Sunday 15 May 2011

Group pushes for ‘truly Malaysian’ history

May 15, 2011

People attend the inaugural meeting of “A Truly Malaysian Heritage Campaign” in Petaling Jaya, May 15, 2011.

PETALING JAYA, May 15 — The campaign for “A Truly Malaysian Heritage” took root today, when a group of scholars and non-governmental organisations (NGO) pushing for greater accuracy in history textbooks for secondary school students gathered for the first time. “We need to provide the alternatives to what we think are much better balanced more truthful Malaysian history syllabus in textbooks,” said Dr Lim Teck Ghee, director of the Centre for Policy Initiatives.

Lim told reporters at the Hotel Singgahsana here that the group was formed shortly after February 10, when the online History Book Reform Signature Campaign was launched by the Plan of Action 4 Malaysia. Aside from Lim, the group also counts professors and lecturers as among its member, along with 18 NGOs including human rights group Aliran, the All Women’s Action Society (Awan), the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH), and the National Interlok Action Team (Niat).

The group is separate from the special government committee to study the History curriculum and textbooks for secondary school.

The committee, whose members were appointed on May 3, is headed Malaysian Historical Society chairman Datuk Omar Mohd Hashim while the Dean of Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Administrative Sciences and Policy Studies Faculty Datin Paduka Prof Dr Ramlah Adam is the deputy chairperson.

“During our meeting, there was a discussion about the terms of reference by the government committee which seems to be focused on instilling patriotism... [These] terms of references should not have been accepted by the committee members if the objective is really about factual and truthful history.

“That should be way above any other objectives,” Lim said.

He added that the group will be engaging with the government as well as the committee in discussing in terms of reference to improve the current syllabus.

Lim added that one of the member NGOs has prepared a 25-page study of the existing history textbooks and the major problems. The draft is being finalised and will be shared with the public as soon as possible, he said.
Historian Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi, one of the group’s committee member, said that the current history textbooks are not “well-balanced; they are not objective, they consist of many half-truths”

He added that two of the panel members from the government’s special committee had publicly demonstrated that they lack a sense of objectivity.

Ranjit quoted an article published by the English-language daily Malay Mail in which one of the committee’s members claimed there was nothing wrong with the current syllabus and that it is well-balanced.

“I personally believe that nothing much is going to change, I’ve been there, nothing much has been changed until this committee does something,” Ranjit said.

“We hope that the government will view us positively. We are not confrontational, we are here, we are true believers of 1 Malaysia, we would really like to assist the government in coming up with a truthful account of the syllabus. Don’t view us in a very negative light,” he continued.

Universiti Malaya law associate professor Dr Azmi Sharom pointed out that the history syllabus should be more community-based, rather than focusing only on specific individuals.

“It is very individual-based. We are only looking at individual politicians, and their contributions. I think there is a necessity to look into the contributions of communities, different communities throughout history,
Azmi also said there was a necessity to highlight the role of women and to look at the history from the perspective of Sabah and Sarawak.

“At the moment, history is very KL-centric... I think there is a need to look from the region,” he said, adding that the history of Orang Asli should also be included.

Lim said that the ultimate goal of the campaign is to come up with an ideal history textbook.

“The materials are there (it just needs to be put together) it needs a team of scholars to sit down and to make sure that this is more represented, that it is progressive, liberal, factual, truly Malaysian history.

“There’s going to be a lot of hardwork involved in there, so although it is a possible objective, it’s going to be a major challenge,” he said, adding that the book will come up well before 2013, when the history subject is made a compulsory subject for students to pass in their exams.

“We have good scholars and a good network of scholars in this committee that can undertake this work with professional expertise and credibility,” he said.

In the mean time, he said the group will be monitoring the government committee’s report as well as conducting their own independent research and studies.

“The objective though is very, very clear, that is we want to provide young Malaysians with a factual truthful and balanced history,” he said.

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