Column - Racism and education

I WAS shocked to read about what two Malaysian students of Indian descent had to go through with their lecturer in our highest internationally ranked university.

For those who missed the reports, apparently a lecturer decided that two students should not sit next to each other because "she knows that Indians will plagiarise and copy one another".

Formal complaints have been lodged and informal complaints via posts in social media have gone viral, and thus the university is launching an investigation.

I'll be very clear about my background. I'm a graduate of UiTM's Faculty of Information Technology and Quantitative Sciences.

So, I can say with certainty that there was no "India duduk sebelah India" (what the lecturer said) plagiarism. Of course there was still plagiarism in case some "Hidup Melayu" groups want to make that fact a selling point for Malays in academia.

The truth is, race plays no part in students plagiarising each other's work, which considering my studies, could have been pretty obvious from coding styles.

And before we go any further, let me point out that I do not agree with racial profiling of students in academia.

I know, it's probably not a popular viewpoint from a UiTM alumnus. Even if they know that for some reason we let foreigners in for international rankings rather than open it up to all races, and then hide under the guise of somehow "we need to protect the Malays".

I'm digressing, of course. This talk is just too far from the intellectual stature of anyone who calls themselves a professor, or even a teacher.

Subsequently, having such educators promoting such views will in fact extend those views for the next generation, and the one after that, till the end of time.

However, to what end are we dealing with the issue of racial segregation in education, subsequently leading to racism?

National schools in the late 1980s and early 1990s still had a diverse student population in primary and secondary schools. I can say with certainty because this was the period I was in school.

We still had diverse classrooms and schools which had all races represented – even Orang Asal students. In Shah Alam, no less, where racial diversity was pretty scarce in some neighbourhoods back then, even more so now.

Sadly, that diversity in national schools has died out by now – either that or it is on life support which someone will eventually declare as brain dead.

Racial integration thrived more in the earlier years because of constant interaction – and that is obviously becoming rarer with time as Malaysian parents choose what is best for their children based on their incomes.

The wealthier families have more options, and thus send their children to the best schools, while the middle income and less affluent families choose what they can barely afford, and those who have no choice in the matter end up sending the child to whatever school they can get into.

While this does show a class issue, it also creates a racial one. While affluent families learn to mingle in varied settings, others don't have such opportunities.

Thus, we created a situation of accidental segregation that we are now seeing among the youth and it seems to have affected the teaching profession.

Yet, everyone is perfectly happy with such a situation in this day and age. Anyone asking to abolish SJKs is quickly branded as "against meritocracy", or "race traitor", or "wanting to commit a cultural holocaust".

If their stance includes abolishing religious schools, just watch how fast the word "kafir" rolls off the tongue.

Thus, schools continue in their own ways, and diversity of yet another generation fades into the mists of time.

The students continue to university and become lecturers, teachers, bosses, perhaps even entrepreneurs by which age their racial segregation becomes second nature to the point that they do not even know they are doing it.

We know this is a problem, and we know there is a solution. But frankly, nobody wants to follow it through.

You can choose your reasons not to – meritocracy, politics, corruption, culture and religion.

So let us just continue this vicious cycle, make viral racial posts on social media and wing it to 2050. Then we can just say our national vision failed.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com