Given the recent developments with the Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC), menara.my made an effort to contact PAGE’s chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim. However we were not allowed access. Nevertheless, the Honorary Secretary Tunku Munawirah Putra was assigned as a representative to answer our questions.
Concerned about the probable polarisation resulting from the recognition of UEC, we decided to enquire further on the issue. The honorary secretary answered, UEC is a way to recognise the existing diversity.
As a result of the response from PAGE, we shall revisit an earlier statement from PAGE on the issue, that was responded to by a practising lawyer and activist of Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ), Aidil Khalid, that was published by the now defunct portal, The Malaysian Insider in full:-
Some time ago, chairperson of PAGE made allegations in public forum that the national schools are the breeding ground for racial polarization, alluding therefore that it is the fault of the national language – Bahasa Melayu as enshrined in the Federal Constitution – for all this messy divisions prevalent within our multiracial society today.
“The only solution,” so she said, “is for the glory of national schools to be returned, which means we need more subjects in English in national schools, because right now, national schools are Malay schools and nothing more.”
But what kind of a national school, if one may ask, and we would like to stress on the word ‘national’ here, uses a language other than the nation’s own national language? We find it odd that such a suggestion would even be considered, let alone expounded ever so loudly in a forum with a theme of no less than national unity and harmony.
Language as a medium of instruction in schools is not something that can be discussed or argued away without basing it to the constitutional framework of the country. Although discussions and debates as well as dialogues should be encouraged in our diverse society in line with the democratic spirits that somehow seems to be overtly emphasized lately, but doing so while disregarding the very fundamental and basic structure of the federation is definitely not a healthy practice.
When speaking of language and education as well as of national unity, one must always be mindful of the various constitutional provisions being the grundnorm dictating as to how the nation should work. Article 152 of the Federal Constitution, for instance, read together with the National Language Act 1967, provides that the national language shall be used for all “official purposes”. The landmark decision of the Federal Court in the case of Merdeka University vs. The Government of Malaysia interpreted that the process of teaching and learning in public schools are considered “official purposes”, and as such the use of the national language as the medium of instruction would be mandatory.
Needless to say, therefore, constitutionally speaking there is simply no place for subjects to be taught in English in public schools save for the English subject itself.
The court even went on to elaborate the historical background as to how Article 152 was inserted into the Federal Constitution, and thereafter lectured on the importance of the use of the national language as the means of unity and national development, and as to why we must abide by it.
“We think it reasonable to suppose,” so held the court, “just as before independence the English language could unify the small but highly influential group of leaders, so after independence, the use of bahasa could and should be used as an instrument for unifying the whole nation.”
It astonishes us how Azimah pointed the finger to national schools for using the national language as the alleged cause of disunity, as if there is anything wrong with the policy to use a nation’s language as the medium of instruction, but mentions nothing of the Chinese and Indian national-type-schools.
At this juncture perhaps it is timely to point out that the national-type-schools do not even have any constitutional basis for their existence and operation whatsoever. Instead, the legality and constitutionality of using Chinese and Tamil as medium of instructions in such schools are very much questionable.
In the landmark case of PP v Mark Koding, for instance, the High Court held that while the proviso in Article 152 of the Federal Constitution allows the teaching of languages other than the national language, its application however is limited only to the language as a subject and not as the medium of instruction in schools.
“In my view,” held His Lordship in the grounds of judgment, “under proviso (a), although the National Language shall be the Malay language, the usage of any other language other than for official purposes, is guaranteed; so is the teaching or learning of any other language in schools, be it Chinese, Tamil, Arabic or English. But there is nothing in proviso (a) to justify the extension of the protection to the operation of schools where the medium of instruction is Chinese, Tamil, Arabic or English.”
Based from all the above, and based from the rulings of the court, the rulings of which had never been reversed as of to date, the allegation made by Azimah could be summarized as to be flawed for the following three main reasons:-
- First, it fails to appreciate the fact that the use of Bahasa Melayu in national schools does not make the national schools “Malay schools and nothing more,” because the Malay language is the national language of all citizens of the nation, regardless of whether he is a Malay, a Chinese, an Indian, a Kadazan, and so on and so forth.
- Second, it fails to appreciate that if at all language is the cause of disunity, wouldn’t it then be more prudent for the nation to return to the basic principles of the Federal Constitution – being the social contract negotiated and agreed upon between various sections of the society in the formative process of the nation – wherein the national language should and must be used as the unifying language as opposed to any other foreign languages.
- Third, it fails to appreciate that the actual root-cause of our disunity is rather the odious refusal of certain sections within the community to abide by the constitutional framework of the federation, and perhaps PAGE is an excellent example for stubbornly insisting on having English to be used despite the clear fact and evidence that it is unconstitutional.
Azimah’s supposed solution, therefore, is nothing more than a wrong prescription for the wrong malady.
*Aidil Khalid is a menara.my reader and the Campaign-Coordinator of Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ)