Understanding this Saturday’s Chinese Organisation Congress: What’s the fuss about?

Soo Wern Jun
Dong Jiao Song said it will proceed with the COC on Saturday with the aim of convincing the government to rescind its decision to introduce jawi script lessons in vernacular primary schools, and expressed its readiness for discourse on the issue either before or after the event. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 25 — Chinese educationist groups have recently announced their intention to hold a gathering called the Chinese Organisation Congress (COC), to appeal to the government over its decision to introduce jawi script lessons in vernacular primary schools.

This announcement has since received a negative response from many parties, including Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who suggested the event could lead to other repercussions, such as Malay groups reasserting their call for vernacular schools to be shut down.

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman also told organisers to respect the consensus that has already been achieved through lengthy discussions within the Cabinet on the matter, and that educationist groups should take cognisance of the Cabinet’s decision.

Meanwhile, an MP from Islamist party PAS has warned that going ahead with the event will risk triggering a repeat of the 2017 riot at the Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple in Subang Jaya.

Similarly, Malaysian Muslim Students Coalition (Gamis) even claimed that the bloody riots of May 13, 1969 may return as long as Chinese educationist group Dong Zong still exists.

How did this all start?

In August, the federal government drew flak for announcing the introduction of Islamic calligraphy khat for Primary Four vernacular school pupils from next year.

The same month, the Education Ministry (MoE) said vernacular schools will only teach the jawi script at a basic level instead of the khat calligraphy.

Following a discussion by the Cabinet, the ministry said the introductory lessons will stay in vernacular schools, but only with the consent of students and each school’s Parent Teacher Association.

The ministry also reiterated the Cabinet’s decision that the jawi lesson take up only three pages in the Bahasa Melayu textbook, and will not be subject to any tests or examinations.

Originally, khat took up six out of 164 pages of the new Bahasa Melayu Standard Four textbook, as part of language art activities.

COC not ‘protest’, but ‘appeal’

According to Dong Zong chairman Tan Tai Kim, the main reason for the COC was to allow the Chinese community to express its feelings over the MoE’s decision to introduce jawi lessons in vernacular primary schools.

He reportedly clarified that the COC was not meant to be a protest, but instead a closed-door affair to appeal to the government to retract its decision.

The COC’s chief coordinator working committee Low Chee Chong told Malay Mail that while Dong Zong respects the country’s multi-cultural and multi-ethnic environment, it feels that the MoE’s recent circular contradicts the Cabinet’s decision to allow PTAs to decide whether jawi lessons should be taught in school.

“The Cabinet had earlier decided that PTAs, parents and students have the right to decide if the jawi lessons should be introduced in their schools,” Low said, referring to SJK(C) and SJK(T) schools.

“But the recent Education Ministry’s circular does not follow that. It does not say that PTAs have the right to make this decision. Instead, the PTAs’ role has been ignored, and they are only acting as ‘postmen’ to distribute and collect feedback forms from parents.”

He also said that the MoE’s circular had ruled that schools which did not distribute the feedback forms will automatically be considered as agreeing with the decision to teach jawi lessons in their schools. To which he said: “This is not logical.”

“While we respect decisions made through respective PTAs, we are appealing that the School Management Board (LPS) be included as one of the decision-making bodies,” said Low referring to the MoE’s circular.

Since Dong Jiao Zong made its announcement about the COC, critics have termed its gathering as a plan to rally support from the Chinese community to go against the ministry’s decision on teaching jawi lessons in vernacular primary schools.

In November, the Chinese educationist group Dong Zong together with Chinese-based NGOs had in a joint decision requested that the state branches of the Chinese School Management Board Association refuse the teaching of jawi lessons in their vernacular primary schools.

The NGOs were the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Hua Zhong) and United Chinese School Teachers Association of Malaysia (Jiao Zong).

Dong Jiao Zong collectively refers to the United Chinese Schools Teachers’ Association (Jiao Zong) and the United Chinese School Committees’ Association (Dong Zong).

In this joint decision, the educationist groups had also decided to submit a memorandum to the Education Ministry in the same month, insisting on the inclusion of school management boards in the decision-making process on the introduction of jawi lessons.

They have also raised their dissatisfaction and concern that the ministry has yet to list vernacular school boards as a decision-making unit on teaching jawi.

Another racial riot?

Last Friday, Dr Mahathir reportedly told Dong Jiao Zong that it was important to be considerate about other people’s feelings.

He added that if one started launching attacks against other races or going against the Constitution, the end result will be chaos and instability, and the country will see many Malaysians migrating to other countries.

Previously, Dr Mahathir had labelled Dong Zong as racist, saying it has never agreed with national education policies, including the introduction of jawi calligraphy in schools.

The prime minister said apart from the jawi calligraphy or khat issue, the group had previously protested against the setting up of Vision School for fear of Chinese students mixing with other races.

Low, however, explained that the COC planned for December 28 is not racially motivated, but just a meeting with relevant stakeholders to explain the issues surrounding the move to introduce jawi lessons in vernacular primary schools.

“The congress planned for December 28 is not racially driven. It is a meeting with organisations to explain the issues surrounding the teaching of jawi lessons in schools and to gather views from the public,” he said.

Yesterday, Dong Jiao Zong said it agreed with PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s call to resolve the ongoing crisis through dialogue.

The coalition of Chinese schools and educationists said the difference of opinion must be solved through a rational and tolerant discussion, to enhance the country’s inter-ethnic harmony and unity.

However, it said it will proceed with the COC on Saturday with the aim of convincing the government to rescind its decision, and expressed its readiness for discourse on the issue either before or after the event.

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