Achieving national unity plan begins with children


I SPOTTED some colourful drawings pasted on a shopping mall’s community board recently. They were products of a colouring contest for children that had been organised in conjunction with the festive season.

For the contest, participants had to colour the images of three figures representing some of the ethnic groups in Malaysia. Taking a closer look, I noticed the skin of the figures were coloured in different shades of intensity. To me, this indicates that Malaysians are very aware of the different skin colour of the people in this country even at a young age.

Last week, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin launched the National Unity 2021-2030 Blueprint, which has three objectives: strengthen unity and national integration based on the Federal Constitution and Rukun Negara (National Philosophy); form a national identity with character, patriotism, the attitude of caring, tolerance, mutual respect and responsibility; and produce Malaysians who appreciate and foster unity. These objectives are supposed to be achieved within 10 years.

For me, the context of unity is often ambiguous and defined in multiple dimensions. It can refer to an integration process within a homogeneous as well as heterogeneous society. Being a multicultural nation, we are certainly eyeing unity in the latter context.

Children learn about unity from external resources rather than self-exposure, with parents, teachers, the media and society contributing to their knowledge.

For children, the best period for learning is during their early growth stage, i.e. the first 1,000 days after birth. It is at this stage that they should be allowed to explore their horizons, including diversity and disparity, instead of being taught to differentiate between things – subconsciously, of course.

Taking ethnicity as an example, stereotypical perception towards skin colour begins to form in their mind from external sources, and this is reinforced through segregation (for example going to school with pupils of the same ethnic group) in their socialisation process as they grow older.

The concept of unity should thus be instilled in children starting from when they are still toddlers. Parents must always be aware of the language they use when describing other people to their children.

Through behavioural interpretation, children can easily receive the messages in a way that might not be the best for them.

With the current political, social and economic structure of our society, would it be possible for unity in diversity to become the lifeblood of Malaysians?

This is possible but only by implementing affirmative action to eradicate bigoted mindsets in society and teaching our children to wholeheartedly and naturally accept differences with empathy and kindness. So, how about only one colour for all Malaysians?

IRIS NG PEI YI

Petaling Jaya

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