English in the National Schooling System: Time for a Policy Shift


November 30, 2017

English in the National Schooling System: Time for a Policy Shift

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

The past few weeks has seen renewed attention on the re-establishment of English medium schools (EMS) in the country.

A combination of concerned and highly credible stake-players has come out in favour of the return to what was previously not just a medium of national schooling for young Malaysians. EMS was also the source of most of the leadership capability in economy and society, and a major reason for the country’s high international standing.

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Led by royalty in the person of HRH Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, the campaign for EMS is now supported by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan and concerned civil society leaders from the G25 group.

For a long time, it was the indefatigable Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, chairman of the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), whose group waged an often-lonely battle to promote the expanded use of English in our national educational system.

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The indefatigable Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim

Today the drive to restore ECMs to similar status as Chinese and Tami schools in the national system has been expanded. But it needs to be taken up by our political leaders if it is to succeed.

For what has been standing in it way – and it continues today – has been basically politics which has triumphed over national interest and the freedom for parents to choose the medium of instruction they want for their children.

As pointed out by HRH Johor Sultan, there are politicians who are in “self-denial” and who choose to play politics with education by being “heroes of their races”.

“They talk about “nationalism” but they too send their children to boarding schools in Australia and the United Kingdom.”

HRH Sultan has also expressed confidence that “if we have an education system based on a single stream for students from a young age, we will be able to create a community which is more harmonious and can work together to face challenges in the future.”

Malay Disadvantage

Although all communities have been disadvantaged by the absence of English medium schools in the national system, it is beyond doubt that it is the Malay community which has been most handicapped or punished by the political policy and insistence by misguided cultural zealots for the Malay masses to be restricted in their choice of schools to Malay medium ones, or to Islamic schools where the medium of instruction is Arabic.

Should a study be undertaken of the class divide which has emerged in Malay society during the last two or three decades, it is very likely that it will find that a contributory – perhaps the major – factor has been the ability of upper class Malays to access English education either in the MARA system or through private English education medium schools locally and abroad.

Students in the national Malay medium schools and graduates from public universities with Malay as the medium of instruction are not only severely handicapped in local private sector employment where English language fluency is a prerequisite especially for higher end jobs. They are also increasingly marginalized in this era of global markets and competition where a command and mastery of the English language is indispensable to knowledge acquisition and upward mobility.

Malaysia needs to re-establish itself as a bilingual country

This fact of growing Malay disadvantage and deepening socio-economic inequality – should there be no policy change – was not spelt out by the influential G25 grouping in its recent press statement which supported the call by Johoreans for English medium schools.

But it was probably in the minds of G25 members as they seek a return to establishing Malaysia as a bilingual country with Bahasa Melayu as the national language, and English the second language as is found in many of the most advanced non-English speaking nations of the world.

In a press statement, G25 noted that as a trading nation Malaysia needs to have a workforce with a high proficiency in English.

“G25 supports the establishment of the EMS as an alternative stream under the national school system. English is a language for acquiring knowledge. We are in support of initiatives that will help in the growth of the economy and improve the well-being of Malaysians”

Taking Finland as an example, the group has argued that “Finland’s education success is based on ensuring that everyone has equal opportunities to study.”

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https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/why-are-finlands-schools-successful-49859555/ In Malaysia UMNO idiots meddle in Education while they send their kids to study abroad.

This is not the case in Malaysia where there is no level playing field between the private and national school systems and where parents who wish to have their children enrolled in English medium schools cannot afford the expensive fees that are the norm for private schools.

G25’s call needs be emphasized: “We need to learn from past mistakes, and ensure that the implementation of the English-medium schools follows a model with a proven track record”

ASEAN leaders should embrace 4IR for another 50 years of peace, growth


November 24, 2017

ASEAN leaders should embrace 4IR for another 50 years of peace, growth

by Jayant Menon and Anna Fink, ADB

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/11/09/asean-looks-to-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/

The 10-member ASEAN is celebrating this year its 50th anniversary.
The 10-member ASEAN is celebrating this year its 50th anniversary.

