Ethnic Representation in Malaysian Year Five English Language Textbooks from 1968- 2016: from Erasure, to Proliferation, towards a “Malaysian” Narrative?


  • Claire Tan Yi Zhi Methodist College Kuala Lumpur
  • Tiong Ngee Derk Sunway University


Textbook Analysis, Ethnic Representation, Teaching Materials, Second Language Learning, English Language Teaching, Minorities, Malaysia


The question of ethnic representation has been a topic of concern for analysts and users of Malaysian textbooks. In this paper, we present a study analysing Malaysian Year Five English language textbooks published from 1968 to 2016, focussing specifically on ethnic representation and its changes over time in these texts. We conducted content analyses of the seven national textbooks published over the period, revealing mixed messages in ethnic representation: although on the surface there were celebrations of diverse ethnic and religious practices, these coexisted with problematic erasures and marginalisations of various groups. The problematic MCI (Malay, Chinese, Indian) formulation was favoured despite mapping poorly onto East Malaysia and rendering non-MCI groups invisible. Portrayals of Malays were particularly dominant, in some editions the only ethnic group with role model characters in the text. Chronologically, we identify three distinct phases that project different models of ethnic representation: ethnic erasure (1968, 1973, 1979), a proliferation of ethnic-ness (1997, 1999, 2012), and finally the apparent beginnings of a “Malaysian” narrative (2016), marking a shift towards greater inclusion despite the residue of the problematic patterns from earlier phases. The study offers an empirical contribution to debates on ethnic representation in Malaysian education, as encoded in locally-produced English-language textbooks. It also highlights that alongside the instrumental purpose of second/foreign language instruction, textbooks also project ideologies and narratives of nationhood.