Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 16 July 2018

Through all this pussyfooting over the recognition of the UEC by the PH government, does it not make you wonder how the PH election manifesto was drafted, such as who took part in the drafting and how it was endorsed by the PH leaders? One would have expected that the person they would finally appoint as the Education Minister to be in the committee to study the UEC before they endorsed it…

Well, from the backtracking that we have seen since GE14 and the utterances of PH leaders especially by the new Education Minister, you would think that the supposedly democratic process through which the manifesto was drafted and eventually endorsed did not amount to much. Was the PH election manifesto just “a piece of paper” to be ripped apart after the elections?

It is clear that PH won the vast majority of the Chinese votes during GE14 mainly because the PH manifesto and the PH leaders promised to recognise the UEC, the school leaving certificate of the Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary Schools that has been maligned by UMNO all these years since 1975.

Now the Education Minister Maszlee Malik has insisted that any decision by the government to formally recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) will only be made “after a comprehensive and holistic study on the issue has been completed… whether the formal recognition of UEC could potentially compromise unity and harmony among Malaysians … the status of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language…but no decision has been made on the matter so far.”

Wasn’t this study done before the PH manifesto was endorsed by the coalition leaders? We know that DAP has all along recognised the UEC. So has PKR, as their de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim has recently reiterated. In fact, the PKR President Wan Azizah already stated years ago in a visit to the Dong Jiao Zong headquarters that recognition of the UEC is purely a question of academic assessment for the MQA and not a political issue. So who else in the PH coalition do not agree to the recognition of the UEC and why did they agree to have this clause in the GE14 PH manifesto in the first place?

UEC a threat to national sovereignty?

The recognition of the UEC has featured in practically every general election since 1986. The litany of reasons given by the government for not recognizing the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) through the years gets more and more bizarre. They used to say that the UEC’s curriculum was not up to the mark or they would say that the UEC is not based on the national curriculum and education philosophy. Now the monarchy has even been brought up since it is claimed the UEC threatens national sovereignty. A local professor has even twisted historical facts by claiming that since the Chinese educationists had chosen to reject the national education system in 1961, they should be left to their own devices.

To counter this allegation that mother tongue education of the Non-Malays is a threat to national sovereignty, let us look at the current reality surrounding education in Malaysia: In recent years, international schools using English and other foreign languages have proliferated in our country. According to the ‘Economic Transformation Programme’, there are more than 81 international schools in operation nationwide. Now, if this concerted effort to promote foreign schools in Malaysia is not seen to be a threat to national sovereignty, why should the 60 Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary Schools (MICSS) be seen as a threat to sovereignty?

Do foreign students threaten our national sovereignty?

Now, we are all aware of the fact that our local public and private higher learning educational institutions enroll students from all over the world. A simple question to the Education Ministry will show that the reason for not recognizing the UEC is completely untenable, namely:

How does a student from Kazakhstan or Bosnia or China gain admission into Malaysian tertiary education institutions when their respective education systems do not follow our national system?

Do our institutions impose a requirement of SPM credit in BM and pass in History on these foreign students to study in institutions using English as medium of instruction?

From the study of the UEC by PH drafters of their GE14 manifesto, can they tell us which aspect of the National Education System is the UEC syllabus alleged to not follow? Is the History syllabus of the UEC not “Malaysian” enough? Were there no Chinese members of the PH manifesto drafting committee who could have told their comrades that the history syllabus of the UEC is certainly Malaysian and international too if we believe in holistic learning! Such being the case, how can any foreign student from any part of the globe qualify to enroll in a Malaysian tertiary institution since their syllabus cannot be as “Malaysian” as that of the UEC!