When the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gather for their 31st Summit in the Philippines this week, they will also celebrate “ASEAN@50” – testimony to ASEAN’s endurance and durability, as the longest-running regional grouping of developing countries in the world.

A major item on the agenda will be regional security and addressing the rising tide of terrorism.  This takes ASEAN back to its roots, having been born as a politico-security pact during the Vietnam War in 1967.

Indeed, ASEAN’s role in sustaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia is often undervalued, if not overlooked. It’s easy to see why. War cannot go unnoticed but peace can, easily. ASEAN deserves its share of the credit for delivering the peace dividend. Moving forward, its economic success may depend on a different kind of revolution.

Inclusive, innovation-led growth

The summary of Key Outcomes from the 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting in September noted that the overall thematic priority of this year’s Summit would be “Inclusive, Innovation-led Growth”.  This would be supported by three strategic measures: increasing trade and investment, integrating micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) into global value chains, and developing an innovation-driven economy.

The trade slowdown appears to have bottomed out, and there are early indications that both domestic private investment and foreign direct investment are showing promising signs of recovery in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, and continue to increase impressively in the Mekong countries. To sustain this growth, reforms will need to continue. Achievements on tariff liberalization have been partially offset by a rise in non-tariff measures which are a much more significant barrier to trade.

  Innovation-driven ASEAN economy must address 4IR

A new and growing trend in cross-border investment involves MSMEs, so much so that the last ASEAN Investment Report took this as its theme. And an innovation-driven economy has to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

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All three strategic items are linked, especially the last two, as discussed in a joint Asian Development Bank-World Economic Forum report titled, What does the 4IR mean for ASEAN Regional Economic Integration?, to be presented to leaders at the upcoming Summit.

The report notes the differing level of preparedness of member countries, negatively correlated to their level of development, and how this may widen rather than narrow development gaps if not addressed.

4IR brings challenges and opportunities

One of the major challenges of the 4IR will be the loss of jobs caused by automation and increasingly advanced robotics and artificial intelligence. Jobs losses will affect some countries more than others. Low-skilled, repetitive jobs (such as assembly line workers) are most at risk, but increasingly service jobs (such as business process outsourcing) will be threatened.

As an immediate response, enabling greater mobility of unskilled workers would curtail unemployment in sending countries and help sustain growth in receiving countries, while also helping counter growing economic inequality within and between countries.

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In the medium term, new industries will grow and workers will need new skills. Investing in improving human capital must start now. The skills needed extend beyond technical capabilities to include creativity and innovative problem solving. What’s more, the accelerating pace of change calls for adult training and life-long learning not just early-life education. In addition, mutual recognition agreements must expand to cover new occupations, while expediting the harmonizing and streamlining of employment visas.

Integrating MSMEs into global value chains

One of the major opportunities of the 4IR, as highlighted in the report, is the potential of “disruptive technologies” to empower MSMEs. More than 90% of enterprises within ASEAN are MSMEs and they provide most of the employment in member states.

MSMEs are often constrained by lack of access to business and financial services. Blockchain technology has the potential to dramatically increase the security of cross-border financial transactions and logistics even in countries where these services are relatively underdeveloped. This technology has the potential to benefit the smallest firms in the poorest countries of ASEAN.

The rise of online marketplaces also provides platforms for MSMEs to access regional and global markets.

  4IR can help integrate ASEAN MSMEs into global value chains

The 4IR, therefore, provides an opportunity for ASEAN to meet its goal of greater inclusion by integrating MSMEs into global value chains. But it also presents a challenge to the region to invest in human capital to continue to trade and attract investment, and to enable innovation-driven economies.

Given the unequal impact of new technologies in the region, the promotion of inclusive growth must also be seen as a key pillar in underpinning peace in the region. Growing economic inequality could quickly contribute to social unrest and political instability.

Embracing the 4IR, and inclusive, innovation-led growth will be essential to securing another 50 years of peace in ASEAN.

Jayant Menon is Lead Economist in the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department at the Asian Development Bank, and Adjunct Fellow of the Arndt–Corden Division of Economics, The Australian National University.

