Let’s keep our focus on 2020
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