PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A meeting to discuss Jawi writing in Malaysia's Chinese and Tamil language schools on Sunday (Dec 29) passed several resolutions, chief of which was to put on hold the teaching of a Jawi calligraphy module in the Primary 4 Bahasa Melayu syllabus pending a detailed discussion with all stakeholders.
The National Jawi Congress' spokesman Arun Dorasamy said more focus should be given on strengthening Bahasa Melayu as the country's national language while upholding vernacular schools and mother tongue education.
He said participants of the congress were of the opinion that Jawi calligraphy should be made an elective learning module for the students, away from the formal syllabus.
"We call on the Education Ministry to defer the implementation so that a roundtable discussion involving all stakeholders can be held.
"A list of resolutions passed today on the issue will be submitted to the ministry tomorrow (Dec 30)," he told a press conference after the two-hour meeting.
The organisers of Sunday's congress were Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Jawi Teaching Special Committee (JTSC) and Seni Khat Action Team (Sekat).
A few hundred people, including representatives from vernacular schools board of governors, as well as Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), attended the meeting.
Among the speakers included columnist and lecturer Professor Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi, activist lawyer Siti Kasim, Dayak Rights Action Force activist Bobby William and SJK (T) Ladang Emerald's PTA chairman K. Thayalan.
Mr Arun said they had set up an appointment with the ministry's officials in Putrajaya at 11.30am to submit the resolutions.
"We want to work with the government and find a win-win solution on this issue," he said.
Mr Arun, who is also Sekat national secretary, said the congress was aimed at deracialising the teaching of Jawi in vernacular schools.
Initially, it was intended to complement the Chinese educationist group Dong Jiao Zong meeting last Saturday that was cancelled following a court order by the police, citing safety concerns.
There are more than 1,200 Chinese and 523 Tamil primary schools in Malaysia, that use either Mandarin or Tamil as the medium of instruction.
In August, the Education Ministry surprised most people by saying it would include Jawi writing in the Primary 4 syllabus of the vernacular schools from Jan 1, raising concerns over creeping Islamisation.
These vernacular schools are run independently of national schools, where the students, mainly Malays, are taught Jawi writing as part of Islamic studies.
Khat, as Jawi calligraphy is called in Malaysia, is the writing of the Malay language using Arabic script.
JTSC coordinator Eddie Heng Hong Chai said the ministry should help students in vernacular schools master Bahasa Melayu by improving the teaching system because at least 20 per cent of them failed the subject.
"We are not against learning Jawi calligraphy. It should not be compulsory but an option. Also, we want to protect the school boards' authority in deciding school policies, as it is unsuitable to leave the decision-making solely to the parents as many of them are not too interested or aware of the impact," he said.
Datuk Heng said the school boards should be given a say in deciding such matters.
"That is why we hope the ministry will listen to our concerns," said Mr Heng, who heads the SJK(C) Sentul KL school board of governors.
He also noted the possibility of a legal challenge against the ministry as a last resort.
"This is not what we want. We hope for a dialogue session with the ministry so that a consensus can be reached," he said.
According to the ministry, Jawi calligraphy was to be introduced in three pages of the Year Four Bahasa Melayu subject.
This caused an uproar among various groups, prompting the ministry to first let teachers decide if they wanted to teach Jawi to students before passing the decision to parents in the latest guidelines.
Earlier in his speech, Prof Tajuddin said it was not right to label vernacular schools as "anti-national" because schools in Malaysia were originally set up by the community before independence.
"Leaders should understand that education is a right of the people whereby they only play the role of facilitators.
"When there are problems, they should meet the people and address the issues," he said.
Mr William said the government must not treat students like "white rats in the laboratory", and called for more discussions before implementing any new policy.