It was a case of "now you see it, now you don't" at Parliament yesterday when the Education Ministry scrambled to amend a written ministerial reply, possibly to avert a backlash from Chinese voters.

NONETwo days ago, the ministry had issued a written reply to Pandan MP Ong Tee Keat who had sought an explanation on the whether there are different considerations for applications to set up private schools, international schools and private Chinese schools.

Ong, who is former MCA chief, had also asked what were the restrictions that were imposed on such schools.

Among other issues, the ministry had replied that applications for Chinese independent schools were "no longer open" because such schools run a curriculum not conforming to the national curriculum.

By mid-afternoon yesterday, Malaysiakini's Chinese edition ran the news while several Chinese newspapers had dispatched text message news alerts.

Legacy reasons

Following this, the Education Ministry sent out a revised copy of written reply to the press in which references to the cessation of applications for Chinese private schools were removed.

Instead, the new reply stated that 60 Chinese independent high schools exist because of legacy reasons. [Scroll down to see comparison of both replies.]

"After the Education Act 1961 was in force, some secondary schools chose to adopt the national curriculum and were classified as SMJK, or 'conforming schools', while the rest became Chinese independent schools.

"However, independent schools remain at 'status quo' as stipulated in Section 151 of the Education Act 1996.

"This statement is in line with speech by Najib Abdul Razak (as then education minister) when tabling the Education Regulation Bill 1995 on Dec 18, 1995," he said.

The revised copy was sent through email to news organisations. Normally, a written reply can only be obtained from the media room in Parliament or directly from the MPs.

An Education Ministry official, who requested anonymity, said that written reply that was made available in Parliament was a draft that had yet to be scrutinised by the education minister's office.

English is okay

The written reply comes at a time when Chinese educationist group Dong Zong is on an aggressive campaign for the establishment of several Chinese independent high schools.

NONEThe group has scored a victory in Kuantan, which currently has no independent secondary schools, and is now focusing on getting government approval for another independent school in Segamat, Johor.

Meanwhile, the written reply explained that entrepreneurs were allowed to establish independent schools which used Malay as the medium of instruction or international schools which used English as part of a liberalisation policy.

The entrepreneurs' financial capabilities, teaching strength, specialisation and availability of a suitable location would be taken into consideration.

Applications for new Chinese independent schools were however not addressed directly.

Contacted later, Ong said the issuance of a new written reply was "baffling" and he has never encountered such an incident in his political career. He added that the new written reply was placed on the bench where he sits in Dewan Rakyat.