Malaysia to make Malay-Arabic calligraphy optional in vernacular schools after 'Islamisation' concerns

KUALA LUMPUR - The teaching of Malay-Arabic calligraphy or khat in Chinese and Tamil primary schools will be made optional, Malaysian education minister Maszlee Malik said on Thursday (Aug 8), following a highly-emotive debate on the matter.

“The Cabinet has decided that the introduction of khat calligraphy will continue as planned but will take into consideration certain matters,” Dr  Maszlee told a news conference.

The Cabinet, at a meeting on Wednesday, decided on several adjustments, including reducing the number of pages in textbooks on the subject- from six to three.

Teachers will be given the freedom to decide on whether or not to teach khat, otherwise known as Jawi, in classrooms.

The Cabinet also agreed that students will not be tested in exams.

Dr  Maszlee said: “We hope that with the Cabinet’s decision on khat, the issue will not be raised anymore and create any misunderstanding.”

The government’s announcement last week that it would introduce khat in the Malay-language syllabus for primary schools, including vernacular schools, upset non-Malay groups and stirred fears of growing Islamisation in the racially diverse country.

There are over 1,200 Chinese and 523 Tamil primary schools in Malaysia.

Parents also complained that their children were being overburdened.

 

A group of 138 officials and assemblymen from the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is part of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, publicly opposed the plan and urged ministers from the party to do the same.

But DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang warned Malaysians that the divisive discourse was a political ploy. He said he had also learnt Jawi and it did not make him “any less of a Chinese.”

DAP was forced to hold a meeting on Monday with its elected representatives to discuss the issue.

“The unhappiness of the non-Malay community and educationists in Chinese and Tamil primary schools stemmed from what is seen by them as a unilateral decision taken by the education ministry, without any prior consultation with the stakeholders,” DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said in a statement on Thursday.

“This has led to general suspicion and a trust deficit from the stakeholders in Chinese and Tamil primary schools, that there is a hidden agenda by the education ministry,” he said, adding that Dr  Maszlee had denied there was an agenda.

Mr Lim  noted that the decision to make khat optional  will not please everyone, as the non-Malay groups had requested that the introduction of khat be deferred, pending consultation with all stakeholders in Chinese and Tamil primary schools.

But he  hoped it would “allow Malaysians to move forward.”

Dr Maszlee had earlier denied that the move was aimed at establishing Islamisation in vernacular schools, where the medium of instruction is Mandarin or Tamil.

On Monday, the education ministry explained that the move to add six pages on khat in textbooks had been planned since 2014 under the previous government as part of a revamp of the syllabus and was meant to “inculcate the values of the legacy of the Malay language and national identity.”

Jawi script can be seen across the country on road signs, state emblems and ringgit notes, and was once taught in schools. Malay pupils currently learn it as part of Islamic studies.