History subject is one of the most vital medium in schools to turn our children into becoming Malaysians. During my schooling years, History was taught to children as young as 7 years old. These days, I learnt that history lessons are only learned by secondary children and even then, it is an elective subject.
Who came up with the idea that History is not an important subject to be learned by young children? After a few years, we now have young adults who do not even know the history of their own country.
Ask them what is the name of the 1st Agong of this country? How did Raja James Brooke become the King of Sarawak? How did Francis Light take over Pulau Pinang from Kedah? Who was the first Deputy Prime Minister? And who designed our Malaysian flag? Most will not even score 2 out of 5.
When I first learned that History were to make a compulsory pass subject in SPM, I think this is a very good move. What is more important is to make this subject a must learned subject from the primary stages. The recent announcement from the Ministry of Education was a welcome relief.
Back in primary school, I learned Bahasa Malaysia, English, Agama Islam, Geography, History, Science, Mathematics, Health, Civics, Arts and Music. Students from other faiths took Moral Education instead of Islamic Studies.
In the afternoon about twice a week, I had to go to ‘kelas mengaji’ to study and recite the Quran and learn the Jawi.
In the Penilaian Darjah Lima, we took 5 subjects in the exams – Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mathematics, Science and a paper that combines Geography and History.
We must get 5As in order to enter a good secondary school. It was simple. It was not complicated. It was workable.
But when KBSR and KBSM came about in the late 80’s, the education ministry changed the whole dynamics of the system and began to shift the focus of education to be more results oriented than to focus on the learning experience itself.
Students began chasing results. Parents began to be more competitive in order to bring the best out of their children. Students with 12As, 15As and even 20As began to appear. Teachers became lethargic. Students with good results couldn’t handle the more demanding, independent world of tertiary education because during their primary and secondary years, they were not focused in human interaction much due to the fact that their entire lives till then were spent in front of books and computers. Coupled with the flip flopping education policies in the recent years, the whole education system is down-spiraling out of control.
Going against the tide of the ministry of education is the noisy opposition movements that are motivated by ulterior motives.
PPSMI was reversed after the ministry of education bent over backwards to pacify the Anti PPSMI Movement or GAP (Gerakan Anti PPSMI) for short. Nevermind the fact that PPSMI was only introduced 6 years earlier.
Even before that, the Education Act 1996 was adopted to sanctify the existence of vernacular schools after the then minister of education succumbed to political pressure from racial pressure groups. Nevermind that the very existence of the Education Act 1996 runs contrary to a couple of acts in the Constitution.
It is amazing that everytime there is a change of minister in the education ministry, our education policies would change as well.
All the policy changes regardless whether it is a reversal of previous policies or mere improvements from the current ones will have severe affect on to the students. It is worse if these changes are not substantiated with indepth studies by the relevant ministry.
The last time we had a comprehensive, 360 degrees study of our education policy was in the 60s through the Penyata Razak.
It is high time we have a similar study after nearly half a century had lapsed. Anybody from the cabinet dared to suggest this? Or is everyone up there is just looking after their own interests (instead of the nation’s)?
Anyway, I digress.
The History subject must be made compulsory from the early stages of education. Those who have seen the Tv Show – ‘Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader’ would immediately realise that kids in America as young as 6 years old are taught about the history of their country with such zest and pride.
But what kind of history are we suppose to teach our children?
History as a subject has two pronged objectives. One, to instil patriotism into the heart of every citizen from their childhood stage. Two, as source of knowledge on their surroundings and how they perceive their world.
In America, History was a touchy subject for the people especially with the advent of multiculturism among its people. With the influx of foreigners and the calls for equality among the afro-american movement, history as a subject was a sensitive issue indeed.
For example, how do you reconcile the fact that George Washington, the founding father of United States of America, has many black slaves and treated them harshly?
How can one see Abraham Lincoln as one of the greatest President the United States had ever had but at the same time he ‘supported projects to remove blacks from the United States’ and said that ‘blacks could not be assimilated into white society and rejected the notion of social equality of the races’?
Multi-culturism pose a big threat to the learning of a country’s history because history in the eyes of each community living in a particular country is different from one another.
Was the Great Settlement of the Mid West by the white colonials in America a great human achievement for the whites? Or was it a mass extermination of the native Red Indians and their way of life by the europeans?
All this needs to be addressed by the policy makers of the United States of America. Their solution?
Assimilation of their citizens through schools.
Schools became the pillars of nation building.
With thousands of ethnicities coming in to America on daily basis, schools are the places where they transform immigrants into Americans.
The need to transform each and every people living in the USA as a person that live and breathe as an American came about 200 years ago when it’s 6th President, John Quincy Adams wrote that immigrants ‘must cast off their European skin, never to resume it’.
