Merdeka & Malaysia Day Special: Out with the Old? Happy Merdeka!

by: Marina Tan

For the first time in five years, I didn’t have class decorations and patriotic song performances in school to remind me that Independence Day was around the corner. In fact, I almost forgot that tomorrow was Merdeka- I was just surprised we got a day off from classes. However, this year more than any other I think I can truly appreciate what my country has done for me, and I have an idea for where I want to see my country go next.

55 years now, we’re practically middle-aged. My generation has absolutely no inkling of life before Merdeka, and thus we live in blissful ignorance of yesterday and instead perpetually look towards what the next sunrise brings. The youths of today are the ones demanding and working towards change and growth- in democracy, in education, in the economy. It is a natural human instinct to always want more, to improve and to adapt- that is the law of survival.


However, I sometimes wonder if we are too quick to criticize, quick to replace faulty systems wholesale instead of improving them. Change is tricky. When we change, we gamble. We try to achieve new goals but risk losing other merits of the old system. Revolution or transformation? When we see a problem, do we tear down and start afresh or examine, identify and adapt? This is not a political tagline but a real and extremely relevant question in Malaysia. Some argue that it is cleaner to have a clean break- to start anew and redesign with new ideas and new approaches to reach new goals. Others, myself included, believe that it is better to retain the skeleton of the old system and modify accordingly to troubleshoot and solve specific, targeted problems so that we don’t risk jeopardizing anything else.


My favorite example is our education system. It’s an exam-oriented, heavily academic system that places a disproportionate amount of emphasis on memorizing and regurgitating and all but ignores critical thinking and creativity. We say it leads to us being spoonfed and unable to think for ourselves- nothing but hard disks of memory. We say it kills independent learning and creative or critical thinking. Those are all definitely valid problems that need to be addressed. But lets not forget that our education system also instils a strict and distinct academic rigor that is arguably important. Even memorizing and regurgitating requires a great deal of discipline and focus, and these are admirable qualities that serve us well when we leave secondary school.
So would you change the system entirely? Scrap standardized exams, have free discussions in class, no more note taking and memorizing? Or would you maintain a system that demands discipline and rigor but find a way to work in components that encourage problem solving and independent learning as well? A perfect solution can eventually be found- one that manages to tick all the boxes. We just have to make sure we do not overlook the merits of any existing system when we decide to change to cater for new needs and new merits.


This applies across the board- policies, rights, economic measures- you name it. A status quo exists for a reason. At some point in time, it was relevant. What merits did it present? Are those merits still relevant? If they are we have to maintain them and simply add on and adapt. We are all too young to have seen the big picture of what our country was, is and can be- so we should not presume to know all and implement change on a whim.
Out with the old, in with the new is NOT always the right way to go. Come our time in the sun, will we be able to make the right changes for our tanah air? God willing, we shall always remember to preserve the best of the old while embracing the new.


Happy Independence Day- Merdeka!

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