A humble thank you

THERE is nothing more satisfying than being recognised by your peers. It is humbling yet exhilarating knowing full well that this is a tacit approval from the people who matter – people who are frank enough to sanction when it is "wrong", and quick to endorse what is "right" without fear or favour. Welcome to the world of academia as I know it.

This is how I felt on the night of the Anugerah Akademik Negara (AAN) staying in line with iconic luminaries like Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim and Distinguished Professor Tan Sri Dr Kamal Hassan. Not forgetting the other "cendekiawan terbilang" beginning with Royal Professor Ungku Aziz to Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Augustine Ong, ever since the AAN was initiated some 10 years ago.

Personally, it gives me an extra kick to note that the initial idea was inspired by USM's Sanggar Sanjung implemented in 2001. I am grateful that the idea lives on to inspire many more.

The minister of higher education in his welcoming remark described the occasion as one that celebrates high value culture guided by the virtues of humanity, wisdom, humility and integrity. This sums up very well what education and the academe is all about and intended for as its ethos. And upon which AAN is based as its eventual benchmark to bring about its higher purpose as a leveller of society.

Unfortunately, the higher purpose has been hijacked to mean reputation and prestige, at the expense of humility, humanity, wisdom and integrity. Like all businesses, the knowledge industry is also prone to "corruption".

Globally, education is now more often known as a source of social inequality which is growing wider by the day. Thus when asked to provide a quote in conjunction with the event, I crafted the following:

"Apalah ertinya pendidikan, jika maruah tergadai jua" (What is the meaning of education, if dignity continues to be compromised) with the hope that it can serve as a reminder that nurturing and safeguarding "dignity" is how education ultimately must be realised. Far too often, in contrast, as is the case today education has been allowed to morph into something mechanised and hence dehumanising.

This cannot be more apparent in the many discussions ranging from the ideas of "human capital" to that of "STEM" and of late the so-called "Industry 4.0". The common thread in these three catch-words exemplifies how "being human" is relegated as secondary to the logic of economics (as homo economicus) or the agenda of politics (as homo politicus).

The homo sapiens translated as the "wise" being is lost in translation through what we currently perceive as "education". What is clear is that we are gradually "drowning" in information and knowledge – thanks to digital technology – but remain severely malnourished in "wisdom". Worse still when "wisdom" is superficially misconstrued merely as a combination of imagination, research and collaboration as related in a keynote address at the Asean 2050 Forum last week.

It is obvious in this era of information-knowledge explosion; while both can be easily accessed, we are still in the dark on how to harness them into insightful "wisdom". Industrial revolutions have produced many "knowledgeable" people (even experts), yet unfortunately none are the wiser.

The neverending chaos and crises have been clear enough for the discerning to see and even experience as we stepped into the much awaited 21st century with its technological advances. Not denying that some are of vital importance to save and promote quality "living" – ironically many more have failed to defend, less still dignify "life" itself.

It is not surprising therefore to recount that there are more people killed and dying today than at any time in recorded human history. The suicide rate of one every 40 seconds is numbing, with some cases traceable to "education" as the root cause. But do we care?

At this juncture it is apt to quote Einstein when he said: "I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots." We are now seeing this unfolding in the commercially-driven digital age that tends to further dehumanise (digitalise?) the human person predicated on the logic of economics (lured by the trillions of dollars) to usher in a "tribal" political agenda (of global domination and arrogance), wrapped in the purported LQ ("love quotation") as the provincial ideological strategy of winning hearts and minds. Still, we do not care.

It is against this backdrop that the AAN awardees need to go beyond the niceties of the gala night, the glamorous photo opportunities, and the pat on the back.

More so, the rhetoric of the occasion that must be made real. Deep down it harbours a social responsibility so paramount as to remain worthy of the peer endorsement for all time. And not to betray the trust that was given unconditionally to stay loyal to the ethos of education as a leveller of society worldwide.

These are daunting thoughts that come alive as the reality sinks in, to bring back dignity into education. On this account, I am fortunate to have known so many in my lifetime who offer limitless inspiration in navigating the world of knowledge. I would like to convey my heartfelt thanks to all from whom I have had the opportunity to learn, especially my alma mater under the leadership of its current vice-chancellor for believing in the nomination that she and the team initiated. To everyone who has made this possible, thank you, humbly.

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