Anna Fink is Economist in the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department at the Asian Development Bank.

This blog was first published as an op-ed by the Jakarta Globe, Singapore Business Times, Phnom Penh Post, Agence Kampuchea Presse, Myanmar Times, Philippine StarEast Asia Forum, Daily Star (Bangladesh), and the Bangkok Post.

Book Review: Living with Myths in Singapore


November 8, 2017

Book Review:

Living with Myths in Singapore

Loh Kah Seng, Pingtjin Thum & Jack Chia Meng-That (Eds) (Ethos Books, Singapore, 2017)

Reviewed by Serina Rahman

http://www.newmandala.org

Living with Myths in Singapore is an eye-opener for anyone who has grown up on the institutionalised Singapore stories.

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From a young age, the average Singaporean is exposed to tales of the island’s catapulting itself from third world to first, and then fed a constant stream of pride-inducing narratives designed to demonstrate the nation’s success in overcoming abandonment by Malaysia, racial strife, economic struggles, and a constant siege by unfriendly neighbours. To be a citizen of Singapore was to delight in the tiny state’s ability to overtake others in the region in terms of development, economic progress, and “civilisation”. The larger and more unwieldy members of ASEAN were always depicted as those who were envious of Singapore’s progress, and constantly in need of assistance and advice from the island’s growing pool of local and resident international experts in countless fields.

Philip Holden (in Chapter 7) defines myths as “our way of telling a common sense story of the past”. The editors cite Roland Barthes as they point out that the distinguishing mark of myths are their “naturalness”—in other words, myths are stories that are taken as true and “historical”. But “history”, whether people realise it or not, is man-made. Singaporean stories taken as “history” seem to dangle off the edge of reality—and once unpacked, are revealed to be nothing more than myths created, embellished, and perpetuated for whichever use best suits national institutions, the state, and the media at the time.

I was born in Singapore but didn’t grow up there. Instead I travelled the world in a Singaporean bubble, perpetuating the national myths that engendered respect and awe. The occasional holiday in the homeland had the same impact on me as it did any foreigner. We were taken in by the sheen and shine; the spotlessness, safety and efficiency—and we all believed the myths. As an adult, spending my work hours in the “star” of Southeast Asia after decades abroad, the sparkle seems to dull a little. Murmurs on the ground help peel away the layers of flawless cling wrap to reveal the wrinkles and scars of those who lived all their lives in the Little Red Dot.

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Surely this is the real thing–since separation from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore has made great strides in terms of governance, economic development, social progress and politics.

Living with Myths in Singapore cleared all the doubts that couldn’t be publicly proclaimed and confronted. The book unpacks the myths to reveal the reality hidden beyond the singular “history” that is perpetually propagated. It fills in the fissures of the fables that niggled because the “common sense” didn’t quite make sense—but couldn’t be questioned. The book’s use of researched, academic histories based on multiple sources, facts, and evidence counters the myths and provides previously obscured insight into the truth behind the tales.

Thum Ping Tjin (Chapter 2) and Gareth Curless (Chapter 12) break down governance in Singapore from World War II to the present, and show how the threat of communism was a bogeyman invented to maintain power and quell dissent. In the 1980s, the Law Society was also curtailed to prevent it from truly representing the people. According to Teo Soh Lung (Chapter 13), its efforts to provide independent legal aid was tarred with accusations of political interference, and laws were sped through to ensure that the society remained focused on approved and apolitical cases. Singapore’s popular political economy narrative attributes the island-state’s success to its leaders’ ability to consolidate power and pursue the “authoritarian Singapore model” of development through foreign investment. This is dissected by Seng Quo-quan (Chapter 9), who posits an alternative take on political freedom and social democracy through the eyes of James Puthucheary.

The Singapore Story, as scrutinised in the book, slides effortlessly from effective governance to economic success, and chronicles the island’s speedy ascent to First World status from the doldrums of a native fishing village and coolie slums. Philip Holden (Chapter 7) suggests an alternative narrative that is a tragedy; one that recounts unparalleled and unexpected initial success, but then struggles and falls in its pursuit of economic growth and wealth at considerable social expense. “Economics is about getting rid of poverty; it’s not about making people richer”, was a statement Holden attributed to Professor Thomas Silcock, whose students included Goh Keng Swee and Lim Kim San.

