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Reclaiming our truly Malaysian history

CPI Writings

historyIntroduction by CPI

Below is the first in the CPI series on ‘Reclaiming our truly Malaysian history’.

The post provides readers with information on the meeting held in Petaling Jaya on May 15 to launch the national campaign on reforming the history curriculum and textbooks.

During the next few weeks and months, CPI will feature analysis and contributions from scholars and educators on the history reform issue so that the public and government are made aware of and fully understand the ramifications of education – in this case, the history curriculum and textbooks – being used as a political football by the powers that be.

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History curriculum creating katak di bawah tempurung

By Centre for Policy Initiatives

The campaign for a truly Malaysian history was launched on Sunday by a group of academics and notable NGO figures on the back of strong public support, particularly from parents of schoolgoing children concerned about our biased KBSM textbooks. (See online petition, poster in left sidebar).

history-reform

Photo courtesy of The Malaysian Insider

It urges a review of the History curriculum which contains many shortcomings, including the overt and overly Islamic and Malay-centric slant, factual errors, half-truths, value judgments and politically motivated content.

The movement is pressing for an honest and transparent review of the syllabus in place of the current window-dressing exercise which will only serve to infuse the teaching of History with yet more propaganda. The existing textbooks need to be overhauled so that students will learn an accurate and well-balanced account of our country’s history.

Urgently requiring reform

During the campaign launch, historian Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi – a panellist on the movement’s watchdog committee – gave a presentation on aspects of our textbooks which are untruthful and not objective. (See follow-up in CPI tomorrow)

Furthermore, what Ranjit calls ‘value judgments’ in the History textbooks are printed in bold typeface and in a striking colour that stands out from the rest of the ordinary font. An example is page 255 of the Form Four textbook.

 

bangsa-asing

 

Here the textbook writers had imposed their own opinionated piece of fear mongering which reads:

 

“In short, the development and prosperity of Tanah Melayu succeeded in drawing the interest of the immigrants to come here and this situation is extended up to the present day. We should be proud that our country is the focus of pendatang asing due to our wealth and prosperity. Looking at it from another point of view, the local inhabitants should strive to be more industrious, display more initiative and be prepared to administer the wealth of this country, especially those who do not have a huge capital. If not, the orang asing who are always on the lookout for opportunities will capitalize on openings and take over our role, as has happened today.”

 

These alarming ‘Rumusan’ (conclusion) nuggets on the official moral of the story are redolent of the notorious Biro Tata Negara (BTN) brainwashing and scattered throughout the History textbooks.

Sins of omission

Ranjit also contends there is a “lopsided emphasis on Islamic civilization”. Ironically, words such as ‘wahyu’, ‘nabi’ and ‘rasul’ which are prohibited to Christians under the various state enactments with regard to Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation amongst Muslims) are, on the contrary, introduced to non-Muslim teenagers through the Form Four History textbook. 

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While the general public is now aware that a whopping five chapters (out of a total of 10 in Form Four) are devoted to Islam, few realise that the other religions are given short shrift with a passing mention of only three pages. According to Ranjit, the amount of text related to Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, all added up, total a mere 832 words (which is shorter than the length of this article). 

pg15

Ranjit also brought up the fact how “undue emphasis is given to trivial matters and unimportant personalities which are of no historical significance” pertaining to the Islamic world. CPI found that in comparison, the Form Four textbook which deals with world history has shockingly omitted key developments such as the Hammurabi and Justinian codes of fundamental jurisprudence, and other civilization milestones.

Abu Lahab and Bilal bin Rafah are among the Islamic names cited by Ranjit as non-entities prolifically introduced to Malaysian students of history. On the other hand, given the pronounced trend of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka authors to negate non-Muslim contributions to world history, you will no longer be surprised that notable figures such as Sima Qian, Kalidasa and Thomas Aquinas are missing from the Index listing.

On the Malay supremacy concept, Ranjit noted its appearance in the Form Three textbook (page 45) where Ketuanan Melayu “ditakrifkan sebagai semangat cinta akan apa saja yang berkaitan dengan bangsa Melayu seperti hak politik, bahasa, kebudayaan, warisan, adat istiadat dan tanah air”.

A joint report by the Centre of Malaysian Chinese Studies and Nanyang University Alumni Association found that the KBSM History syllabus has altogether 465 pages on the Malays (80%), 16 on Chinese and eight on Indians. (CPI will be featuring their power-point presentation on the report findings provided during the meeting in a later post.)

Most tellingly, there are zero pages on the Orang Asli. How can the original inhabitants of the land ‘mysteriously’ disappear from what purports to be the authoritative history of Malaysia?

Pity the students

A teacher who spoke at the event revealed that History is the subject his students hate the most. In Malaysian schools, the teaching of History is not geared towards enhancing deep learning but merely a form of rote memorization.

The format of KBSM History clearly does not foster critical thinking. Instead it encourages spoonfeeding students with, among other things, doses of xenophobia. They are explicitly warned against opportunistic foreigners and rapacious immigrants.

This ‘pendatang’ leitmotif that runs through the syllabus is a constant reminder that the Chinese and Indians only came to Malaysia – in the words of Prof. Ramlah Adam, a Perkasa council member-cum-deputy chair panellist on the government’s review board – as “investors and coolies”.

The government panel has been appointed to relook the History textbooks in order to incorporate a focus on building patriotism and national unity. There is a justified fear that this process will be abused by the powers that be.

Last year, Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had made a unilateral announcement at the Umno general assembly that by 2013, History will be a compulsory pass subject for SPM.

This move will result in students being force-fed the diktats of the Education Ministry and regurgitating the input just to pass their SPM. The dismal standards of formal education and the political agenda of the government will soon shrink the thinking capacity of our next generation.

 

Tomorrow: CPI will be uploading slides from Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi’s presentation on ‘Current History education: Major shortcomings’.

Other contributions in the CPI series on ‘Reclaiming our truly Malaysian History’ that will follow shortly:

  • Dr Cheong Yuen Keong, Nandai/CMCS  report on ‘Perbincangan tentang buku teks Sejarah’

  • Campaign for a Truly Malaysian History’ blog posting by a campaign participant

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