Tuesday, April 19, 2011

YB Khairy what "Virtual Constitutional Guarantee" are you talking about?

Dear YB Khairy.

I was recently notified of your recent column published in the Edge, thank you for having the guts to venture into the subject matter. 

Allow me to reproduce your full piece for my readers.

Engage multiculturalism early on
I think the biggest elephant in the 1Malaysia room is the societal behaviour of Malaysians themselves. I do not deny that national unity suffers from politics, political parties and politicians.
People in my profession - from all parties (even those that claim to be multiracial) - are routinely guilty of ethnocentric politics, reaching out to different communities at the expense of others. Politics is also a reflection of the society that we live in. And the fact of the matter is many Malaysians still live in silos with a heightened sense of suspicion towards other ethnic communities.
But rather than philosophising about this fundamental question in generalities, I attempted to address the policy-making behind the often ephemeral question of national unity during the debate on the Agong's Royal Address in Parliament recently.
It is often said that the reason why racial polarisation is worse today than a few generations back is simply because there is less contact and interaction now. Those who attended local universities in the 1960s and 70s will regale you with stories of how students of different ethnicity hung out together, in marked contrast to the scenes at our varsities today where posses of friends are usually mono-ethnic.
Some have pointed out that the problem starts much earlier, during the formative years of young Malaysians. The fact that today more Malaysian kids of Chinese ethnicity attend vernacular schools rather than national schools contributes to the drastic reduction in contact hours between our children.

Although many of these students end up in national secondary schools, there is already a psychological perspective that has been formed during the earlier (and arguably most impressionable) years of their education in which they grew up in largely mono-ethnic environments. Of course, there are non-Chinese students who attend Chinese vernacular schools but for the most part, the overwhelming majority of children there are from one ethnic group.
One solution to address this polarity that has been brought about by the existence of different types of schools in Malaysia has been to just have one school - the national school. Advocates for this argument say that for as long as vernacular schools exist, our kids will be separated during their formative years and will carry with them a ‘silo-ed’ worldview into their teenage years and beyond.

While there are great merits to this argument, principally the notion that all Malaysian children will be educated under one roof and all the wonderful consequences that this might have on national unity, I doubt there would be any government that would commit themselves to this. Vernacular schools are a virtually sacrosanct institution for many members of the Chinese and Indian communities for which they have a virtual constitutional guarantee for it's continued existence.

So, rather than pursuing something well near impossible, we are left with trying to find ways towards greater unity while acknowledging the continued existence of different systems in our education system. For a few years, the government's flagship program to break down the walls that separate our kids has been the national service stint in which SPM leaders are selected at random to spend three months in a quasi-bootcamp where they are taught leadership, teamwork, civic virtue, nation-building in a contained environment.

The architects of the program believed that this could be the magic panacea to cure racial polarisation, social ills and instill a much needed “Malaysia Boleh” sense of pride and patriotism which is apparently not pronounced enough among our youth.
As someone who served on the first national service training council (the body tasked with overseeing the implementation of the programme), I was able to visit some of the camps during the training period. It goes without saying that most participants have fun during their stint. For most young people, the opportunity for adventure and to bond with others of the same age is something that they would naturally be attracted to.

Hence, when the government releases surveys done on national service participants, it is no big surprise that most of them enjoyed their three months. But beyond a superficial analysis of feedback from national service participants, we need to ask whether or not the program has succeeded in making young Malaysians mix around better with one another and, more importantly, believe that the national interest always trumps sectarian or communal considerations.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the situation is less encouraging than one might hope, for the simple reason that many participants enter the program having grown up in relative ethnic isolation. Formative years do not begin at age 17 or 18, when perspectives - including those regarding communal identities - have most likely hardened. I dare say it has never been clear how three months after SPM can possibly overcome years of polarisation. There is of course nothing inherently wrong with the national service programme; but we need to take a step back and face the very real probability that we asking far too much of it - it is not the magic panacea.

Now, if our goal is inculcating a sense of national identity over and above communal persuasions, why not begin at precisely those formative years of a child’s life? During my speech, I touched on the Student Integration Plan for Unity (RIMUP).
Initially introduced in 1986 but never gained a foothold until its revival as a key initiative under the National Education Blueprint 2006-2010. It has since withered away once again. Involving primary school students of different races from national and national-type, vernacular schools to regularly engage in a range of usually co-curricular activities, we have in RIMUP a practical and actionable initiative to encourage early inter-ethnic interaction.

