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Recognising the UEC: Sabah now, the entire country next?

  • Chairman of the UEC task force says decisions of state governments will not influence decisions and findings of the task force.

By Mohsin Abdullah

The Warisan-led Sabah state government has recognised the Unified Examination Certificate or UEC of Chinese independent secondary schools. That we all know already.

The announcement was made not too long ago and it created quite a euphoria, so to speak. It has been hailed as a “resolute step that will benefit Sabah”.

Dr Hu Yi Shan, senior fellow at Singapore Institute for International Affairs, says Chinese independent schools have always been part and parcel of Malaysian and Sabah’s multi-streamed education system, and “the UEC holders have played invaluably constructive roles in our social economy”.

According to Sabah-born Hu, who is also a UEC holder, as nine of the more than 60 Chinese independent schools are located in Sabah, this “bold step” by the state government to recognise the UEC would only bring about “innumerable benefits” to Sabah.

We all know that the recognition of the UEC is a long-standing issue, not to mention complicated. But to make a long complicated story short, it's about students of the UEC getting entry to public universities and for UEC graduates gaining entrance to the public service. That is to put it plainly.

And there has always been a racial element to it, with question of disunity and unpatriotism thrown in. In fact, such elements are one if not the biggest hindrance to effort for the UEC getting government, or should it be national, recognition.

The arguments are long and fiery, and it's still going on. Now it has cropped up again as many UEC students are finding it too expensive to study abroad, and therefore wanting to pursue their studies at home in public universities. But without UEC being officially recognised, this is a no-go, hence the effort to get recognition.

However, critics (if that’s the right word to use considering the explosive line of attack being taken) are quick to remind all and sundry that years ago the UEC was “offered to join” the national education system but the offer was turned down. Such a decision has kept haunting it ever since. That’s another story for another day.

Now to the main thing many don’t know but really want to know. Will Putrajaya do what Sabah has done? Warisan is after all part of the Pakatan Harapan administration.

Hu certainly wants that. “This (Sabah decision) would also serve to propel the federal authorities to do the right thing and follow Sabah's footsteps,” he says.

So, will the federal authorities do that? Follow Sabah’s footsteps, that is? But before that, it must be pointed out that even before Sabah, the Pakatan Harapan-led Melaka government has recognised UEC without any condition back in July 2018, it was reported.

Melaka chief minister Adly Zakaria was quoted as saying following the state government’s recognition of the UEC, holders of the Chinese independent school certificate will be recruited into the state’s civil service.

But when asked if UEC holders can apply for admission to tertiary education institutions, the chief minister said the recognition is limited to the state administration for the time being and will be extended to other areas in the state in due course.

Still good enough, I would say, but I don’t know why the Melaka announcement wasn’t met with much fanfare compared to one by Sabah.

Anyway, back to the question: will the federal government follow Sabah’s footsteps as urged by Hu? Well, if it did not follow Melaka, why should it follow Sabah, up till now?

But to be fair to the federal government, it has through the education ministry formed a task force to gather feedback, relevant information and make recommendations on the UEC issue.

Chairman of the task force is author and cultural activist Eddin Khoo. Other members are ABIM president Raimi Abdul Rahim and Dong Zong deputy president Datuk Tan Yew Sing.

According to Khoo, decisions of state governments do not influence decisions and findings of the task force.

As for Sabah's recognition of the UEC, Khoo said he was not privy to information other than what has been reported by the media. However, he went on to say the most important thing would be details.

As media reports go, it seems that UEC students need to do SPM as well. Therefore, as he sees it, that can be read as entrance of students into local public varsities would be on SPM results, not UEC per se.

Without downplaying the Sabah decision, I see that seemingly like “defeating the purpose” of wanting UEC recognised in the first place. That, according to Khoo, seems to be the case and “that’s why I say details are important and clarification needed”.

When making the Sabah announcement, chief minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal said there were “certain conditions” that came with the recognition. But at the time of writing, details are not yet available.

Sabah or Melaka aside, any decision by the federal government would be hugely based on recommendations and report submitted by the task force.

The task force has interviewed 72 individuals or groups comprising all stakeholders thus far, each accorded at least two hours. More will be interviewed for their views, comments and thoughts.

It is a complex issue and an elaborate process. When everything is in place only then the final report will be submitted to the government to act upon.

The UEC has been a controversial issue for close to four decades, and to Khoo, “it must be put in context once and for all so that people can understand it for what it actually is.”

(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)

 

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