Is Putrajaya now against cultural diversity?

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PETALING JAYA: An education activist has questioned the government’s commitment to upholding cultural diversity in a reaction to Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi’s call for a review of the education system to “promote cross-cultural understanding and national unity.”

Noor Azimah Rahim, who heads the Parent Action Group for Education, told FMT the implication of Zahid’s statement was that Malaysia should have a single school system instead of the national system, the vernacular system and Islamic system separately.

“Malaysia is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-language society,” she said. “Having a single school system will jeopardise our diversity.

“Our strength lies in our diversity. This too has been the mantra of the government. Has it now changed its mind?”

She added that the right of parents to choose what’s best for their children should continue to be respected.

Speaking at a forum yesterday, Zahid lamented that not all schools in the country were adhering to the national education policy.

“There is no meeting point,” he said. “Have people from Islamic religious schools met students from Chinese schools? No. When will there be any cross-cultural communication?

“There is no country in the world with three education systems. Only Malaysia has this.”

Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad also disagreed with Zahid. He said having different school systems did not create disunity among Malaysians.

“What’s more important is whether the content of the teaching reflects universal values such as respect for elders and for people of various cultural backgrounds,” he told FMT.

Khalid, who is Parti Amanah Negara’s communications director, said claims that schools were not promoting national unity should not be cited as a reason to do away with different streams.

“Schools are never the place to create tension,” he said. “Disunity is caused by factors outside the schools, such as the current political scenario.”

Amanah vice-president Mujahid Yusof Rawa proposed that lessons on the importance of unity be introduced early to children.

“I suggest the introduction of a unity curriculum starting at the pre-school level,” he said.

He suggested that schools draw up programmes to get students from different races to interact through recreational and sports activities.