December 6th, 2016

Do we really need unity?

Forcing us to mix may actually cause resentment and discord, instead of promoting harmony.

LAST weekend at the Putra World Trade Centre, one Umno leader after another rose to the podium to call for unity.

Some were calling for Malay unity, some for party unity, some for Barisan Nasional unity and a small number for national unity. They talked about different things but they used the same word.

The desire for unity is not new. In our own history, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra once said, “We are all Malaysians. This is the bond that unites us. Let us always remember that unity is our fundamental strength as a people and as a nation.”

Fast forward to more recently, the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) was established on Sept 11, 2013.

According to a government website, the NUCC is an effort of na­­tional reconciliation to reduce ra­cial polarisation and build a uni­ted Malaysian nation.

The NUCC was supposed to draft some sort of blueprint for national unity. But until today, I have not seen any real advocacy of such a blueprint to the public.

The NUCC submitted a report to the Prime Minister on June 19, 2015, and after that I am not sure what happened to it.

To me, the biggest hurdle to national unity is the structure of our political system. Our politics is dominated by ethnic-based political parties. Being ethnic-based, their survival is dependent on us, the voters, continuing to be divided along ethnic lines.

If voters are no longer thinking as different ethnic groups, then the ethnic-based parties will find it difficult to survive.

If a Malay feels that it is OK to have a non-Malay prime minister, if a Chinese feels it is OK to have an ustaz as their representative, if a Hindu feels it is OK to have an atheist as their spokesperson, then it would be meaningless to remain as a Malay, Chinese or Indian party.

The same applies to the Melanau, Bidayuh, Dayak, Kadazan, Seranis and so on.

Ethnic-based parties need society to remain divided along ethnic lines because otherwise they will not be able to survive.

This is why when any ethnic-based party feels weakened, they will work hard to cleave society.

This is Divide and Rule 101. The more successful you are at dividing society, the more likely you are to rule over them.

But even though the hurdle preventing national unity is not too difficult to identify, there are two bigger questions that should be, but are rarely, asked. The questions are: do we really need unity, and what is unity for?

Most frequently when people in Malaysia talk about unity, we talk about the different ethnic groups mixing with each other. The underlying assumption is that mixing is necessary to foster a “good” society.

I never quite understand this. Why do we really need to mix? Why can’t we just live our lives the way we want, mixing with only those whom we want, and meeting only those whom we want?

That is really how real life works. We talk to our friends. We share stories with people we are comfor­table with.

We do not talk to strangers. We feel awkward when forced to go into unfamiliar territories uninvi­ted. Forcefully “mixing” people is not natural and can in fact be the source of discord.

After all, do we want to have unity or do we actually just want to have peace?

Many people would say that all they want is to ensure Malaysia remains as a peaceful country. But if peace is our target, then why are we clouding it with the demand for unity?

Peace is something that can be achieved without a common language and without a common identity. You can wear your songket, speak Malay, eat patin masak tempoyak, while I can wear a kurta, speak Punjabi and eat rasmalai.

We don’t have to know each other or even meet each other. The country will remain peaceful if we leave each other alone.

Discord may occur, however, if either one of us is made to leave our way of life and adopt the other’s forcefully.

If I were forced to speak Chinese because that is the “national” language, I might get frustrated.

If I were forced to listen to Christian prayers every day because Christians are the majority in that place, then I might become angry.

Or if a school says that I cannot send my son there because we are not Buddhists, then it is very possible my whole family will grow up resenting Buddhism because of that religious quota. In all these examples, it is the attempt to impose a certain definition of unity that is creating discord.

If all we want is peace, then isn’t it a possibility that unity is irrelevant? If peace can be achieved by people living parallel lives, remaining in groups they are comfortable with, peacefully within the group and peacefully in relation to others, should we still divide them in the quest for the illusive unity? Wan Saiful Wan Jan The STAR Home Opinion Columnists Thinking Liberally Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A more inclusive way forward

THE recently concluded National Early Childhood Intervention Conference involved more than 500 families, professionals, therapists, policy makers and NGOs. Much deliberation was carried out to discuss the needs of children with disabilities and to try to chart a way forward.

We would like to share the five important directions that services for children with disability need to take in Malaysia.

Pre-school inclusion

It is vital that the majority of children who are identified with some disability have their preschool education in mainstream kindergartens. For this to happen, we must focus less on segregated, early intervention centres (EIP) and more on inclusion in kindergartens.

We must accelerate the entry of children with disabilities directly into kindergartens. To make this happen, kindergartens must be more open to accept children with disabilities. In addition, EIP workers need to partner with kindergartens and work there to support such an inclusion.

School inclusion

Despite national KPIs and targets for inclusions, the education for children with disabilities in the Education Ministry facilities is still done largely in a segregated fashion.

One obstacle is parents who do not have children with disabilities objecting to such an inclusion. There needs to be a radical shift in their mindset. Inclusion benefits all children and society in the long term. Research has shown that those who have some form of disability will benefit those who do not and vice versa. Another obstacle is that currently less than 10% of all children with special needs are identified by the education department.

Unidentified children number in excess of 500,000. The vast majority are currently in school, unrecognised, with no provision of services and often placed in classes for “weaker children”.

Some schools even reject these children completely. Schools must stop focusing on achievement KPIs but on inclusion KPIs.

Family/Parent Empowerment

Currently, few services developed or run by government agencies and non-governmental agencies have parental involvement in their planning. It is vital that we create opportunities for parents of children with disabilities to play a leadership role.

These parents are better adapted in knowing what their children need and can often design services that better meet the needs of their children. It’s time to listen carefully and clearly to parents and obtain their ideas.

It is also vital that families mentor families in helping them move forward in support of their children.

Training of Professionals

Professionals in the health, welfare and education government agencies have limited training and awareness of children with disabilities and their needs.

Most health professionals are poorly trained.

The undergraduate training in most universities is extremely poor for disability conditions that affect 15% of all our children.

They come out to work with almost no skills or idea on what to do. It is vital for all medical university programmes to change and offer sufficient and adequate training in this area.

In addition, all teachers should have basic training on disabilities as part of their routine undergraduate teacher training courses.

Non-governmental organisations that run early intervention programmes also need opportunities for the staff working with them to get better quality training to improve the quality of early intervention services.

Bring balance to the private/corporate sector

Many parents have expressed their distress to the NECIC regarding the rapid increase in fees charged by private professionals.

It is vital that the care and support of children with disabilities do not become a profiteering business. We recognise that trained professionals should get adequate wages but this should not be unduly inflated. The NECIC strongly advocates that the Government and its agencies work to create a fee schedule so that all forms of therapy for children with disability, including early intervention services, have an upper limit.

In line with the recently passed Allied Health Act, it is timely that such a fee schedule be created.

In addition, unconventional therapies that feed on the fears of parents should be curbed or regulated.

It is important that we all play an active role in ensuring the services developed are to support, not exploit, families.

The NECIC strongly advocates that the Government be more involved in supporting parents who have children with disabilities in their financial needs and in the provision of services.

The current provision of posts within government agencies for critical therapists in the disability area is grossly inadequate.

The Government must be committed to encourage more individuals to work in disability fields by providing job opportunities.

All of society needs to be included in the country’s growth, disabled or otherwise.

Inclusion is not about success but about acceptance.

A successful, developed country is one that leaves no child behind.   DATUK DR AMAR SINGH HSS Immediate past president Current president DR WONG WOAN-YIING The STAR Opinion Letters Tuesday, 6 December 2016