The idea that the existence of vernacular education is the cause of disunity among Malaysians has been a false narrative propagated by UMNO. This time, it is no other than Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Razak himself who is repeating the claim.
According to a report by The Malaysian Insight, Najib “has said that the segregation of vernacular and national schools has affected the country’s unity, and pledged to revamp the country’s education system after the 14th general election.”
This fallacy has been conveniently used by UMNO leaders over and over again. To be fair, it is easy to lay the blame of the obvious divisions in Malaysian society on the fact that there are different language streams in our education system. The logic goes that if children go to different schools and learn in different languages, then as adults they cannot be united by a common Malaysian spirit.
Unfortunately, there has never been any empirical evidence to back this notion. In fact, by this warped logic, every graduate from top boarding schools in the country such as Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) must be incorrigible racists after years of living and studying in a Malay-only environment.
However, the truth is that schools such as MCKK have produced many upstanding Malaysian citizens who believe in Malaysian ideals and who do not hesitate to celebrate the strengths of our plural society. MCKK itself has produced many contemporary luminaries including Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar of Khazanah Nasional and young open-minded politicians such as Rafizi Ramli and Nik Nazmi. I do not think that any of them could be considered racists.
In fact, empirical evidence tends to point the other way. Chinese vernacular schools, for example, now attract a growing number of non-Chinese enrolment, including many Malays. At least 15 per cent of Chinese school enrolment today is made up of non-Chinese. In some schools, non-Chinese students make up more than half of the student body.
If Chinese schools are really racially divisive, then why do more and more Malay parents choose to send their children there?
I believe that the cause of unity among Malaysians depends very much on the values that we are taught and live by, and this begins from the top. If political leaders propagate divisive politics and constantly use racially tinged language to secure votes, do we need to look further for the root of disunity? For as long as UMNO and its Barisan Nasional allies resort to racial fear-mongering and threatening the Malays with a “Chinese threat” and the Chinese with a “Malay threat”, then there is no doubt that Malaysians will continue to be divided.
Therefore, if Malaysians are indeed divided, it is not because of what language they study in but rather due to the racially incendiary politics practised by UMNO and Barisan Nasional leaders. So please stop blaming our schools.
Zairil Khir Johari
Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera
DAP Assistant National Publicity Secretary
DAP Parliamentary Spokesperson for Education, Science and Technology
NB: This press statement was released on 24 February 2018 in Kuala Lumpur.