Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 2 Aug 2018

The pussyfooting over the recognition of the UEC which was one of the election promises of Pakatan Harapan and the misrepresentation of the facts of the issue amounts to an utterly egregious conversation. Why do I say this?

  1. The only new factor is the PH election promise

It is clear that PH won the vast majority of the Chinese votes during GE14 mainly because among other promises, the PH manifesto and the PH leaders pledged 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. Voters were given the impression that such recognition was part of PH’s reform in a new and inclusive Malaysia.

The UEC has been held every year since it started in 1975. 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 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.”

  1. Glaring ignorance of the Malaysian Chinese Secondary Schools

Just today, a reader in a mainstream newspaper was calling on the government not to recognise the UEC because “no public university in Malaysia is using Mandarin or Chinese as its medium of instruction”. Obviously, this reader is not aware that in many Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary Schools (MICSS), students also sit for the SPM during their fifth year of secondary education at Senior Middle 2. I’m proud to say both my children scored Grade 1 in their SPM while they were in MICSS. What does this say about their command of Bahasa Malaysia and the misleading belief that MICSS “only teach Chinese based on Taiwan and Mainland China curricula”.

Furthermore, although I don’t agree with such a policy based on pedagogical principles as it adds a further burden on our students, some MICSS even make provision for their students to sit for the Cambridge A levels at their sixth secondary year of education at Senior Middle 3. What does this say about the encouragement not only of BM but also of English which are compulsory subjects in the MICSS? Many Malaysians may not be aware that the six-year system of secondary education in the MICSS is actually modelled after the American system of education.

When I was in charge of the campaign to gain recognition for the UEC from around the world during 1983 to 1985, the US colleges and universities were the first institutions to recognise the UEC. They did so after a thorough study of our curriculum, text books, examination papers and actually visiting our schools. And that was in the early Eighties! The National University of Singapore and other universities around the world have done the same accreditation of the UEC. The new Education Minister is only now talking about “a comprehensive and holistic study of the UEC” after opportunistically making the election promise to recognise the certificate!

  1. What is there to compromise?

I was asked this question in a recent interview: “Isn’t there a way to compromise on this controversy?” Is this after a handful of Malay supremacists demonstrated against the recognition of the UEC?

The MICSS system has existed in our country for exactly 100 years. The first Chinese primary school in Malaya was founded in 1819, 200 years ago. During the Independence struggle, the Chinese educationist, Lim Lian Geok constantly encouraged the Malay educationists to expand their secondary school system which did not receive much support from the colonial government.

At Independence in 1957, the Chinese and Tamil schools were part of the Malayan education system and the government education department also set the examination papers for the Chinese secondary schools. This was because Article 152 of the Federal Constitution allows the use, learning and teaching of any other language besides Malay. Furthermore, Section 3 of the 1957 Education Ordinance pledged to make the Malay language the national language of the country “whilst preserving and sustaining the growth of the language and culture of peoples other than Malays living in the country.”

The 1961 Education Act which embodied UMNO’s “Malay Agenda” changed all that and there were only 14 Chinese Secondary Schools left to fend on their own with community support. Since 1975 when the UEC was established after the MICSS was left out of the national education system, tens of thousands of UEC students have graduated from the MICSS. Most have had to pursue their further studies abroad.

For decades, the mother tongue schools in this country have been treated like the step children in a grim fairy tale. So, what is there to compromise? Like I said above, the only new factor is that before the GE14, Pakatan Harapan made the election promise that if they won, they would recognise the UEC because they were supposed to be more liberal and less bigoted than UMNO. How do you compromise when PH now reneges on that promise? What do these supposedly god-fearing politicians tell their children when they break promises or tell lies? How do they compromise with their children then?

  1. What will the country lose by not recognising the UEC?

Well, if the new PH government reneges on their election promise by not recognising the UEC, they will prove to the people that they are no different from the old regime dominated by UMNO. Our country will remain divided if graduates from the MICSS are denied the opportunity to participate in nation building and national integration by being refused admission into our tertiary institutions, our civil and armed services and GLCs.

Isn’t it amazing that the MICSS system is frequently accused of being segregationist even though all ethnic groups are welcomed into their schools. On the other hand, the MARA institutions such as UiTM flagrantly flaunt their apartheid “Bumis Only” policy even though they are funded by all Malaysian tax payers? And while UEC graduates want to be part of the national institutions, they are being told they cannot because their certificate is not recognised?!

Recognising UEC 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.

The country also loses when its restrictive policy holds back creative development of our human resources. Since 1975, thousands of UEC graduates have left, forced to further their studies and seek employment in foreign countries. Foreign countries including Singapore and Taiwan have welcomed them. For the information of Malaysians, the inventor of the thumb drive was a graduate of the MICSS who went on to study in Taiwan.

In our own country, for decades our UMNO-dominated country has told them “Good riddance”. The PH coalition won so much support from the Chinese voters in GE14 because they promised a more liberal and enlightened policy including recognising the UEC without any conditions. Actually, just before the GE14, even the BN had been forced to recognise the UEC with two conditions – SPM Malay credit and a pass in History. But that’s history…

The PH government has a choice of showing moral courage and political will to break from the years of UMNO bigotry and racism and to return the country to genuine national integration, inter-cultural understanding and creative development. Otherwise, the pussyfooting and backtracking on their election promises makes this all an utterly egregious conversation indeed…

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