Part 1: Malaysia: People, Culture, Colonisers and Languages
Education has been an imperative tool in nation building (Rashid et al., 2017). Often it is used as a tool to achieve the vision of a nation, and sometimes it is very specific. Nation building in terms of creating identities as a citizen of a nation is often taken by countries that are very young in its conception, such as Nepal, whose education system had experienced changes in policy in the aims of creating a unifying national identity (Pherali & Garratt, 2014). The argument of creating identity through education also rings true for the preservation of culture of a minority community within a larger heterogeneous culture. For Example, the scattered and dwindling Native Americans in the United States are fighting for Native Knowledges and Understanding to be incorporated into the national curriculum in order for the culture to survive, while at the same time, they have set up small academic communities in the aim to ensure the survival of the Native American Cultures (Champagne, 2003). This shows that education is imperative in creating and realising a nation’s vision, and also shows that policy changes in education are often influenced by political motives.
Malaysia as a young nation used education as a tool for nation building. However, the vision of nation building gradually changed over time. As a young nation, newly gaining independence from more than a hundred years of being colonised by the British, Malaysia faced an ethnolinguistic challenge where the communities in the lands which is now called Malaysia are ethnically diverse (Albury & Khin, 2016). During the colonisation, the British had brought in labourers from China and India to work in the tin mines and the rubber estates, these labourers and their families, some reached an extension of a second generation, were given the option to be expatriated back to their home countries, while some did go back to India and China, a large numbers decided to stay on in what was then called Malaya (Cheong et al., 2016).
The group of labourers which stayed on now made up 31.9% from the total population in Malaysia (Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2015). With the convergence of Sabah and Sarawak in the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, the social and ethnic structure within the country can only be described with a term coined by (Blommaert & Rampton, 2012) as superdiverse. There are currently 134 living languages in Malaysia, the communities that identified as Malays under constitutional definitions has more than one mother tongues, there are those who comes from Bugis, Minang or Javanese origins are still maintaining their languages though most have assimilated towards the National Language. The second largest ethnic group, the Chinese has many Chinese dialects within their community and each has vigorous community centers that work for the language and cultural maintenance. Currently, there are many non-governmental organisations that seek to either revitalize or maintain the dying languages in Malaysia, mostly the Aslian languages. Which means that even more than half of the languages in Malaysia is considered ‘endangered’ or ‘moribund’, but magnificent effort has been put, both by the government and the communities to make sure language extinction will not occur, not for any reasons. Albury (2016) posit that Malaysia is ethnolinguistically dynamic; whereby each community strives in maintaining their culture and also their language. This has resulted in several occurrences in the history of changing policies that have in more ways than one been treated as threats to the survival of each culture and language. This will eventually become a huge stumbling block in all policy makings up until the present day.
How does Malaysia manage? In the next part of this article, Part 2: Superdiversity and Bangsa Malaysia, I will review the policies created to aid the multicultural societies in Malaysia and its stumbling blocks.
Albury, N. J., & Khin, K. A. (2016). Malaysia’s National Language Policy in International Theoretical Context. Journal of Nusantara Studies, 1(1), 71–84. https://doi.org/10.24200/jonus.vol1iss1pp71-84
Blommaert, J., & Rampton, B. (2012). Language and Superdiversity. http://www.mmg.mpg.de/workingpapersMPI
Champagne, D. (2003). Education for Nation Building. Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine. https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/education-nation-building
Cheong, K.-C., Hill, C., & Leong , Y.-C. (2016). Malaysia’s Education Policies and the Law of Unintended Consequences . Journal of International and Comparative Education, 5(2), 73–86. https://doi.org/10.14425/jice.2016.5.2.73
Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2015). Population Distribution and Basic Demographic Characteristic Report 2015. http://www.statistics.gov.my/portal/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1215%3Apopulation-distribution-and-basic-demographic-characteristic-report-population-and-housing-census-malaysia-2010-updated-2972011&catid=130%3Apopulation-distribution-and
Pherali, T., & Garratt, D. (2014). Post-Conflict Identity Crisis in Nepal: Implications for Educational Reforms. International Journal of Educational Development, 34(1), 42–50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedudev.2012.12.004
Rashid, R. A. B., Rahman, S. B. A., & Yunus, K. (2017). Reforms in the policy of English language teaching in Malaysia. Policy Futures in Education, 15(1), 100–112. https://doi.org/10.1177/1478210316679069