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Episode 14: Vernacular Education in Malaysia: A Right or a Privilege?

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

In the January edition of the Law Series, the Consti Team touches on vernacular education. This article will weigh on its validity by referring to the Constitution, existing provisions and cases. Arguments for and against it will be highlighted in an effort to bridge this issue that is polarizing Malaysians. We will also delve into its implementation in neighboring countries which could shape our approach to vernacular education.


1.1. Definition of Vernacular Education

Vernacular education refers to education conducted in the native languages of the main resident communities.[1] In Malaysia, it is often referring to the national-type schools which uses Chinese language or Tamil as their main medium of instruction.

1.2. Malaysia Population by Ethnicity

Since Malaysia is a multi-racial and multi-cultural nation, vernacular schools still exist to cater to the minority races. As of the third quarter of 2021, the total population in Malaysia was estimated at 32.67 million of which 30.01 million of them were Malaysian citizens. The citizens consist of the ethnic groups of 69.8% Bumiputera, 22.4% Chinese, 6.8% Indians and 1.0% of other ethnic groups.[2]

1.3. The Historical Development of Vernacular Education in Malaysia

Malaysia had long adopted the vernacular school system since pre-Independence. It all started with the large-scale importation of foreign labour in the 19th century by the British coloniser for the Peninsular Malaya’s economic development. For ease of governance, British colonisers began the implementation of the ‘divide and rule’ policy. This policy segregated each race to different geographical location and economic sector.[3] Therefore, their respective vernacular school began to develop in their own communities. The Chinese and Indian vernacular schools had their school curricula and teachers brought from China and India respectively.[4] There were four education systems during the British administration, namely the Malay Vernacular School, Chinese Vernacular School, Tamil Vernacular School, and English School.[5]

Subsequently, the need to unify and reform the education system arose as independence was nearing. Initial attempts were futile as they could not meet the demands of the respective communities. [6]

In 1956, the implementation of the Razak Report[7] report suggested to create a national schooling system in which the primary school could adopt the vernacular style while the secondary school adopt the bilingual education. There are two types of primary school, namely the standard and standard-type school based on the minority races. Malay language would be the medium of instruction in standard school whereas for standard-type school, Tamil, Chinese or English could be used as the main medium of instruction.[8] However, for secondary schools, only English and Malay language could be used as the medium of instruction. The Razak Report 1956 has led to the enactment of Education Ordinance 1957 which established the National Education Policy.[9] Subsequently, the Rahman Talib Report 1960 recommended that, among others, the Malay language would be a compulsory subject in the vernacular schools. Later, the Education Act 1961 was enacted to implement the National Education System including in Sabah and Sarawak.[10] The Education Act was frequently amended to keep our education system updated with the contemporary needs.

Currently, Section 28 of the Education Act 1996 (‘EA’) allows the establishment and operation of both national and national-type primary schools.[11] Section 2 of EA defines national school as a government or government-aided school, inter alia, using the national language as the main medium of instruction.[12] On the other hand, a national-type school is defined as a government or government-aided primary school, inter alia, using the Chinese or Tamil language as the main medium of instruction.[13]

1.4. The Importance of This Discussion

There has always been controversy surrounding the issue of vernacular schools in Malaysia. Some parties argue that the vernacular schools are obstacles to national unity[14] while some parties argue otherwise[15] and opined that the vernacular schools are unconstitutional.[16] It is safe to say that there are dividing opinions on vernacular schools. Therefore, the discussion on the constitutionality and relevancy of vernacular education in Malaysia remains a contemporary issue that needs to be addressed.


2.1. Article 152 of the Federal Constitution

Article 152(1) of the Federal Constitution (‘FC’) provides that ‘the national language shall be the Malay language’.[17] However, other languages are not prohibited to be taught or learnt. It is clearly stated in Article 152(1)(a) of the FC that ‘…no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise than for official purposes), or from teaching or learning, any other language’.[18] This paragraph could be interpreted to protect education in languages other than Malay as long as it does not fall within ‘official purposes’.

