TOO often, when caught in a crisis, we respond by applying bandages. Two situations come to mind: the seemingly intractable racial polarisation among our young people (example, university students of different races refuse to share hostel rooms), and the irrelevance of local degree qualifications to the job market.
The national service scheme is one such bandage. We all agree that national unity is a major concern and acknowledge that racial integration has been well articulated in Vision 2020 as the countrys number one challenge. However, national service is limited to three months and only selected candidates are given the opportunity.
Creating and sustaining national unity is a life-long process. It should start from the cradle, not at 17 years of age, hoping for a quick fix.
Our school system is to be blamed for the current racial polarisation. Divided by race from kindergarten, through primary and then secondary schools; deliberate efforts at integration to bridge the divide must be made through the creation of opportunities for our young people to interact.
Feedback from older Malaysians who had benefited from mission schools attests that classmates and schoolmates from other ethnic groups number among their closest friends. Over the last 30 years, we have built walls of difference rather than constructed platforms of common purpose.
There are 40,000 unemployed graduates in the country. Most studied academic subjects that bear no relevance to the current job market. To make them employable, the Government has introduced the unemployed graduate training scheme financed by the Human Resource Development Fund from funds contributed by employers.
It would seem that university graduates, too, are not adequately qualified to function in the world. Is this not an example of third world mentality? The fault this time is the low quality of our university education. Universiti Malaya which was once regarded as the top Malaysian university and rated among the top dozen universities in the region, is today still the top Malaysian university, but its position in the region is in the high 30s.
Singaporean, Hong Kong, Japanese and Australian universities seem to continually hog the top spots. Our universities are well endowed with first world infrastructure, but where is the corresponding commitment to academic excellence?
There was a time when universities were focal points for the discovery of new knowledge. Our universities are now fundamentally teaching rather than research institutions. At least the minimum expectation is that its graduates would have the basic skills and competencies to function in a commercial organisation. Fundamental skills include literacy in the English language, computer proficiency and the ability to communicate and interact with others.
For the Government to have to intervene to retrain unemployed graduates, it would seem obvious that these skills were not developed at university. Yet another bandage to plug the gap which should have been the responsibility of the universities in the first place.
While living in Manila in 1978 as Visiting Professor of the Asian Institute of Management, I was appalled by the poor road conditions there. My Filipino friends informed me that roads in the Philippines had a useful life of one year only, as the objective was as much to create employment as to provide infrastructure. I felt this was twisted economic logic as poor roads meant extra transport costs and hindered economic growth, which should be the real source of employment.
Fortunately, Malaysias infrastructure is of first world standard. Roads and buildings are built to last. But the support of regular maintenance has not been a consistent requirement. Buildings, drains and parks show obvious signs of ageing, disrepair and neglect.
The lack of sustainability of our infrastructure on a continuing basis is a critical weakness in the management of our assets. We are good on hardware, but deficient on software.
Rising Social Problems
Recent announcements of a surge in economic growth of 6% going to 7% are most encouraging. We have first class economic planners. But our social planners are third class as we continue to grapple with an increasing frequency of violent social crimes, which have been hogging the media for much of this year. It would seem that theft, robbery and rape are now no longer the in thing if they are not accompanied by assault, murder and loss of life.
In many third world countries citizens are afraid to venture out alone. The reason is robbery, due to high unemployment, poverty and lack of opportunity. There are economic reasons for social crimes.
In Malaysia there is no such justification, and yet perpetrators commit these crimes because of greed, lust, vengeance, drugs and the easy life, with seeming impunity. What has gone wrong with our society?
Deficiency in Execution
Vision 2020 is an example of first world thinking, a robust vision of what we want the nation to be by the year 2020. It spells out our economic expectations as well as the society we desire.
What falls desperately short is execution. It is now 13 years since Vision 2020 was first unveiled. While economic achievements are being tightly monitored and backed by impressive statistics, the same vigorous attention is not given to social mores.
Poor execution is a common Malaysian weakness.
Creating a Civil Society
The root cause of our social dilemma is the lack of a civil society where there is respect for law and order, and in which we treat others as we wish others would treat us. Three interrelated contributing forces in the formation of a civil society are upbringing, education and religion.
Proper nurturing in the home, holistic education at school and spiritual awakening help shape us to be good and responsible members of society. Any attempt to revitalise our society should seek answers in these root causes rather than apply knee-jerk responses to current social crimes.
The way forward, above all, is to have architects as well as drivers for our social vision who possess first world mentality.
In the process, our young people will also be developed to be leaders who will give priority to prevention rather than cure, focus on the continuing rather than the initial value of our scarce resources, and safeguard the dignity and rights of others.
o Dr Tarcisius CThin is a life associate member of WIM and Chairperson of WIMs Membership Committee
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