An inclusive Malaysia is vital

News24.04.2020WAN YA SHIN - Research Manager of Social Policy, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)
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THE recent turn of events in Malaysian politics was shocking to all of us. While the appointment of a Prime Minister and his announcement of a new Cabinet has gone some way towards calming the waters, more needs to be done to rebuild trust.

Matters are not helped by a pessimistic external environment. The outbreak of Covid-19, which has infected over 100,000 people globally, has been declared “a Public Health Emergency of International Concern” by the World Health Organisation. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) reduced its global growth forecast to 2.4% and the epidemic has further depressed the outlook of our economy.

The new government should focus on promoting an inclusive Malaysia to ensure that growth and development include all Malaysians regardless of race, ethnicity, religion and background. Ensuring that policies prioritise the well-being of all Malaysians would be fundamental in rebuilding the trust of Malaysians towards the government and one another.

On top of the list of priorities would be equipping the Health Ministry to continue to manage the Covid-19 outbreak. Since it began at the end of January, the Health Ministry has been managing and controlling the outbreak effectively. The frontline medical staff are dedicated to protecting Malaysians from the virus. Continuous effort and support of resources are needed to ensure that this disease is fully contained.

Considering the global economic slowdown all over the world, it is imperative that the government relook at our social protection system. We need to ensure that social safety nets are able to prevent people from falling into poverty in the event of economic shocks. In the event of a sudden loss of income, what are the mechanisms that would help people to weather the crisis? Social protection and sound economic policies must go hand in hand.

As for the long term, education and poverty eradication policies should not be neglected. Quality of education should be prioritised. Our performance in international tests such as TIMSS (Trends in Inter-national Mathematics and Science Study) and Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) has been average, but quality of education goes beyond such rankings – we need to realign policies with our National Education Philo-sophy of developing the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner. Learning goes beyond examinations. Critical thinking and creativity cannot be nurtured in a rote learning environment, and teachers need to be trained sufficiently to ensure that there is real learning in school.

Inclusive education means we need to remove any barriers to education for indigenous and marginalised children in Malaysia. Indi-genous children face many challenges in accessing education due to their location in remote areas, the lack of understanding of their culture by teachers, financial challenges, and bullying in schools.

Teachers who work in these areas face many hardships in trying to deliver quality education to these children. There needs to be more support for such teachers in terms of training and resources. We need to develop more understanding and respect for our indigenous communities and good teachers serving these communities. Indigenous children should not be left behind in the country’s development.

In promoting an inclusive Malaysia, policies to eradicate poverty should focus on empowering the poor and helping them to be competitive and not be dependent on assistance. These policies should help beneficiaries to climb out of poverty. In the spirit of inclusive Malaysia, these policies should be extended to the poor regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or background.

Although inclusive policies matter, the implementation of these policies is equally important. Good policies should be continued while the government should focus on areas that need improvement. We need to strengthen monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to ensure that policy implementations are efficient and effective in achieving objectives. As the saying goes, you plan to fail if you fail to plan. We need a good plan, but we also need to execute it right.

Inclusive Malaysia is essential to rebuilding trust. The government should be for all Malaysians. The voices of the people matter. We need to recognise that despite our diversities we are all Malaysians together.