In Georgetown yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak praised the role and contribution of the Chinese in improving education in Malaysia (here). Their attribution in enhancing the standard of knowledge to all quarters of the community is not to be disputed.
Agree. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad had said, "Tuntutlah ilmu walaupun sampai ke negeri China". It was a testament that the quest for knowledge should not be confined to one's race, religion and culture.
In this world without border, knowledge comes in many forms and from many directions, and is easily accessed. Those without sufficient knowledge in various disciplines will find themselves clad in a corner with the non-achievers.
In this context, language is also part of knowledge. Malaysians are blessed with racial and culture assimilation that offer them a great opportunity to explore and acquire each others' language without any fee. However, while the Chinese and Indians are able to converse in Bahasa Malaysia - including 'bahasa pasar' - the Malays are not keen to learn Mandarin or Tamil.
During a dinner talk with some senior journalists and a Tan Sri MP (from MCA) about three months ago, I did raise the issue. The notion was well-seconded. I was serious about it and even told the MP to get his party recommend it to the Cabinet.
The proposal was to introduce Mandarin subject in all Sekolah Kebangsaan. It is to encourage non-Chinese students to take it up. The Malays, especially, must start to learn and understand the language from its basic.
Perhaps for a start, there is no need to make it compulsory, not to be included in examination. Just an elective for the co-curriculum.
I believe many Malay educationists are against this idea. The chauvinistic Malays may find it awkward and will do anything to oppose it. And I believe it will trigger anti-government sentiment as well.
However, I personally believe it will augur well in the 1Malaysia context. The Tan Sri and a Dato Seri who was also there agreed that it will eventually bring the Malaysians together. As language barrier could be brought down (give it 5 to 10 years from its implementation), Malaysia will be more united and integrated.
Why not? While the government made it compulsory for the non-Malays to pass the Bahasa Malaysia subject - and Bahasa is taught in SRJK(C) and SRJK(T) - the Malays should at least learn their languages.
The country has achieved Independence for 54 years now. Like it or not, Malaysians are still divided. I believe the Chinese, Indians and other races do understand the Malay community very well because they understand the language. And I do not think the Chinese and Indians harbor any ill-feeling towards the Malays, unlike the askance and prejudice the Malays have about other races.
I am not a realist but I am a Malaysian who have grown up with the Chinese and Indians in my kampung. We grew up and mingled together, went to the same school, shared the same 'padang' for football and other events and in fact celebrated Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Deepavali together. Just like the Malays, they too want to live in harmony alongside the Malays and share everything in common.
However, it is sad to note that the Malays' inability to understand Mandarin and Tamil has thickened their prejudice against the Chinese and Indians. Whenever some Chinese sit at a table next to them in a coffee shop (for instance), they Malays can't help but thinking the Chinese are talking bad about them.
Just imagine Malaysians who understand each others' language. It doesn't matter if they don't master it; understand and able to speak a broken language will be good enough. And as Mandarin is among the world's major languages, it is also a lingua franca of business and higher studies.
A big step has to be charted from now. The Education Ministry should look into it and discuss it in depth with educationists while we have the political power to introduce and implement it. The 1Malaysia slogan will remain meaningless should we fail to unite the rakyat via language.
While Bahasa Malaysia will forever be the official language, others must be considered. The Malay-Chinese ratio is almost equal. While the Chinese find it comfortable to live with the Malays and other races, the Malays would still find problems to accommodate themselves into a multi-racial society.