Before Hudud: Chink in Malaysia’s Islamic Armour


New York

June 21, 2016

Before Hudud: Chink in Malaysia’s Islamic Armour

by Lim Teck Ghee

In December 2015 Mansour Jamal Ibrahim, a 22 year old Muslim student studying in Belgium wrote a post, “Racism in the Muslim community: Are we really one?” in the website, MVSLIM.

In it he addressed the following observation which should  be a wake up call to the Islamic world:

The Muslim community is a global community of diversity, variety and color.

We are taught to accept every Muslim (and non-Muslim) with complete disregard to their color, nationality or ethnicity. Yet somehow black Muslims (and Muslims of color in general) experience racism for our brothers and sisters in Islam.

Every attempt to tackle these issues has been swept underneath the rug with the phrase “One Ummah brother, we accept no racism in Islam”. How can you explain the feeling of superiority towards black and brown people?

In our part of the world, the issue of racism in our national version of Islam has similarly been swept under the carpet as in the case with black and other coloured Muslims.

Some may argue that this issue or allegation arises from a misleading or imagined perception. That it is really a problem trotted out by enemies of the religion, and not worthy of attention.But can we dismiss it so easily?

To understand or make sense of any phenomenon of prejudicial thinking, we need to first test the assumption or hypothesis; that is, we need to determine scientifically whether it is true or untrue.

We know that racism has no biological or apparently religious basis. But could it in reality be deeply embedded in the religious sector just as it has permeated into every other pore of Malaysian society and life?

Acknowledging the reality of racism and therefore asking difficult questions about it is possibly the biggest hurdle to overcome in helping the country fight against this dehumanizing ideology. This hurdle is one which mainstream and establishment Islamic organizations as well as progressive Islamic NGOs and think tanks are either indifferent to, or regard as unworthy of concern.

Although hundreds, if not thousands, of workshops and forums have been held on a vast variety of Islamic subject matters, there is none that appears to have directly dealt with this apparently “taboo” topic.

It is noteworthy too that our foremost Islamic body, the National Council for Islamic Affairs (JAKIM), which has issued numerous edicts that have legal implications such as ruling against Muslims practicing yoga (yoga is seen to have elements of other religions that could corrupt Muslims) apparently has nothing to say about the issue of racism in Malaysia’s Islam; what racial acts are to be deemed haram or halal; etc.

We have also heard little or nothing of our Islamic and religious leaders’ ability to cite parts of the holy Koran dealing with race or race relations that may serve as an example to the Muslim or even non-Muslim community.

Second Class Muslims

One exception though has been Dr Mahathir who, in his capacity as patron of Perkim or the Muslim Welfare Organization of Malaysia, referred to the plight of new converts. We all know that Dr Mahathir is very adept at calling a spade a spade. At the same time he can be the most circuitous of leaders when it suits his objective.

Speaking at a Perkim event in the country in December last year, Dr. Mahathir, although avoiding the “racism” word, called on Malay Muslims to treat new converts as brothers in the following way:

“There should be no discrimination. Sometimes we feel that they are ‘second-class Muslims’. That is wrong. There is no difference between one Muslim and another except from the view of ‘taqwa’ (piety/fear of Allah). That (Taqwa) is the only thing that differentiates us,” he was reported to have said to reporters.

Ironically, the two-day seminar was aimed at strengthening Muslim solidarity and to serve as a platform to gather opinions in uniting Muslims.

To any outside observer, it is very clear that unless and until the issue of racism in Islam is addressed and resolved – within and outside the Muslim community – most people in the minority religious and ethnic groups will not see any reason why they should consider embracing the brotherhood of Islam, either through conversion or other means.

And that surely is a fatal blow to the dream of Islamic authorities who would like to see a more Islamic country in every way possible.