2.2. Interpretation of ‘Official Purpose’ and ‘Public Authority’

An ‘official purpose’ is defined as ‘any purpose of the Government, whether Federal or State, and include any purpose of a public authority’.[19] Following this, a public authority is defined in Article 160 as, inter alia, ‘a statutory authority exercising powers vested in it by federal or state law…’ This is where the entire controversy of vernacular schools hinges upon. Could it be argued that vernacular schools fall within the ambit of a statutory authority as defined in Article 160? Is Article 152(1)(a) able to protect such vernacular schools?

The interpretation of ‘official purpose’ was delved into by the Supreme Court in Merdeka University Bhd v Government of Malaysia.[20] This case revolved around the application of the plaintiff, Merdeka University Bhd, to the Government, in hopes of establishing Merdeka University. In turn, the Government rejected the plaintiff’s application on the grounds that Chinese was the main medium of instruction in the university. The plaintiffs challenged this decision.

The Supreme Court interpreted the word ‘authority’ to constitute an entity that possesses ‘some public element and utility in its constitution, operation, functions, powers and duties’. It was held that even though Merdeka University was a private university, it is still subject to public control for several reasons.

According to Section 3 of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (‘UUCA’),[21] the Minister of Education is placed at the helm of administering the general direction of higher education — providing the Ministry control over public and private universities. Moreover, private universities are also bound to create constitutions pursuant to the First Schedule of UUCA.[22] For such reasons, the court held that Merdeka University is a statutory authority with powers vested in it by federal law — rendering Article 152(1)(a) inapplicable to Merdeka University.

Following Merdeka University, does this mean that vernacular schools are unconstitutional too? If private universities can be held as ‘public authorities’, is it reasonable to assume that the interpretation can be extended to every national-type school easily?

It seems that the stance of the courts on this matter seem to differ from the one taken for private universities. In Mohd Khairul Azam v Menteri Pendidikan Malaysia,[23] the applicant sought leave for a declaration that Parliament has no power to enact Section 28 of the EA — which empowers the Minister of Education to establish national-type schools — as it is against the FC.

It was held that Article 74(4) of FC empowers the Parliament to legislate on matters in respect to education. Therefore, the Parliament has legislative competency to enact laws that allow for the subsistence of national-type schools.

Recently, the High Court held in favour of vernacular schools as well.[24] Similar to Mohd Khairul, the case was initiated to abolish vernacular schools on the basis it was against the FC. Other than arguing that vernacular schools were ‘public authorities’, the plaintiffs alleged that the existence of such schools violate fundamental liberties. The High Court held that the plaintiffs had failed to prove as to whether the establishment of vernacular schools transgressed Articles 5, 8, 10 and 11 as ‘enrolment in a vernacular school is after all a matter of choice.’ This judicial pronouncement also differs from Merdeka University, as it was held that educational institutions created under the EA are not public authorities.[25]


3.1. Legal Arguments

Two of the prominent figures in the legal fraternity who are of the stance that vernacular schools are constitutional are Professor Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi and Lim Wei Jiet.

Among their legal reasonings, Professor Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi thinks that the Federal Constitution[26] and other laws, specifically the EA,[27] the National Language Act 1963/67 (‘NLA’)[28] and the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996[29] keep the windows open to the learning and usage of English and other languages.[30]

Lim Wei Jiet is of the opinion that vernacular schools are constitutional if we read our Supreme Law in totality and view the historical context of our vernacular education.[31]

3.1.1. The Federal Constitution

Both legal experts are of the similar opinion that although it is indisputable that Article 152(1) of the FC states that Malay language shall be the national language, there are however exceptions in the same provision under Article 152(1)(a) [32] and Article 152(1)(b).[33]

Lim Wei Jiet went further to debate about whether vernacular schools fall under the category of ‘official purposes’. In his point of view, they do not – as Article 152(6) defines ‘official purpose’ as ‘any purpose of the Government, whether Federal or State, and includes any purpose of a public authority’ while Article 160 defined clearly that ‘public authority’ is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, a state ruler, the Federal or State Government, a local authority, a statutory authority exercising powers conferred by federal or State law, any court, or any officer acting on behalf of those parties.[34] Therefore, vernacular schools are not explicitly stated by the Federal Constitution as a ‘public authority’.

