CAP, exemplary by all counts

EACH time an announcement is made about a university conferring honorary awards, chances are it involves an individual. This has been the norm among Malaysian universities.

Certainly they are deserving in most cases, but individuals are also part of communities. And when they act collectively, the impact and contributions are almost always greater than the sum of parts.

One such example is the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) that the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) has proudly chosen to recognise and push the boundaries of distinctions away from just individuals.

This is actually not new since many august institutions have adopted something similar including those of Nobel Peace laureates where any one individual is too “small” to prevail. The fight against climate change or nuclear disarmament are two examples where the Nobel Peace Prize went to two formidable organisations. CAP is no less formidable in the same sense on the basis of which it was conferred the Inaugural Ibn Khaldun Merit Award (Ikma) for its colossal contribution towards global social transformation.

Echoing the universal stature of Ibn Khaldun and his ideas about kinship, solidarity and the relationship between culture and environment, IIUM introduced Ikma to elevate his scholarly legacy for the world to reflect on. It is intended to highlight the value of organisational effort within the community and to promote its achievements as positive role models for both the government and non-governmental sectors in delivering distinctive community service across humanity.

The award recognises those who consistently endeavour towards such objectives in advancing sustainable development to be more participatory, directly or indirectly, in bringing about the global social transformation.

CAP, as the first recipient, is no stranger to this given the untold contributions it champions ranging from consumer rights to interests of the underprivileged and marginalised members of the community for almost half a century. Even universities cannot claim such achievements.

Over the years, CAP expanded its role to cover environmental protection and monitoring; promoting environmental education, training and capacity-building as well as research. It also partners with other agencies; and cooperates with other regional and international bodies in spreading the best way to manage such issues. More recently it embraced the concept of sustainable development as a culmination of it all.

In so doing, CAP’s wide-ranging efforts in rooting sustainable development through participation, advocacy and research, have brought numerous benefits to Malaysian society as a whole and also globally. In summary, CAP has been successful in advancing community or individual actions for greater accountability on the part of the government and corporate sectors.

Since its establishment in 1970, CAP has diligently highlighted the rights and interests of Malaysians from all walks of life especially the deprived and disenfranchised members of society. It took bold steps to solve innumerable problems faced by just about anyone and on anything.

With the tagline “giving a voice to the little people” this non-profit, independent organisation ensures the right of consumers to food, housing, health care, sanitation facilities, public transport, education and a clean and healthy environment. This started at a time when such awareness was still very low and terms like B40 were not fashionable.

Yet CAP stood its ground without compromise in discharging its responsibility. It is no wonder that it manages between 3,000 and 4,000 complaints from the public annually ranging from issues of poor quality consumer products and food adulteration to delivery of shoddy services and affordable and quality housing.

It has successfully managed to resolve no fewer than 100,000 cases since its establishment and this is no ordinary feat especially for an organisation with limited funding and a modest human resource of 35 staff members. Still, to date it has more than 300 affiliated members in addressing globalised and digitalised changes worldwide while interacting with governments and corporations alike.

CAP is still led by its pioneering president, “Uncle” S. M. Mohammad Idris, the 92-year-old outspoken veteran who has devoted a lifetime to upholding the need for educational reforms to building national unity by reducing poverty, disparity and polarisation.

Two of its affiliates, Sahabat Alam Malaysia and Third World Network are instrumental in pushing the many issues of ecological degradation to the forefront and creating a vibrant, dynamic, fair and just society by forging new and relevant policies, and institutions rooted in the diverse traditions, values, cultures and beliefs of the Malaysian people.

In the era of New Malaysia, CAP is well ahead in not only articulating urgent issues and finding ways to arrive at long-term solutions; it is also pre-empting future threats by acting proactively. At the same time it is building an impressive corpus for the few generations to benefit from.

Therefore, it is only right that CAP be duly recognised and IIUM took the lead role to open another window of opportunity for several CAP-like unsung heroes to be accorded their rightful places in the eyes of the world. This is long overdue.

Without a doubt, CAP is exemplary by all counts including contributing immensely to social justice based on true intellectual honesty and integrity not only for Malaysia but humanity as a whole. Unfortunately, this is where most universities are still negligent to say the very least.

The writer is the Rector of IIUM. Comments:

Roaring or toothless tigers?

AFTER about 50 years in the education sector, I had the privilege of being invited to Wisma Putra for a Town Hall session with newly minted Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and his top officers.

It was held as part of the consultative-participatory processes that the new government is earnestly advocating.

We have heard before that the days of the government knows best is over, but that is more talk without much walk. This time it looks different.

The minister briefed the audience regarding the items that make up the framework of our foreign policies and then invited the floor to respond and intervene.

It seems unreal too because usually, it tends to be a monologue (top-down) as though all else is cast in stone.

Perhaps that is true to a certain extent but in reality, there is always room for improvement. Three aspects were cited to make this possible.

First, where Malaysia is in a position to make and shape policies at the global. We must be active in articulating our views beyond the usual in recognition of our own worldview and experiences.

Second, where such privileges are not readily forthcoming. Malaysia can help by extending strong support for the desired outcome using its stature. This can at least help in balancing the outcome accordingly.

