Beyond the ‘Dong Zong issue’

by Azly Rahman
Mar 28, 2012

I read with interest about ongoing governmental discrimination against Chinese schools, as highlighted by Dong Zong.

Why are quality teachers and an abundance of resources still channeled only to Malay-dominated schools? Why are children in Chinese schools criminalised by the ‘sanction on teaching staff” which will ultimately deprive students of a good mother-tongue education?

What actually is our illness with regard to denial of the students’ right to their own language? Do policy makers actually understand the relationship between culture, cognition, consciousness and citizenship?

What does nationalism mean these days, and how do we understand it vis-a-viz use of language in schools? Whose brand of nationalism is being made dominant and what should an inclusive one look like?

What is the real issue behind the age-old request for the Chinese schools to have more teachers? How are the children criminalised by all this? Where is the peaceful path to this gentle profession called education?

When I think of education, I think of the children first and foremost. I think of each child as a gift brought into this world in all his/her cultural and cognitive complexities and of the pride of the family raising the child independent of what the ‘state’ wants the child to become.

Schooling is a process of mass babysitting in a capitalist state, such that the child will be provided a place for eight hours a days, seven days a week, to be taken care of, like in a kibbutz, while the parents go to work, selling their labour to the state.

The child is supposed to behave and learn new things while the parents are supposed to be obedient and, as good workers, bring profit to the state. The state, through its apparatuses, uses the profits and products of ‘alienated labour’ of parents/workers and ‘develops’ the country according to what the political and economic elite imagines what ‘development’ means.

The child gets to be socialised to become citizens of the state. The mass baby-sitting agencies called public, private or parochial schools, tended by ‘managers of virtue’ called teachers – and wardens’ in boarding schools.

Their role is to ensure that the child learns to become nationalistic or even ‘patriotic’ in accordance to what this means vis-a-viz state ideology. In Malaysia, the current ideology is perhaps called ‘1Malaysia’.

Polarised education system

Are schools a happy place for the child? How shall the child be moulded? What language will he/she be proficient in? Whose culture will he/she inherit? In Malaysia, will it be the culture of the Malays? Or a hybrid of the Malay-Muslim culture? Who defines what will be it in the best interests of the child?

What actually is Malaysia’s philosophy of education in this age and time of growing restlessness demanding for radical change, inclusiveness, linguistic diversity and competency, and the demands of a globalised world?

Why not let the child be schooled well first in his/her mother-tongue to develop cultural pride, and next let the medium of instruction at the secondary level be in English primarily?

Why not teach even the subject of Islamic Studies and Moral Education in English, and next prepare the child well for tertiary education that is predominantly English-speaking, with courses such as Philosophy, Ethics, and Cultural Studies as compulsory first-year subjects?

Malaysians: Let us not be dishonest, ignorant or hypocritical in the way we design the best cultural and cognitive environment for the child to grow up to become world-wise and productive citizens. As it is now, Malaysia’s education system is polarising and inspired by the apartheid system.

The products of the Malaysian educational system have for several batches passed through the conveyor belt. The issue of race relations has become more and more exacerbated, partly as a consequence of the inability of the education policy makers to design peaceful educational settings and peaceable learning environments to allow respect and appreciation for each other’s culture to flourish.

Public discourse is becoming more plagued with calls by this or that racist-fascist groups in defence of the bankrupt and morally and nationally bankrupting ideology of Ketuanan Melayu or ‘pseudo-Malay idiotic pride’ as I would translate it.

Has there been any effort by the Education Ministry to design and implement a curriculum on multicultural education? Has there been an interest in it at all, given the nature of Malaysia’s communal politics that has evolved into the state of ethno-psychopathology bordering on irrationality, greed and massive corruption?

As an educator involved in the teaching of cultural perspectives, philosophy, and education, I’d like to see children in Malaysian schools bring their culture with pride into the classroom, to be shared with others in a deeply engaging creative learning context.

