Unity is in the hands of our kids

Our children must learn to play together and share common experiences, rites of passage and values. Getting our children together is the most effective way in future- proofing the nation, and driving it forward.

Zainul Arifin Md Isa, NST  

NATION-BUILDING: Solution lies in a single education system for all

MALAYSIA, by most accounts, is a young country. This can be both unfortunate or a blessing, just as one would conclude the proverbial glass to be half-empty or half-full.

It is unfortunate because the people who decide on things are generally older, and like me, may be less connected to the demands of the now and can be burdened by the experiences of the past.

But, at the same time, Malaysia is fortunate for its youth — the majority of the country is under 40. They will inherit the nation, will likely determine how it will be and fortunately, too, they can be guided by the sensibilities and experiences of the older generations.

When Malaya gained independence in 1957, and when Malaysia was formed in 1963, not many gave them a chance for they ticked all the wrong boxes for perfect unions — they were too heterogenous, too complex to manage, especially with a large migrant population and the whole baggage of urban and rural divide.

We are a country created by circumstances, yet our inherent practicality moved the nation forward against all odds.

Yet, a prolonged period of relative peace breeds complacency and the currency of Merdeka is rather debased when it is taken for granted; a fact buried in history books with the additional bonus of public holidays — the devaluation is rather complete when shopping malls hold Merdeka Day sales.

Yet, this young nation still faces challenges. The most significant is how to future-proof it — to make sure it continues to shine and keep chugging along. A nation united by a common purpose and the belief that we are all in this together, goes a longer way.

As a nation, we are defined by our desires and dreams. How then do we make all of us share a common set of desires and dreams, as well as values that are uniquely Malaysian? Datuk Lee Chong Wei or teh tarik?

We must admit that we have drifted further apart these past few years. Political differences, geography, the rural and urban divide, racial identities and religious beliefs are contributing factors.

It seems that we are likely to pin the blame, with some justifications, but not entirely, on politics for the state that we are in.

I think we drifted further apart because we know less of one another. We see each other in stereotypes like Malays must be in government and Chinese in business.

Yet, the elephant in the room that begs our acknowledgement is our education system that is designed to keep our children separate.

These days, by and large, our children in their early years are less likely to encounter children of other races than their parents or grandparents did. Our overly generous education policy inadvertently segregates them, between national, vernacular and religious schools, for example.

Unfamiliarity leads to misunderstanding and misperception, and as they say, also breeds contempt.

There is a simple solution to this issue: the nation needs to have its people together. Political differences are poor excuses for failure to attain national unity.

We have allowed our education to be a victim of our politics, our chauvinism and our insecurities. Would we be less Malay, Chinese, Indian or Kadazan if we were to subscribe to a single education system?

Would we be less politically effective in securing votes and support if we were to look at the national interests rather than narrow political exigencies? But nation-building is never-ending, it requires commitment and sacrifices.

I still subscribe to the idea that the national school is the best agent of unity. But it needs to be able to be as attractive as possible, and it represents the best chance for the nation going forward.

In a week from now, we are set to unveil our new education blueprint. I am sure much effort has been invested to push the national education agenda.

But I would think that, if it is not yet high on the agenda, national unity should be the overriding principle with the national schools the common driving denominator.

What does it take to make the national school be the school of choice?

The government must be bold in addressing the issues. It is not about producing high scorers, but more important, the fate of the nation is at stake.

Our children must learn to play together and share common experiences, rites of passage and values. Getting our children together is the most effective way in future- proofing the nation, and driving it forward.