Tackle polarisation with 'school visits' first
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - New Straits Times
March 24, 2023
That the country is polarised is an understatement. This is obvious from the latest move to improve the situation, but which seems to have backfired.
The Jom Ziarah (JZ) programme involves visits to houses of worship. The organisers are associated with the Youth and Sports Ministry. One would have thought 'sport' would be a better platform for interaction, considering it involves a wide spectrum of youths.
After all, sports are all-encompassing and easier to organise in several locations compared with focusing on houses of worship.
The latter could come at a later stage when the foundation to 'depolarise' has been firmly set. This includes a higher level of trust and empathy.
Many were delighted to see the youth and sports minister in a football jersey and boots recently. Now the ministry is also holding free swimming classes for B40 students. These speak volumes about her commitment, compared with the JZ programme.
The International Islamic University Malaysia experience shows that it is a global phenomenon. It only goes to show that intercultural sports are more collaborative than competitive.
Thus they are inclined to polarisation unintentionally, identifying an ethnic group with a sport as the case is today. This creates a temple of its own, where others are not able to venture.
Forget about the houses of worship if we cannot break polarisation in sports and cultures.
But once the cultural barriers are breached, wider passages are opened up for intercultural dialogues. These cover anything from music to theatre, and literature to calligraphy. Each learning from the other, building an in-depth experience without the bad vibes and suspicions.
In 2019, a Sikh-Malaysian bagpiper team made history by becoming the first group from Southeast Asia to win the World Pipe Band Championship. That is how versatile cultural exchanges can be if only we framed them as intercultural learning without prejudice.
All these points to education that is beyond standardised tests and stereotyped meritocracy expressed in numbers, figures and rankings!
A growing body of research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that believing in meritocracy makes people more selfish, less self-critical and even prone to acting in discriminatory ways.
So much for polarisation and elitism. Put another way, any subject that is unexaminable (especially on culture and sports) is marginalised although it is well known to be a promoter of the "Malaysia, Truly Asia" brand!
Unfortunately, it matters not, academically speaking. And, the polarised tendencies in education continue.
So, how about starting over with visits to different schools and nurturing a 'depolarised' relationship therein? Recall the successes of the Trust School programme, if in doubt.
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times