The Kuala Lumpur High Court today ruled that the existence and establishment of vernacular schools and the use of Chinese and Tamil languages in these schools are constitutional.
Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali ruled that vernacular schools are not a public authority and that the use of a non-Malay medium of instruction for teaching in Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools is not for an official purpose.
Thus, he said, they do not infringe Article 152 (1) of the Federal Constitution.
He said there are currently more than 1,800 vernacular schools throughout the country, with about half a million students of different racial composition.
“Such use of the language is therefore not unconstitutional and is protected under the constitution by virtue of both provisos (a) and (b) to Article 152 (1).
“A true and proper interpretation of these provisos in Article 152 (1) does not prevent the establishment and maintenance of vernacular schools as national-type schools which also use the national curriculum as adopted by all schools in the national education system,” he said.
He made the ruling in dismissing a lawsuit brought by the Federation of Peninsular Malay Students (GPMS), the Islamic Education Development Council (Mappim) and the Confederation of Malaysian Writers Association (Gapena) for a declaration that the existence of vernacular schools is against provisions in the Federal Constitution as Article 152(1) defines Malay as the national language.
Nazlan held that there was no basis to contend that the establishment and existence of vernacular schools was inconsistent with or infringed Articles 5, 8, 10, 11 and 12 of the Federal Constitution, or violated the fundamental liberties of any person guaranteed in the said articles.
“Enrolment in a vernacular school is after all a matter of choice. It is difficult to see in what fashion the establishment and existence of Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools would infringe the fundamental liberties or rights of any person under the constitution,” he said.
Nazlan also said the court would generally lean towards the constitutionality of a statute on the premise that Parliament understands and correctly appreciates the needs of the people.
“This has also been described as judicial deference that the court should accord to the judgment of the democratically elected legislature on matters that are placed within the domain of the legislature. It is also an important facet to the doctrine of the separation of powers,” he added.
He said the judgment was focused predominantly on the interpretation of Article 152 (1) and did not delve into the role of the national language in the promotion of national identity and unity, or in nation-building.
He said critical questions on the standard of learning and teaching in schools, such as whether the national education system is sufficiently inclusive and whether academic progress and excellence take priority over all else, are matters best dealt with by the executive and the legislature.
In the suit filed in December 2019, the three plaintiffs had named the government and 13 other defendants.
Among them were Chinese educationist groups Dong Zong and Jiao Zong, Persatuan Thamizhar Malaysia, Persatuan Tamilar Thurunal (Perak) and four political parties – MIC, MCA, Gerakan and Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia.