PUSAT Komas is appalled by a press statement recently issued by the Education Ministry on the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination workshop organised by SMK Infant Jesus Convent, Johor Baru, which was only for Muslim students. The ministry’s response to the incident felt like an afterthought aimed to cover up the blunder made by the school.
Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek should make a stand and address the issue of racism and racial discrimination in schools. The minister’s decision to leave the issue to the district office is disappointing and akin to shrugging off her responsibility to promote unity at the school level.
This behaviour is in contrast to the Malaysia Madani concept, which illustrates an inclusive Malaysia for all Malaysians regardless of race and religion, promoted by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
The ministry’s response that the workshops were “conducted as a series to avoid disruption to candidates who were preparing to celebrate Chinese New Year” did not match the explanation by the school’s headmaster. Based on the WhatsApp trail shared by a disgruntled parent, the workshop was held just for Muslim students under the guise of it only covering Islamic Studies.
It was only discovered later that other SPM subjects, such as Chemistry and Additional Mathematics, were also covered in the workshop. When confronted, the headmaster claimed “the achievement of Malay students is very worrying. As many as 40 students failed and will not qualify for an SPM certificate if there is no effort to help them”.
The message said the headmaster did not want the failing grades of Malay students to bring down the school’s achievement in the upcoming SPM examination. There was no mention of a second workshop for non-Malay students, or that the workshop would be split into two sessions.
The ministry’s attempt at damage control by claiming that another session of the workshop will be organised is disingenuous. The very fact that the SPM workshop was held secretly and strictly only for the Malays under the guise of “Islamic Studies” is enough to show that there are elements of racism and racial discrimination.
Prioritising students based on their ethnicity while disregarding the rest is a clear act of preferential treatment and racial discrimination. Equal opportunities should be afforded to all regardless of their race. The school could have organised the workshop on a later date that does not clash with the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Even if the workshop was required immediately, all parents should be given the freedom to choose to allow their child to attend the workshop even if it did clash with the celebrations.
Pusat Komas echoes the call of the Johor sultan that “nobody must be left out of any public programme because of their race or religion. If it is true that there was racial segregation, then action must be taken against the organisers. The same can also be said if it is found that these allegations are proven false and spread by irresponsible parties”.
Additionally, we demand better accountability from the education minister and Education Ministry. Stern and swift action should be taken against the perpetrators of racism and racial discrimination, especially in a school setting. Let this be a timely reminder that racism should no longer be swept under the carpet. – January 25, 2023.
* Pusat Komas is a human rights organisation.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.