Malaysian Chinese Secondary Schools have existed since 1923

For those who are unfamiliar to our nation’s history including that local professor, Chinese Secondary Schools have existed in our country ever since 1923 when Chung Ling School of Penang started its Secondary-level classes. (Kua Kia Soong, ‘The Chinese Schools of Malaysia: A Protean Saga’, 2008:25) At Independence in 1957, there were some 86 Chinese Secondary Schools in Malaya. (Kua Kia Soong edited, ‘Mother Tongue Education of Malaysian Ethnic Minorities’, 1998:72)

It was only after the 1961 Education Act that many of these schools were forced to become English-medium (yes! Not Malay-medium, please note!) at the time because they could not sustain their schools without government assistance. Dr Mahathir should note that this shows that not all Chinese Malaysians are rich and can sustain their schools…

Thus after 1961, only 14 Chinese Secondary Schools remained as “Independent” schools because they wanted to keep their mother tongue system at all cost. It was after the “Independent Schools’ Revival Movement” in the Seventies that the number of MICSS climbed to 60 schools with endless fund raising drives. In 1975, when the MICSS decided to hold its first Unified Examination, the Chinese education leaders were summoned to Parliament by then Education Minister Dr Mahathir and were told in no uncertain terms to cancel the examination “or else…!”

The Chinese education leaders carried on regardless of the consequences and the UEC has been held every year since. To date, there has never been a leak in any UEC examinations and the curriculum and marking of exam scripts are carried out every year with professional precision. Today, hundreds of foreign tertiary institutions around the world recognize the UEC and our MICSS students are found in countries all over the globe, including France, Germany and Russia. Ever since the Eighties, the National University of Singapore has been poaching hundreds of top UEC students not only for their academic excellence but also for their trilingual capabilities in an effort to balance the cultural mix of their Anglophile Singaporeans. The late Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan had said that the Ministry of Education is stupid not to recognize the UEC since this policy failure has led to a brain drain of our talented human resources.

Suspending a purely professional decision for 40 years!

Thus, if the MQA is a professional accreditation institution without political constrictions, it would spell out in no uncertain terms what its audit of the UEC has concluded. It does not matter if the requirements of the MQA are far more stringent than the National University of Singapore’s – it just has to spell out in no uncertain terms what the results of that audit are! The government cannot simply suspend a purely professional decision for more than forty years!

It should be pointed out at the outset that, in sharp contrast to foreign students, BM and English are compulsory language papers in the UEC and many MICSS schools also run the SPM at the fifth secondary year (The MICSS is a six-year secondary school system). This easily demolishes the myth that MICSS students only study in the Chinese medium.

To be fair to our civil service and local tertiary institutions, if they require SPM credit in BM for UEC holders, that is reasonable. Nevertheless, the academic accreditation of the UEC by MQA is a totally separate matter altogether.

Malaysians should also know that there are hundreds of non-Chinese students in the MICSS and almost 100,000 non-Chinese students in Chinese-medium primary schools of Malaysia. This is in sharp contrast to UiTM which does not admit ANY “non-Bumiputeras” into this public institution even though “non-Bumiputera” taxpayers have also paid for this institution! Remember that there are more than 100,000 “Bumis Only” students in UiTM while there are only 85,000 Chinese, Malay, Indian and indigenous peoples in the 60 MICSS. So which of these systems would you consider better promotes inter-cultural understanding and national unity? For sure the “Bumiputeras-only” policy at UiTM violates the International Convention for the Eradication of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) that the new Foreign Minister is keen to ratify.

Recognize the UEC now!

The truth is that, through the years the UEC has become a political issue since UMNO refuses to recognize the MICSS system because of their “Malay Agenda”, a policy that is holding back creative development of our human resources. The pussyfooting we see now from the PH government is nothing more than the lack of courage and political will to break from the years of UMNO bigotry and racism. This is the price we pay for adhering to race-based political parties…

Recognising the UEC will allow MICSS graduates to be admitted into our public tertiary institutions as well as the civil and armed services, which is the stated intention of the government recently. This will help to promote greater integration among Malaysians and also alleviate the financial plight of those MICSS graduates who cannot afford tertiary education in the private colleges or abroad.

More fundamentally, the reneging on their election promises by PH leaders is patent dishonesty. As Caliph Abu Bakr so strongly pronounced on this principle: “The greatest truth is honesty and the greatest falsehood is dishonesty.” Plato was more cynical when he said: “Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty…”

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