Cambodia embarks on the Fourth Industrial Revolution


September 13, 2018

Cambodia embarks on the Fourth Industrial Revolution

by Chheang Vannarith / Khmer Times
embarks-on-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/

In today’s world, more countries are looking for innovative strategies to deal with the rising uncertainties they are facing. Asean, not cushioned from the same concerns, is at a crossroads with the rapid evolution of the geopolitical and geo-economic spheres.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is evolving at an unprecedented speed and its impact will be felt everywhere. This is the main theme at this year’s World Economic Forum held in Hanoi. In order to adapt to and make full use of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Asean member countries are reforming their institutions and regulations at varying degrees.

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the host of this year’s forum, proposed a five-point strategy for ASEAN: fostering digital connectivity and data sharing; harmonising the business environment; building synergies among innovation incubators; managing talents; and creating an education network for life-long learning.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo stressed that “with creativity, with energy, and with collaboration and partnership, we, humanity, shall enjoy abundance and we shall produce infinite resources”. He warned about the misguided belief and misperception that the rise of some will lead to the decline of others, saying it is a dangerous notion.

Image result for Prime Hun Sen at WEF-ASEAN 2018 in Hanoi

Prime Minister Hun Sen set out a list of priority areas that Cambodia and ASEAN should focus on to enhance the application of technology for socioeconomic development and poverty reduction.

 

In his remarks at the forum, Prime Minister Hun Sen set out a list of priority areas that Cambodia and ASEAN should focus on to enhance the application of technology for socioeconomic development and poverty reduction.

Cambodia is concerned that digitalisation and automation might lead to job losses and increase inequality. The Cambodian government is already developing policies to seize opportunities and overcome the challenges that come with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

First, the government is going to double its investment in upskilling the country’s human capital, especially in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Second, the Cambodian premier said a bigger investment is needed to develop digital platforms that can be used to share knowledge.

Third, he said more support mechanisms for the private sector are needed, especially for digital literacy, digital infrastructure development, and research and development.

“Cambodia can leapfrog if it can maximise its comparative advantages in terms of the demographic factor and its open economic structure. Hence, more investments are needed in education and knowledge governance,” Mr Hun Sen said.

He added that he was hoping to encourage innovative ways to narrow the brain gap.

“What ASEAN can do, Cambodia should be able to do as well and, if possible, better, because of the advantage of hindsight. This can be done by investing more in human resource training in Cambodia.”

The idea of a Fourth Industrial Revolution was first put forward by Klaus Schwab, a Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. He argues in his book ‘Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ that governments, businesses, and individuals must make the right strategic decisions regarding the development and deployment of technologies.

“The scale, complexity and urgency of the challenges facing the world today call for leadership and action that are both responsive and responsible. With the right experimentation of the spirit of systems leadership by values-driven individuals across all sectors, we have the chance to shape a future where the most powerful technologies contribute to a more inclusive, fair and prosperous community”, he wrote.

In Hanoi, Prime Minister Hun Sen and several other leaders from Asean stressed the importance of human capital as the nations embark on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“Human capital, technological innovation and artificial intelligence need to be utilised side by side and with equal emphasis for Industry 4.0 to work,” he added.

US-China Technology Competition is about “Self Transcendence”


September 13, 2018

Image result for asia-pacific bulletin

Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 439

Publisher: Washington, DC: East-West Center
Available From: September 12, 2018
Publication Date: September 12, 2018

US-China Technology Competition is about “Self Transcendence”

By Dr. Wenhong Chen

Eric Schmidt, then executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent firm, commented on China’s AI ambition on November 1, 2017, in Washington DC: “By 2020 the Chinese will have caught up (to the United States). By 2025 they will be better than us. And by 2030 they will dominate the industries of AI.” Not to miss the boat, about one and a half months later, Google announced its first major China move after its search engine left the mainland in 2010 — that it was opening a Google AI China Center in Beijing, its first in Asia, led by the Chinese-American scientist Feifei Li.

Disruptive AI, Big Data, and Cloud Computing (ABC) innovations have generated opportunities and challenges for entrepreneurs and policymakers across the Asia Pacific. Given the centrality of ABC policy to national security, economic prosperity, and global influence, it is critically important to understand and assess ABC policy practices and their implications for the digital economy and the US-China bilateral relationship.

