LETTER | "Do you agree that we need Sekolah Wawasan and abolish vernacular schools to unite the nation?"
I frequently receive this question every time a discussion about national unity arises. I beg to disagree.
The Sekolah Wawasan (Vision Schools) was Dr Mahathir Mohamad's idea in 1997 to improve national unity. Four days ago, he repeated this idea at a law conference in Petaling Jaya. The concept of Sekolah Wawasan is to foster racial interaction among students from the three main ethnic groups by placing national schools, Tamil schools, and Chinese schools all on the same campus.
Racism begins with how we perceive other people who are different from our ethnicity. When a person feels his or her ethnicity is superior to other ethnicities, racism is born. Prejudice and discrimination are intangible until they turn into abuse or harassment like hate speech.
We can take preventive and corrective action to fight racism and encourage national unity. First, we can educate the students from the beginning to be colour blind. And second, we can formulate and enforce laws protecting people from discriminative actions regardless of their ethnicities and backgrounds.
In Australia, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 makes it illegal to discriminate against people because of their race, skin colour, descent or national or ethnic origin. The UK has its Equality Act 2010 and various anti-hate speech laws that forbid expressions of hatred on account of people's backgrounds.
Education helps in national capacity-building and creating talents. And the focus right now should be on solving the existing problems in our education system. We should work on increasing the competitiveness of our students, getting rid of our rote learning and eliminating exam-oriented education methods.
The increasing digitalisation of the global economy is posing fresh challenges to our country, and we have to prioritise preparing ourselves for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The government could also consider introducing human rights education in school. Article 2 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees all human beings are born free and are equal in dignity and rights regardless of sex, race, language, religion, social standing, etc. By introducing human rights education, people learn to understand, accept and have respect for each other.
At the same time, the government could encourage non-government organisations to do civic education and awareness about human rights among the youth in this country.
Uniting the nation is not about abolishing vernacular schools.
It also not about reintroducing the Sekolah Wawasan.
Upholding human rights and passing anti-discrimination laws are the way forward for the Pakatan Harapan government to foster national unity in the long term and a sustainable manner.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.