A graduate calls out the unclothed emperor

Mustafa K. Anuar

Royal Education Award recipient Nahvin Muthusamy has spoken up on the issues of meritocracy in education and minority rights in Malaysia. – Nahvin Muthusamy LinkedIn pic, November 23, 2023.

Commentary by Mustafa K. Anuar 

THE audience was generally not expecting the award acceptance speech Nahvin Muthusamy gave where he touched on the issue of meritocracy in education and the rights of minorities in the country. 

In a video clip that went viral, the recipient of the Royal Education Award said education should be made accessible to all, irrespective of race and religion. 

The computer science graduate of Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka recalled his late friend who failed to enter a matriculation programme – a pre-university preparatory scheme offered by the Education Ministry – even though his grades were far better than some of those who were accepted. The friend was deeply demoralised and lost his sense of worth. 

Nahvin hoped his speech would catch the attention of the authorities so that such an injustice could be corrected. 

It is commendable that Nahvin spoke truth to power on the platform that was accorded to him. 

We hope that he is the sort of graduate who will conscientiously advocate justice for whoever is treated unfairly, irrespective of ethnic and religious background. 

Besides, he can strive to be multiethnic in his approach to social justice as, unlike many politicians, he does not need to pander to the gallery for political mileage. 

In other words, looking at things through a racial lens is socially divisive and counterproductive, especially after more than 60 years of independence. 

To be sure, Nahvin is not the first person to alert fellow Malaysians to the fact that the emperor has no clothes in the education ecosystem. 

This issue of meritocracy and injustice had been raised in the past, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears, much to the disillusionment of many students, particularly those from minority groups. 

In fact, the subject of meritocracy was raised not too long ago by a student from Kolej Matrikulasi Pulau Pinang in Kepala Batas who asked Anwar Ibrahim about when the quota system would be abolished and replaced by meritocracy. 

The prime minister cut her off before she could continue, saying abolishing the quota system as a whole, rather than the current way of responding to individual appeals for admission, would supposedly violate the “social contract” and spark social unrest. 

As we approach the first anniversary of the Madani government, it is hoped that the authorities will consider this matter seriously as it has serious repercussions for justice, student morale, the brain drain, and nation-building.

After all, isn’t Malaysia Madani driven by its core values of sustainability, care and compassion, respect, innovation, prosperity, and trust? 

If, as Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim asserted in a talk at the University of California, Berkeley recently, absolute meritocracy cannot be implemented because of inequities in different parts of the country, then the government must see to it that special urban schools predominantly cater for poor and disadvantaged children. 

We must aim to achieve as much fairness as possible in providing access to education. 

Better still, good schools should also be built in rural areas, where good facilities and specially trained teachers are scarce, to give a leg up to children from poor backgrounds. 

If education serves as a social equaliser that helps individuals escape the cycle of poverty, then disadvantaged children, regardless of ethnicity and religion, deserve attention from the authorities. 

On its first anniversary, the Madani government should also take stock of our education system as regards, among others, academic curriculum, educational standards in schools and tertiary institutions, and the issue of ranking, academic freedom and excellence in universities. 

We cannot overstate that education is a crucial investment to create human capital pivotal to nation-building. 

All our young people must be a part of this. – November 23, 2023. 

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