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Matriculation - affirmative action based on needs or ethnicity?

COMMENT | The Malaysian Matriculation Programme (Malay: Program Matrikulasi Malaysia) is a one or two-year pre-university preparatory programme [1] offered by the Ministry of Education, Malaysia. Starting in 2005, the selection process for the programme is done through a race-based quota system, where 90% of the places are reserved for bumiputera students while the remaining 10% are open for non-bumiputera. - Wikipedia

Yesterday, Education Minister Maszlee Malik said the cabinet decided to increase student intake into the pre-university matriculation programme from 25,000 to 40,000 while maintaining the quota system which allocates 90 percent of seats for the bumiputera and 10 percent for the non-bumiputera.

In recent weeks, social media has been abuzz with Pakatan Harapan bashing after many high-scoring Malaysian Indian students were denied entry into the matriculation programme. MIC had a field day ridiculing Indian Harapan leaders for betraying the Indians while claiming that under BN, 2200 Indians students were given places. 

Harapan leaders and the Education Minister countered this by saying that that was a one-off deal in 2018, where an additional 2,200 and 1,000 matriculation seats were allocated to Indian and Chinese students. However you look at it, the argument is shallow.

The truth is, Harapan leaders are getting a taste of their own medicine because, before this, they had been busy attacking MIC for not delivering places for Indian students. Therefore, it obviously payback time for the MIC now when the tables are turned around. This has been the racial politics of yesterday, which is very much alive and kicking today. 

Harapan's Indian leaders in DAP and PKR will aim their guns on MIC and vice-versa while MCA targets DAP etc. This kind of politics has not changed. Rather, the only thing which has changed is where they are standing today- on different sides but in the same opposing ways.

Under this order, the fight between Harapan and BN is on who is more Malay, more Islamic, more multiracial, more pro-Indian, more pro-Chinese etc. The issues get even more clouded when involving royalty, UEC exams, the Rome Statute, appointments of the attorney-general or ministers and everything else.

They become racial and religious issues rather than issues based on substance and rationality.

The Harapan government has to make it clear which route it wants to pursue. If it wants to pursue the race agenda of the BN legacy or if it wants to take a class line like once preached by Anwar Ibrahim in that Pakatan Rakyat will pursue Ketuanan Rakyat rather than Ketuanan Melayu. Malay Supremacy versus the Peoples' Supremacy. 

In the recent matriculation issue, the Harapan government has continued to puzzle me because, in one instance, the minister says that it will take in 90% bumiputera and 10% non-bimuputera students. The ministry further states that 60% of the places will be given to those from the Bottom 40 (B40) income bracket with the remaining 40% given to the Middle 40 (M40) and Top 20 (T20) segments.

Previously, under the quota system, many Indians students were unable to get places because they had to compete for the seats with Chinese students who are presumed to be scoring higher results and have a better economic background. So the Indian NGOs began fighting for a separate quota of 10% just for Indian students. 

Initially, many Indians were not very excited about the matriculation programme because, in an environment where 90% are Malay students, they were afraid their children would be victims of religious conversion. Today, with neo-liberal education and privatisation, education has become so expensive and unaffordable. So now, there is a huge demand for matriculation because it is fully-subsidised.

Therefore, it is only fair that those who cannot afford private education be given a place. I am sure that if the system is based on need, then many poor students from all races including the bumiputera will benefit. I think such a system based on helping those in need will be accepted by all if it is explained properly.

The current system based on racial quotas will continue to segregate our society and will continue to give race-based politicians from both sides of the divide an excuse to continue to politicise education. At the end of the day, our education system will continue to be tainted with accusations of discrimination and this will further divide the people. 

Imagine if young people continue to be brought up based on a race-based quota education system. What kind of perceptions will they take home as leaders of our nation in the future?

Harapan must be brave enough to bring about a new culture based on equality and be compassionate towards the communities who are most disadvantaged economically. Education must be made accessible to the most disadvantaged groups in order to lift them up. One of the biggest mistakes made by Harapan to date is having a separate supplementary manifesto for Indians and Malays as this will result in its members taking up issues based on ethnicity rather than need.

Harapan has to prove that it is not BN 2.0. Currently, they have either failed to explain their position clearly before implementing something or have failed to implement something after bowing to pressure. 

On all issues, Harapan political parties as a coalition should be on the same page on major issues but there seems to be no consensus. Harapan is supposed to be a coalition of hope but so farm it not giving much hope with its numerous U-turns and unkept promises.

S ARUTCHELVAN is a PSM central committee member.

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

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