‘Biased’ emphasis on Malays, Islam in history syllabus, says historian
PETALING JAYA, April 9 — Secondary school history textbooks are too Islamic and Malay-centric and have downplayed the contribution of non-Malays and other religions in the country’s history, a historian said today.
Historian Dr Ranjit Malhi Singh also believed that “scant attention” has been given to the efforts of the Chinese and Indians in the development of the nation.
The author of history textbooks up until 1996 also charged that there were too many “half-truths and factual errors” in the current syllabus, and that it was laden with “value judgments.”
“There should be no value judgment in our textbooks. It is the greatest sin in any history book.
“There is a lopsided emphasis on Islamic civilisation... five out of 10 chapters of the current Form Four history textbook deal with Islamic history whereby earlier the Form 4 history textbook only had one chapter on Islamic history,” Ranjit said at a discussion organised by Catholic Teachers’ Association at the Assumption Catholic church here.
According to Ranjit, “half-truths” and inaccuracies were evident in the existing syllabus. As an example, he said the history books have omitted the fact that Parameswara (founder of Malacca) was a Hindu prince from Palembang who died a Hindu.
He also said the current syllabus gave the wrong impression that the other races did not fight courageously in defending Malaya during the Japanese Occupation, and that only the Malay Regiment did so.
“Thousands of Punjabi, Gurkha, British and Australian soldiers died defending Malaya during the Japanese onslaught.
“Thirty-three of the 232 names on the Tugu Negara are Sikhs,” said Ranjit.
The historian pointed out that the current Form Four history textbooks had reduced by more than 25 per cent of the text related to Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism compared to the previous syllabus (from 1,112 words to about 832 words.)
Ranjit lamented the fact that non-Malay leaders were not duly recognised in the history books.
“The current Form 2 history textbook has downplayed the role of Yap Ah Loy in developing Kuala Lumpur, it has just one sentence on him.
“Yap Ah Loy was why Kuala Lumpur became what it is today, he established the township... he initiated the KL-Damansara road, and was the first person to build brick shophouses in 1884,” said Ranjit.
The majority of the 100-odd people who turned up for the discussion today agreed with Ranjit’s findings.
Many of them, mostly non-Malays, expressed fears of an unbalanced teaching of history in the classroom, with specific emphasis only on Islam and Malays.
Some present today were heard whispering “pseudo-Islamisation” to each other during the discussion.
One parent, who did not want to be named, has begun a petition to demand a revamp of the syllabus.
“What kind of balanced proportion is this none? One civilisation that is glorified at the expense of others.
“History classes become more like ‘agama’ classes, children have no opportunity to learn about comparative religions,” she said.
Ranjit said he had already contacted the director-general of education and planned to notify him of the suggested revamps to the history module.
He said that the Form 1-5 history textbooks should be reviewed to ensure factual accuracy and consistency and a balanced account of the country’s history.
He also said the advisory panel and writers should be drawn from various ethnic groups, and that the textbooks should be devoid of value judgments.
“All history textbooks should be revised to ensure factual accuracy, consistency... right now they are not.
“What’s more, all 17 authors of the books belong to one ethnic group. How can this be? You must have a balanced ethnic composition,” said Ranjit.
He also called on the government to change the methods of teaching history to be geared towards active participation and live debates rather than memorising and regurgitating facts.