Vernacular schools: Appeals court upholds constitutionality, dismisses appeals by NGOs

A crowd gathered ouside the courtroom ahead of the ruling by the Court of Appeal on Thursday (Nov 23). — Photo: AZHAR MAHFOF / The Star

PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal has ruled that vernacular schools are constitutional, dismissing the appeal of four non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which sought to declare that the use of Chinese and Tamil languages as the medium of instruction in vernacular schools goes against the Federal Constitution.

A three-member panel comprising Justices Supang Lian, M. Gunalan and Azizul Azmi Adnan handed down the decision on Thursday (Nov 23).

In the court’s decision, Justice Azizul said vernacular schools were not a public authority and, as such, the use of Tamil and Mandarin languages as the medium of instruction for teaching in those schools was constitutional.

The Court of Appeal had early fixed Thursday to decide on the appeal by four non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including the Islamic Education Development Council (Mappim), over the issue of vernacular schools and the use of Mandarin and Tamil in the schools involved.

Mappim, Gapena, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) and Ikatan Guru-Guru Muslim Malaysia (I-Guru) were appealing against the decision of the Kuala Lumpur and Kota Baru High Courts that dismissed their suits in December 2021 and May 2022, respectively.

On Dec 29, 2021, Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, now a Court of Appeal judge, dismissed the lawsuits brought by the Federation of Peninsular Malay Students (GPMS), Mappim, Gapena and Isma. GPMS did not file an appeal.

Mohd Nazlan ruled that the existence and establishment of vernacular schools and the use of Mandarin and Tamil languages at those schools were constitutional.

In May 29 last year, Kota Baru High Court Judicial Commissioner Abazafree Mohd Abbas, who is now a High Court judge, also ruled that the existence of vernacular schools was constitutional and dismissed the suit filed by I-Guru.

In the suit filed in December 2019, GPMS, Mappim and Gapena and Isma sued several parties including the government.

They included Chinese educationist groups Dong Zong and Jiao Zong, Persatuan Thamizhar Malaysia, and Persatuan Tamilar Thurunal (Perak).

I-Guru, meanwhile, sued the education minister and the government of Malaysia, seeking a declaration that Section 28 and Section 17 of the Education Act 1996 are inconsistent with Article 152 of the Federal Constitution and are therefore void and of no effect

The Malaysia Chinese Language Council, the Malaysia Tamil Neri Kalagam Association, the Confederation of Former Tamil School Pupils, MCA and the United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) were allowed to become interveners in the suit filed by I-Guru.