I APPLAUD our National Science Council for its plan to draw up a national vaccine development roadmap, which aims to make Malaysia a country that is able to produce vaccines for humans within 10 years.
The plan was announced by our capable young Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin, in the Dewan Rakyat during his winding-up speech on the Budget 2021 debate on Wednesday. Khairy said the roadmap is expected to be ready by the second quarter of 2021.
This is definitely a great start for us to catch up to our peers in this region. However, I cannot help but feel the motivation for this is a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic situation we are in now and seeing our deficiency in this area. On the other hand, our neighbour down south is very much into this game and, since decades ago, has cultivated and established itself as the hub for biotechnology in this region.
All the research centres, manpower, resources and production facilities plus supporting industries in Singapore were built up over the past 20 years and I have Malaysian friends working in different sectors in that industry now.
Malaysia is sadly lost in not being able to unlock the full potential of her citizens, especially the younger generation. We are quantitatively sliding backward compared to the rest of the world and the region. Hence, I would implore for the sake of this country’s future and younger generation that the minister goes deeper into not just a vaccine roadmap because of this current pandemic but to future needs that can spur the growth of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in schools and industry as well. This covers a wide range of roadmaps, from energy, agricultural and industry to artificial intelligence (AI), data sciences and all new areas of innovation that come under the ambit of his ministry.
He should also address the elephant in the room by engaging with the Education Ministry to get on with real and strategic moves for STEM and English for our children. Right now, the divergence of our education system into national, vernacular, international (for International General Certificate of Secondary Education and International Baccalaureate), home and religious schools and so on means most parents are not convinced that the current format works effectively for everyone. How can we even plan for a roadmap when none of the roads are going in the same direction now?
Ten years from now, vaccine development may not be necessary if we cannot be competitive or effective. Ten years from now, we may need new development and innovations for our young ones.
I do hope the minister will set in motion a larger move to restore the position of Malaysia and our future generations as the hub of Asean with this splendid endeavour. Start with a process of reflection and crystallise into action a concrete and systematic approach to nation-building. I wish him all the best.