Gianluca is a typical English 18 year old with a flair for public school wit and humour. He was born and bred in Blackheath, South East London, where he lives with his parents and older sister. He has just finished his A levels and is passing time playing tennis and planning his ‘gap’ year. He is a Malaysian citizen who unfortunately, is unable to communicate in the National Language due to circumstances beyond his control. He is also my nephew.
In May this year, Gianluca received a communication from His Majesty’s Government. This letter originated from a department tasked with the job of accumulating a sufficient number of 18 year old Malaysians to darken the doorsteps of a camp situated in some God forsaken backwater of rural Terengganu where they were to be incarcerated for three months in an atmosphere of implied joviality and general bon homie in an effort at promoting a sense of camaraderie amongst these eligible participants. That, I think, was the gist of it.
Gianluca was naturally horrified at the thought, not because he is adverse to a challenge, but because this would have interrupted his A level examinations, which would have meant having to sit for them again next year. So he informed the relevant department of his predicament and asked to be excused. He didn’t turn up at the Kajang bus station at the designated time and on the specified day, and neither has he had a reply to his letter.
He is now concerned about returning to Malaysia this summer to visit his grandmother as private investigators have gone missing for much less.
This episode did however prompt me to consider the implications of having a bunch of 18 year old Malaysians, from different ethnic and social backgrounds, separated from each other all their lives by virtue of ‘socio-ethnic-religious-cultural’ circumstances, suddenly thrown together, the purpose of which I was unable to appreciate until I attacked the internet and discovered the following information.
1. To develop a young generation who are patriotic and with love for their country.
2. To enhance unity among the multi racial communities in this country.
3. To instill a spirit of caring and volunteerism among society.
4. To produce an active intelligent and confident generation.
5. To develop positive characteristics among the younger generation through good values.
6. To develop a generation that will always obey the current government.
If anyone is able to get through the rhetoric of the first five objectives without entering a state of somnolence and stumbles on the sixth on a wave of sheer tedium, the chances are the penny won’t drop because you would be semi-comatose by this stage through adverse boredom.
So there must have been a reason to strategically place those words of wisdom set out in aspiration No.6 where they would be less likely to be found. And besides, even if they were eventually discovered, this epitaph was formulated in the good old days of an invincible Barisan Nasional (BN) government which would last forever. If Pakatan Rakyat (PR) ever took over the helm, the BN would be doomed forever because of this scribe.
So, we really have to ask ourselves, why it is necessary to set aside 82 days out of an 18 year olds life for him or her to be carted off in a rusty omnibus to some god forsaken part of this nation, stuck in a smelly bunk bed, fed swill and made to do ridiculous acrobatics swinging an M16 around and then die of chronic constipation whilst their families lie terrified in bed at night wondering whether their prodigies will return in one piece and in the same mental state.
We may also ask ourselves why 82 days of suffering the effects of some enlightened politicians malaligned inspiration would make more difference to our youth than all those 4,380 days spent in national type primary and secondary schools. How would a boot camp, supposedly designed to rectify all the ills suffered by the victims of our ill conceived and mal adjusted education system, produce all those results envisaged, overnight?
The answer is they won’t or rather, they can’t. That is the reality of the situation. This realism is often found to be elusive by the powers that concoct such idiotic schemes.
There is so much precedent around in support of that statement. Can anyone remember when our schools taught every subject in the English language? Were we not the envy of many a developing nation then? Were we not the largest group of overseas students found in any Commonwealth country’s institutes of higher learning? Could our leaders then not hold their own amongst other leaders of the world in communication and rhetorical skills? Did we not produce highly skilled professionals who individually gained worldwide recognition in all sorts of fields from science and technology to medicine and from fine arts to economics.
Where have they all gone? Let me tell you they are still out there. I place emphasis on the phrase ‘out there’. That means they are no longer in this country. They are in other countries. They don’t want to be here. They are not selfish or ungrateful. They are just being pragmatic. If they were here, their sons and daughters would be crawling around on their stomachs in funny blue camouflage uniforms eating rat dung and dying of rare and obscure tropical diseases in an effort to become ‘integrated’ with their fellow country young men and women.
Back to the root of all our problems. The Malaysian education system and how it was buggered up. This happened many moons ago and was triggered by another tenuous brain wave which emanated from one of our early intellectually challenged politicians who obviously found himself in a rather redundant position in the government with nothing to do but devise hare brained schemes to detract from this. In order to make himself appear viable as a minister, this educational Einstein decided he could entrench himself in the upper echelons of power by playing the nationalistic card.
