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Race, education and job opportunities in Malaysia still burning hot




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Maszlee Malik, Malaysia’s Education Minister, stirred a hornet’s nest earlier this month when he said Chinese companies should not advertise ‘Mandarin’ as a language skill because it sidelines non-Mandarin speaking workforce.

He said that in response to calls for the scrapping of the matriculation system that grants 90 per cent of slots to Malay students, and the remaining to non-Bumis.

Several Malaysians reacted hotly to Maszlee’s May 16 remarks, with some calling for his resignation, or at least to apologize, or for Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to fire him.

But while the opponents were busy stepping up against him, others started to give him support, saying that the racial quota policy is a directive from ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) and that Mandarin should not be a language skill for Malaysians.

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Malaysian online media professional Marc Lourdes, who has worked with CNN and Yahoo’s regional operations in Asia, reacted in a much-retweeted response to Maszlee’s remarks over Twitter.

He wrote, on May 21, “Fine, if you want to have Mandarin as a basic job requirement in MALAYSIA, show documentation to prove the volume of business that you do with China and what percentage of your total business it contributes to. Locals should and must be able to speak Malay, first and foremost.”

Mr Lourdes answered commenters in his thread by saying, “How many Malays and Indians speak Mandarin vs the number of Chinese who do so? If the latter is more than the former two, then doesn’t that come with a built-in advantage to Chinese? And isn’t that advantage then discriminatory?”

And then later, “what i’m saying is that the mandarin requirement gives an advantage to Chinese because more Chinese speak it compared to Malays and Indians.”

Separately he said,

In Linkedin post, OJT Specialist Executive Norbaizura M chimed in on Monday, May 27, in response to Mr Lourdes’ original tweet.

She wrote, “If business in China constitutes 30% of annual turnover or total procurement it would justify that few people to be recruited to be able to speak Mandarin.”

However, based on her experience, she called this “just an excuse” given that Chinese contracts use “different legal terminology” than the Mandarin language used every day.

Ms Norbaizura gave an example of what she meant.

“It’s like Kelantanese English. You get bits and pieces you understand and you just have to guess what’s between A to E, J to P, etc. Had friends who got married and stay there for 10 years and he still plays fill in the gaps when people speak with dialect. #jobmalaysia”

Responding to Ms Norbaizura’s post on Linked in, Adilah Abd Manan wrote, “I think it all start with the dissatisfaction regarding privileges enjoyed by the bumis, as equal with dissatisfaction among the non Mandarin speaker regarding discrimination at workplaces (even some Mandarin speakers who got rejected at the job selection because they do not born into some race)..”


Read related: Malaysia’s education minister opens a can of worms but he is getting Malay support

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