Zakir Naik, during his recent tour, may have showcased one or several converts to his audience but this must be considered poor – even paltry – returns on the conversion front, given the enormous resources put into the government’s Islamic missionary and conversion machine

To be fair, it needs to be pointed out that it is not just in Malaysia’s Islam that we need to ask the race question. Other religions in the country also need to ask similar questions of their faith and congregation; and the way their faith treats members of minority communities – whether converts or not; doctrinal and in actuality.

An inter-faith dialogue on this would be useful. It would certainly be an improvement on the present state of religious discussion which seems to be stuck endlessly on the “hudud” question.

 

 

Malaysia’s Budaya Tipu in Academia


June 20, 2015

New York City

Malaysia’s  Budaya Tipu–Academic Plagiarism and Intellectual Fraud

 by Rom Nain
COMMENT: Malaysian Higher Education, evidently, is once again in the limelight. Once again, for the wrong reasons.

Over the past couple of days, news has gone around that four researchers from a local public university had deliberately manipulated images in a co-authored article published in a prestigious international academic journal.

The four, from Universiti Malaya (UM) – our oldest and,  often enough claimed, our most prestigious, public university – were initially accused of duplicating and manipulating images of cells in their article.

An article which allegedly had three versions was published in three separate journals. Sadly for them – and certainly for UM – the allegations initially exploded over the scientific community’s social media and then spread to other platforms, finally catching the attention of the mainstream scientific media.

The main author, not surprisingly, initially brushed off the charges, providing ‘reasons’ that even non-scientists who had examined the article found rather incredulous.

Now, it has come to the attention of the Malaysian Higher Education Ministry and the authorities at UM. And UM has acted swiftly enough to investigate yet another potential scandal and possibly discipline any wrongdoers.

There will surely be more revealed over the next few days and, I’m sure, there will be demands that the heads of the four researchers, if found guilty, roll. But will they? And even if they do, will the wider problems be resolved?

Going by previous incidences of this nature, one doubts anything major will be resolved. In 1994 a professor at the same Universiti Malaya went to court to defend herself against allegations of plagiarising the work of her students. Despite the evidence, she remains a professor till this day.

A couple of years back, the infamous Ridhuan Tee, while an Associate Professor at the Armed Forces University, was accused of plagiarism as well. Again, despite the clear evidence, he was able to move to another university on the east coast, getting a promotion to full professor to boot. That is classic Malaysian academic culture.

Then there is the infamous University of Bath-UiTM debacle earlier this year, when graduates from the UK university discovered that their theses had somehow found their way into UiTM’s repository, with UiTM’s copyright and watermark on them.

UiTM, predictably, apologised, asserting that it was a technical error that had caused it all. It is still unclear today why the Bath papers were gifted to UiTM by a staff member, and whether she or he had the right to do so.

Fundamental issues of Integrity–The meaning of the word Integrity.

Needless to say, there are a number of things we can – and must – take away from these cases that strike at the core of fundamental issues of integrity. Namely, the integrity of individuals, the integrity of the Malaysian academic profession and, yes, the integrity of our institutions.

It is, after all, easy to apportion blame to individuals, such as the four UM researchers or the professors who blatantly plagiarised the works of others But, unfortunately, these cases – alleged by many in Malaysian academia as barely ‘scratching the surface’ – will continue if the core issues and problems are not located and sincerely addressed.

Of course, one could say that they indulge in these activities because they feel they can ‘get away with it’. But why do they do it in the first place? And why does it seem so prevalent these days?

To begin to answer these questions, we would have to at least go back to this relatively recent phenomenon of university academics needing to meet pre-determined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

But, unfortunately, these cases – alleged by many in Malaysian academia as barely ‘scratching the surface’ – will continue if the core issues and problems are not located and sincerely addressed.Of course, one could say that they indulge in these activities because they feel they can ‘get away with it’. But why do they do it in the first place? And why does it seem so prevalent these days?

