Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Paradoxes: Chinese Schools and Malay Supremacy

Written by johnleemk on 3:18:46 am Apr 21, 2007.
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I am often caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to political debates defined by two issues: Chinese schools and Malay supremacy. Normally if you support one, you will oppose the other; I am opposed to both. (Although to clarify things, it is specifically the public funding of Chinese schools as they presently are that I take exception to.)

This not only puts me in a difficult position because I am subjected to attacks from both sides, but also lets me find some interesting paradoxes in the thinking of people from both ends of the political spectrum.

The normal thinking of a Malay supremacist who sees Chinese schools as evidence that Chinese have not fully integrated into a Malaysian identity (not an unwarranted line of thinking, by the way) will be that only by closing down these schools can the Chinese prove that they are truly Malaysian.

The Malay supremacist, however, fails to consider the parallel question of whether there are any truly Malaysian schools out there. Normally the assumption taken for granted is that national schools are Malaysian schools, but is this really so?

This assumption might hold true for a small number of national schools. But it is patently false for the vast majority of national schools. These schools are not called "Malay schools" for nothing.

A national school will be tolerant and accepting of a plurality of cultures and communities. It will not hold activities on religious days; it will not discriminate against those from one community or the other. And going by this definition, our national schools are definitely not national at all.

A few people go further and believe that to be Malaysian, one must be Malay and assimilate into the Malay culture, but this sort of thinking, despite its intellectual bankruptcy, is at least internally consistent. The same cannot be said for those who advocate ending government support for Chinese schools without turning their eye to reform of national schools. Making Chinese into Malays will not make anyone into a Malaysian.

On the other side of the aisle, though, the Chinese educationist point of view suffers from starkly obvious intellectual defects. Their defence of Chinese schools as the last bulwark of competency and discipline in a bankrupt education system has its merits, naturally.

The problem is, when one wonders why can't the government work to bring up national schools to the same level, or when one proposes integrating the different school systems, the immediate response is usually along the lines of "But the government is hopeless; the government can't be trusted; the government will screw things up", etc.

The irony is, when these same people talk about Malay supremacy, they are eager to call for government action against it — as if that would be so simple. They easily forget that the government is hopeless, that it can't be trusted, and that it will screw things up.

Chinese education supporters can point to a billion examples of how the government has mistreated and abused the Chinese school system through hapless reform attepts. But they conveniently ignore that the government does exactly the same thing when it comes to the topic of Malay supremacy and its associated "rights" or privileges for the Malays.

What happened after the government promised "open tenders"? Absolutely nothing. When the government promised meritocracy, what did we get? Two parallel streams of education which almost totally segregate students according to race, giving Bumiputras priority over non-Bumiputras.

When we try to assert our rights as Malaysians, what is the government's response? To label us "pendatang asing" and to tell us "you tak suka, you keluar dari Malaysia!" The government has been just as hopeless when it comes to the issue of Malay supremacy as it has been when it comes to the issue of Chinese education.

That is why it is important to take the present government out of consideration when you are considering policy changes. If your cynical response to every proposal for change is "The government can't be counted on to implement this properly", then of course we will never accomplish anything.

There is hypocrisy from both sides of the issues. Those against Chinese schools and for Malay supremacy assume that the government can do no wrong when it comes to education, while those for Chinese schools and against Malay supremacy assume that the government can do no right where education is involved.

These myopic stances ignore the reality of things; the government can do no right in many areas. That is why it is so important that in this Malaysian democracy (we are a democracy, right?) we exercise our rights as voters and elect a government that is capable of implementing the reforms we desire. It is wrong to simply oppose a proposal because the current government can't handle it properly, and it is wrong to simply support a proposal because you assume (when there is evidence to the contrary) that the government has everything covered.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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