An American education reformer, Horace Mann stated that ‘a foreign people cannot be transformed into the full stature of American citizens merely by a voyage across the Atlantic’.
Very poignant and astute observation indeed.
Hence, the education system must be streamlined in order for the students to see themselves as Americans so that history is viewed without any racial stereotyping attached to it.
So what if George Washington owned slaves? So what if Abraham Lincoln was racist?
Each and every American out there reveres them both as the founding father and a great leader based on their achievements alone and what good they had brought to the Americans even centuries after they had passed away.
In other aspects, the native Americans in the USA are very patriotic regardless what happened to their people in the past.
Back in Malaysia, we hear so many negative opposition from the people who are against the subject of history made compulsory in schools. This is precisely because their views came from the racial angle.
All the prejudice, the stereotyping, the paranoia are the by-products of segregated education they experienced in their early childhood. At the very least, their views were contaminated by the very people that champion the need to segregate our children.
In the end, history is being promoted by these clustered group of people as evil and should not be taught to our children. We see so many unsavoury characters in the cyberspace trying hard to re-write history based on fiction and malicious motives.
We know that this country has a history that spanned thousands of years. We learned that this land was populated by people more than 2 thousand years ago. There were, in existence, great kingdoms and dynasties.
I learned a great deal about Langkasuka, Gangga Nagara and Patani in my primary schools. Everyone then knew about the establishment of Melaka Sultanate as well. We learned about the centuries of struggle for independence from foreign conquerors ever since Sultan Mahmud was defeated by Alfonso D’Albuquerque.
Names like Sultan Abdul Jalil Riayat Shah, Raja Haji, Datuk Maharajalela, Datuk Bahaman, Tok Janggut, Mat Kilau, Datuk Dol Naning were remembered in history alongside Mustapha Hussain, Datuk Onn Jaafar, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tun V.T. Sambathan.
The pillars of the nation are addressed in the History lessons by teachers to our children on weekly basis. They learn Negaraku, the national symbols and the basic history of our country. This is the seed of patriotism that is sown in the hearts of every Malaysian.
It amazes me how some people find this irrelevant and that history must not be a compulsory subject to be learned.
The problem with this simple issue is that we are a segregated society. The existence of vernacular schools made it impossible to even discuss this very beneficial thing in a positive manner.
Suddenly, there are quarters that said that immigrants coming to this land in the 19th and early 20th centuries must be given due recognition in the history textbooks. This is actually a political problem.
Several decades before this, when history is learned as a subject in schools, we learned about the immigrants coming in to our country and started a new life here. Nobody ever protested about this bit of information. Apart from this being the true historical fact, it has also recognised the fact that Malaysia now, is made up of many cultures plainly due to economic problems and the migration of the immigrats here was how the colonial masters solved those problems.
This is nothing new and so, the demands of the these quarters are at best, redundant.
And yes, the immigrants had made the country livelier and what we are today is partly due to their existence. But we must also remember, this country is far older than 1957. History of this country does not start in 1957. Due recognition must also be given to those who had lived in before that. In fact, if not for the achievements of the great civilisations especially the Melaka sultanate, we might be left in obscurity.
The quote – “He who is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice” will not exist. Other civilisations would have not looked our way.
Therefore, the current contention on the issue of history in schools are merely political tools to further the agenda for power using racist means. It stemmed from being schooled in vernacular education; where the feeling of being sieged and lack of inter-racial mingling had urged them to play the one-upmanship game.
In any case, like how the Americans are accepting their history, Malaysians must accept their country’s history from the eyes of Orang Malaysia.
The need for racial posturing when it comes to history must be stopped. Only desperate politicians would look through the racial lense and try to skew history to further their agenda for power. People must not look at history as if it is a disease that must be eradicated. A person would not want to learn history only if he has a terrible past that needs to be hidden.
Academician never think twice when analysing history. They see it as it is. They do not wear the racial ‘hat’ whenever the subject of history is raised.
It is suggested that history must be inclusive, honest and without malice. But what is more important, history must be taught in classrooms of a single stream education system to eradicate any deviation from its set objectives.
Only then this subject will not be maligned by unscrupulous, characters populating our political platforms. If one follows the slogan 1Malaysia carefully, there is no need for vernacular schools at all.
The newly set up Education Advisory Council must look into this matter diligently. I hope it has a strong mandate to steer this subject into the correct path and once and for all, Malaysia will produce Orang Malaysia who are patriotic enough not to disgrace his/her own country.
Because, at the end of the day, regardless whether you are the 4th generation chinese whose great grandfather came to Malaya in a junk, or your ancestors were from South India, or some of your ancestors came from Siam, Sulu or Acheh, everyone now is Orang Malaysia.
You must have the characteristics of an Orang Malaysia, not the characteristics of the people from your ancestral land. To be otherwise only proves that some of us have not integrated well with the rest and are not inclusive in nature.