Education Minister Maszlee Malik has resigned, but that does not mean Chinese educationists can sit back and relax.
BEFORE the May 2018 general election (GE14), leaders in Dong Jiao Zong (DJZ) and other Chinese associations thought by voting out the previous Barisan Nasional government on May 9,2018, Chinese education would see a more promising future.
They were taken in by the sweet pledges of Pakatan Harapan coalition (in opposition then) to create a new Malaysia that would give greater recognition to Chinese education, and form an inclusiveness government to promote greater racial unity and harmony.
However, as days went by, Chinese educationists learn that their dream of a smoother path under the new Pakatan government is only a mere illusion.
For the whole of last year, bad policies and incidents on race and religion seemed to wipe out whatever good the government had done.
For the Chinese education groups, Pakatan’s unfulfiled promise to recognise UEC certificate by politicising it is disappointing.
And a series of disturbing policies crafted by the Education Ministry for vernacular schools are causing anxiety.
The planned introduction of Khat in June 2019 (aborted after public objection), and the current implementation of Jawi script, as well as racist statements uttered by a top leader in the current government have proven Dong Jiao Jong’s earlier judgement wrong.
Any dream of better days for Chinese primary schools and Dong Jiao Zong seems to be doomed.
The Chinese community now believe they have to pull up their socks again and continue to be vigilant in defending Chinese education, just as they did under the previous government.
The unchanged reality in this country is: politicians look after their self-interest more than working for the good of the nation.
The Chinese community have also learnt they cannot rely on the DAP, a Chinese majority party within the government, to defend Chinese education and speak for them.
One key reason is that top DAP leaders are getting more arrogant and not listening to the ground.
The other important reason is that they are now more concerned about winning the support of the Malays, in preparation for the next general election, instead of caring about the sentiment of the Chinese community.
The DAP – despite having gained most of its support from non-Malays in the last election – has failed the Chinese community miserably, particularly on policies affecting vernacular schools and government allocations for Tunku Abdul Rahman University College.
It is clear that deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching, from DAP, no longer commands the respect of the community as her comments on Chinese education are often ridiculed by opinion leaders in her own community.
The cancellation of Dong Zong’s conference in Kajang on Dec 28 against the teaching of Jawi script in vernacular schools shows the failure of the Police and Pakatan government to allow not only a peaceful assembly to take place but dialogue on the issue.
Although DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, also Finance Minister, later commented that police was wrong to stop the gathering with a court order, the damage is done.
The meeting was meant to voice out against a set of guidelines issued by the Education Ministry to government-aided Chinese and Indian schools on the teaching of Jawi script.
In implementing the teaching of Jawi, the ministry has sidelined the school board of directors – the most important group involved in policy-making in Chinese schools.
It is this group of people who make up Dong Jong, which has existed since the 1950s to champion the cause of Chinese education, alongside Jiao Zong that represents teachers.
With a history of safeguarding the character of Chinese schools for decades, Dong Jong and Jiao Zong have never been viewed as friendly parties to the previous government.
And now, it is finding itself in a similar situation with the government it had backed.
What has shocked them most is: When Dong Zong questioned the Khat teaching plan in August, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad labelled the group as “racist”.
And when the 94-year old leader warned Dong Jong recently that the Malay community might respond to the Kajang congress by organising its own congress demanding Putrajaya to shut down Chinese vernacular schools, even non-Chinese expressed disappointment and alarm.
The cancellation of the Dong Zong congress has certainly emboldened ultra Malay groups. One had even threatened violence and repeat of May 13 bloody riot.
Despite police warning, some Malay groups took to the streets to demand the banning of Dong Jong and closure of Chinese schools.
Just as the Jawi issue was boiling hot, another directive by the Education Minister crept into to schools quietly.
The Education Minister had given permission to Rakan Siswa Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (Yadim) to carry out Dakwah (religious propagation) activities in schools, public colleges and universities, as well as selected private institutions.
Following objection from leading religious groups, the Education Ministry said this activity would not concern non-Muslims.
Although Education Minister Maszlee Malik resigned last Thursday, presumably for all the controversial policies he introduced, Chinese educationists have nothing to celebrate.
Chinese educationists will have to be more political savvy and more vigilant.
They cannot hold high hopes for DAP, as this once-vocal party and strong supporter of Chinese education has been politically marginalised in the Pakatan government. DAP cannot be vocal on Chinese issues like they did before because this can be turned against them and the Pakatan government.
Realising this political reality, Chinese educationists have decided they will engage with political parties from within and outside the government from now on.
They know the times ahead for Chinese education will still be filled with challenges and political obstacles, regardless of who the new Education Minister is.
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