BY UMSU PRESS
Vernacular schools matter in questions
In December 2019, the Federation of Peninsular Malay Students (GPMS), the Islamic Education Development Council (Mappim), and the Confederation of Malaysian Writers Association (Gapena) initiated a suit against Putrajaya and the Education Ministry regarding the legality of Vernacular schools. The plaintiff, represented by the esteemed lawyer, Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, are seeking a declaration that Sections 2, 17 and 28 of the Education Act 1996 which provides for the establishment of vernacular schools in both the Tamil or Chinese medium, is in direct contradiction with Article 152(1) of the Federal Constitution and as such should be declared null and void due to its inconsistency.
The plaintiff has named several parties of interest for this suit including the Malaysian Chinese Language Council (MCLC),Chinese educationist groups Dong Zong and Jiao Zong, Persatuan Thamizhar Malaysia, Persatuan Tamilar Thurunal (Perak), Persatuan Gabungan Kebajikan Guru-Guru Bersara Sekolah Tamil, the Malaysian Chinese Language Council, Persatuan Malaysia Tamil Neri Kalagam, Gabungan Persatuan Bekas Pelajar Sekolah Tamil Malaysia and SMJK Chong Hwa.
In addition, the plaintiff has outlined their direct interest for the Education Ministry under the government of the day to abolish the vernacular school system or to ensure necessary steps are taken to ensure such schools are in compliance with Article 152(1) of the Federal Constitution within 6 months if the court’s ruling is in their favor.
Article 152 of Federal Constitution
(1) The national language shall be the Malay language and shall be in such script as Parliament may by law* provide: Provided that-
(a) no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise than for official purposes), or from teaching or learning, any other language; and
(b) nothing in this Clause shall prejudice the right of the Federal Government or of any State Government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation.
Explanation on relevant articles in the Federal Constitution
Article 5 of the Federal Constitution states that no individuals are to be deprived of their rights to live in accordance with the law. Article 8 on the other hand states that all are equal before the law and as such are entitled to equal protection of the law. Article 10 empowers individuals right to free speech, assembly and association in accordance with the law. Article 11 assures the freedom of individuals to profess their religion while article 12 protects individuals rights to education bar any form of discrimination or prejudice on the basis of race, religion, descent or place of birth. Lastly, Article 152(1) enshrines the Malay Language as the national language.
Proof of facts by the plaintiffs
Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, the lawyer behind the plaintiffs has brought forth several rationales for the suit. First, he has expressed his concerns regarding the fluency and grasp of the national language amongst the alumni of the vernacular schools, specifically stressing their abysmal communication skills in the national language. He further elaborates that employers in both the private and public sectors tend to prefer candidates that possess excellent literacy skills in the national language. As such, graduates from vernacular schools in actuality are disenfranchised as their chances of employment may be hindered due to their weak grasp of the national language with many being overlooked for opportunities to advance their careers. This in turn, directly violates Article 5 of the Federal Constitution.
Second, both GPMS and Mappim contests that in actuality, vernacular schools is the root cause of divisiveness in the county as it further perpetuate the colonialist’s practice of racial segregation. They further elaborate that there is no longer a need for various races to be segregated and every Malaysian ought to be taught in the same medium, fostering communication and understanding between the various races primarily through education. As students are separated by a language barrier, national integration would be an uphill battle and as such would present numerous difficulties in achieving racial harmony and mutual understanding. Both these groups have championed their case upon the claims involving a violation of human rights in vernacular schools where an educator was compelled to remove her headscarf.
Not going down without a fight - Contention and backlash
Penang Deputy Chief Minister P Ramasamy has expressed his abomination to the lawsuit by the three Malay Student groups, citing their lack of acceptance of Malay not being used as the primary mode of instruction in these schools as a veil to mask their inherent racism. The DAP leader further states that the allegations of vernacular students lacking proficiency in the national language was unfounded and is neither backed by facts nor figures. He further adds that there is a rotten apple in every barrel and that it is unjust to single out students from vernacular schools and polarize them for political bargains.
In addition, he further solidified his argument by stating that there is an upward trend in the number of Malay students enrolled in Chinese primary schools, further perpetuating its academic prowess. He supports this argument by stating that at present, the Muslim community comprises at least 20% of the total enrolment in Chinese schools. Lastly, he reiterates that racism is not the product of the vernacular schools, but the very nature of the political system that nourishes majoritarian nationalism and religious extremism.
A never-ending debate
As of now, the High Court has decided to deliver its judgement regarding the constitutionality of Vernacular Schools on the 29th of December 2021. We hope that all parties will be content with the judgement that will be made by the High Court. In the meantime, we sincerely hope that the government will place much-needed emphasis on improving the quality of education at national schools to encourage more Malaysians, specifically the non-Bumiputera to enroll. In the case that vernacular schools are deemed unconstitutional, a comprehensive and detailed education blueprint ought to be presented, taking into consideration the national demographic as well as the best bits from the Vernacular school system which has managed to produce notable high achievers throughout the years.
Written by Secretariat of Current Affairs 2021
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