EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE 1950s AND EARLY 1960s
The 1950s was a period of decolonization after the Second World War. Realizing that eventual self government was inevitable, the British colonial government started to initiate educational policies to unify the
segregated school systems in the Federation of Malaya that had flourished along with the large-scale immigration of Chinese and Indians into the Malay Peninsula in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The segregated school systems that used different media of instruction were a direct consequence of the divide and rule policy implemented by the British colonial government to protect its colonial interest. But things changed with the impending process of decolonization and eventual self-government. The stand of the British colonial government on the segregated school systems took a turn as such a system of education no longer served its purpose. The British colonial government considered the segregated school systems as dysfunctional and malintegrative and efforts were thus undertaken to restructure the educational system. Apart from the role of education in the context of nation building, the British colonial government was also well aware of the urgent need to advance the education of the Malays which had lagged behind the Chinese. It was within this process of educational restructuring that the roles of Lim and Aminuddin had taken different trajectories.
Efforts by the British colonial government to restructure the educational system in the Federation of Malaya were aimed at the primary schools. The British colonial government, through the Barnes Committee formed in 1950, had recommended the establishment of a single-type primary school or national school open to pupils of all races. This recommendation was underpinned by the objective to build a common Malayan nationality by re-organizing the existing schools on a new inter-racial basis (Federation of Malaya, 1951a:20). In essence, the national schools were bilingual schools that used Malay and English concurrently as the main media of instruction (ibid.:22). In other words, the Barnes Committee intended to make English and Malay, the two official languages of the Federation, the main thrust of the nation building process. This was a clear departure from the earlier stand of the British colonial government, which had favored English as the sole language to foster inter-racial unity. The First Report of the Central Advisory Committee on Education (CACE) or commonly known as the Holgate Report, named after the chairman of the CACE, H. R. Holgate, released before the Barnes Report had categorically stated that “the one language all would accept is English, while Malay – the other official language – will continue to be necessary both for the Malays, as their ‘home tongue’, and for other races as a second language for citizenship purposes” (Federation of Malaya, 1950:para. 5). The British colonial government had finally come to terms with the fact that nation building process in the Federation of Malaya had to include the process of indigenization without which it could not be fully realized. As the language of the indigenous community, it was deemed necessary by the British colonial government that the Malay language be given a pivotal role in the nation building process.
The elevation of Malay as one of the media of instruction of the national schools was also aimed at addressing the problem of educational mobility of the Malays. More importantly, the demand of the Malays for more educational opportunities, driven by a strong feeling of nationalistic sentiments to safeguard their interests, had reached feverish point after the Malayan Union debacle. The British colonial government began to realize that it could no longer contain the development of Malay education. Since the intervention of the British in the Malay states, they had used the provision of Malay education as a form of social control aimed at confining the Malays in their social milieu (Haris, 1983:27). Through the effort of A. M. Skinner, Malay schools were established in large numbers to provide free education to the Malays. But Malay education could only provide limited educational mobility to the Malays. They were restricted to four years of primary education. The Malays who were largely rural-based could not attend the English schools, which were the main means of social mobility during the colonial period. This was because almost all English schools were located in urban areas. The only available option for them to further their education beyond the rudimentary level was by switching, at the fourth grade for boys and third grade for girls, to the Special Malay Classes in government English schools (Chai, 1977:18-19). After two years of intensive coaching in English, they were then allowed to
proceed to secondary education in English. However, such opportunities were limited to the very bright Malay students. Thus, education of the Malays was largely confined to four years of rudimentary education. Many Malays remained entrapped in rural areas without any possible means of upward social mobility. Only a small number of Malays had the opportunity to advance to secondary education through the Special Malay Classes attached to English schools since 1919. Even the establishment of the SITC, “the apex of Malay primary school system” (Loh, 1975:87) in 1922 to train Malay schoolteachers was directed towards this end. The policy of depriving Malays educational mobility was central to the policy of divide and rule of the British. The British were particularly worried about the possible backlash of “over-education” among the Malays that would lead to the emergence of political awareness. Such a development, as their experience in the Indian sub-continent had shown, was detrimental to their interests (Zawiah, 2003:62). On the other hand, the British had not intervened with the education of the Chinese. The Chinese not only had the opportunity to attend English schools, but also Chinese schools which had flourished during the colonial period. Graduates of the Chinese schools were popularly sought after by the Chinese commerce and industry sectors. These graduates could also pursue higher education in Taiwan and Mainland China.