This is so that we bring in what the philosopher Charles Taylor would call the “ethics of authenticity” – of the ethical traditions of culture – into the learning process and not have these young curious cultural minds evolve into become ‘knockers or boosters’ of this or that brand of ultra-ethnocentrism.

Let us see how the Education Ministry will resolve this Dong Zong issue once and for all, before another regime takes this important task more seriously.

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.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 8:37 am

    It is because of the outcome of discrimination against the Chinese vernacular, the Christians are up in arms over the anti-Christianisation seminar in Johor.

    Both knows the issues are made-up and they are punished for made up problems – the main reason is they are political fuel for the feudal-power-hungry politicians. It allows the mediocre politicians to avoid doing jobs and responsibilities by distracting their constituents.

  2. #2 by drngsc on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 8:59 am

    It is institutionalised racism, as shown in the Dong Zong issue, and institutionalised religious fanacticism as shown in the Johore state Christian threat issue. Together with institutionalised corruption, this country is doomed.
    The only solution is ABU. we need to kick these buggers out. Enough is enough. 55 years is enough.

    We need to change the tenant at Putrajaya. GE 13 is our best chance. Everyone to work very very hard. Contribute money if you can. Contribute time and effort if you can. Contribute both, if you can.

    Change we must. Change we can.

  3. #3 by k1980 on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 9:30 am

    Fat Boy Wee says he must first get to the root of the problem of the lack of teachers in srjk(c) schools. He says so because the root of that problem is the MCA.

  4. #4 by k1980 on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 9:32 am

    //Why not teach even the subject of Islamic Studies and Moral Education in English//

    Come on lah, 95% of the rural school students do not comprehend Science and Mathematics when taught in English. How to expect them to understand Islamic Studies when it is taught in English?

  5. #5 by bamboo on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 10:31 am

    Education was politicised by Umno. Just like PPSMI, when elections are near, the current education minister reversed it from teaching in English to BM, just to gain a few extra votes from the rural Malays. At the expense of school children.
    Dr Azly, I agree with you, teach Science and Maths in mother tongue during primary school.Then teach in English for all students in secondary school. Alas, Umno just wants to keep rural Malays less enlightened so they can lord over them perpetually ie getting their votes by ‘fithgting for Malay rights’.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 10:39 am

    Writer Azly asks, “what does nationalism mean vis a-vis use of language in schools…whose brand of nationalism is being made dominant and what should an inclusive one look like”. I thought the answer is pretty obvious. All along its UMNO’s platform to double speak and give lip service to pluralism /multiracialism but formulate and enforce trenchantly on the other hand ethnocentric policies, one of the principal of which is our nationalism must reflect Malay Muslim dominance. This is only expected per the nature of communal politics ad the fact tat UMNO was founded on principles of protecting/protecting Malay rights. After decades of this push no one should be surprised that civil servants and bureaucrats in Ministry of Education will have internalized Biro Tata’s values and even without specific directive from their political bosses, do their part for the Ketuanan’s cause relating to whether the shifting of non-Chinese educated teachers to Chinese schools or to organize seminar to warn against “Christiaisation”.

  7. #7 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 10:56 am

    This means matters have reached a stage that throughout civil service/bureaucracy dominated 90% of majority community the push for Malay agenda will continue on tacit understanding/assumption that their political bosses will approve, or at least will not challenge, whatever they may outwardly say publicly to the contrary to retain Non malay votes – eg . in spite of declaration of ‘1 Malaysia’ by No. 1 there’s always another to contradictorily say is Ok to be “1 Malay” too. Even if for any reason by a wave of a magic wand UMNO were to change overnight to sincerely enforce pluralism ala 1 Malaysia, the civil servants/bureaucrats already internalized Biro Tata’s Ketuanan norms will resist. It will be recalled that according to the Cabinet’s interfaith panel head the controversial seminar in Johore was initiated notwithstanding that it “flies in the face of the government’s school-level interfaith harmony week launched last month by DPM/Education Minister Muhyiddin! If Education Minister himself has problem controlling overzealousness of its govt servants what could MCA Wee Ka Siong do except to be cased out by Dong Song’s supporters?