The result of this fit of visionary foresight is a ‘lost’ generation of Malaysians who now scramble around trying ever so hard to make up for all the time wasted in schools which taught everything in a language no one in the rest of the world could communicate in. The rationale behind this shallow scheme was simplistic in its implementation. If there is a need to help someone, just make sure their competitors are knee capped. The temerity of the competition however, was underestimated. Not only did they struggle to overcome this disadvantage but became better off instead, despite having to manoeuvre around all those unnecessary obstacles placed in their way. Remember, in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.
The result? A lost generation of Malaysians who were conned into believing that their lot would be bettered by a drastic shift in the education policy to suit what was believed to be the needs of the down trodden at that time. The unfortunate victims of this ill devised and inappropriate brain wave now speak and write in only one language. The competition however not only speak and write in that language, but also in English and a plethora of other indigenous languages.
So, these down trodden ones could only communicate with other down trodden students to avoid embarrassment on the lingual front. Other more fortunate students had the advantage of being able to communicate comfortably with everyone, including the outside world. Add to this sad state of affairs the resurgence of a segregating religion, the restructuring of national primary and secondary schools, and the setting up of institutes of higher learning to cater for all the misfits created by this ‘visionary’ education policy and hey presto, ‘Kuala Lumpur, we have a problem’. Our graduates are all selling burgers and fried chicken whilst the really good ones are collecting toll.
But no one likes admitting mistakes in ‘Boleh Land’. If anything needs fixing, elastoplast is the preferred method of treatment, especially where traumatic amputations are concerned. Treat the symptom, not the cause.
The disease we are talking about is the resultant inability of the races to mix freely with each other, segregated by suspicions drummed into their heads from ages 6 to 18. This sad state of affairs is further exacerbated by the inability to communicate appropriately with each other and the intolerance towards other cultures and religions, bred and nurtured throughout those 4,380 days our kids spent at our ‘new age’ primary and secondary schools.
The quick fix elastoplast is of course the National Service Programme, supposedly designed to overcome these entrenched problems in just 82 days. And when our youth leave these boot camps after that designated period, they are expected to be far better Malaysians than when they entered, that is if they are still in one piece, and have not been raped, killed or poisoned.
There are of course the coffee shop cynics who are convinced that this whole shenanigan was set up to cater for the pensions of those properly connected and their families who are some how mysteriously involved in companies providing the necessary transportation and laundry services, food and beverage supplies and of course all the paraphernalia required to run this programme from uniforms to toilet paper. I, of course, don’t believe any of this for one moment though. It is unthinkable that any Malaysian politician would want to be seen with his or her hand in the cookie jar, vicariously or otherwise.
It would however be unfair not to give the benefit of any harboured doubt we may have, to the architects of this altruistic reconversion plan as I am sure they have had only the best interests of the junior Malaysian public at heart, just as those organizers of the infamous Judge’s boot camps were concerned with the interests of the Malaysian public generally by ensuring all Judges toed the party line and were not tempted at any time to do something silly like upholding constitutional rights.
The concise Oxford dictionary 10th edition describes the word ‘indoctrination’ as, and I quote, ‘to cause to accept a set of beliefs uncritically through repeated instruction.’
Isn’t this what our education system is all about? Rote learning, repetition, regurgitation of suspect fact, imposition of tenuous ideals and the annihilation of any hint at original thought. Armed with these strong inculcated ideals, our youth are expected to compete in this ever changing new globalized world. This minor glitch ought not to pose a problem really as their amputated lower right educational limbs are now being dressed with sticky pieces of elastic tape applied superficially and in haste in some backyard clinic in the hope that No. 6 remains ingrained permanently in the indoctrinated minds of our future generations.
But history has repeatedly shown that the tenacity of the human spirit should never be underestimated. In other words, people are not stupid. A cursory glance down the North South highway in the general direction of what used to be a swamp infested island should provide inspiration as to what is possible with a little pragmatic foresight. Educational reality in this land of ours has been obfuscated for far too long. It’s about time we got the derailment back on track before it’s too late, and the best place to start is not from the top, after the damage has been done, but from the bottom, where any possible damage can be avoided.
“Oh very young what will you leave us behind? You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while…” (Cat Stevens).