The Sun produced on its front cover yesterday, an article entitled “History Textbooks Biased, says writer”. I would agree to some parts of the article but in most parts, it actually had proved correct to what I have said in this original article of mine.
The reporter, Zakiah Koya, interviewed two academicians named Dr Ranjit Singh and Mr Ng How Kuen regarding their opinion about the current history syllabus. Bear in mind, these two academicians are currently working within the education system whereby they play an active part in producing what our children is currently refer to in schools.
Some of the excerpts are:
“Secondary school history textbooks have been used to promote political interests. It should be a scholarly pursuit and not politically-motivated,” said Ranjit who showed theSun history textbooks with errors and exaggerated facts.
“Five out of 10 chapters of the Form Four history textbook deal with Islamic history as compared to only one chapter in the earlier textbook. The intention of the earlier syllabus was to expose our students to World History,” he said when commenting on the announcement that the history syllabus is being reviewed and that the subject will be made a compulsory pass in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia from 2013.
He also said certain historical personalities, such as Yap Ah Loy (the third Kapitan China of Kuala Lumpur), were not given due recognition. Yap played a major role in the development of Kuala Lumpur as a commercial and tin-mining centre, particularly after the fire of 1881,” he said, adding that the Form Two history textbook had only one sentence on Yap as “one of the persons responsible for developing Kuala Lumpur”.
“There is also no mention of freedom fighters such as Gurchan Singh (“Lion of Malaya”) and Sybil Karthigesu who resisted the Japanese Occupation of Malaya,” he said. (Gurchan secretly distributed a newspaper during the Japanese occupation while Sybil, who was tortured by the Japanese, and her husband treated wounded guerillas of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army).
“The 1996 Form One textbook stated inter alia that a few Indian merchants lent their junks to the Portuguese in their attack on Malacca. I know of no historical evidence to support this fact,” said Ranjit.
“Six Chinese captains agreed to lend their junks to the Portuguese due to their hatred for Sultan Mahmud who had earlier detained them and their men to help attack Aru. The Portuguese used only one junk provided by one of the Chinese,” he said.
Ranjit pointed out that the decision to make history a must pass subject for SPM from 2013 was rooted in a wrong premise. “It is not right to assume that students will study history seriously and will be more patriotic after clearly understanding the Federal Constitution and the social contract.
“Patriotism thrives when citizens have a ‘sense of belonging’ and perceive themselves being treated equitably,” he said.
Ng, meanwhile, fears that making history a compulsory pass subject would mean one would have to subscribe to one’s version of events or risk failing the entire examination.
Ng, whose textbooks are still used in Chinese-medium primary schools, however stressed that it was timely to review the syllabus. “We always had to follow the curriculum given by the MOE and therefore the ruling parties have the upper hand in defining our history.”
As an example, he said when writing on the fight for independence, the contributions of the communists were left out.
He said history books should be written by historians and not teachers as the former were not bound by the curriculum. “Students do know the truth but as textbooks are written according to approved curriculum, students end up learning history that is skewed,” said Ng
I mentioned earlier in this very article that people must not view history of this country from racial perspective. The fact that both of the academicians above chose to highlight the contribution of their own race just gave proof to my assertion that racial kind of thinking (instead of being Orang Malaysia kind of thinking) had made them suffer from one-upmanship. i.e., the ‘kiasu-ness’ that his particular race contributed more than other races; or his particular race should not be found guilty of any mistakes made in the past.
First and foremost, the reporter above did not do a thorough homework in getting enough information from all parties. Did she interview Professor Dr Khoo Kay Khim? Have she interviewed a representative from the Minister of Education. If The Sun wishes to have a balanced view in their reporting, Zakiah Koya should have at least given the view from the other side of the divide so that the party accused of being biased can have the right to defend themselves within the same opinion piece.
Now that is what good and ethical journalism is. News reporting must not be similar to the one sided propaganda machine of a political party say for example, the propaganda news that are coming out from the office of the PKR’s Information Chief.
Anyhow, both academicians above failed badly in the effort to be professional. Writing history textbooks must be based on events that were so prominent that they actually changed the course of history.