To begin to answer these questions, we would have to at least go back to this relatively recent phenomenon of university academics needing to meet pre-determined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Pre-determined, often enough, by university administrators more concerned about pleasing their political masters than they are about the welfare of their staff and, even less, about any commitment to a particular academic ethos.

Hence, meaningful university teaching and research be damned. Instead, a bureaucratic or mechanistic view of what higher education, particularly the role of universities and academics, is advanced. Indeed, in Malaysian academia, increasingly it has become a case of institutions and individuals having to meet certain, often quantifiable and quantitative, targets.

And achieving high international rankings yearly has become the name of the game. For some public universities, especially those designated as `research’ universities, publishing in top-tier Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) and Scopus journals now is the main, sometimes determining, criterion for promotion.

It is within this cauldron of quite rapid change and shifting of priorities – often directed by politicians and their ministries – that we find many of our public universities and their faculty members.

Things have gotten worse for Malaysia under Najib Razak

This, of course, hadn’t been the case for a long time. Indeed, it could be argued that the slide began the moment politics and notions of what has derogatorily been called kulitocracy (skin based meritocracy) took top priority from the 1980s onward.

Policies that led to the recruitment of faculty due to their skin tone and, more subtly, their political affiliation, rather than the grey matter in their head, led to a culture of conformity and mediocrity being developed. For some critics this gradually replaced the emphasis on dedicated teaching and learning, and doing good research that had been cultivated in the 1960s and 1970s.

‘Carma’ academics

This was facilitated by (administrative) structures that policies and strategies that (still) disproportionately reward what the national laureate, A Samad Said, has rightly called the ‘carma’ (cari makan) academics.

These often are the apple polishers, those who turn academia into an arena where rapid advancement means getting on with their bosses and courting top UMNO leaders and moving up the administrative ladder; from section to department head, to program chair, to head of school, to dean, deputy vice-chancellor and vice-chancellor. Stopping briefly on the way, of course,to obtain a datoship from corrupt political leaders.

And this group has grown significantly as the number of public universities has rapidly increased. Often quite clueless as to what constitutes good – let alone path-breaking and innovative – research, yet now needing to ‘publish or perish’, they look high and low for the ‘right’ ingredients, however “halal” or “haram”, to enable them to come up not only with publishable papers in referred journals, but also those that often have to meet international criteria and standards for scholarly research and peer recognition.

Unfortunately, when the environment all this while has not helped to nurture whatever research and writing skills they may have, and they now have to regularly produce ‘international’ publications, many find themselves in a ethical quandary.

And so the illicit options become more enticing.Indeed, more widespread, arguably, is this practice of putting one’s name as a co-researcher on the work done by one’s research assistant or graduate student. Even when all the work was done solely by another person.

Of course, dodgy publishing houses have cottoned on to this widespread desperation by academics. So, we have the case of academics (often aided by their institutions) paying substantial sums to purportedly international publishers to get their articles published in  journals and books of questionable quality.

Needless to say, it is within this wider context – of dodgy academic standards, a legacy of a mediocre research culture and environment and a rapidly changing academic milieu and, of course, a general lack of integrity from the top downwards – that we have to locate the alleged offences committed by the UM4 and others.

Virtually nothing happens in a vacuum. Yes, if found guilty, the wrongdoers must be truly punished – and not just transferred to some other university where they are promoted later.

But issues of integrity, dignity and ethics will not and cannot be simply resolved that way. More detailed and critical examination of the environment, the policies and the strategies that have led to this sorry state of affairs, will need to be conducted.

This would require political will–this is sadly lacking in Malaysia today– and a genuine commitment to removing the rot that has set in public – and increasingly private – universities. And I don’t believe that many of us are so sanguine as to believe that this will happen any time soon under this regime.

