This personal statement was part of this student’s successful application to LSE (History & Politics), SOAS University (History & Politics), Durham University, (Social Sciences) and King’s College London (Liberal Arts).
In Malaysia, where racial politics prevail, public policies are largely effectuated by ethnicity and our historical backgrounds. ‘Liberating the Malay Mind’ by Dr. Bakri Mus propounds that the bumiputeras are not only reliant on affirmative action, but are indoctrinated to believe that their survival depends upon it. While the policy of affirmative action for the majority only meant to reduce poverty by leveling out the playing field between the races, complacency amongst the beneficiaries had led to decades of inequality, nepotism and corruption.
In line with Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract’, official historical narratives taught in public schools and internalized by the public, argue that Malay pre-eminence (ketuanan Melayu) justifies the imbalance of power, land rights and prioritization in terms of educational opportunities. Alternative narratives, however, stipulate that other ethnic and political groups are not just under-credited in terms of their contributions towards independence, but are cynically misrepresented. In fact, the distortion of history, always written by those in power, has gone so far that it becomes a question of whether or not contorting facts for the sake of national unity in a multiracial country is justified, and if so, to what extent.
Questions of moral values and notions of official truth versus historical revisionism, which clearly influence public policies, sparked my interest in History and Politics, as well as inspired me to write an EPQ on this very topic. To facilitate more extensive analysis, I interned at a national think tank, the Penang Institute, which gave me an opportunity to conduct independent research as well as work with senior analysts on the topic of historical narratives in Malaysian public schools. While cross referencing school textbooks from 1970 till today, it became apparent that the portrayal of historical leaders, ethnic groups and noteworthy events were drastically altered in line with government objectives and policies. For instance, the complete reconstruction of the national history curriculum during the epoch of the New Economic Policy, made prominent references to Malay supremacy and how indisputable it was due to the ‘Malaysian social contract’ and Article 153 which safeguards the ‘special position’ of the ‘sons of the soil’. This, I would argue, was done to legitimize the position of the Malays and normalize the idea of the quid pro quo (which granted citizenship to the ‘settlers’) amongst the youth.
Although Ranke argues that historical narratives should be portrayed wie es eigentlich gewesen, Collingwood claims that history is always refracted through the mind of the recorder, thus rendering one’s view tantamount to the other. But if this means that there Is, in fact, no objective truth, which parts of history do we teach in schools?
The opposition’s victory in this year’s general election led to a change in power for the first time since 1957; so there has never been a better opening for progressive change. Education is imperative if historical narratives are to move beyond mere indoctrination. This will improve critical thinking and analytical skills amongst the youth, both of which are vital to expand our knowledge and capacity for logical reasoning. As part of my work experience, I attended numbers forums on these issues, which helped greatly in my co-authoring a research journal on the intricacies of history textbooks. Tentatively, the journal will be used by political titan Syed Husin Ali in his memorandum to the new government, which will suggest education reforms and the revamp of history textbooks.
The interconnections between history and how it affects current and future public policies are what interest me. I aspire to be part of an international think tank, where I can engage in thought provoking discussions and provide insightful perspectives to improve the education sector and help us understand what being a Malaysian truly means.
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