Chinese educationists have democratic right to organise congress

The Chinese education group Dong Zong has the legitimate and democratic right to organise the Chinese Organisations Congress on Dec 28.

The congress is meant to discuss and forward some proposals to the government on the teaching of Jawi script in vernacular schools starting next year.

Yes, after much debate, there was a Cabinet decision that teaching of Jawi script would be made optional as long as more than 50% of the members of the parent-teacher associations agree.

However, Dong Zong is not agreeable to this decision as it would complicate matters in the schools.

They are of the opinion that when it comes to the introduction of Jawi script, the matter should be left to the discretion of the respective school boards, as to how the subject should be taught.

I suppose the scheduled congress seeks to present views to the government as to how best to go about implementing the cabinet decision.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad might have been irked when he heard about the congress.

He felt that the congress might beget racial responses from Malays who are not happy because the government by going for a compromise might have undermined its effective role.

Although he was not happy, he nonetheless felt that the Chinese educationist group had the democratic right to organise the congress. But he thinks there might be repercussions.

Whether the congress might take place or not, given the possible racial tensions, is not clear.

It is really how we look at the congress. If we think that the congress might heighten racial tensions, then it will be difficult to endorse it.

But if we think that in the democratic space provided in this country, organisations have the right to hold meetings to express their legitimate interests on certain matters, they have the right to do so within the ambit of the law.

Mahathir merely gave his opinion on the congress. It is up to us to agree or not.

I think the intention of Dong Zong to hold the congress must be respected in the spirit of democracy.

I don’t think it is fair to anticipate what might or might not happen if the congress takes place.

Dong Zong has long fought for the dignity and wellbeing of the Chinese vernacular schools in the country.

It is a responsible organisation that commands the respect of the Chinese community, more so than the political parties.

In fact, in the absence of endorsement of Dong Zong, Chinese-based political parties might not have the legitimacy of the support of the Chinese community.

I might not agree with Dong Zong on some matters, but I respect their right to hold the congress, not just to discuss the matter of the introduction of Jawi script, but also to chart a course for the future of the vernacular schools in the country.

Vernacular schools are no more caught in the zero-sum game of earlier decades where benefits to these schools are seen as a loss for the national system of education.

With the increasing enrolment of non-Chinese, Malays and Indians in the Chinese vernacular schools, the value and prestige of these schools, once thought as the bastion of Chinese nationalism, have risen.

If I am not mistaken, non-Chinese enrolment, mainly from the Malay community, is around 18% to 20%.

So, whether it is about Jawi script or any other matters, vernacular schools, both Chinese and Tamil, have a beneficial role to play in the transformation of the Malaysian educational system.

Let us not overthink what the delegates will do or not at the congress, which is less than one week to go. Let us not engage in speculation of the consequences if the congress takes place.

Rather than placing conditions on the organisers, let us give them the moral support to hold this congress with the aim of improving the vernacular school system.

If we cease to overreact and think of the worst, the congress might take off well as planned.

P Ramasamy is a DAP central executive committee member and Penang deputy chief minister II

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