May 2nd, 2014

'Softer fields' not irrelevant

THE Education Ministry is looking at ways to promote interest in science among students. This, Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh shared on Saturday, was because only 37 per cent of students currently enrolled in secondary schools are in the science stream.

In 2012, it was reported that less than 20 per cent of the 472,541 students who sat for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia were science stream students -- a long way from the 60:40 target ratio for science and arts students.

Making science and technology the focus of the day is not a new or surprising development. The competitive edge of a nation will, after all, be decided by its technological advancement, skills, and research and development abilities. This focus has, however, opened up once again the longstanding science versus humanities debate.

Will the stress on science relegate arts to a position of lesser significance? Will the development of culture and the arts languish with this swing towards science? The nation's aggressive emphasis on science has apparently been identified as a factor that has caused arts and the social sciences to be pushed to the side.

At the universities, students are already gravitating towards the programmes bluntly referred to as the cari makan courses that will enable them to easily secure jobs, preferably well-paying ones, when they graduate. These are the science-related courses and, to a certain extent, business management programmes.

A music class at SM Seafield in Subang Jaya, Selangor.
Will the stress on science relegate the arts to a position of lesser significance?

There are the public universities that cannot fill up all the places offered for social science. Many steer clear of history, philosophy and other similar courses. Humanities students appear to be where they are not because they want to be, but because they had no choice.

"Students who do go for these courses are usually those who are content to just grab anything in order to secure a place in university," a lecturer shared.

More scholarships are also allocated to those pursuing science-related courses at graduate and postgraduate levels. A general lack of awareness of the job opportunities available upon graduation is another factor why students shy away from humanities courses. Those who take history, for instance, need not necessarily become historians, but most are unaware of other possible career paths.

The dwindling number of students taking up humanities courses has raised concern among educationists who caution that it might lead to the humanities -- which encompass courses such as literature, philosophy, music, art and history -- becoming irrelevant in future.

It has been observed that the younger generation is losing interest in what has been described as "the finer things in life" -- the languages, culture and arts -- in the pursuit of high-technology. They are turning away from the so-called "softer fields" to focus on areas they think offer brighter career prospects.

An academic noted that the arts were coming to be perceived as increasingly irrelevant and less necessary to modern life, as compared to other forms of knowledge.

"This should not be so. Aesthetics reflect a person's most important values in a concrete way, providing the impetus to seek even greater personal growth and achievement. Promoting Malaysian creativity will nurture a society that is more appreciative of beauty and the arts."

Lopsided emphasis placed on science and technology had resulted in some universities in the West closing down certain departments or reducing the number of academics teaching specific disciplines. The declining popularity of humanities is also glaringly obvious going by the type of courses offered by private institutions of higher learning. Hardly any offer humanities-related disciplines such as history, geography, literature or philosophy. The reason is simple -- as private educational institutions are market driven, it would not make economic sense to offer courses that are not in demand.

It is a vicious cycle indeed. Something will inevitably get sidelined when stress is placed on something else. While no one is denying the importance of technological advancement, Malaysians need to balance the development of technology with social and cultural considerations. Everyone, whether a scientist or an engineer, lives and works within a social system. Ultimately, too, it is those with excellent communication, leadership and critical thinking skills who are most likely to land the jobs.

Chok Suat Ling | Chok Suat Ling is New Sunday Times Editor NST Opinion Columnist 01 May 2014

History: It shapes the thinking of young minds

I REFER to the article by Dr Paridah Abd Samad ("The day the Malays decided not to be fooled" -- NST, April 1). Her article took the stance of "us against them". She has selected events to support her view of us against them. However, she neglected to mention it was Datuk Onn Jaafar who later persuaded Umno to relax the conditions for citizenship and to make Umno a multiracial party.

Onn formed Parti Kemerdekaan Tanah Melayu, a party for all Malaysians to lead a better quality of life. He was a visionary for the Malays and Malayans.

