The construction of a 'national identity' : a study of selected secondary school textbooks in Malaysia's education system, with particular reference to Peninsular Malaysia
The overriding concern of a multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious Malaysia has always been with inter-ethnic conflict and resolution. It is therefore little wonder that the Malaysian education system is seen arxl utilised by the State as an important social institution where certain ideas, values and symbols can be transmitted to students, the country's future generations, with the primary objective of fostering ethnic harmony in schools in particular and in the country in general. nd it is against this backdrop that this study seeks to examine what kinds of images, ideas, values and symbols that are being selected and promoted (and at the same time, excluding other items, images, ideas) in the reading materials of school students, which collectively are deemed as constructing Malaysia's 'national identity'. The textual analysis shows that the majority of these school texts tend to give heavy emphasis on Malay culture and interests, thus indicating that the construction of the 'national identity' is largely informed arid influenced by the State's policies such as the Malay-biased national culture policy and the New Economic Policy. In addition, the study also examines other related institutions such as the Ministry of Education (i.e. its Textbook Bureau) and the book publishing industry as a whole to see how they relate to the formation in the school texts of the kind of 'national identity' that is largely defined and sanctioned by the State. A group of 150 students were interviewed to ascertain their social and political consciousness. Their responses on the whole tend to suggest that the school texts are capable of creating, if not reinforcing, sub-national loyalties or ethnic sentiments among the students, the kind of consciousness that could seriously compete with arid challenge the nationalist project of creating a 'national identity'. In other words, national unity could be threatened.