Lastly, where we are in neither capacity, we still can assert our influence by putting forward our arguments given our vision and thought leadership. In other words, Malaysia must have the courage to be involved actively in all situations as part of its leadership role globally. Particularly in representing the Asian and Islamic perspectives.

That said, the two hours allocated passed rather quickly. The responses were plenty and varied.

I took the opportunity to further highlight an item dear to my heart – the diplomacy on sustainable development, more specifically Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) – since there were many academics present.

More so there seems to be dismal interest in giving ESD centre stage as an educational platform in any ministry as far as I can tell.

So not only is the Wisma Town Hall a uniquely golden opportunity to breathe life into ESD, what more to craft it in diplomatic terms and outcomes that could change the future of the world and its inhabitants.

Bearing in mind that since ESD has been successfully promoted as the “buzzword” globally over the last two decades, it has now acquired a notion of “soft power” to create global change.

While this is welcomed, it can be worrying too as it has the tendency to be “hegemonic” in imposing what ESD is all about from a given (western) perspective derived from some dominant worldview that is prevailing today.

While for the last 20 years this may not be so apparent as each country is grappling to make sense of what ESD is all about, now the situation is clearer and dangerously so.

Certain economic interests have been persistently interpreting ESD as a form of “green consumerism”, leaning to a thinking that would be beneficial to one side and not the other.

More often than not, the “other” is a weaker counterpart that has little choice but to make unreasonable compromises when it comes to hard bargaining for resources to sustain a basic livelihood.

The recent campaign against palm oil is a good case in point when some quarters seem to champion an ecocentric viewpoint over a human-centric one in arguing their position.

Lest we forget, ESD is foremost contextualised on the basis of attaining “equality” and “justice” worldwide. The growth of inequality reportedly made it harder for people to achieve justice relative to others due to less sustainable behaviour and livelihood.

Consumerism (green or otherwise) shows how we are readily affected by others – an expression mostly of outward appearances devoid of deeper knowledge of each other.

Evidently, the more one spends the more likely it is to contribute to an unsustainable phenomenon like global warming.

As such if diplomacy is directed to the issues of global equality, ESD must be well understood to enable one to demonstrate how an issue at hand can be diplomatically dealt with.

This is even more relevant now that Budget 2019 is also in the same way, that is, similarly contextualised to mainly target the poor (the so-called B40) while at the same time keeping the economy viable despite global uncertainties.

No doubt ESD fits into this framework very well involving a wide range of situations.

Invariably, it is about closing the prevailing inequitable gaps and (historical) injustice among members of the communities without being unsustainable in the socio-economic realms particularly in an attempt to restore Malaysia’s dignity (not just about fiscal health) as an Asian tiger that it once was.

It is interesting to note tigers in Asia are generally heading for extinction due to the many unsustainable practices.

Metaphorically speaking, there will be no roaring Asian tiger to speak of should ESD fail to be properly understood as an important item of diplomacy. We have far too many toothless tigers when it comes to the fight for ESD.

The writer is the president of the alumni and the 5th vice-chancellor of USM. Comments:

Building on trust

THE keynote speaker of the Conference on the Finnish Education held at the International Islamic University recently ended his presentation by highlighting the development of a human being (not human capital) and citizen. That this came from the director-general of education (a three-term former education minister, is something unthinkable in Malaysia) made it even more precious. The question is why?

For one, it is because the same could be said for Malaysia some 30 years ago only if the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan (FPK) were put on a pedestal that it rightly deserved. More specifically, this is because the FPK talked about nurturing a balanced and harmonious person (also not human capital) and citizen as its endpoint. The resemblance between the two cannot be more identical.

The difference perhaps is the Finnish are focused on implementation regardless of who comes who goes. The education agenda as per Finland’s constitution since its inception has benefited from this approach for more than a century now.

For Malaysia, this seems not to be the case. It wavers depending on political expediency.

Even the Federal Constitution was changed to accommodate some unhealthy political compromises that make the ecosystem so complex that it remains untenable when it comes to meeting the goal of nurturing the balanced and harmonious person, more so as Malaysian citizens. Otherwise, how else do we explain why “national identity” is still one of the six student aspirations laid out in both the latest education blueprints after almost 60 years of Merdeka. Worst, when “national identity” is being contested by bigotry and racism every now and again with the issue of the national language taking most of the beating.

Indeed, this week marks the end of the National Language Month, which rightly should have been a daily affair where all Malaysians are truly conversant with the national language being the Malaysian citizens that they are.

But instead this turns out to be embarrassing when a sizeable number still cannot string a reasonable sentence in Bahasa; unlike that of Finland where even migrants as recent as the last exodus in Europe are required to muster the Finnish language before being assimilated. And that they have to attend the Finnish education system – the one and only.

More ironic still is that the FPK too has a clear statement that our education ecosystem is continuous, holistic and integrated. But then to no avail until today. In contrast, it has been subjected to distortions (mis)shaping it into what it is today. Vague and disjointed when implemented.

The conference was therefore a good and timely reminder yet again that there is nothing essentially wrong with the national education ecosystem. It is the political intent and political will that must be scrutinised and put to rigorous realignment if the outcome of the FPK is to reach a higher level of satisfaction across the board. By doing so, Malaysia could have easily mirrored the successes of Finland some time back and not wasted several decades as the case today because of our national resolve which is confused to begin with.

