Malaysia, A Talent Importer
There is a lot of concern these days that Malaysia is suffering from a brain drain — that more and more people are migrating from this country, and that these people are often those with the most to offer.
(If you love to play the racial card, at this point you will bring up the problem of racial discrimination, but most likely ignore the fact that many bright Bumiputra flee the country as well.)
However, an equally pressing problem and one that may be relevant to solving the brain drain is that of our brain gain. At the moment, Malaysia is living off imported talent.
How, you may ask? Well, examine the credentials of our country's top leaders. Look at the next few tiers. Where are all these people educated? What was their intellectual environment growing up?
Our country is basically leeching off other countries! The only difference is that instead of importing foreigners, we are importing people who already hold Malaysian citizenship!
In particular, whenever I run into young professionals these days, it seems that there is an almost equal chance of them speaking a Malaysian slang as there is of them speaking in an Australian, American or British accent.
(Quite a few of them probably picked them up not from university, but from a local international school. A lucky few like the children of Education Minister Hishamuddin Hussein probably got theirs from a foreign international school.)
Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. As I pointed out when I criticised criticisms of the Iskandar Development Region, such transactions tend to benefit both parties.
But it does indirectly testify to a greater rot — the rot of our institutions, of our educational environment, of our intellectual society. Why is it that we need to have our dynamism imported from other countries? What is it about our nation that keeps us from producing dynamic thinkers, leaders and professionals of our own?
In the short run, it's fine to rely on other countries to develop our best and brightest. But if we don't take advantage of these best and brightest to set up a society and culture which can nurture the dynamism they have gotten from other countries, what is the point?
If our institutions are forward-thinking and not just accept but encourage an open culture of thinking and questioning, as opposed to memorising and suppressing individual thought, we will not only be able to reproduce the work culture and talent that our imported leaders have gotten from other countries.
No, we will then become an "education hub" (as some of our cabinet members have been saying), because a culture which can produce this is hard to find in our region.
The closest thing to such a culture is that of the Philippines', but the Philippines is so anarchistic that you can be gunned down for saying what you think — who would want to flock there, despite their culture of creative and dynamic thinking?
We need to focus on why, 50 years after independence, more and more students than ever are flocking overseas, and more companies and government agencies than ever are hiring these overseas graduates.
We need to know what skills and talents these students have that local students don't. And then we must identify how to impart these skills and talents to students here.
If we can do that, we won't just slow this wasteful parasitism. We will initiate a brain gain.