'Inclusive' history project: No need for big budget

Lim Teck Ghee & Alberto Gomes & Azly Rahman

Modified 7 Mar 2019, 1:19 am

COMMENT | We refer to the article "Historians to write 'inclusive' history of nation for schools" published in Malaysiakini on Feb 28. 

We would like to congratulate the group for their proposal on a four-year project to produce new history textbooks aimed at the school market.

It is clear that new history books are urgently needed for our schools. The project output can replace the present ketuanan- and Islam-centric ones with books that provide a factual, comprehensive, and inclusive account and understanding of the true historical roots and events that shaped Malaysia, the region and world in the past, contributing to what it is today.

But such a project does not require four years of work, nor what appears to us (without having seen the detailed budget) an unusually excessive sum of RM4 to RM5 million to implement.

From our experience in producing Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present and Future, a 500-page book with 25 original articles by some of the top scholars from Malaysia and abroad, the work should not require such a long gestation period. Nor should it require a huge budget.

By way of comparison, the budget in producing Multiethnic Malaysia was about RM30,000, with contributors receiving very modest honorariums.

It is necessary to emphasise that much of what the proposed 'inclusive Malaysian history' project intends to put together, can already be found in the older history textbooks put to pasture or abandoned by the ministry's history syllabus committees, which may not have included the project initiators.

How much work is involved

Little or no new research is required for all the three main areas of history intended to be covered in the school syllabus – Malaysian, Asian and the world. 

The main work is synthesis and editing, which does not require a large work team, travel expenses, sizeable honorariums, etc. What is most important in selection and writing are ensuring scholarly quality, academic independence, and integrity. 

These too do not require a huge budget, which is the likely stumbling block to a potentially useful project that can help reorientate our school children to our rich and diverse history.

Furthermore, the project team will find it useful to review the issues and work taken up by the multiracial and multireligious "Campaign for a truly Malaysian history" (also known as 'Kempen sejarah Malaysia sebenar' or KemSMS) in 2011-2012. 

The campaign drew more than 100,000 signatories and was actively engaged in meetings with the authorities and other stakeholders on reforms in history textbooks.

Although none of the project team members were involved, the KemSMS campaign included many professionals and concerned parents as well as NGOs seeking reform towards a liberal and progressive school history syllabus and textbooks.

The main objective of the movement was to contribute towards a well-balanced, truthful, and accurate depiction of Malaysian and world history – the aim that the inclusive history project team is now articulating. 

Towards this end, the KemSMS campaign group undertook various studies to analyse the weaknesses and shortcomings in the history syllabus and textbooks used in schools.

Arising from these studies and consultation with other key stakeholders, KemSMS prepared various proposals and recommendations to achieve the goal of balanced and progressive history education, and submitted them to the government-appointed history review panel as well as to the education minister.

Sadly the campaign drew a blank from the Education Ministry. This should serve as a salutary warning to the inclusive history project team.

These papers are relevant to any work aiming at a reform of the history syllabus and textbooks in the country and can be made available for use by the inclusive history project team. 

The project team, as well as members of the public, will also find it useful to refer to the press statement issued by KemSMS on "Urgent need for history education reform" on Jan 19, 2012.

The press statement contains recommendations on not simply reforms needed for textbook writing, but also reforms in the larger system of curriculum development and textbook selection, which are prone to abuse and the creeping in of vested interests. 

LIM TECK GHEE, ALBERTO GOMES and AZLY RAHMAN are the authors of Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present and Future.

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

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