Beyond the 'Dong Zong issue'
by Azly Rahman
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.