Vernacular schools in Malaysia are constitutional

The Court of Appeal have unanimously ruled that vernacular schools in Malaysia are constitutional, said a panel of three judges.

The judges ruled that the Federal Constitution protects the use of Tamil and Chinese in these schools despite the Malay language is the nation’s official language.

“We have concluded that not only are the establishment and maintenance of national type schools not inconsistent with Article 152(1) but also that the use of Tamil and Chinese in such schools are subject to protection accorded under Article 152(1)(b),” Datuk Azizul Azmi Adnan said in delivering the decision.

The other judges on the bench were Datuk Supang Lian and Datuk M. Gunalan.

The appeal was filed by Islamic Education Development Council (Mappim) and three other NGOs which challenged the schools’ legality.

The other three appellants are the Confederation of Malaysian Writers Association (Gapena), Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) and Ikatan Guru-Guru Muslim Malaysia (I-Guru).

judge Azizul Azmin Adnan pointed out that the framers of the Federal Constitution had intended from the very beginning that pre-Merdeka vernacular schools would continue to operate with constitutional validity post independence.

This, he said, this is reflected in Article 152(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution, which empowered the federal government to sustain and safeguard the utilisation of Mandarin and Tamil as mediums of instruction in vernacular schools.

“Nothing in Article 152 should be read to limit the use of language (like Tamil and Mandarin as medium of instructions in vernacular schools) and should sustain its continued use.

“If there is accepted use of language other than Malay as a medium of instruction in schools that existed before Merdeka, the government thus preserves and sustains such use.

“It cannot be argued that the framers of the Constitution intended that schools that use language other than Malay are unlawful.

“Otherwise, such schools would have been abolished with the establishment of the Federal Constitution (that became the supreme law of Malaysia upon Merdeka in 1957),” Azizul said on behalf of Supang and fellow bench member M Gunalan.

No order on costs was made.

Counsel for Mappim and Gapena Haniff Khatri Abdulla meanwhile said they would appeal the case at the Federal Court.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court on 29 Dec 2021 had dismissed the suit that was filed by the Federation of Peninsular Malay Students (GPMS), Mappim, Gapena and Isma.

The Kota Bahru High Court too ruled similarly on 29 May 2022.

In a related development, deputy education minister Lim Hui Ying announced the court decision during the oral reply session in Dewan Rakyat.