In short, learning from the Finnish experience is to start to work on “trust” (amanah) as the foundation and investment to build a truly cohesive nation as the ultimate goal and motivation nationwide.

It is this “pride of work” that will drive the education system such that there is no longer any need for supervision and even assessment the way the KPIs are structured in the Malaysian education environment.

School inspection in Finland was reportedly abolished as far back as the 1990s whereby “trust” takes over as the underlying framework to deliver and perform. Thus, there is only one national standardised test after 12 years of education. Otherwise each school carries out its own self-evaluation using local materials guided by a national core curriculum. The emphasis on flexibility and local context is paramount, not a one-size-fits-all (read bureaucratic) model that is now blanketing our system based on the need to compare and contrast (read ranking), which is virtually non-existent or celebrated in the Finnish system.

Key to this are the teachers who are highly valued and well-empowered as professionals entrusted to lead and sustain a highly effective and human-centric learning ecosystem. It goes a long way to demonstrate that the culture of “trust” is a vital ingredient for the Finns. It is helped through partnership and collaboration derived by the said “trust”.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, reportedly less competition is producing better outcomes in nurturing an ambient that promotes “the joy of learning” – to learn and work together forging even greater “trust” all round. In turn, it brings about a world of change with varying concepts for the future, said to be largely uncertain and unpredictable.

What is clear is that education is no longer a linear process confined to just one stereotype (outdated) environment. Instead, it is more than that whereby working and learning are being diffused to further widen the concept of learning beyond the classrooms or lecture halls. It is more experiential as well as diverse in tandem with the reality of the day. It is invariably values-based zeroing in on the issue of equity as the path forward in creating a cohesive nation. Education is free of charge and not commoditised. There is no PTPTN. No student debt.

In that sense, the Finnish ecosystem is future-proof because it is easily accessible and adaptable to change without sacrificing inclusiveness, diversity while remaining egalitarian and least hierarchical or politicised, that is, of equitable benefit to all in the name of “justice”.

In words of the FPK, it is about being balanced and in harmony at the level of the individual and community laying down the need for a fair and just system centred on the culture of “trust”. Unfortunately, this is where our failure is. Period.

The writer is Rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia. Comments:

Thankful to the alma mater

YESTERDAY I had the good fortune of being recognised by my alma mater on the 56th convocation of the university. Such an event is always a highlight for any institution as it is the time to take stock of how the university is delivering and maturing vis-a-vis in fulfilling its role and responsibility, not as an Ivory Tower of days gone by, or increasingly as Trading Post as it is made out to be, but more as Custodian of Trust for the rakyat at large. More so as a public institution paid by the public to ensure that their welfare is well looked after as the university makes a name for itself.

As an alumni, I would like to address such expectations, particularly in relation to this convocation as it coincided with three major events that have very intimate associations with the university. To miss them is to miss a golden opportunity to live by its impulsive slogan: “Kami Memimpin” (We Lead), which is close to the hearts of all who had sampled the exquisite experiences of the Universiti Pulau Pinang, Universiti Sains Malaysia dualism.

Let us start with the 10th anniversary award of the Apex status that took place on Sept 4, 2008. It is certainly a memorable Kami Memimpin phenomenon by any count because the university stood as one in committing itself to “excellence” that is explicit in the acronym Apex – accelerated programme for excellence (read transformation for the future). There took place a spectrum of unlearning and relearning that was systematically and meticulously undertaken in very participatory and consultative ways. After a decade of such a process, where is it now and what is next?

To respond to these questions in any meaningful way is to recall that this year saw that concept of sustainable development being introduced some 30 years ago by the United Nations (UN). The aim, to safeguard the welfare of inhabitants of the ailing planet Earth. After all, the Apex initiative was crafted on a similar theme as a sustainability-led university with the tagline “Transforming Higher Education for a Sustainable Tomorrow”.

The link between the UN and the Apex agenda is without a doubt intimate. What more, when the university was honoured in 2005 as one of seven pioneering UN University acknowledged regional centres of expertise (RCE) on education for sustainable development (ESD) worldwide. Since the RCE was fashioned as the precursor of a university of the future, it compounded the question as to how futuristic the Apex scenario is moving forward given today’s untold crisis-prone (unsustainable) world. What lies ahead in living up to its Apex tagline of 10 years ago?

Yet this is not the end of it all because this year too is the 30th anniversary of the National Education Philosophy of Malaysia, better know as Falsafah Pendidikan Negara, later Kebangsaan (FPK). It may come as a surprise to many that the FPK was first crafted in 1988 – a year short of SD in 1987.

Moreover, it is now abundantly clear that the FPK is arguably an excellent conduit in paving ways to attaining ESD and its five overarching goals of Peace, Prosperity, People, Planet and Partnership.

In essence, the FPK advocates and aims at similar “sustainable” targets linked to the desired sustainability-led university of tomorrow (read Apex). It is therefore hard to imagine how the Apex ambition could be arrived at without taking the FPK into serious consideration in its overall implementation.

