Monday, March 23, 2009

The walk from Istana Negara to Masjid Negara

Saturday afternoon, 7th March saw some 60,000 (some put it as more than 100,000) citizens who were against the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (Gerakan Mansuh PPSMI – GMP) marching in the drizzle from Masjid Negara, Central Market and Sogo to Istana Negara to give support to several GMP leaders who were scheduled to hand over their memorandum to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King).

All went fine, but about 400 meters from the compound of the Istana, the strong crowd were met with dozens of tear gas canisters fired by FRU personnel. The crowd broke up; some took the road back to Masjid Negara where they met again with another group of FRU officers who had no heart in drenching them with water laced chemicals from their water cannons.

While the FRU members were busy shooting their gas canisters, I took refuge in the bushes along the banks of the Klang River. The effects from the smoke made the skin irritate, the eyes sting and its difficult to breathe while the chests seemed to explode. I had never thought that in my beloved democratic country, the ‘rakyats’ had to face this hardship and ill treatment just to fight for their love for the national language.

After an hour or so, when the situation looked clam, I walked along the road leading to the Istana and was glad to meet three of the GMP leaders; Prof Dr Shaharil Mohamad Zain, Prof Emeritus Abdullah Hassan and his wife, Ainon Mohd. They had just emerged from a gate of the Istana.

After walking all the way from Masjid Negara to Istana Negara; now they had to take ‘the long and winding road’ back to their starting point (Masjid Negara). I took the opportunity to walk alongside each of them at a time, taking notes on their views about the ugly incident (the unnecessary shooting of tear gas on the procession) and on why they protest on the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI).

The teaching of the two subjects in primary and secondary schools was switched to English in 2003, in an unpopular move protested by educationists, parents and community groups. They want the subjects to be taught in Malay (bahasa Malaysia) at the national schools and in vernacular languages at the national-type schools.

Dr Shaharil told me their (GMP) mission had been accomplished. “We had sent the memorandum. That’s the most important thing. Our next step depends on the outcome of our memorandum.”

The Deputy Chairman of GMP who was a former professor in Physics and Mathematics at UKM, said even though they (the thousands supporters included) were treated badly (they were drenched with tear gas and water laced with chemical) the people would work harder to put pressure on the government to scrap the policy.

“If this mission (the presentation of memorandum to the King) still do not bear fruits, millions of the ‘rakyats’ would still put on the struggle, the years they had to wait would be immaterial,” he said.

Prof Abdullah said he was shocked by the way the FRU personnel carried out their mission. He claimed several of them where laughing and joking as they fired the canisters to the crowd without any warning.

“How could they have no heart on the people?” he asked. “We are fighting for our ‘bahasa kebangsaan’ (national language) the ‘rakyat’s’ future, their (FRU personnel) children included.”

Abdullah said all his children had grown up; each of them had their own careers, “so I don’t need to take trouble and burden myself with this sort of thing. I must tell you, to travel to Istana Negara I could take my car but I choose to walk with the people, all because I do care for the future of the new generation.”

“To those FRU’s personnel who were laughing and joking when they took the gun, please do remember that almost all of you too have children. Are they good in English; have they no problem in their studies? I must tell you, God would punish them severely for their action. They themselves would see the consequences in their life, and of course in the Hereafter.”

Prof Abdullah said it doesn’t matter how long it would take to achieve his group mission in abolishing PPSMI. The important thing was to fuel the drive in the movement to safeguard the status of bahasa Melayu (bahasa Malaysia) as the language of knowledge (bahasa ilmu).

“Remember, Prophet Noah a.s. had been preaching for hundreds of years (some scholars said 1,000 years), but he attracted only a few followers (83 people), so our struggle was nothing,” he said.

Dr Abdullah said, sending away the people by flushing them with tear gas could only knocked them down physically but their soul and determination to uplift their love for their language and future of the generations could not be captured or put behind bars.

While walking alongside Ainon Mohd, I asked her about the motherly feelings and experience on how women cope with the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English as they were the nearest to their children and had to guide them at home on those subjects.

She pointed out that in her neighbourhood, only one family communicates in English at home, while the rest, the mothers had trouble in helping their children in doing homework or revising the subjects.

“We are actually creating two classes of society by implementing PPSMI. One who adapted well to it, while the other one, those who were left out. What type of nation we are going to build from this policy?” said Ainon who sits as Chairman of PTS, her own established publishing company.

She stressed that former colonized nations such as India, the Philippines and some African countries that took English as the medium of instruction in schools and universities had not improved much, they had flopped and become worst since their days of independence.

Ainon said only about 30 percent of their population had made it into the haves brackets but the rest remained poor, uneducated and left out from the development of their own country.

She said, the using of a foreign language in the early stages of education, denied the rights of the children to gain knowledge on the basic requirement of living such as reading, counting and writing.

“Our struggle is in line with the teaching of the Prophet (peace be upon him – pbuh). I would glad to call it ‘jihad bahasa’ (language jihad),” she said.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) acknowledges the existing of various tribes, races and their languages. He asked some of his followers to learn foreign languages (at that time Latin and Persian were languages of the world), so that the knowledge they gained could benefited the masses. Latin and Persian strengthened Arabic and since then the Arabs ‘had the world in their hands’ for centuries.

At that time Europe was in Dark Ages. The dominant language then was Latin (the same could be said about English today). That language put the continent in the dark. Only when each European country such as Spain, France and England abandoned Latin and built up and being proud of their own language; and after a few revolutions, they became the ‘cradle of modern civilization’.

The Arabs, Spaniards, Frenchmen and Englishmen had the sight and work hard in strengthening their languages for years and centuries, but our leaders in abandoning Malay (bahasa Malaysia) in the teaching of important subjects (Science and Mathematics); were actually killing off that language or ‘mengucupkan bahasa’ as ‘Sasterawan Negara’ (SN) A Samad Said summarized it.

As Ainon had pointed out, education in English in former colonized countries such as India, the Philippines and some African countries had too many negative effects and failed; must we follow their ways? - ES

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