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Mr. Lee Kuan Yew devoted his life to make Singapore what it is today. He wanted his country to remain a rugged and competitive society, not a static and complacent one.

 

As Singapore skyrocketed to unparalleled heights, the national narrative emphasised the need for self-reliance and family support before social welfare. Ho Chi Tim (Chapter 8) points out that on the contrary, other histories and scholarship detail myriad examples of social support positioned under the framework of justice and equal opportunities. At the time, these were not deemed to undermine a fair society. Yet, in spite of the reminder by Professor Silcock, as some Singaporeans become wealthier, poverty persists—albeit made invisible by popular myths. Teo You Yenn (Chapter 23) lays bare the realities of poverty in Singapore, where capitalist exploitation is compounded by assistance eligibility criteria that brands hard working low income citizens as failures, instead of victims of adverse social conditions. Temporary migrant workers are the unseen backbone of Singapore’s success. Charanpal S. Bal (Chapter 24) unpacks three popular myths surrounding these labourers, and explains how the myths have stood in the way of effective legislation and protection for the very people who literally built the island nation.

Part of the Singapore public relations package is its position as a global media hub and the centre of innovation and technology. Terence Lee (Chapter 6) traces the evolution of media in Singapore through its political history and brings to light a “media hub” that is politically well-managed yet deemed apolitical, and used as a tool for economic growth rather than for communication and discourse. Arthur Chia (Chapter 11) likens innovative projects in Singapore to a performance “in the global theatre of science and technology”, both to govern nationally and to ride international technological winds for economic benefit.

 

Beyond myth-making to boost its international reputation and generate economic gain, Singapore also has domestic myths which help to control and manage its citizens. The book assembles these myths in sections that portray a vulnerable and deficient people who need top-down intervention to protect them from themselves. Lee Kah-Wee (Chapter 10) explores the issue of the casino and exposes the economic truth behind both the claims of morality and the “new business model” of the Integrated Resorts.

Issues of race, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism and culture wars make up another mythological hotspot that requires scrutiny. Laavanya Kathiravelu (Chapter 15) deconstructs the perennial threat of racially-instigated violence and the myths of racial harmony and meritocracy that hinge on colonial categorisations of “Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others” (CMIO). Lai Ah Eng (Chapter 16) reflects on the difficulties of navigating Singaporean multiculturalism through shared spaces, employment and citizenship and highlights the need for cohesion, inclusion, exchange and appreciation in order to transition from myth to reality. Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho (Chapter 18) and Liew Kai Khiun (Chapter 19) discuss the crises of affinity and loyalty of new immigrants and at the same time, the dilemma of imported values and beliefs that are deemed contrary to Singapore’s “conservative family values”. In much the same vein are chapters on public apathy and the lack of activism and critical civil society. Loh Kan Seng (Chapter 20) and Edgar Liao (Chapter 21) show that contrary to popular beliefs, civil movements are alive and well in Singapore, and that the accusation of apathy had historically been used to prevent dissent and discontent from boiling over into decisive action against those in power.

All countries use myths to nurture a national storyline for identity formation. Mark Baildon and Suhaimi Afandi (Chapter 3) question the effectiveness of the singular history taught in schools, and Christine Han (Chapter 4) provides evidence of the ineffectiveness of the existing school-based citizen education. All the writers in this edited volume appeal for a revolution in Singapore’s national narrative—one that allows for open discussion of alternative histories and evidence-based scholarship on historical events, as well as true inclusivity in policies and economic plans.

Singaporeans of the future should be able to perceive as “common sense” the possibility that there are many views, and should be able to find it natural that there is more than one narrative given the complex evolution of this island nation of immigrants. That Living with Myths in Singapore was allowed to be written, printed, and distributed is a huge step in this direction. It is also, hopefully, a positive indication of more accurate “myth-making” to come.

