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The Jawi-khat issue just scratches the surface of the pluralistic Malaysian community. Until we stop being suspicious of each other and build an education system that is uniquely ours, we will remain fragmented. -- NSTP Archive

TO understand the Jawi-khat issue, we should refer to the historical development of education in Malaysia.

As much as we have tried to mould an education system that is distinctively ours, the current system is one that began during the British colonial period.

During those years, communities were segregated according to economic activities. This was done purposefully.

Each community had a role to play.

The British assumed the governing role, Malays were responsible for cultivating the fields, the Chinese to manage mining and businesses, while Indians were confined to rubber estates and plantations.

This segregation was solidified when the British allowed each community to chart its own educational endeavour as there was no clear education policy.

The Malays had their own schooling system, which provided education up to primary level.

The Chinese imported teachers and textbooks from China, which had strong Chinese ideology.

Tamil-medium schools were run by untrained teachers in rundown facilities.

Finally, English-medium schools were reserved for the royals and elites.

As the multiple education systems had no coherence and cohesion, it exacerbated the division among the communities.

During the pre-independence era, there were two important education reports — Barnes Report (1951) and Fenn-Wu Report (1952).

The Barnes Report, written by the British, proposed a national school system, where primary vernacular schools maintained one single standard curriculum.

The Chinese objected this as they felt the recommendations centred on Malay supremacy.

This led to the Fenn-Wu Report, which stated that while the Malay language is to be treated as a principal language, there should be provision to recognise Chinese and Tamil as important components in defining the then-Malaya identity.

One of the core arguments was that unity could still be achieved, albeit through multiple mediums of instruction in schools.

The Barnes Report was unsuccessful and to avoid conflict, English-medium national schools were implemented according to the 1952 Education Ordinance.

As much as we have developed over the years, embracing modernity and a progressive mindset, our historical education system continues today.

May 2018 was a monumental moment. For the first time in its history, Malaysians changed the government.

New Malaysia — we thought we have moved away from race-based politics. But the current political scenario appears very much to be linked to race-based ideology.

Malays are reflected through Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia or Bersatu, and to some extent PKR, while DAP represents the Chinese and Indians.

In today’s market-driven world, education is strongly correlated to the economy.

A good education system is a precursor to a strong economy. How is the education system preparing our citizens to face the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

How can Science and Mathematics in English make Malay-sians marketable and employable, regionally and internationally?

Why isn’t coding implemented in English?

Why is the education system lagging behind Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand in international assessments such as The Programme for International Student Assessment?

The narrative has always been “us versus them”, typically used to highlight the ethno-religious division of Malay Muslims against Chinese and Indian non-Muslims.

Everything in Malaysia is interpreted from a racial lens.

The race-based political parties and education system magnify our differences.

Education reforms will merely act as a Band-aid as the wound runs deep.

Often, Malaysians love to draw comparisons with Singapore.

The first thing Singapore did upon being a separate country in 1965 was to fix its diverse education system to have a single-stream primary education.

The Jawi-khat issue just scratches the surface of the pluralistic Malaysian community.

Until we stop being suspicious of each other and build an education system that is uniquely ours, we will remain fragmented.


Master of Arts student, Cultural and Education Policy Studies and Fulbright Scholar, Loyola University, Chicago, the United States

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