Read more: https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/345887#ixzz4C6pT1S7W

The Building Blocks of Learning


June 15, 2016

The Building Blocks of Learning

The inner life of a restless intellect


May 24, 2016

Benedict Anderson

Indonesian scholar

The inner life of a restless intellect

May 21st 2016 | From the print edition

 

IN SOUTH-EAST Asia Benedict Anderson, who died last December aged 79, was an intellectual giant. In 1966 he was part of a team at Cornell University that published an influential report on what really happened during the violent takeover of Indonesia in October of the previous year. The report was leaked to the Washington Post and Anderson was eventually barred from entering the country.

He remained cut off from Indonesia for 27 years until the fall of Suharto’s dictatorship. But he found new passions, studying Thailand and the Philippines. In 1983 his meandering studies and wide reading led him to write the book he is most famous for, “Imagined Communities”, which explores the enduring allure of nationalism.

Benedict Anderson: Ilmuwan Amerika Pencinta Indonesia

by Yogira

Ada beberapa ilmuwan dan cendikiawan warga negara asing [WNA], yang sangat  mencintai Indonesia, bahkan akhirnya jadi WNI. Salah satunya Benedict Anderson.

Sejak dulu keilmuan seputar Indonesia mendapat selalu mendapat perhatian publik dunia. Mereka mengkaji berbagai bidang sesuai minat dan latarbelakang pendidikannya. Sekedar menyebut beberapa nama:  A. Teeuw, Katrin Bandel, Berthold Damshäuser [pengkaji kesusastraan Indonesia], Dieter Mack [pengkaji musik gamelan], Franz Magnis Suseno [pengkaji filsafat dan budaya Indonesia], dan Benedict Anderson [pengkaji sejarah dan budaya Indonesia]. Menariknya, Saking terlanjur mencintai Indonesia, di antara mereka akhirnya mengukuhkan diri sebagai Warga Negara Indonesia [WNI]. Sebutan “Indonesianis” pun melekat pada dirinya.

Baru-baru ini, Indonesia kehilangan salah satu indonesianis. Ya, Benedict Richard O’Gorman Anderson, meninggal di Batu, Malang, Sabtu malam [12/12]. Ilmuwan asal Amerika yang lebih dikenal dengan nama Ben Anderson ini wafat pada usia 79.

Ben adalah professor emeritus bidang studi internasional Universitas Cornell, Amerika. Sebelum meninggal, Ben sempat memberi kuliah umum tentang Anarkisme dan Sosialisme di Universitas Indonesia. Dia juga tengah menyiapkan bedah buku terbarunya bertajuk Di Bawah Tiga Bendera.

Ilmuwan kelahiran Kunming, China, 26 Agustus 1936 ini menerbitkan banyak karya tulis, baik dalam bentuk buku, jurnal, maupun artikel, antara lain:  Imagined Communities, Debating World Literature, Language and Power: Exploring Political Cultures in Indonesia, dan Java in a Time of Revolution. Banyak karyanya yang menjadi rujukan studi mahasiswa dan akademisi. Bahkan Imagines Communities jadi salah satu  karyanya yang paling monumental.

Penjelajahan intelektual Ben di Indonesia menularkan kajian-kajian kritis, yang sempat ‘memanaskan’ kuping rezim Orde Baru lantaran pandangan dan analisinya berbau “kekiri-kirian”. Imbasnya, dia dilarang masuk Indonesia. Setelah Soeharto lengser, Ben kembali ke Indonesia untuk berkutat dengan keilmuannya.

Selama tinggal di Indonesia, Ben kerapkali berkunjung ke berbagai daerah untuk menjalani penelitian. Dari hasil beberapa kali kunjungan itulah, dia semakin suntuk mendalami Indonesia, terutama dari aspek sosial dan budaya. Salah satu yang menjadi cirikhas Ben dalam menulis adalah, ia acap menggunakan Bahasa Indonesia ejaan lama dalam beberapa tulisannya.    

Selamat tinggal Om Ben. Sumbangsihmu untuk Indonesia semoga terus berharga.

