Monday, February 02, 2009

Lecture by Prof Khoo Kay Kim on Unity in Malaysia

This morning, I attended one of the very interesting lectures at Rumah UKEC. It was organized by Young Corporate Malaysians and Wau Bebas by Malaysia Think Tank

The special lecture is given by Tan Sri Prof. Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim. Would definitely say that he is one of the most knowledgable historians ever produced in Malaysia and he is very willing to share with us his view points, and also his humble personality. He shared with us for about 2.5 hours, taking all of our questions and after that, he even spent at least about 1 hour chatting with the 20+ young professionals who attended the session. The topic is "Unity in Malaysia".

I would try my best to share based on what I understand from Prof Khoo. As I am not a history student, so I might be understanding it wrongly. So, read this with that understanding in mind.

Prof Khoo shared that he is frighthened by how Malaysians discuss Malaysian affairs these days. We assumed a lot, and did not take history seriously. There is serious concern about the teaching staff, who is supposed to be the educators in history. They might not have a real understanding of the history themselves.

Prof Khoo highlighted that if we want to do research on Malaysia, the availability of the resources are plenty. We can look even from sources like from Portugese, Dutch, Thai, Chinese etc. Main problem is that we don't have people who learn those languages to be able to really understand history from their view points.

Archives in India have very good detailed records and those are in English as well.

Malaysia has a long history in newspaper. The first newspaper was produced in 1806, named Prince of Wales Gazette, and it was the 2nd newspaper East of the Suez.

Prof Khoo highlighted on Malayan Tribune, which was around from around 1915 to about 1950, and it was produced in Singapore to cover entire Asian continents. Unfortunately, when Malayan Tribune shut down, the photos etc were destroyed.

Prof Khoo is a big proponent of 1 Education System for Malaysia. He clarified that he does not say that one should not learn their own language, but just that he argued that for unity sake, we should have one education system that catered for all Malaysians.

He highlighted on the reason of why vernacular school was set up previously. During those time, the Chinese and Indians were very transient. They were not looking to stay back in Malaya permanently, so British set up those schools to prepare them, and help them to get transitioned back to their home countries, if needed.

However, when we reached our nation state, that policy was continued, and we are perhaps one of the very few countries in the world that have this vernacular school system.

Prof Khoo cited Singapore used to have vernacular system, but it was scrapped when it reached nation state, and it implemented the policy of everyone needs to learn their people's own language (Singapore does call it mother tounge).

Prof Khoo also commented that we and also Singapore have been wrongly using the phrase "mother tounge". Mother tounge is the language that we speak at home. So, if one uses English at home, the mother tounge should be English. But what we have been wrongly used for is to associate mother tounge with the language of one's race. It should be termed as People's Own Language.

Another contentious point brought up by Prof Khoo is that British does not practice "Divide and Rule". The job function was more due to circumstances and society, rather than due to British actions.

Some of the terms that Prof Khoo highlighted.

Kingdom should be the actual word for "Kerajaan" and not "Government".

"Negeri" should not be translated as state, but rather territory. Or else, Negeri Sembilan would have been 9 states.

"Tanah air" does literally mean land and water that exist within the boundary of the country.

"Bangsa" was being used to define race, but in reality, "Ras" should be used. United Nations are being translated as "Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu". "Bangsa Malaysia" should be Malaysian Nationals.

Prof. Khoo stressed on the points that terms should need to be accurate. (Hope I don't mess up the definition above. It is based on what I understand, and I might wrongly interpret).

Prof Khoo lamented on the lack of solid teachers' training college, and highlighted that we should enhance ways to train the teachers.

Prof Khoo gave an example of how a rural school in Sarawak operated. During class time, the classes are all taught in Malay Language, but once outside of class room, everything is done in English. So, the students have environment to learn and pick up both the languages.

Prof Khoo wants everyone involved in education, be it educationist, politician etc, to think of the future generation. I gave a suggestion that maybe for Chinese education, a referendum or study is done with those students involved, and perhaps not with those educationist who are not directly involved in the education currently and they might not even have their children studying there now. This suggestion might earn the wrath of educationist, but my point is that do we really know what our students want to learn? Is it the current system of vernacular school? Could there be some middle ground? What are the main reasons parents send their children to vernacular school? Is it due to learning an extra language? Is it due to the dedication of the teachers? Is it due to the environment there? Is it due to racism? Is it due to loyalty towards China and India? What are the actual reasons?

Prof Khoo talked about a sad happened, when Universiti Malaya ranked even lower than Chulalongkorn.

Prof Khoo highlighted that a lot of pronunciation problem was not corrected when the children are young.

Prof Khoo gave some historical background of how Chinese came to Malaya. It was mainly by those towkeh who brought them in, and not by British. The initial groups were mainly traders from Hokkien, and that explained why port towns are mainly Hokkien - eg: Kota Bharu, Teluk Intan, Port Weld etc. After that, Cantonese came when urbanization started. Hakka came for mining, and Chinese rubber tappers are mainly Hainanese.

Prof Khoo highlighted that the light house that went into the contention in ICJ, was built during the time of a power struggle in Johor by 2 brothers who were differently installed as rulers.

Before the end of the session, there was a show of hands on what do we think of 2 of the questions:-

If we're to choose a language to unite Malaysians, what is the language? And interestingly enough, Malaysians consist of multi-races there choose Malay Language.

When asked about choice of language as medium of instruction, English is chosen instead by the majority, although for this one, it is quite split.

Firdaus talked about the issue that ties up Malays - Islam, Special Rights, Chinese on Vernacular schools, and his opinion is that irrespective of their political parties, they seem to be having similar opinion on these issues. And those in urban areas, PJ/Damansara would choose English as the main medium of instruction. Firdaus links all these to saying that people choose the stuff, based on stuff that they have a strength, i.e. it is to their advantage. And on the concept of Malaysia for Malaysia, often, there are various variations of what one's understand of this concept.

Hope this sharing is insightful to you. Do feel free to discuss here. If any of the other attendees do blog on it, do share me the URL. Would hope to let others read it too!

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changyang1230 said...

Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

hi.. thanks for sharing. however where can i get the original copy of the talk by prof Khoo..? is there any link to the primary source..? i would really appreciate it if i can get the primary source of this article. pls email it to

Chen Chow said...

It was more a discussion, so there is no text that Prof Khoo read on.

Anonymous said...

History gives us lessons on what not to do but never what to do. To determine what to do the good starting point is the universal self-evident truth that all men are created as equals. To keep going back to history to tell people that people are born unequal and to perpetual such myths is really an unintended crime the folly of this professor. Very sad state of affairs indeed.