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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Of flying cars, cashless society and educational priorities



Flying cars? Cashless system in schools? Slow down, fix society. Set sustainable priorities. Privatisation and Malaysia Inc 2.0 could still turn out to be a disaster.
I thought of these conversations below for a future when we have a full-fledged society where everybody can own flying cars, thanks to the visionary work of the Pakatan Harapan government’s Entrepreneur Development Ministry.
Wife: Abang Jib, Mah dah lambat nak pegi dandan rambut, la. Macam mana ha, bang? (Jib, I am running late for my salon appointment, what to do?)
Husband: Tak pe' pakai Ketabang (kereta terbang) abang saje la ari ni. (Just use my flying car today.)
Mother: Tak balik Raya tahun ni? (Not coming home for Hari Raya this year?)
Son: Ehhh mesti balik, mak. Atan dah beli Ketabang. Flying car. Tak ade' jem jem lagi. (Ehh of course I am, mom. I've bought a flying car. No more jams.)
To the ministry proposing the idea, not supporting your flying car project doesn't mean we'll be left behind on Earth. Improve public transport first, reduce the production of cars, then maybe talk about flying cars made of bamboo.
My fear is mat rempit will modify their Honda Cubs into world-class flying bikes. Then we'll need space police for galactic drag racing! If all you need is four huge fans and some bamboo for exhaust pipes, mat rempit can build the best 'Ketabang' prototype. 
For sure, Johor mat rempit will have no problem racing flying cars in space. They love the nightlife when the sky is dark. Nasi kandar joints will fight for the monopoly of Ketabang, to speed up delivery far and wide. 
Who will control the smuggling of goods and people on the borders of Kelantan and Perlis with illegal flying cars abundant?
Harsh realism and techno-fantasy
Humour aside, these are my thoughts: how much would it cost to 3D-print a model of the flying car displayed at the recent Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (Lima)? A million ringgit?
I don't know what went into the model, but a good alternative for the use of that money is to train people to understand drone technology, as well as to understand its philosophical and social implications.
We saw this kind of fantasy of becoming an advanced techno-society with the Multimedia Super Corridor, the biotech craze, AI and all that jazz, yet our education system has not been producing the critical mass of people in tune and culturalised with the idea of science and technology for society. 
If this prototype cost a million Malaysian dollars, what would be the long-term cost for the real stuff?
Do our policymakers playing with high tech toys even understand the meaning of technological change, of the global rat race in technological innovation, or even the meaning of technology and techniques?
Do they realise that changes in science should be founded on socialistic principles rather than innovations, forever be governed by greedy companies only interested in shoving everything new down our throat, yet unaware of the social and class and racial implications of technological change and determinism? Be wise.
Don't just say that we will be left behind on the ground when cars will be flying. Realism is the word here, not blind fantasy. We have wasted so much as a nation since independence with our continuing dependency on what it means to be a 'technological' society.
It seems that Malaysia wants to be known as 'highly developed' with these new toys and gadgets that are supposedly natural to the 'advanced Industry 4.0 nations,' yet our social structure and scientific mentality still leave much to be desired.
Go back to the drawing board, to the critical discussion of our national needs and priorities, and most importantly, our understanding of what it should mean to be a developed society. Else, we'll become mere characters in the remake of the 1970s movie The Gods Must be Crazy.
What is “progress”?
Planes, trains, automobile, smartphones, flying cars – these are not the only markers of progress. The ability to be more human is. 
I once had a conversation with a key officer of the then-Science and Technology Ministry. He asked me to explain the meaning of 'technology'. I asked him to do it instead. He could not give a satisfactory answer, yet he was advising the minister who was driving the policies.
We now hear of people in the government talking about the ecology of technological innovation, or the ecosystem that goes with any new proposal for innovation, such as the next car project. What about for flying cars too?
When the Russians launched Sputnik, America panicked and revamped its education big time. What is our educational direction? 
During my early graduate school days, I wrote a long paper on the rhetoric and reality of US education reform entitled "A nation at risk." We don’t seem to have such urgency nor a rigorous public debate on matters concerning technological changes.
Malaysians adopted blindly the idea of MSC and biotech, and now this so-called Industry 4.0. Nobody asked what it means. 
There is no discussion on evolutionary markers vis-a-viz technological changes our country is going through as we plan this and that innovation, borrowing fast-paced ideas lock, stock and barrel without understanding its genealogy and trajectory.
One must understand that the introduction of any technological artefact produced by foreign corporations will change the social relations of production.
Technology needs to be developed and adopted using the principles of sustainability in a world too dependent on borrowed technology. "Tiada rotan, akar pun berguna" (No cane, a root will do); that's the Malay wisdom of using appropriate technology and available resources.
Huge profits are in the mind of the developers and suppliers of Malaysia's flying cars, not practicality and sensibility. 
A decade or so ago, we sent a Malaysian as a space tourist on board a Russian rocket. We wanted to be called an 'advanced nation.' Politicians announce a project and design a plan who will profit, then tell the people how the country will benefit.
Massive corruption in the previous regime showed how much the phrase 'progress and development' was abused. People accepted the word 'progress' uncritically because they couldn't see alternative history.
Science should serve society, technology should surrender to humanity. Not to corporate greed and politicians who love money. Reuse, reduce, refuse, and repurpose – these are elements of a more sensible ideology called sustainability.
Cashless system?
And then there is this story of proposed innovations in schools. To have us evolve into a cashless society.
We need an explanation of how the ecology of today's schooling may contribute to fantasies of the creation of a post-hypermodern Malaysian society. My advice is to get the curriculum ready to meet the challenges of a sped-up society. 
We need more dialogue like this, not just say that we need to create schooling as a location for experimentation of a 'cashless society'.
No, I am not against innovation, but worry about the political economics behind the introduction of those who will benefit financially. Our politics is structured as such. Leading to the world’s worst corruption case in recent times: the 1MDB.
I thought our new educational direction was based on Rousseau, Dewey, Freire, and Montessori, not Wahabi ideology. Resolve the issue of the Unified Examination Certificate, and set the education 'GPS' to lead us to harmony and enhanced cognitive abilities. Set priorities.
We want to read about plans to increase student and teachers' thinking capabilities, not more fluff. Improve the learning ecology of schools and of deep-learning strategies.
We are at a critical juncture, not only in our national development, but also the nature of globalisation and technological revolution. 
Perhaps we do not have among our critical thinkers examining and guiding us on the interplay between culture, technology, class, and society anyone who can remind us of the roads to be taken in our euphoria of wanting to be known as 'advanced', 'high-income' and 'progressive'.
We remain trapped by the drama of the players with wealth and power, and there is not enough critical sensibility governing our country.
What must we do? Although we have a new government, we have high hopes turning into shattered dreams.

AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books available here. He grew up in Johor Bahru and holds a doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honour Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. - Mkini

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