Why didn’t Tun M bridge racial divide caused by vernacular schools when he had absolute power?

SOMETIMES I think that it serves no purpose to comment about the twice former prime minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammed.

There seems no end to his oscillation from one form of racism to another. Earlier, it was the nefarious attempts by the non-Malays to dilute the Federal Constitution from one based on mono-ethnicity.

This time around, he has returned to his familiar territory of bashing the vernacular schools as the prime reason for the present racial divide or divisiveness.

The question is: whether Dr Mahathir is right in saying that the vernacular education system which comprised the Mandarin and Tamil schools in the country are the cause of the racial divide.

The vernacular school system was something continued from the British colonial days. It was not product of recent times.

Schools in the country – whether national or national-types (vernacular) or religious schools – are products of the overall national education system.

The national education system is there because it is a policy decision adopted by those in power. In essence, the schools by themselves are not the primary cause of racial strife or racial divide.

They are dependent variables of the larger political system. If schools are reinforcing racial divide, not just the vernacular schools but the problem seems to be with those in control of the government.

Who’s the real culprit?

When Dr Mahathir was the PM for 22 years and 22 more months, one wonders why he never voiced out his vehement opposition to the existence of vernacular education.

Why didn’t he remove the vernacular schools in the first place? Then, as political power was essential to him, he would have realised that actions seen to be tampering with vernacular schools might only jeopardise his political career.

Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy

What is the point of raising the hue and cry about the vernacular schools now when the horses have left the stable?

Vernacular schools are not the primary cause of racial divide in the country. On the contrary, the racial divide is the consequence of racial and religious extremism in the country. In short, the consequence of political system that is based on ethnicity and religion.

Just as the national schools are reinforced by the government’s policy in favour of the majoritarian community, a counter move of reinforcing the ethnic character of vernacular schools are taking place.

Dr Mahathir by not differentiating between the cause and effect, takes the popular route of blaming the vernacular schools for the racial divide in the country.

Rather than blaming the vernacular schools, Dr Mahathir should ascertain why the governments after political independence failed to institute a national system of education that would have provided a stake for the all the ethnic communities.

Perhaps he should ask himself since he was the PM for more than two decades why he miserably failed to implement a comprehensive education that would cater for all the ethnic communities in the country.

Why blame the vernacular system of education now when he had all the opportunities to bridge the “racial divide” caused by vernacular schools when he had absolute power. – Aug 31, 2023


Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the former DAP state assemblyman for Perai. He is also the former deputy chief minister II of Penang.

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


Pics credit: Utusan Malaysia

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