Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why brain drain will continue


Why brain drain will continue

August 25, 2012
Malaysian Insider 
AUG 25 — On a trip to America, it is clear that all is not well with the United States. From George W. Bush to Hurricane Katrina, from rising unemployment to a slowing economy, and stark differences in worldviews between the Democrats and the Republicans polarising the country down the middle, the US seems like a country waiting for a new saviour.

However, despite the naysayers’ predictions of the imminent demise of the world’s remaining superpower, there is much to admire in American society and politics from a Malaysian perspective.

There is a black president who, with his graceful and articulate wife, is presenting a gentler, more inclusive and thoughtful face of the country to the world. The scars of racial discrimination are giving way to a vibrant multicultural society with opportunities for most.

Perhaps, most importantly, a long-established emphasis on entrepreneurialism and on creativity has allowed the US to effortlessly take the lead in the ideas century. From Silicon Valley to New York City and from Hollywood to Harvard, America has reinvented itself to keep ahead in the Information Age.

The reasons for this are not far to seek. The most vibrant news media in the world, including newspapers like the Washington Post and The New York Times, television networks like CNN and magazines like the New Yorker pride themselves on presenting both sides of the story in the most analytical way possible.

While there are extreme opinions on any topic available freely, a society educated largely in the Socratic tradition tends to gravitate to the more moderate liberal or conservative worldviews. What is not up for debate is the idea that a better material life for all is the primary job of the government.

Educational standards are being revised to keep up with the changing world, the media is diligent in focusing the priorities of the government and opposition on the issues that matter and the politicians are therefore forced to be accountable for every action.

Contrast this with the state of education, media and politics in Malaysia today. The abolishment of PPSMI, the near stranglehold on the mainstream media by the ruling coalition and the consequent lack of accountability of politicians to taxpayers do not bode well for the future. The all-consuming preoccupation with race and religion is dominating the national discourse to the point where accountability of the government in providing a better future for all Malaysians is being swept under the carpet.

The contest of ideas for the hearts and minds of the electorate, which is the hallmark of American democracy, epitomised by its system of presidential debates and townhall meetings, in Malaysia seems to be reduced to mere sloganeering and name calling, with no real debates on offer at all. When people do not question and the media does not analyse, why would politicians work for all the rakyat?

When educational standards are falling, the bright feel they are drowning in a sea of mediocrity. When asking relevant questions on corruption can get the whistleblower charged, the thoughtful feel defeated. When the central question determining one’s future is not merit but ethnicity, for the ambitious there is no choice but to leave.

Whatever be the outcome of the next GE, unless the education system, the media and consequently the political system are not radically reformed to focus on the aspirations of Malaysian society as a whole, there is not much that the GTP, ETP or PEMANDU can do to take Malaysia to the next level.
In which case, expect brain drain of the best and brightest in the country, independent of race and religion, to continue inexorably.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


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