[][teks @firza/berbagai sumber | foto chaiwanbenpost.blogspot.com, niallodoc.wordpress.com]

Outside South-East Asian circles, Anderson’s prolific and diverse output is more obscure. This should change with the publication of his memoir, “A Life Beyond Boundaries”. As the title suggests, Anderson is an enemy of the bubble, whether nation, school or language. He returns again and again to an image in Thai and Indonesian cultures of a frog who lives its entire life under half of a coconut shell. “Sitting quietly under the shell, before long the frog begins to feel that the coconut bowl encloses the entire universe,” he writes. “The moral judgment in the image is that the frog is narrow-minded, provincial, stay-at-home and self-satisfied for no good reason. For my part, I stayed nowhere long enough to settle down in one place, unlike the proverbial frog.”

Reading Anderson feels like emerging from the coconut shell. You come away wanting to see films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a Thai film-maker he admired, to learn Tagalog on the side or to read a grand Filipino novel, “Noli Me Tangere” (“Touch me not”), by José Rizal, which Anderson tried to translate line by line in an effort to learn Spanish. He praised Indonesia’s great young novelist, Eka Kurniawan.

Born in 1936 in Kunming, in Yunnan province, to an Irish father and an English mother, Anderson (pictured in China with his nanny) moved to Ireland, along with his two siblings, in 1945 after a brief period in America. His father died soon after; his mother became a guiding force. Anderson went to Eton and then to Cambridge, before going to Cornell as a teaching assistant. There, he met George Kahin, a leading expert on Indonesia whose lectures set Anderson on his path. This willingness to be open to new experiences and challenges was the key to his brilliance.

“Scholars who feel comfortable with their position in a discipline, department or university will try neither to sail out of harbour nor to look for a wind,” he writes, paraphrasing an expression in Indonesia. “But what is to be cherished is the readiness to look for that wind and the courage to follow it when it blows in your direction.” Although “A Life Beyond Boundaries” is about the life of a scholar, it is asides like these that give the book a universal touch. Anderson went to three privileged institutions of learning. They could have given him many opportunities to remain in his bubble. But he just wasn’t that kind of frog.

http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21699109-inner-life-restless-intellect-indonesian-scholar?frsc=dg%7Ca

Psychology matters a great deal


May 1, 2016

Psychology matters a great deal in determining shifts in the economy.

by Robert J. Shiller
“We don’t know whether any specific event — say, an unexpected spike in oil prices or a decline in the stock market — will help transform any of the current social stories into a truly virulent economic disruption. We don’t know what is coming or when. But history does tell us that human imagination can spontaneously transform discrete events into world-shaking narratives of unexpected colour and force.”– Robert Shiller –Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics 2013

Economists are good at measuring the past but inconsistent at forecasting future events, particularly recessions. That’s because recessions aren’t caused merely by concrete changes in the markets. Beliefs and stories passed on by thousands of individuals are important factors, maybe even the main ones, in determining big shifts in the economy.

That is likely to be the case again, whenever we next endure a global recession. Worries that a big downturn might be imminent seem to have abated, but they still abound. In April, for example, the International Monetary Fund reported in its World Economic Outlook that while very modest growth is likely this year, the world economy was in a “fragile conjuncture.”

It is therefore worth asking what actually sets off a real global recession. Most discussions focus on leading indicators — statistics about economic variables that have preceded recessions. While these kinds of correlations can sometimes be useful in forecasting, they provide little understanding of why major changes are taking place. Leading indicators don’t usually address ultimate causes, nor do econometric models that try to predict events.

In fact, it’s instructive to remember that global recessions have usually begun suddenly and been a real surprise to most people. As I have argued in this column and with George A. Akerlof in Animal Spirits (Princeton 2009), such events can largely be ascribed ultimately to contagious stories of wide significance. Basically, global recessions tend to begin when newly popular narratives reduce individuals’ motivation to spend money. Psychology matters a great deal.

