Monday, December 8, 2008


How do you shine a light in a straight line through a prism

Instant Unity has not been patented yet, which is a hard bite on the hope to forge integration in Malaysia outside the common schooling experience.

Ernest Renan, defining a nation as a large-scale solidarity based upon the feelings of past sacrifices and the willingness to sacrifice again for the future, is sadly quite right about what are missing in the Malaysian plural society.

No matter the fact the members of the major races have fought together against the nation’s foes and together the races contributed to the country’s growth and development, the threesome cannot be said to have achieved integration at any time in the history of the country.

Memories are not something we can rely on to build unity in plural and competing ethnicities. As many have observed, it is the grievances that are more reliably remembered than the shared triumphs in our separate memories.

About 95 percent of Chinese parents send their children to national-type Chinese primary schools and a smaller percentage pursue the same stream to secondary and tertiary levels.

Chinese schools are not about mother-tongue education, as are Tamil primary schools. In the Chinese schools the medium of instruction is Mandarin, the Chinese national language and which is quite apart from the mother-tongues of the several Chinese tribes that have made Malaysia their home.

Malaysian Chinese have a separate nationality, and a member of a successful global Diaspora in the world. How we shall ever get the community to override its demand for a separate commonweal to integrate with the others has been a matter deliberated from the Barnes Education Report of 1951, and since becoming a never-ending story.

In recent years the Malaysian Indians too have become a Diaspora their motherland espouses.

The Malays and other Bumiputras are caught in-between these grand dispersals of nationalities that are bound to be playing big roles in the world.

Chinese and Indians shun the army and police as low-income recruits. However, they willingly apply to become commissioned officers in all branches of the armed-forces.

Discussions 10 years ago ended in a compromise solution. The government decided on a half-way measure, i.e. to pool the vernacular primary schools into a shared compound in which students and teachers may share some classes and cooperate in extra-curricula activities.

The idea was named Vision Schools (Sekolah Wawasan), a float from inside a great debate on how to herd the Malaysian plural ethnicities into a single identity, a single sense of nationality and a shared destiny.

To pursue a single schooling experience would be asking too much against the residing chauvinism and against the real need of the various communities to retain their mother-tongues. Hence, the half-way measure – Vision Schools.

But on what basis will the Vision Schools work to help forge the single sense of nationality? Can Vision Schools bring about the “large scale solidarity”?

It would need much more than that, obviously, and much more than a revised or reformed common curriculum too.

So, Mukhriz Mahathir who is contesting for the top post in the Umno Youth, asked to close the vernacular schools and to coral the pluralism into a single educational life-space for high-speed integration.

But MIC president, Samy Vellu, instead recalled the Vision Schools, saying it would have worked for the better had not the outgoing Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, neglected it.

The half-way measure suggested a slower approach to the same thing Mukhriz had wanted outright.

Leaving things the way they are would be letting us become something like the Ottoman system of millat, whereby each community is separately governed by its representatives who finally share power with the host.

In Turkey of that time, Renan wrote, ‘the Turk, the Slav, the Greek, the Armenian, the Arab, the Syrian, the Kurd, are today as distinct as they were on the day of the conquest.’

In Malaysia, even if we now live side-by-side in corporate housing schemes, there’s too little that is shared between the ethnic communities to say we have a “Malaysian society”.

Of course the Vision Schools can help. But there are merely five or six such schools, all reportedly “very successful”, before Abdullah Badawi decided the idea useless..

Former Deputy Minister of Education, Aziz Shamsuddin, said the children mixed and the staffs learned to cooperate and together organized extra-curricula activities in the existing Vision Schools.

In other words, we do have a modest advantage in the Vision Schools. The children learn to share and teachers/parents loosen much of their mutual suspicions.

Mukhriz, because he is contesting for Umno Youth chief, has been read to be seeking for easy mileage by suggesting the closure of all vernacular schools.

He is, in fact, voicing a popular thought among Malays in the current political setting. Some non-Malays have been demanding meritocracy and equality, i.e. to do away with Malay Special Privileges without wishing even to pay lip-service to unity and integration.

That is an absurd demand in the given circumstances. You’ll need the two-third majority in parliament to alter the Constitution. Without that, the noisy demands are only hot-air, good for floating the bloat. --- a. ghani ismail, 9 December 2008

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