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The Covid battle we lost in school

12 Nov 2020 / 18:08 H.

PICK any suburban road in urban Klang Valley with heavy pedestrian traffic on its sidewalks and take a stroll. You needn’t go more than 100 metres before encountering several discarded face masks. Of course, there will be clusters of plastic bottles and plastic bags.

The Covid-19 virus can stay alive on the surface of a mask for up to a week, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

The virus may get picked up by the wind and stay in the air, possibly causing infection.

Three neighbourhood office-shopping complexes near the upscale Jalan Desa Kiara, known for its face mask litter, have reported Covid-19 cases.

The question needs to be asked: is there a link?

By wearing a face mask you protect yourself; by careless discarding it you endanger others.

The widespread practice of littering is one strong indicator that our school system is failing to ensure that students become good citizens.

On Redang Island, Berjaya Corporation founder Tan Sri Vincent Tan personally leads a group to pick up rubbish on the beach discarded by local tourists.

The lack of concern for environmental cleanliness is one reason for the spread of dengue, as drops of rain water are trapped in garbage.

The politicisation of education, including the endless debate over vernacular schools, confirms the lack of holistic thinking and a downplaying of social ethics.

Focusing on building national identity without also inculcating in students a sense of service to global humanity is a recipe for national disaster.

Without a push in the right direction, students learn to be self-serving instead.

Here again, the alarming rise of scamming syndicates misusing telco and bank facilities is another strong indicator of social breakdown.

Hundreds and hundreds of Malaysians are drifting into cybercrime, from selling personal data of consumers to actively making the scam calls.

Hundreds more are turning a blind eye as they refuse to thwart such activities although they have the technical means to do so.

And grandpa’s advice never to take your eyes off your personal belongings when in a crowd still holds true.

What is social ethics?

China’s most ancient scripture, the I Ching, declares in its chapter on fellowship that human society must be organically arranged and held together by a code of social ethics that serves the goals of humanity.

Early 20th century translator Richard Wilhelm, elaborating on the text, wrote: “True fellowship amongst people must be based upon a concern that is universal. It is not the private interests of the individual that create lasting fellowship amongst people, but rather the goals of humanity.”

A later scripture, the Confucian Analects, introduces the term benevolence which it explains means “to love all people in the world”.

The Works of Mencius (a disciple of Confucius) expounds benevolence in these words: “If a man can give full development to the feeling which makes him shrink from injuring others, his benevolence will be more than can be called into practice.”

To shrink from injuring others ... this is the guiding principle of social ethics.

It is this guiding principle that our schools are failing to emphasise in the curriculum. Instead, we have cultivated an obsessive pursuit of self-interest.

At a press conference towards the end of October, Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the country should learn from the Sabah election, which became the starting point of the current pandemic wave in the state and the rest of the country.

The state election was marked by disregard for social distancing rules and mask wearing in favour of large gatherings, crowd mingling, hand shaking, and house visits despite the injury to public health.

Inculcation of social ethics has to begin in school. To steer Malaysia in the right direction for the future, we need educationists who are true to the profession and curriculum planners who aren’t politicians.

Vernacular schools have a big role to play in character education. Chinese schools can drill their students in public morality as this subject is the forte of the Chinese classics. So also, the Tirukkural classic of the Tamils is a highly respected work on ethics and morality.

Nationalists who want vernacular schools to be abolished do not seem aware that these schools helped lay the foundation of public morality in our country during the early days.

The first Tamil primary school was established in 1816 in Penang.

The first Chinese school was the “School of the 5th Happiness” established in 1819, also in Penang.

Vernacular schools are a national heritage.

Instead of debating whether they should be closed, the debate should focus on increasing the number of hours devoted to the teaching of Malay and English languages.

More importantly, all schools including the national schools must place social ethics at top rung of the ladder of subjects. A citizenry with no sense of service to global humanity becomes the nation’s greatest enemy.

The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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