The use of other languages as the medium of instruction at vernacular primary schools does not violate the Federal Constitution as the national language is taught as a compulsory subject in those schools, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.
Senior federal counsel Liew Horng Bin, representing the education minister and the government of Malaysia, submitted that these schools must also conform with common syllabuses.
He said the use of other languages as the medium of instruction at vernacular schools was historically recognised and expressly provided for in Article 152 of the Federal Constitution.
In defending the decisions of the High Courts, he argued that a detailed examination of the relevant historical documents and events was crucial to a proper understanding of Article 152.
"We are made by history" and "history is who we are and why we are the way we are," said Liew.
Liew also said the intent of Article 152 of the Federal Constitution was to place Malay as the national language, while at the same time preserving and sustaining the use of other languages in the education system.
He said the relief sought by the Islamic Education Development Council (Mappim) and the Confederation of Malaysian Writers Association (Gapena), Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) and Ikatan Guru-Guru Muslim Malaysia (I-Guru) was against the drafters’ intention based on the constitutional history and would destroy the fundamental pillar of constitutional balance in the country.
The appeals brought by Mappim, Gapena, Isma and I-Guru are being heard by a three-man panel of judges comprising justices Supang Lian, M Gunalan and Azizul Azmi Adnan.
On Dec 29, 2021, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, now a Court of Appeal judge, dismissed the lawsuits brought by the Federation of Peninsular Malay Students (GPMS), Mappim, Gapena and Isma. GPMS did not file an appeal to the Court of Appeal.
Nazlan ruled that the existence and establishment of vernacular schools and the use of Mandarin and Tamil languages at those schools were constitutional.
On May 29 last year, Kota Bahru High Court judicial commissioner Abazafree Mohd Abbas who is now a High Court judge also ruled that the existence of vernacular schools was constitutional and dismissed the suit filed by I-Guru.
In the suit filed in December 2019, GPMS, Mappim and Gapena and Isma sued several parties including the government. They included Chinese educationist groups Dong Zong and Jiao Zong, Persatuan Thamizhar Malaysia, Persatuan Tamilar Thurunal (Perak).
I-Guru meanwhile sued the education minister and the government of Malaysia, seeking a declaration that Section 28 and Section 17 of the Education Act 1996 are inconsistent with Article 152 of the Federal Constitution and void and of no effect.
The Malaysia Chinese Language Council, the Malaysia Tamil Neri Kalagam Association, the Confederation of Former Tamil School Pupils, MCA and the United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) were allowed to become interveners in the suit filed by I-Guru.
The court also heard submissions yesterday from other parties including counsel Shaharudin Ali, representing I-Guru, and lawyer Bastian Vendargon, appearing for the Malaysia Chinese Language Council, the Tamil Neri Kalagam Association and the Confederation of Former Tamil School Pupils.
Shaharudin submitted that based on the government’s latest education blueprint, almost 100% of Chinese students go to Chinese schools and six out of 10 Indian students go to Tamil schools. He questioned whether such a situation could contribute to the development of a strong, united and harmonious country.
Vendargon argued that Nazlan was correct in deciding that the relevant provisions of the Education Act 1996 did not infringe on Article 152 of the Federal Constitution.
Justice Supang Lian fixed Aug 29 for case management to set a date for the continued hearing of the appeals.