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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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, June 02, 2024

The Malaysian Malaise: Earlier Commentaries On Education


The Malaysian Malaise

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #5:  Earlier Commentaries On Education


During my first summer break as an undergraduate in Canada in the early 1960s, I wrote an article and mailed it to one Dr. Mahathir, then a backbencher Member of Parliament from Kubang Pasu, Kedah, in his capacity as Chairman of the Higher Education Commission. I urged the government to set up a university at cool Cameron Highlands, and to introduce American-style liberal education so young Malaysians could benefit from and experience what I had in Canada, the prairie blizzards excepted.


            Bless the man, he did reply. However, he did not comment on the merits of my idea. Instead, perhaps concerned about my future, he suggested that I focus on my studies first so I could then return as a physician and be of greater use to the country. He must have seen too many Malay students sent abroad getting distracted and flunking out.


            The second summer I worked in a dairy farm operated by a co-operative. Through that I came in close contact with Alberta wheat farmers. That prompted me to write the Chairman of MARA (the Malay acronym for the agency tasked with developing rural Malays) with copies to some big wigs in UMNO, the party purportedly championing Malay causes, describing the cooperative movement (of which Canada was a leader) as well as the Alberta Wheat Pool and similar government-sponsored entities to help rural farmers. Unlike Mahathir earlier, that head of MARA and those other characters did not even bother to reply.


            My writing took a hiatus for the next two decades, the first consumed with medical school and preparing to be a surgeon, the second on establishing my professional career.


            In the 1980s, prompted by the thousands of government-sponsored Malay students here in America attending third-rate universities and at horrendous costs, I wrote an extended commentary on advising and preparing our students for top-quality institutions. I sent that to both the Chairman of MARA and the Public Services Commission (JPA, its Malay acronym), the two agencies that sponsored those students. After waiting for a suitable time for a response (none came of course), I submitted it to the New Straits Times. My gratitude to its then Editor-in-Chief Kadir Jassin for publishing that series and also some of my subsequent essays. He was also kind enough to have had a full-page review of my first book, The Malay Dilemma Revisited:  Race Dynamics In Modern Malaysia (1999), a critique of Mahathir’s controversial The Malay Dilemma. Later, the newer The Sun Daily also carried many of my commentaries.


            The late 1990s saw the emergence of the Internet, and with that, on-line media outlets. Stephen Gans of Malaysiakini.com was generous to give me a column, “Seeing It My Way.” I also had my own blog (bakrimusa.blogspot.com) to serve both as an outlet as well as a repository for my writings. I am also indebted to Raja Petra Kamarudin and his wildly popular and controversial Malaysia Today website (mt.m2day.org), and The Honorable Member of Parliament Lim Kit Siang for carrying my essays on his blog. Raja Petra’s portal had gone through many name changes to keep ahead of Malaysian censors. I am also thankful to the publishers of “The Malaysian Insight” and “Free Malaysia Today” for publishing some of my writings.


            Later in 2013 through the efforts of Umar Zain and his colleagues at Suaris website (now defunct) I started writing in Malay. Writing and thinking out the whole exercise in Malay produces a far different result both in tone as well as meaning than merely translating into Malay my existing essays. However, as the Internet penetration among Malays was not high, I did not receive much feedback from readers to make the effort worthwhile. Besides, no Malay publication would accept my submissions.


            Back to my original 1960s proposal of a university in Cameron Highlands, when Mahathir became Prime Minister in the early 1980s, this self-styled champion of Islam and Malay causes, instead approved the building of a casino there, the largest in the region. I presume that gambling, like intellectual pursuits, is also most conducive in a cool environment!


            Apart from Covid-19, my commentaries here focus on the triple whammy burdening Malaysia today:  corrupt ineffective leadership; unbridled, oppressive Islamism; and fast deteriorating ineffective institutions, in particular the education system. Most of my essays however are subsumed under the first two headings. I have only two essays covering education as I have published two earlier books exclusively on that topic:  An Education System Worthy of Malaysia(2003) and The Rot In Malaysian Education (2020).


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