KUCHING: Malaysia’s indigenous languages should be preserved and promoted as they are a valuable linguistic and cultural resource, said Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem (pic).
He said indigenous culture and languages were still relevant in the 21st century, helping to form identities.
“We need to see our cultural heritage, including our languages, as the foundation of our identity to be developed, nurtured and preserved,” he said in a speech read by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah at the second Malaysian Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Education here.
Adenan noted that Malaysia practised a liberal education policy whereby various communities were given the opportunity to teach their own mother tongue language.
In Sarawak, for instance, he said Chinese schools were supported not only from within the community but from non-Chinese parents who sent their children there to learn Chinese and benefit from their high standards of education.
“What about indigenous communities? Our indigenous children come to school with a rich cultural and linguistic heritage. Do we see it as a resource?
“The education system should provide space for indigenous languages to be used and taught,” he said.
He also said it was heartening to see that advocacy to promote and teach mother tongue languages among ethnic communities was beginning to bear fruit.
“Community leaders and NGOs are taking the lead to promote and champion the teaching of the mother tongue language in their respective communities,” he said.
“In Sarawak, we have Bidayuh heritage language playschools and kindergartens, while Iban is now taught in schools, colleges and universities. The Dayak Cultural Foundation recently published an Iban-English dictionary to document the language. I urge other communities to follow this example to document their own languages and dialects.”
He cited other examples, such as mother tongue pre-schools in Sabah among the Iranun and Kadazandusun communities and Semai being taught among the Orang Asli in peninsular Malaysia.
Adenan added that the mother tongue was a powerful resource for learning and should be taken advantage of.
As such, he said the three-day conference was an opportunity for speakers and community leaders to promote the use, teaching and learning of mother tongue languages.
Unicef Malaysia representative Marianne Clark-Hattingh said about 30% of all indigenous children in the nation’s primary schools would not reach secondary education.
Calling this a “staggering number” compared with the national average of only 4%, she said the causes must be understood and addressed to reverse the trend.
“I am willing to wager that those who benefited from mother-tongue early education are not prominent among those 30%. Together we can build a conducive environment where every child feels comfortable to learn in his or her own language, by putting forth indigenous language policy recommendations.
“How do we achieve this? By designing measures that are specific to local contexts and sensitive to the needs and requirements of these children. There is then continuity between the culture, identity and roots of indigenous children and the modern lives they aspire to lead,” she said.