THE Education Ministry is currently finalising the History syllabus and textbooks for secondary schools. In this regard, it is crucial to have History textbooks that are accurate, generally objective (100% objectivity is an elusive dream), devoid of value judgements and well-balanced in terms of acknowledging the contributions of the various ethnic groups towards nation-building.
The writing of History textbooks should be a scholarly pursuit and not politically motivated. Equally important, History should be taught in an interesting and lively manner to promote critical thinking and not regurgitating facts to pass examinations.
Our History textbooks must tell the whole truth and reflect the multi-religious and multi-cultural heritage of our nation and not glorify a particular civilization or ethnic group based upon half-truths.
The textbooks must not repeat the shortcomings prevalent in the current textbooks. It is my fervent hope that the following historical facts will be incorporated in the new secondary school History textbooks:
1. Parameswara, the founder of Malacca, was a Hindu prince from Palembang who died a Hindu.
2. Yap Ah Loy (Capitan China of Kuala Lumpur, 1868-1885) played a major role in the development of Kuala Lumpur as a commercial and tin mining centre, particularly after the fire of 1881.
3. Indian labour (mainly South Indians) was the backbone of the rubber industry and primarily responsible for opening up what is today peninsular Malaysia with their sweat, blood and tears. Indian labour was also primarily responsible for building the roads, railways and bridges besides constructing ports, airports and government buildings.
Hundreds of thousands of Indians died in developing modern Malaya. According to the 1957 Federation of Malaya Census Report, much of the 1.2 million net Indian immigration to Malaya between 1860-1957 appears to have been wiped out by disease, snake bites, exhaustion and malnutrition.
4. The Sikhs formed the backbone of the police and paramilitary forces of colonial Malaya at least until the First World War. They played a crucial role in maintaining law and order which greatly facilitated the economic development of British Malaya.
5. The significant influence of Indian civilisation on the Malays as aptly summarised by Richard Winstedt: “… India found the Malay a peasant of the late stone age … and left him a citizen of the world.”
6. The significant contribution of the Chinese in the development of the tin mining industry and towns. In the words of Margaret Shennan, “The impact of the Chinese upon Malaya was decisive. It was through them that urban life developed in much of the peninsula. Alongside their mining villages they set up shops and workshops, and from these beginnings grew the main towns of the ‘protected’ states.”
The teaching and learning of History should be geared towards enhancing deep learning, critical thinking, information literacy and presentation skills of our students and not merely just for memorisation and to pass exams.
History should be taught in a lively and interesting manner using various instructional strategies (such as discussions, debates, group presentations, document studies, video clips) and not limited to the traditional lecture method. Students should not be mere spectators in the teaching and learning process; active learning should be promoted.
Most importantly, the Education Ministry should welcome constructive feedback and not be unreasonably defensive.
To conclude, in our quest to create One Malaysia, all of us have a moral duty of ensuring that our students in schools study History that is not only accurate but generally objective and well-balanced. Let us all work towards creating a truly united, harmonious and prosperous Malaysia wherein every ethnic group is treated equitably under the Malaysian sun.
DR RANJIT SINGH MALHI Kuala Lumpur The STAR Online Opinion June 26, 2013