“KNOWLEDGE TRANSFORMING THE NATION”
Terlebih dahulu izinkan saya mengambil kesempatan untuk merakamkan ucapan penghargaan dan terima kasih kepada pihak Majlis Profesor Negara yang sudi menjemput saya untuk menyempurnakan perasmian dan seterusnya juga menyampaikan Keynote address pada Kongres Profesor Negara yang julung kalinya diadakan ini.
Saya difahamkan Kongres ini telah berjaya mengumpulkan seramai lebih 1,000 orang Profesor. Sesungguhnya penganjuran kongres ini menunjukkan komitmen tinggi yang diberikan oleh para professor, ‘pemikir negara’ yang ingin turut sama menentukan kejayaan negara untuk mencapai status negara maju dalam masa kurang satu dekat dari sekarang. Pihak kerajaan amat menyanjung tinggi atas hasrat murni kumpulan elit negara ini yang juga patut dicontohi oleh pihak-pihak yang lain.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
KNOWLEDGE AS THE FOUNDATION
1. I am a firm believer of the maxim “knowledge is power”. For I believe that with knowledge, we can hope to solve the most complex of problems, we can realise the most improbable of dreams and will be able to move the highest of mountains, literally and figuratively.
2. In Islam, the first divine revelation to Prophet Muhammad SAW more than a thousand years ago was the verse Al-Alaq, which literally means ‘The Clot’. In the Surah’ Allah SWT commanded: “Read in the name of thy Lord who has created all that exists. He has created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is Most Generous. Who has taught (you) writing by the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not”.
3. These verses emphasise the importance of knowledge or ‘ilmu. Interestingly, the first revelation in Islam was neither about faith nor about worship, but it was about knowledge. The surrounding virtues that can be obtained from these verses are 3-fold. First, it reminds us that the foundation of any endeavour has to begin with knowledge – more specifically the ability to read, write and reason. Second, it reminds us that the pursuit of knowledge is one that is continuous, never ending and that there is no such thing as “too late”. I say this because the Prophet Muhammad was 40 years old and an illiterate when this revelation was revealed to him. And finally, it reminds us of the immense powers and potential that our minds possess and that if abused, can destroy, but if used positively, can create and develop wonderful things.
4. Knowledge has been valued by all the civilisations throughout the ages. Indeed, civilisation itself rested on knowledge. Thinkers, philosophers and scientists like Plato, Aristotle, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Avicenna and Einstein have emphasised the importance of knowledge. The Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) never ceased to stress its significance. He spoke of life-long learning long before it was discovered as a central element of a knowledge society in the late twentieth century, and he could not have expressed it better: “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”.
5. Above and beyond that, while the importance of knowledge has been recognised throughout history, it has perhaps never been prized as highly as a strategic and economic commodity as it is today, in what we call the Information Age or the Knowledge Society. In the modern economy knowledge has not only become a factor of production, it has become the most critical factor of production.
Ladies and gentlemen,
LEADING MINDS CONSCIENCE OF THE NATION
6. When the government mooted the idea of a National Council of Professors (Majlis Profesor Negara), it signalled that we understood and acknowledged the fundamental importance of knowledge in shaping the destiny of Malaysia. This is not just knowledge in an instrumental sense. As Al-Ghazali understood it all too well, true knowledge lies in the understanding of the moral, spiritual, metaphysical and scientific dimensions of reality. Only through this can we bring real improvement in the human condition. We can only achieve these goals if collectively we are able to consolidate and harness Malaysia’s intellectual capital for the benefit of the nation.
7. When we speak of creativity and innovation the new bedrock to our development strategy, it is done so knowing the academic community – especially our leading minds and Professors will be key components not simply of the strategy but more importantly in its implementation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
8. It is nearly 50 years since Malaysia was formed. Despite the difficult struggle of our early years, progressive policies, careful planning and determined execution has ensured we are reaping the fruits of prosperity, peace and stability. However, we should not take this for granted. What has taken tremendous effort and care to build, can so easily crumble unless the greatest care is taken.
9. We must remember that Malaysia is built upon the collective efforts of her citizens. And we must remember that a substantial amount of this effort came from the teachers and lecturers, including the professors, individuals who took up the task of educating our citizens.
