SEPTEMBER 19 — A recent survey by Sekolah Semua released in September 2021 on discrimination in the Malaysian education system found 87 per cent of ethnic Indian respondents felt discriminated in schools. This was the experience of nine out of ten Indians. Furthermore 54 per cent of ethnic Indian respondents had suffered verbal discrimination and about 40 per cent of same sample felt they were denied access to opportunities. This survey is based on what people felt was their experience which is regarded as perceived discrimination.

We could raise questions on the questionnaire raised as well as the sample interviewed. So we could question the methodology and try and discredit the findings. Or we can review this findings and discuss the experience of the 437 Indians who participated out of the 2,450 which is about 18 per cent. This is a sizable sample.A general view of Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Tamil) Kerajaan in Ipoh November 2, 2018. — Picture by Farhan Najib
A general view of Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Tamil) Kerajaan in Ipoh November 2, 2018. — Picture by Farhan Najib

Any story or experience of a person must be taken seriously. Instead of dismissing it we need to explore the root causes and ways we can address them.

Two aspects stand out is that of experience of verbal discrimination as well as being denied an opportunity on account of the colour of your skin or due to ethnic origin. This experience is damaging to the sense of self-worth and will have long term impact on the psychological makeup of the individual.  Being treated differently due to race and ethnicity impacts the dignity of the other as well as treating another as unequal. Children must experience healthy multi-cultural experiences in a safe and secure environment.

We are all equal

In Malaysia all are equal before the law which is Article 8 of the Federal Constitution. This sense of equality must impact how the other is being treated equally and with dignity. Therefore if a teacher or a peer student utters racial remarks or words or actions which undermine the humanity of another, this is unacceptable based on the Federal Constitution which is our document of destiny. 

Parental role in schools

It is important for all parents to be active in the schools where their children are studying. Parents must monitor the children’s developments whether academic, in sports and other curricular activities. It is necessary to hear the voices of their children as well as the teachers in the schools. We must resist jumping into conclusions and seek a confrontational approach. We should deny the perceptions of our children but address them by discussing with the teacher and the school head on these matters such as verbal discrimination or making fun of another or in the opportunities made available.

It is said many Indian parents are not active in the Parents Teachers Association nor take time to visit the school or be in touch with the teachers. If parents were involved they could raise concerns and the physical presence of Indian parents would also discourage any negative practices.

Teachers as peace builders

Teachers play an important role in moulding students. They can make them or break them. Therefore teachers need to be very careful in what they say and do which could have a positive or negative impact of a child or young person in the educational system. Most teachers are well trained with a sense of calling, however some might not be or are exhibiting negative aspects. It is the duty of the head of the school to monitor this and take appreciate action. It is important to have a multi ethnic teaching team with a good balance of teachers from ethnic, religious and gender representation.

Monitoring best practices

In any multi-cultural communities these perceptions and experiences could be many, therefore we must be open to hear the views of students, parents and teachers. Having a fair monitoring and documenting good practices is a positive way forward. In so doing we will be able to recognise and address the negative experiences too.

Many minority groups due to race, gender, socio economic background or even their disability could experience some form of discrimination. Recognising them and addressing then is necessary in building inclusive communities in Malaysia society.

Public enquiry

On a more serious note the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) must review this matter and could consider setting up a public enquiry on this matter. SUHAKAM has been undertaking human rights education in schools, the findings of this survey could be a tip of the iceberg.

This independent public inquiry will enable a review of perceived discrimination and provide an opportunity for students, parents and teachers to share their experiences as well as perspectives on fostering greater inter-ethnic appreciation in building inclusive and harmonious  Malaysia.

*Prof Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria is a Hon Professor at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, UKM.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.