ENTERING 2016, we still hear complaints on the state of science and technology (S&T) in the country. These include poor mastery of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among students, decreasing number of science students, lack of research commercialisation and the state of research facilities in the country.
From the perspective of Islam, research is essential in establishing facts for knowledge and understanding. It provides a platform for further comprehension of the scheme of things. Islam encourages its believers to observe the creations of God to attain a greater and stronger level of piety and devotion.
Verse 19 of Surah al-Mulk encourages observation, one of the key elements in research: “Do they not observe the birds above them, spreading their wings and folding them in? None can uphold them except (God) Most Gracious: truly it is He that watches over all things.”
Islam has always placed utmost importance on the quest for knowledge. It is each person’s responsibility to seek knowledge.
One of the factors that qualify mankind as the khalifah (vicegerent) of God in this world is the ability to accept, process and develop data; and to process information and extract knowledge. This whole process of obtaining knowledge is research.
A friend expressed his doubts on the future of science and scientists in the country. He believes S&T should be the way forward for Malaysia as it is impossible to compete on the basis of manual labour.
However, he felt that some of the equipment used in laboratories in the country is in need of serious upgrade to keep up with the pace of current technology.
The concern is valid. As a researcher at one of the leading universities in the country, he finds that the research facility that he used as an undergraduate in a foreign university is far more advanced than the one used by professors here.
If this is true and not just unique to that particular university, then the situation is serious indeed, for the simple reason that we are aiming to become a developed country, and yet we seem to fall short on the one criterion for seeing this aim materialised: facilitating S&T research.
Research is important for a variety of reasons. To manufacturers and industrialists, it is important to develop new products and services. This is where the term “research and development” comes in.
To a scientist, research is essential in finding answers to questions or mysteries of science, a quest to better understand the world we live in.
Research is a necessity. For Muslims, research can help in understanding the Greatness of the Almighty and appreciating His Creation.
From the perspective of Islam, knowledge would increase humility and piety towards God. This is as stated in verse 28 of Surah Fathir: “Those truly fear God, among His Servants, who have knowledge: for God is Exalted in Might, Oft-forgiving.”
This year will herald even greater challenges for Muslims.
Even before Francis Bacon coined the phrase “knowledge is power,” Islam had already recognised this through the various verses in the Quran as well as the Prophetic traditions which firmly emphasise the importance of acquiring knowledge.
However, in today’s reality, the total Gross National Product (GNP) of Muslim countries is less than 5% of the world’s GNP. Therefore, most Muslim countries could only allocate less than 0.5% of their budget for research and development. This is in contrast to the 2% to 3% allocated by developed nations.
Reflecting on the macro-economy, nations enjoying the highest per capita income are either strong both in S&T innovations, such as the United States and Germany, or strong in technological innovation without necessarily being strong in science, like Japan.
It is seen that countries which are strong in science but not strong in innovativeness do not enjoy high per capita income. Thus, innovativeness becomes the key determinant of a successful and profitable science and technology policy.
Scientific research should be looked upon as the prerequisite for innovations, leading to products, services or processes that can later be commercialised, or otherwise applied. The strategy of efficiency-driven growth, as opposed to input-driven growth, should be the focus for Malaysia.
Efficiency-driven growth focuses on increasing returns on investment which is mostly technology-based and dependent on factors such as production capability, technological innovativeness and application of information technology throughout all sectors.
However, most of the research work in the country is done purely for academic purposes. Perhaps in order to generate income for the research findings as well as to be able to “re-fund” other research work, research activities should be more “commercialised”, particularly in the universities.
It is also equally important for Malaysia to have a strong champion in S&T. The champion has to be a scientist, and not purely an administrator. This is critical so that the country’s S&T vision is clear.
Prof Dr Ahmed Zewail, a Nobel laureate, noted that one of the barriers that needed to be overcome is an incoherent vision for S&T in Muslim countries.
Most Muslim countries lack a clear plan as to how to build indigenous S&T capabilities, create a culture of scientific and technological innovation, and develop local scientists and technologists.
Without a clear vision, most definitely we will lose our focus and direction. Then there is no point in having state-of-the-art research facilities.
Advanced research facilities are important – no doubt about it.
However, without a clear vision, we would just be spending millions in buying equipment without a clear idea of what to do and where to go. As such it is equally critical for Malaysians to also have state-of-the-art mindset towards S&T in order to spur the culture of research and development in the country.