This includes creating an ambience that is balanced and harmonious, be it at the individual or community level as a living lab both at the micro- and macrocosmos respectively. This translates, in the words of the FPK, into an aura of “sejahtera” – a concept which was introduced by the university in the early 2000s through the unique Kampus Sejahtera initiative.

Hence, the ultimate question that needs to be asked: at what level is sejahtera today? That is, how sustainable is the campus as an indication of a balanced and harmonious lifestyle as well as the ecological makeup that supports such a desirable state of being? Is the campus a sejahtera living lab for all to experience?

This no doubt asserts another demand on the Kami Memimpin mantra, which, most of the time, has been the pride of its alumni in leading the way. And this cannot be more pressing in about a year from now when the university celebrates its Golden Jubilee on Oct 4. A day that is known as Hari Pemimpin, a tribute to the many leaders at all levels who have made the university what it is, some more impactful than others. Notably the founding vice-chancellor, the late Tan Sri Hamzah Sendut who dreamed it all.

On that day perhaps we will have all the forthcoming answers that the university truly deserves in asserting the Kami Memimpin role.

As for now, we are grateful to the alma mater for what it imparted and instilled in us, the need to stay ahead. For that can never be graceful enough in keeping the spirit of Kami Memimpin high on the agenda. The university needs to amply demonstrate this come its 50th anniversary in 2019, as a gesture of thanks to the alma mater.

The writer is the president of the alumni, and the 5th vice-chancellor of USM. Comments:

Penang: A paradise lost?

FINALLY, truth be told yet again when the headline screamed: 18.5 % of students in the state of Penang suffer from depression.

That Penang is named this time has some special significance as it is known to be the most vibrant scholarly state in the country, if not the region. Many of the schools in the state have stories to tell as being the first for this and that, going back into history. Illustrious names are associated with them no less than the first prime minister of Malaya and then Malaysia.

The first university outside Kuala Lumpur is located in Penang, being the second oldest in the country, celebrating its 50th anniversary next year.

When talking about activism of all sorts Penang again leaped forward. It is the state where the world famous Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) – also celebrating its 50th anniversary next year – makes its mark globally.

So are strings of other non-governmental organisations then and now, locally and internationally – Pesticides Action Network and Consumer International are two random examples.

Culturally, the vibrancy is second to none with the Unesco World Heritage Site being awarded to the state because of its unique diversity in living cultural heritages of multiple origins. It is the one resort island where we can find mosques, churches, temples and other houses of worship standing side by side in “perfect” harmony.

With this comes the myriad of food and culinary delights beginning with those in the street stalls to fine dining at high-end outlets. These are accessible 24/7 and well acknowledged worldwide as the world’s best “people’s restaurant” as it were, with Asam Laksa topping the menu.

The natural scenery that stretches from the sea to the jungles and beyond the hills as far as the eye can see is a beauty to behold.

Many fall in love with Penang the moment they step foot on the island befitting the name, The Pearl of the Orient.

To some it is paradise on Earth where the state of mental health is at its prime dazzled by the near-Shangri-La ambience.

So when the word depression is uttered, it broke into a nightmare begging the big question: how is it that students are implicated – almost 20% of them – when they should be having so much fun ahead of their counterparts in other states – to live and enjoy, to learn and experience life?

Indeed, it is beginning to sound quite the contrary although to some there are no surprises. The tell-tale signs have been there since some years ago but we were too busy with ourselves to take notice or to give enough attention to the students and youths under our care as parents, teachers, community leaders and above all politicians.

So reportedly, once again, we were told that mental health problems among Penang students are now recognised as fast becoming a worrying trend, with a fifth of the population said to be suffering from depression. This comes no less from the director of the state Health Department, based on findings from the National Youth Health Survey 2017.

However, as usual it was quickly doused with the same cliché that the situation is “under control” (then why is it rising?) and yet there is “the need to take necessary action to help the students”. Yes, but why only now when the writing was on the wall ages ago? What action was taken then that could have resulted in a positive outcome instead?

It is contradictory, when it is further emphasised that the problem is “quite serious and must be tackled because it not only affects an individual but also the community at large.

“Imagine, 9.5% of secondary school students admitted to plans to commit suicide while 6% tried to do so,” as it was made known during the launch of Mental Health Day and the Healthy Students Programme last week. The finding of 6% trying to take their life at such a tender age cannot be swept under the carpet.

More worrying still is when there seems to be a “breakdown” of the paradise-like image caused by “numerous factors, which affected the youth’s emotions, leading them to be involved in unhealthy activities, including addiction to internet”. The addiction issue has been the concern of this column ever since but until now it’s as though it doesn’t matter.

Compounding this, is what comes out of the horse’s mouth: “The internet addiction can influence their emotions to commit crime such as cyber bullying and others. If this is not contained, it will lead to an unhealthy environment for them.”

For all intents and purposes, this is an overdue wake-up call where some concrete actions should have been laid down long before. But sadly none of this was done in earnest while the addiction threats continue to gnaw at us.

All these remain ironic as we continue to give so much hope and expectations to the youth (anak muda) as leaders of the future especially after the 14th general election power transfer. We now have the youngest minister of Youth and Sports allegedly in the world just as we have the oldest prime minister – both of whom we are very proud of. But those “record-breaking” claims are demeaning if the headline we read today continues to haunt us as a nation.