There is a clear distinction between the validity of a university and a vernacular school by referring to the Constitution. UUCA [35] while vernacular schools are governed by the EA.[36] In UUCA, it prohibits the establishment of a university unless in accordance with Section 5 of the same act, and a university when established, is deemed to have been established by Section 7(1) thereof. On the other hand, the EA only required the vernacular schools to be registered with the Ministry of Education.[37]

Hence, Lim Wei Jiet concluded that vernacular schools are neither a ‘public authority’ nor a ‘statutory authority’, and therefore it is not for ‘official purpose’ and the usage of other languages as the medium of instruction is safeguarded under Article 152(1)(a).

3.1.2. National Language Act 1963/67

Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi continued his argument that other Malaysia legislation also allows the usage of other languages as the medium of instruction.[38] First and foremost is the NLA, Section 4 gave the exception that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong may permit the continued use of English for such official purposes deemed fit. [39]

However, Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi highlighted that a gazette notification has outlined the areas where English may be used, but the government has discretion to expand the areas of usage in the notification. In this context, many public and private universities and colleges such as the International Islamic University Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara and 69 fully residential schools exercised such discretion. Furthermore, English is used as the medium of instrument for all twinning programmes and external courses in tertiary institutions.

3.1.3. Education Act

Another statute that allows languages other than the Malay language to be used as the medium is the EA.[40] Section 17(1) of EA provides that national-type schools established under Section 28, which includes the vernacular schools need not use the national language as the main medium of instruction. [41] It also confers the power to the Minister to exempt any educational institution from using the Malay language as the main medium of instruction.

Furthermore, Section 143 of EA again confers the power to the Minister to exempt educational institutions from any provisions of the Act, except for those concerning registration, if he considers it desirable and in the interests of the educational institution, the pupils or the public.[42]

Lastly, Section 75(1)(a) of EA provides that the Minister may require a private post-secondary institution to teach Malay language, where the medium of instruction is other than Malay. Hence, this provision provides that as long as Malay language is taught in the institution, it need not be the medium of instruction.[43]

3.2. Non-legal Arguments

3.2.1. Reaction from Nationalists

There are suggestions that the existence of vernacular schools poses a threat to Malay supremacy as enshrined in the FC[KBAH5][RK6] .[44] However, this outlook does not necessarily reflect the stance taken by the Malay community at large by looking at the admission rates of Malay students in vernacular schools.

According to studies conducted by the ISEAS-Youth Ishak Institute, enrolment of non-Chinese students in Chinese schools increased by 20.7%, from 72,443 students in 2010 to 87,463 in 2014.[45] Besides, according to the education minister, Mohd Radzi Md Jidin, Chinese primary schools in 2020 consisted of 15.33% of Malay students, compared to 9.5% in 2010.[46]

From this we can infer that vernacular schools are increasing in popularity among the Malay community as more parents are sending their children to vernacular schools. Hence, there is a considerable proportion in the Malay community that advocates for the continuity of vernacular schools.

3.2.2. Unity and Diversity of the Society

The whole argument by those who wanted to abolish vernacular schools is on the basis that vernacular schools will affect the unity among Malaysians because it contributes to the lack of Malay and English proficiency among students. However, individuals such as the Penang deputy chief minister P Ramasamy, argues that this is a mere accusation not backed by any statistical evidence as there are students in vernacular schools who possesses a high proficiency in the Malay language, [47] while on the other hand, some in national schools struggle to do the same.

Furthermore, vernacular schools adopt the same curriculum content as national schools as provided by the Education Ministry, the only difference being the medium of instruction. Hence, it will not cause a disunity in the society. According to Malaysian Chinese Language Council president Datuk Eddie Heng Hong Chai, vernacular schools will not be a hindrance to national unity, instead, threats of abolishing vernacular schools will.[48]

In addition, P Ramasamy stated that without vernacular schools, our country cannot achieve true diversity and tolerance, which is much needed in the context of Malaysia.[49]Gabungan Sekat co-founder Arun Dorasamy concurred by saying that by learning an extra language, we can achieve unity through diversity.[50] He even gave the example of Hang Tuah who is fluent in 12 languages.

3.2.3. Mere Political Stance

Some of the people who support the establishment of vernacular schools view the call of abolishing vernacular schools as a mere manoeuvre to gain political popularity. It is of no other subject matter other than to gain political leverage.

