"Moving in education but not in equality"
14 February, 2007 Kuala Lumpur

A United Nations rights investigator urged Malaysia to end racial inequality in university admission. Vernor Munoz Villalobos, special rapporteur on the right to education for the UN's Human Rights Council, said the country ranked high in terms of investments in education but lagged in human rights in the area.

Speaking at the end of his nine-day visit, the Costa Rican said two Malaysian education ministers declined to meet him but he saw education officials, teachers, parents and students.
"I must say it's an unusual situation. We requested but it wasn't possible to have the meetings," he said without elaborating. A press aide to Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein could not be immediately reached for comment. Higher Education Minister Mustapa Mohamed was not immediately available.

Munoz said his trip was to see how the multiracial nation implemented the right to education, the measures taken and the obstacles faced. He said Malaysia continued to impose curbs on access to university intake, although the Government said it had done away with racial-based quotas in favour of the majority ethnic Malays.

Malaysia has been running a two-tiered school system where Chinese and Indian schools are allowed to operate alongside the mainstream national schools.

But Chinese educationists have complained while there was rising enrolment in vernacular schools, the number of such schools have not risen - a point taken up by the UN official."There should be a standard that links the creation of schools with the number of inhabitants of a given community."

He said the Government's aim to achieve a "world class" education would not be satisfied unless there was a strengthening of the educational institutions that permitted the mainstreaming of human rights.

Therefore, he recommended the government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Villalobos was surprised to learn that Articles 15 and 16 of the University and University Colleges Act 1971 curtailed the right to freedom of association and expression as well as other civil and political rights of university students.

He said he understood the rationale and history behind the acts but it needed to be repealed as the provision of such law were contrary to human rights. There should also be an implementation of policies geared to generate equal opportunities across the board for the different communities that made up the population - Bumiputeras, Chinese and Indians, he said.

He said the indigenous people in Malaysia encountered difficulties in realizing its right to education, like the Iban community who suffered from extremely high dropout rates. Therefore, he said the Ministry needed to establish a body to cater for the educational needs of this indigenous people who were unable to compete successfully for access to higher education and the education centre provided for them were inadequate in terms of number and quality.

The Ministry or any competent authorities also needed to assess the implementation of teaching Mathematic and Science in English in order to take adequate action to support such teaching methodology, said Villalobos. Though considered a positive move, he said students and teachers alike especially from the rural areas were struggling because their mastery in the language was insufficient besides such methodology jeopardising the cognitive development of the children.

- Bernama, AFP

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