In fact this column wrote an open letter (My View July 11) to alert the Ministry of Youth about the forewarning signs of the very same life-threatening concerns – drug abuse (including tobacco use), depression (including suicide) and internet addiction (including various screen devices). It was during 100 days of the new government, with so much expectations for a game change beyond the usual ones that offer name and fame, and a medal to show off.

After all, the latter means little if our youth, as a constituency of the future, is losing ground especially at the school-going age, where else but in a paradise called Penang.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments:

Decolonising New Malaysia

PRIME Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, interviewed on BBC’s HARDtalk last week following his speech at the UN, as expected raised a number of pertinent issues. One which I found compelling was the subject on colonialism that seems to be making a comeback recently. When asked, Mahathir was quoted: “I merely said that there are other forms of colonialism and one of them is neocolonialism, which was coined by (former Indonesian) president Sukarno.”

He made this remark in reference to what is now known as “debt diplomacy” that casts a long shadow as a result of mega infrastructure investments made by certain foreign companies, strongly backed by the respective governments. This could be termed as a “new” form of colonialism not seen before, spreading its tentacles unsuspectingly. The prime minister, however, denied that he was directing this at any one country.

Elaborating further, Mahathir was categorical in what drew his concern, including the selling of “big pieces of land” to some foreign interest “to build a city, which is very, very luxurious meant for their people to come and live there (in Malaysia)” – to the tune of several hundreds of thousands as a result of the so-called “foreign direct investment (FDI)”. Whereas, according to him, FDI is “about bringing money, bringing investment, setting up plants in Malaysia, employing Malaysians”, not otherwise.

After all, of late, no country wants other people to come en masse to their country and settle there, citing Europe as a living example (ironically, after doing just the opposite for themselves and benefiting tremendously from it). As for the US, President Donald Trump is insistent on building a “wall” along its southern border and somehow not in the north.

In his most recent trip to China, Mahathir spoke his mind when he made reference to the different levels of development with respect to richer counterparts making the “poor countries unable to compete”. Therefore fair trade, not just free trade, is imperative, as he highlighted to the Chinese.

Similar happenings can be witnessed in the African continent, bringing back vivid memories of what took place with Congo as a case in point some 140 years ago.

In 1878, Congo came under the focus of European colonial powers in the same way. In particular, Belgium hatched out a plot by forming the so-called International Congo Society with “more economic goals” that later turned “imperialistic”.

Prior to that King Leopold II of Belgium was said to have created an International African Society in 1896, which then served primarily as a “philanthropic front” to the imperialistic ambition.

One Henry Morgan Stanley was sent to research and “civilise” the continent for this purpose. He was in Congo, from 1878 to 1885, as an envoy with a “secret mission to organise what would become known as the Congo Free State”.

As an outpost for Belgium, the so-called “state” was later confirmed as the “private property of the Congo Society” (read Leopold), which was opened to “all European investment” and would have “free” (not “fair”?) trade throughout the Congo Basin (think Bandar Malaysia, in our case).

Such development quickly stirred up the French to expand its own “colonial exploration”. By 1881, the French flag was raised over the newly formed “Brazzaville” in Congo, named after the “founder” Pierre de Brazza, a French naval officer who was dispatched to the region to counter the influence of imperialistic Belgium. Brazzaville is now reportedly considered as the (Democratic) Republic of Congo.

Next, Portugal joined in the foray through its “proxy state” – Kongo Empire, by renewing its interest based on old treaties with Spain and the Roman Catholic Church.

Later, together with Great Britain and Ireland, Congo Society’s access to the Atlantic was effectively blocked in the competition for presence and interest. In short, Africa in general was conveniently carved up by European foreign powers, which eventually led to the removal of the word “terra incognita from European maps of the continent” and replaced by claims coming from the Belgians, French, Portuguese and British – largely what remains today (in addition, to several others) – exercising their own version of the “diplomacy”.

Bearing in mind, by the early 1880s diplomatic posturing and manipulation had already set in to exploit Africa’s natural resources that enriched the colonial powers at the expense of the locals.

At once, the heightened and ruthless colonial activities by the Europeans set aside the forms of African autonomy as well as self-governance. The situation is no different from what is experienced today albeit through another form of diplomacy by another name. Is history repeating itself, perhaps with different and ambitious actors this time around?

Here is where Mahathir is spot-on in alerting us of the precarious future ahead if we are not vigilant and continue to be gullible. Instead, the struggle against the legacy of (neo)colonialism must not stop.

It is time to begin in earnest the decolonising process across the board for New Malaysia, whereby softpower seems to be the most “effective” point of entry.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments:

Embracing sustainable development

REGIONAL Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCE-ESD) was a concept promoted by the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo amid attempts to understand and translate what sustainable development (SD) is all about. This was in the early 2000s when SD was still a vague and abstract idea.

In 2005, the then UN secretary-general (1938-2018), the late Kofi Annan, was quoted as saying: “Our biggest challenge in this new century is to take an idea that seems abstract – sustainable development – and turn it into a reality for all the world’s people”.

It was in the same year that the RCE-ESD became a reality with the establishment of seven pioneering RCEs around the world including RCE Penang, which is based in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). Others in Asia are in Japan.

