The teaching of Seni Khat at vernacular schools triggered tremendous backlash in the local Chinese community when it was first proposed by the education ministry. Subsequently the cabinet decided to go ahead with the measure, but prior consent from the school's parent–teacher association as well as the students and their parents must be obtained.
This is by no means the most optimal solution as the school board has not been included in the decision-making body.
Chinese education organisations have been fighting for the decision-making right of the school board over the teaching of Jawi calligraphy, but to no avail.
The official guidelines on teaching of Seni Khat for vernacular schools which were released several days ago have since sparked renewed disputes.
According to the guidelines, the PTA will distribute questionnaire to the parents, and the decision whether to teach Seni Khat at the school depends on the decision of majority of parents.
Notably, if the school authorities and PTA have not distributed the forms to the parents, it will be perceived as they have agreed to the teaching of Seni Khat at the school.
Based on the guidelines, the school board has no right to make any decision on this matter, and this has frustrated the Chinese education organisations in the country because it means the school board has been marginalised and the right to make the decision falls in the hands of the parents.
This will also set a precedent for future education measures. Does that mean the school board will be bypassed in future and the parents will decide directly on a specified measure?
As we all know, the school board has been playing a pivotal role in preserving the nature of Chinese primary schools and defending their rights. Indeed, the school board has made significant contributions towards the development of Chinese education in Malaysia despite the many challenges and hurdles.
Excluding the school board in the teaching of Jawi calligraphy is poised to weaken the school board's functionality and status and will adversely impact the future of Chinese primary schools in the country.
Moreover, doing so will not only affect the status of the school board, but will also intensify the split and confrontation among the parents.
Although the Malaysian Chinese community and education bodies have reached a consensus not to implement the Seni Khat curriculum in national-type primary schools, there may be parents who want it introduced in their schools, especially those with sizeable non-Chinese student enrolments.
The education ministry should not bypass the school board by allowing parents to have the final say on this matter. While on the surface this appears to be a democratic way of doing things, in actuality this will create more problems and deepen the conflicts among the parents, and between the school authorities and parents.
Controversies over the teaching of Seni Khat at vernacular schools have not come to a close following the recent release of the guidelines. In its stead, new controversies have risen.
It is therefore essential for the education ministry to have a sincere dialogue with the local Chinese education bodies in a bid to identify the best solutions to bring this whole incident to an end.