Education Policy and Ethnic Relations in Malaysia: The Socio-Economic Perspectives

Mohamad Zaini Bin Abu Bakar


In Malaysia, as well as other countries, a national education system and a common language has become one of the most important cultural elements by which diverse culture groups can come together. It can form the foundation for a Malaysian national identity. In fact, the early move had been made before independence particularly through two reports, i.e. the Razak report and the Rahman Talib report. According to the Razak report 1956; “The ultimate objective of education policy in this country must be to bring together the children of all races under a national education system in which the national language (Malay language) is the main medium of instruction”. Moreover, from a different point of view, we may argue that apart from the objective of unification, there was also an underlying economic motive in choosing Malay as the national language. The aim was stated by the Barnes Committee’s Malay Education Recommendation of 1951 which wanted to encourage and enable the Malay community to occupy its rightful place in the mixed society of Malaysia. The manifestation of economic motives in the educational realm are reflected from the educational inequalities in which the Malays feel they had historically and at present an unfavoured position against the non-Malays who were far advanced. Policy makers and conflict management scholars have devoted a great deal of energy to try to explain the situation and the way this type of conflict can be remedied. Within the framework of socio-cultural dimension language and national education are important elements of the problem of Malaysian social and political system. Therefore the objective of this paper is to determine and to analyse the link between education and socio-economic factors, particularly where the language of instruction is concerned, has made education an ‘emotional and contentious’ issue in ethnically divided Malaysian society.

DOI: 10.5901/jesr.2014.v4n2p138

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Journal of Educational and Social Research ISSN 2239-978X(Print) ISSN 2240-0524(Online)

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