Chinese government policy has been credited as a major driver of China’s digital transformation. In the pursuit of the Chinese Dream — a narrative of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people — China has been purposefully and skillfully developing ABC as a top national project since 2013.

First, a series of regulatory and legislative work including the passage and implementation of national, regional, and local policies, laws, plans, and programs (including Made in China 2015 which has become a contentious issue in the US-China trade talks).

Second, financial and institutional support gives rise to national big data pilot zones, ministerial industry demonstration bases, provincial and municipal industrial parks, and numerous national big data and AI research labs. Guizhou, one of poorest provinces for a long time, was selected as China’s first national big data zone and has demonstrated one of the highest annual GDP growth rates in the nation.

Third, the government has been exploring new mode of engagement with established and emerging tech giants such as Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (BAT) and their younger peers which have been growing primarily outside of the state-owned sector. BAT have been chosen as national AI champions, and as part of the mixed-ownership reform, they were invited to invest in state-owned telecom behemoths for a greater integration of public and private sector digital resources in 2017. During the Two Sessions (China’s parliament sessions) in spring 2018, Chinese tech firms listed in overseas stock markets were invited to return to the Chinese stock markets.

Fourth, China has been promoting cyber-sovereignty through the control of cross-border data flow and the demand of data localization. Domestic and foreign companies are required to store data from China in China. Transnational corporations have been complying – via joint ventures with local, often state-owned partners – and complaining at the same time.

Related image

When asked by Senator Dan Sullivan at the Senate hearing on April 10, 2018 on whether Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg were too powerful, Mr. Zuckerberg redirected: “And when I brought up the Chinese Internet companies, I think that that’s a real strategic and competitive threat that, in American technology policy we should be thinking about.”

Image result for henry kissinger

Henry Kissinger lamented that “Other countries have made AI a major national project. The United States has not yet, as a nation, systematically explored its full scope, studied its implications, or begun the process of ultimate learning.” America’s ABC policy has been less systematic than China’s top-down, whole-of-government, national-strategy approach.

The Trump Administration’s ABC approach, if any, seems to center on economic security as an integral part of national security. The Department of Defense spent $7.4 billion in 2017 on ABC, and set AI as the cornerstone of America’s military dominance. Similar to other areas, the Administration is shifting from the multilateral approach to one of bilateralism. As importantly, the Administration has been more confrontational, accusing China of forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft, and threatening tariffs and other punitive actions. In particular, the Administration has demanded that the Chinese government give up its Made in China 2025 plan which aims to develop China’s ABC industries as world leaders.

The US inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has been tightening scrutiny on Chinese investment in US critical infrastructure and technology. A bipartisan bill further expands and strengthens CFIUS oversight.

In addition to these protectionist measures, the Administration recently released a factsheet showcasing its AI efforts and achievement in terms of military and unclassified R&D investment, government service, regulatory barrier removal, talent training, and international collaboration. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) organized an AI Summit with more than 30 American corporations and various federal agencies for better public and private AI coordination in May 2018. Although observers have different assessments on the Administration’s protectionist approach, it is time for the US to step up, starting with a long-term, more comprehensive tech policy framework, as well as greater investment in R&D.

While acknowledging the importance of ABC to national security and government efficiency, the federal government has been facing challenges such as 1) an aging IT infrastructure, 2) shortage of IT talent, and 3) tight budgets. Since President Trump took office, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the White House hub of innovation for the last four decades, has experienced substantial decline: the director position has not been filled and staff has dropped from 135 during the Obama administration to 45, and the majority have no science background

As media and pundits fixate on a binary US-China tech competition, both Washington and Beijing need to carefully gauge the benefits and costs of US containing or engaging China as a strategic competitor. ABC related policies and practices are at the frontline. Perhaps Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, says it the best that the aim of US-China relations is about “self-transcendence rather than replacing each other.”

Dr. Wenhong Chen is  a visiting fellow at the East-West Center in Washington DC and associate professor of media and sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is serving as the chair of the Communication, Information Technologies, and Media Sociology Section of American Sociological Association (CITAMS). She can be contacted at Wenhong.Chen@Austin.UTexas.edu.

