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Promoting a more civic-minded Malaysia

  • We Malaysians are indeed notorious in the common courtesy department.

By Ravindran Raman Kutty

One afternoon, I reprimanded my daughter, a fresh graduate who has been driving for about three years. After missing the “Stop-Look-Go” signage on the road, she did not have the courtesy to gesture an apology to the other drivers with her hand.

As I was seated right next to her, I took the opportunity to educate her on how badly we Malaysians usually behave on the road, and that roads are the best place to test our patience and upbringing.

While contemplating on my next column, I chanced upon a letter that talks about vandalism on Mass Rapid Train (MRT) and the declining courtesy of Malaysians.

A few unsightly scenes that are not uncommon in Malaysia immediately sprung to my mind - the nauseating and sorry state of our public toilets. Our unkempt playgrounds. Our apathetic waste management behaviors. Our cigarette-smoking citizens who think that everything — from a drinking cup to a dining plate — is their ashtray. Our overzealous advertisers of properties, adult toys, loans or plumbing services, who make use of every public utility pole or billboard to put forth their illicit and unsolicited advertisements.

How many of us put our food waste into the recycling bin after eating at a fast food joint or hawker center? How many of us stand on the left side of the elevator, allowing others who are in a hurry to pass through? How often do we wash the colorful waste bins provided to every home by the local authorities?

How many of us offer our seat to the next person who is either an elderly person or pregnant lady in a bus, LRT or MRT? How many of us pick up the waste that is in our way, either at work or at home? How many of us make it a point to hold the door for the other person? How many men care to lift the toilet seat before urinating in a toilet? Why do we double park when we can park in a shopping complex, especially in a busy commercial area?

How many of us return an item to its original place after we are done with it? How many of us will ensure that the shopping trolley is returned to the shopping cart receptacles after use? Why do we still see young motorcyclists riding motorcycles without helmet?

The list can go on and on since we Malaysians are notorious in the common courtesy department. Instead of adding to the list of our many wrongdoings, my column today will raise questions on why and where we went wrong.

As a young nation that enjoys almost 95% literacy rate, we are taught several subjects in school. Civics education, sadly, is diluted by other subjects deemed more critical to the nation such as mathematics and science.

Parents these days are busy earning money, not realizing they are losing their lifelong assets - their children. Children today are growing up with either an iPhone or iPad in their hand from as early as age one or two. If the mother finds it difficult to feed her pride and joy, she switches on the electronic device to keep the child visually engaged.

Gradually, this panacea becomes a ritual, which eventually becomes a lifestyle. The electronic devices are now reducing the hours spent between a child and his or her parents. There is a void in communication and the cultivation of the right values.

By contrast, parents before the handphone era were spending more time monitoring, tutoring, teaching and consistently preaching the right values to their children. There is a marked difference between the mannerism of a child in the 70’s 80’s and today. Where did we go wrong?

Civics education must be brought back as a subject to inculcate universal moral values into our future leaders. The students must be taught religiously on the importance of civic mindedness.

This must also be an exam subject that isn’t confined to multiple-choice questions. We don’t want our students to simply regurgitate facts in exams like our moral education subject. We want them to ponder and write. We want to challenge the intellect of our future leaders with appropriate case studies and enable them to think as a level-headed Malaysian. Schools must promote civics education and reduce religious studies of any one religion.

The school’s assemblies must allow students to come forward and talk about racial unity, and discuss how the school has overcome racial polarization and created a true Malaysian society. The Ministry of Education must regularly check if there are programs and campaigns conducted in school by promoting civics education. Every student must be regularly reminded that he or she is a Malaysian, and how we have come a long way since independence.

More civic-minded themed murals must be encouraged during art classes to promote civic mindedness among students. These murals must be featured alongside prominent mega infrastructure projects such as MRT, LRT, new highways and strategic spots in the city, where we can portray an inclusive, beaming Malaysia through an organized visual display.

More posters, pictures, murals must also be placed on buses, trains and even Grab taxis to instill the importance of civic mindedness among every Malaysian. You can see product promotions everywhere, but do we see civic mindedness campaign or murals anywhere in our country. I was walking with my friends at the Sentral Kuala Lumpur LRT station and saw not one poster or mural talking about civic mindedness or national unity. Why is it so? What can’t we go aggressive on this kind positive campaigns?

A national cleanliness campaign for school toilets can also be organized nationwide, where we award schools with the cleanest toilets with cash and rewards. This will inspire schools, teachers, students and headmasters to take the clean toilet campaign seriously. Not many schools pay attention to their toilets, hence the Ministry of Education and schools must work with the Parents and Teachers Association (PIBG) to ensure that every toilet is kept in pristine condition.

The media must also play a bigger role. RTM, TV3, Astro and also the print media must organize regular campaigns and online programs on civic mindedness for every sector of the society. These programs must be short yet powerful to create a society which will be reminded of its plural nature.

We must touch on the people’s lifestyle to gain attention and retention. Once the media programs are established, they must be evaluated for their effectiveness too. There must be a continuous variety of civic-minded media programs like talk shows and documentaries that gather the comments of people on the street, non-governmental organization (NGO) volunteers, Ministers and even the Prime Minister.

Both public-listed companies and Government-linked companies must organize their Corporate Social Responsibility citizenry programs on civic mindedness. These programs should be centered on our Rukun Negara and how we can build a society which is more courteous, kind, inclusive and conscientious of our environment.

Every politician must have a Key Performance Indicator (KPI), which clearly stipulate that they must promote, boost and encourage civic mindedness among every Malaysian, in every program they partake in the interest of people.

That said, we should not stop with school education, media campaigns and CSR programs alone. The “carrot and stick” approach must be used to deter disapproving behaviors among Malaysians. To promote civic mindedness in a holistic manner, we must bring in the enforcement element to balance the equation. Stricter laws must be passed and executed to deal with irresponsible citizens who are a pain to the nation.

(Ravindran Raman Kutty is an active social worker.)

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