Meritocracy Phobia-Syed Nazri
HARDCOPY: Time to get over meritocracy phobia
By Syed Nadzri; NST, JULY 14, 2005
MERITOCRATIC discrimination? That’s probably one of the worst oxymorons we’ll ever hear. But it came over the weekend from Johor Umno — yes, the same group that urged the Umno headquarters a fortnight ago not to publicise the names of those found guilty of money politics. Johor Umno liaison committee had criticised the meritocracy system introduced by the Government, saying it had resulted in a fall in the achievement of Malay students and was thus a form of "discrimination and oppression".
How do you like that? Meritocracy equals discrimination.
Perhaps Johor Umno chief Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman meant well when he said the meritocracy system of selecting students into public universities had adversely affected "tens of thousands of Bumiputera students in the rural areas who were denied quality education in view of the uneven playing field".
But it is wrong to say that meritocracy — a system based on ability and not on racial quota — is discrimination, let alone oppression. If Bumiputera students are not doing well in rural schools because of lack of access to proper facilities and quality education, then there must be something wrong with the education development and implementation system.
Why are rural schools still worse off 35 years into the New Economic Policy? Johor Umno should demand an answer to that and insist on immediate steps to rectify shortcomings in the implementation system to ensure that rural schools get quality teachers and facilities like the urban schools.
While at it, Johor Umno and everybody else should examine whether it is true as reported in Utusan Malaysia yesterday that 120,000 Malay students have failed to gain places in public universities despite meeting the requirements.
If it is true, we should insist too that an urgent analysis be made to find the root causes — not criticise the meritocracy system at a time when the country is facing the challenges of globalisation, a tsunami that is ready to sweep anyone by the wayside if he’s not up to it.
There is actually no substitute for quality in the present day and Malaysia has taken that right step forward on meritocracy.
Let’s not take two steps back for the sake of political expediency.
Johor Umno should not expect all Malays to agree with its suggestion just because it touches certain sentiments. Pahang Umno chief and Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob for one has come out to respond, saying he supported meritocracy as this would spur Bumiputera students to do better and not take things for granted.
In his speech at the Pahang Umno convention on Sunday, he quipped:
"I would prefer to go to a doctor who entered a public university based on merit rather than someone who gained entry because of his Bumiputera status."
That’s exactly the point. The biggest favour for Bumiputeras is to build up their competitiveness and confidence so they can soar higher — not to get the bar lowered.
Many politicians have spoken about this, including Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who stated several times about the need for Malays and Bumiputeras to now do away with their "crutches" of government protection.
The wrong application of affirmative action could sometimes lead to disastrous consequences as when graduates find themselves out of depth in the real world.
Sit through a recruitment interview and you are bound to come across the most awkward of situations when the person applying for the job is simply not up to it or is too overawed by the occasion to be audible enough.
Sometimes it is a case of sheer lack of self-confidence and sometimes the baggage of narrow beliefs from the classroom days are simply carried forward into the job-seeking phase and deep into the tenure of employment.
How many times, for instance, have we heard of company managers, officers in the civil service and people serving in the diplomatic corps shunning cocktail parties either because they don’t know how to carry themselves or because they consider such receptions haram?
Old-timers say the situation is definitely worse now in Malaysia than it had ever been despite the increase in the competitiveness of everyday life and the exposure to globalised communication through the Internet and satellite TV.
These, plus the preoccupation of some Malays on trash literature and Akademi Fantasia, are some of the more urgent things that need to be addressed rather than going the other way with that fixation on doing away with meritocracy.
One senior minister expressed a lot of concern recently about schools putting too much emphasis on science and technical subjects to the point of disregarding the broad-thinking liberal arts education which goes a long way towards building character and maturity of thought.
READ ANOTHER ARTICLE BY MACKZULKIFLI
July 11, 2005
Abdul Ghani Othman has a point. Yes, it is hurting rural malay students. That is a fact that I cannot deny. However, the solution might not be entirely a matter for policy-makers to intervene and address, because as a maker of National policy, one must work within the confines of a greater justice for all. Being rewarded by merits is, universally, and generally, even in religion, something that is a virtue that must be upheld to the best of one's ability. It is a God given truth that favouritism leads to abuse. Still, as a Prime Minister, I am guessing that Pak Lah has an obligation to listen, and hence is open to discussion.
It is an insurmountable fact that this country is, by and large, a country segregated by racial borders first. The architecture of our political system reflects that. Our history, and the historical administration of colonial Britain that shaped our present day, sort of ensured that. Thus, we have political parties that is mandated, by their constitution and political responsibility, to look after it's own, and yet balance that responsibility with the need to maintain balance. Tough act, but as demonstrated since 1957, not entirely impossible.
Which brings me to my point. Perhaps it is up to UMNO, and it's two youth wings, PUTERA and UMNO Youth, to develop a comprehensive method to aid these Malay students in making strides towards entering fields of studies deemed critical, namely fields such as medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and law.