WEF on ASEAN: Key Agenda


September 8, 2018

WEF on ASEAN: Key Agenda

by Chheang Vannarith / Khmer Times
 
Image result for wef on asean 2018
Justin Wood, Head of Asia-Pacific, Member of the WEF Executive Committee told reporters on September 6 (Photo: VNA)

 

The World Economic Forum of ASEAN will discuss the Fourth Industrial Revolution, powered by a wide range of new breakthroughs. Chheang Vannarith writes these new technologies are revolutionary due to the speed, breadth and depth of anticipated change they will bring and warns that if Asean leaders do not think regionally, they will miss out on opportunities and fail to address growing challenges.

The World Economic Forum on ASEAN is going to take place in Hanoi on 11-13 September, with the participation of, if nothing changes, seven state leaders from ASEAN member states, namely State Counsellor of Myanmar Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Image result for wef 4th industrial revolution

The main theme of the forum this year focuses on how Asean can embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution – which generally refers to technological revolution in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, 3-D printing, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing. This is a new, critical area of regional cooperation as Asean moves towards building a genuine people-centered, people-oriented community.

Opportunities are present, stemming from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and we need to be aware of and get ready to face emerging challenges such as job losses and disruption, inequality and political instability, and cyberattacks. With the accelerating pace of change and transformation in almost all dimensions of social, economic and political landscapes, Asean member countries need to accelerate their comprehensive reforms, especially regulatory reforms, in order to grasp the benefits and overcome the challenges.

Image result for wef 4th industrial revolution

Information and knowledge sharing is critical to building national and regional capacity in navigating through these transformations and uncertainties. The less developed economies like Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar need more international support in building their digital infrastructure and human capital to survive and stay economically competitive. If not, they risk being left far behind. Be aware that widening the development gap within the region will prevent the realisation of a genuine regional community and could potentially trigger regional division and instability. A two-tiered ASEAN is not a healthy ASEAN.

The report by the World Economic Forum and the Asian Development Bank in 2017 suggests that regional governments must be fast, agile, experimental, inclusive, and open in developing an ecosystem for digital integration. Being inclusive in policy design and execution has been one of the main shortcomings in regional integration in Southeast Asia since regional projects are chiefly led by political ruling elites with low participation from the private sector and civil society. It is commonly said that ASEAN is an elite-driven regional project.

How to transform this unprecedented breadth and depth of technological revolution into a source of inclusive and sustainable development remains the top challenge for ASEAN and its member states. It is proven that inequality is one of the root causes of political and social instability and ASEAN must develop a strategy to link technology with the narrowing development gap – one of which is to promote “an inclusive Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Image result for wef 4th industrial revolution in Hanoi 2018

 

The new Cambodian government to be formed today has included digital economy into its development agenda for the next five years, with the expectation that it will help Cambodia to compete with other regional countries within the context of intensifying market competition, the gradual collapsing of labor-intensive manufacturing industry, and the concentration of market power by multinational companies.

The local enterprises, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), will face mounting challenges to remain competitive in the market that will transition to virtual products and services than real ones. Technology remains unaffordable and inaccessible for many SMEs in the region and there is an urgent need to develop a support mechanism, both financial and technical support, to assist SMEs in utilizing the benefits accorded in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Another interesting agenda of the forum is the dialogue session on the future of the Mekong region – a new growth center and strategic frontier of Asia. The leaders from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam will present their views on the current state of regional development and integration in the Mekong and the management of the Mekong River. There are increasing concerns that hydropower dams being constructed and planned along the mainstream of the river will severely affect the livelihoods and ecosystem in the whole Mekong River Basin. The recent dam collapse in Laos has prompted riparian countries to review their hydropower projects.

The two downstream countries, Cambodia and Vietnam, are the most affected countries. They have put certain pressures on upstream countries, particularly Laos, to conduct trans-boundary environmental and social impact assessments before constructing dams. Data sharing on water flow and quality is another key area of cooperation, especially in the dry season. There are many outstanding issues and emerging challenges that the Mekong countries need to overcome and find suitable solutions for all. A win-win cooperation must be real on the ground, not only in diplomatic statements. The perception of the local people, not the ruling elites, is the best indicator to reflect and prove whether a development project is a win-win project.

ASEAN and other sub-regional institutions such as the Mekong River Commission share one common weakness which is the lack of implementation and enforcement. Policies abound – either in the form of blueprints, declarations, or joint statements – but implementation is lacking. Next week, ASEAN leaders will share their perspectives on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Mekong River. It will be a reminder that people want to know concrete actions and solutions that benefit whole societies and not small groups of political and business elites. That is what inclusiveness is all about.

