IT’S no surprise the SMK Dato Bentara Luar notice stipulating that students should opt for co-curricular activities based on their race and gender, created a national uproar when it went viral recently.
The notice, signed by a school senior assistant stated that football and sepak takraw are only open to Malay male students, netball is only open to Malay females, while basketball and table tennis are only open to Chinese students of either gender.
Aside from sports, the school in Batu Pahat, Johor, also imposed race requirements for charity, language and religion-based clubs.
Following an explanation, and an apology, the notice was rescinded and a new one - without race and gender limitations - issued.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon had instructed the school to amend its original notice which was in conflict with the National Education Blueprint.
Describing the initial notice as a “mistake due to the lack of thoroughness”, its principal Abdul Razak Hamid apologised on the school’s Facebook page on April 17. He was initially quoted as claiming that the race and gender limitations were drawn up due to the lack of sporting facilities, as well as “to attract Malay students who are not interested in sports to join the various clubs”.
Assuring Malaysians that appropriate and immediate action had been taken to address the matter, Education Minister Datuk Dr Radzi Jidin expressed his shock and unhappiness over the incident which “is not in line with the goals for sports programmes in schools”.
Others who have spoken up against the school include National Unity Minister Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican and MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong.
Dr Wee, who was the former deputy Education Minister, pointed out that when former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was the education minister, the government introduced a programme to integrate students, regardless of race, through co-curricular activities.
SMK Dato Bentara Luar's misstep - and one hopes that’s all it was - even led to Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, granting an audience with Abdul Razak and state education department officers on Monday (April 19), where it was spelled out in no uncertain terms that the incident should never have happened and must never happen again in any school in Johor.
Indeed, discriminatory, racist measures cannot be tolerated regardless of whether the outcome was intended - not only in Johor but anywhere in the world.
Let’s take the school’s apology and explanation - even if unsatisfactory - in good faith. Remedial action has been taken, our leaders have made their stand clear and we should move on.
If it was a mistake born of carelessness, then the school administrators simply have to be more careful. But if the notice was a result of insensitivity, prejudice and ignorance, we must take a good, hard look at who we are entrusting to implement the country’s education policies - whether we are successful in grooming an empowered generation that champions gender equality depends on it.