At the last count, Malaysia has 24 million souls as nationals. Malays and indigenous makes up fifty eight percent of that population, which would make that about 14 million, rounded up to a large figure. There are 3 million UMNO members, of which, given those numbers, we can safely come to a conclusion that 1 in 5 'bumiputera's are UMNO members. That's an impressive number.
While I have not looked at it in detail, I am willing to bet that if UMNO uses part of it's huge manpower potential, with funding that it can no doubt obtain by itself, this problem can be addressed at party level, without having to call for arguments on the meritocracy ideals at policy level, thereupon avoiding controversy, and creating statements that might alienate the other races that equally stake their future on the well being of Malaysia, as a country.
We have teachers who are UMNO members. Party heads can mobilise them as the instruments of a strategy, designed with the intention of creating students that qualify for these critical disciplines. Some funds can be set aside, and human resource be allocated towards making this a success.We have academics, leading major think-tanks, and retired civil servants with loads of experience, who ar also UMNO members, and can contribute. It is not something that is very difficult to craft, I thought of the rough structure, broke it down into actionable constituencies and did a rough strategic map in inder twenty minutes flat, and I am not special, there are those who outgun me in strategic thinking within UMNO itself.
The tough part is that, an initiative like this takes initiative driven by passion, perhaps a little sacrifice, and a whole lot of dedication to a cause that embetters your breathren. Should that not be the passion of those who join political parties? Are those not the passion demonstarted in every UMNO general assembly?
What we have seen and heard is truly disheartening and totally unfair to the Malays as a whole. With the constant preaching and bombardment from UMNO over the decades, it has not help in its entirety to build a Towering Malay society. On the contrary, UMNO had impliedly convinced many of the Malays that they are incapable, uncompetitive, unintellectual, and impliedly, a parasite within the society who largely depended on the CANDU (Opium) donated by the government to help them survive. Without this candu, the Malays, it seems, cannot match all the other races in terms of intellectual achievement and individual competency.
In my years of lecturing at universities and the many public seminars conducted, it truly depress me that no matter how hard I tried to motivate the Malays, the Malay participants had believed in their inferiority as preached by UMNO and its leaders. Even my law school Malay lecturers told me that he believes the Malay need the candu, otherwise, they will be left behind. Sadly, even my fellow Malay colleagues somewhat believes in this maxim too.
What transpired is that we had in fact led the Malays to believe something which is utterly frivolous and ludicrous. We have failed to motivate the Malays to have self belief in their ability and the ability to develop competency. We have led them to be despised by the world at large, and would made them a laughing stock. We have utterly failed to developed the social fabric that enhances continuous improvement and competency development. We have failed as a nation to develop our human capital of which the Malays are the majority.
On the contrary, the Indians who are the minority and much neglected within the system management are proud of themselves and they have self-confidence. They believe they can and would succeed. I have many classmates in law school, many of them who are young Indians (between 22 to 35 years old) and who have self belief and confidence that they can succeed and be able to build a professional career. Their parents are poor and yet they are in private colleges, self-financing their education inorder to acquire a law degree. Many are not exceptionally bright students, but they work hard and study hard - they want to succeed. They know they would not have the financial support from the govt and neither would they be given places in local public universities. They didn't shout or cry of deprivation, discrimination and prejudice. Their families stretched their own financial limits to budget and balance their little income to spare the money needed to pay fees at private colleges in order to earn a degree; and many had succeeded.
Similarly, many Chinese families are poor too. Yet, without the system support, (of which they had perceived) the parents and individuals would sacrifice their time and money in order to get a degree at private colleges which are expensive. They believe they can succeed even in an environment of uneven playing field; even in a society that do not believe in meritocracy.
In concluding, until and unless the system administrators and the UMNO politicians discard their "Oxymoron" attitude and start believing in themselves, and keeps motivating the Malays to believe in themselves, they will be left behind. The system is not capable to continually provide "fishes" and "Candu"; soon they will deplete themselves of resources and will have to resort to beggerism.
The old saying is clear: Give him a fish and he will eat for one day; teach him to fish and he will have food to feed himself for a lifetime.
The political leaders in UMNO should stop their nonsensical rhetorics. For their own selfish political agenda, they are playing the sentiments of the ignorant. For the sake of power and personal wealth, they are prepared to sacrifice their very own. These political leaders are prepared to sacrifice the health of the nation and are willing to destroy the harmonious relationship between the various races. They use candu and install smoke screens to blind the Malays, in particular, the rural folks. They lead them into the wilderness and allows them be butchered; and yet they claim to champion their causes. What a shame!
Just how long would the rural Malays be patsy and credulous, allowing themselves to be misled by their imbecile leaders. The Asphyxiating litany must stop. Positive actions must be taken to build a towering Malay society. The people must open their eyes and see what these fools have done to them. The Malays are NEVER inferior. They will succeed with or without UMNO. Its their leaders who wants them to remain drugged and schizophrenic ...