Nasi lemak on banana leaf, degree certificate or toilet paper?

[Aliran published an edited version]

Mahathir finds it shameful for graduates to be selling nasi lemak. Malaysians supporting side X cheer; those supporting side Y jeer. Cheer or jeer, it largely depends on the person’s political idolatry. So many Malaysians have lost the objectivity and ability to look beyond the political packaging, to analyse the issue at hand and to think independently. Yes, we have gone that far abd we are that bad.

Cheer or jeer, in fact most Malaysians from the bottom of their hearts agree that graduates selling nasi lemak is indeed an unquestionable shame. X supporters blame Y as the root cause. Y supporters blame X as the root cause. Together X and Y agree that graduates should not be selling nasi lemak.

This article is nothing about X and Y. This article is about education and the making of better persons.

Is there anything wrong about an illiterate person selling nasi lemak? No.

Is there anything wrong about a certificate-holder selling nasi lemak? No.

Is there anything wrong about a diploma-holder selling nasi lemak? No.

Is there anything wrong about a graduate selling nasi lemak? No.

If selling nasi lemak is shameful, eating nasi lemak would naturally be shameful too. Quit nasi lemak then?

Many of us love nasi lemak but how many are able to prepare nasi lemak? So let us not degrade or discriminate against those who provide.

In fact, education has nothing to do with nasi lemak. Education has everything to do with the making of better persons.

If anything at all, good education should endow upon us the freedom to decide whether we want to sell nasi lemak or not. If we can’t find pride in selling nasi lemak, and if we start worrying about our education system only when graduates start selling nasi lemak – that’s a sure sign of failed education.

Economic activity is one of the most common ways – but not the only way — for us to engage with the community and the society. Education need not be economically motivated. In fact, it shouldn’t be.

We should have been alarmed long ago, when we find university students not being able to pick up what they previously learned and passed at school (sometimes with flying colours). They can only recognise chapter headings as familiar, but are able to recall absolutely nothing. Under those familiar headings, it’s kosong (all vacuum). Having no recollection of past learning is not the problem. The problem is they are no longer capable of picking it up again — whether or not supported by the teaching staff.

We should have been alarmed long before, when ‘highly-educated’ parents are not able to accompany their children in the learning process — which is typically outsourced to tuition classes. Have the parents learned those topics before? Of course. Did they pass with flying colours? Likely so.

So, what is the purpose of studying trigonometry and titration? What good are trigonometry and titration to us besides making sure that you and I do not end up selling nasi lemak?

We should have been alarmed when our glamorous middle class think they can avoid illness by consuming supplements, and that they can diagnose and cure themselves and each other by way of Dr Google. These people haven’t been selling nasi lemak – is that good enough? Some are doing direct selling though (selling nasi lemak would have been far more dignifying – down to earth, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, not pretending to know everything one knows absolutely nothing about).

We should have been even more alarmed when we find our graduates not being able to look into people’s eyes.

Why troubled by nasi lemak (our national pride) if we are not troubled by medical professionals whose service is over-taken by the fear and belief that hospitals are haunted. Nobody seems troubled by the superstition among medical professionals, who can be so superstitious that when they make mistakes (like mixing up blood samples from different patients or mixing newborn babies from different mothers) they blame it on bad luck and ‘elements beyond their control’.

Education could have endowed upon us the understanding of responsibility and causality. If I make mistakes whilst on duty that means I breached error-trapping protocols, not because ghosts overshadowed my soul. If I have too many children than I can care for that means I over-bred, not because I haven’t received enough aid.

Why worry about nasi lemak if our education institutions embrace foreign students (much the same way hospitals embrace foreign patients) while refusing many students who are born locally (much the same way hospitals refuse patients born here). Our colleges send marketing teams overseas (the same way hospitals do) and many would shut if foreign revenues cease (the same way hospitals would). There is no sign of our public education (and healthcare) benefitting from any spill-over from ‘education-tourism’ (or health tourism).

Why worry about nasi lemak if we are not worried about Penang Bangkit’s distribution of flood aid to ‘all’ victims (but foreign workers and refugees are not quite persons, you know). Far from worried, many actually congratulate the ‘grand’ effort.

Why worry about nasi lemak if we are not worried about all those self-revelations in our social media; we are very much a tabloid people with misplaced curiosities and priorities.

If such is the profile of what worries us and what worries us not, we may conclude that the purpose of education is to avoid selling nasi lemak. If that’s the case, we should be asking each other, “Ma’am/Sir, would you like nasi lemak served on daun pisang, degree certificate or toilet paper?”

We may then respond, “Hhhmmm, I’m afraid I’m actually not quite sure what’s the difference between the latter two…”

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