Former Cameron Highlands MP Sivarraajh Chandran has argued that vernacular schools should not be subject to politicisation and that it should not be reduced to racialistic rhetoric”.[51] Arun Dorasamy also urged Malaysians not to politicise education and to justify it by protesting for the abolishment of vernacular education.[52] Others have also cautioned that calls of abolishment are driven by racist perceptions towards vernacular institutions.[53]


4.1. Legal Arguments

‘Official purpose’ and ‘Public authority’ are the two important phrases which aided the Federal Court in its decision in Merdeka University[54] which concerns the usage of Mandarin as a medium of instruction in tertiary education in which the Court deemed it unconstitutional per Article 152 of the FC read in conjunction with the NLA. Instead, the national language – Bahasa Malaysia – or, in certain situations, the English language is to be the lingua employed. The reason lies behind a university being a ‘public authority’, in accordance with Article 160 conducting ‘official purposes’ within the meaning in Article 152(6).[55]

4.1.1. Public Authority

A public authority is defined as, inter alia, a statutory authority exercising powers vested in it by federal or State law. The Court furthered into the discussion, citing Griffiths v Smith,[56] that an authority, even if private, is so provided it has public elements to it. A university would clearly have the requisite public element as it is subject to a degree of public control in its affairs and involves public appointments to office in its framework, acts in the public interest and is eligible for grants-in-aid from public funds. Evidently, under Section 3 of the UUCA, the Minister of Education is responsible for the general direction of higher education and the administration of the Act. Section 11 allows a university to receive grants-in-aid authorized by Parliament. The Government defendant would be responsible for the establishment of the campus and for making an order for this purpose in accordance with the provisions of Section 12 and land may be acquired for the purposes of a university under Section 13. The pertinent Minister has functions related to student activities and discipline under sections 15A and 15D. The contention that the definition of ‘public authority’ means it must have governmental or quasi-governmental attributes, by virtue of the maxim noscitur a sociis, was rejected by the Court.

A private university, much like Merdeka University, is indeed a public authority as it has a public element established by statute and exercising powers vested in it by federal law.[57]

4.1.2. Official Purpose

Clause (6) of Article 152 stipulates 'official purpose' as any purpose of the authority, including teaching. Hence, teaching using the Chinese language as a medium makes Merdeka University unconstitutional.[58]

4.1.3 Vernacular Schools according to Merdeka University Case

Applying the principles from the aforementioned case, it can be concluded that vernacular schools, equivalent to universities in the Merdeka University case, are public authorities, ergo ultra vires Article 152 and unconstitutional.[59] Section 28 of the EA stipulates the education minister to have authority in establishing and even maintaining vernacular schools – using the term ‘national-type’ instead of vernacular. Section 54 also provides the Minister with discretion in formulating regulations regarding the governing of such schools displaying the level of control, power, and responsibility over the schools’ management, notwithstanding the existence of any Board of Governors. The Merdeka University case, as illustrated above, brought forward the English case of Griffiths v Smith which involved non-provided public elementary schools. The Court found the managers of the school as a public authority because: ‘They form part of machinery whereby elementary education is provided for in this country …. In carrying on the school they are undoubtedly exercising a public function’.

It can be said that vernacular schools undoubtedly exercise a similar public function akin to, not just the example above, but to any educational institution, in that it is to educate and prepare students in their formative years in their studies.

4.2. Non-legal arguments

4.2.1. Hindrance to national unity

The main argument of the proponents for abolishment is that vernacular schools are a hindrance to national unity. They prevent a united Malaysia as students would not be able to converse in the national language or in English properly as their only linguistic understanding is in their mother tongue.[60]

The other reason behind disrupting a one-Malaysia is allegedly the dominance of one race such school. Albeit the increase of other races in recent years, there is still a substantial difference with the primary race in said school. This designs an environment lacking in opportunities for students to interact with the wider mix of people. This is more so a problem if the student already comes from a segregated living quarter or housing area. The non-existence of racial exposure creates an unawareness of the other races’ cultural aspects and behaviours may make them uncomfortable when they are in the future, and consequently confines them to racial comfort zones, with the product being a segregated society.[61]

Contrastingly, a national school or a one-line system of schooling would aid facilitating cross-cultural experience, from the mixture of races and cultures, all under one roof. This merged interaction of races fosters racial harmony among all.[62]

