Title : THE POLITICS OF CHINESE EDUCATION IN MALAYA 1945 – 1961
Author : TAN LOK EE
Publisher : OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
Published : 1997
Background : Most of the research on which this book is based was done for the author’s Ph.D. thesis, which was submitted to the University of Malaya in 1985. The author is an Associate Professor of Humanities at Universiti Sains Malaysia.
The history of the Chinese Education Movement, from its genesis in 1951 to its dissolution in 1961, can be subdivided into three main stages. There was a period of initiation from 1951 to 1954 in which the main objective was opposition to British policies. This was followed by a second stage, from January 1955 to August 1957, in which leaders of the movement entered into crucial compromises with Alliance leaders. In the third stage, which began after Merdeka, there were confrontations and crisis leading finally to the dissolution of the movement in 1961
The early Chinese schools in Malaya were replicas of the pattern of schooling common in China during the Qing Dynasty. They were either sishu (private schools), or yixue (charitable or free schools). The Chinese immigrants set up these schools since they found the colonial authorities were indifferent to the education of their children.
Annual Reports on Education in the 1930s noted that the vast majority of staff in Chinese schools were recruited from China. Until 1950, the Chinese schools had been patterned on models of education drawn from China with teachers and textbooks imported from China. Through their textbooks and teachers, the Chinese schools in Malaya continued to inculcate a China orientation amongst their students.
These China-oriented schools for Chinese children faced an uncertain future because they were viewed as barriers to the integration of young Chinese into Malayan life by the Colonial government and the Malay rulers. The Barnes Report of 1951 called on both the Chinese and Indian living in Malaya to accept a single system of schools teaching only in English and Malay. The release of the report was the catalyst which activated a movement to defend the Chinese schools. Supporters of the Chinese schools feared that the colonial government, with the support of the Malay leaders, was going to close the Chinese schools or force them to convert into English or Malay schools.But the British was forced to accept that the Chinese schools were not easy to displace because taking harsh measures against the Chinese schools would have alienated more Chinese whose support were needed during the Emergency. The British were also not able to provide alternatives to the Chinese schools.
The meeting in Tan Cheng Lock’s home in January 1955 marked the beginning of the second stage in the history of the Chinese education movement. At this meeting, the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) leaders promised not to eliminate the languages, schools and cultures of the various races. In exchange, the United Chinese School Teachers’ Association (UCSTA) undertook not to raise the issue of Chinese as an official language until after the 1955 elections. The Chinese teachers also agreed to support the Alliance in the elections while the Alliance promised to change the education policy if it came to power. The essence of this bargain became part of the Alliance Election Manifesto for the July 1955 elections and formed the basis of the Razak Committee’s recommendations in 1956.
The Razak Report emphasizes that a common curriculum is the key to integrating the Malay, Chinese, Tamil, and English primary schools within the national system of education. The objective of making primary school education available to every child overrides the issue of a single language of instruction. The report also emphasized that Secondary schools were allowed to teach in different languages but all the schools in the national system were required to prepare their students for the two new public examinations, LCE and MCE, which were conducted in the national language.
Leaders of the Chinese education movement and the Malay leaders refrained from pushing their demands during the negotiations on the Merdeka Constitution between 1956 to 1957, since the common objective was to end the British rule. The unresolved issue was a contributory factor to the tension between the UMNO and MCA. The UMNO-MCA crisis ended with the departure of MCA leaders who had maintained close links with the UCSTA. The passing of 1961 Education Act signaled the final break between the UCSTA and the Alliance.
The common factor of all the stages of the Chinese Education Movement is that the Chinese Education issue became a central focus of Chinese politics because it was bound up with other issues facing the Chinese. Support for Chinese education issues represented support for Chinese rights which were perceived as being denied or threatened by state policies.
The main objective of the Chinese Education Movement between 1951 and 1961 was to win a place for the Chinese schools within the national education system. However, from 1971, the main focus shifted to supporting Chinese educational institutions outside the national system, such as the Independent Chinese Secondary Schools (ICSS) and the proposed Merdeka University. Through the Merdeka University issue, the Dongjiazong, the Chinese acronym referring jointly to the UCSTA and UCSCA, came to be known as a defender of Chinese rights. The Dongjiazong’s concerns reached outside the limitations of Chinese politics in the 1980s when its leaders began to join non-communally based non-governmental organizations (NGO) in opposing government policies and legislations beyond the issues of language, education and culture.
The phases of Chinese Education Movement coincided with periods of social and political transformation in Malaysian Society. Chinese education became a central issue in Chinese politics in Malaysia because it was closely linked to a wide range of issues affecting many Chinese, linked with questions of political status and cultural identity as well as with issues of access to education opportunities and social mobility.