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Is there anything wrong about a graduate selling nasi lemak?


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If selling nasi lemak is shameful, should we then conclude that eating nasi lemak is shameful as well, wonders Mary Chin.

Mahathir finds it shameful for graduates to be selling nasi lemak.

Malaysians supporting side X cheer; those supporting side Y jeer. Whether they cheer or jeer, largely depends on which side they are rooting for. So many Malaysians have lost the objectivity and ability to look beyond the political packaging, to analyse the issue at hand and to think independently. Yes, we have gone that far and we are that bad.

Irrespective of whether they cheer or jeer, most Malaysians, apparently agree from the bottom of their hearts that graduates selling nasi lemak is something that is unquestionably shameful. X supporters blame Y as the root cause. Y supporters blame X as the root cause. Together X and Y agree that graduates should not be selling nasi lemak.

This article is nothing about X and Y. This article is about education and the making of better persons.

Is there anything wrong about an illiterate person selling nasi lemak? No.

Is there anything wrong about a certificate-holder selling nasi lemak? No.

Is there anything wrong about a diploma-holder selling nasi lemak? No.

Is there anything wrong about a graduate selling nasi lemak? No.

If selling nasi lemak is shameful, should we then conclude that eating nasi lemak is shameful as well? If so, should we quit eating nasi lemak then? Many of us love nasi lemak but how many are able to prepare nasi lemak? So let us not look down on those who provide or sell nasi lemak.

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In fact, education has nothing to do with nasi lemak. Education has everything to do with the making of better persons.

If anything, good education should endow upon us the freedom to decide whether we want to sell nasi lemak or not. If we can’t find pride in selling nasi lemak, and if we start worrying about our education system only when graduates start selling nasi lemak – that is a sure sign of failed education.

Economic activity is one of the most common ways – but not the only way – for us to engage with the community and the society. Education need not be economically motivated. In fact, it shouldn’t be.

We should have been alarmed long ago when we found university students not being able to pick up what they previously learned and passed at school (sometimes with flying colours). They can only recognise chapter headings as familiar, but are able to recall absolutely nothing. Under those familiar headings, it is kosong (all vacuum).

Having no recollection of past learning is not the problem. The problem is they are no longer capable of picking it up again – whether or not supported by the teaching staff.

We should have been alarmed long before, when ‘highly educated’ parents are not able to accompany their children in the learning process – which is typically outsourced to tuition classes. Have the parents learned those topics before? Of course. Did they pass with flying colours? Likely so.

So, what is the purpose of studying trigonometry and titration? What good are trigonometry and titration to us besides making sure that you and I do not end up selling nasi lemak?

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We should have been alarmed when our glamorous middle class think they can avoid illness by consuming supplements and that they can diagnose and cure themselves and each other by way of Dr Google. These people haven’t been selling nasi lemak – is that good enough?

Some are doing direct selling though. (Selling nasi lemak would have been far more dignifying – down to earth, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, not pretending to know everything one knows absolutely nothing about.)

We should have been even more alarmed when we find our graduates not being able to look into people’s eyes.

Why worry about nasi lemak if our education institutions embrace foreign students (much the same way hospitals embrace foreign patients) while refusing many students who are born locally (much the same way hospitals refuse patients born here). Our colleges send marketing teams overseas (the same way hospitals do) and many would shut down if foreign revenues cease (the same way hospitals would).

There is no sign of our public education (and healthcare) benefiting from any spill-over from ‘education tourism’ (or health tourism).

Why worry about nasi lemak if we are not worried about Penang Bangkit’s distribution of flood aid to ‘all’ victims (but foreign workers and refugees are not quite persons, you know). Far from worried, many actually congratulate the ‘grand’ effort.

Why worry about nasi lemak if we are not worried about all those self-revelations in our social media; we are very much a tabloid people with misplaced curiosities and priorities.

If such is the profile of what worries us and what worries us not, are we to conclude that the purpose of education is to avoid selling nasi lemak? If that is the way we think, then there is little to distinguish our degree certificates from worthless scraps of paper.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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4 Feb 2018 11.07am

It is commendable that these graduates have taken humble jobs or have ventured in small businesses to support themselves but that they have not been able to find work more suited to their qualifications and where they can put their qualifications to good use is a damning indictment of the very system in Malaysia today, and by the way in much of the rest of the neo-liberal, capitalist world, including in the “almighty” United States of America, in Western Europe and in many other “advanced” countries, as well as in developing countries such as in Tunisia where neo-liberal capitalism still reigns, seven years after the so-called “Arab Spring”.


Angeline Loh
Angeline Loh
30 Jan 2018 12.14am

Bravo Mary for raising awareness of the dignity of lowly but honest work.There is certainly no shame in earning an honest living. In fact, there have been university students who take on part-time jobs to fund their studies, some even hold full-time jobs and go for night classes. Masters students and under-grads become dish washers during the night while attending lectures or doing research during the day. There was a “jaga” (night watchman) who became a lawyer working through the University of London’s LLB External course in the 1980s. These, who persevere to achieve a dream, are to be lauded, not looked down on.
Selling “nasi lemak” is actually something akin to starting an MBA.

Subramaniam Pillay
Subramaniam Pillay
26 Jan 2018 12.24pm

A very good article asking the right questions!

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