I WOULD like to address the controversy surrounding the school history curriculum by making these controversial statements:
> No study of history can be truly objective as researchers and scholars are subjective in their interpretation of historical data.
> No historian can be completely unbiased in presenting a perspective of history as he or she comes with a particular mindset.
> No school history textbook writer can be absolutely balanced when he or she has to abide by the guidelines determined by the curriculum development committee of the Education Ministry.
> No government can be truly egalitarian, democratic and fair as the citizenry is diverse and people come from different socio-cultural backgrounds and have multifarious needs.
> No historical narrative of a nation can be complete as, in writing one, the historian has to select from the huge bank of political, economic, scientific, technological and socio-cultural developments and the people that navigate them.
These considerations should be borne in mind before one jumps to the conclusion that one’s own interpretation of history is the right one. The politics of today will become political history tomorrow. In retrospect, historians can be reflective and remove a lot of the immediate emotional context. However, their analyses and interpretation will still contain a fair amount of subjectivity and ambiguity.
So, what is a fair and balanced historical narrative for Malaya and Malaysia that would be acceptable to the protagonists and antagonists involved in this controversy? Can they address their unhappiness rationally and tackle the issues involved with a clear conscience?
Let’s face it! We are all biased and prejudiced. This is the nature of humanity and human existence as we handle life’s challenges and grapple with the inequalities we live with.
It’s the striving towards balance, fairness and justice that drives us to be better than our fathers and forefathers in some aspects of development. It’s the marvellous education and exposure we enjoy today that should make us more understanding, respectful and knowledgeable about the narratives of our people. Family groups and communities have their own genealogies, heritage and legacies which they are proud of. These contribute to the historical narratives of the different ethnic groups that coexist harmoniously in Malaysia.
Let’s keep our eyes, ears and minds open. Let’s see, listen and think more deeply. Let’s not brush aside the viewpoints of other people because we are so sure we are right.
The PCORE-UM history forum themed “The Study of History: Its Relevance and Significance” will address some of these issues. Among the topics to be deliberated are:
> Creating a shared narrative for national harmony,
> History and nation building,
> Goals and objectives of school history,
> History text books and sense of belonging, and
> Sustaining identity in historical writings
Among the speakers are Tan Sri Dr Rais Yatim, Professor Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim, Dr Lim Teck Ghee, Dr Helen Ting, Tunku Munawirah Putra, Dr Ummadevi Suppiah and Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi.
The one-day forum will be held on Saturday, Oct 22 at Lecture Theatre A, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Malaya. Registration is at 8am and admission is free. A report and recommendations from this forum will be submitted to the relevant agencies and stakeholders.
Datuk Halimah Mohd Said President PCORE The STAR News Opinion Letters 20 October 2016