Let’s keep our fo­cus on 2020

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

LAST week was the long­est I stayed in Thai­land since the coup, and the demise of its re­spected King. I was tak­ing part in the 15th In­ter­na­tional Association of Uni­ver­si­ties (IAU) Gen­eral Con­fer­ence held in con­junc­tion with 100 years of Thai­land’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. This goes back to the es­tab­lish­ment of Chu­la­longkorn Univer­sity, the old­est in the coun­try. It was at­trib­uted to King Rama VI, the ar­chi­tect of Thai­land’s “mod­ern” ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, who named the univer­sity in hon­our of his fa­ther, also known as Rama V. In­deed, the Thai roy­alty has al­ways been closely iden­ti­fied with the de­vel­op­ment of Thai­land’s ed­u­ca­tion for a long time. Not sur­pris­ing that the IAU Gen­eral Con­fer­ence was of­fi­ci­ated by Princess Maha Chakri Sirind­horn, an ar­dent sup­porter of ed­u­ca­tion. She was in Pe­nang re­cently vis­it­ing some schools.

Bangkok, though still bustling was some­what de­mure, with the Thais mourn­ing the loss of their beloved monarch. Mes­sages of con­do­lences were prac­ti­cally ev­ery­where in black and white; so too his por­trait and video screen­ings of his con­cerns and con­tri­bu­tions for his sub­jects. Flags flew at half-mast, while at many en­trances of build­ings were books for mes­sages of con­do­lences opened to the pub­lic to pen some thoughts. Sev­eral mag­a­zines and jour­nals, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional, went so far as to have their cov­ers dis­play­ing deep re­spect with words of con­do­lences in black and white. Mean­while, bul­letins and mag­a­zines with the life history of the King and unique photos were on sale ev­ery­where.

Con­fer­ence par­tic­i­pants were ad­vised to wear ei­ther black, white or grey. Some wore black arm­bands while oth­ers pre­ferred black rib­bons that were avail­able at var­i­ous en­try points for vis­i­tors into the coun­try. In short, the coloured “shirts” – red or yellow – that used to “oc­cupy” the streets are now over­shad­owed by black and white that sym­bol­i­cally act as a point of unity and co­he­sive­ness at least for the 12-month mourn­ing pe­riod for the na­tion. It looks as though even af­ter his death the King con­tin­ues to be in the peo­ple’s heart.

Sad to say, as though im­i­tat­ing our neigh­bours, Malaysians are be­gin­ning to em­u­late the Thai phe­nom­e­non with groups adorn­ing coloured shirts to press their de­mands or opposition; in the process cre­at­ing their own ver­sions of un­cer­tainty, chaos and havoc – lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively.

In the midst of all th­ese, ten­sion and ha­tred grow driv­ing the so­ci­ety even fur­ther apart as threats and vi­o­lence get height­ened. Dis­turb­ing slo­gans were seen on so­cial me­dia in re­la­tion to an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing the blood­ied nose of a politi­cian.

Yet at­tempts to stop pos­si­ble “agent provo­ca­teurs” who make non­sense of the much touted slo­gan “se­hati se­jiwa” or even “1Malaysia” seem to be am­biva­lent rais­ing more ques­tions than peace and co­he­sive­ness. From one per­spec­tive this can be traced to what is known as “post-truth” phe­nom­e­non – de­fined as “re­lat­ing or de­not­ing cir­cum­stances in which ob­jec­tive facts are less in­flu­en­tial in shap­ing pub­lic opin­ion than ap­peals to emo­tion and per­sonal be­lief.” This co­in­cides with the Ox­ford Dic­tionar­ies’ claim that the use of the phrase spiked fu­elled by events like Brexit and the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Malaysians too seem to have their fair of “post-truth” coloured by peo­ple wear­ing not only coloured shirts but also coloured mind­sets and be­liefs, the me­dia in­cluded.

Yet in three years’ time, we are to be a so­called “de­vel­oped na­tion” as spelt out in Chal­lenge One of Wawasan 2020. How­ever, it looks like de­spite all sorts of slo­gans and catch-phrases be­ing bandied around, right now we are any­thing but close to the first chal­lenge (if any­one re­mem­bers at all!). Con­se­quently, judg­ing from what is go­ing on, come 2020 Malaysia will most likely be dom­i­nant in pro­duc­ing “post-truth” cit­i­zens of a lost gen­er­a­tion.

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

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