For the first time that I can remember, our local printed media is no longer just inundated with reports and advertisements which "celebrates" the country's strength in "national unity" ad nauseam. For the past couple of days, I'm reading articles which either outrightly questioned our national unity, or raised the relevant issues between the lines.
The 9th Malaysian Plan (9MP) which was released by the Prime Minister's Department this year is littered with the quest for national unity.
In Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi's foreword, he stated that the "National Mission underscores the need to pursue programmes that enhance the nation’s capability to compete globally, to strengthen national unity and to bring about a better distribution of income and wealth and higher quality of life among the people."
And amongst the "first steps" in National Mission extensive effort will be made to achieve the "overriding objective of the nation, that is national unity and integration."
In the key section of "Human Capital Development Policy Thrusts", the 9MP seeks to strengthen "national schools to become the school of choice for all Malaysians to enhance national unity", and in strengthening national unity, "developing a society with a progressive outlook, exemplary value system and high performance culture as well as with an appreciation for tradition and heritage." In addition, "youth leadership programmes will give emphasis on the role of youths in society and fostering national unity with a sense of common and shared destiny."
The question then is, whether these noble objectives have been hijacked by those who has a vested interest racial seggregation, those who are power hungry and the leaders who don't see the wrongs in citing extremist remarks to "protect the party, race and religion".
I've often been asked, "why blog on education?". While the short and simple answer has been my firm believe that education is the best equaliser in society, there's also the other aspect which was expressed succintly by Tunku Abdul Aziz, a former president of Transparency International Malaysia, is special adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Ethics Office, in his article entitled "Look for beyond the Malaysian 'open house'" published in the New Straits Times today.
In his "Merdeka" message, he argued that despite being "close to half a century of Merdeka, we are nowhere near to realising our vision of a people united by a common destiny and shared values. National unity, which is so vitally important to our survival as a peaceful and prosperous nation, will continue to elude us unless we are all prepared to put it above all other considerations."
And I completely agree with Tunku, when he argued that "the process [to achieve national unity] involves a complete change of behaviour, a mental overhaul that can
only be achieved through a dynamic and sustainable system of education based on the needs of a new nationalism, with emphasis on national unity and equal opportunity."
I place great store by equal opportunity in education, especially because it is immoral and ethically unacceptable to discriminate against innocent and vulnerable youngsters by depriving them of their rights to higher education. How, in heaven’s name, can we expect them not to feel that they are from another planet? You cannot expect loyalty from impressionable young people when they feel marginalised. Equality of opportunity must be the cornerstone of national unity.We both agree that national unity must be predicated on equality of opportunity, justice and equity, and it is ironic that the 9MP preaches pretty much the same, except for it to be understood and framed in a different context:
By our past policy that denied equal educational opportunity, we triggered an exodus of countless numbers of our extremely bright Chinese boys and girls who succumbed, quite naturally, to the attractions of the Singapore government-sponsored Asean Scholarships. The "cream of the crop" were streamed into special junior colleges and the creamiest among them were provided scholarships to Oxbridge and Ivy League colleges. They were required, upon completion, to work for the Government of Singapore for ten years. Many became citizens of the republic. Our loss was Singapore’s gain.
"Allowing inequalities to persist can negatively impact growth, threaten national unity and affect societal stability." (pg 34)It is only with reforms in our education system, we can actually see a future of "true" national unity, instead of those staged by political stooges through hand-shaking ceremonies. It is also through a good education, that we hope that future leaders of the country will possess the moral courage to bring about the necessary reforms to make Malaysia truly united. It is unfortunate that quality education from some of the top universities of the world, such as Oxford, has failed to instil such qualities in some of our younger leaders, whom we had initially placed so much hope in.
But while we are not necessarily wiser, the fact that these issues are now raised more openly is indeed a good sign, albeit a small one. Hopefully, in time to come, with a good education, there will be enough Malaysians who will see through artificially constructed facade of national unity we have today.
My wishes this Merdeka, remains the same. Once again, Selamat Hari Merdeka! :)