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Monday January 3, 2011

Teach history fairly

THE recent focus given to History as a compulsory subject in the school curriculum has driven me as a parent of school-going children to gain an insight into what they are learning in school.

Form One students are taught predominantly about the Malacca Sultanate with sporadic anecdotes of the other states. Penang is not mentioned at all. That is until Form Two where they learn about the Straits Settlement, tin mining, rubber plantations and exploitation by the British.

Form Three students learn about the Japanese Occupation, the Communist Party of Malaya and events leading to Malaysia’s independence in 1957.

There is also a very detailed account of all the political parties in Malaysia. The 1955 election results seem to be an important account in history as it is mentioned twice, in Form Three and again in Form Five.

In Form Four, other than the first two chapters where one learns about early civilisation and the emergence of various religions, the rest of the year is devoted to an in-depth study of Islam. I believe Azmi Sharom has expounded succinctly and rather ingeniously on this issue in his article in The Star on Dec 30, 2010.

Form Five is an overkill on the study of nationalism and the development of race and nation. And, in the last chapter, students learn about World Wars I and II; the significance of which are reduced to only five pages.

I am completely perplexed. Learning history is much more than learning about Malaysia. One needs to know world history.

I talked to my children about the Hundred Year Wars, the Renaissance period, the Mogul empire, the Spanish Inquisition, the Boston Tea Party, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, slavery and the American Civil War, the Long March, etc, and they had no inkling of what I was talking about.

There is also an obvious disconnect in the overall flow of the subjects covered. Subjects are doled out independently without any link or correlation to significant events.

For example, the Japanese Occupation in Malaya is studied independently and students are not made aware that the Japanese invasion is part and parcel of WWII.

Another point I would like to make is that we must use proper English names for the organisations that are mentioned. For example, the United Nations is translated as Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu, which is fine until we use PBB as the abbreviation for the UN. Which other country in the world would know what we are talking about if our students refer to the UN as PBB?

Another bad case of translation is NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) – Pergerakan Negara-Negara Berkecuali. I am truly glad that our historians did not attempt to translate Commonwealth and instead use the literal Komanwel.

I feel strongly that History text books should be written to reflect a fair and realistic account of history plain and simple.

The way it is written now, Malaysia is perceived as a victim of circumstance; we are always the good guys while the rest of the world are the bad guys. I am not sure why we need comments like “Singapura menjadi duri dalam daging kepada Malaysia” in our History text book.

We have five solid years to impart history to our school-going children and the Government has decided that a student should learn almost solely about Malaysia and to use this subject as a platform to inculcate nationalism. History is an important subject as we need to understand the past to appreciate the present in order to achieve the desired future.

We need to give our children a balanced view of world history and yet understand the significance of Malaysia in the context. We owe it to our children.

Kuala Lumpur.


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