OF the many catchphrases in that conservative, yet feel-good, 1994 Tom Hanks vehicle, ‘Forrest Gump’, perhaps the most memorable is: “Stupid is as stupid does.” It is uttered by Gump’s mother, I believe, to reassure Gump, who is depicted as a simpleton, that we should judge people by their actions and not by their appearance.
I believe I used that expression as the title of one of my earlier pieces for this column. But it’s an expression that so many times aptly describes the actions of Malaysian politicians that it just seems necessary to reuse it, however sparingly.
Two occasions these past few weeks, I believe, clearly illustrate this necessity.
First, on March 31, perhaps in anticipation of April Fool’s Day, our esteemed Education Minister, if our national news agency, Bernama, is to be believed, declared that Malaysia’s education system is “among the best”, clearly better than “in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.”
And this, apparently, was no idle boast. It was based on the 2011-2012 Global Competitiveness Report released by some outfit called the World Economic Forum. So said the senior minister.
But almost immediately, the Internet was abuzz with critical comments and pertinent questions were raised.
Trying to shed some light on the matter, one commentator, ‘Stefano Magistretti’ explained: “Went to http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-2011-2012/, got the WEF report, read it. The ranking is based on a worldwide survey of executives – 13,395 in 142 countries, an average of 98 per country, chosen with unknown criteria. In Malaysia, 87 executives were chosen. Forty-six belonged to firms with >100 employees, up to Petronas – it’s likely they were in favour of the status quo. The survey asked the executives to rate various situations of their own country (no comparisons with others), with marks from 1 (very bad) to 7 (very good).
“The education question was: ‘How well does the educational system in your country meet the needs of a competitive economy?’ So the only fact is that Malaysian executives are less critical of their country than developed countries’ executives.”
Not surprisingly then, the credibility of the report has been seriously questioned. First, that it was just a tiny survey, based on a sample of less than 100 individuals. Second, that the ranking was not done in comparison with other countries. Indeed, that the study was, at best, methodologically weak and, certainly, not objective.
If this far-fetched assertion were at all true, how come many of us are increasingly sending our children to private and international schools and colleges with British, American, Australian and Canadian curricula and courses?
And why, if there’s any truth at all to all this, are our ministers and many others sending their children for further studies in these same countries plus, of course, India, Russia and New Zealand?
It was such a moronic statement to make, more so at a time when virtually everyone in academia knows that our education system – from primary to tertiary levels – is beset with problems that arguably weren’t there four decades ago.
And virtually everyone, rightly, has pinned down the source of this malaise – the politicisation of education and the accompanying wanton neglect of crucial areas over this same period.
In this regard, it is not only sad, but indefensible, for a senior minister, more so one entrusted with the education portfolio, to make such a statement. Granted, he may have been ill-advised, but, surely, even without any advice, any person in charge of the country’s education policies and strategies would have realised the fallacy of such a declaration?
Evidently not in this case. And there has been no retraction, no apology. Just silent arrogance. Stupid is as stupid does.
The second occasion is actually a combination of two incidents over the past couple of days which appear to remain unresolved. Both involve not-unfamiliar flip-flops by our misleadingly titled Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture.
The first, which has now gone viral and onto the front pages of international newspapers including, I am told, the quality Guardian newspaper in the UK, is of course, the news of the banning of the Singapore ballet company.
All, apparently, because the dancers would be wearing skirts and tutus. I guess ballet dancers in Malaysia wear loose tracksuits when they perform.
Of course, there was a retraction, indeed a denial, and, thus far, the blame has been put on the local company for not filling in the necessary forms.
Believing that all things – and not just good ones – come in pairs, the ministry, a few days back, then started providing conflicting reports, mainly on its Facebook page, that it was banning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) characters on state-owned television (and this would be extended to private TV).
Almost immediately after the report came out, the minister refuted it. This was followed by a counter by his deputy, and so on and so forth.
In the first place for a country that professes to be a democracy, it is shameful indeed that such a matter should be considered at all. We’ve already had the spectacle of politicians being dragged out spouting so much hatred against this minority group of Malaysians. And, at the same time, publicly illustrating their ignorance and stupidity. Let’s please put a stop to this inanity.
Secondly, what manner of a ministry of information and communications would come up with so many conflicting statements, illustrating the lack of communication within the ministry and the provision of misinformation rather than information?
At a guess, I would say a terribly inefficient and unprofessional ministry.
Another intellectually-challenged politician also recently said that the LGBT community will “reflect badly on the country.”
I wonder if he realises that the recent fiascos outlined here reflect more badly on Malaysia than either dancers in tutus or the LGBT community.
I’m sure he doesn’t, going by many of his previous banal statements. Stupid is as stupid does.