Saturday, August 23, 2003

Living, breathing, thinking modern

Aug 23: THE Prime Minister is exhorting Malaysians to make a lifestyle change, adapting themselves to the country’s “first-class facilities”. Simply put, what Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad wants is for the country’s development to be reflected in the people’s conduct.

Food stalls, for example, should be restricted to places where the standard of public hygiene is easily monitored. The proprietors must maintain the highest standards of quality and cleanliness. The patrons should demand the standards as sensible and responsible consumers.

There is also the need to conform to demanding ethical practices, another indicator of the modernised person. Take the banking industry, for instance. The banker and his or her officers must have impeccable integrity. On the part of the borrower, there is clear understanding of the need to meet every requirement head-on and not expect rules to be bent and exceptions made. In these circumstances, both the service provider and user know not to smudge the transparency needed to foster a healthy banking sector.

In politics, democracy defines ethics. Money politics and strong-arm tactics are indicators of political under-development. Politicians who have no qualms about the utility of these methods in advancing their careers are not democrats and do not belong in the democratic process. For it is the country's political development, above all else, which will determine whether the Prime Minister's exhortations will come to pass, since politics determines leadership.

It is, therefore, not enough for Malaysians to know how to queue or to flush toilets. The Petronas Twin Towers, though a symbol of the nation's achievement cannot, on its own or even together with the many other splendid brick-and-mortar edifices, claim to have modernised us. As the Prime Minister observed, far too often these buildings are not maintained. The Light Railway Transit (LRT) system, meant to make travel in and out of the city convenient, is now said to be breeding petty crime, which is fast ruining that pretty picture of modernity. Because modern is as modern does, are we then, modern?

Schooled abuse

THERE was a predictable response to the assault on the student in Batu Pahat: the setting up of a committee to look into the matter or, rather, two committees, one to review the situation in the entire residential school system, and the other to investigate the particular incident. It is to be hoped that these committees will not live up to one wit's definition of a committee as "a group of men who indvidually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done".

Over the years, while action has been taken in specific cases, nothing seems to have been done in a systemic manner to address the underlying causes of the culture of violence in schools and the non-school factors which cause school violence, and to develop preventive strategies through the collective involvement of schools, families and local communities. The latest case to surface has been the expulsion of 20 students for alleged secret society activity from the Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Ipoh. This form of insidious indiscipline must be stopped at once, if it is not to infect the rest of the residential school network on which the country depends for its best and brightest.

The allegation that a similar case last year was hushed up because the school wanted to protect its reputation is worrying because this is a self-defeating approach that forces the problem underground rather than out in the open. Schools can only begin to tackle the problem if they admit that it exists in the first place. Residential schools can't shrug off humiliating rites of initiation, ragging, bullying, peer rules and codes of silence as adolescent rites of passage. The unwritten rule that only male fifthformers are allowed to talk to female students is not a harmless tradition but a form of abuse. Residential schools need to find their own solutions to the abusive hidden school culture rather than wait for committees to tell them what to do.

New Straits Times, 23/8/2003

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