Chheang Vannarith is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.

 

When we will ever learn to do things on our own,nothing is gained from giveaways


August 23, 2018

When we will ever learn to do things on our own, not depend on others for help. Face it, nothing is gained from giveaways

By T K Chua

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com.my

Image result for Self Reliance builds Resilience

“If the new government is to be any better than the old, we must find reasons and justifications before making decisions, not make decisions first and then find reasons and justifications to support them.”–T K Chua

As a nation, why do we always expect that others will help us?

We want others to give us technology without quid pro quo. We want others to give us favourable terms in trade and investment. We want others to concede and suffer with us because of our follies. We want others to teach us how to govern and manage our country.

Image result for 1MDB

This man is the very antithesis of the rugged individual. He ended up selling Malaysia on the cheap.

Unless we are a war-torn nation in utter poverty and destitution, I don’t think we’re going to get any meaningful help from others. Let’s ditch the idea that a foreign nation would help another be strong and competitive. To compete and prosper, each nation must do it on its own.

We can see the success and failures of many nations around us. We can’t complain that others are not teaching us. They can’t and won’t. We have to learn from them on our own.

Learning from other countries means doing what they do, not just talking. We can’t keep condemning the subsidy mentality and “free lunches” but keep doing the same as we have for the last half a century.

Image result for israel the startup nation

A Miracle is Discipline, Innovation, Entrepreneurship

We can’t keep saying meritocracy is good but keep doing the opposite.We can’t keep saying it’s good to be hardworking, conscientious and thrifty but reward incompetency and irresponsibility with easy money.

We can’t keep saying corruption and cronyism is bad if our fight against these comes only in dribs and drabs depending on the “convenience” of the day.

Malaysia has always had great ambitions – the “Malaysia Boleh” attitude, so to speak. We started Proton around the same time that Korea embarked on its auto industry. We started the multimedia super corridor much earlier than many others. We have InventQjaya, Biovalley and numerous other development corridors littering the whole country.

Image result for Proton Saga Original Model

Proton Saga–Malaysia’s Success Story. And so another of the same in Pro-3

But what did we get in the end? Sadly, we are now talking about starting another national car project. We are talking about learning basic things like online marketing from Alibaba. We are talking about revolutionising agriculture when at one time we were the world champion in rubber and palm oil research.

We should not carry our “handicapped” mentality to the international level. When we trade, invest and conduct business dealings with others, we mustn’t expect favours or help from others. We should extract what we can from others and defend and protect our interests based on our faculties and abilities.

At the international level, no one is going to feel sorry for us and our follies. We must have people with faculties holding strategic and important positions in the country.

If the new government is to be any better than the old, we must find reasons and justifications before making decisions, not make decisions first and then find reasons and justifications to support them.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

Malaysia’s Sunway City: Thank You, Dr. Jeffery Cheah


August 21, 2018

Malaysia’s Sunway City: A Model in Sustainable Development

By: Lexie Ma, Tom Tsui and FY Lung

https://www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/malaysia-sunway-city-sustainability-standout/

 

In a region where little attention is paid to sustainability and the environment, Sunway City, built on an abandoned tin mine on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, is a standout, more aligned with Singapore, whose Building Construction Authority aims for 80 percent of buildings to be Green Mark-certified by 2030, than Malaysia.

Wasteland-Turned Wonderland”

Called a “wasteland-turned wonderland,” this onetime township now boasts world-class resorts, hotels, shopping malls, schools and medical centers, and is home to 200,000 residents. It is the brainchild of developer Jeffrey Cheah Fook Ling, Malaysia’s 13th richest man. The  rehabilitation and transformation of the landscape has led to recognition as the country’s first integrated green township.

Thriving on a balance between sustainability and profitability, Sunway City has stayed on a course of sustainable development while remaining robust financially.  The conglomerate reportedly accrued RM137.5 million  (US$33.51 million) in first-quarter 2018 profit, a 11 percent rise year on year.

Image result for Sunway University and Jeffrey Sachs

Around Sunway City, posters and billboards of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) are hanging everywhere, making clear Cheah’s determination to construct an integrated township and sustainable community. Unlike many companies which view green initiatives as a means to fulfill their corporate social responsibility, Sunway Group appears to set sustainability as the core value of the township.

