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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

An Education System Worthy of Malaysia #6

Chapter 1: A Pre-emptive Strike (Cont'd)

Education in the Era of Globalization

Globalization is bringing the world closer. With the coming together of the global community, there is an imperative for a common language. By default, English is that language. Why English and not Chinese is an interesting question. In terms of the number of native speakers, more people speak Chinese. Nonetheless the market has spoken, and English is now the most widely spoken. Trying to explain why English and not Chinese is like trying to explain why VHS format is favored over Beta for videotapes, and personal computers over Apple.

Undoubtedly, had the native English-speaking countries of America and Britain been third-rate economic powers, that language would not have been widely accepted. The current impetus to improve the English proficiency of Malaysians is because senior civil servants and diplomats are severely handicapped in dealing with international organizations and when negotiating international agreements. Malaysia’s interests would not be protected if her negotiators and diplomats do not understand the basic language, much less the nuances.

Malaysia is handicapped because of its British colonial past. Malaysians are rightly leery of anything English. Thus current attempts at improving the English proficiency of students are viewed with deep suspicion as yet another subtle manifestation of the colonial mentality.

No amount of rational explanation seems capable of overcoming this deep suspicion. In this regard the Indonesians have an advantage. Although they too had been colonized, it was by the Dutch. Thus the Indonesians do not harbor the same suspicion towards English.

In truth the future does not belong to the English speakers rather those who are fluent in English and another language; next would be those who speak only English; and the least advantaged would be those who speak only other than English. The Europeans have known this for along time. Speakers of English are handicapped as their language is widely spoken they have little incentive to learn another language. America is awakening to this fact and is now encouraging its students to be bilingual. Being fluently bilingual means more than simply knowing two languages, it offers other cognitive and intellectual advantages.

With globalization the world needs a common standard. This makes sense. We should expect that Chinese pilots be deemed equally competent as American ones so they could land their jet at any airport.

With better and open communications, Malaysians are fully aware of what is going on in the rest of the world. Malaysians would want for themselves and their families the same standard and quality of medical care and education as available elsewhere. When they cannot get that locally or if they deem that the quality of local services is not up to par, they will leave. Every year thousands of Malaysians go abroad for their medical care and education, costing the nation billions in lost foreign exchange. With such matters as health care, education, and personal consumption, nationalism plays a minimal role. Malaysians go to Britain for such matters simply because they perceive they would get better services there, ex-colonialist notwithstanding.

The king flew to Singapore to have his pacemaker inserted, and the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister went to Los Angeles for treatment of her breast cancer. She spoke glowingly of her treatment by American physicians. Despite her husband’s Islamic credentials, she had no qualms about being examined by infidel and male doctors. Beyond a certain level you do not care about religious scruples or nationalism, you just want the best for yourself and your loved ones.

When Malaysia built the Petronas TwinTowers, it unhesitatingly employed many skilled foreigners. If Malaysians ever want to participate in such projects not only in Malaysia but also elsewhere, they too must have internationally recognized training and qualifications.

Malaysians must now assess themselves by international yardsticks. Malaysian schools and universities must be cognizant of this. Their graduates must, at a minimum, be bilingual in Malay and English, science literate, and mathematically competent. Anything less would be doing the students, and the nation, a great disservice.
In the modern economy wealth resides less with the natural resources or the strategic location of a country, more with its people. As the UN Human Development Report 2001 states, “People are the real wealth of nations.”

Malaysia is proud of its Petronas Twin Towers that grace the skyline of its capital. That monument symbolizes the country’s preoccupation with building things physical and material. But the most important infrastructure of the new millennium will be human resources, and the twin pillars to developing that would be education and health. Prime Minister Mahathir never fails to take visitors to see his pride and joy, The Twin Towers. Would it not be nice if our schools and universities too were of such eminence that foreigners would want to visit them?

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