The biggest recession of all, the Great Depression, began suddenly with the stock market crash of October 1929, as Christina Romer, former chairwoman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, pointed out in a famous paper. Even before 1929 was over, she found, department store sales and automobile registrations had declined, indicating that consumer spending had already dropped sharply. But why?

Economists were alarmed by the crash, she found, and their warnings helped make consumers wary. But let’s not overestimate the importance of these economic forecasts: Most people never actually read them. They received their information from other channels.

Back then, immediately after the market crash, church sermons were a powerful influence. Congregations were told that many business people had behaved like gamblers and hucksters. Through these sermons and other word-of-mouth sources, moralising about the stock market crash spread, affecting mass psychology. Frederick Lewis Allen, in the epilogue to his 1931 best-seller Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s, wrote that cultural values changed after the crash: People began to dress more modestly, adopting a new formality and religiosity, reviving Victorian sexual taboos. It is reasonable to assume that many of these changes had an economic impact, mainly by discouraging spending.

Similarly in more recent downturns, broad cultural and social changes had big effects, too. Since World War II, there have been four global recessions, according to the International Monetary Fund, which defines such an event very specifically as negative global per capita economic growth over at least one year. In each case, these recessions lasted only one year, although relatively slow economic growth rates were also an issue in periods surrounding them. The recessions ended in 1975, 1982, 1991 and 2009.

As they had with the Great Depression, economists have cited concrete causes for these events. Oil has been named as a fundamental factor in each case, with price spikes blamed on the Yom Kippur war of 1973, the Iran-Iraq War beginning in 1980, the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war and rising energy demand in China and other emerging countries in 2008.

Broader social narratives are sometimes ignored, but they matter, too. Consider the recession of 1975. Along with oil prices, common ways of understanding and describing daily life also changed. The oil crisis was widely said to signal the end of an era of abundance. Lower highway speed limits were imposed to conserve fuel, and cars grew smaller. Americans were told to lower their home thermostats to 68 degrees. In large numbers, people began wearing sweatsuits, flannel leg warmers, thermal underwear and long johns. Among all this austerity, economist E.F. Schumacher’s 1973 best-seller Small Is Beautiful became a global morality lesson.

Let’s jump to the most recent global recession, the one of 2009. Oil prices, subprime mortgages and the freezing up of the financial system after the collapse of Lehman Brothers were all important factors. But why did we have a global recession? The transformation of distinct events into a broad global slowdown occurred through a variety of mechanisms. Reports about financial misdoings, the possible collapse of venerable institutions, rising unemployment caused by advanced technology — all of these affected the psychology of spending.

Where does this leave us now? No single narrative seems to have enough compelling force at the moment to engender a downturn as big as the last one. Many people have been borrowing from older narratives of risk and vulnerability while trying to understand the current economy. Oil prices have been slumping, not soaring, but there are significant worries about outsourcing, downsizing and globalisation, along with deep concerns about rising inequality, refugee and immigrant flows, and what has been called secular stagnation of the economy. Political candidates on both the left and the right have been spinning charged and sometimes disruptive narratives about these issues.

We don’t know whether any specific event — say, an unexpected spike in oil prices or a decline in the stock market — will help transform any of the current social stories into a truly virulent economic disruption. We don’t know what is coming or when. But history does tell us that human imagination can spontaneously transform discrete events into world-shaking narratives of unexpected colour and force.

 

Let institutions educate, but don’t suffocate them


April 29, 2016

Let institutions educate, but don’t suffocate them

by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz

“Real education enhances the dignity of a human being and increases his or her self-respect. If only the real sense of education could be realized by each individual and carried forward in every field of human activity, the world will be so much a better place to live in.”– A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

A recurring theme in this column is the importance of institutions in building the nation: in particular those preserved and established by the Federal Constitution and other laws.

