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KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — Former education minister Maszlee Malik said today the teaching of khat in vernacular schools was not by choice, but merely a continuation of a policy already agreed upon by the previous administration.
The Bersatu leader was responding to criticism by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who suggested during an interview with Malay tabloid Sinar Harian, that the idea should not have been pushed through.
The former prime minister had said that during his first administration, Umno never tried to “force” MCA to accept Jawi in vernacular schools. Dr Mahathir was Umno president for over 22 years.
“I would like to stress that I never chose to confront these issues,” Maszlee wrote in a lengthy Facebook post.
“But as the education minister at the time, I had to shoulder the responsibility and respect the decision already agreed upon by KPM (Education Ministry),” he added.
“My sole focus at the time was continuing with reforms in the education system.”
Maszlee also disputed Dr Mahathir’s view that khat, which is Jawi calligraphy, has religious elements.
The Simpang Renggam MP said the subject would have simply taught vernacular school pupils how to write “Malaysia”, “Ringgit Malaysia”, “Bank Negara Malaysia” and “Quality in Unity” in khat.
“Furthermore, the subject would have been exempted from exams,” he explained.
The khat storm had caused massive damage to the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration’s multicultural image.
Critics said the opaque handling of the issue was the reason why minority communities continued to view Jawi with suspicion, even as they took painstaking effort to allay fears that the syllabus was a form of Islamic evangelism.
But in his response to Dr Mahathir, Maszlee noted that PH’s predecessor had undertaken the steps to introduce khat in schools since 2014, and that it engaged all stakeholders, including MCA and Chinese educationist groups like Dong Zong.
The Simpang Renggam MP then said the pilot syllabus was subsequently introduced in 2015 textbooks, without any opposition from either MCA or Dong Zong.
The two groups had vehemently opposed to the introduction of khat, and later turned it into a campaign issue in the Tanjung Piai by-election in Johor, where a swing in Chinese votes helped MCA win with a thumping victory.
“So, it is wrong to say it was PH that forced the Chinese to learn Jawi. It is wrong to say ‘we didn’t even ask MCA to accept it,’” Maszlee said, citing Dr Mahathir’s claim.
“MCA accepted it (Jawi’s introduction in 2015). No opposition. Dong Zong did not voice any opposition.”