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Pali, Classical Chinese and Jawi

  • Primary school students are too young to learn and appreciate an ancient language which will not offer them much practical help in future.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

By Venerable Jue Cheng

Coming back from South America, I disembarked the plane with a joyous heart. However, my heart sank as soon as I read the intense arguments and comments on social media on whether Jawi should be introduced in Year Four curriculum at our vernacular schools.

Despite strong resistance from the public, our education minster hastily declared that the new measure would go ahead.

The introduction of Jawi script outside SRKs at Chinese and Tamil primary schools has sparked powerful backlash in the local Chinese community.

It reminds me of the time when I started to learn Buddhism, how my classmates and I grumbled when the school wanted us to learn Pali at the advanced English class.

Pali was an ancient Indian language, and we were told to learn this language just because the original Buddhist scriptures were recorded in either Pali or Sanskrit.

The Buddhist school even sent in a teacher from Sri Lanka to teach us Pali.

A similarity between Pali and the Malay language is that many words have been borrowed from Sanskrit or Pali. This puts Malaysian students at an advantage. Compared to students from other countries, Malaysians were more at ease when it came to learning Pali, and of course, we did much better in examinations.

Nevertheless, as many Buddhist scriptures we have today are already translated into Chinese or English, Pali and Sanskrit are gradually put out of everyday use at our monasteries today.

Unfortunately our education minister Maszlee Malik now wants to include Jawi in Year Four BM textbooks beginning next year so that students at Chinese and Tamil primary schools will also have a chance to learn Jawi.

I feel that the ministry should reconsider this decision.

Since Jawi is a beautiful classical language, it should instead be learned by Malay literary or history scholars, not for our primary school students to “appreciate” its beauty. Such a move will only add to the already heavy burden of our students while not bringing any positive effect to their studies.

To be honest, primary school students are too young to learn an ancient language which will not offer them much help in future.

These young students hardly understand the importance of this language and severely lack the ability to appreciate its profound beauty.

Even for Chinese school students, they only start to pick up some classical Chinese (文言文) when they are at secondary school. These classical Chinese masterpieces are of almost zero use to us today.

Similarly, classical English, despite its tremendous beauty and elegance, will only come before us when we do English literature. This antiquated form of English has very little use in our day-to-day life today.

As such, I would like to urge the education minister to think twice. If he is really serious about promoting Jawi, it should start from the university level, or the Malay literary clubs at secondary level, so that its purpose could be maximized and no government resources are squandered unnecessarily, including large numbers of teachers.

In the end, the students will only have the faintest ideas, if any, of this language which may be completely forgotten after a certain number of years.

I feel that what Malaysians need most at this moment are a revitalized economy and national unity. We should do our best to get connected with the outside world and care more about our environment instead.

By comparison, implementing Jawi classes in primary schools is too insignificant and is not worthy of the tremendous effort by the government to force it through against the will of majority of people.

The education ministry should respect the public views and let education professionals and scholars study whether the learning of Jawi should best be implemented at relevant university faculties, purely from their professional point of view.

It is our hope that the government will lead this nation and her people towards a more united and harmonious society where public anxiety, vicious squabbles and unnecessary inter-community conflicts are kept at bay.

The Foolish will create problem but the Wise will resolve the problem. The Benevolent will apprehend the problem, and there is no problem with the ordinary people.

What kind of problem would you choose?

(Venerable Jue Cheng is the Chief Abbess of Fo Guang Shan Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.)

 

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