and social mobility opportunities, which are a real source of communal discontent and national disunity.

GBM calls upon all who genuinely care about national unity to put real efforts in mitigating inequalities, marginalisation and discrimination faced by Malaysians in daily life, politically, economically, socially and culturally. It is the inequalities and marginalisation that breed bitterness, anxiety, fear, distrust and antagonism, which is then conveniently exploited by politicians who champion narrow ethno-religious causes.

The genuine advocates of national unity should fight inequalities, marginalisation and discrimination rather than putting the misplaced blame on the multi-stream mother-tongue education system.

GBM stresses that having different mediums of instructions is no obstacle to national unity when national life is inclusive.

One fine example is Switzerland, where the German-speaking population go to schools with German as the teaching medium, the French-speaking population go to schools with French as the teaching medium while the Italian-speaking population go to schools with Italian as the teaching medium. But all students in the schools learn other languages as a second language.

On the other hand, in countries like Thailand, when minorities are marginalised, even linguistic assimilation cannot prevent political unrest.

GBM calls upon all parties to respect Article 152(1) of the Federal Constitution which stipulates balancedly that:

“The national language shall be the Malay language…. Provided that (a) no person shall be prohibited from using (otherwise than for official purpose) 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.”

Lastly, GBM reminds Malaysians that diversity enriches humanity and is cherished by all major spiritual traditions. For example, Al-Qur’an, Surah Al-Hujarat 13 says:

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”

Such diversity also enables Malaysia to gain hugely – economically, socially and culturally – in an increasingly globalised world with its population able to connect easily with many major countries in the world seamlessly.

This statement is endorsed by the following member organisations of GBM:

1. All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
2. Anak Muda Sarawak (AMS)
3. Engage
4. Japan Graduates Association, Malaysia (Jagam)
5. Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen (Kami)
6. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
7. LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
8. Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Kritisian , Hindu, Sikh and Tao (MCC BCHST)
9. Merdeka University Berhad
10. Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH)
11. National Indian Rights Action Team (Niat)
12. Partners of Community Organisations in Sabah (Pacos Trust)
13. Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
14. Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (Ikram)
15. Pusat Komas (Komas)
16. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
17. Tamil Foundation (TF)
18. Tindak Malaysia
19. The Federation Of Alumni Association Of Taiwan Universities Malaysia (Faatum)
20. United Chinese School Alumni Associations of Malaysia (UCSAAM)

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