The RCEs were expected to translate SD into reality through education, that is, ESD, which is deemed to be the key in its implementation.

In so doing it must be transformational in substance, such that SD awareness is heightened enabling SD to be practised and eventually becoming a “new” way of life for the rest of the 21st century and beyond. This part somehow has been missed in most education systems worldwide as they pursue business (literally)-as-usual approaches at the expense of ESD, thus the future. This is because there is no unlearning taking place, and thus there is zilch “relearning” of ways that we could be aligned to the implementation of SD across the community. There is no colearning as well, which is necessary in taking into account local indigenous knowledge and wisdom – which are generally “sustainable” in nature because of the closeness between the community and nature then.

Members of the community, more often than not, are acquainted to their local traditions, decorum and heritages, which were nurtured over centuries and generations.

All these make the concept of RCE an interesting one since it upholds and respects what is available locally and assimilates it into mainstream knowledge to be recognised as yet another source of legitimate knowledge that has been marginalised for a long time, especially with the advent of colonialisation of learning and education.

Otherwise, SD is made less “abstract” because it can be easily identified by the locals as part of their own traditions and framed meaningfully within their context.

For example the concept of “sejahtera” and “budi” is very much attuned to SD but now is almost loss in the practice of it all despite the words being bandied around without any deeper appreciation at all.

More than that, each RCE has therefore its own uniqueness given the varying traditions and cultural context. In fact this is one of the outstanding features of the RCE where diversity is celebrated and widening even more participation across the global community.

It is not surprising therefore to find that there are now close to 200 RCEs in all continents within a span of some 10 years. Each of them is networked to other associations and organisations (including botanical gardens, zoos, museums) that are deeply involved in promoting and enhancing the implementation of SD across the board.

One very distinct feature of RCEs (unlike the “stereotype” conventional institutions of higher learning) is that it is not a one-size-fits-all model and that it is very closely linked to the local community working hand in glove to bring SD back into communal activities so that future generations are better adapted to ESD and their social responsibilities.

In other words, it does not have to adopt “foreign” ideas (even so-called “experts” or “consultants” – often with exorbitant “fees”) when it is incompatible with local values, traditions and norms that have a tendency of being hegemonic by asserting what is deemed as a “new” form of colonialism as the prime minister warned recently.

More ironic when the ideas (or consultants) are known to fail in transforming their country of origin; yet have the audacity to claim otherwise away from home.

It is here that Malaysia has some good news to celebrate when just last week the country’s top private university – UCSI University (note the “S” stands for “sustainability”) had been acknowledged by the UNU as the fourth RCE-ESD in Malaysia. The first three are USM, UM and UTM in that order – all are public universities located in the Peninsular.

This makes the UCSI’s RCE rather special, being the first Malaysian private university and located in Sarawak. And together all four RCEs form a formidable consortium to move ESD, especially at the tertiary level, linking it to numerous communities that support one another in all matters related to SD at the most basic level, not forgetting schools.

In doing so, the entire community and the nation will be more ready to embrace SD development as envisaged some 40 years ago.

In 1968 for example, Unesco organised the first intergovernmental conference aimed at reconciling environmental and development, in what we now call SD, that is inspired by the local context and nuances.

In so doing we are reliving the aspirations of former secretary-general Kofi Annan as quoted above, especially as an attribute to the only black person to hold the position (1997-2006), who passed away recently at the age of 80 after a short illness.

He will be remembered as the main “driver” for ESD and will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace, as ESD thrives on, without exception in Malaysia under New Malaysia.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments:

Remembering Tun Suffian

FEW Malaysians would have realised that today marks the day when the nation lost one of our (unsung?) heroes 18 years ago. He passed away due to cancer at the age of 82; but not before contributing so much to the country, especially in the legal sector. As Malaya then journeyed to shape its own destiny, Tun Mohamed Suffian Mohamed Hashim (1917-2000) left a remarkable legacy that we must take cognisance and be proud of.

In this day and age of a new Malaysia where the “rule of law” is gradually creeping back as the centrepiece of Malaysia’s future, Tun Suffian remains a beacon of which direction we should be heading. And more importantly, we should take heed of where we have gone terribly wrong in the past.

Known for his humility, compassion and fierce independence, he is regarded as Malaysia’s most distinguished judge. According to The UK Telegraph: “His international standing made him one of the few in his country to speak freely without fear of repression.”

As Lord President of the nation’s federal judiciary from 1974 to 1982, among his prime concerns was the dignity of the ordinary citizen, and reportedly “he never let legal technicalities prevail over justice”.

This may have something to do with his humble beginnings as the first “anak watan” (local boy) to occupy the topmost position in the nation’s legal hierarchy.

As son of a kadi from a remote kampung of Kuala Kangsar, Perak, he understood what it meant.

Yet allegedly his wit and talents did not escape his schoolmaster in the nearby Clifford School, who predicted that he would one day be “the pride of the Malay(sian) race”.

He eventually proved it when he took over the various legal positions where the colonial British rule had left. He made it clear what constituted an independent Malaya, later Malaysia.

High on his agenda was indeed the rule of law in an uncompromising way. He soldiered on to promote the separation of powers and never flinched from his criticism in defence of the well-respected judiciary in Malaysia when placed under threat.

