The best among graduates can and should be at the forefront of nation-building initiatives and at the frontiers of high technology, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali is concerned – and rightly so – that Malaysia has not realised its full growth potential and is thus not moving up the value chain.
He attributed this situation to, among others, the limited use of technology in the country, where skilled personnel comprised just 27.2% of workers last year.
While high technology may help spur the economy, especially with the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, the development of skilled labour is obviously an important factor in the larger scheme of things.
In this regard, it is perhaps crucial to revisit the school curriculum and revamp certain courses at institutions of higher learning to emphasise the importance of science and technology, but not at the expense of the humanities disciplines.
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It is useful to remind ourselves that the humanities too have an important role to play in nation-building as they can train the mind to be critical and imaginative as well as concerned about human society, in the context of a nation rushing to embrace high technology.
Furthermore, there has to be an academic environment conducive for the development of inquisitive minds, which are essential to the formation of workers who are skilled, creative and innovative and who have critical-thinking abilities.
This is especially key in the context of universities, where academic freedom is crucial so that students can acquire critical thinking and be exposed to various ideas, especially liberating ones, while having the capacity to help solve problems in society.
The best among graduates can and should be at the forefront of nation-building initiatives and at the frontiers of high technology.
In line with the spirit of the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, which calls for sustainability, inclusivity and competitiveness, those who are qualified and highly skilled – irrespective of ethnicity and religion – must lead the march to enhance economic growth and prosperity, apart from fostering human rights and social justice.
The recent suggestion that only members of a particular ethnicity, i.e. Malays, should monopolise top positions in the civil service, government-linked companies and other important sectors of society is not only socially divisive but also anti-development. Such a mantra of exclusivity is bunkum in the 21st Century.
Besides, a culture of entitlement nurtured by any particular ethnic group is detrimental to its own dignity, self-confidence and, above all, long-term survival.
Additionally, the toxic politics of race and religion cannot be allowed to cloud this economic vision, which supposedly aims for the participation of all Malaysians in the country’s socioeconomic and political development. We all have a stake in this country.
The massive brain drain of past years, partly the result of sidelining segments of Malaysia’s minorities, can be addressed by this new economic strategy.
The intellectual and skills haemorrhage suffered by the nation all this while has obviously become a welcoming bonus for receiving countries but a loss to us.
This has to stop – not only for economic reasons but also to ensure that bona fide citizens have a legitimate sense of belonging and can make useful contributions.
Of course, the outflow of certain talented Malaysians is also due to the middle-income trap phenomenon, compelling some to move abroad in search of what appears to be greener pastures.
It is also noteworthy that this economic strategy will be useful to Malays who have made it in life largely on their own steam, through sheer diligence and grit.
In other words, this cluster of Malays should be judged on their own merits, and their achievements should be appreciated, not stigmatised by the entitlement of others.
To reiterate, the objective of achieving the country’s full growth potential should take into account its manpower, which not only reflects Malaysia’s diverse communities but also showcases its diversity as an invaluable national asset.