by Zuhri Aziz
A motion on education at the Umno Lembah Pantai division meeting last week caught my interest. It was for more emphasis on the subject of history in schools a direct response to the Prime Ministers call to make the subject compulsory at primary school level. It ultimately found unanimous support among delegates.
The rationale: History can fill the gaping vacuum that has been preventing the majority of youth from appreciating the socio-cultural development of the various communities in Malaysia.
Admittedly, I too have struggled to find a satisfactory explanation as to why this has happened. After all, I underwent roughly the same syllabus the history of Malaysia's road to nationhood and learnt the importance of harmonious race relations. So, why the sudden need to re-educate our youth?
I met with Shahril, 23, a former student leader. As a representative of his young peers and a proud second generation product of the New Economic Policy, I was hopeful he would be able to provide a thought starter. I was also aware that a conversation with Shahril would not (by a mile) constitute a comprehensive picture of the issue.
As we spoke and I found out more about the diet Shahril and his friends grew up on, it reinforced my initial belief that an important reason behind the different ways we view Malaysia was because of access to information.
My generation had relied heavily on the textbooks, teachers and of course the Government-controlled media. In many cases, whatever information churned out was taken as unquestionable truth. Shahril, on the other hand, had grown up with the Internet.
It was his medium and a strong substitute for traditional information dissemination. His understanding of historical and cultural realities were influenced by the many analysts and pioneer online socio-political commentators like the late journalist MGG Pillai and current MP Jeff Ooi. Although Shahril said he had abandoned most local forums and blogs because of their increasingly tabloid-esque content, the Internet connection was and nonetheless still is the major influencing platform for his generations strong views on issues. Views that were not necessarily the same as those in the mainstream media.
His political awakening, he remembers, came circa 1998 the controversies, and commotion surrounding Anwar Ibrahim. The extensive coverage of subsequent court cases via alternative telecommunications platforms guaranteed that Shahrils generation was arriving at political cynicism much earlier. As a result, although an Umno supporter, Shahril admitted to still feeling some degree of sympathy towards Anwar.
Shahril also seemed focused on the intangibles of a host of different issues including race relations, equality, freedom of speech, and injustices in politics. For example, he couldn't fathom why much of the Barisan Nasional campaign rhetoric of the last General Elections insisted on looking backwards by focusing on physical development. To Shahril and his peers, the physical developmental prowess of the BN was old currency.
In his eyes, Bangsar has always been a thriving entertainment and shopping district. The North South highway has always connected people from faraway places. In a way, this embodies the fact that Malaysia is taken for granted by many and especially by our youth as a constantly developing country. Physically anyway.
So, Shahrils generation is looking out for explanations on certain current issues relating to nation-building and race relations that will shape their future. Specifically, they feel the traditional rhetoric must be modified. The thirst for answers for their analytical and Internet influenced mind must be quenched by laying out the facts, toning down the spin.
As much as they look at past history, they are also looking at the future.
People of my generation must admit that the goal post has changed. I feel we may well be playing a different game altogether. As the electorate becomes younger almost 50 per cent by the time the next election comes around there is a need to address the detachment.
Do not get me wrong; it is a good idea to inject history lessons at a younger age. But we need to look at the issue in light of today's realities. It would be simplistic to think the younger generations views are formed by their ignorance of the facts of history, or due to the case of young blood.
As Shahril took leave and walked away from our coffee table, I picked up the distinct youthful swagger in his stride.
I am unsure if we have failed our younger generation, but we have certainly failed to keep up with them.
● Zuhri Aziz is the Deputy Director of Akademi Pemuda. The views expressed here and in his recently set up blog (tgzuhri.blogspot. com) do not represent the views of the organisation he works with.
*Taken from today's Malay Mail