The ban of Chinese Organisations Joint Congress has intensified the already highly sensitive issue.
Let me first state my personal position. I feel that the Jawi calligraphy should never be a prioritised element for the education ministry, and members of the public need not overreact lest they fall into the trap of racial confrontation.
Instead of saying “overreact", I think “misreact” is perhaps a more appropriate description.
What is the focus of the Jawi issue? According to Dong Jiao Zong, the teaching of Jawi has violated the sovereignty of the primary school boards. Whether Jawi calligraphy will be taught at a school is now wholly decided by a simple majority of approving parents (51%). The school boards and parent-teacher associations will not have any say in this whole process.
In other words, Dong Jiao Zong has no objection of incorporating three pages of non-examinable Jawi calligraphy for the students' appreciation. What they do not agree is the exclusion of the school board in the decision-making process as to whether Jawi should be taught at a school. And since this is the case, ignorant “Chinese education warriors” should instantly stop issuing misguiding remarks as this will only create unnecessary misunderstanding from the Malay society.
If we were to browse through the countless of online comments, it is not hard to conclude that many people have equated the introduction of Seni Khat as a plot to Islamise our students. They have erroneously treated Jawi, which is just another writing script, as a medium of religious propagation.
Do you think Chinese primary school teachers responsible for teaching BM will collaborate in promoting Islam among the students? How different are we from those who think they would be made Christians simply by staring at the Cross, if we keep emotionalising everything?
Let me tell you a historical event. The Dutch East India Company commissioned specialists to translate the Bible into the Malay language in the 16th century, and the earliest version was in Jawi before the Romanisation of the language!
As such, Jawi is not a language but a writing script derived from Arabic. so please, don't be fooled by people that Jawi is a “language” in the first place!
A language per se is neutral. What matters is the content written in it. In the three pages of Jawi in the BM textbook, the students will learn about the Jawi script on the banknote, stamp and the national emblem. As Malaysian citizens, there is nothing wrong for us to learn about some of the Malay elements in our country.
I once mentioned that from the social reconstruction education point of view, appreciative learning of Jawi calligraphy should strengthen the identification of non-Malay citizens in this country. Whether you like it or not, Malay elements constitute the core cultural characteristics of the country.
In view of this, following the government's compromise by slashing the originally planned six pages of examinable Jawi to only three pages of non-examinable Jawi introduction, by right the local Chinese community should not have any more good excuse to make a big fuss over this matter.
Unfortunately we have witnessed the preparation for a congress “in defence of Chinese education”. Indeed the school boards have been sidelined in this whole thing, but bear in mind that this is an issue pertaining to the powers of the school boards and should therefore be treated separately. Moreover, if the Chinese community is so much against Jawi, how could a 51% simple majority come by easily?
Finally, I want to beg our politicians to please stop doing things that will undermine our social harmony and amicable interracial relationship.
It is sad that Malaysians are indeed too dumb to allow our politicians to scoop infinite political capital from just a tiny bit of seditious comments.
Anyway, from the purely educational point of view, I personally do not agree to incorporate Jawi calligraphy into regular school curriculum. There are much more important things for our education ministry to do considering our students' poor showing in PISA assessment.
(Dr James Woon Sy Keen is Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia lecturer.)