Teacher Lian Geok was a towering patriot

MONDAY, APRIL 09, 2012 – 16:36


LIM LIAN GEOK, who passed away in 1985 at the age of 81, is honoured by educationists and activists of Chinese lineage as the “soul of the Malaysian Chinese”.

Lian Geok first landed in Malaya in 1927, and till 1935, he taught in Perak, eastern Java, Klang, Kajang and even in his home district Yongchun. It was from October 1935 that he started teaching in Confucian Middle School in Kuala Lumpur, an association which lasted till August 1961. During this period, he declined the offer to be the headmaster on two separate occasions.

This was in a period when the teaching profession was truly revered and routinely referred to as the “noble profession”. He could have thought it best not to be part of the school management since he decided to be deeply involved in the formation of the Kuala Lumpur Chinese School Teachers’ Association (KLCSTA). 

The idea to have an association for his colleagues’ welfare arose from two incidents — the passing away of a Confucian School teacher leaving his family in destitute, and another teacher in Perak who chose suicide when in sickness, also leaving behind similar circumstances.

Two years later, in 1951, the KLCSTA evolved into the United Chinese School Teachers’ Association (UCSTA or better known as Jiao Zong. The other organisation is the United Chinese Schools Committees Association or better known as Dong Zong. When it’s a joint endeavour they are credited as Dong Jiao Zong, or DJZ).

In September 1951, Lian Geok was granted Malayan citizenship. He led by example to persuade his fellow settlers to switch loyalty from China to Malaya.

He had to pay dearly for upholding the teaching of the “mother tongue” in the manner he thought appropriate.


LIM: A towering patriot — Pic courtesy of LLG Cultural Development Centre

His teaching licence was revoked in August 1961 and he was “deprived of his citizenship of the Federation of Malaya” soon after. He was not tolerated for his cause but his cause continues to thrive.

The Razak Report 1956 provides for four different language mediums of instruction and, by the early 70s, English was dropped. The Malay-medium schools are known as Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK or national schools) and the vernaculars are known as Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (SJK, with the C or T, denoting Chinese and Tamil or national-type schools). 

The Chinese-medium secondary schools which elected to adopt the national curriculum were converted into Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan (SMJK) under the Rahman Talib Report 1960. The rest continued as Chinese independent high schools and are un-aided schools.

Therefore, strictly speaking, the vernacular schools are part and parcel of our national education system. We do not have two separate education systems, which self-professed nationalists have been crying about. Yet, year in and year out the rumblings continue on delays in approvals for relocation and building expansion, delays in fund disbursements, insufficient funding and the perennial teacher shortage. 

The 325 rally (March 25) organised by Dong Zong which resulted in Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong being “abused” was about the shortage of teachers.

According to a DJZ report on development fund allocations, SJKCs received 8.14% share of the fund while their enrolment share was 23.07% in 1991.

By 2006, the figures stood at 3.6% and 20.96% (636,124 students, of which roughly 10% are non-Chinese). It will require phenomenal will-power to curb negative thoughts over such disproportionate allocations.

The deputy prime minister and education minister reported a few days ago that in 2009 there was a shortage of 4,991 SJKC teachers. By 2010, the figure dropped to 3,043 and to 2,720 last year. For this year, the shortage was 1,874 and with interim teachers posted, the shortage now stands at 392. If these were the poverty index or the crime statistics, they would be delightful news.

As it is, one must wonder, no, question why was there such a huge shortage in the first place?

DJZ was so adamant that they cannot accept non-Mandarin proficient teachers sent to teach Bahasa Malaysia and English. 

On the surface, most can attribute this stance to sheer chauvinism. If I hazard a guess, it can only be due to a serious suspicion of attempts to change the character of these schools. So perhaps the teacher posting is seen as an act of infiltration. 

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak did try to allay these fears when he was the education minister. In the 1996 amendment, he removed the controversial Section 21 (2) Education Act 1961 which stipulates … Where at any time the minister is satisfied that a national-type primary school may suitably be converted into a national primary school he may by order direct that the school shall become a national primary school. The Hansard will confirm that the minister received virtual curses from the ultra right during the tabling.

It is horrendously overdue that we accept the realities; vernacular schools are part of the system. Michael Rozario, Nazeem Khan, Tseng Tze Yian and Rohit Battu can be Malaysian names too. There is no need to tolerate.

It is better late than never that all stakeholders start talking and end this protracted impasse. All parties concerned have the same mission and objectives; to educate and train our young minds, our human capital. Besides, Mandarin is not just a “mother tongue”, it’s now an economic language.

I think Teacher Lian Geok was a towering patriot. His was in a time when dissent was not tolerated. He was doing it his way to help build a nation he called home, notarised six years before Merdeka. This piece is certainly not about Chinese education.

Lee Yew Meng is a former newsman and advises a government agency. [email protected]

Source : Malay Mail

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