History should be told as it is. To say the Malayan Union idea was a plan to punish the Malays is Dr Paridah's view.

To mention that the British administration was sympathetic to the non-Malays and as a result, Malayan Union favoured non-Malays because of the presence of Tun Tan Cheng Lock is reinforcing this attitude.

It must not be forgotten that Onn was also considered as being close to the British and, as such, his request for federal legislative elections to be held in 1956 was rejected by the Malays.

Let us teach our young that the Malays fought to establish themselves as a race, to quote Hang Tuah "Tak kan Melayu hilang dari muka bumi...". This is acceptable and it is good for the psyche of a Malay 15-year-old and the non-Malay teenager would agree.

They should see the struggle, sufferings and sacrifices of the immigrant races like the Javanese, Indians and Chinese, who came initially to earn some money and return home to settle in bliss.

But, alas, this was not to be as what they earned was mere pittance as labourers. In the end, after untold miseries experienced during the Japanese occupation and the Malayan Emergency, they decided to make this ... I used to teach my students "syurga dalam dunia" ... their ... "tanah tumpah darah ...".

The young should be told all the three races forged together to form a united nation on Aug 31, 1957 and later Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963. No one child should be made to feel his existence in this country is due to the magnanimous action of someone. Our education system should build confidence, pride and love for the nation in every child as envisioned in the Razak Report.

The history teacher is a dangerous animal. It is how things are put together by him that will shape the thinking of young Malaysians.

Let us use the syllabus and the textbooks and right attitude of trained history teachers to build a united Malaysia. Let us leave the interpretation of events to the academics and politicians.

Valli G. Rajoo, Petaling Jaya, Selangor NST Opinion letters-to-the-editor 02 May 2014

Celebrating the worker

WORKERS' Day was first officially celebrated in 1973 when May 1 was declared a public holiday by the then deputy prime minister in recognition of the workers' contribution to the nation's progress. In many respects, this symbolises the history of labour relations in the country. It cannot be said that Malaysian workers did not actually struggle for the benefits that they currently enjoy, but rather, like many other struggles in the country, including the fight for independence, peace characterises the journey. Within the history of the labour movement in this country, the government, through its experience with the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) strikes in 1963, realised that workers should be allowed to organise so that labour disputes can be solved without stoppages and disruptions to the economy.

Several legislation were promulgated to facilitate what were win-win compromises between employers and employees, the latter represented by their trades unions. Upon these conciliatory agreements were developed the rapid growth and economic prosperity that are this country's economic trade mark. In short, all economically productive Malaysians have consciously invested in the country's overall future. Hence, the importance of commemorating Workers' Day in a way that this awareness is truly appreciated and internalised, for nobody would knowingly seek to destroy what they have built. Malaysians must be disabused of the class notion that seeks to divide employers and employees, which gives rise to feelings of resentment.

Indeed, it is fair to suggest that already, the country is blessed with the understanding that a "winner takes all" solution is not constructive. Instead, the imperative is to accommodate the need of every citizen for gainful employment. One of the most urgent is to increase the number of women in the workforce that has been hovering beneath the 50 per cent mark forever. A good way of overcoming labour shortage in the country, which is threatening to swamp Malaysia with imported labour and all its attendant problems, is to find ways and means of releasing more women into the workforce. Flexible working hours can, therefore, be a solution to the nation's labour woes.

Fortune smiles on Malaysia. The level of education resulting from a policy of near universal education is producing the type of human capital necessary for a post-industrial economy. Given the labour shortage, more than flexible working hours though, is necessary to encourage women to remain in the workforce. Care support for children and parents is pivotal. Community crèches and care centres as well as workplace nurseries are indispensable if all potential labour is to be absorbed. Labour, the defining factor of production, cannot be taken for granted. A take-it-or-leave-it attitude by employers and the authorities is wasteful and must be immediately rectified.

