KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 — Ethnic Chinese groups and political parties have criticised a proposal to deny identity cards to children who do not understand Malay, saying that the current generation already knows how to speak the national language.
Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazong) deputy secretary-general Datuk Chin Yew Sin said, however, that it was not easy to make it mandatory for Malaysians to be fluent in Bahasa Malaysia as mastery of the language depended on whether one frequently interacted with those who speak it.
“These days, children in primary schools can speak Bahasa Malaysia. I don’t think it’s a problem,” Chin told Malay Mail Online.
Fluency in the language, however, could be difficult, he said.
Chin said even though Bahasa Malaysia is taught in all schools, including Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools, students in the latter two would generally speak to each other and with their families at home in their mother tongue.
He suggested that more activities be held between both Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools together with national schools so that students will have the opportunity to converse in Bahasa Malaysia.
“The children of this generation are better than those before. In coming times, they’ll be better. No problem.
“But you cannot make it a requirement. If you do that, you’ll lose votes,” said Chin.
Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) professor Datuk Zainal Kling suggested recently that Malaysian children be required to learn the Malay language before they are given the blue identity cards for citizenship.
Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall secretary-general Ser Choon Ing also said most of the younger generation can converse in Bahasa Malaysia, while the older generation might not be able to speak the language because they were not taught it in school.
“You can’t apply it to those who can only speak their mother tongue when they have not been taught Malay,” Ser told Malay Mail Online, referring to Zainal’s proposal.
He also pointed out that the proposed language requirement did not make sense as Malaysian citizenship is conferred upon birth.
MCA Wanita chief Datuk Heng Seai Kie said denying the blue MyKad to Malaysian citizens’ children who can’t speak Bahasa Malaysia is unconstitutional.
“Secondly, to penalise children just because they can’t master a language, it’s unfair and unjust,” Heng told Malay Mail Online.
“The exposure is up to the parents. If the parents don’t practise it, let’s say the parents are unable to practise at home, then the kid won’t have a chance to master the language,” she added.
Heng also said children will automatically learn Bahasa Malaysia once they go through the education system from kindergarten to university.
“We cannot compare the Chinese of those days and the Chinese of today,” she said.
DAP vice-chairman Teresa Kok similarly said Zainal’s proposal violated the Federal Constitution, as fluency in the national language was not stated as part of the requirements for citizenship.
“The professor’s proposal is absurd, impractical and totally unacceptable!” Kok told Malay Mail Online.
“This type of proposal is going against the Federal Constitution. It is also giving more work to the civil servants in the registration department as they now have to play the role of examiner to conduct tests on every kid who applies for MyKad.
“Can the professor explain what will happen if a child is born dumb? Is he going to be exempted from the language test?” the Seputeh MP added.
Meanwhile, Klang MP Charles Santiago slammed the UUM professor’s proposal as “preposterous”.
“It’s important for everyone to be familiar with the national language, both oral and written,” Charles told Malay Mail Online.
“But the landscape of the world is changing — people know their own mother tongue, the national language, and other languages like English. In China, the emphasis on English is phenomenal,” the DAP lawmaker added.
He also said when he visits Indian families, he finds the younger children speaking to their parents in Malay instead of Tamil.
“Citizenship is not based on the language you speak, but the values of the nation,” Charles said.