Although Malay education had made significant breakthrough in the Barnes Report, the Malays were still not overly happy with the report as the British colonial government continued to give preference to English education at the secondary level (Ramanathan, 1985). As for the non-Malays, they were alarmed by the recommendation of the Barnes Report to establish a single-type school system to replace the vernacular school system. The Chinese educationists feared that such a move would bring about the demise of the Chinese schools. However, efforts to restructure the educational system were complicated by the release of the Fenn-Wu Report shortly after the Barnes Report. The Fenn-Wu Committee was appointed by Sir Henry Gurney, the High Commissioner, to look into the state of Chinese education in the Federation of Malaya (Federation of Malaya, 1951b). This was perhaps a move by the British colonial government to appease the Chinese who had shown great concern over the uncertain status of Chinese education under the educational restructuring plan of the British colonial government. The Fenn-Wu Report was sympathetic towards Chinese education and tried to show how Chinese schools could contribute effectively towards building up a Malayan citizenry and fostering national consciousness in a way which would be acceptable to the Chinese community (Wong and Ee, 1971:54). In the main, the Fenn-Wu Report advocated multilingualism as a viable option of nation building in the Federation of Malaya.
The divergent views expressed by the Barnes and Fenn-Wu Committees had put the British colonial government in a predicament. In an attempt to resolve the deadlock, the CACE, chaired by L. D. Whitfield, the then Director of Education, was instructed to find an alternative solution. The result was the Second Report of the CACE. The Second Report of the CACE had accepted the recommendation of the Barnes Report on the establishment of national schools. But the type of national school recommended by the Second Report of the CACE differed from that recommended by the Barnes Report in the manner in which English and Malay were used as media of instruction. While the Barnes Report recommended the concurrent use of English and Malay as the media of instruction, the Second Report of the CACE recommended the separate use of English and Malay as the media of instruction (Tan, 1997:60). On the other hand, in contrast to the Barnes Report, the Second Report of the CACE did not recommend the phasing out of the vernacular schools, which was strongly contested by the Chinese educationists. Instead, it attempted to convert the vernacular schools into national schools by means of persuasion and inducement through the provision of government aid, though it maintained that government aid to vernacular schools should continue “as long as there are not enough national schools to take their places” (Tan, 1997:60).
On 20 September 1951, the Second Report of the CACE was submitted to the Special Committee on Education headed by the Attorney General. The Special Committee was to come out with a report of its own to recommend legislation to cover all aspects of educational policy for the Federation of Malaya. Much to the despair of the non-Malays, the Special Committee endorsed the recommendation of the Second Report of the CACE on the establishment of national schools. However, it also recommended that facilities for the teaching of Chinese and Tamil would be provided “to those children whose parents so desire where there are at least 15 pupils in any standard who wish to take advantage of such facilities” (Federation of Malaya, 1951c: para. 15).
The Education Ordinance of 1952 was the first attempt by the British colonial government to legislate for a national educational policy. It had incorporated many of the recommendations of the Special Committee, including the establishment of national schools and the provision to teach Chinese and Tamil as a subject in the national school curriculum. Despite this legislation, the national school project failed to take off as it faced many obstacles. First, it was strongly opposed by the non-Malays who were only prepared to accept English and Malay as a subject, but not their introduction as media of instruction. Second, it required huge capital outlay, which the British colonial government was unable to provide due to a serious budget deficit. Third, there were obviously not enough teachers who were competent in English and Malay to see through the project (Chang, 1973:45; Wong and Ee, 1971:55). Instead of shelving the project, the British colonial government had sought other means of implementation. A Special Committee on the Implementation of Educational Policy was appointed by the High Commissioner for this purpose. The report of the committee, commonly known as the White Paper, was released in October 1954. It recommended the introduction of national school features into existing vernacular schools (Federation of Malaya, 1954: para. 50). As expected, this recommendation was rejected outright by the non-Malays who refused to allow the establishment of national streams in the vernacular schools. The White Paper of 1954 was the last attempt by the British colonial government to bring about a national school system in the Federation of Malaya.