NST Opinion Editorial 02 May 2014

Razak's imperium on professionalism

IN anticipation of sovereign independence from British colonial rule, Tun Abdul Razak was entrusted by the country's first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, to look into the formation of a Foreign Service.

In early 1957, he saw to the despatch of the first batch of Foreign Service officers to the United Kingdom for training. Subsequently, batches of newly-recruited Foreign Service officers were sent for training to a few selected Commonwealth countries as well.

These essentially induction-based training programmes were to familiarise our pioneering diplomats with the world of international relations and diplomacy. The foreign induction training programmes included a period of attachment in an overseas diplomatic mission of the respective sponsoring country.

This was to provide our novice diplomats hands-on working experience in conducting professional diplomacy at a diplomatic outpost. As the country progressed, it became obvious that such ad hoc foreign sponsored diplomatic training programmes were inadequate for a variety of reasons.

Former prime minister Tun Abdul Razak’s desire to inject a new sense of purpose and direction in statecraft may be viewed from two broad perspectives. They are, firstly, his deep and abiding concern over national and regional security matters, and secondly, his world view.

When Razak assumed leadership of the country in 1970, his drive to ensure a responsive and efficient bureaucracy increasingly turned its attention to the professional needs of the public service in conducting Malaysia's international relations and diplomacy.

In a sense, this urge came naturally to him given his penchant to fashion a modern and efficient administration.

The professional needs of the bureaucracy in facing the fast expanding challenges and opportunities in conducting the country's foreign affairs and diplomacy, thus, came under close scrutiny of the Tun.

He strove to ensure the grooming of a new breed of public officers capable of handling the country's external relations in ways that would ensure the maximisation of Malaysia's national interests, security and stability.

Razak's desire to inject a new sense of purpose and direction in statecraft may be viewed from two broad perspectives.

They are, firstly, his deep and abiding concern over national and regional security matters, and secondly, his world view. Both these overriding concerns merit elaboration.

The Tun's predilection for socio-economic development and progress was directly linked to national and regional stability and security.

A recurrent feature in his thinking and approach to this challenge was his firm believe that they are inextricably intertwined with socio-economic development and progress and vice versa.

From the very outset of his political career, the Tun had stressed that, "The greatest safeguard of Malaysia's sovereignty is not only defence, but even more so, development."

He rationalised that there would be no lasting stability and peace in the country without socio-economic development; just as there would be no progress without durable stability and peace. For newly independent, multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia, socio-economic development, therefore, had to be closely linked with national stability and security.

Hence, as a matter of deliberate policy, socio-economic development and progress were enmeshed with national security and stability considerations in the country's successive five-year plans.

The country had experienced two very real threats to its stability and security. In fact, its very existence as a nation state was in the balance early in its life.

In terms of chronology, the first was the continuous attempts by communist insurgents, since 1948, to overthrow the legitimate government through violent means.

This threat, which is euphemistically referred to as the Emergency which lasted for 12 long years, was eventually put down through a multi-pronged political, socio-economic and tactical strategies, along with critical military assistance extended particularly by Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

The other was the unexpected Indonesian Konfrontasi aimed at "crushing newly-formed Malaysia", which was finally resolved through vigorous bilateral and multilateral diplomatic efforts.

Another threat that become heightened and which impacted forcefully on the Tun's security consciousness was the fierce protracted wars that raged in neighbouring Indo-China.

The tragic experience among Southeast Asian states of encountering devastating conflicts and prolonged wars reinforced his determination to imbue a greater awareness and appreciation in the public service of the co-relationship between socio-economic development and national security, stability and durable peace.

The Tun envisioned that knowledge and work skills among public officers in formulating and managing public policies, programmes and projects relating to these concerns had to be upgraded commensurate with the seriousness of the threats they posed.

As an integral of this overarching objective, he insisted that the security implications in national policies and measures are to be inculcated into the thought processes of the public service as a whole.

He envisaged that the most effective way to actualise this goal was through professional training at all levels of the administration.

