KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 13 — A student and his father claim a school in Ampang is racially segregating students by allegedly placing Malay-Muslim students in better classes, including those with lower academic performance than minority counterparts.
The father, Robin Kins*, asserted some Bumiputra students in the school were undeservingly placed in “smarter” classes, while his son was sent to a “lower-tier” class despite obtaining good grades last year.
“When I approached the teacher yesterday, when I asked, ‘are you having the quota system?’ She said yes, and she had the list. They wouldn’t share the list with us,” Kins told Malay Mail in an interview on Thursday.
“It’s OK if you go for a quota system, but this is over 90 per cent of Malay-Muslims in the class. Where is the balance?” he asked, expressing fear that racism might be normalised in the school owing to the lack of balance in other races in classes.
Kins claimed the school also informed him that they were merely following the system set by education authorities.
The school streams students with five distinctions in the Primary School Evaluation Test (UPSR, into two special classes dubbed Special Programmes Class (KRK) 1 and 2. Both are allegedly Bumiputra majority.
Kins’ 15-year old son Rohan* claimed he was explicitly told by a senior teacher in charge of academic affairs that his race became a final deciding factor for the segregation, not his grades and his “moral student” category.
Malay Mail was informed that the “Moral student” is a reference to the Moral Studies that non-Muslims are required to take.
Allegedly, this was to allow Muslim students to have their own class for the smooth teaching of the Islamic Studies subject.
He said he asked his teacher why he was not placed in the upper class, but was told instead to consult another. The next teacher suggested that it was because of his grades, but he told her that he was first in his class.
“Then she said maybe it’s because I’m a moral student. Then, I told her there is a Chinese student in my class too, and then she said, ‘Oh maybe because you’re Indian,’” he claimed.
Rohan said aggrieved as he felt he deserved a place in the special class, also claiming this was the second year he was bumped from the top class for the same reason.
The duo told Malay Mail that they also obtained the student register from another neighbouring school to check if a similar system was employed there, but found that the register only had details such as the students’ names, and identification card numbers.
Robin said he has known of the alleged racial segregation among students for a while, but decided to reveal it only now after his son was explicitly told that it was his race that cost him his chances of going to a better class.
“The teacher told him he can still perform in the class to prove it to the school. I told the teacher that if they have this kind of a system, then you don’t need examinations for anything. Even if the children do well, they might not get a proper place,” Robin said.
“They will have some form of separation within themselves, because it starts from the school,” he added.
The 55-year-old freelance telecommunications consultant said that the school also told him to “let go” of the issue, and that they had promised a better system next year.
Robin has since appealed Rohan’s class placement, and is awaiting a response from the school.
The secondary school’s principal, Zahiba*, denied the claims of racial prejudice, and said the streaming was based purely on academic performance.
While acknowledging that only 10 per cent of the top classes went to non-Muslims, she said it was reflective of the school’s overall composition.
“We take an average of 10 per cent. Like for entry of non-Malays anywhere the standard is about 10 per cent. So in this, we take an almost similar approach. Ten per cent of these kids can enter this class, and 10 per cent of that kids can enter that class,” Zahiba told Malay Mail.
She also conceded that Malay students with lower academic results were placed in the classes over higher scoring non-Malays, but said this was only after careful consideration.
“The main criterion is still the academic results,” she said.
On her school’s prominent use of race and religion in the student register, she said it was purely for record keeping.
“In our school, the ethnic Chinese are a small number and the ethnic Indians even less. Some classes do not have any Indians at all,” she said, adding that Malays make up about 80 per cent of the school student population.
She then explained that the KRK programme was for top UPSR scorers who must apply for placement from the district education department, which oversees the classes under the Controlled Schools programme under the Education Ministry.
KRK programme to be reviewed
When contacted, the Education Ministry denied enforcing such quotas.
Deputy Education Minister I Datuk P. Kamalanathan told Malay Mail, however, that schools have autonomy over how to manage student demographics.
“No such thing as quota. That’s why I’m surprised about the situation that recently happened to a particular child, and I’m going to check with my officers in the ministry to clarify the situation,” he told Malay Mail.
Deputy Education Minister II Datuk Chong Sin Woon also denied such a policy, adding that the system is only employed under the matriculation programme.
Wong then urged any affected by such discrimination to lodge a report with him.
Kamalanathan said the KRK programme will be reviewed in phases and possibly phased out along with the ministry’s plan to end class streaming.
*Editor’s note: The names of the interviewees have been changed on request.