Vernacular schools constitutionally protected, court throws out Malay-Muslim group’s suit

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Malaysia’s vernacular schools were consistent with its Federal Constitution, the High Court reiterated today when rejecting a lawsuit seeking for the government to abolish education using Mandarin and Tamil.

In reading his summary judgment this morning, Justice Datuk Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali said the Federal Constitution, in fact, expressly protected teaching in mother tongues other than Bahasa Malaysia.

He further said the plaintiffs failed to show how vernacular education had infringed on their personal liberty under the constitution.

“Given that the use of Chinese and Tamil in vernacular schools as a medium of instruction is constitutional as it is protected under the exceptions in Articles 152 (1) (a) and (b) of the Constitution, there is no basis to contend that the establishment and existence of vernacular schools are inconsistent with or infringe Articles 5, 8, 10, 11 and 12 of the Federal Constitution.

“In any event, it has not been shown in what manner the establishment and existence of the vernacular schools have 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 pointed out that vernacular schools are educational institutions under the Education Act 1996 and are not public or statutory authorities.

As such, he said it is not considered an offence if another language than Malay is used as a medium of instruction, adding that this is safeguarded under Article 152 (1) (a) of the Federal Constitution.

Gabungan Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS), the Islam Education Development Council (Mappim), and the Confederation of Malaysian Writers Association (Gapena) initiated the lawsuit to push the government to prohibit vernacular schools.

They wanted the court to declare that such schools were unconstitutional, and even claimed their existence violated Article 152(1) of the Federal Constitution that declared the Malay language as the national language.

The groups also claimed that Sections 2, 17, and 28 of the Education Act 1966, which allow Mandarin and Tamil schools to conduct lessons in these languages, were similarly unconstitutional.

In addition, they also wanted the courts to declare vernacular schools to be in violation of Articles 5 (right to a dignified life), 8 (equality), 10 (freedom of speech, assembly and association), 11 (freedom in religion), and 12 (rights in respect of education) of the Constitution.

There are 13 defendants in the suit, including political parties MCA, MIC, Gerakan, the Education Ministry, and the minister of education. – MMO