Multiculturalism in Education is The New Norm and SOP

By Mansurni Abadi


Kuala Lumpur, 9 February  2021 | Mansurni is a student in ethnic studies at the National University of Malaysia


Social solidarity beyond barriers is growing during the COVID-19 pandemic, however we should not forget how the hatred that threatens our diversity continues to increase throughout 2020 as well. We were shocked by incidents such as terrorism in Europe and racism towards black people in the U.S.A, which then sparked global riots that carried the tagline “Black Lives Matter”. Xenophobia towards Chinese citizens and ethnicities were uncommon as people accused them of spreading the COVID-19 virus. Last but not least, the rising of fake news.

Different kinds of hatred are happening globally, and Malaysia is no exception. For example, some Malaysians in cyberspace sparked hatred towards the Rohingya refugees in Malaysia because they thought Rohingyas did not care about the Movement Control Order (MCO) by the Malaysian government. Now we have entered a new year with new hope, but the bitterness of all of the past year’s experiences remain, even though we try to foster optimism in the middle of the era that we call a ‘new normal’.

One of the many instances of hatred being targeted to the ethnic minority of Rohingyas in Malaysia during the first phase of Movement Control Order in 2020.

The ‘new normal’ must be about living in a ‘new style’, not just with various health protocols that are important, but also a new mindset of how to behave and think in every crisis within a multicultural society. It is because the pandemic of hatred related to COVID-19 is more dangerous. We need to understand the new normal beyond a health-centric definition. It must be holistic, including the social aspect. We need to embrace the awareness of humanity because our humanity has become chaotic, conflicted, painful, and traumatic, leading to harmful effects on our society.

Our modern life now often puts us in a state of confusion. It makes us forget what it is like to enjoy small things and be calm in every situation. Day by day, amidst global lockdown trends, the beauty, and wondrous things we have in our life has gone. Unfortunately, we change our attention to the things that harm, destroy, and cause pain—therefore we need to reclaim our humanity. Still, to reach this level, we must begin with strong courage, both in actions and thoughts to live in peace, harmony, balance, trust, and understanding.

Education plays a vital role in guiding us to foster the awareness level of humanity in life. We need to apply a specific educational approach, especially for teaching the people to think and act in a multicultural society during multidimensional crises. I argue that multicultural education is the best approach for the current condition and situation.

Multicultural education is the key

As human beings, we always have our dark sides that condemn other people just based on assumptions. However, sometimes that behaviour is socially engineered through the society in which we live. Most societies wrestle with how to get members to do the ‘right’ thing based on maintaining their identity. Still, they always forget to teach on how to retain self-identity while ensuring civility.

Many societies also often use shame and pride to give members of their society a feeling of superiority against other groups. Through multicultural education, we can try to reduce any silly actions based on that battle mindset. Multicultural education can create aware individuals, those who see the value of humanity and choose to treat all people fairly, as brothers and sisters.

The concept of multicultural education is not new; even a lot of countries already implemented this approach. However, we need to assess and reaffirm this approach. If we apply it in earnest, multicultural education teaches us about people’s behaviours from other cultures and how to behave with them or inform us about different cultures’ artistic materials. It gives us time to understand that multiculturalism is a priceless component of humanity. These differences of languages, cultures, cuisines, dances, traditions et al., are the critical components of humanity that give us depth, colour, meaning, and a sense of wonder in all aspects of humanity.


Beautiful Malaysia art that depicts the multiculturalism in Malaysia. By Rahim Johar via DeviantArt

From where we begin

A proper multicultural education begins when all education components agree to implement this strategy beyond populism. First, we need to understand that education and the continual development of knowledge and wisdom drive modern society’s positive progress. However, this can only be achieved based on the foundations of love, compassion, tolerance, and cooperation of all humanity. This should be our aim. Based on those foundations, our indicators will create a walking encyclopedia, persons who can apply what they already learned in their daily lives.

Second, they must have a teacher who understands that what they do and what they teach should begin with understanding the goal of multicultural education. Based on Gollnick and Chin’s book titled “Multicultural Education in a Pluralistic Society”, the five goals of multicultural education comprise (1) the acceptance of alternative life choices for people, (2) the promotion of social justice and equality for all people, (3) emphasis on equal distribution of power and income among the group, or in this context, access to education for everyone regardless of their background, (4) the promotion of strength and value of cultural diversity, and last, (5) an emphasis on human rights and respect for those who differ from oneself.

This article is a part of the #Kebersamaan or #Togetherness Campaign by Komuniti Muslim Universal (KMU) to diversify progressive discourse on race and religion in Malaysia. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of KMU Malaysia