This month is perhaps the most trying time in the lives of Malaysians aged 16 to 17. They are sitting for the SPM examination.
For many, the exam will determine the course of their lives. Can I be a doctor? Can I be an engineer? Or a pilot? A researcher in tropical diseases? Their dreams will be shaped by the exam, given that the next critical stage of their young lives – the path to university education – is decided by their SPM grades.
More than half a million students are going through the exam, which has been made harder this year by their having to endure studying through a pandemic that has crippled the usual modes of classroom education and social learning.
Given all this, one would think that the institutions of the state, if not society at large, would be well aware of the mental stress being imposed on these young people and their parents and thus understand they have an obligation to assist them in all ways possible.
However, these stressors are just the tip of an iceberg. The larger truth is hidden under the superficially calm yet cruel waters, in the silence of unseen forces under the waterline.
The iceberg is only getting larger with every passing year and the country is being steered towards it by an apartheid system inflicted upon even the children of this country. It is manifested at all the levels of our education policy. An example is the 90% quota for Malays for the pre-university matriculation course.
If one is a non-Malay and an aspiring doctor, one may never be able to realise one’s dream. A creative genius will be shunted out of the system or the country. A young person with a desire to become an ambassador will be deprived of the opportunity to study liberal arts and win a government scholarship.
The bitter reality is that we have a system of racial discrimination in education that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.
The sad truth is that innocent Malay children suffer from this system too by virtue of having privileges that others do not. The disenfranchised from poor families are taught in bad schools where standards are low because it appears the system does not believe that gaining access to the best education is critical. They are thus less able to compete and they grow up believing they are entitled.
Indeed, the sense of entitlement applies across the economic spectrum. Such is the perverse nature of discriminatory policies.
What is the large-scale discrimination that everyone knows about but only whispers of? It has nothing to do with how affirmative action should be used to benefit poor Malays, but everything to do with a deep psychosis at the heart of the political and economic system. That psychosis is institutional racism.
Racism that discriminates against children who cannot fight back is a sickness, and the political architects and perpetuators of this system should be exposed and shamed. So should all the well-heeled beneficiaries of such a system, especially the members of the Malay political and business elite who remain silent over this great injustice.
Here are some details:
The average student at a national school takes between eight and ten subjects, a mixture of science and liberal arts.
Depending on the grades they get, there are three pathways to the intermediate stage before they can get access to tertiary education.
The three pathways are:
Matriculation: This is a one-year pre-university preparatory programme offered by the education ministry that is heavily subsidised and guarantees a place in a university if one passes. However, since 2005, almost 90% of the positions available per year are reserved for Malays. This is a case of bad maths or plain racism in policy making.
A-levels or equivalent international qualifications: As these are international gradings, they are most often taught in private schools and are therefore the most costly option, prreventing many from taking it.
STPM: This pre-university course is affordable but considered extremely difficult. Only the top scorers secure places at local universities.
In all these options, the discrimination of children based on race is the determining factor. This is the simple and vulgar way in which it works:
All non-Malays must attain grades that are on average two or three times better than a Malay student in order to gain access to a local university or to obtain a scholarship. Of course, this does not mean there aren’t many smart and hardworking Malay children who attain excellent grades and deserve the slots. But it is also widely known that the grading system can be manipulated to lower the passing rate, with the primary goal of allowing a larger proportion of the Malay majority to pass. This is a core factor that has eroded education standards across the country and has had a large-scale detrimental effect on the job market.
What is wholly unacceptable is that a Malay student with two or three A grades out of eight to ten subjects will still have access to the easiest path to university education by way of the matriculation system, which is the least costly and which by right should serve all citizens irrespective of race.
As mentioned above, the problem is the race-based quota system which dedicates typically just 10% to 20% of places to non-Malays. No nation practices such blatant racism against its children. Yet, there is silence from nearly every corner, from the top institutions of the country to individual corporate leaders. One of the most racist education systems is simply accepted as the norm and no one is held accountable .