4.2.2. Speaking the national language

Regarding disuniting the nation, Tun Suffian LP had this to say in the abovementioned Merdeka University case, ‘We think it reasonable to suppose that the framers of our FC deliberately chose to use the expression "national language" because they intended that bahasa should be used not only for official purposes but also as an instrument for bringing together the diverse and polyglot races that live here and thus promote national unity’.[63] Professor Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong, an expert in ethnolinguistics, opined vernacular schools to be an obstacle to national unity as most children enrolled there were only proficient in their mother tongue, with the trend being that only the ‘smart ones’ know Malay and English. The remainder would restrict themselves to their mother tongue.[64]

This was reiterated by Malaysian United Indigenous Party (‘BERSATU’) Youth information chief Mohd Ashraf Mustaqim Badrul Munir following Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim’s question in Parliament. The politician states the reality is that these citizens are born and bred in Malaysia, making this country their home yet they fail to speak the national language. He then compares this to the many immigrants such as Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and Nepalese whom have only lived in Malaysia for a few months but possess a much better understanding and even speak better than the former group. In response to the need to command a second or third language in addition to English, the Youth chief acknowledged said need but follows that it must be done under one roof rather than a fragmented system.[65]


To gauge the stance of other multi-ethnic countries regarding vernacular education, one need not look any further than our neighbouring country, Singapore. With an ethnic composition like Malaysia, it comes to no surprise that Singapore also established vernacular schools. Indonesia also initially adopted a liberal approach towards vernacular education. But eventually there were periods in which the usage of vernacular languages particularly in the Chinese community were discouraged through governmental control in favour of an education system that is reflective of their national identity.

However, currently both Indonesia and Singapore have adopted a more moderate approach in which the teaching of vernacular languages is relaxed and even encouraged provided all students are subjected to a single-streamed education. Malaysia could adopt this approach in its effort to achieve national unity without side-lining any community.

5.1. Vernacular Schools in Singapore

5.1.1. History of The Establishment of Singaporean Vernacular Schools

Vernacular schools in Singapore can be said to have been established around the year 1819 during the British colonial rule, lasting through World War II.[66] The system of education took on a decentralised style whereby each major ethnic group, namely the Chinese, Malays and Indians organised and managed schooling among members of their respective communities, with the medium of instruction being their mother tongues.[67] Chinese communities established separate vernacular schools according to dialect, Indian vernacular schools operated in Tamil & Hindi, while Malay language schools were largely government-funded.[68] English-medium schools on the other hand were either funded by the government or established & run by missionaries, although they attracted a relatively small number of students.

5.1.2. Decline of Vernacular Education

Vernacular schools in Singapore witnessed lower enrolment rates post-independence, with favour of the local community falling to English-medium schools.[69] By 1987, all Singaporean schools used English as their main medium of instruction, although the respective mother tongues of the local community continued to be integrated in the curriculum in line with the country’s bilingual policy introduced by the People’s Action Party (’PAP’).[70] This policy meant that vernacular education was not wiped out entirely, as it based the education system on a bilingual stream with English as the first language and the student’s mother tongue as the second.[71]

5.1.3. The Issue of Nanyang University

Nanyang University was first established in 1958 as a local institution to cater to the tertiary education of graduates from Chinese high schools, meaning they could pursue their studies locally instead of having to go to China to further their education. The university was a Chinese-medium institution and adopted a curriculum similar to that taught in universities in China.

In the 1970s, enrolment rates at the university began to dwindle as parents began to favour English-language institutions more.[72] In 1978, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew stressed the need for the university to switch to English as its medium of instruction within the next 5 years.[73] Consequently, a joint campus initiative was announced, allowing students from both Nanyang University and the University of Singapore to study together in an English-speaking environment.[74] This resulted in the establishment of the National University of Singapore in 1980.

