AT a closed door event last month, I was called “pengkhianat bangsa” or traitor to the Malay race by the chairman of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP).
DBP is a body that publishes textbooks for national schools, among other roles. The topic under discussion was “Bahasa Melayu atau Bahasa Malaysia”, and the chairman took a swipe at me, twice, in my absence, as he ended his tirade against the English language and my support for the Johor Sultan’s call for English-medium schools.
It was caught on video and aired by the alternative media for all to see. I felt it was uncalled for, for a man of his standing. Nonetheless, we at the Parent Action Group for Education must be doing something right to provoke such annoyance and irritability among the ultra-Malay traditionalists.
But, who really is a ‘pengkhianat bangsa’?
Students at a secondary school in Sungai Petani say the English language is “bahasa kafir” or the language of the infidels, I was told by a teacher. Another notion is that English is the language of the colonials. The argument goes that we do not want to return to the colonial days and thus, speaking the language of the infidels must be avoided at all costs.
Yet, these are the students who are sadly still unable to read and write well at secondary level — a situation the system chooses to ignore. They continue being monolingual and many are unable to proceed to tertiary education, while some drop out, and more often than not, become a nuisance to society. Students who attempt to speak English will be teased, ridiculed, shunned and called names like “Mat/Minah Salleh”, giving them little hope of learning the language with confidence.
The general sentiment among the ultra-Malay traditionalists is that the national language, which they insist is Bahasa Melayu and not Bahasa Malaysia, will be relegated to a lesser status, gradually be eroded and eventually become extinct. This lack of confidence or inferiority complex appears to transcend all sense of reason, thought and reasonableness. This fear, however, is unfounded.
The Federal Constitution clearly defines the status of the national language and its importance as the official language of the nation. Every Malaysian is proud to have Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia as the national language and the education system will ensure that students leave school with a sufficient command of it.
Majlis Tindakan Ekonomi Melayu (MTEM), at its recent major roundtable conference, passed numerous resolutions that were accepted and received by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, which further reinforced what we already know, and more, about the weak economic standing of the Malays.
Among other things, it is claimed that bumiputeras make up 82% of the workers with no formal education, comprise 70% of all jobless graduates in 2010, occupy only 8% of managerial positions in the private sector, and are over-represented in the declining primary sector.
About 75% of the Malay labour force are semi or unskilled workers, 25% are categorised as management staff, professionals or skilled workers, while 26.3% of the community’s households earn below RM2,000 monthly. They own 90.7% of all micro-sized enterprises, and their businesses make up only 8.2% of large companies, amounting to 15% of total market capitalisation. The Malays made up 48.4% of the 10,000 youths declared bankrupt in 2012 and own only 25% of the total value of properties in Malaysia.
We can assume that a large proportion of these bumiputeras are monolingual. Being monolingual, particularly in Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia, in the age of the internet has tremendous limitations. Of the 2.8 billion internet users worldwide,
800.6 million use English, making it the most widely used language.
In the publication of books, 490,000 new titles were produced each year by the US and Britain together, compared with Malaysia’s 17,923.
Yes, Indonesia is monolingual but it is largely homogeneous. The country’s sheer size in terms of population and large domestic market allows it to maintain its own path without having to largely depend on external trade to be an economic force in its own right.
As a trading nation with an open economy, Malaysia needs trading partners — particularly in the Asean region, Europe and North America — where the official language is English. We need our youngsters to be proficient in English to scale the economic ladder, or at the very least, be competitive in Asean, if not globally.
It would be an injustice to our future generations if we were to hamper and stifle them from reaching the stars. Learn the knowledge that is widely available in English, develop it, then create from it and be successful at it. Once Malaysians become an international force to be reckoned with, we will then be able to develop Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia as a language of knowledge.
So, who really is a “pengkhianat bangsa”?
Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim is chairman of PAGE Malaysia, an educational lobby that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders. PAGE wishes all Muslim readers Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 20 - 26, 2015.