Serina Rahman is a Visiting Fellow in the Malaysia Programme at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, conducting research in the fields of sustainable development, environmental anthropology and the economics of the environment. Serina co-founded Kelab Alami, an organisation formed to empower a Johor fishing community through environmental education for habitat conservation and economic participation in coastal development. She received her PhD in Science from Universiti Teknologi Mara in 2014.

Here’s Fareed Zakaria–Wither Trump’s America


November 2, 2017

Here’s Fareed Zakaria–Wither Trump’s America

Engage the World says Thinker Fareed Zakaria, not retreat into your shell, my American friends. Embrace globalisation and open rule-based trading environment, and together, we can prosper.  Your economy and what you do matters to us in Asia and the rest of the world.–Din Merican

Sustainable Development Goals Achievable?


September 28, 2017

Sustainable Development Goals Achievable?

by Andrew Sheng and Xiao Geng*

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/sdgs-global-cooperation-trump-un-speech-by-andrew-sheng-and-xiao-geng-2017-09

The SDGs were always bound to meet strong headwinds, owing to technological disruption, geopolitical rivalry, and widening social inequality. But populist calls for nationalist policies, including trade protectionism, have intensified those headwinds considerably.

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US President Donald Trump’s recent speech at the United Nations has gotten a lot of attention for its bizarre and bellicose rhetoric, including threats to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal and “totally destroy” North Korea. Underlying his declarations was a clear message: the sovereign state still reigns supreme, with national interests overshadowing shared objectives. This does not bode well for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Adopted by the UN just a year before Trump’s election, the SDGs will require that countries cooperate on crucial global targets related to climate change, poverty, public health, and much else. In an age of contempt for international cooperation, not to mention entrenched climate-change denial in the Trump administration, is achieving the SDGs wishful thinking?

The SDGs were always bound to meet strong headwinds, owing to technological disruption, geopolitical rivalry, and widening social inequality. But populist calls for nationalist policies, including trade protectionism, have intensified those headwinds considerably. Simply put, populations are losing faith that the global development orthodoxy of good governance (including monetary and fiscal discipline) and free markets can benefit them.

With all of the advanced countries confronting serious fiscal constraints, and emerging markets weakened by lower commodity prices, paying for global public goods has become all the more unappealing. Budget cuts – together with accountability issues and new technological challenges – are also hurting those tasked with delivering good governance. And markets increasingly seem to be captured by vested interests.

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Economic outcomes often have their origins in politics. Harvard Law School’s Roberto Unger has argued that overcoming the challenges of knowledge-based development will demand “inclusive vanguardism.” The democratization of the market economy, he says, is possible only with “a corresponding deepening of democratic politics,” which implies “the institutional reconstruction of the market itself.”

Yet, in the US, the political system seems unlikely to produce such a reconstruction. Harvard Business School Professors Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter argue that America’s two-party system “has become the major barrier to solving nearly every important challenge” facing the country.

Political leaders, Gehl and Porter continue, “compete on ideology and unrealistic promises, not on action and results,” and “divide voters and serve special interests” – all while facing little accountability. A forthcoming book by University of San Francisco Professor Shalendra Sharma corroborates this view. Comparing economic inequality in China, India, and the US, Sharma argues that both democratic and authoritarian governance have failed to promote equitable development.

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There are four potential combinations of outcomes for countries: (1) good governance and good economic policies; (2) good politics and bad economics; (3) bad politics and good economics; and (4) bad politics and bad economics. Other things being equal, there is only a one-in-four chance of arriving at a win-win situation of good governance and strong economic performance. That chance is diminished further by other disruptions, from natural disasters to external interference.

There are those who believe that technology will help to overcome such disruptions, by spurring enough growth to generate the resources needed to mitigate their impact. But while technology is consumer-friendly, it produces its own considerable costs.

Technology kills jobs in the short term and demands re-skilling of the labor force. Moreover, knowledge-intensive technology has a winner-take-all network effect, whereby hubs seize access to knowledge and power, leaving less-privileged groups, classes, sectors, and regions struggling to compete.

