Our country belongs to our children

  • Over the Top
  • Tuesday, 26 May 2020

IN today’s column, I want to talk about a little storybook by Enid Blyton that only now resounds deafeningly in my mind as an important contribution to the idea of nation-building.

I can never get used to the strange looks I receive whenever I go to a university in Malaysia and tell the students that this country belongs to them and that they not only own this country but also have two different kinds of “servants” – the civil servants and the ministers and prime minister.

Come to think of it, I get the same look of astonishment, bewilderment, surprise and even shock from the lecturers, too!

“What’s this?” they must be wondering.

“Tun Mahathir or Tan Sri Muhyiddin are my ‘servants’? What is this crazy professor talking about? Doesn’t he know that Tun Mahathir once held all the power, which is now wielded by another person? Is not Perdana Putra in Putrajaya the centre of power in Malaysia?”

Sigh. Even PhD holders can misunderstand democracy and self-governance. That’s why most people have remained silent after Parliament suddenly went “silent”.

The book, the first in the Naughtiest Girl series, is about a girl named Elizabeth who is very angry with her parents for sending her to a not-so expensive boarding school instead of a posh finishing school. She decides to be so naughty and troublesome that she will be sent back home.

She, however, soon finds out that the school is rather progressive. For example, the school allows the children to keep pets.

But the most interesting feature, which is the subject of this article, is its students’ self-governing system!

Two of the senior Upper Sixth Formers, a boy and a girl, are appointed by student votes to be co-chairpersons of the school’s weekly proceedings.

The class monitors and prefects make up the “legislative” body and the whole school attend weekly meetings where rewards and punishment for wrongdoings are discussed and deliberated.

The teachers sit silently in the background unless called upon to help with some serious decisions.

The first interesting thing that the school does in this “student parliament” is to collect all the students’ money. From the total in the collection box, students are each allotted an equal amount of pocket money to be spent when they go to town.

Thus, rich or poor, the students have the same budget.

If students need extra money for important items, they can put in a request during the weekly meeting. Everyone hears the request, which is deliberated by the “legislators”, that is, the prefects and monitors.

Any wrongdoings are also deliberated at these weekly gatherings, where the accused can defend himself in an open forum. Of course, Elizabeth’s cases come up frequently in these proceedings.

Although the book is a work of fiction, I am sure Blyton was projecting her political views about how Britons should raise their children and the kind of country she wanted Britain to be.

Now, 45 years after first reading that book, I pose the same question to my brethren Malaysians.

What should we teach our children about the aspects of governing their own country and home? Where does this appear in the school curriculum and university syllabus?

Of course, educationists can point out that once upon a time, schools had Tatarakyat or Civic Studies, and that there were also the MPU (Mata Pelajaran Pengajian Umum or General Studies subjects) taught at all universities.

But if you asked university graduates whether they knew that they own this country, none would have said yes.

I am also completely amused by the responses when I say every drop of petroleum from federal and state-owned land belong to the people of Malaysia, which means our children.

The parents may sell pisang goreng or nasi lemak, or are car mechanics or padi farmers. Whatever the job, those drops of oil belong to them and their children, not Petronas.

Those precious drops are supposed to fund investments in the education, housing, old age security and healthcare of all our children.

I used to joke that the expensive cars driven by vice-chancellors of the public universities belonged to the students because their parents paid taxes. I would also dramatically point to a column or a beam in the lecture hall and declared that it belonged to my children via the hefty taxes that I paid.

Finally, I would also challenge the students by asking them if all two million graduates in Malaysia would like a free home? You could hear a pin drop immediately after that.

Finally, somebody would ask, “How can that happen?” I smiled and said all 1.3 million civil servants were entitled to government housing for free. I once lived in a government flat. Although small, it kept us dry.

So, why are the “servants” given free housing when the “owners” of the country have to pay for a two-bedroom flat shared with 10 others? As the “owners” of the country, you own petroleum, land, buildings and the 1MDB treasures. So why don’t you get the benefits?

All our children are entitled to all the wealth that the state and federal government owns. It doesn’t belong to the political parties, MPs, ministers or civil service machinery. It belongs to all the citizens of this country. With their salaries, housing and pensions, civil servants benefit directly from this wealth. What about our children’s housing and pensions?

Our schools have sidestepped the question of ownership of this country and the idea of self-governance. Our universities do not elaborate on the right of all the citizenry to the wealth of this country. Enid Blyton first posed the question of nation ownership and self-governance to her people and their children 80 years ago. When will we do the same?

Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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