Thursday, November 6, 2014


The Background.

The education system in the pre-Merdeka days was utilitarian at best.  It served the interests of the time and the denizens of the Malay Peninsula in particular.  I am not including East Malaysia in this writing simply because I know too little of what happened there.  The British freely allowed vernacular education which developed along the needs of the respective community concerned.

The Malays lived mostly agrarian lives in the rural and coastal areas. To them an education was

Sekolah Attap

seen as necessary especially in Islam. They were quite satisfied with the “sekolah attap / pondok” that were provided for them even though it was only at the primary level.  Such schools existed nationwide in almost all kampongs.  The teachers had little specific training and were themselves Std. 6 “graduates”.
Better Equipped Chinese schools

The Chinese, as a rule, did value education very much more and had Chinese schools in every Chinese community that grew into small or big towns mainly along the mining areas in the west coast of the peninsula.  Their children could learn up to the secondary school level.  They had their own system of school, teacher training and syllabus.  The schools too were better built and had better facilities as the community and its leaders funded the schools generously.  The schools were also built on land with proper titles.

Tamil schools were situated mostly in the rubberestates

As for the Indians, their schools were mostly Tamil medium with a few Sikh ones too in a few towns.  Most of the schools were built in the rubber plantations owned by the British to serve the estate workers basic needs.  In the towns too Tamil schools were attended mainly by children of laborers and other menial workers from the town councils, public utility departments like JKR and NEB.  Education here too was for only 6 years and the teachers were not properly trained and were mostly educated up to Standard 6 mostly.

The schools to go to then and in fashion were the English schools of course and situated in all the major towns.  These schools supplied the needs of the British to man the clerical and sub-managerial jobs in their civil service. The schools provided eleven years of schooling, six primaries and five at the secondary level. The Form 5 students sat for examinations set by Cambridge and the curriculum, needless to say, was very much like the secondary schools in England.  The parents of the children in these  schools were therefore also mostly town dwellers and who preferred English education to the vernacular varieties.  Most often, they themselves were English educated.  These schools were also well-built and had good facilities.  Only a few Chinese schools could match them. Teachers in these schools were trained and the highest qualification at the time was the Overseas Cambridge School Certificate. Even the Higher School Certificate only came about after Merdeka.  Of course, the British freely allowed missionary schools to operate. These schools served well and left a legacy hard to follow.

                                                                   English medium schools were the most prestigious ones

                                               High School Muar                                               St. Paul's Institution                                                                                                      
After Merdeka

By 1956 it was already becoming crystal clear that we were going to be independent soon.  The government set up an education commission to plan education for an independent Malaya.  The commission was led by Tun Razak.

                                                                                                               Elite Schools - MCKK & Kolej Tunku Khursiah                                 

The Razak Report provides for Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil schools at the primary school level and Malay and English schools at the secondary level.  The Malay medium schools were referred to as "national" schools while the others were referred to as "national type" schools.  All schools are government funded and use a common national curriculum regardless of school type. Other provisions include :-
  • Formation of a single system of national education
  • Commencement of a Malaysan-orientated curriculum
  • Conception of a single system of evaluation for all
  • Recognition of the eventual objective of making Bahasa Melayu the main medium of instruction.
Today, there is much dissatisfaction regarding the school system and education in general.  Almost all harsh critics are unaware that the main framework and aims of The Razak Report have indeed been achieved.  National unity which was the report's primary aim, however, remains elusive.

The eventual and ultimate objective of making Bahasa Malaysia the main medium of instruction has become a praiseworthy success and  was not really the result or handicraft of Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim or even Tun Dr. Mahathir…. those who think so simply do not know their history well.

The proliferation of new schools in Malaysia since Merdeka is can be envious by the standards of almost all countries that were colonized.  Today we have, in fact, such a plurality of schools that is actually working against national unity.  No where in the world do we have such a wide spectrum of schools - national schools, national type vernacular schools, private schools, religious schools and international schools.  While such an array of different school types may be not without benefits and provided for in our constitution, it definitely is a contributory factor in our failing efforts at true national unity these was also the main aim of The Tun Razak Report of 1956.  

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