Thanks to social media, the resulting discontent now spreads faster than ever, leading to destructive politics. This can invite geopolitical interference, which quickly deteriorates into a lose-lose scenario, like that already apparent in water-stressed and conflict-affected countries, where governments are fragile or failing.

The combination of bad politics and economics in one country can easily produce contagion, as rising migration spreads political stress and instability to other countries. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, there were 65 million refugees last year, compared to just 1.6 million in 1960. Given the endurance of geopolitical conflict, not to mention the rapidly growing impact of climate change, migration levels are not expected to decline anytime soon.

The SDGs aim to relieve these pressures, by protecting the environment and improving the lives of people within their home countries. But achieving them will require far more responsible politics and a much stronger social consensus. And that will require a fundamental shift in mindset, from one of competition to one that emphasizes cooperation.

Just as we have no global tax mechanism to ensure the provision of global public goods, we have no global monetary or welfare policies to maintain price stability and social peace. That is why multilateral institutions need to be upgraded and restructured, with effective decision-making and implementation mechanisms for managing global development challenges such as infrastructure gaps, migration, climate change, and financial instability. Such a system would go a long way toward supporting progress toward the SDGs.

Unger argues that all of today’s democracies “are flawed, low-energy democracies,” in which “no trauma” – in the form of economic ruin or military conflict – means “no transformation.” He is right. In this environment, reflected in Trump’s embrace of the antiquated Westphalian model of nation-states, achieving the SDGs will probably be impossible.

*Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the UNEP Advisory Council on Sustainable Finance, is a former chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission, and is currently an adjunct professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. His latest book is From Asian to Global Financial Crisis.

*Xiao Geng, President of the Hong Kong Institution for International Finance, is a professor at the University of Hong Kong.

Technology–The Liberator and Great Equalizer, says Dr. Bakri Musa


September 19, 2017

Technology–The Liberator and Great Equalizer

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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The challenge for Malays and non-Malays in this global era is to cultivate an open mind because the alternative means depriving yourself of new opportunities.–Dr. M Bakri Musa

Modern technology, specifically digital, brings us to the outside world, and it to us. Today what happens in the isolated caves high in the mountains of Kabul can be recorded on a cell phone and then posted on the Web for the whole world to see. Even a repressive regime like China could not control the dissemination of images of its tanks bulldozing innocent citizens back at Tiananmen Square in 1989, though not for lack of trying.

The success of the Arab Jasmine Revolution owes much to this digital revolution. Through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, ordinary citizens communicated with each other in real time to organize massive demonstrations that brought down powerful leaders like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

I assert that the digital technology is a much more powerful and consequential instrument of liberation than the AK47, hitherto (still is) the favorite with not-so-bright revolutionaries worldwide.

Eygpt’s Hosni Mubarak was derailed not by a gunman, like his predecessor Anwar Sadat, but by a social revolution made possible by the online social network. If there were to be a leader of that movement, it would be Google executive Wael Ghonim. Unlike earlier Arab revolutionaries who were military officers, this guy was, for lack of better word, a geek. What an incredible achievement what he had done! No one could have predicted that Hosni Mubarak, who only a few months previously was the most powerful man in the Arab world, would face charges of premeditated murder for the deaths of those protestors.

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Digital technology is not the only modern agent of liberation. Modern transportation has reduced if not removed the barrier of geography. Today I can fly from San Francisco to Kuala Lumpur in less time than it took my sister to get from Kuala Pilah to Teachers’ College in Kota Baru via Malayan Railway back in the 1950s.

Travel, in so far as it affords one the opportunity to experience different cultures and realities, can be liberating. While the digital revolution might afford a virtual reality on the convenience and safety of your sofa, travel lets you experience reality in its raw, unfiltered physical form.

The liberating effect of travel works both on the traveler as well as the host. This liberating result, however, is not guaranteed. Seeing how the rest of the world operates may not necessarily open up minds; in some it would result in the exact opposite.

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The Chinese Emperor of the 15th Century sent out explorers out to the vast Pacific and Indian Oceans. Far from opening up Chinese minds, those exotics foreign expeditions merely reaffirmed their smug superiority that they had nothing to learn from the barbarians outside, a manifestation of a collective “confirmation bias” at the societal level.

