Malaysiakini Letter

Is a History pass for UEC really a priority?

Ho Chi Yang & Carlson Chew Yee Herng
Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | The issue of recognising the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) has been a hotly debated topic. Some parties, with or without conditions, support the recognition of UEC, but others completely disagree.

Passing Bahasa Malaysia and History in SPM is the main condition that some parties are asking for in order to recognise UEC.

A pass, or even a credit in the SPM Bahasa Malaysia paper, is no longer an issue because United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) has agreed to it.

A pass in History, according to some groups and individuals, ensures the formation of a sense of national identity which is vital to promote unity.

It is understandable that both the government and many people look at the History subject as a means to foster national identity. Through learning history, we can learn what happened in the past, our origins, how our forefathers achieved independence, what changed the course of our nation’s development and so on.

However, Malaysia’s history textbook is a very selective version of history dictated by a group, or several groups of academics and ultimately approved by the government.

George Orwell once said, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Judging from how it is produced, the history textbook will inevitably become a narrative of what happened in the past, being written from the perspective of the regime in power.

The primary mission of learning history? To learn the ‘facts’ approved by the regime so that its citizens share the same ‘aspirations’.

Let’s revisit our Form 3 history textbook. In the chapter about cooperation between races on the road to independence, the textbook highlighted the Communities Liaison Committee, cooperation between Umno-MCA and the Alliance.

However, cooperation between different ethnic groups in fact occurred much earlier with the formation of Putera-AMCJA.

In 1947, Putera-AMCJA put forward the People’s Constitution in order to challenge the Federation of Malaya 1948.

Later, they even organised a nation-wide hartal, whereby people voluntarily closed down shops and services as a form of protest. These are not highlighted in the textbook. There is no mention of hartal, which made the news headlines all over.

On the other hand, there are actually 10 pages dedicated to the formation of Umno in the same textbook. It is absolutely true that Umno played a vital role in achieving Malaya’s independence.

However, the question we should be asking is: Was Umno the only organisation that fought for independence? Fahmi Reza’s 10 Tahun Sebelum Merdeka documentary would prove otherwise.

The leftist movement is largely ignored in our history textbook. While Umno is given 10 pages, the entire leftist movement is merely featured in one paragraph. Sure, it is elaborated in the Form Five textbook, but the negative connotation is painted nonetheless.

Through the History subject, we are always taught that there was a race riot, full stop. The then BN government would just tell us to stop discussing sensitivities or else race riots might happen again.

Why is there almost no content in the textbook about the incident that has brought profound consequences in formulating political, economic and social policies in our country? It appears that there are some hidden facts that the old regime is trying to cover up.

It is only through other sources, for instance books written by Kua Kia Soong, that the history of May 13 tragedy is revealed to the public.

However, a majority of students or even adults might actually have no adequate knowledge about it till today, precisely because it is deliberately erased from our curriculum.

Overhauling the curriculum

The mission of learning history, we believe, is to be critical in looking at the past events using different sources and through different perspectives, compare the past with the present, connect the dots that are missing, and finally provide some insights that might be useful references in the future.

Rather than insisting on making a pass in History compulsory for UEC, I believe that we should instead focus on overhauling the syllabus first.

Other than the leftist movement in the mid-1940s and the May 13 incident, those who are involved in the process of rewriting and revising the secondary school history textbooks should consider incorporating incidents such as student activism, Operasi Lalang, and the Reformasi era so that students would have an in-depth understanding on what has happened in our country.

Besides additional perspectives and contents, our textbook could be improved by adding in footnotes in order for students or even teachers to look for more primary or secondary sources for extra information.

Therefore, source-based learning could be one of the alternatives to the traditional modes of teaching history. Teachers can guide students to explore and investigate different credible sources of history to understand different past events through different perspectives.

To apply that teaching method, we must also ensure that teachers are trained to investigate and think critically, rather than merely memorising facts and churning them out.

It will be a lot better than merely relying on textbooks, which can be easily utilised to instil a distorted version of nationalism and contribute to extreme nationalistic propaganda.

There’s definitely hope and we are optimistic that a better revised History textbook for our students can be produced. The Standard Secondary School Curriculum (KSSM) module has been replacing the Integrated Secondary School Curriculum (KBSM) module since 2017, and the Form 3 history textbook mentioned above is currently under revision.

A history textbook which features not only the official history but also alternative history, will provide perspectives from both sides of the aisle which would help students to think critically and appreciate our country’s history as a whole.

Not the only way to build national identity

Many scholars and historians have been issuing warnings about building national identity through learning history, particularly history from a single source. Renowned historian Eric Hobsbawm warned that:

“…all human beings, collectives and institutions need a past, but it is only occasionally the past is uncovered by historical research. The standard example of an identity culture which anchors itself to the past by means of myths dressed up as history is nationalism.”

The purpose of forming national identity through History textbook will turn out to be, as likely as not, a semi-myth veiled by ‘history’.

Therefore, there is no need to bulldoze the “pass the History subject” precondition to recognise UEC, particularly when we couldn’t even ensure that the history we are feeding our children in schools helps promote critical thinking.

Plus, the syllabus of History subject of Chinese independent schools is based on the national curricula for KBSM and STPM. This would be the best answer for some who doubt that UEC students are learning China’s history and hence do not share Malaysians’ ‘aspirations’.

Perhaps we can start discussing if UEC students should use the same History textbook as their primary source

History, in the end, will never be the sole factor to build national identity.

National identity will be formed, directly or indirectly, through various other ways such as learning different cultures, embracing noble and universal values, as well as being treated fairly by the society and the regime.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Share this story


Welcome back,

Your subscription expires on

Your subscription will expire soon, kindly renew before

Your subscription is expired
  Click here to renew

You are not subscribed to any subscription package
  Click here to subscribe now

Any questions?
  Email: [email protected]
  Call: +603-777-00000