Loh Seng Kok

Parlimen Malaysia

Barisan Nasional MCA

Loh Seng Kok 卢诚国
Member of Parliament for Kelana Jaya
(2004 - Feb 2008)

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From murderer to nationalist

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From murderer to nationalist

Rosli Dhobi being led to the gallows in Sarawak on March 2, 1950.
Rosli Dhobi being led to the gallows in Sarawak on March 2, 1950.


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 Five textbooks.

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 professionals."

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 study.

"Too many times the professionals and educationists have trusted political leaders to make judgment calls. Sadly, some of them have been unwise." -- SNN


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Last modified:  Monday, August 10, 2009