Thursday, 17 May 2012

S’wak must take ownership of education

A Sarawak assemblyman has reminded the state government of safeguards enshrined in the 18-point Malaysia Agreement with regards to education, language and religion. 

KUCHING: The opposition here wants the Taib Mahmud-led government to ‘take ownership’ of the education system to ensure that all Sarawakians achieve a level of education that they can be proud of.

Raising this concern at the Sarawak Legislative Assembly sitting yesterday, Ba’Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian said given the confusion at the federal level over education policies it was best that Sarawak took charge of its future.

“I believe the standard of education has dropped tremendously over the last two or three decades.
“Even the Education Minister (Muhyiddin Yassin) is not sure exactly how good or bad the educational system is.

“In April, he was reported to have claimed that Malaysia’s education is ‘one of the best in the world and that it is better than that being provided in the United States, Germany and also the United Kingdom’.

“However, in (last) Sunday’s papers, he was reported to have said that the government’s 10 to 15-year target to achieve an education system on par with, or better than those of developed countries, was realistic.

“Given the confusion at federal level, and the constant changing of goalposts to achieve an acceptable percentage of passes perhaps for public consumption or perhaps for political reason, I propose that Sarawak takes ownership of our education system again and strive to achieve the level of education which we once made us proud,” Bian said while debating of the Governor’s address.

Bian said despite 50 years of independence, Sarawak had little to celebrate in relation to its ties with the Federation of Malaysia.

He said the rights of Sarawak as stated in the 18-points agreement have been “slowly and insidiously eroded without anyone realizing it.

“In this regard it is time we take heed of what is rightfully ours,” he said drawing attention to several points under the 18-Points Agreement for the state government to look into.

Among the key issues Bian addressed in his debate were education, official language and religion.

‘Official’ language, religion?

Bian, who is also Sarawak PKR chief, said the 18-point Malaysia Agreement was specific in its safeguards and questioned the reasoning behind the state government gazette which stated that Malay was the official language.

Said Bian: “The 18-point agreement preserves for us the use of the English language as one of the official languages of the state for all purposes, state or federal, without limitation of time.

“This right is further safeguarded in Article 161 in Part XIIA of the Federal Constitution.

“I was disappointed to read in page 2 of the State Planning Unit’s Sarawak Facts and Figures 2010 that Malay is the official language.

“Again, I would like to get clarification from the Chief Minister (Taib Mahmud) as to whether there is an official language for the Sarawak, which we are unaware of.”

Bian also pointed out to Taib that Sarawak is “perhaps the only State Assembly in Malaysia” which allowed any language spoken in Sarawak to be used in the August house.

“On that premise, there cannot be an official language for Sarawak,” Bian said adding that another issue of concern was the ‘official’ religion of Sarawak.

He said the same government gazette had stated that Sarawak’s official religion was Islam.

He said it was imperative that Sarawakians being of a different ethnic composition from Peninsular Malaysia, ‘jealousy safeguard’ their uniqueness.

“It was agreed (in the agreement) that ‘while there was no objection to Islam being the national religion of Malaysia there should be no state religion in Sarawak, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya should not apply to Sarawak’.

“The absence of a state religion is a hallmark of Sarawak agreeing to join in the formation Malaysia in 1963, due to the wisdom of our forefathers who acknowledged that Sarawak is a land for all creeds or beliefs to mutually prosper and grow with respect for each others’ rights and freedom.

“It however disturbs me greatly to note that in its latest publication entitled Sarawak Facts and Figures 2010, the State Planning Unit of the Chief Minister’s Department states clearly on page 2 that Islam is the official religion of Sarawak.

“I respectfully ask for a clarification on this matter from the Chief Minister and I hope for a reassurance that this most fundamental agreement has not been amended or taken away subtly from us,” Bian said.

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