At last month’s Umno general assembly, incoming party vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein floated the prospect of revisiting how history is taught in the nation’s schools. The suggestion immediately raised eyebrows among Umno’s partners-in-governance, with the MCA pledging to convene a conference on the matter. CHOK SUAT LING, SHERIDAN MAHAVERA, SITI NURBAIYAH NADZMI and YONG HUEY JIUN explore what may have fallen through the cracks of this country’s historical mosaic as it is presented in the school curriculum.
WHAT can and what can’t be found in school history textbooks has been a source of concern for many years.
Besides omissions and insufficient emphasis on certain communities, experts and parents alike contend that some of the text and illustrations in history textbooks are placed there to subtly brainwash young minds.
Some of these elements contain politically-aligned and narrow views that can skew students’ impressions of historical events and their impact on the country and its communities.
While school history textbooks now make a clear push for a national culture and society, are more comprehensive, and encourage students to be more analytical than in the past, when they were required to merely regurgitate facts and dates for examinations, certain elements in the texts must be reviewed.
In the Form Three textbook, for example, the contentious term “ketuanan Melayu”, or “Malay supremacy”, appears with a definition deemed inappropriate. Some quarters argue that the phrase should not have been included in the textbook in the first place.
In the same textbook, one illustration gives the impression that vernacular schools cannot promote national unity, and a paragraph on the same page states that vernacular schools will progressively be phased out.
Also in the Form Three text, specifically in the chapter on cooperation among the races towards independence, the quote used to illustrate the theme states that the country belongs to the Malays and should, therefore, be returned to them.
These are just some of the elements that have found their way into history textbooks under the secondary school integrated curriculum (Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah).
Former Kelana Jaya member of parliament Loh Seng Kok thinks too much focus is given to Tamadun Islam, or Islamic Civilisation. “There was only one chapter in the old Form Four history textbook, but now five out of 10 are on this subject matter,” said Loh, who carried out a study on history textbooks two years ago.
Loh, along with his MCA colleagues, submitted a memorandum to the Education Ministry pursuant to that study.
What has also been noted is the downplaying of the roles played by Chinese and Indian communities in the socio-economic development of the country.
Some quarters also take exception to the Chinese clans, the Ghee Hin and Hai San, which played so pivotal a role in the advent of colonial administration in the Malay states, being described as kongsi gelap or secret societies, abiding by the old British proscriptions on these organisations.
Specific historical figures such as Gurchan Singh, the “Lion of Malaya”, and Sybil Karthigesu have all but vanished from the record. Both resisted the Japanese during the occupation of Malaya in World War 2 and paid the price for it. They used to get some mention, but have since disappeared from the pages of our history.
The key historical roles played by prominent figures from Sabah and Sarawak also merit little or no mention beyond “a line or two”.
All Malaysian communities have their role in the story of how this nation came to be what it is today, and history texts need to reflect this shared ownership. Questions of ethnic relations in history must be discussed in scrupulously neutral language, without judgments of right or wrong.
A review would, indeed, be timely, but it must be collective, consultative and knowledge-based, not driven by emotion or political imperatives. — CSL
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Omissions in history books brainwashing our young