In Malaysia: Will the New Ethnic Relations Teaching Module Make a Difference?
January 29, 2007
50 years after independence, Malaysia has taken an important step toward increasing ethnic harmony through Cabinet approval of an Ethnic Relations Module developed by the Ministry of Higher Education in cooperation with historians and religious scholars. The 210 page module, which underwent six revisions, includes basic concepts on ethnic relations and pluralism, as well as economic and political development in the context of ethnic relations in Malaysia. Targeted for university students, the module furthers the understanding and appreciation of unity in diversity of the Malaysian people. Timeliness of the module is underscored by a recent national survey of the Merdeka Center in Kuala Lumpur which found ethnic identity amongst Malay youth higher than national identity.
The module is a positive step forward in educating students about the roles various ethnic groups have played in nation building, as is the approval of the module by Malaysia’s multi ethnic cabinet in opening up a dialogue on the highly sensitive issue of ethnicity. However, because the module has not yet been released for public review, some leaders are withholding judgment and acceptance. Their approval will be instrumental to the success of the program. Because the module is designed for university students whose attitudes and opinions may be more established, one has to ask if the program is targeted toward the most responsive group. Concepts of pluralism are best introduced at an early stage of education when attitudes are being formed. The Government needs to build on the positive measure it has taken with university students and generate ethnic relation modules to instill positive thinking about nation building amongst lower level students. Religion and ethnicity in Malaysia are inextricably intertwined, and if the country is to reach its full potential, it must find a way to promote ethnic harmony and religious tolerance. The Ethnic Relations Module reflects a positive movement in this direction.
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