5.1.4. Vernacular Education in Modern Day Singapore

As of today, students are required to study their respective mother tongues in Singapore, with vernacular subjects being made an examinable subject for the Primary School Leaving Examination (‘PLSE’), as well as the General Certificate of Education (‘GCE’) N-, O- and A-Level examinations.[75]

5.2. Vernacular Education in Indonesia

5.2.1. Emergence of Vernacular Education

Modern vernacular education began with the emergence of modern Chinese schools. This was due to the establishment of Tiong Hoa Hwee Koan (‘THHK’) in 1901. Confucianism was being revived by Chinese reformist in China which inspired the local Chinese community in Indonesia. The THHK aimed to establish Chinese-medium schools that preserved their culture.[76] Unlike their predecessor, their curriculum was modernised and the Chinese books were borrowed from Japan.[77] For instance, English was taught as their first foreign language, not Dutch. These schools were funded and manages by the local Chinese community and attracted attention from the colonial government. This caused friction between the peranakan Chinese who were integrated into the local culture and the totok (new immigrants who were still tooted in Chinese culture.[78]

The Japanese occupation (1942-1945) caused Dutch and other Western schools to be closed, and only Indonesian and Chinese-medium schools could operate. The Japanese treated the peranakan and totok communities as one which meant they were required to attend Chinese-medium schools. Thus, the younger generation were heavily exposed to the Chinese language and culture. Furthermore, upon Indonesia’s independence in February 1949, Chinese schools continued to expand. This is attributed to the closure of Dutch schools, limited number of Indonesian schools and the growing number of Chinese children.

In 1950, the Indonesian government halted subsidies to Chinese-medium schools and by 1952 they were required to register with the Ministry of Education. Besides, Indonesian language is a mandatory subject starting from third year in primary school. However, there were no restrictions in terms of the syllabus and textbooks used.

5.2.2. Decline of Vernacular Education

The political situation in China shaped the outlook of Chinese-medium schools in Indonesia. There were tensions between schools who were pro-Peking and pro-Taipei. Ideas of nationalistic struggle and revolution were taught. These were said to contribute to the eventual fall of Chinese-medium schools in Indonesia.

In 1957 during the regional protests in Indonesia, martial law was imposed and the government exercised more control towards Chinese schools as part of the ‘Guided Democracy’ plan to safeguard national interest. There was a regulation that prohibited Indonesian citizens from entering ‘alien’ schools, new schools were not allowed to be established and all of their textbooks had to be approved by the Minister of Education. As a result, many Chinese-medium schools closed. The first closing schools were pro-Taipei as it was reported that the weapons used by rebels in the regional rebellion came from Taiwan. Finally, the upheaval in October 1965 which caused a change in government caused the closure of all Chinese-medium schools. Only in 1968 did the government allowed the establishment of schools sponsored by private groups. The syllabus was akin to government schools except for Mandarin classes. But this was soon abolished in 1975.[79]

5.2.3. Re-emergence of Vernacular Education in Present-Day Indonesia

Due to these policies, all children of Chinese descent enrolled in Indonesian-language schools and was given a national-orientation syllabus alongside their Indonesian peers. This situation changed after the May 1998 riots which led to the downfall of Suharto’s regime. Following this, restrictions towards the Chinese culture including their education were laxed due to active measures by the then president, Abdurrahman Wahid. Private trilingual schools have been established. There are the National Plus schools which offer the national curriculum alongside the teaching of Bahasa Indonesia, English, and Mandarin while International Curriculum Schools, as the name suggests, uses international syllabuses. Besides, many language centres were established to teach Mandarin.

Among the Indonesian government’s most ambitious project is a collaboration between the Ministry of Education with the Chinese government to introduce Mandarin in national schools. This began in 2000 with the establishment of the National Coordinating Association for Chinese Language. Its primary function is to monitor the teaching of Mandarin in Indonesia’s national schools. In 2002-2003 there were intentions to introduce Mandarin as an extra-curricular subject in national schools. This effort was proven to be successful. Mandarin textbooks were distributed by the Education Ministry for national schools and teachers were given training with the help of the Chinese government. [80]

6.0 Conclusion

In conclusion, the establish and operation of vernacular schools are constitutional as according to the recent High Court’s decision.[81] as the High Court ruled that the vernacular schools are constitutional which had further reinforced the position of vernacular schools in Malaysia.

