AT the height of the controversy over the introduction of Jawi and khat or Arabic calligraphy into the curriculum of vernacular primary schools last week, a picture on a daughter-father dialogue emerged on the social media:
A girl looks at her father and asks: Daddy, why do I need to learn Jawi?
The dispirited father replies: Because father voted for the DAP on 509 (May 9, 2018).
Last Sunday, a man who had helped in the DAP campaign during the last polls smashed raw eggs at DAP’s service centre in Perak’s Menglembu to air his anger at the khat plan.
And two days later, the service centre of deputy Minister of Education Teo Nie Ching, also DAP’s Member of Parliament for Kulai, was littered with eggs thrown at its windows.
The dialogue and egging incidents show the current strong sentiment against this education plan of the Pakatan Harapan government, which came into power on May 9, 2018.
But more importantly, they reflect the frustrations of people over the DAP’s failure to perform its rightful role in government. In this case, it is to ensure that the character of vernacular education is safeguarded.
The DAP, formerly a strong opposition party, has now become part of the Pakatan coalition government after the latter ousted the Barisan Nasional adminstration on May 9 last year.
Behind the mass outcry against the khat plan is the fear that the character of Chinese and Tamil primary schools could be altered gradually under the guise of introducing the calligraphy seen as associated to Islam.
This fear stems from the belief that some Malay politicians in the government are attempting to use this potentially explosive issue to win over more Malay support, in the face of greater UMNO-PAS cooperation.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Education said it would introduce khat in the Year Four Bahasa Melayu curriculum for vernacular schools next year.
As there is support from the Prime Minister and chairman of Parti Bersatu Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik has been persistent on the plan.
Under pressure, the Education Ministry on Tuesday explained the introduction of khat was to foster beautiful writing. It promised that students would not be assessed on it in examinations.
However, this clarification had failed to subside doubts and apprehension.
One by one, Chinese education and Tamil groups, as well major religious groups aired their opposition to the plan.
Many people believed that this plan either came with a political agenda or an Islamisation objective.
As the DAP is a Chinese-majority party in the government, expectations were originally high that it would act promptly to stop this plan.
Hence, when its Cabinet Ministers did not make an open clear stand on the issue when the controversy erupted, disappointment turned into anger.
Last Monday, DAP’s secretary-general and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng placed the blame on Chinese sensitivity and the “fear-mongering” reports by Chinese daily Sin Chew Jit Poh. This accusation had aroused more anger.
Apart from Sin Chew, reports in other Chinese media had warned the DAP that it was losing support from the Chinese community as it was getting detached from the community.
Some commentators took the opportunity to recount some of DAP’s unpopular measures that had hurt the Chinese community.
Among these were the removal of an annual government grant for TAR University College by DAP’s Lim and the delay to recognise the Chinese high school UEC certificate.
In an Aug 7 comment headlined “Before a horse, a tiger has become a lamb”, Nanyang Siang Pau mocked at the fiery DAP for turning into a timid “lamb” in front of a horse.
The horse here refers to Dr Mahathir, as “Ma” shares similar pronounciation as “horse” in Mandarin.
The commentary warned the DAP not to “compromise Chinese interest” in government as this could cost its political future.
In the last election, support for DAP from the Chinese community was estimated to be around 95% and Indians over 80%.
The DAP, which was an outspoken opposition voice before the election, was able to win most votes from non-Malays mainly because of its promises to fight for a just and democratic society, as well as a clean government.
Such promises were appealing to voters amid news reports highlighting the massive corruption in the previous Barisan Nasional government of Najib Razak, whose race-based policies also hurt voters.
Due to the huge Chinese support for DAP, the MCA – the only Chinese party within the Barisan – was thrashed in the last general election.
Voters also got impatient with MCA then, as the party was sidelined in major decisions of the UMNO-led Barisan government.
Ironically, what the MCA went through in Barisan is now being experienced by the DAP.
The DAP, used to hit out at the MCA for failing to defend Chinese rights, is in the old shoes of MCA.
It is clear to many observers that the DAP – the second largest party within the Pakatan coalition government -- was not consulted on the implementation of this khat plan.
“The DAP in Pakatan government now is no different from the MCA in previous Barisan government, ” said one commentator.
As expected, the reactions from Chinese education and Tamil groups were strong towards the plan.
In the early part of last week, the khat issue filled the front pages of most newspapers and comment pages of Chinese newspapers.
In fact, the disagreement to the khat plan is not confined to people outside DAP. Within the DAP, there are disgruntled voices.
According to news reports, a group of 138 DAP grassroots officials, including 13 state assemblypersons, have urged DAP Cabinet members to object to the khat plan.
In a public statement, they argued vernacular school students were already learning “three languages and three writing systems”, hence adding khat would make pupils to learn “three languages and four writing systems”.
The most interesting part of the statement, which may be unpalatable to the DAP leadership and Pakatan government, was the claim that the khat plan was “an attempt to institutionalise and politicise the Jawi script”.
This appears to confirm outsiders’ worry and interpretation of a political agenda.
Indeed, the making public of these voices – which could just be discretely conveyed up to the top leadership -- has led to interesting interpretations.
As the pressure from within and outside got more intense, DAP’s national leaders had to act. They held a meeting last Monday but did not reveal their stand on the issue.
Malaysiakini reported that Lim had gone to meet with the Prime Minister twice.
Amid snowballing noises, deputy Education Minister Teo said this policy was decided in 2016 by the previous administration.
However, MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong promptly responded that the MCA did not support the khat plan when its draft was first presented by the education curriculum director.
“MCA is opposed to Pakatan government’s plan to add khat into the curriculum of national type primary schools as this will add burden to the pupils and result in higher risk for the character of Chinese school to be changed, ” said Dr Wee in a statement.
Expectedly, the mass opposition by non-Malays to khat plan had provoked PAS and other Islamic groups to state their stand.
Perak mufti announced it backed the introduction of khat in school syllabus.
While stating his support for the khat plan, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang labelled opponents to the initiative as descendants or proxies of British colonialists.
Interestingly, there are Malays who objected to the introduction of khat in schools.
Among these is former International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz.
She revealed she had told the Education Minister not to introduce “frivolous” subjects into school curriculum as there were “other more important things” to be learnt.
Rafidah said at a public function: “Don’t overload (the system) with unnecessary, frivolous subjects.”
After ignoring the feeling on the ground for over one week, the Education Ministry had finally “softened” its stand slightly last Thursday.
Chinese and Tamil school teachers will have the freedom to choose whether they want to teach khat in Year Four, Dr Maszlee Malik said. He did not mention the content of Year Five and Six.
Placed under scrutiny, the new statement does not indicate that khat plan in vernacular schools will be removed. It merely gives teachers in Primary Year 4 the option to decide on teaching the art.
Although Lim Guan Eng has urged all parties to move on, groups that had earlier aired their opposition are critical of the new statement and maintain their stance.
On Friday, the Chinese newspapers are again innundated with khat news on their front pages.
In a statement, leading Chinese education group Dong Jiao Zhong said the Education Ministry has not allayed people’s concern and worry.
Sharing the view of Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, they said introducing khat in vernacular schools could violate Article 12(3) of the Federal Constitution.
Once again, the DAP’s Lim and Teo have come under attack – for making “misleading” statements this time.
From the continuing adverse reactions seen against the khat plan, the DAP might be forced to go behind the scene again to negotiate for a cleaner deal with the Education Ministry.