By Janie Tan Poo Choo
The writer, Janie Tan Poo Choo, is a cluster administrative officer at the National Institute of Public Administration (INTAN). She was recently awarded a certificate of accreditation and appointment as a 'Munsyi Muda Bahasa' in the public services sector for her proficiency in Bahasa Melayu by the Public Services Department and Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
In the first of a two-part article, written through the lens of a Malaysian of Chinese descent, Tan shares her thoughts on unity.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- Considering that this nation attained independence some six decades ago, do Malaysians, in general, have knowledge of our country's historical background
Do Malaysians know the purpose, as well as the meaning, of our forefathers' struggle during British colonial rule Or do we see it purely as history
These days, there may be people from the younger generation who are not interested in the history subject. If that is the case, it will be tedious for the nation's educators to teach their students the history of Malaysia's formation.
Still, it is important to expose the younger generation to the history of their forefathers' struggle which led to the formation of their country. The Ministry of Education should collaborate with educators to find a detailed and comprehensive teaching approach that can touch the 'heart and soul' of Malaysia's younger generation.
This step is important in order for them to have this desire to know more about their country's history. It will instil in them a love for their homeland, and once they know more about their own origins, conflicts and dissatisfaction among the various races will no longer arise.
Every racial group must have knowledge of their origins. It is vital for them to know who they are, as well as the role they play in the country's post-independence era. They must have this knowledge in order to keep at bay doubt, envy and prejudice against other races.
History is one of the most important subjects taught in school. In fact, it is as important as English. Mastery of English is useful for international-level communications. Exposure to history, meanwhile, facilitates the process of uniting the people of this country.
According to this nation's history, unity among the people from different racial backgrounds was evident even before this nation attained independence. The nation's leaders, who were of different races, toiled hard to free this nation from British rule.
I studied at a national school at the primary and secondary school levels, where the medium of instruction was Bahasa Melayu. Even when I was in university, Bahasa Melayu was the medium of instruction.
During my schooldays (between 1977 and 1987), there was friendly interaction among the multiracial students. I had many Malay and Indian friends. It was the same when I went to university. Although our racial and cultural backgrounds were different, it did not stop us from interacting and participating in the activities of various clubs. Come festival time, we would visit each other's homes. During my childhood, this noble practice was ingrained in all of us. Such visits should be encouraged in order to foster long-lasting bonds of fellowship.
I have observed, unfortunately, that the situation has changed these days and it really saddens me. Personally, I feel that one of the factors for racial disharmony is our education system. Apart from the national schools which use Bahasa Melayu as the medium of instruction, there are also national-type Chinese and Tamil schools where the main medium of instruction is either Chinese or Tamil. This has caused the segregation of our students.
A majority of the Malay, Chinese and Indian parents choose to send their children to national, Chinese and Tamil schools respectively. This situation has led to very limited interaction among the students of different races and also complicated efforts to unify the people in order for them to create one identity and cultivate love for the nation-state.
According to my late father, when the Chinese migrated to Malaya during the 19th century, their main aim was to do business and seek a livelihood but they also made sure they raised their children well and gave them a proper education.
They wanted to make sure their children would inherit the language and ethnic traditions that were passed down from one generation to another by their ancestors in China. This was why the setting up of Chinese vernacular schools was such an important agenda for the Chinese who migrated to this country.
Many parents also seem to prefer national-type schools as they feel that their education system guaranteed their children's self- development and academic excellence.
Politicking can also have an impact on efforts to unify the various races in this country. The freedom of expression allows people to touch on issues related to language, religion, rights and the economy but, often, some politicians and hate mongers manipulate these issues for certain reasons.
When certain sensitive issues are exploited, it can have a negative impact and jeopardise interracial relations, even though most of us desire to live in harmony with our multiracial friends. Undeniably, each race will try to either defend their rights or seek equal rights as others. Certain political parties will take advantage of this and cause a rift between the races by propagating their racist propaganda.
Also, the differences in the values practised by the various ethnic groups can also put a strain on interracial relations. Each race has its own language, culture and beliefs. Hence, each race will practice characteristics that reflect their identity. And, when their identity is questioned, it will pose a threat to the nation's peace, harmony and prosperity.
Malaysians who love their homeland do not want to see a repeat of the May 13, 1969 episode. Although I was not born then, my father used to relate to me some of the incidents that had occurred then. Each time he spoke about it, I felt immensely sad.
Speaking of the hate mongers, these are the irresponsible people who circulate fake news that can trigger hatred and lead to disputes, conflict and misunderstanding. The situation has become worse with the presence of these hate mongers in cyberspace.
I think hate-mongering is one of the greatest challenges that we are facing now and if not contained, it can jeopardise racial unity and cause the people to live in fear and anxiety.
If we want our country to continue to thrive and be able to compete with other nations on the world stage, we have to keep in check these elements that use the race or religious card to drive a wedge between the people of different communities.
The right to freedom of expression must be exercised in an equitable, judicious and responsible manner. We should also use this freedom to contribute to the nation-building process and cultivate racial harmony and national unity and security.
Let us not be a bunch of people who have a heart but do not want to understand, who have eyes but do want to see the truth and have ears but refuse to accept reality.
I have observed that some ethnic Chinese, particularly those who have studied at national-type schools, often choose to work with people of the same race when they are involved in group projects.
At public institutions of higher learning where the students have to form groups to do their coursework, sometimes lecturers have to strive to ensure that students of various ethnicities are present in each group.
In my opinion, university hostel supervisors are also to be blamed for racial segregation. I was frustrated when I found that only students of the same race were allowed to be roommates at the hostel.
How nice it will be if a Chinese student can share a room with a Malay or Indian student of the same gender. Such an arrangement will foster better ethnic relations. Won't it be more harmonious if people from diverse backgrounds can live together peacefully as a united Malaysian race that is fully committed to the national identity in accordance with the Federal Constitution and Rukun Negara.
(This article expresses the personal views of the writer.)
Translated by Rema Nambiar