The Chinese were so confident of their superiority that they eschewed the need for further foreign explorations. They went further. They ordered the dismantling of their advanced and massive maritime infrastructures and banned the building of boats, declaring that to be frivolous and resource-wasting exercises.

Meanwhile the Europeans continued with theirs. The scale was considerably much less, their ships pale imitations of the Chinese. The length of Columbus’s flagship Santa Maria was less than half the width of Cheng Ho’s.

Unlike the ancient Chinese, the medieval Europeans had no pretensions of grandeur; they explored the world with an open mind. They had no delusions about their ways being the best; instead they observed in those foreign lands things they could take home, like tea and spices. It did not take them long to recognize the enormous potential in trading those commodities by introducing new culinary experiences to European palates. The Europeans also soon discovered that the Chinese had a voracious appetite for opium, which the Brits could secure with ease from India. Lucrative commercial domination soon led to the political variety, and thus colonialism was born.

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Why one culture reacted a certain way and another, the very opposite, is intriguing. In the final analysis, it boils down to a culture’s openness to new ideas and experiences, its collective open mindedness. The ancient Chinese had closed minds; the medieval Europeans, open.

Today some foreigners arrive in a new country, and on encountering an alien culture would retreat, fearing it would “contaminate” their pristine values. They would close ranks and congregate in their own little ghettoes, refusing to integrate with the native majority. We see this in America as well as Malaysia.

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“…the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Technology and Digitization) is empowering the empowering the economically disadvantaged by giving them access to digital networks, increasing the efficiency of organisations, improving medical care with personalised drugs and providing a technological solution to climate change”.–Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, President, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

 

Others view their new experiences as open opportunities and endless learning. Some are simply grateful to be given a new lease on life after escaping the wretchedness of their native land. Eastern Europeans who came to America early in the last century were grateful and thus more than eager to join the American mainstream. They readily gave up their old ways to integrate as quickly as possible into their new society. They learned English quickly and changed their names to make them sound more Anglo-Saxon, with Pawlinsky morphing into the less jaw-breaking Paul.

Even when they were actively discriminated against, and the early Jews, Irish and Italians in America definitely were, they continued to adopt American ways. They did not rush to build Italian or Jewish schools; instead they built their own English schools so their children would not be handicapped in integrating into mainstream American society. They did not consider such actions as repudiating or denigrating their own culture. Far from it! They realized that their own culture and ways of life would more likely survive if were to thrive and be successful in their adopted land.

Today St. Patrick Day and Octoberfest are celebrated more exuberantly in Chicago and Milwaukee respectively than in Dublin or Berlin.

It is tempting to attribute the contrasting reactions of early immigrants to America from Europe to later ones from Asia and Latin America to the differences in circumstances that prompted them to emigrate. The Europeans were forcibly thrown out of their native lands through pogroms or wars. In contrast, recent Asian and Latin American immigrants cross the border voluntarily, for the most part (the South Vietnamese being the most recent notable exception). The Europeans did not ever want to return to their homelands. By contrast, many recent Hispanics consider their stay in America temporary, remaining just long enough to accumulate some money so they could return and live comfortably back in their native land. As such, they do not feel compelled to learn English or in any way integrate into American society.

A similar “temporary abode” mentality occurred with immigrants from China and India into Malaysia early last century. Brought in by the colonials to work the tin mines and rubber plantations, their mindset was to work hard, accumulate enough savings, and then balik Tongsan (return to their motherland, China). Hence there was little need to learn the local language or adapt to local culture. They remained insular, xenophobic, and closed-minded.

They were completely different from the Chinese men and women who much earlier voluntarily settled in the Straits Settlement, the Peranakan. They absorbed many of the elements of Malay culture, including the language and attire. They were not obsessed with balik Tongsan. When the British were in charge, those Chinese learned English; in independent Malaysia, they worked with the majority Malays.

The challenge for Malays and non-Malays in this global era is to cultivate an open mind because the alternative means depriving yourself of new opportunities.