It was not until prior to independence that the political elites of the Alliance had finally come out with a compromise solution on a national educational system. The political elites of the Alliance faced mounting pressure from the Chinese educationists and the Malay nationalists who were determined to safeguard their educational interests. The Chinese educationists had by now adopted a firm stand to demand for the recognition of the Chinese language as one of the official languages of the Federation in order to legitimize their claim for a rightful place for Chinese education (Tan, 1997). Meanwhile, the Malay nationalists, disappointed by the lack of educational mobility among the Malays, had demanded that more attention be given to Malay education, especially at the secondary level. They also demanded Malay to be elevated as the sole medium of instruction in the educational system (Ramanathan, 1985).
The different demands of the Chinese educationists and Malay nationalists had put the Alliance in a tight spot prior to the first Federal Legislative election scheduled to be held on 27 July 1955. These demands had to be resolved amicably in order to enhance their chances of securing a resounding victory in the Federal Legislative election. In a way, this election was an acid test for the Alliance on its strength and legitimacy to eventually form the first post-colonial government. The task of the Alliance was made more difficult by the stiff competition from the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party (PMIP) and the Party Negara. While the Alliance was a tripartite coalition that served the interests of the three main ethnic groups, both the PMIP and the Party Negara were Malay-based political parties that championed the cause of Malay education, including the demand to make Malay the sole medium of instruction in the educational system. The Alliance was
particularly worried about the strength of Party Negara, led by Dato’ Onn Jaafar, the founding president of UMNO who had earlier left the party due to irreconcilable differences with other leaders over his intention to broaden the base of UMNO to non-Malays so that UMNO could adopt a non-communal front (Ratnam, 1965). Mediated by the MCA through a roundtable meeting held in Malacca, the Alliance managed to convince the Chinese educationists to temporarily drop their demands and promised to amend the Education Ordinance of 1952 and to formulate a new educational policy that was fair to all the ethnic groups (Dong Zong Chuban Zu, 1987, Vol. III: 587). More specifically, the Alliance’s Manifesto proclaimed that the Alliance would allow vernacular schools their normal expansion and would encourage rather than destroy the schools, languages or any culture of any race living in the country. The Alliance also made similar promises regarding the development of Malay education and language in the Manifesto (Heng, 1988:203-204). In the end, it was the Alliance that managed to secure the mandate of the people to form the first elected government. It had won a landslide victory, gaining 51 out of a total of 52 contested seats, and pulling in 80 per cent of the popular votes (ibid.: 201).
