Commenting on the Umno Youth chief's call for a new social contract, several groups argue that affirmative actions should be timeless but needs-based. They also defend vernacular schools.
Last week, Umno Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin called upon Malaysians to design a new social contract to forge ties among Malaysians who have become polarised over the years.
Among others, he called for affirmative action policies to have a clear timeline and to replace them with a meritocracy system after their shelf life.
The Rembau MP also called for a single school system, with Tamil and Mandarin being offered in national schools.
Tamil Foundation president S Pasupathi said Khairy should understand that the rootcause of disunity in the country is not the affirmative action policy itself but more of its implementation.
“Although the New Economic Policy (NEP) is designed to help the Malays, currently only Umnoputras benefit from it,” he said, referring to those alligned to the ruling party.
On arguments that the Malays are still lagging behind in terms of economic muscle, Pasupathi said a needs-based policy will ultimately benefit the community.
“If the Malays are poor, they will benefit from it. Nobody wants to see the Malays being poor and we want them to be successful as well,” he said.
Touching on vernacular schools, Pasupathi challenged Khairy to prove that mother tongue education is causing disunity among Malaysians.
“Why do we want to abolish a system that has promoted growth and unity all this while? If vernacular schools are divisive, then why are there about 30,000 Malay students studying in Chinese schools?” he asked.
He also said that mother tongue education is important in a child’s formative years and most vernacular schools teach their students to respect the diversity that exists in Malaysia.
“The mother tongue is the soul of our community. Remember the adage ‘Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa’ (language, the soul of the community),” he added.
Over dependence is bad
Federation of Chinese Associations of Malaysia (Hua Zong) deputy secretary-general Chin Yew Sin said even developed nations have affirmative action policies directed to assist those marginalised in their nations.
“But the stark difference is that they are designed to help all who are poor, irrespective of their racial backgrounds,” he told FMT.
The situation, Chin said, proves that no matter how much a nation progresses, there will be some marginalised groups that need to be assisted and therefore, the policy should be timeless.
However, he cautioned that too much dependence on government assistance will render a community incapable of facing the challenges in a globalised world.
Touching on the Malay community, Chin said the community has come to understand the negative effects of being too dependent in the long run.
“It’s like our children as well. If we keep protecting them, they will not be able to face life’s challenges. Similarly if you give the same amount of protection to the Chinese and Indians, we will also be affected badly,” he added.
On mother tongue education, Chin reminded Khairy that the rights of the vernacular schools are guaranteed by Article 152 of the Federal Constitution.
He also said that offering Tamil and Mandarin in national schools as subjects will only serve to teach the languages as a communication language.
“But in vernacular schools, it’s not only about the language but students learn the culture of the community as well. For some reason, the government fails to understand this,” he said.
Natives are deprived
Borneo Resources Institute (Brimas) executive director Mark Bujang also agreed that affirmative action should be designed to help all who are poor irrespective of race.
Citing Sabah and Sarawak as examples, he said the natives in the states are deprived economically despite being categorised as bumiputeras.
“For employment opportunities reserved for bumiputeras, ultimately it’s the Malays who get the lion’s share,” said Bujang who sees no problem in retaining vernacular schools as long as they follow the national curriculum.
Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) coordinator Colin Nicholas also agreed that affirmative action should be timeless and needs-based.
He also said that having a single school system will not necessarily equate to national unity.
“Whatever stream you are in, just ensure you instil national unity as its core value. Everyone seems to have forgotten unity in diversity,” he said.
However, Nicholas pointed out that indigenous communities are the most underprivileged even when it comes to education.
He explained that although there are some references to the Orang Asli community and their tradition in the past school syllabus, it is virtually non-existent in today’s curriculum.
“You may ask a student what is a LRT (Light Rail Transit) or MRT (My Rapid Transit) and they will be able to answer but how many of them know what is a blowpipe?” he asked.