Yes, something bothers me. According to the World Bank 36% of the Malaysian population reaches tertiary education. NationMaster provides similar numbers. So it’s safe to say roughly one in three Malaysians go to college. The Higher Education Ministry disputes the numbers – it’s 40% they say – apparently the World Bank didn’t count those doing A Levels or its equivalent. Even so, Malaysia is behind countries like Thailand, with 45%, and South Korea, with 98%.
If education is the key to knowledge, and if knowledge is power, and if that power is the power to shatter the chains of ignorance and prejudice – then I’m concerned. Never mind the quality of local education yet. The escalating brain drain coupled with these numbers suggests a future where everything will remain just about the same. Books and freedom of expression – and ideas – are powerful things. The unbelievably (hilariously) long list of things censored and/or banned in Malaysia speaks volumes about the lengths to which the government will go to keep the people in the dark. Consider something as silly as Zoolander to something as serious as The Origin of Species. Banned, the lot of them. Right along with a host of books discussing Islam (Western writers know nothing!) and books with titles like: How To Talk To Your Child About Sex. The nation is being pushed back into ignorance while being simultaneously chided, scolded, and nagged to get an education. Talk about mixed messages.
What’s the point of an education, then? YouTubers are hauled to jail for making a parody of the national anthem. Bloggers are arrested for their opinions. Cartoonists are accused of sedition. Opposition newspapers are shut down for “inciting public unrest.” Press freedom has declined to a point where more African countries rank higher than Malaysia on the Worldwide Press Freedom Index. There is a veil being drawn across the country in the name of national security. Yet in the name of national security, there cannot be a veil. Racial and religious tensions flare up every now and then because many still live under a rock. We cannot mommy a population about what films are suitable or not and expect them to mature at the same time. We must read widely because literature can open eyes, and because nobody will get far on MPH bestsellers alone. We must be allowed to speak because that is a byproduct of an educated society. In fact, all these things are a byproduct of an educated society. It’s how nations grow up.
I hold to the quaint idea that knowledge leads to truth and that the truth will set you free. Free from things like ignorance, fear, and prejudice. That is the point of an education. Granted, going to college doesn’t necessarily equal getting an education. Neither does one have to go to college in order to be educated. However, the tertiary enrollment numbers in Malaysia mean either most do not have the opportunity, or most do not care to even try. Oh dear, either way, oh dear.