If we want to put every single bit of information within the textbooks of our young ones, their textbooks will be voluminous and super thick. And that is just on Malaysian history! Together with all the massive volume and information on the rest of the world, our children will have to study history syllabus as huge as our national library!
Thus, when Ranjit Singh wanted the history books to include the adventures of Gurchan Sing and Sybil Karthigesu, as mentioned before, he was thinking from his own racial prejudice. No doubt that both historical figures were important. But in the larger context, were they more prominent than say, Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM) and Malayan Union?
If that is the case, all descendants of gurkhas and all the unknown malay heroes would want their respective historical figures to appear in the history textbooks. Even I would want my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather to be included in the history textbooks as he and his comrades fought off Dutch army in the battle near Serkam, Melaka about two hundred years ago.
The point is, you must not be looking at history using racial perspectives when it comes to history syllabus. George Washington, in the textbook of American children is a noble founding father; not the owner of black slaves.
Abraham Lincoln in the American textbook is a great leader who catapulted America to become the land of the free and of liberty. Although some historians deemed him as racist with his anti-blacks remarks, he is revered by all Americans as a great leader.
Now what can we learn from these two academicians of ours?
We know that they are a couple of ‘exclusionist historian’. They want to exclude the whole generation of the young from learning about their country through a standardised version. History must be standardised so that children can be instilled with knowledge of their country.
And mind you, history that we know is not a total lie. Those two merely wanted more information to be included in the textbook so that the contribution of some race be prominently shown in the textbooks.
However, I was disappointed with Ng when he said that the communists contributed to our nation building too. Now that is a total blasphemy. Yes, Chin Peng fought the British and the Japanese. But to what end? Were their intentions pure? Were they really fighting for freedom? Chin Peng admitted that they fought because they wanted to pursue communism ala China in this country.
He wanted this country to be the Communist Republic of Malaya (or any other name besides Malaya). That is why he continued to fight and kill the Malaysians among us even after we had achieved independence. In Perjanjian Baling in 1955, he suggested to Tunku Abdul Rahman to secede half of Semenanjung Tanah Melayu to him so that this nation will be like North Vietnam and South Vietnam. One is communist republic with him as President, while the other is democratic with constitutional monarchy.
So Ng, we want to celebrate Chin Peng this way?
Chin Peng and his CPM is relegated as butchers of Malaya and this is how our children should remember them. How do you reconcile the fact that they killed many of our citizens in the past?
Again, racialised thinking from this Mr Ng.
But fear not dear exclusionists, Malaysia has never banned any historical journals from the public. Even Chin Peng’s book can be purchased in the book stores. I read more about KMM and Mustapha Hussain not from the textbooks but from MPH.
I read the achievements of Thutmosis III and Khalid Al Walid well in my early 20’s from encyclopedias.
But I sure studied the date of independence and the list of Kings in Malaysia as well as the basic history of this country when I was seven, in school. I learned how to be Malaysian and how to love this country before I reached eight years old.
If Ranjit Singh wants to highlight the exploits of the people he mentioned, he can always publish books like how Chin Peng did.
Mainstream history will unite the young Malaysians and make all races think like Orang Malaysia.
Yet, Ranjit downplayed the importance of history because to him, patriotism is instilled when the children perceived themselves as being treated equally. What a strange premise that is. Does he think children that young would think they are treated unequally? Do you think they are concerned with affirmative action at that age?
And if Ng thinks that the present history syllabus is skewed, what kind of history he think is not skewed? A history where Chin Peng is a hero?
I wonder whether those two academicians are wearing their correct hats. Or were they thinking more like a politician?
Overall, yes, the syllabus needs to be improved. But not to kow-tow to these exclusionist and racially charged historians because the arguments they brought forward will be a huge contributor to further segregate our society and will give rise to apathetic Malaysians.
(Jebat Must Die is a part time blogger who wishes nothing more than to see the Battle of Serkam, Melaka be included in the history textbooks but understood the fact that the brain capacity of a child from the age 7 to 17 may not be big enough to digest a billion information contained in the history of the world. They have other subjects to study too).