Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has finally bared his fangs and prematurely declared that the teaching of Maths and Science in schools will be in Bahasa Melayu and no longer in English, as it has been conducted for the past decade or so.
He definitely means Bahasa Malaysia, not Bahasa Melayu, which is in the dustbin of history.
Bahasa Malaysia, a work in progress, is Bahasa Melayu plus local dialects and languages plus English.
Bahasa Melayu is an old Khmer dialect plus Sanskrit plus Pali plus Arabic. The Bahasa Melayu used as the bahasa kebangsaan (national language) in Malaysia is the Johor-Riau-Lingga dialect.
The Hindu missionaries made Bahasa Melayu the language of religion. From there, it went on to become the language of administration, education and trade in the islands of Southeast Asia. Hence, it became the lingua franca of the Malay Archipelago. The term “Malay Archipelago” is a reference to the language rather than to any ethnic group.
Bahasa Melayu fell on hard times with the coming of westerners, and in their wake, Chinese immigrants.
In the British territories of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, for example, English replaced Bahasa Melayu. The language of the Chinese took over in the retail, if not wholesale, sector in Southeast Asia and relegated Bahasa Melayu and other local languages to the marketplace. Even so, Chinese businessmen in Southeast Asia conducted all business correspondence in English.
Muhyiddin is right if he thinks that students have a right to get schooling in their own mother tongues. This is enshrined in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is actively promoted by Unesco.
However, he is dead wrong if he thinks that only those who habitually speak Bahasa Melayu have a right to get formal schooling in their mother tongue.
Those who habitually speak English at home have a right as well to get schooling in that language.
And that goes as well for those who speak any number of other tongues at home in Malaysia, namely, Kadazandusun, Bajau, Suluk, Filipino, Bugis and Chinese in Sabah; Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Orang Ulu, Sarawak Malay and Chinese in Sarawak; Orang Asli, Thai, Portuguese, Bahasa Melayu, Tamil and Chinese in Peninsular Malaysia.
To bring all these people together, we have Bahasa Malaysia, which is not bahasa kebangsaan.
The Federal Constitution clearly states that Bahasa Melayu is the bahasa kebangsaan of Malaysia.
Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. Bahasa Melayu is no longer used in the schools. Its role has been replaced by Bahasa Malaysia and is spoken only at home, especially in the kampungs in the southern parts of Peninsular Malaysia.
Again, when Muhyiddin talks about Maths and Science being taught in Bahasa Melayu, he is actually talking about Bahasa Malaysia which, as stated, is not the bahasa kebangsaan.
Those who claim that Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Malaysia are synonymous will then have to explain why Bahasa Indonesia is not synonymous with Bahasa Melayu. Bahasa Malaysia is not synonymous with Bahasa Indonesia either.
Bahasa Indonesia is Bahasa Melayu plus local dialects and languages plus Dutch plus English. The most widely spoken languages at home in Indonesia are Javanese and Sundanese. “Indonesia” is an Anglicised version of two Greek words, Indos (Indian) and nesos (Islands). The Greeks referred to the South Asian subcontinent as the Land of the Ind (Indus River) and hence India, the Anglicised form.
Another example is Filipino, which is Tagalog plus local dialects and languages plus Spanish plus English.
If Muhyiddin is really serious about the kampung kids in Peninsular Malaysia getting schooling in Bahasa Melayu, the bahasa kebangsaan, he should stop passing off Bahasa Malaysia as Bahasa Melayu. Bahasa Malaysia only strikes a chord with those who are familiar with other local dialects and languages and English.
The kampung kids in Peninsular Malaysia are weak in English, and therefore, they will continue to be weak in Bahasa Malaysia. What they need is schooling in Bahasa Melayu.
Before Muhyiddin goes ahead with the teaching of Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia, he will have to explain why it is not being done in Bahasa Melayu, the bahasa kebangsaan.
He will also have to explain whether the Tamils, Chinese and others in Malaysia, including English speakers, will have the right to schooling in their mother tongues. If not, it will be yet another blot on the country’s human rights record and calls for intervention by the United Nations Security Council, United Nations General Assembly and Unesco.
The Bar Council of Malaya, the Sabah Law Association and the Sarawak Advocates Association should also state their stand on the issue of schooling in the mother tongue and on the issue of bahasa kebangsaan.
The ruling Barisan Nasional, supported by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, can amend Article 152 of the Federal Constitution to state that Bahasa Malaysia is the bahasa kebangsaan of Malaysia.
However, this is easier said than done.
For starters, the Conference of Malay Rulers will have to be consulted.
For another, those who habitually speak Bahasa Melayu at home in southern Peninsular Malaysia will not take too kindly to their mother tongue being dropped as the bahasa kebangsaan.
The bottom line is that those who habitually speak Bahasa Melayu cannot be forced to study Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia. This is where the court should come in and put right a wrong.
All Malaysians have the right to get schooling in their mother tongues. This is a point which has been made time and again by Hindraf Makkal Sakthi and Chinese educationists.
(Joe Fernandez, Free Malaysia Today, 1 November 2011)
Uthaya Sankar SB’s verdict: Joe Fernandez is confused!