When question of language on school signboards is skipped

Malaysians wanted to know the national unity minister’s stand on the removal of Chinese characters from Chinese vernacular school signboards

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Sometimes, Malaysians would wish that certain MPs would just close their mouths instead of spewing verbal diarrhoea in the Dewan Rakyat.

It was also equally disturbing when ministers, particularly National Unity Minister Halimah Mohamed Sadique, reportedly avoided answering a question raised by opposition MPs about missing Chinese characters on Chinese vernacular school signboards in Pekan, Pahang.

For a moment, you could almost hear a pin drop.

The Pahang Education Department issued the new signboards that bore the school’s name, but only in the Malay language and Jawi script.

It was not too much of a stretch to argue that stripping the Chinese characters off the signboards is similar to a Tahfiz school’s signboard lacking the Jawi script.

Instead, Halimah seemed to pass the buck to someone else or another institution as a way of avoiding inconvenient questions. She said the issue emerged at the school level and, therefore, is under the purview of the Pahang government and the Ministry of Education.

In other words, she was not answerable for others’ actions, even though such a move has the potential to affect ethnic relations in the country and should also be her ministry’s concern.

Her intervention was much needed in the wider social context, where language and religion have been highly politicised over the years.

In this regard, one is mindful of how Timah, the Malay term for tin, became an issue when used as a brand name of whisky by non-Muslims.

Surely it was reasonable for Malaysians to know the national unity minister’s stand on the removal of Chinese characters from Chinese vernacular school signboards.

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After all, Article 152 (1)(b) of the Federal Constitution stipulates that the use of languages other than the national language is permissible.

One would think that putting Chinese characters on the signboards is not only appropriate given its educational and cultural context but also will not devalue the status of the national language.

On the contrary, it would have gone a long way towards promoting harmonious inter-ethnic relations had Halimah tried to resolve the issue instead of relying on the intervention of Deputy Education Minister Mah Hang Soon, who sorted it out.

In other words, you did not need someone from a particular ethnic community to address its issues. “Malaysian Family” members, irrespective of ethnic origins, should come forward and help each other when the need arises.

Halimah should have taken this matter as a golden opportunity to promote bridge-building.

Besides, the inclusion of the Chinese characters would rightly reflect the diverse composition of our multi-ethnic society, where the concerns and interests of minorities should be taken into account in the larger Malaysian family.

Keeping silent on such a significant matter was not elegant on the part of the minister, a member of the ruling Umno, which is the well-known acronym for United Malays National Organisation. – The Malaysian Insight



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