Undoubtedly, vernacular education had existed since pre-independence and it continues to stand until today. However, even it was well-contemplated in history, there are arguments that call for it to be abolished. Instead of calling for the abolishment of vernacular school to promote nation unity and the proficiency of Malay language, perhaps we should accept the existence of vernacular education as a unique cultural attraction of Malaysia. Despite the cultural differences within this diverse society, all Malaysians could unite and live peacefully. Instead of fighting over the differences among us, moral values such as tolerance and embracing the diversity should be instilled to all citizen to ensure the social harmony in Malaysia. To quote Mikhail Gorbachev, the Nobel Peace Prize 1990 winner, ‘Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences.’[82]


[1] Ho, S. (2016, Sept 29). Vernacular education. Singapore Infopedia. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 17 Jan 2022.

[2] Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2021). Demographic Statistics Third Quarter 2021, Malaysia. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 17 Jan 2022.

[3] See footnote 2 above.

[4] Selvadurai, S., Ong, P. L., Marsitah Mohd Radzi, Ong, P. H., Ong, P. T., & Saibeh, B. (2015) Debating Education for Nation Building in Malaysia: National School Persistence or Vernacular School Resistance? Geografia-Malaysian Journal of Society and Space, 11(13), 14. 15. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 17 Jan 2022.

[5] Shanmugavelu, G., Khairi Ariffin, Thambu, Nadarajan. & Zulkufli Mahayudin. (2020). Development of British Colonial Education in Malaya, 1816 – 1957. Shanlax International Journal of Education, 8(2), 10. 10. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 17 Jan 2022.

[6] Devan, A. (2021). History of Malaysian Education System: Year 1824 to 2025. Social Sciences Education eJournal, 4(7), 1. 6. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 17 Jan 2022.

[7] See footnote 6 above.

[8] Ministry of Education Federation of Malaya. (1956). Report of the Education Committee 1956. Kuala Lumpur, Federation of Malaya: The Government Press, 9. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 17 Jan 2022.

[9] See footnote 6 above.

[10] See footnote 6 above.

[11] Education Act 1996 (Act 550) (Malaysia) s 28.

[12] Education Act 1996 (Act 550) (Malaysia) s 2.

[13] See footnote 12 above.

[14] MT Webmaster. (2020, Sept 8). Vernacular Schools Are An Obstacle To National Unity, Say Experts. Malaysia Today. Retrieved from <>.

[15] The Sun Daily. (2015, Nov 26). Vernacular school not an obstacle towards national unity. The Sun Daily. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 17 Jan 2022.

[16] Radzi Razak. (2020, Aug 26). Wan Ahmad Fayhsal says Bersatu Youth adamant vernacular schools abolished in stages. Malay Mail. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 17 Jan 2022.

[17] Federal Constitution (Malaysia) art 152(1).

[18] Federal Constitution (Malaysia) art 152(1)(a).

[19] Federal Constitution (Malaysia) art 152(6).

[20] [1982] 2 MLJ 243.

[21] Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Act 30) s 3.

[22] Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Act 30) s 8(1).

[23] [2019] MLJU 1300.

[24] Danial Dzulkifly. (2021, Dec 29). Court rules vernacular schools constitutionally protected, throws out Malay-Muslim group’s suit. Malay Mail. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 15 Jan 2022.

[25] See footnote 24 above.

[26] Federal Constitution (Malaysia).

[27] Education Act 1996 (Act 550) (Malaysia).

[28] National Language Act 1963/67 (Act 32) (Malaysia).

[29] Private Higher Education Institutions Act 1996 (Act 555) (Malaysia).

[30] Shad Saleem Faruqi. (2019 Oct 10). Opening the windows of our mind. The Star. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 6 Jan 2022.

[31] See footnote 30 above.

[32] See footnote 22 above.

[33] See footnote 30 above.

[34] Lim, W. J. (2019, Dec 23). The case for the constitutionality of vernacular schools. Malaysiakini. Retrieved from Site accessed on 12th December 2021.

[35] Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Act 30) (Malaysia).

[36] See footnote 30 above.

[37] See footnote 12 above.

[38] Shad Saleem Faruqi. (2019, Oct 10). Opening the windows of our mind. Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia. Retrieved from Site accessed on 12th December 2021.

[39] National Language Act 1963/67 (Act 32) (Malaysia) s 4.

[40] See footnote 30 above.

[41] Education Act 1996 (Act 550) (Malaysia) s 17(1).

[42] Education Act 1996 (Act 550) (Malaysia) s 143.

[43] Education Act 1996 (Act 550) (Malaysia) s 75(1)(a).

