Part 2: The Attempts of Reinventing Education Policies in Aiding Multicultural Community

Part 2: Superdiversity and Bangsa Malaysia

In part 1 of this article; Malaysia: People, Culture, Colonisers and Languages, I have reviewed the cultural and historical background and languages in Malaysia, this time around let’s delve into the prospects taken by the government in aiding this diverse community.  As Malaysia grew to exercise its autonomy after a long time of being colonised by imperial powers, the latest of which was the British, the first formation of the education policy complements the socio-political need which was to unify people under one concept of a nation-state, more popularly known today as Bangsa Malaysia (Saad et al., 2013). A nation state is built upon a homogeneity concept, which more often than note, the homogeneity concept relies on the similarities of culture and languages, such as countries like Japan, China or Italy, which are built upon the concept of homogeneity of culture (Veg, 2017). However, Malaysia took a different concept altogether, since it is already established that Malaysia’s cultural make-up is superdiverse, hence the concept of Bangsa Malaysia aims to unify everyone in the land of Malaysia under the concept of Rukun Negara, which is a unifying national principle and all Malaysians should identify with.

The concept of Rukun Negara is similar to the concept of Indonesia’s Pancasila. Indonesia is also a country with superdiverse community and Indonesia used the concept of Pancasila in creating a nation state, however, Indonesia for a short period of time went as far as using the power of law to prohibit the practise and observations of other cultures that couldn’t be identified as what makes an Indonesian (Hoon, 2006), Malaysia didn’t use the same method. However, this will directly influence the evolution of education policies over the years. At the birth of the country, right after independence, the move to create a unifying Malaysian identity immediately took place, the first change was the pragmatic change of the medium of instruction in school, where English as the medium of instruction is slowly phased out and was replaced by the National Language, which is Bahasa Melayu.

It is important to note that Bahasa Melayu is the language of the Malay Muslim majority and it is set as a national language for all other group of people in the state, the Chinese and the Indians, and also the indigenous minority (Albury & Khin, 2016). The change of the medium of instruction was brought forth by the Razak Report and the Rahman Talib Report very early on, while this move was welcomed by the majority of the population, which was comprised by the Malay Muslim community, it wasn’t accepted well by the Chinese and Indian community who felt as though the establishment of the National Language as the medium of instruction would become a threat to the language of their culture, hence the birth of the vernacular school (Albury & Khin, 2016; Rashid et al., 2017). The education ordinance was written in 1957 as an extension of the 1956 Razak Report, and interestingly the Ultimate Objective that was previously stated in the Razak Report was no longer included because of the strong opposition from the Chinese community (Center for Public Policy Studies, 2016). The ultimate objective was to unify children of all races under one national educational system. This little anomaly between the existence of the vernacular schools and the implementation of Bahasa Melayu as the national language and medium of instruction in school remained as a rift up until the present day.

How are the rifts mitigated? Policies and approaches had been presented and introduced by the government, often met with failures, some policies worked, some policies are considered active but are left in the filing cabinet never to be exercised. Part 3 of this article, Education Policies for Unity, will review these policies for a utopian Malaysia we all indubitably need. 

*Facts and Statistics in this article are carefully researched to support the author’s opinion, list of references are given below for fact-checking. 

Further Reading and References

Albury, N.J. & Khin, K.A.  2016. Malaysia’s National Language Policy in International Theoretical Context. Journal of Nusantara Studies 1(1): 71–84.

Center for Public Policy Studies.  2016. Vernacular Education in Malaysia.

Hoon, C.Y.  2006. Assimilation, Multiculturalism, Hybridity: The Dilemmas of Ethnic Chinese in Post-Suharto Indonesia. Asian Ethnicity 7(2): 149–166.

Rashid, R.A.B. … Yunus, K.  2017. Reforms in the policy of English language teaching in Malaysia. Policy Futures in Education 15(1): 100–112.

Saad, S. … Azima, A.M.  2013. Malay Politics and Nation State in Malaysia. Asian Social Science 9(8): 96–100.

Veg, S.  2017. The Rise of Localism and Civic Identity in Post-handover Hong Kong: Questioning the Chinese Nation-state. China Quarterly 230(April 2017): 323–347.

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