Language, ethnicity, knowledge: What’s that to do with 1Malaysia?


The forceful implementation of language as a tool to connect differences of cultures, values and ethnicities may create further confusion, alienate feelings, and result in cosmetic tolerance among student, writes CY.

Deputy Prime Minister and Education Ministeri Muhyiddin Yassin asserts in today’s newspapers that the government is gazing into a proposal suggested by PPP president  M Kayveas, to make it compulsory for students to learn Mandarin and Tamil, besides Bahasa Malaysia, in schools.

“By being multilingual, the students can gain additional knowledge,” indicated Muhyiddin, while Kayveas substantiated this proposal and reiterated that it should be implemented to reflect the 1Malaysia concept. (NST online, 13 June 2010) Not only that, Muhyiddin also rationalised the need for such a proposal: to create mutual understanding among the various ethnic groups. (Oriental Daily News online, 13 June 2010)

I am confused. When has knowledge and language become a tool to create a harmonious society? More daunting is that this unilateral logic is now being applied to 1Malaysia?

On the one hand, language is essential to gain extra knowledge especially if that knowledge or science is developed within the local context. To obtain a detailed and comprehensive sense of understanding of certain local knowledge, the learning of local languages is deemed essential. Then, an issue can be understood closer to the local context, not completely solved, as we human beings have limitations when it comes to holistically grasping knowledge, leaving aside the politics.

On the other hand, to forcefully implement language as a tool to connect differences of cultures, values and ethnicities may create further confusion, alienate feelings, and result in cosmetic tolerance among student. Language is not a tool, a product, or a mechanical science to be related to issues of humanities, in this case ethnicity. Language requires a sense of appreciation of its nature and needs to be cultivated within a non-intervention institution along with cultural exposure.

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1Malaysia is not such an institution! It attempts to create a uniformity of culture, of nation and, now, of knowledge. Whither respect for variety, for freedom of choice and in this context, the freedom to have open and democratic schooling?

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