The heart of the development is Sunway University, fully accredited both in Malaysia and by the Education Committee of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) of United Kingdom. But Sunway City didn’t always have college campuses, theme parks and a pyramid-shaped mall. When Malaysia was under British rule, Cheah bought an 800-acre tin mine from the British and developed his tin mining company which later diversified into sand mining, quarrying and construction.

The business came to a halt when the late 1980s brought a recession, causing tin prices to collapse. “It nearly bankrupted me,” said Cheah, now a Tan Sri, one of Malaysia’s highest-ranking honorifics. What he had built became a “mined-out wasteland,” as he would put it. He ended up selling quarries, one of his most profitable assets at the time, as well as laying off the unit’s employees.

“One incident that made me respect Tan Sri is that he promised not to abandon his quarry workers during the financial crisis,” said Dr. Elizabeth Lee. She joined Sunway Group’s education arm 20 years ago and is now its senior executive director. “He promised to employ them when he had earned back the money. And he did.”

Image result for dr jeffrey cheah sunway

Malaysia was the world’s largest tin producer until the price collapse some three decades ago. Following that particularly difficult time in the country’s tin mining history, the private sector sought to rehabilitate deserted mining sites for more productive land use.

Cheah was among the first entrepreneurs in the country to grant a second lease of life to a mining wasteland. As he turned his vision of an integrated green township into reality while further diversifying his business interests, Sunway City supports 12 different business units, ranging from property development and hospitality to education and healthcare.

Cheah was not the only one transforming ex-mines into resorts either. In 1988, property tycoon Lee Kim Yew was tasked by the government to convert Hong Fatt Mines, the world’s biggest open-cast mine back then, into Mines Resort City, a tourist destination with a five-star hotel, man-made beach and golf course.

Sustainability and Profitability Hand-in-Hand

Today, Sunway Group has three publicly listed companies in Malaysia with a combined market capitalization of RM17 billion and 15,000 employees across 50 locations internationally, testament to how sustainability and profitability can go hand-in-hand.

“A lot of times, people think sustainability is a cost to what you do,” commented Chew Chee Kin, Sunway’s Group President since 1999 and long-time friend of Cheah. “What you have to do is to minimize the damage you do to the environment.”

To achieve this, the company strives to be as scientific as it can. Producing clay pipe used to require 48 hours of burning, but Sunway Group has managed to reduce that to 20 hours, saving more than 60 percent of energy, according to Chew. “If it is something we can save energy, it’s very good for profitability,” said Chew.

Environmental and economic sustainability aside, Cheah also tries to facilitate sustainable cultivation of talent through the group’s education arm and philanthropic channels. Established in 2010 to continue the mandate of Sunway Education Trust Fund, Jeffrey Cheah Foundation has awarded RM270 million in scholarships to thousands of individuals for their tertiary education, making it a leading education-focused social enterprise in the country.

Image result for sunway university

Managing the highly lucrative education business in the form of a foundation and running Sunway University as a nonprofit, Cheah effectively ensures that his realm is free from any shareholder control. “Surpluses can be plowed back for scholarships, for research and improvement in facilities,” he explained.

The foundation also dedicated US$10 million for sustainable development education in 2016, one of the most generous amounts gifted towards the cause in recent years. “Our strategy and our long-term thinking is through education, education, education,” said Cheah. “I know education is the best way out of poverty.”

Success or Gimmick?

Education is not the only way in which Sunway City pushes forward its sustainable development agenda. Little remained of the tin mine’s original biodiversity when Cheah acquired the site.  A lot of work had to be done to rebuild the entire ecosystem. Even earthworms had to be re-introduced for soil revitalization.

“Of course, I had to do a lot of transplantation of trees and shrubs and all these, and today the ecosystem is back,” he said. “This mother earth is so important to us, if we continue to damage it, … our future generation will have a big headache.”

Image result for sunway university

A quarter of Sunway City is designated as green space. The city offers free Wi-Fi coverage in public areas and provides free internet access for all students and residents.  A 4-km “Canopy Walkway” footbridge connects the city’s two universities and major facilities. Electric buses run on a flyover not shared with other vehicles. The group is urging the government to lower the bus fare, currently RM5.4 for a complete 5.4-km ride.

Attempts to promote sustainability in urban planning have won Sunway City multiple awards both within and beyond the borders. In 2017, it was recognized as an Integrated Smart and Low-Carbon Township by International Data Corporation Government Insights, a global market intelligence firm.