It is actionable in as much as it does not require us venturing into the constitutional and political labyrinth of arguing for a single school system or sidestepping political landmines associated with the Vision School proposal (putting one national school, one Chinese school and one Tamil school in the same compound). It is practical because its nature as an activity-based program on school grounds means RIMUP does not involve extensive infrastructural commitments.
The potential and relative ease of implementation thus makes it rather curious that, across the levels of policymaking and discourse, RIMUP is not given anywhere near the attention it deserves. A study conducted by school inspectors in 2007 revealed that only 27% of schools were extensively and regularly involved in RIMUP activities. Further, only 12% of them conducted post mortems or discussions on how to improve activities organized under RIMUP.
The figures on fiscal expenditure are not much more flattering. RIMUP was allocated only RM25.8 million in 2007. Compare this to the public spending on the national service programme, which stands at an average of RM595.7 million per year from 2009 to 2011 - twenty times more than RIMUP. The glaring asymmetry is further illustrated by the fact that no details on RIMUP were provided in the Federal Government Spending Estimates for 2011.
When I finally received an answer from the Deputy Minister of Education on how much the Government has allocated for RIMUP in 2011, I almost couldn’t believe my ears when he said RM2.4 million. National service will receive RM564 million this year. You do the maths.

I urge the Government to immediately remedy the situation by revitalising RIMUP as a central initiative of promoting national unity organically, as it were. The national service has its many advantages but why pin the entire unity project on it when it can be supplemented by a rather understated program that is so readily incorporated into a child’s everyday life at school?
At stake is no less than the viability of this nation’s multicultural and multiracial character. For too long we have taken a disengaged stance about multiculturalism, self-enchanted by the rhetorical allure of ‘unity in diversity’ without necessarily promoting cross-cultural and cross-communal engagement.
This approach, I believe, is mistaken. A multiculturalism that is satisfied with leaving each other to live in parallel lives is inherently self-destructive; it engenders precisely the prejudices and paranoia that ‘unity in diversity’ is meant to displace. 
 1Malaysia implores us to move beyond tolerance for good reason - tolerance of the alien is never enough. Rather, a Malaysian identity requires, first, an empathic recognition of each other’s cultural particularities, and then an embrace of the ways in which cross-cultural contact may enrich our own lives. Postponing this project to age 17 or 18 will not do. Source here
As a strong advocate of the Single School, allow me present to you our side of the story more clearly so that going forward you may have a better bearing in navigating the "constitutional and political labyrinth" with regards to this issue.

First of all there is No such thing as a Virtual Constitutional Guarantee with regards to the Continued existence of Vernacular School.

In fact it is actually against the Constitution of Malaysia and the National Language Act. Allow me to refer to two court judgements where the issue of medium of instruction in a Foreign Language have been put to test.

Case 1 Mark Koding
The question therefore arises as to the true interpretation of proviso (a) to Article 152(1). Having regard to the words used in the proviso, viz. “teaching or learning any other language” as opposed to “teaching or learning in any other language”, I tend to agree with the restricted meaning enunciated by Abdoolcader J when dealing with schools or other educational institutions. In my view, 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. This strict interpretation is consistent with proviso (b) which guarantees the right of the Federal Government or any State Government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation. Thus, the preservation and sustenance of usage of language of any other community is guaranteed. So is the preservation and sustenance of study of any other community’s language, but again there is no justification in extending the guarantee to the preservation and sustenance of study in the language of any other community in the absence of specific words to that effect. Any other interpretation of proviso (a) would result in abusing the words used in the proviso. It is absurd for instance to think that the proviso gives constitutional protection to teaching or learning in school where the medium of instruction is Russian or Japanese. To my mind, the protection only extends to language but not to medium of instruction in schools. In other words, no person shall be prohibited or prevented from teaching or learning Chinese or Tamil or, for that matter, any language which is not the national language in any school as a language subject, but such protection does not extend to the teaching or learning in a school where the teaching or learning is in any other language. As correctly stated by Abdoolcader J the omission of the preposition “in” after the words “teaching or learning” in proviso (a) makes the distinction necessary

Case 2 Merdeka University

Reading Article 152 together with the National Language Act, in our judgment, the law may be stated as follows:
  • Bahasa is the national language;
  • Bahasa is the official language;
A person is prohibited from using any other language for official purposes — subject to exceptions as regards the continued use of the English language allowed by s 4 and of other languages by other provisions of the National Language Act;
  • No person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (to be specific) Chinese for unofficial purposes;
  • No person shall be prohibited or prevented from teaching Chinese;
  • No person shall be prohibited or prevented from learning Chinese;
The Federal or a State Government has the right to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any non-Malay community — as indeed the Federal Government is doing in school and at the Institute of Technology, Mara, and in the Departments of Chinese and Indian Studies and in some other departments at the University of Malaya where even Arabic, Japanese, Thai and other languages are taught. (This right belongs to Government).
Government cannot legally prohibit or prevent MU from teaching and offering courses to enable students to learn Chinese.
But the crucial question is: would MU be prohibited from teaching in Chinese as the sole or major medium of instruction? It certainly would if it is a public authority, for then the use of Chinese there would be use for an official purpose which the Constitution read together with the National Language Act says is prohibited.