  8. #8 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 11:11 am

    To MCA Chinese educationist groups like Dong Zong are pivotal as traditional support. Recent events of MCA Wee Ka Siong being jeered and chased out in Dong Zong Rally forebodes ill of MCA’s electoral fortunes in coming GE. Whether this will contribute to BN’s loss of PutraJaya is uncertain but even if it does, it is likely that Pakatan Rakyat forming the Federal Govt will not signify change of mindset of these civil servants and bureaucrats, many of whom will start to undermine the PR govt to ensure that it is frustrated in its inclusive policies and will lose in the polls next following due to non delivery. Top echelons of UMNo or even PM are not in total control and commanding absolute obedience of racial/religious zealots spawned by 2 decades of Mahathirism. They will obey only if directives from the top are consistent with the Ketuanan agenda that they believe in and fight for. That is why the prospect of inclusive politics is (realistically) all the way uphill, regime change or no regime change!

  9. #9 by yhsiew on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 12:11 pm

    ///I read with interest about ongoing governmental discrimination against Chinese schools, as highlighted by Dong Zong.///

    Institutionalized racism is nothing new in Bolehland due to government’s aggressive pursuit of “Ketuanan Melayu” or Malay Supremacy.

  10. #10 by cseng on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 2:45 pm

    I like to read Azly, he has points, always.

    I remember he used a term, something like “educational prostitutionalization” during the Hulu Selangor by election, when Najib offered this to the school “If we win this by-election, you can come to Kuala Lumpur the next day to look for me. I will write a personal letter to approve the money and it will be transferred to the school board’s account. If we lose, don’t have to come.”

    One has to look beyond education when it comes to Chinese education to the Chinese community. The 5000yrs of civilization can be the pride or burden of Chinese community, depending who you are. I think this Chinese idiom, sum it up, sound something like this in English “The chinese ethnicity is about its culture, the culture survives through its education, the education depend on the resources to hold on it, whether or not these resources continue it depend on ‘Tien Di Liang Xin’ conscience”. Good or bad, most Chinese hold their culture heavier than their nationality, the concept of nationality is relatively blur compare to their culture. This could be a reason migrating is not a big deal and many country has china-town.

    In M’sia, BN fails to understand this reality, the pride burden of 5000yrs of civilization plays into the picture. It is only 6 yrs of mother tounge primary school, why make it so difficult for everyone? Has it really so bad for national integration? UMNO has Ketuanan to hold the minds of malay, MCA use chinese education to hold on chinese votes. This is where educational prostitutionised comes into picture. Chinese educationists would ask for funds, reforms, according to general election cycle, the chinese politician will busy for ground breaking. Why made it a 5yrs event?, why make it a political tool?

    Stop this, vote 2 parties system!

  11. #11 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 3:54 pm

    When countering whether UMNO bigwigs or petty “Ketuanan” officials/bureaucrats in Education Ministry who allegedly marginalise Chinese education under pretext of “national integration”, it is best to keep the argument simple – that vernacular education is a constitutional right agreed to by all community leaders at the birth of this nation. The other practical reason is that with China rising as a world political/economic power –with trhe latest Economist projection suggesting China will economically overtake America in 2018 (even before our Vision 2020)- it makes sense that Malaysians (not limiting to Chinese Malaysians) learn an additional global language like Mandarin so that we can trade with and invest in China and become prosperous as a nation. In this sense I agree with commenter cvseng that “It is only 6 yrs of mother tounge primary school, why make it so difficult for everyone?”

  12. #12 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 4:14 pm

    I will however stay far far away from the other interesting issue raised by him on the workings of the Chinese Mind in relation to “pride & burden of 5000yrs of civilization” transmitted through Chinese language/culture. The reasons are: Of late esp the likes of people like economist Martin Jacques /author of “When China Rules the World,” enamoured with and trying to make sense of China’s phenomenal rise relative to the West’s decline/woes in financial system, they have conveniently come out with the idea of Chinese in China & Diaspora thinking in 5000 yrs ‘civilisational’ (as distinct from national) terms (facilitated by language/culture); that China could absorb plurality, Deng Xiaoping could creatively think of one country two systems to absorb Hong Kong, and in time Taiwan as well. This kind of thinking poses 2 problems: Firstly, at least within Malaysia, it gives added ammunition to those bent on marginalising Chinese education the excuse to say its against national integration or an effrontery to UMNO’s Ketuanan!