With no leadership or unified voice on this matter, we are headed quietly for the iceberg, with the lives of young Malaysians, especially those from poor backgrounds, being dismantled or destroyed in the process.
Some national schools in KL have good reputations built on their past achievements, but racially discriminative polices have lowered standards. Many Malay children in these schools have innate potential that they should be allowed to unleash, but through healthy and fair competition. But this becomes a challenge because the system assures them an easy path to success irrespective of their grades or economic status. Thus it is only natural that they feel they do not have to work as hard as their non-Malay classmates.
When these Malay students achieve above average grades – four to five A grades – then the floodgates of Malay privilege will open for them. These include fast tracks into the best universities in the country, scholarships to the best universities in the world and, on their return, guaranteed jobs in the government or the Malay-dominated GLC ecosystem. Their future is assured. But the sad thing is that the more privileged their background the easier their path. Those left in their wake include the poor Malays who are already at a disadvantage given the bad-quality education they have received.
If you are non-Malay, your nightmare begins now, unless you are in the minority group of the wealthy. If you attain seven A grades or above, you are still not guaranteed a place in the top local universities because your Malay classmates with three A grades will be given priority, even if they are the children of million-dollar-a-month executives.
As a non-Malay, your parents and even extended family will now have to huddle to decide how to give you a proper chance in life because the system will do all it can to suppress your potential despite your hard work and excellent results.
The system wants to deny you your basic rights so that it can continue with its supremacist policies. It wants your parents to be bled of their savings. If they somehow manage to save to pay for the more expensive education options, the system will make it hard for you to get jobs in government departments or the gravy-train GLC ecosystem. Meanwhile slots will remain reserved for your Malay classmates who did not do as well as you but went to the best universities, funded by the state. They would have come back to jobs where they would typically not have to compete with you in a system devoid of meritocracy and steeped in racism, a system that includes even esteemed institutions like Petronas, PNB and Khazanah. You would have to be twice as good to get in.
Yet you, the non-Malay, will find a way and will emerge stronger and better. In a perverse way, by being stoical and tolerant of blatant racism as a child, you have in-built resilience and a great chance to succeed as a professional. You are helping to build the country. You fortify the country against the risks arising from the lack of meritocracy in key institutions, which allows many of your Malay classmates to reach elevated positions and earn shockingly high salaries without competing with you. You become the backbone of the country. Without you, the economy of the country would be in tatters. By staying and building the country, you have become a proud patriot, the true Bumiputera.
And what of your Malay classmates? They too are victims of this racism. Institutional racism is a sickness they catch by being ensnared in it. These innocents are being indoctrinated to become racists. As adults, they will learn to defend their privileges, and this helps to further prop up institutional racism. But more troubling, they are being diminished by these very privileges, which do not allow them to fulfill their full potential. Their value systems are stuck in the swamp of racism and privilege. Many who rise to elevated positions no longer even notice this. The gravy is too tasty to allow values to get in the way.
These innocent Malay children are being taught the language of inferiority, prejudice and race resentment by their Malay elders. This is a terrible disservice to them and their potential, one that can only be realised if they are treated as equals, given good education and made to compete. The excuse of affirmative action is a lame one. To tell them that they are inferior and unable to compete with others is to saddle them with injuries that they will carry for life.
We as Malaysians have come to accept that the racist politicians will never speak up against blatant discrimination against children in the education system. This is an acceptance of the status quo that we should reject and find ways to challenge.
At the same time, why is there silence from the so-called well educated and globally attuned CEOs of the GLCs? Surely they as major employers know that this is morally wrong and will lower standards and affect the economy in a multitude of ways. Their silence is inexplicable and an indictment of the value systems of the business community. It would be good to have a response from them since they should know better and should understand the importance of meritocracy.
As for those who like to use the lame argument that this is an anti-Malay position because it seeks – according to them – to reverse affirmative action programmes, they need to be told that a nation which discriminates against its children by race has no values and that to seek to correct it is in fact to be pro-Malaysian and a true citizen.
Source : FMT