Ex-judge claims vernacular schools not protected by Federal Constitution

Former Court of Appeals judge Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah said that he was not calling for the vernacular school system to be abolished, but only pointing out that Article 152 of the Federal Constitution does not provide for the Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools that are partially funded by the government. — Picture by Boo Su-Lyn
Former Court of Appeals judge Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah said that he was not calling for the vernacular school system to be abolished, but only pointing out that Article 152 of the Federal Constitution does not provide for the Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools that are partially funded by the government. — Picture by Boo Su-Lyn

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 9 — A former Court of Appeal judge has claimed that the Federal Constitution does not oblige Putrajaya to fund vernacular schools as the law only provides for private education in mother tongues.

Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah told Malay-language daily Sinar Harian in an interview published today that he was not calling for the vernacular school system to be abolished, but only pointing out that Article 152 of the Federal Constitution does not provide for the Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools that are partially funded by the government.

“There is nothing in the constitution that allows SJK to be set up,” Mohd Noor was quoted saying, using the Malay initials for national-type schools, or vernacular schools.

“Private schools, Chinese and Tamil schools, and schools of whatever ethnic group in this country that want to teach in the mother tongue, go ahead, but you have to fund it yourself.

“Say the Chinese want to learn Chinese, they can set up a school with their own funds,” he added.

Unlike national schools that use Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction, vernacular schools that teach in Mandarin and Tamil do not receive full federal funding and must rely on other sources of revenue — primarily private donations — to finance their operations.

Mohd Noor said Article 152(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution, which allows for the use and study of languages other than Bahasa Malaysia, does not refer to mother tongue-based education.

“The word ‘study’ refers to the study of language at a centre or language schools in universities. Such studies include knowing the origins and development of a certain language. So clause (b) can’t be used to defend SJK,” he said.

But the former judge claimed that the government can fund religious schools because the Federal Constitution places Islam as the religion of the federation.

Mohd Noor alleged that the country’s fragmented education system has affected unity between various ethnic groups, noting that there are few Chinese and Indian students at national schools.

“Why don’t we rebrand SJK as a national school and have its curriculum mirror the national schools’? We should provide facilities for those who want to study their respective mother tongues. It won’t take long to master the mother tongue — within three years, they should be proficient,” he said.

Petaling Jaya Utara Umno deputy division chief Mohamad Azli Mohemed Saad upset several MCA leaders recently when he proposed that the upcoming Umno general assembly next month debate closing down Chinese schools, as he claimed that such schools were used to inculcate racism and anti-establishment sentiments.

MCA lodged a police report against him in response for sedition, insisting that vernacular education is protected by the Federal Constitution.

Vernacular schools continue to grow in popularity in Malaysia, with an increasing number of non-Malay parents preferring to send their children to Mandarin- and Tamil-language schools over the Malay-language national schools.

Defenders of Bumiputera special privileges regularly target vernacular schools to deflect demands for equal treatment of the country’s races after decades of race-based affirmative action.