Aliran: Why identity-based discrimination is bad ‘education’ for students

IF school is where students are supposed to gain knowledge and experience, then educators and parents should take note of the findings from a recent survey.

The pioneering study suggests that instead of liberating the minds of young people, some schools have degenerated into a storehouse of discrimination of various kinds informed by bigotry, parochialism and racism.

This is obviously disturbing and requires action to be taken by the authorities.

The Discrimination in Education survey commissioned recently by a civil society group initiative, Sekolah Semua, found that of the 2,441 respondents interviewed, about 50% reported having experienced perceived discrimination in education.

The survey noted, though, that each respondent differed in his or her understanding of discrimination.

Of those who felt discriminated against, for instance, 36% experienced verbal discrimination, 21% experienced harassment or bullying, and 18% were denied access to opportunities because of their identities.

Any form of discrimination – particularly identity-based discrimination – should be seen as a social disease that should be dealt with at the school level to discourage students from bringing this baggage along as they enter the larger society after graduating from school.

Among those who experienced discrimination, it is significant to note that Indian Malaysian respondents reported more experiences of perceived race-based discrimination in schools (87%) than any other ethnic groups.

Just society

The Indian respondents had the highest rate of experiencing verbal discrimination (54%) and being denied access to opportunities because of their identity (40%) compared to other ethnic groups.

Minorities, in this case ethnic Indian students, should not have to bear the brunt of discrimination that is perpetrated by certain quarters who look at people outside of their ethnic communities with disdain.

Cynics may argue that what happens in schools is a microcosm of the wider society, and therefore it helps to inform the students of the harsh social reality.

However, it could be countered that students should be sensitive to these issues so that when they grow older, they are expected to make a difference and change things for the better. In other words, they should not accept discrimination of various sorts and injustice in society as something normal or worse, partake in these dark practices.

For instance, the low rate of employment among non-Malays in the civil service has been a cause for concern and unhappiness over the years for the affected communities, especially in a diverse society such as ours.

The predominance of Malays in the government sector may be partly attributed to the affirmative action policy which nonetheless should be tempered with a sense of justice and meritocracy.

Be that as it may, the composition of the bureaucracy should largely reflect the demographics of the country and steps should be taken to improve the situation so that it would be, incidentally in line with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s notion of a Malaysian Family.

Given such a social context, chief of Defence Forces General Tan Sri Affendi Buang’s recent assurance that the Malaysian Armed Forces do not have any racial quota for the recruitment of soldiers is a welcomed one.

Selection, he added, is exercised in a fair and transparent way that is blind to race and religion.

This is equivalent to saying that the armed forces, which are also predominantly Malay in composition, are equal opportunity employers that offer career opportunities to those from various backgrounds who are dedicated to protecting our country and its people.

After all, serving the beloved homeland or tanah air tercinta should not be the preserve of any one particular ethnic group.

As a step towards a better society, schools should be committed to building the character of students.

While good grades are important to students, parents and schools, they should not be prioritised at the expense of inculcating good values to combat discriminatory practices and injustice in our daily lives. – Sept 27, 2021


Dr Mustafa K Anuar, an Aliran executive committee member and co-editor of the Aliran newsletter, is concerned about issues of press freedom and freedom of expression in our society. He is also a senior journalist with an online media portal.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia

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