Malaysia’s Own Columbus Day And Educational Genocide – OpEd


Monday Oct 12. It was Columbus Day in America; a period of massacre of the Arawak Indians at the time of the coming of Christopher Columbus and the Conquistadors. It is also a week of educational genocide in Kelantan, Malaysia. A sad day for both countries. These passages narrate the nature of schools Malaysians have built.

Malaysian prayers went to the Orang Asli (indigenous people’s) children (six girls and one boy, between 7-11 years old) of Pos Tohoi, Gua Musang who perished. Two girls survived eating grass and wild fruits to keep them alive. They were lost for 48 days in the nearby jungle after leaving their residential school, escaping harsh punishment for bathing in the river. May their souls lay in eternal peace, away from this world of educational misery created by those who do not know what education means.

The Malaysian government does not treat the indigenous people well and instead try to force-assimilate them into the Malay-Muslim culture. The plight of East Malaysian Penan tribe of Sarawak is another case study of marginalization and cultural genocide well-known internationally with stories of the peoples of the forest defending their right to exist, in face of the government’s building of mega-projects.

In the history of the United States, the name Christopher Columbus is generally associated by the Native Americans with genocide. The conquistador, whose expeditions to the ‘New World’ were financed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, yielded not only a passage to ‘America’, (named after the mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci,) but brought more Spaniards to the new-found land and which led to the massacre of thousands of Arawak Indians, as the late American historian Howard Zinn argued.

Columbus should have been educated of the need to respect the cultures of the ‘American natives’ or Orang Asli Amerika, but also learn from them what ‘civilisation’ should mean and what ‘education and cultural action for freedom’ should look like.

The poignant and horrifying story of the death of schoolchildren in Gua Musang, Kelantan of the Orang Asli of Temiar origin is an example of how education, that ought to be a gentle profession has turned genocidal. It also points to the idea of what state schooling means to the indigenous people and how, in the case of the children of the Temiars who perished, what form of mental torture is inflicted upon them, in a state identified as “most Islamic” in the country. Kelantan, where the Pos Toi School in Gua Musang lies, is unofficially named “The Verandah of Mecca.” (Serambi Mekah) by the leaders of the ruling government-cum-Pan-Malayan Islamic Party.

How is this so, and what does it say about the state of educational evolution and crisis of cultural degenerative proportion Malaysia is in? For the world t understand how this hyper-modern society has evolved and how its people are schooled for social reproduction, one must understand the types of schools that have come into being

Seven types of schools

Since independence, and as a legacy of British colonialism of divide and conquer as well as following the mould of Americanism, Malaysia has developed seven types of schools namely,

1) POWER SCHOOLS, i.e. international schools meant for the rich and powerful who will compete and collaborate with children of expatriates and to save children from the children of the poor and of the natives;

2) PRIVATE SCHOOLS, i.e. most often very expensive ‘breakaway schools’ meant to save children from poor teaching, overcrowded classrooms, and to save children of the rich from those of the lower and middle class;

3) PRIVILEGED SCHOOLS, i.e. well-funded boarding schools built to safeguard racial privileges and to instill ketuanan Melayu (the “self-proclaimed sense of superiority of the Malays”) amongst children who did well in their kampong schools to be saved from the schools for the poor, to groom them so that they will become leaders that will protect the rights of this or that race;

4) PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS, i.e. schools that sustain the transmission of this or that culture based on the perceived superiority of this or that language, culture, and religion, so that the children will be saved from being washed away by the tide of cultural change brought by the children of the poor;

5) PUBLIC SCHOOLS, i.e. government schools that sustain the ideology of the ruling regime par excellence and en mass, deploy curriculum that passes down ‘Official Knowledge and Grand Narratives of One Particular Historical, Cultural, Scientific truths’, train the children of the poor to be nationalistic and patriotic unquestionably, and those used as a training ground for children to participate in nation-building as servants and appendages to the state capitalist system so that the children will grow up as defenders of the evolvingly-totalitarian state;

6) ‘PROOF-OF-CONCEPT’ SCHOOLS, i.e. well-funded ‘pulled-out’ government schools to prove that public schools do work as a showcase of innovations and good management, authentic assessment and evaluation, as a way to show that selected schools can be saved from the failing public schools, and that a failing policy can be saved by a successful showcase of ‘smart ways to schooling’;

7) PARIAH SCHOOLS, i.e. schools that beg for money from the government even to fix the roof or a toilet … fit for a punishment haven for children simply because they are born out of the wrong race, class, or caste, and schools for those whose parents did not go to any of the schools above.

Which of the schools do the children of the Temiar tribe of Gua Musang belong to?

Which of those above do Malaysians wish their child to be schooled in?

No Malaysia child left behind?

What then must Malaysians do in this apartheid scheme of schooling and mass-babysitting? How can they stop this conveyor belt of education from moving, to give each child the right to be intelligent in a level playing field? Dare they vote in a government that will correct the imbalances of a class system of social reproduction?

Malaysians have successfully created classes of society through the classification system of schools and through the class ideology we directly or indirectly teach in our classrooms. There are schools for the rich and schools for the poor. Like labeling batteried-chicken eggs, they assign ‘grades’ to their schools.

When schools are failing, they try to create independent schools and profit from more private schools, leaving behind the children of the poor of all races to be recycled in the system of structural mental-ideological violence. They are wasting good talents. Instead of making the slogan ‘brain gain’ a reality, we are making ‘brains go down the drain’.

They have also created the dispossessed youth with passion for death-inviting drag-racing, the Mat and Minah Rempits, the essentially loan-shark artist ‘Alongs’ preying on the financially desperate, and gangsters groomed in the rubber estates and depressed urban areas.

These are the products of an unthinking schooling and reproductions of the post-industrial society. The society has neglected the development of their children’s minds and have created successful failures through the schools they build. Malaysians have appointed educational leaders who perhaps have not set foot in the classroom, let alone in those of the most impoverished areas of our country.

What is our problem with this gentle profession and enterprise called


What then must Malaysians do? Seems that they are only reading daily about the mega-fiasco of the 1MDB and the fruitless war between the camps of the former leader Mahathir Mohamad and the current one Najib Abdul Razak: about who is stealing how much of the people’s/rakyat’s money, then now and forever.
Essentially Malaysians continue to neglect the debate concerning their children’s future – their great school debate.

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an academician, educator, international columnist, and author of nine books He holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in international education development and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies, communication, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. His latest book, a memoir, is published by Penguin Books is available here.

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