Sarawak and Sabah activists call for complete overhaul of national education system

Classroom. — DayakDaily.com file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

KUCHING, Jan 6: Two activists are calling for a revamp of the country’s education system, suggesting an East Malaysian to become its minister.

In a joint press statement, activists from Sarawak and Sabah, Peter John Jaban and Atama Katama respectively, asserted a complete overhaul in the national education system is a must after undergoing a ‘disastrous and retrograde period’ and as the system has been already damaged by years of neglect and political interference under the former administration.

According to Peter who is also the Sarawak Association for People’s Aspirations (SAPA) information chief, since the formation of Malaysia, there has been over-emphasis of Malay interests in the school syllabus, largely because the education department has been dominated by this one racial group, from its minister down to the ministry employees.

“As a result, the provision of language instruction has been heavily politicised, from the neglect of instruction in major world languages such as Mandarin and English, to the absence of our own minority indigenous languages in a classroom setting.

“This has been to the detriment of our students’ ability to compete on the world stage and also risks losing our cultural diversity which should be a source of pride,” he opined.


Peter noted that there are all kinds of ‘crazy ideas’ over the last two years, from the scheme to import Saudi Arabian trainees to teach English to the policy of making Jawi lessons compulsory for all students in what is already a packed school schedule.

He acknowledged Jawi as an important aspect of Malaysian culture, history and heritage, but questioned whether it is so important as to supplant other educational priorities for all students and whether it is more important than the promotion and preservation of all the other indigenous languages in the country.

He explained that the Borneo states boast multiple language groups such as the Ibanic, Dusunic, Sama-Bajau, and Bidayan, just to name a few, and many of these are unique to Borneo and are already under threat of disappearing.

“Perhaps it is time for us to have an education minister from either Sabah or Sarawak to bring some balance to the syllabus and hopefully then our students might even learn the history of the formation of their own nation.

“It is time for Malaysia to fully recognise that it is made up of multiple races and this must start with our youth,” he added.

Both activists suggested that a more representative education system for a multi-cultural country like Malaysia, with a wide range of distinct and unique language groups, is a fundamental requirement for national unity in a time of increasing calls for autonomy and news stories of racial disharmony.

Meanwhile, Atama Katama who is the Sabahan Dayak representative to the United Nations in New York, opined it is not enough to appoint an Education Minister from a national-minority ethnic group when the education system in Malaysia is an industrial complex entirely centered in a West Malaysian paradigm.

“If we want a more representative education system, the systemic barriers must be first uncurled by appointing East Malaysian experts to lead at various levels such as in the Examination Board, the Institute of Language & Literature and the National Education Publishing Houses,” he said.

Both activists, despite hoping for the preservation of indigenous languages across the board within a school context, equally recognise that these efforts should be the result of choice and not coercion, as the educational priorities of a developing nation such as Malaysia must still be on skills that will make the nation more competitive on a world stage which has focused efforts on introducing an “advanced curriculum” that promotes IR 4.0.

Students in the Borneo states must first be prepared for this leap and the emphasis should be on the position of Malaysia in the world, rather than on the position of one race relative to another on the local stage, they asserted.

Sarawak and Sabah, in particular, they claimed, are still so far left behind and need skilled workers as technology advances as much as they need recognition of their indigenous languages, which have been overlooked, under-recognised and left behind. — DayakDaily