At first glance, Sunway City is nothing short of a perfect role model championing sustainable development without compromising economic viability. Nevertheless, things are always easier said than done, even more so on such a city-wide scale.

First of all, one questions if rules on sustainability are thoroughly implemented. Caterers at Sunway University continue to pack food in disposable plastic containers. Central air-conditioning on campus renders room-specific adjustments impossible. And recycling bins are yet to become common fixtures around the township. There seems to remain much room for improvement for Sunway City to translate the grand idea of sustainable development into the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

Regardless, with Sunway Group’s aggressive promotion on the notion, sustainability has over the years become a buzzword among city residents. Many are indeed mindful of sustainable living and serious about making positive changes on the environmental protection front through real-life practices. For instrance, there is Maslisa Zainuddin, a Sunway University design communications and interior architecture lecturer.

 

“[Sustainability is] something that I’ve decided to take onboard myself,” she said. A poster child for what has become known as “upcycling,”, Zainuddin proudly wears clothes refashioned from discarded garments on a daily basis. “Today’s top I’m wearing, it was a romper, which I refashioned into a high-low top,” she said, referring to her fitted ivory sleeveless blouse with embroidery details. “[The bottom part] is actually being transformed into a bow that sits on top of my shoulder of a tote bag that I’m making from an old skirt. Because as a designer, I still am a practicing designer, I just don’t believe in teaching and not practicing what you preach.”

“Walk the Talk”

While individuals like Zainuddin are making sustainability-conscious lifestyle choices and influencing others to follow suit, Sunway City is exploring new ways to closely align modern city life with the UNSDGs. Cheah hopes that a new government will steer things in the right direction.

The business mogul used to feel taken advantage of as he executed many urban renewal projects on his own which technically fell under government responsibilities. “We walk the talk. They don’t walk the talk,” said Cheah, frustrated with the former government’s inefficiency. “Hopefully, with the new government, people will listen, rather than they hear you, but they don’t listen.”

Learning from past mistakes, the conglomerate is already replicating the Sunway model elsewhere in Malaysia. Sunway City Ipoh in Perak and Sunway Iskandar in Johor are both set to promise the same sustainability-backed prosperity. The story of a flourishing integrated green township built from scratch even offers urban planning inspirations worldwide.

Yet, resources, policies and cultures do place restraints onto cross-national endeavors. “We’re doing a small project, ecocity project in Tianjin,” added Chew, as Sunway Group got invited by provinces in China to recreate the miracle. “But we probably don’t have the resources to build so many townships overseas.”

Lexie Ma, Tom Tsui and FY Lung  are students at the Hong Kong University Journalism and Media Studies Center

Malaysia: Time for radical thinkers in our varsities


August 18, 2018

Opinion

Malaysia: Time for radical thinkers in our varsities

Dr.Azly Rahman
 

“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”

– Plato

 COMMENT | I once taught Thinking Skills, Foreign Policy, and Ethics. My approach towards teaching thinking was about increasing the capacity of the mind to explore newer perspectives, make critical judgement, and envision a scenario of a society of peace and justice, based on the principles of multiculturalism.

Image result for Biro Tata Negara

Maybe it is Biro Tata Negara (?)

I value such an experience and have grown with it. We need to create and nurture a culture of thinking in a world that is increasingly hostile to radical and ethical ideas.

What could be even more important now as we enter a new phase of Malaysian intellectual evolution, at a time when we hear stories of vice-chancellors are enemies of the people’s mind and are being removed?

In my teaching, the approach combines universal ethical values, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, and futuristics. I think there is value in such an approach.

If we can radicalise student thinking, teach them to stand for their rights, give them choices in thinking, have them articulate great ideas in their own words, we can make them better graduates.

We can train them to become good ethical revolutioners who will remove oppressive and corrupt leaders and redesign a society that will continue to rejuvenate itself. We can teach them to continue to demand the resignation of corrupt leaders – or even have an entire cabinet resign.

We can also teach them to punish polluters, especially corporations that dump poison into our rivers or release deadly smoke into our environment. We can create socially-conscious futurists out of our children.

Image result for plato on education

 

Futurists conjure scenarios of societies they want to have – build from the ruins of one that has crumbled out of the need for greed and economic speed.

