Don’t rush to introduce khat in schools

Of late, Malaysia has been debating the khat issue. The prime minister claims that the introduction of khat in schools was brought up in 2012 under the Barisan Nasional (BN) government and that no one had objected then.

Ordinary citizens are not aware of this. I was shocked to learn that in 2014, the Cabinet had agreed to this as a policy, and with both MCA and MIC having representation in the Cabinet, had agreed to formulate the syllabus to teach khat as part of the Bahasa Melayu subject.

Further, I understand it was agreed that the syllabus would be included in the Malay curriculum for Year 4 in all primary schools. Only the “inner circle” of BN must have known about this.

Mahathir’s claim of groups opposing his Pakatan Harapan (PH) government now and not earlier is not fair because the rakyat just learnt about this. Therefore, he should not blame us for not agreeing to khat.

Jawi was introduced in the early 1970s by then-education minister Abdul Rahman Yakob. After protests by non-Muslims, then-prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein withdrew the order, with an assurance that Jawi would not be forced but taught in schools as a subject of choice only.

Hussein Onn even stated that Malaysia is a multiracial and multi-religious secular nation. During Mahathir’s long first tenure as prime minister, he maintained Jawi as a subject of choice. The same can be said of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

It was our opinion that Najib Razak maintained the same. However, I was shocked to learn that his Cabinet, with MCA and MIC having deputy ministers in the education ministry, in 2016 formalised khat and finalised the curriculum for the following year. It is said that six pages of khat had been agreed on for the 2017 syllabus, and the ministry officers have brought this burden in 2019 to the present PH government.

It is sad that the new PH government has accepted this without communicating with the citizens who elected them. This is most disappointing.

It is in this context that we must understand the current controversy. Bahasa Malaysia is our national language. It is meant to be a source of unity. Our national schools are also meant to be a place to unite all Malaysians.

As it is, many students today struggle to grasp the tough Bahasa syllabus taught in our schools. Even many Malay students find it a hurdle. Bahasa Malaysia is a subject that requires a mandatory pass. So why are we adding more stress on these young minds?

The priority should be to support them to be proficient in the national language, in the Rumi form, so that they are able to read and write effectively for daily communication.

The next priority must be to instil basic skills in English so they are prepared to become global citizens.

It must be remembered that Rumi is also the accepted script for the Malay language in the largest Muslim nation in the world, Indonesia, in the name of Bahasa Indonesia. Singapore also regards Rumi as the official script of Malay, which is its national language.

I do not understand, therefore, why the education ministry is introducing something that causes so much disunity and tension within our nation.

Is it really so important to teach khat? Why not defer the decision, and do a proper and thorough review of the curriculum where all races and religions are consulted, and we make national schools truly the unifying force they were meant to be?

A Vaithilingam is a former president of Malaysia Hindu Sangam and the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.