by Azly Rahman
12:22PM Jan 4, 2013
If it is indeed true, as recently reported by Malaysiakini that 49,000 ‘stateless children’ are not going to school because they do not have identity cards, then something must be done to immediately address this issue of fundamental human rights. They must be allowed to go to school by any means necessary as the government resolves the issue of their ‘stateless parents’.
This ruling regime will be committing an act of the worst form of mental slavery should these children not be allowed to have the basic education and the right to be intelligent. If, as alleged, this regime can grant identity cards to newly-arrived immigrants in prepration for the coming elections, we must insist it to be able to do this for these children.
You, in the government, will be called a ‘pariah regime’ if this is not done for those children. The implications of not having those children schooled will be devastating; a reaffirmation of the vicious cycle of poverty, alienation, dehumanisation, and the fast-track way to build Malaysia’s prison-industrial complex. These children are already ‘drop-outs’ even before they enter schools!
What is wrong with our education system when we are now seeing a ruder apartheid-isation of schools? We continue to see the growth of a hideous class and caste structure in schools, from smart schools for the children of the rich to ‘pariah schools’ for the children of the abject poor. And now in the case of the ‘children of stateless parents’, we even have no schools for children of the abyss of the underclass, especially Malaysians of Tamil origin.
What a criminal act we have been doing since these years of independence – children of the rich paying tens of thousands of ringgit per semester for the best private schools to get to the best slots in college and best jobs in society through the best connections, yet thousands are not allowed in schools because of some ‘colonial legacy’.
We need to radically restructure the way we look at human beings, design education policies to be just and equitable, and to have a common school system to help children have common dreams… as Malaysians and nothing less.
Amidst the niceties of the rhetoric of educational reform and progress designed merely by a poor understanding of systemic change, we are creating a dystopia – of a future in which the 99 percent of society will one day overthrow the one percent after they learn what hegemony means and know what rights they have to social, educational, and cultural justice.
We have designed a school system based on the ‘lifeboat mentality’ and ‘gunboat diplomacy’ – a philosophy of “to each his own”. Hence, there are schools well-funded and those not funded at all. Ultimately, we will see more of society with both lifeboat and gunboat mentality wrapped in one.
Each child has the rights to get access to good teachers, technology, techniques, and tender-loving care in schools, regardless of race, religion, national origin, or even if they have no identity cards. Until the age of 18, these rights must be honored in order for the very fundamental goals of education for human freedom, development, and gainable and sustainable employment to be achieved. This must begin with the philosophy of education that we base our practice upon.
Race-based politics in Malaysia has been so pervasive that we have forgotten what education should mean, even though the language of humanism and systemic change in our educational blueprints is laced with niceties of the means and ends of education.
Outside of the rhetoric of a ‘world-classism’, if we deconstruct the meaning of education in a hyper-modern county such as Malaysia, we see the nature of humans being viewed as cogs in the wheels of capital or human machinery in a system of corrupt crypto-crony capitalism that preys on cheap professional and manual labor produced through schooling as means of social reproduction.
This is a continuation of what the British imperialists did in the kangani and kanchu system, facilitated by the Malay monarchy. The history of Malaya is a history of the exploitation of human beings written in a vainglorious way to mask the oppression of those enslaved by the feudal and neo-feudal class.
It is hoped that education, in its progressive evolution in our times, be framed in a newer understanding of what it should take to put the child at the center of learning and for the school to be a place to cultivate and to be a ground for democratic participation.
It should be a place for a child to develop his/her fullest potential and be free from being discriminated for any reason. It should help a child’s growth as a cultural and social being who will use scientific thinking to become good citizens imbued with ethics and critical sensibility.
I hope we look at the plight of the 49,000 children of ‘stateless parents’ with a simple logic: that as long as they are on our soil, they have the right to an education, to be treated with all the rights and privileges as a child ready to learn, and will be given education until they turn 18 while this issue of ‘statelessness’ is resolved.
Failure to do this will mean another level of success in creating a truly world-class Malaysian prison-industrial complex, rivaling the United States of America.
I am sure this is not what we want to see – a continuation of the lifeboat mentality aided by race-based gunboat diplomacy!
DR AZLY RAHMAN, who was born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York) doctorate in International Education Development and Master’s degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 300 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience spans Malaysia and the United States, over a wide range of subjects from elementary to graduate education. He currently resides in the United States.