While it took some time for the citizens to be comfortable with such an arrangement amid the feudal environment of yesteryears, the latter continued to be recognised as part of the socio-cultural makeup in an evolving nationhood that otherwise remained subservient to the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people.

In other words, away from the feudal environment, which categorically excludes that of partisan politics (where some assumed the role of politician-kings dubbed as arrogant “warlords”), the people have the final say. There were no two ways about this.

This is what in essence the new Malaysia is all about, arising from a nationwide collective decision made peacefully on May 9 through the ballot box.

As a result, many of the politician-kings had to face the bitter onslaught of the people, especially the younger generation, whose wrath knew no nostalgia of the feudalistic ways. The consequence of which is now well-known for all to see if not embrace. More so, with a hope to learn from it, namely the rule of (just) law is here to stay and must be deeply entrenched if the brave, new future is to be forever sustained.

That being said, the reality is no less challenging provided we are all fully aware and “well-educated” about it as citizens of this beloved country. It is here once again that Tun Suffian left his hallmark when he described what a university ought to be.

He was very sure of this when the committee he chaired for the establishment of USM summed it: “the university should be an autonomous body separate and apart from the government.”

Furthermore, “we believe that academic freedom is a necessary condition of the highest efficiency and the proper progress of academic institutions, and that encroachments upon their liberty, in the supposed interest of greater efficiency, would in fact diminish their efficiency and stultify their development” (Suffian, 1969). Not surprisingly, he was then also the esteemed pro-chancellor of University Malaya for a good quarter of a century, from 1963 to 1986.

Indeed to my mind this is where the problem begins to rear its ugly head, that is, when we deviated from the notion of the rule of law by subjugating the autonomy and intellectual freedom of the university. That derailed understanding of what the rule of law is, or it is at all practical levels when politics tend to abuse it.

Fortunately, now this has come to pass under the present government at least as promised through its election manifesto.

It is therefore up to us to claim it so that the rule of law can be immediately restored as our overdue rights are not only confined to the universities but nationwide.

As today marks the first memorial anniversary of Tun Suffian in new Malaysia, perhaps the following words accorded to him is best remembered in the current context.

In a speech in 1980, he commended the ability to “disagree in a civilised way”; and that “law is made for man, not man for the law”.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments:

The education conundrum

A HISTORICAL milestone was made last night when the inaugural International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Public Debate Series (PDS) was launched at The Garden of Knowledge and Virtue.

The collaborative effort between IIUM and the Youth and Sports Ministry firmly translated the aspiration that new Malaysia is more open to diversity of opinions and expressions, especially on things that matter.

The 6D formula encompassing disagreement, dissent, dialogue, discourse, debate and decorum is the rule of thumb in making this aspiration a reality.

The youth and sports minister, in welcoming the initiative, reiterated that it is aimed at developing a culture of critical thinking, public speaking and raising the quality of debates as well as the use of English.

All these resonate well with the Education Ministry in an attempt to shift education to take a more publicly engaged role as the nation’s “think-tank” where the younger generation are accorded the all-important responsibility of interlocutor for the future.

Not only must they know how to communicate with conviction and confidence, without fear or favour, they must also know what to convey given the myriad of issues overcrowding the nation’s mind, indeed the world today.

More so in the distant future. In order to accommodate this, the series will be conducted monthly involving a combination of senior and junior speakers coming from members of the community; dealing with the most pressing issues.

The event last night set the tenor of what to expect in the coming series. With no less than “bro” minister himself leading the team on one side, and the freshly minted Asian Best Overall Debater, Syarif Fakhri of IIUM on the other, the audience were given a treat of what the new breed of Malaysians are capable of.

If there are so much negative reports in the media about the younger generation, it is because we choose to focus more on those because “bad” news sells, as the media struggle to keep their heads above the water.

So the actual story is never completely told. The inaugural IIUM PDS, however, gave a somewhat rare insight into the minds of our youths.

To the surprise of many, the situation is not at all hopeless. It also means that the 6Ds should be given its rightful place in nurturing new ways in the new Malaysia.

And universities are just the place for it provided they are prepared to change in tandem with the demands of the time. That said it is time to reconsider what is called “education” today.

Over the last month, I have participated in a couple of seminars that were associated with the term “Education 4.0,” instead of “Education 2030”.

Answering why is hard to tell especially when the latter comes out of the 2015 World Education Forum held in Incheon, South Korea on the back of the United Nations Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which expired the year before.

It is intended as the way forward post-2015 well into 2030, hence the name. That it is framed on ESD shows that there is every need for the 6Ds to be embraced because ESD is inherently futuristic in nature laced by uncertainties and subjected to a plethora of interpretations.

It is bound to open up many doors in order to match the expectation of the future that we want.

This is quite the opposite from the narrative of “Education 4.0”, which seems to be mechanistic in its form.

As such, it is rather monolithic in its presentation within a very linear structure, like many of the processes that makes up a machine.

In other words, there is little flexibility to speak of in the context of the 6Ds. More often than not, there is an inclination to some “standardised” one-size-fits-all herd-like thinking as the more dominant approach. Consequently, the so-called “education” is not only becoming more redundant, it also tends to be dehumanising.

