I WAS not done the last time, so let’s continue our talk about the economy.
In the last article, I wrote that we must spend our way out of the recession and we must act now. We have to spend it on the right things, for the right reasons, using the right people, at the right value.
In the ’80s, we spent on massive highway infrastructure and got ourselves out of the recession. As I said, today we need a different solution that will hit various sectors that will have an overall impact not just on themselves, but also our fundamental way of life.
Where then shall we stake our economic salvation to spark growth in our economy and blaze a path to recovery of the Malaysian nation as a progressive one that will pave our way to be developed?
I say we build on education. Fundamental education. We reform, revamp and rebuild our education infrastructure, systems, administration and human resources. To be specific, primary and secondary education.
Think about it – the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) is to be built at a cost of RM44bil. Imagine the number of people, companies and all and sundry subsectors that will benefit from a massive capital investment like this in education, not just in the short term but in the long term as well.
Today, Malaysia has in actual fact, a dilapidated, outdated and obsolete – primary and secondary – education infrastructure and system. Our administration and human resources are geared towards upholding this obsolete education model. We need a full revamp and rebuild.
Most public schools are in shambles – old and poorly constructed and poorly maintained buildings; run-down facilities with no air conditioning in this tropical climate. Basically, the hardware of our schools needs a total replacement.
We also need a full revamp of the teaching software – the administration and teaching human resources currently operating our education system. Over the last 30 years, our obsession with seemingly racist policies and religious fundamentalism has produced an ethnic and religious-centric education system, curriculum and teaching profession and administration that is not capable of producing a scientifically and technologically advanced and humanistic progressive majority.
Why else would we have people in government and authority making stupid pronouncements that liberalism and pluralism are dangers to our society?
If you don’t believe our education is so bad, I give you Exhibit No.1: a public university that proclaims so-called religious-based “scientific findings” such as that the various geological age of the Earth did not happen. And you know your education system is in trouble when your professors start theorising that dinosaurs were actually ‘djinns’.
We need a complete revamp of curriculum – what should be taught and not taught in our public schools and who are really qualified to be teachers and administrators for the education of our children. And we need new, well-designed and well-operated places for them to learn in.
For half of the ECRL budget, say RM20bil, we can start the investment and pump-prime the economy beyond our wildest dream. In addition, this spending will fundamentally change the majority of our society to one that is modern and progressive instead of the one we have today, backwards and inward-looking.
It would be something we could call The Great Malaysian Education Revamp Investment.
I would take this initiative away from the current Education Ministry. A ministry that has produced this failed education system cannot be entrusted to carry out a revamp of this nature. An academic, especially one who is steeped in an education based on religious beliefs, is not equipped to lead a major reformation and capital investment initiative. This is a major professional corporate-level investment initiative.
It has to be carried out by a select group of corporate and education professionals supported in the team by various governmental functions on-loan from ministries such as Works, Finance and Legal. This must be a one-stop centre special projects task force. This task force should be separated into
two segments, namely Education Reform and Infrastructure Rebuild.
It is really not that difficult to see what kind of schools we need, both in terms of infrastructure and curriculum. Go to the international schools in this country which cater primarily for children of first world countries – get their blueprint, work with them to understand why they do what they do and implement them.
Look at their infrastructure, see what they have as teachers, what and how they teach, their content and curriculum, and how they administer – and copy them.
If you want to become developed, follow those who already are. Life is that simple.
To all you ethnocentric and nationalistic purveyors of such pride, I have this reminder. You do not go to Nasa and say, “Show me how to build the Saturn V rocket so I can get to the moon and then decide I need to modify its fuel mixture because I need the ingredients to reflect the national identity.”
That doesn’t work. You will be blown to pieces at the launchpad, which is exactly what happened to our education system the day we decided to do that. You want to reflect national identity? Don’t change the fuel. Paint the fuel tanks with our flags, that’s all.
I hope people get the hint.
Hence, this is what we should be investing in – a developed educational infrastructure, curriculum, teaching resources and a small but efficient administrative capability of international standards. Let’s spend tens of billions on it as capital investment. The rewards will be astronomical and will be far reaching all the way into generations.
It will fundamentally change our society. Imagine international schools for our public school system for primary and secondary education. Imagine the society that creates. Imagine, imagine!
So you may ask, what then should we do with our current infrastructure and resources? You do not move from your house in the ghetto to a spanking new bungalow in the suburbs and bring along your old furniture, do you? You transition only the ones that can fit into this new home and leave behind all the rest.
Sounds harsh? Of course it is. If something or someone is capable enough to be part of a developed infrastructure and resources, you test them and take it with you. If they don’t, you leave them behind. Eventually, close them down one by one until the entire ghetto is gone. Then you bulldoze all of them down.
Some will say that what I am saying is utopian, idealistic or not achievable. Here is my answer to that. Look around the world. Don’t look around underneath our tempurung. Changes are everywhere and they are coming fast. This is the 21st century. You either get on with it or you are going to be left behind. Industries are closing down and being replaced by those we never even imagined before. Never imagined.
Where are the telephone operators at the exchanges today? They don’t exist anymore. Anybody using landline phones in homes lately? Are we holding a telephone or a camera? Or is it a miniature laptop or a recorder or a photo album or ... oh well. I don’t know what it is anymore. Cry all you want, but the taxi industry is going to cease to exist. Satellite TV? Wait till 5G comes along.
Disruptions in industries are the norm. In the 21st century, it is moving at breakneck speed. Sometimes I wonder how long general medical practitioners or pharmacists, as we know them today, can survive, or even conveyancing legal practitioners.
Education is not a sacred cow, especially if we want our nation to survive. We either get on with the programme or we wait for our time to perish like that proverbial frog in the slow-boiling pot.
We must change or die. Going back to economics, we are actually living precariously on borrowed time on the credit of our oil money. The other parts of our economy chip in here and there, but it’s very much oil money today. We need to change that narrative now and produce citizens who can compete and create new economies for the 21st century.
We cannot have this education system that turns our people into sheep, rather than thought-provoking industry creators and innovators. We need to stop this nonsense.
If we continue on this path, we will see the collapse of our civilisation. Sounds alarmist? No, I am being a realist. People complain that our university graduates are still earning starting salaries of those about 20 years ago. It’s true, but it’s not the employers’ fault. As Bill Clinton used to say, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
The economy will pay what its cost structure can stand for it to be viable. You can fix a minimum wage but if it cannot sell because no one can afford to pay for it, it will close down. And then no one gets paid. There is a reason the Human Resources Minister suggested that we look at African labour.
This is because our other neighbours’ wages have risen to that of what we pay that they don’t have to come to work here anymore. This is because our economy has not grown with the growth of our population, that’s why.
The signs are all there to see, but we refuse to see it. The worse thing is, our civil service and government-linked company sub-economies have artificially provided shelter and complacency among the majority population, fully financed by taxpayer debts and diminishing oil money. I guarantee you that the retorts to this article, as was to many of my articles, will come from such subsidised mindsets.
Today in Malaysia, mediocrity and unproductivity is rewarded. This cannot, and will not, last for long. We need to change our condition. That change must come with education. Since our economy needs vigorous pump-priming, we might as well go all in with massive investment in education. And in that, we need a true revamp and rebuild of our education.
Let’s just do it.
Siti Kasim is a proud liberal, a non-conformist and a believer in the inalienable rights of individuals to choose their own path as long as no harm is caused to others.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Sunday Star.