CLAD in a dark shirt and
white trousers, Rosli Dhobi held his head high in defiance
as he was led to the gallows.
The member of Rukun
Tiga Belas, a secret underground movement agitating against
the British administration in Sarawak, had been sentenced to
hang for stabbing the governor to death.
Deemed a common criminal, Rosli was too insignificant to be
mentioned in any history -- until the secondary school
integrated curriculum (Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah)
immortalised him as a nationalist in the Form Three and Form
Are the facts presented in KBSM history textbooks historical
truths or impressions?
"Historical facts are one thing but interpretation of facts
is another," says historian Prof Datuk Dr Ramlah Adam.
"Politicians prefer the latter."
Ramlah says that the history syllabus was
drafted on the records of explorers and philosophers such as
Tome Pires, Ibn Battuta, I-Ching and Admiral Cheng Ho, and
writings such as Sejarah Melayu, the Malay annals.
"Could we erase any part of our history and pretend they did
not happen? Or choose what we like and leave out the rest?"
Politicians may have their own interpretations of events,
Ramlah says, but they are usually shaped by their own
interests. "Let the schoolchildren be educated by the
Ramlah, an author of history textbooks, says the previous
curriculum reflected some of the old imperial didacticism
towards historical facts: rebels were rebels, for instance,
not freedom fighters. Under KBSM, "history is given a
Malaysian perspective and the syllabus is designed to fulfil
the National Education Policy".
The policy, drafted in 1990, outlines the effort to develop
a citizenry that is "knowledgeable, reliable and
responsible", contributing to the harmony and prosperity of
society and nation.
The history curriculum is divided into two parts. The lower
secondary component covers prehistory till the separation of
Singapore from Malaysia in 1965, while the upper secondary
introduces the history of the world and Southeast Asia, from
the birth of nationalism till modern Malaysia.
While the lower-secondary component is chronological and
factual, upper secondary students receive an analytical and
critical survey of history.
History is a compulsory subject for the Sijil Pelajaran
Malaysia, but Ramlah says not enough weight is given to it:
a pass is not necessary.
"History should require a pass, just like Bahasa Malaysia,
English and Mathematics. With such weight, students would
strive to understand the country's history better."
Poet Datuk Baharuddin Zainal, a.k.a. Baha Zain, agrees. "If
the government is serious about creating a nation-state and
sowing the seeds of patriotism among the young," he says,
"it is essential to make it compulsory for the students to
pass history in SPM."
Baharuddin suggests that the Education Ministry review the
history syllabus in line with the National Education Policy.
"There is no point in revising the syllabus just to meet
political pressures. It must be done after a comprehensive
"Too many times the professionals and educationists have
trusted political leaders to make judgment calls. Sadly,
some of them have been unwise." -- SNN