Saturday, October 29, 2011

SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE

By :  Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz , President of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS).

Those who assume a rural-urban bias should take heed of the poll of 27,200 Malaysians conducted by Jaringan Melayu Malaysia that shows most rural parents – and an overwhelming majority of their children – preferring Maths and Science to be taught in English.


ON TUESDAY, I gave the opening speech for a press conference led by the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), allied with over a dozen other organisations, including Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM), campaigning for the option of PPSMI – the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English – in government schools.

The movement counts the support of at least five Tuns (including former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was responsible for PPSMI) and 13 Tan Sris (there are too many Datuks to count).

The Government is miscalculating the depth of public anger on this issue at its electoral peril. Those who assume a rural-urban bias should take heed of the poll of 27,200 Malaysians conducted by JMM that shows most rural parents – and an overwhelming majority of their children – preferring these subjects to be taught in English.

We are supporting the campaign not because we feel one language is superior, but because of the overriding democratic principle of allowing parents to choose.

I was therefore much heartened by the Prime Minister’s Cup Inter­varsity Debating Championship at the International Islamic University Malaysia that afternoon.

I was there to judge the final between teams from the host university and Universiti Teknologi Mara on the motion that “Government should subsidise all school students irrespective of whether they attend public or private schools”.

The motion’s wording gave room to discuss what we at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) want to explore: issuing taxpayer-funded vouchers to parents that can be spent on any school, instead of government transferring funds to schools themselves. Nonetheless, the debate, organised by the youth foundation myHarapan, was most impressive.

It is a pity that the university was instead in the news because of the thoroughly idiotic decision to suspend its law lecturer Prof Dr Abdul Aziz Bari; I say this as someone who has dissented in the past in my capacity as a Research Fellow in several institutions.

Many have targeted the Govern­ment in this episode, which is a natural result of the perception of continuing Government interference in universities generally, either through the appointment of obeisant officials or through restrictive legislation such as the Universities and Univer­sity Colleges Act (which we are repeatedly told will be reformed one day).

Thankfully, the ever courageous Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah advised the university to lift the suspension.

We should also show some cautious optimism that the Government intends to grant “full autonomy” to five research universities (Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Kebang­saan Malaysia, Universiti Malaya, Univer­siti Putra Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia) by 2015, but there is no reason to think that other universities cannot benefit from more decision-making power, too.

After the debate, one judge remarked that we should put these university debaters alongside our MPs and watch how the articulations of the young fare against the often bungling diatribes of the old.

Perhaps such a contrast might jolt the political parties and the voters into reforming their methods of candidate selection.

Whilst the political class grapples these problems, the business community is taking a broader view. Yesterday saw the start of the CIMB Asean Conference and tonight sees the launch of Asean Business Club.

These events (conducted in English) indicate the gulf in the worldviews between the different elites of our country: whereas some politicians demand insularity and authoritarianism, the people who actually provide jobs and economic growth are trying to demolish barriers within and between countries.
As if by symbiosis, academic institutions are taking a keener interest in Asean, too.

One example is the University of Oxford’s Project South-East Asia, whose team members are in the midst of their Asean Rickshaw Run from Jakarta to Bangkok in aid of the Cambodia Trust and to raise awareness of the project’s intention to establish a Centre for South-East Asian Studies at the University of Oxford.
On another matter, it is great to see the flag of Libya being proudly waved all over that country once again.

Now that its former dictator Muammar Gaddafi has been disposed of (one’s belief in fair trials can sometimes be challenged by schaden­freude), the world waits to see how the country will be run next.

I have always believed that had Iraq and Afghanistan restored and adapted their traditional institutions to a democratic framework, stability and prosperity would have been achieved much more easily.

Indeed, we have seen how the United States route of essentially imposed presidential republics can descend into new authoritarianisms, spurred by the fear of fractious tribal and religious factionalism.

These are things that apolitical constitutional monarchs could easily transcend, and we in Malaysia are lucky that the framers of our Constitution so skilfully fused our ancient institutions with West­minster democracy.

Dipetik dari : The Star