This thinking largely explains the Tun's rather unusual institutional arrangement to amalgamate strategic studies training along with that geared for diplomatic and foreign affairs management under the Centre for International Relations and Strategic Studies that he set up in INTAN in 1978.

The impact of the Tun's world view on professional training in the public service is best discussed separately in the next article.

Datuk Dr. Ananda Kumaraseri  NST Opinion Columnist 02 May 2014

Leaders must have heart

OFFICIAL visits and high-level meetings between and among presidents, prime ministers, the royalty and other leaders are planned ahead of time.

The circle of advisers prepare the official texts of speeches minding every word, concept, suggestion, ensuring clarity of polices, even designing ambiguities, opening pathways for further ties.

On being welcomed at Subang Airport in October 1966 three years after the formation of Malaysia, a few months after the ending of the Indonesian Konfrontasi in August 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson said: "I feel that I know you because Malaysia, like the United States, is a federation of states which were once colonies of Great Britain and because Malaysia is like the United States, a nation of many diverse peoples, different religions and different cultures.

United States President Barack Obama speaking at the meeting with young leaders of Southeast Asia in Universiti Malaya during his visit to Malaysia last month.
"Here, as in America, you are working to reduce racial tensions so that all men may live in peace with one another.

"Malaysia, like the United States, has been making great social and economic progress, based on the concept of personal initiative.

"That concept, that a man should be free to make the best of his life as he sees fit, is one that the people of America cherish. But though I feel that I know you, I have come here to learn from you. I know that your nation is a model of what may be done by determined and farsighted men in Southeast Asia."

What other people say about us allows for affirmation of our national identity.

Johnson visited Felda Labu, where a village and school were named after him. He also tried his hand at rubber tapping, at a time when rubber trees and estates were respected as income sources for the people and country. The idyllic peace in Malaysia contrasted with the napalm bombings and killings in Vietnam with destruction and losses such conflicts bring to all people.

In 1998, the then US vice-president Al Gore came for the Asia Pacific Economic Council Meeting.

His cavalier treatment of Malaysia as the host created a furore in diplomatic protocols in the region.

His support of the opposition in Malaysia then was considered "megaphone diplomacy".

The then minister of foreign affairs, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, accused him of "gross interference in the internal affairs of the country... Malaysia finds the incitement by the US government to lawlessness by certain elements within the country to use undemocratic means in order to overthrow a constitutionally elected government, most abhorrent".

Tan Sri Noordin Sopiee, then the chief executive of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), took a full page in the New Straits Times as a citizen to advertise his abhorrence to Al Gore's behaviour.

Malaysians, from government and opposition and throughout the land, closed ranks and there was the spirit of patriotism against a person expected to become the president of the United States.

Lately, former president Bill Clinton had, in fact, visited Malaysia in a private capacity.

The 44th president, Barrack Obama, visited Malaysia last month for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. If LBJ's visit was during the period of the domino theory and the rise of communism, Obama's visit is during the Islamic domino theory and global movement of moderates against extremism.

Obama asserts American interest in the region: "...because you're home to more than half of humanity, Asia will largely define the contours of the century ahead. This is why America has refocused our attention on the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region".

During the meeting at Universiti Malaya with young leaders in Southeast Asia, in response to a question regarding regret to guide the younger generation, Obama said: "I regret not having spent more time with my mother. She got cancer. It happened very fast, in about six months. There was a stretch of time where I was so busy with my own life that I didn't always reach out and communicate with her and ask her how she was doing and tell her about things.

"What you remember in the end, I think, is the people you love. I didn't every single day, or at least more often, just spend time with her and find out what she was thinking and what she was doing, because she had been such an important part of my life."

There is a time for leaders to assert principles and policies. But in the final analysis, leaders must have heart and be seen as human and not too ready to judge and pass sentences on others.

Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid  | Writer is a deputy vice-chancellor, INTI Laureate International University NST Opinion Columnist 02 May 2014