Tunku Abidin Muhriz and Associates

But nation-building can also rest in institutions that are not established by statesmen, constitutionalists or hacks seeking a narrow political objective: in particular, those created by educators.

Over the past week, I have been reminded of this in powerful terms visiting schools and universities in the United Kingdom that — despite their academic accolades, graduate employment statistics or state-of-the-art facilities — still speak proudly and passionately about their histories and traditions. On their students they impart not only knowledge, but an institutional heritage too.

At the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, where my father was last week conferred an Honorary Fellowship, it was clear how proud they are of their founding in 1505, and their central role in the development on the profession itself. A story to which they have devoted a large (and sometimes macabre) museum.

At Aberystwyth University, where my father was an undergraduate and was made an Honorary Fellow in 2014, they spoke beamingly of how the university pioneered certain disciplines and enthusiastically shared their plans to renovate their Old College building.

At the University of South Wales, where my father received an Honorary Doctorate in Law in 2013, a connection was made between the latest facilities in the aerospace engineering faculty and the origins of the two establishments that merged to form the current university — a mechanics institute founded in 1841, and a school serving the coal mining industry founded in 1913.

These visits were short, but still their peculiarities shone through. When talking to Malaysian students at the three universities, their focus was no doubt on how the knowledge and skills acquired will contribute to their goals in support of their families, employers or country (there were many government scholars), but still they were aware that they have become ambassadors for their universities and not just ambassadors for Malaysia while there.

More so than universities, in terms of instilling a unique identity and character building, are secondary schools, especially boarding schools. At my old school, Marlborough College, on the way back to London, a brief walk around campus reminded me of the hours I spent reading history books, imagining glacial formation, getting my head round quadratic equations and practising Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, and also an entire vocabulary of school-specific terms that I haven’t had to use since 2000.

St John’s Institution is once again known by its old name. — Picture by  Malay Mail

St John’s Institution is once again known by its old name.

The Penang Free School (Founded in 1816) will celebrate its 200th Anniversary on October 21, 2016–Fortis Atque Fidelis. The name is back too. UMNO Politicians, known to mess everything up, tried to call it Sekolah Menengah Penang Free.

I realise now how crucial this was in fostering a deep camaraderie. Some critics condemn such institutions as elitist and exclusionary, and their reaction is to favour uniformity: to remove the things that make specific establishments unique: to make most people get the “same” treatment.

This ultimately results in a centralising tendency in which bureaucrats, rather than principals and teachers, make many of the decisions that directly impact on the student experience. Thus, instead of having educational institutions that are inspired by their own ethos and history, we have schools and universities that have to operate within over-prescribed limits.

We have already seen the effects of this, from the reduction in diversity between schools and the reduction of diversity within them. That is why so many who were educated at English national-type schools want them to return, because they attracted Malaysians of all races.

Most tragic is the loss of institutional memory in our historic schools, where simply the passage of time, the relocation of campuses or name changes have been used to erase aspects now deemed undesirable.

There does seem to be some resistance:  St John’s Institution just won the right to revert to its original name after a campaign from its alumni. Even this needed to be cleared by the ministry, though.

Earlier this month, I was at Tuanku Muhammad School in Kuala Pilah (which my father attended in the 1950s) to witness the unveiling of its centenary landmark, and there too I saw different generations reminisce about the classrooms they were taught in, the food they ate, the corridors they walked.

But recently, in much newer schools too I have seen how innovative principals have used what they can to endow some unique characteristics for their pupils, from the names of their houses, or even the murals on the walls. I hope that such phenomena will be seen as beneficial by our politicians and bureaucrats.

Great educational institutions may have their idiosyncrasies. And in being so, they prepare young people for real life: to endow the idea that as workers and citizens, it’s the shared experiences that create unspoken bonds, that everyone is bound by the rules, and that traditions matter.

* Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz is Founding President of IDEAS.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/let-institutions-educate-tunku-abidin-muhriz#sthash.ODU4PO1i.dpuf

 

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