Radical futurists create newer social order reconstructed out of the ruins of the ones ruled by leaders addicted to raw power; power employed to rape the environment and humanity these leaders are entrusted to “govern”.

But first, we must have the teachers and lecturers prepare for all these as well. We have many bright, young, academics eager to explore newer perspectives on politics, economic, and cultural aspects of our world. Can they do these in a cognitively-controlled environment? How do we help them?

Critical thinking is not about ‘criticising’

It seems that there is a deeper meaning to “critical thinking” than just “criticising” something or anything.

It is a process of the personal evolution of metacognition (beyond cognition itself); to understand one’s own thinking process and to govern it with the tools one acquires through interacting with the environment and processing information that will become meaningful through the complex neural connections made in the brain.

There has to be a good repertoire of knowledge in one’s consciousness in order to understand the “dialectical and dialogical” aspect of thinking.

Image result for Harold Bloom on How to read

Our education system must encourage this development through the love of reading – the exploration of good and great books taught by teachers who love books and have the passion to challenge students to think and think.

Thinking must be encouraged; students must live their daily lives in classrooms without fear of being punished or ridiculed for thinking critically and creatively.

Image result for Harold Bloom on How to read

Our classrooms must encourage dialogues and debates even if the subject matter is sensitive, difficult, painful, and intellectually challenging. We must have good teachers to groom students to become brave thinkers and communicators of ideas.

These professors themselves must embody the virtues of radical thinking and become beacons of hope for newer thinkers, much like what Socrates was to the Athenians in fifth century BC.

Image result for socrates plato aristotle painting

Thinkers of the Axial Age–Socrates, Plato and Aristotle

Radical thinkers must be celebrated and honoured, not imprisoned and shamed. Only a shameless government doing shameful acts would jail good, ethical, socially-conscious thinkers who speak truth to power.

If in our universities, thinking means thinking about what the state dictates and students are being punished for speaking out on issues that concern their role as future inheritors of their society, we have a got a national problem. How do we make our universities even free from the dictates of the new regime?

Higher order thinking

The essence of higher order thinking skills is the “Why” question and the “What if” and “Why not this”. These questions help our students to critique dominant paradigm and allow them to conjure newer perspectives, much like what radical social futurists would do.

What is the culture of critical thinking in our Malaysian classrooms these days? Is it enabling the culture of thinking or retarding it?

Image result for The Godfather of the Trumpian America First Age

The Defender of the Trumpian Age–Where was this Italian American educated?

Critical thinking is also not about running in the streets screaming for this or that change; it is a process of intellectual embodiment and the democratisation of one’s personal understanding of the intellectual basis of change.

For too long we have seen our students doing that, yet the nature of protests could be traced to what politicians wanted or use the students to advance this or that politician’s desire for total power.

Thinking is a process subjective and individually unique in nature, first and foremost. The great American feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “If I cannot dance to it, it is not my revolution.” Such is a reminder of thinking as an existential act.

Today it must not be about blindly supporting the dying regime of Najibism nor the re-surfacing of Mahathirism. It has to be an act of deconstructing both and unshackling the prison-house of one’s thinking.

It is a process of constructing a “republic of virtue” in which each citizen is a philosopher-ruler in her own right. Each individual, perhaps like the notion held by the Buddhist, is “aware” of the surrounding, mastering her own environment, aware of cause and effects of beingness, to identify oppressive signs and symbols that govern her and others, to destroy structures that are shacking, to essentially be able to look at her life like a crystal ball.

Is this idea of creating world-wise radical intellectual and movers and shakers possible in our Malaysian educational system?

This is the greatest challenge of this century, for our nation especially. If we wish to remove, the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which has in it the ‘Pledge of loyalty to the state’, and remove all acts that are anathema to a healthy thinking culture, we must rethink how we think.

We owe a good education system to our children – a system that will encourage children to systematically revolt against systems, especially against those which still want to divide and rule based on race and religion. Especially against yet another regime that might also use the tools of colonialism and apartheid, even against its own people, retarding the grown of a progressive generation.

We are not yet free. We might still be moving from one totalitarian system to another. Hegemony in transition, as the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci would say.

I think, therefore I exist (cogito, ergo, sum) Rene Descartes said. I’d say we think, therefore we revolt – we must work towards that.


 

Dr. AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Bahru, and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in five areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, and creative writing.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.