[44] Ng, K. (2019, Nov 26). Why Malaysia’s debate on race, education and vernacular schools will rage on. Channel News Asia. Retrieved from Site accessed on 11th December 2021.

[45] Ng, K. (2019, Nov 26). Commentary: Why Malaysia’s debate on race, education and vernacular schools will rage on. Channel News Asia. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 6 Jan 2022.

[46] Rahimy Rahim, Tan, T., & Carvalho, M. (2020, Nov 11). More non-Chinese now enroll in Chinese schools now compared to a decade ago. The Star. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 6 Jan 2022.

[47] Free Malaysia Today. (2021, Nov 30). Calls to abolish vernacular schools not about BM, but racism, says Ramasamy. Free Malaysia Today. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 6 Jan 2022.

[48] Lee, C. (2021, Apr 24). Vernacular schools part of national education system, protected by the Constitution, say linguistic experts. The Star. Retrieved from <(>. Site accessed on 6 Jan 2022.

[49] See footnote 47 above.

[50] Hakimie Amrie Hisamudin. (2021, Apr 23). Vernacular schools have proven to promote unity, says NGO. Free Malaysia Today. Retrieved from Site accessed on 13th December 2021.

[51] Free Malaysia Today. (2021, Dec 1). MIC man slams calls to abolish vernacular schools. Free Malaysia Today. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 6 Jan 2022.

[52] See footnote 51 above.

[53] See footnote 51 above.

[54] See footnote 20 above.

[55] See footnote 20 above.

[56] [1941] AC 170.

[57] See footnote 20 above.

[58] See footnote 20 above.

[59] Danial A. Shaari. (2019, Dec 29). Argument for vernacular schools akin to proverbial house of cards. The Malayan. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 15 Jan 2022.

[60] Mariam Mokhtar. (2021, Dec 1). Lack of Malay proficiency at vernacular schools is a red herring. My SinChew. Retrieved from Site accessed on 12th December 2021.

[61] See footnote 60 above.

[62] See footnote 60 above.

[63] See footnote 20 above.

[64] Kaur, M. (2020, Sept 8). Stop buckling to vernacular schools and Islamisation, Putrajaya urged. Free Malaysia Today. <>. Site accessed on 16 Jan 2022.

[65] Yeo, B. (2021, Nov 30). Bersatu Youth: Vernacular schools must be abolished in phases. Focus Malaysia. <>. Site accessed on 16 Jan 2022.

[66] Ostwald, K., Ong, E., & Gueorguiev, D. (2015). Vernacular Education, Segregated Classrooms, and Ethnic Diversity: The pluralist dilemma and its consequences in Singapore. 7. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 16 Jan 2022.

[67] See footnote 66 above.

[68] Soon, T-W. (1988). Singapore’s New Education System: Education Reform for National Development. Singapore: ISEAS Publications.

[69] Ho, S. (2016, September 29). Vernacular education. Singapore Infopedia. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 16 Jan 2022.

[70] See footnote 4 above.

[71] The Straits Times.(1984, December 10). Language policy accepted: Dr Tay. The Straits Times. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 16 Jan 2022. p 14.

[72] Singapore Infopedia. (2020, June). Nanyang University. Singapore Infopedia. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed 16 Jan 2022.

[73] Business Times. (1978, February 11). English Will Be Medium of Instruction at Nantah. Business Times. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed 16 Jan 2022. p 12.

[74] The Straits Times. (1978, March 7). A Right Course. The Straits Times. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed 16 Jan 2022. p 12.

[75] See footnote 74 above.

[76] Suryadinata, L. (1972). Indonesian Chinese Education: Past and Present. Indonesia. 14, 49, 52.

[77] Williams, L. E. (1958). Nationalistic Education in the Chinese Minority Schools of Indonesia. Comparative Education Review. 1(3), 12, 14.

[78] See footnote 77 above.

[79] See footnote 77 above.

[80] Suryadinata, L. (2008). Ethnic Chinese in Contemporary Indonesia. (1st ed.). Singapore: ISEAS Publications, 81-90.

[81] See footnote 28 above.

[82] Nobel Lecture. (1991, Jun 5). Mikhail Gorbachev – Nobel Lecture. The Nobel Prize. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 17 Jan 2022.

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