The people, especially youths, become more and more disengaged as they get hooked on new habits brought forth by mechanistic gadgets that push them towards the “standardised” ways of life.

Few realise that technology has the capacity to standardise and “take over” the individual involved insidiously.

The ultimate manifestation of this will be the various forms of addiction that is now associated with assembly-line, factory-like learning where the 6D rule has no place at all.

In short, while public debates, discourses and dialogues are crucial for education, in the real sense of the world, the deeper understanding of what education is all about, with all its intended meanings and philosophy, must also be given due consideration.

Education 2030 Framework for Action adopted in 2015 that provides the roadmap to achieve the 10 targets of the education goal cannot be sidelined by another illusive “target” like that of Education 4.0.

More so when it is ill-defined against that of Education 2030 as it stands today.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments:

IIUM leading the way

SINCE May 10, “new Malaysia” is gradually gaining acceptance, but there is more to be done. The column (My View Sept 5) last week highlighted some the issues at hand where “old” mind sets tend to stifle the growth of new Malaysia. After all, old habits die hard when cultural changes are held at bay. Culture is largely a product of stubborn habits.

In “old” Malaysia the “yes, minister” culture was the norm. Now “saya menurut perintah” is being replaced by “saya pemegang amanah”. To quote the new chief secretary, the days of blindly following instructions are over. Meaning to say there is ample room for disagreement and dissent through dialogues, discourses and debates with utmost decorum – the 6Ds. Admittedly, this is easier said than done if the “right” culture is not in place as we have often witnessed, even in the parliament.

This is where the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) is taking a lead role in acculturating new ways of encompassing the 6Ds: disagreement, dissent, dialogues, discourses, debates and decorum. This is not entirely new for many but not when it involves “decorum”.

The so-called (anti-)social media is a classic example where “decorum” is often left wanting, instead creating more of “discomfort” if not “discord.” Hence the bold IIUM initiative is indeed timely.

IIUM, as a Garden of Knowledge and Virtue, is no stranger in this regard. In a short span of 35 years, the university is well recognised as 12th best in the World Universities Debate Ranking, based on institutional cumulative achievements in international debating for five-year period.

As such IIUM takes the next step going beyond competitive debating, and demonstrating leadership in Malaysia debate and intellectual activities by making public discourse a norm and culture as hallmarks for balanced future leaders.

In tandem with this, the IIUM World Debate and Oratory Centre (IWON) by collaborating with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and hosted by the Garden Campus is set to pioneer a Public Debate Series (PDS), called “Action – Youth Engaged”, directed particularly at youths.

According to IWON director Siti Aliza Alias, the year-long series will be open to the public and will feature prominent figures such as policy makers and leaders across the academic, social and corporate sectors, notably those who are known to have strongly held views.

The aim is to engage youth in discussions on the national and global agenda and raise awareness particularly among them on pertinent issues that could lead to policy decisions and actions in shaping new Malaysia.

The philosophy is “to create a culture of discourse and reasoning among the youth, and provide a platform for the exchange of ideas, and championing freedom of expression, while holding to the values of Islam”.

This aligns well with what is often advocated by the youth and sports minister and education minister. The former, being an IIUM debate alumnus, envisions Malaysia as a “debating nation” where youths actively engage in discussions that will shape the country’s future as well as its present. The education minister, a former IIUM academic on the other hand, envisions a more intellectually open environment in universities as higher learning institutions.

It is only fitting then that IIUM takes the lead in realising all these aspirations through the PDS platform, which is the first of its kind in Malaysia.

While it draws inspiration from the culture of open and public debate in Oxford and Cambridge Union, IIUM brings its own unique flavour. With strong Islamic values, such as respect and ethical conduct in disagreements, the IIUM programme underscores debate as an activity that is not stigmatised by aggressive (verbal) behaviours including personal and vulgar attacks that usually colour political debates (read shouting matches) in this country. It is more about “agreeing to disagree”.

Youths, as future leaders, must therefore nurture these traits as second nature to play an effective role as public intellectuals when engaging larger audiences in search of solutions beyond the norms of competitive debates. For this, IIUM seeks the active involvement of youth by having a nationwide online recruitment of speakers between 16 and 25 years old, one each to partner-up with two lead speakers. The demographics in Malaysia has shifted and youths are increasingly the new decision-makers, as can be seen from the recent 14th general election.

In order to commemorate the inaugural event, IIUM is welcoming the public into its Garden Campus in Gombak to participate and witness the first public debate between two prominent figures on a current topic of national importance. This time the debate topic “Repealing the Anti-Fake News Act is a Mistake”, will showcase nationally two prominent lead speakers: “bro” Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, minister of Youth and Sports (IIUM debate alumnus, 2006) and “bro” Syed Ahmad Taufik Albar, group chief financial officer, RHB Banking Group (IIUM debate alumnus, 1996).

In the spirit of Hari Malaysia, the event taking place on Sept 18, 8pm at the IIUM Cultural Centre (ICC) will also be streamed live on social media platforms and through media coverage.

It is envisaged that this first ever nationwide collaborative debating effort will forge ahead a new culture towards nation-building in acculturating New Malaysia.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: