At last month's Umno general assembly,
incoming party vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin
Hussein floated the prospect of revisiting how history is
taught in the nation's schools. The suggestion immediately
raised eyebrows among Umno's partners-in-governance, with
the MCA pledging to convene a conference on the matter. CHOK
SUAT LING, SHERIDAN MAHAVERA, SITI NURBAIYAH NADZMI and YONG
HUEY JIUN explore what may have fallen through the cracks of
this country's historical mosaic as it is presented in the
WHAT can and what can't be found in
school history textbooks has been a source of concern for
Besides omissions and insufficient emphasis on certain
communities, experts and parents alike contend that some of
the text and illustrations in history textbooks are placed
there to subtly brainwash young minds.
Some of these elements contain politically-aligned and
narrow views that can skew students' impressions of
historical events and their impact on the country and its
While school history textbooks now make a clear push for a
national culture and society, are more comprehensive, and
encourage students to be more analytical than in the past,
when they were required to merely regurgitate facts and
dates for examinations, certain elements in the texts must
In the Form Three
textbook, for example, the contentious term "ketuanan Melayu",
or "Malay supremacy", appears with a definition deemed
inappropriate. Some quarters argue that the phrase should
not have been included in the textbook in the first place.
In the same textbook, one illustration gives the impression
that vernacular schools cannot promote national unity, and a
paragraph on the same page states that vernacular schools
will progressively be phased out.
Also in the Form Three text, specifically in the chapter on
cooperation among the races towards independence, the quote
used to illustrate the theme states that the country belongs
to the Malays and should, therefore, be returned to them.
These are just some of the elements that have found their
way into history textbooks under the secondary school
integrated curriculum (Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah).
Former Kelana Jaya member of parliament Loh Seng Kok thinks
too much focus is given to Tamadun Islam, or Islamic
Civilisation. "There was only one chapter in the old Form
Four history textbook, but now five out of 10 are on this
subject matter," said Loh, who carried out a study on
history textbooks two years ago.
Loh, along with his MCA colleagues, submitted a memorandum
to the Education Ministry pursuant to that study.
What has also been noted is the downplaying of the roles
played by Chinese and Indian communities in the
socio-economic development of the country.
Some quarters also take exception to the Chinese clans, the
Ghee Hin and Hai San, which played so pivotal a role in the
advent of colonial administration in the Malay states, being
described as kongsi gelap or secret societies, abiding by
the old British proscriptions on these organisations.
Specific historical figures such as Gurchan Singh, the "Lion
of Malaya", and Sybil Karthigesu have all but vanished from
the record. Both resisted the Japanese during the occupation
of Malaya in World War 2 and paid the price for it. They
used to get some mention, but have since disappeared from
the pages of our history.
The key historical roles played by prominent figures from
Sabah and Sarawak also merit little or no mention beyond "a
line or two".
All Malaysian communities have their role in the story of
how this nation came to be what it is today, and history
texts need to reflect this shared ownership. Questions of
ethnic relations in history must be discussed in
scrupulously neutral language, without judgments of right or
A review would, indeed, be timely, but it must be
collective, consultative and knowledge-based, not driven by
emotion or political imperatives. -- CSL