10. In our society, with its deeply rooted spiritual and religious traditions, we intuitively grasp the need for a sense of moral direction; it is not necessary to be familiar with Socrates to feel that the unexamined life is not worth much. Practical actions so to speak, are not distinct from religious ones. Even within deeply secular societies, as Tony Judt points out, even if one concedes that there is no higher purpose to life, we need to ascribe meaning to our actions in a way that transcends them.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES & TRANSFORMATION PROGRAMMES
11. The Malaysian Government firmly advocates the belief that knowledge transforms the nation. Knowledge allows for development of the nation, both from a social and economical perspective. Firstly, socially, knowledge equips our people with the ability to be humane and to understand others. Malaysia is wonderfully multicultural. We are united by our common values and shared experiences. Such can only be obtained through knowledge and via both formal and informal education. Ignorance leads to fear and knowledge dispels that. Secondly, economically, knowledge allows us to utilize our nation’s resources, to capitalize on our comparative advantages and to engage with the free market in a way that is beneficial for all Malaysians.
12. The Government has initiated many transformation programs and sculpted various policies in order to be able to capitalize on the knowledge base of the nation as well as to promote the further development of such institutions. At the heart of the transformation programmes that I have introduced for the nation, the transformation of governance, the transformation of the economy and the transformation of society under the rubric of 1Malaysia, People First, Performance Now and the New Economic Model – lie two critical drivers- knowledge and values or knowledge guided by values. Knowledge along will not suffice. It can bring good or harm. Knowledge must be twinned with and nourished by good values.
13. In the 10th Malaysia Plan, one of its thrusts is to increase the knowledge and innovation-base of the nation as well as promote a first class mindset. The Government has allocated billions of Ringgit for the educational sector, including research and development to be invested over the upcoming years to develop and strengthen our knowledge-delivery systems.
14. Undoubtedly, many challenges lie ahead. Malaysia needs to work hard at improving the capacity of our knowledge asset to transform our society and economy. We were ranked 48th among 145 countries in the World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index and Knowledge Index in 2009. The national transformation programmes that I introduced beginning in 2009 and highlighted earlier are much more expansive in scope than the specific parameters of the World Bank’s indexes, but unless we work hard at improving our performance in all the four World Bank pillars of Economic Incentive Regime, Innovation, Education and ICT, our capacity to bring about the desired national transformation will be seriously constrained.
(Note: Our score of 4.21 for Education, which pulled us down in the overall score and ranking, is of particular concern. Though we have improved from the 1995 score of 4.14, the 2009 score is lower even than the average world score of 4.24.).
15. In facing the challenges that lie ahead, I also believe that merit with equity must be a fundamental guiding principle of our efforts in the sphere of education. Merit and quality should not be compromised, but those less able to access the opportunities and afford the facilities to learn must be helped to do so. The government will provide assistance regardless of ethnic considerations but the communities that are most in need of help will automatically be the largest beneficiaries. There is therefore no need for over-politicisation of the education issue on all sides, for this has hampered our efforts in the past.
16. This therefore brings us to our professors- our guiding lights. When we spoke of creativity and innovation as the key components behind our development strategy, we saw clearly that the academic community – especially our Professors – as key components of that strategy. Only through strengthening our knowledge base can a country like Malaysia optimize and achieve our potential. In order to do so, it is critical that we have a permanent structure for agencies such as the Majlis Profesor Negara. And I call upon all the professors here today to rise up to the challenge and lead this knowledge-transformation effort.
17. Ultimately, the Government hopes that with the efforts undertaken to promote knowledge, it will be able to transform the nation for the better and achieve the goals of becoming a developed nation by the year 2020.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE INTELLECTS
18. Last but not least, Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest”. With that in mind, the Kongres Profesor Negara and the Majlis Profesor Negara are testament to the importance of knowledge and cumulative strengths that intellect brings to a nation and her people and how it can act as agents for change and transformation. Before me, all of you are intellectuals in your own right.
19. Your duties and tasks are by no means a small feat – from conducting research to discover the undiscovered, to moulding the leaders and thinkers of tomorrow, your presence is an asset to Malaysia. I am proud to know that this nation has such a wealth of knowledge at its disposal.
I look forward eagerly to the inputs that will be provided by this year’s Kongres Profesor Negara.