The Razak Committee formed shortly after the election was an attempt by the Alliance to fulfill their promises made during the election. However, the political elites of the Alliance soon realized that they could not deliver all their promises because they “had to balance a very complex set of factors in reformulating education policy” (Tan, 1997:166). They had to work out a compromise solution on a “give and take” basis. As a compromise to the Chinese, the Razak Committee recognized the Chinese primary schools as an integral part of the national educational system with the condition that they were subjected to a common content curriculum like all other primary schools to facilitate the process of enculturation (Federation of Malaya, 1956: paras. 11 and 54). The aim to have a single-type primary school espoused by the Education Ordinance of 1952 was therefore dropped by the Razak Committee. However, the status of the Chinese secondary schools was shrouded with ambiguity. It appeared that there was a long-term plan to convert the Chinese secondary schools to national medium secondary schools. This was clearly stipulated by paragraph 70 of the Razak Report which states that “the aim *of secondary education+ should be to establish one type of National Secondary School where the pupils work towards a common final examination” (ibid.: para. 70). This aim was apparently linked to another main recommendation of the Razak Committee, which was in line with Malay interests, i.e. to gradually elevate Malay as the main medium of instruction in the educational system. This recommendation was declared by the Razak Committee as the ultimate objective of the educational policy (ibid.: para. 12). Despite the strong opposition from the Chinese educationists, the Razak Committee was only prepared to accept the Chinese primary schools as part of the national educational system, but not the Chinese secondary schools. The acceptance of both Chinese primary and secondary schools as part of the national educational system would not go down well with the Malay nationalists, who among other things were unhappy that the Razak Committee did not elevate Malay as the sole medium of instruction in the national educational system (Haris, 1983). This would also allow Chinese students to go through their entire education in Chinese and thus undermine the integrative purpose of making Malay the main medium of instruction. In this regard, the Razak Committee intended to use transitional bilingual education as a step to achieving national unity among the Chinese (Solomon, 1988:27). In other words, Chinese students were expected to transit to Malay medium of instruction to support the nation building process upon completion of six years of primary education in their mother tongue. Thus, it appears that the Razak Committee felt that the provision of six years of primary education in the mother tongue of the Chinese was sufficient for them to maintain their language and culture. Beyond that, they had to conform to national aspirations by attending national medium secondary schools. Although the Razak Committee did not push for an immediate implementation of Malay as the main medium of instruction due to teething problems such as shortage of teachers who were competent in Malay as well as problems related to language corpus planning, it had proposed several incentives and rewards for acquiring the adequate standard in Malay. First, Malay could be made a qualification at the various levels for entry into Government service. Second, Malay could be one of the factors taken into consideration in selection for
secondary education as well as compulsory in all Government examinations. Third, Malay could be made a requirement for anyone aspiring to a scholarship from public funds. Fourth, bonuses could be provided at various levels in Government service to encourage a more rapid acquisition of the language. Fifth, grants-in-aid to schools could depend in part on the successful learning of Malay as and when adequate facilities could be provided. Sixth, Malay could be a compulsory part of teacher training courses and examinations (Federation of Malaya, 1956:para. 23). The Razak Committee’s emphasis on the development of Malay education and the Malay language had led to the establishment of more secondary classes teaching in Malay to cater to the educational needs of the Malays (Federation of Malaya, 1960:para. 24).
It was not until the early 1960s that the ultimate objective to elevate Malay as the main medium of instruction was finally realized. The Rahman Talib Committee had recommended the conversion of all Chinese secondary schools to national medium secondary schools, failing which state funding would be withdrawn from them (ibid.: para. 67). This conversion was deemed necessary by the Rahman Talib Committee as the committee felt that “it is impossible, within the framework of a policy which is truly national, to satisfy completely all the individual demands of each cultural and language group in the country” (ibid.: para. 20). Furthermore, the committee was also of the view that it would be incompatible with an educational policy designed to create national consciousness and having the intention of making the Malay language the national language of the country to extend and to perpetuate a language and racial differential throughout the publicly-funded educational system (ibid.: para. 18). Nonetheless, the Rahman Talib Committee had maintained the multilingual school system at the primary level espoused by the Razak Committee. This was apparently a move to guarantee the basic rights of the non-Malays to maintain their languages and cultures.
The recommendation of the Rahman Talib Committee to make Malay the main medium of instruction at the secondary level was subsequently incorporated into the Educational Act of 1961, which only allowed two types of fully-assisted secondary schools: the national secondary schools that used Malay as a medium of instruction with English being taught as a compulsory subject and the national-type secondary schools that used English as a medium of instruction with Malay being taught as a compulsory subject. Both types of schools allowed for the teaching of Chinese and Tamil as a subject (Federation of Malaya, 1961:222-223). Due to the dire need for state funding, most Chinese secondary schools complied with the educational policy and became national-type Chinese secondary schools. For those schools that did not conform to the new educational policy, they remained as independent Chinese secondary schools. They were not funded by the government neither were qualifications obtained from these schools recognized by the government. Although the national-type Chinese secondary schools initially used English as the medium of instruction, they eventually switch to Malay medium of instruction when a new educational policy was promulgated in 1970 to enforce the implementation of Malay as the main medium of instruction.