And this is their decision

In any event, bearing in mind the history of education in this country and the divisive results of allowing separate language schools and the lesson learned from the experience of our neighbour with a private university and the determination of Parliament to so regulate schools and universities and education generally as an instrument for bringing about one nation out of the disparate ethnic elements in our population, we have no choice but to hold, as we have already held, that MU if established would be a public authority within Article 160(2) of the Constitution and that accordingly teaching in Chinese there would be use of that language for an official purpose, which use may be prohibited under Article 152.
As there is no right to use the Chinese language for an official purpose, accordingly in our judgment it was not unconstitutional and unlawful of Government to reject the plaintiff’s petition to establish MU.
We would therefore dismiss this appeal with costs.
For more details on the Legal Basis go here

To be completely honest with you YB Khairy, I'm bored of writing about this subject, especially to address the misconception with regards to the "Constitutional Guarantee", too many people are walking around like zombies believing in this "Virtual" non existence guarantees.

If you don't mind me asking, which part of the Constitution says that there is a "Virtual Guarantee"? As an MP you of all people should have studied the document better and to actually look at Article 152 and our National Language Act and perhaps inquire further how they have been interpreted in the court of law.

How did you come up with such strong conclusions that it is impossible and you actually use the words " I doubt that any Government would commit themselves to this...." YB Khairy, is it not the objective of the Government and the Members of the Parliament to ensure that all the provisions of our Constitution and the National Language Act is adhered to?

Moving on to the issue on the lack of Positive Inter-Group Contact among the various races in Malaysia, in your piece you stated that it is indeed a problem due to isolation in the formative years and this situation must be addressed urgently by the policy makers instead of experimenting for 3 months with a small sample size by way of the National Service programme.

You brought up an "actionable" option of utilising RIMUP as an initial step, RIMUP by design is also side-stepping the core issue of considerable isolation where the process of "socialisation" of our young Malaysians is still a significant contributing factor to the overall polarisation of our society. How can Co-Curricular activities which probably form a small part of their weekly life cultivate the much needed positive inter-group contact? Have you ever been to a sports match between SRJK and SRK? The situation is too artificial to achieve the dream of national unity.

I have written about the issue on positive Inter-group contact sometime ago, allow me to reproduce some extract of the post
To be maximally effective, contact and acquaintance programs should lead to a sense of equality in social status, should occur in ordinary purposeful pursuits, avoid artificiality, and if possible enjoy the sanction of the community in which they occur.The deeper and more genuine the association, the greater its effect. While it may help somewhat to place members of different ethnic groups side by side on a job, the gain is greater if these members regard themselves as part of a team. (Allport, 1958,p. 454, original italics)

Lett (1945) observed, in a paper presented at a conference jointly sponsored by the University of Chicago and the American Council on Race Relations, ‘To achieve any kind of mutual understanding and regard, people must share experiences which permit the interplay of character and personality. They must share a common objective’(p. 35). Bramfield (1946), in his work on race relations in public schools concluded that ‘where people of various cultures and races freely and genuinely associate, there tensions and difficulties, prejudices and confusions, dissolve; where they do not associate, where they are isolated from one another, there prejudice and conflict grow like a disease’
In that post I put forward the logic on how the Single School can achieve all the required pre-conditions to successfully cultivate positive inter-group contact refer here for details

Now to the issue most cited by the Non Malays, which is the Islamisation of the National Schools over the last decade, I recently meet with an old buddy who sent his kids to a National School in Nilai, he went for one of the annual school event, to his surprise and other Non Malay Parents, the speech was in Arabic.

I am from the School of thought that National Education should be SECULAR, religious education should be treated separately from the main curriculum and be handled at different hours (you may refer to the case of Johor here, whereby Kids go to an afternoon school after their normal classes for Islamic studies funded by the state).

We must find ways to create the positive pull factor to our national schools, efforts on other languages are already in-force with greater emphasis on the teaching methods and increasing the allocated hours for these subjects.

If the quality of teaching methods and the dedication of the teachers are sub-par in comparison with the Vernacular School then fix it, adopt what is good and increase the overall compensation to teachers. Face the issue instead of side-stepping it.

Remember every single Ringgit Allocated to Vernacular Schools which is clearly against the Constitution and the National Language Act is A Ringgit Less for Our National Schools. 

How can you as a sitting MP watch our Constitution being raped day in day out with regards to this matter?

Think deeper YB Khairy, this illegal institution is where the "Social Capital" of the Non Bumis are being cultivated for their future application in ensuring that the Bumis are at a disadvantaged position in every aspect of our life. Refer here for a full discourse on the issue.

How do you think this issue will be come PRU13?

Is the Prime Minister thinking that this will be his political currency to buy support from the Non Malays?

Look carefully into the details, under this PM the amount of allocation to vernacular schools have gone up significantly compare that to Anwar Ibrahim's tenure as Minister of Education. Why so?

Again thank you for highlighting the issue on a national level, I hope that you would have more courage in tackling this issue armed with the REAL Constitutional Guarantee and not some "Virtual" misconception with regards to the true interpretation of our Article 152 and National Language Act.

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Fear is a major cause of prejudice. In the case of the other, we have "a fear of the unknown, a fear of the unfamiliar. If fear is the father of prejudice, ignorance is its grandfather"
An Integrated Threat Theory of Prejudice." Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination , 2000. Stephan, Walter G. and Cookie White Stephan.

Minds are like parachutes; they work best when open. -Lord Thomas Dewer