  13. #13 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 4:34 pm

    There is however another reason – personally I have my doubts of this hype about Chinese thinking uniquely in 5000 yrs civilisational terms via potency/universality of Chinese language in explanation of China’s phenomenal rise relative to the West! First of all I doubt the inevitability of China overtaking the US in 20 years or less. I wonder how Chinese language could unite “civilisationally” when within China herself we have more than 150 million Chinese Muslims and we have also Tibetean self immolation protests and Dalai Lama in exile, and Taiwan no near to re-unification??? This month Justice Ministry alienated Chinese lawyers by requiring them to swear loyalty to Communist Party that compromises their defence of Chinese dissidents. China has sheer 1.3 billion human resource/market, intelligence and work ethos but work ethics ?? They are world’s greatest producer of fake goods with no respect for intellectual property rights. And even as we talk of overtaking US economically soon, China’s dolls are exported in droves. Please explain why. It is not easy to overtake US military edge: Chinese have problem coming out with hull of their aircraft carrier. Who controls Digital realm, soft power (Hollywood music etc), education in terms of attracting the best human capital from world over?

  14. #14 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 29 March 2012 - 4:53 pm

    Uniting (in civilisational/cultural terms) whether through common language – or for that matter religion in order to become great – is a very novel but unproven idea. There are equally 1.2 billion or more Muslims in the world united not through language but religion and a common Islamic civlisation pioneering Science & Technology . Does this however in anyway mitigate the internecine conflicts between different Muslim groups in large swathes of turbulent areas in Middle East and Africa or help to alleviate their economic retardation? When Samuel P. Huntington’s came out with his controversial theory of a Clash of Civilizations (between the Western & Muslim Civilisations) did he make the fundamental error of omitting to include within this “clash” the 5000 yr Han/Chinese civilisation comprising 1.3+ billion Chinese within China and 50 million outside in the Diaspora thinking in civilisational terms through common language?

  15. #15 by boh-liao on Friday, 30 March 2012 - 2:36 am

    Man injured as toilet bowl explodes at M’sian LRT station” – lots of rakyat tot dat d man was d thick-skinned fat boy far ting out his hot air, explosif stuff man!

  16. #16 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Friday, 30 March 2012 - 9:09 am

    Hybrid culture? Interesting. I can see lots of indian influence in the malay culture. Does that fact qualify the malay culture as a hybrid of two cultures?

    What about malay influence in chinese culture? Not a lot really. Perhaps, just nasi lemak and curry (which arguably is indian in origin). Chinese in the past when speaking in their respective dialects, habitually used a number of malay words, like “tapi”, “mati”, “pusing balik”, “terbalik” and quite a few more. But these people are predominantly the english educated chinese folks. The young chinese today, being more likely than not to be chinese educated, use noticeably less malay words in their conversation.

    And what about chinese influence in malay culture? The “wok” and “yellow noodle” – basically food, I guess. What about that “green money packet” given out during raya? Does that count as chinese influence? Again, I dont see a great deal of cross-over here.

    We are still quite distinct, i.e. one race from another. And we are able to co-exist without much problem or difficulties so far in spite of the occassional pigheads thrown into mosques by umno ppl and cowhead stomping again by umno ppl and church raids, yes yes, again by umno ppl.

    This co-existence gives out a certain feel and it has a visual impact on tourists and outsiders. That can be something special. Something unique. That is good. Aint it?

    So I say “ABU” for all its malicious and evil attempts to destroy something which is good.

  17. #17 by sotong on Friday, 30 March 2012 - 12:49 pm

    The national schools before the 80’s was excellent place for unity and nation building……now our education system is screwed!

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