Catching up with a legacy

THE Merdeka celebration this time turned "gold" thanks to the superb contributions from all Malaysians for making it happen. Especially the athletes who brought the message home loud and clear that Malaysia can be a great (sporting) nation given its talented multi-ethnic mix. Provided politics that usually plagues sports (and all else) is left out of it. Instead we garnered the diversity there is to the fullest as amply demonstrated by the 29th SEA Games.

Kudos to everyone involved including the Pasukan Sorak that seemed to be everywhere to spread the infectious multicultural spirit taking us beyond the seemingly impossible 111 gold-medal target. There were also records of sorts made when a sultan and a minister bagged gold for the first time in the SEA Games. They set the pace that there was no reason why Malaysia should not be on top of the world – something that we rarely had or heard for so long now. To them goes the credit most deservingly due for reawakening this "reality" in a timely manner – when the nation celebrated its 60th Merdeka anniversary last week. Let no individual or organisation milk this for their narrow interests.

The issue now is how to sustain this sterling performance if not take it to even greater heights, at least for the next two years when the SEA Games is held in Manila. Equally important, can similar feats be extended to other endeavours that build solid foundation for unity and integrity notably through education. Each one is vital for Malaysia to be and remain as "champion" that she truly deserves come 2020 and beyond.

Incidentally, they are part of the four issues (plus the economy) that the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin, highlighted. He pointed this out during the launch of the book, Fulfilling a Legacy - Tun Razak Foundation, on the eve of Merdeka Day, noting that the second prime minister will be "disappointed" with the current state of affairs. He was emphatic in singling out: "If Tun Abdul Razak is still breathing today, surely he will be disappointed and regret seeing the four scenarios happening in this country now."

Let us dwell on "education" as the mother of all the issues. This column has always been supportive of a return to a single-stream school system which some have dismissed as "political suicide" (as opposed to a "social time-bomb" that we have tried to argue).

Yet in his royal address Sultan Nazrin courageously reiterated that "the National Education Policy contained in the Razak Report outlined the important role of schools in promoting unity among the people through the national school stream.

"Today, however, the implementation of the National Education Policy has increasingly failed in fulfilling the goal of schools as a teaching place for fostering unity.

"The young generation from different races today, who go through various school streams, will not have the opportunity to interact and know each other, and instead they grow up separately in their own racial group."

Imagine if we were "caged" likewise for the SEA Games, metaphorically speaking, rather than being organised as a "single" Team MAS that kept us as one. Chances are we would have slipped; forget about the 323 medals, almost half of which (145) are gold. This is the immediate tragedy if political expediency is allowed to rule over social reality. That reality, as aptly summed up by Sultan Nazrin draws on the second prime minister's vision: "To build a country that was strong and united, nurtured and fostered through the school environment, and so were his leadership qualities based on honesty, integrity, accountability and sacrifice so that the country could remain independent, sovereign, prosperous and respected."

To top this, Sultan Nazrin recalled Tun's trustworthiness and honesty that were portrayed by transparency and integrity in the administrative practices, prudent spending of government funds, and carefully ensuring that these funds were not spent on oneself and family.

This timely voice of enlightenment, which is increasingly shared by the silent majority, is also categorically echoed by the eminent emeritus professor, Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, of University of Malaya. "Once we lived in unity, but look at us now," he said recently. "We are more selfish and we are not practising good moral values. There is a proverb, 'no man is an island'. This no longer relates to our society." He attributed this to the shallow appreciation of local history among the youth of today, and also ineffective teaching. Add this to multi-stream schools, there can hardly be any common understanding of what the country is all about, let alone act like the unified Team MAS. That is why "national identity" is still an illusion after 60 years of Merdeka as borne out in both the education blueprints.

The only choice is to (re)learn the wisdom of Tun Abdul Razak while building on the SEA Games success to reverse the trend before we can hope to catch up with the unpretentious legacy of the beloved Tun Abdul Razak.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com