Monday, August 15, 2005

Maximus Ongkili on National Unity

Our minister in our Prime Minister's department in-charge of national unity, Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili was interviewed in the New Straits Times on Sunday, 7th August.

I've extracted the his opinions specific to the National Service programme for our Malaysian students as well as his opinions with regards to national unity in our Malaysia schools.
Q: Is the National Service programme successful?

A: From the hearings, we learnt it has been a great success in fostering racial unity. Parents told us their children had changed their attitudes about other races after attending NS.

But then, not all students can participate. Next year, the NS intake will be increased to 95,000 but even that constitutes just 22 per cent of the Form Five population. Then there are the primary and secondary school students and undergraduates.

How can we tackle racial polarisation in schools and universities?

A: We can take the NS content in a diluted form to the school. Special talks and motivational programmes can be organised.

The National Unity Department has also set up Rukunegara Clubs in secondary schools. At university level, Rukunegara Clubs will be launched next month.

Is that enough?

A: Universities should also initiate their own measures. Some are organising cultural programmes. But I feel the role of teachers, parents and community leaders is also important.

They must not just preach racial unity but lead by mixing freely and learning to appreciate the values of other communities. We must walk the talk.

Is the education system, with its different schooling streams, hampering efforts to promote racial integration?

A: According to the stated objective of our education system, it is not supposed to yield that kind of result. The positive values of our system far outweigh the negative. Besides, some of the most patriotic people I know are from Chinese schools.

To be quite frank, his answers actually don't reveal too much, and its probably tailored to ensure that he does not trigger any racially sensitive issues. :)

Here's some of my non-tailored opinion on the views that he provided as well as some of the more difficult questions, the journalist should have asked further.
  1. I whole-heartedly support the national service concept which our government is putting in place. Any qualms I have (and I do have a fair bit of them) is with regards to the finer details of the programme and its execution, which can be significantly improved. For e.g., some of the course content is probably a waste of time, while in certain camps, the "trainers" are absolutely not qualified to do the necessary training. But lets take it one step at a time, and hopefully with the valuable feedback, the government will improve the national service programme over time.

  2. Racial polarisation at our schools and particularly universities is a serious problem. There are "privilege" institutions in Malaysia whereby non-bumiputeras are not welcome. There are the increasingly popular Chinese schools, while generally academically strong, contributes little towards racial or national integration. It is hence not surprising that, in our "multi-racial" universities (excluding "privilege" institutions like Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM)), the ethnic groups tend to not interact with one another.

    Datuk Dr Ongkili has suggested that "special talks and motivational programmes can be organised" - the day that national and racial integration can be achieved through special talks, will be the day that we have absolute peace in this world. What are the percentage of students who will be at all interested in sitting in seminar rooms listening to a (in all probability) boring speaker attempting to "motivate" with an absolutely "unexciting" subject? How many students will "willingly" join "Rukun Tetangga" clubs.

    Racial integration and national unity among students will ONLY be achieved through real practical environment and experience (note: NOT a 2 hours a month hand-shaking event). Any policies to improve national unity needs to be studied from that perspective.

  3. The journalist rightly pointed out whether Datuk Dr Ongkili's suggestion above is sufficient. Our minister then added that universities should organise "cultural events" to increase greater understanding amongst ethnic groups. Well, that's not an earth-shaking suggestion, but it's a positive suggestion nevertheless. However, the practise in the past few years have been such that Chinese cultural events have been largely "forbidden" in the local universities such as Universiti Malaya (UM) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). Datuk Dr Ongkili needs to ensure that the Malaysian institutes of higher education actually actively seek to promote and increase cultural understanding amongst its students!

  4. Our minister "tactfully" stated that the "positives far outweigh the negatives" in our current education system, with the different schooling streams. Only a leader blind to what's happening on the ground will make such a declaration. I've discussed the national school vs the vernacular school debate in some of my earlier posts (here and here). I certainly feel strongly that the current dichotomy in our education system is not only failing to "integrate" the various communities in Malaysia, it may actually be fortifying the separation between the racial groups in Malaysia.
Our ministers need to show leadership by being brave with what they need to do in order to deliver the objectives and mandate given to them. I'm happy that some of the actions in recent years have been "positive", such as the national service programme (despite many flaws to improve). However, such steps are only the beginning. It is important for our leaders to admit the facts and their follies in the past, in order to be able to move forward and implement solutions that will one day bring about true integration amongst Malaysians.

For all Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik's (the president of Barisan Nasional component party, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (PGRM) and our Minister of Energy, Water & Communications) shortcomings, I am extremely pleased that Datuk Seri Lim has the courage to raise the issue of Anak Malaysia in his speech yesterday (see here and here).
Malaysia will never see the creation of a Bangsa Malaysia as long as there are people using the 1957 social contract to silence the non-Malays.
Well said, Datuk Seri. Well said, indeed. :)


daniel said...

For once LimKY has said something sensible. If only he can stick to his guns and follow it up with some concrete action in spite of the flak directed at him from UMNO youth...

It true that all the flag waving, singing the national anthem is just cosmetic. If we do not correct the basics, or at least bring the so called social contracts up to date in the 21st century context, racial polarisation will be here to stay; permanently.

Forget about the NS, because it is also cosmetic, worse with bad implementation, it only enriches certain parties or individuals much like the AP issue. Deep-rooted issues can only be solved by removing the root of the problem (doesn't the government advocate this theory with regards to the Palestinian issue?).

Listen to the talk on the ground, in the coffee shops, in the home, off record and not when the interviewees have cameras pointed in their direction. We still have such a thing as the ISA, you know?

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