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MASA Conference 2014: On ‘Vision 2020’ and its challenges

THE second annual Malaysia Summit of Australia touched on the challenges of achieving ‘Vision 2020’, a blueprint launched in 1990 by Dr Mohammed Mahathir, who was Malaysia’s Prime Minister at the time. Chrisella Sentena and Diane Leow report.

Malaysia's Minister of Youth and Sports YB Khairy Jamaluddin delivering the opening address. Photo: Chrisella Sentena

Malaysia’s Minister of Youth and Sports YB Khairy Jamaluddin delivering the opening address. Photo: Chrisella Sentena

The 2014 MASA Conference was held on April 23 in the Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre. Malaysian students from different states around Australia gathered to raise questions about the progress of their nation.

Discussing Malaysia’s progress on Vision 2020, guest speakers YB Khairy Jamaluddin, the Minister of Youth and Sports opened with a keynote speech highlighting the importance of Malaysia in advancing technologically to cope with world market demands.

“We are at a crossroads for our nation’s future. For us to survive, things should start being ‘Innovated in Malaysia’, and not just ‘Made in Malaysia’ he said

The Conference was held in two parts, inviting guest speakers to be part of a panel discussing the economic and social challenges that could impact Vision 2020.

The CEO of TalentCorp, Johan Mahmood Merican and CEO of IDEAS, Tricia Yeoh led the discussion on the economic challenges of Vision 2020.

They remarked that Malaysia had gone a long way, but is still under the middle-income trap.

“(The middle income trap) is the toughest place to be. You’ve gone to the big leagues, but you haven’t quite reached the top yet. In order for Malaysia to grow economically, it needs to be private-sector led,” said Merican.

Tricia Yeoh agreed.

“The power of government-linked companies (GLC) is too strong, and is restricting the growth of private, independent corporations,” she said.

Private sectors push economic growth through initiating business. Merican and Yeoh argued that government policies should be amended to accommodate these sectors, and youths play a crucial role in driving the change.

Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir and Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh then started the discussion on social challenges around Vision 2020. The three main topics raised included the rise of civil society in Malaysia, the education system, as well as the state of media.

Mr Syed Noh agreed that while Vision 2020 is important, he believes that the process is more important than the end goal.

“Achieving it may not be as important as keeping the momentum going.

It is not really the form that matters, but the substance. We work too much on the form but forget the substance,” he said.

Both Datin Mahathir and Mr Syed Noh also discussed the rise of civil society in Malaysia, where Malaysians are starting to take initiative to build their nation.

“Civil society is about giving service to the people; defending the rights of the people; really giving enough capacity so people can develop themselves, empowering them,” Mr Syed Noh said.

He added that the young Malaysians, as well as politicians, are starting to involve themselves in civil society, which is a good sign for the country.

However, he was also concerned that “repressive legislation” and “polarised views” would impede the progress of a civil society in Malaysia

Moving onto the topic of Malaysia’s education system, Datin Marina Mahathir opened the discussion by stating that the system needed reform in order to “prepare kids for the future”. She was concerned that the literacy and Math levels of Malaysian students were well below those from Singapore and Vietnam.

“Education is so key to our development,” she emphasised.

Datin Mahathir also mentioned that families who can afford to send their children overseas would do so, to ensure they get the best education possible, while those who cannot afford an overseas education will continue in local schools.

“You’re not only to get a quality divide, you’re going to get a class divide, you’re going to get an income divide. How is that serving our kids well? I think it’s almost criminal,” she said.

She believes the solution is to improve English literacy standards in order for the education system to progress.

On the state of media in Malaysia, Datin Mahathir said, “The state of journalism is directly related to the education system.

Datin Mahathir continued the discussion by emphasising that the role of the media is to create a well-informed electorate.

“How does the media see itself?” she asked, “If they are there to make people dumber, they are doing a good job.”

Datin Mahathir also noted that current media laws in place prevent the mainstream media from publishing certain stories.

“That doesn’t help with being mature, tolerant societies,” she said.

UNSW student Noor Adilah Muhamad Noordin, who is studying International Relations, found the conference useful in exposing her to the economic and social aspects of issues not only affecting Malaysia, but other countries as well.

“I believe Malaysia’s on track with Vision 2020. The advancement of civil society and a more informed media is the least I can do to add value to my country,” she told Meld.

RMIT student John Amir, who is currently pursuing a Masters of Architecture, felt that the conference helped him gain an understanding of the issues facing Malaysia today, and what he can do to help.

“I am inspired to be the driving force of change through my designs and ideas,” he said.

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