KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3 — Participants at a forum gave their conditional support for the government’s controversial proposal to recognise the Chinese vernacular education’s Unified Examination Certificate (UEC).
Activist Hazman Baharom, who co-founded the NGO Universiti Terbuka Anak Muda (UTAM), said he liked the UEC syllabus used and typically taught in Mandarin in Chinese independent secondary schools.
However, he insisted that stricter criteria be applied than simply requiring UEC holders to also possess a SPM-level credit in Bahasa Malaysia, as contained in the proposal to adopt the certificate as a university entrance qualification.
“The condition is, there’s no problem for them to take UEC, but to enter public universities (IPTA), they also have to take SPM core subjects with the national language as the medium of instruction,” he told Malay Mail when met after the forum.
The long-standing topic arose again when Education Minister Maszlee Malik said early last month that the Pakatan Harapan government would fulfill its election promise of recognising the UEC, which led to objections including a Gamis-organised rally attended by around 400 students on July 21 to protest government recognition for the qualification.
Gerakan Mahasiswa Se-Islam Malaysia (Gamis) president Muhammad Faizzuddin Mohd Zai, who was present at the same forum, suggested that Maszlee empower the national education system first before looking into private schools.
“For the meantime, we suggest that status quo be maintained,” the leader of Malaysia’s Muslim undergraduates said at the forum last night, suggesting that United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) which oversees Chinese independent schools take certain measures for UEC recognition.
“Gamis’s suggestion to Dong Zong, first you empower your Bahasa Melayu syllabus to be at least as good as STPM’s,” he said.
Earlier during the forum, Faizzuddin highlighted the technical differences between the syllabus used in the UEC and its pre-university equivalent STPM that is taken at Form 6 in national secondary schools.
He further said the quality of UEC students’ discourse in the BM syllabus was inferior despite using the same Malay classics such as Hikayat Hang Tuah.
He also noted that the UEC’s history subject covers local history such as Islam’s arrival in Melaka and Tun Perak, with the difference being that it does not cover the history of Islamic civilisation unlike STPM.
He also suggested that Dong Zong consider including STPM’s four-paper General Studies that he said was good for producing good citizens, later telling Malay Mail that Dong Zong should also be transparent in its administration and funding which he said would also enable it to receive allocated government funds in the annual budget.
Faizzuddin later told Malay Mail that there should be discussions with groups that have expertise in education — instead of ethnic-based groups such as Malay NGOs — on his suggested pre-conditions for UEC’s official recognition.
Institute for Leadership and Development Studies (Lead) research manager Tarmizi Anuwar, who also spoke at the forum, said he was agreeable to the current condition of requiring a credit in the BM subject for entry into public universities.
“At the end of the day, UEC recognition for public universities, students have to have a credit in BM, so they need to take SPM...I think we need to give choices to students or parents to give the best to their children,” he said, adding that the government conditions for UEC acceptance is not a big problem as these are already under consideration by the groups involved.
He disagreed, however, with demands that the UEC be recognised immediately, noting that public policies should be made only after careful studies and holistic engagement with all stakeholders are carried out.
Activist Soh Sook Hwa, who spoke in her capacity as a former UEC student, said she supported having government recognition for the qualification.
“Actually I support, I believe more discussion is needed. I don’t see it is an issue that we can solve immediately because we don’t have a consensus on the ground. To make the policy happen, consensus is quite important,” she told Malay Mail when met after the forum.
Soh also noted that UEC’s and STPM’s BM subject are not directly comparable as the latter is an optional subject, saying: “I think we can’t compare in that sense because all UEC students actually take BM as one of their subjects, but not all STPM students actually took BM.”
During the forum, Soh sought to clarify generalisations and misconceptions of the UEC qualification, noting among other things that Chinese independent schools are private schools that are funded by donations from the community and that not all UEC students are from rich families.
Soh, who has herself benefited from interaction with others after being accepted into a public university, told the crowd that the bigger challenge was in replicating such forums and promoting the culture of discussion and critical questioning of anyone.
“I think this is very important, and with an open mind, we will have a brighter future to achieve true unity,” she said.
The forum titled “UEC: Pandangan Pemuda & Mahasiswa” (“UEC: Views of Youths and Undergraduates) and held in the open space in front of Universiti Malaya’s Dewan Tunku Canselor was organised by Liga Pemuda’s undergraduate wing Liga Mahasiswa with the support of the Universiti Malaya Muslim Students Association.
Liga Mahasiswa’s coordinator Suhail Wan Azhar earlier told the crowd of around 50 that the organisers wanted to break a “taboo” and the old practice of requesting permission from university authorities two weeks before the event, adding that this event did not seek approval through the UM’s management or student affairs department.
Shortly after the event began, UM’s auxiliary police came and requested that the forum be halted.
But the event continued on while organisers spoke separately to the auxiliary police in a calm discussion about the forum which had took place unannounced, with the auxiliary police subsequently keeping an eye on the event which went on peacefully and uninterrupted for about almost another two and a half hours.