Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #26

By M. Bakri Musa

Chapter 4: Modern Model States

The Celtic Tiger (Cont’d)

Liberalization went beyond the economic sphere. It was Lemass’s political genius to use old-style nationalism, an inherent part of the Irish character, to forge progressive changes. A considerable part of that change involved a marked curtailment in the role of the Church both in the affairs of the state and in the lives of individuals. Thus birth control and sale of oral contraceptives were legalized in1979, despite severe opposition from the Church.

With the widespread use of birth control and the increasing participation of women in the workforce, Ireland’s former dizzyingly high birthrate declined substantially. The large unruly brood of yore is now replaced by one considerably smaller, but much better clothed, housed, and educated.

Closely related to the issue of contraception is the question of women’s rights. The old Irish constitution required women to give up their civil service posts upon getting married, consistent with the prevailing societal view (and also that of the Church) that a woman’s place is in the home. But by the end of the 20th century, Ireland had elected its first woman president, Mary Robinson.

What a remarkable change! Robinson was born and raised a strict Catholic and when she married a Protestant, her parents refused to attend her wedding. Lest one thinks that this was in the Dark Ages and that her parents were some narrow-minded peasants, Robinson’s marriage was in the 1960’s, and both her parents were doctors. If this was a reflection of their prejudices, I wonder if those two doctors treated their non-Catholic patients differently?

Divorce is another strict “No!” On this issue the Church is again far behind its followers. When divorce is strictly forbidden, many marriages remain in name only. Interestingly, divorce had been legal in Ireland during British rule; it was made illegal only in 1925, with the resurgence of Irish nationalism. But by 1986 a referendum on the issue saw the conservatives barely etching a victory. These changes and openness did not mean that the Irish were becoming less religious; indeed attendance at church masses remained high.

By far the most dramatic change, and one that had the greatest impact on Ireland’s economic fate, was its education policy. Ireland today enjoys one of the highest literacy rates, its workforce among the most highly educated and productive. Secondary education was made free in the 1960s, and over 80 percent of Irish students completed high school. Equally important, the role of the Church was significantly reduced, with education now essentially secular.

Like the Koreans, the one thing the Irish have going for them is their eagerness for learning. To the peasants and farmers of the old days, education was the only way out for their children. Even today a good education is still the ticket to a job in America and Britain.

In the past the Church, both Catholic and Protestant, was deeply involved in education. The Protestant institutions were, as expected, modeled along British lines and more secular. The Catholic Church on the other hand treated its schools and other institutions as a way of controlling the flock. Their schools were less educational institutions, more indoctrination centers, heavy with catechism and rituals. Many of the teachers were nuns and priests. With the education reform of the 1960s, the curriculum was radically updated and the school-leaving age was also raised to 15.

The secularization of education in the 1970s also saw the development of vocational and community schools focusing on non-academic and technical subjects. The scaling down of the role of the Church in education continues to this day.

Despite or perhaps because of the heavy Catholic Church influence on education, Protestant schools and colleges attracted many Catholic students. Their parents obviously valued the quality of the education. Trinity College of Dublin, modeled after Oxbridge, is perhaps the most prestigious. Its perceived (and real) Protestant ambience is such that until 1970 Catholic bishops forbade students in their dioceses from attending the college, a transgression deemed a mortal sin.

Despite that, in the 1920s a fifth of Trinity students were Catholic. They are now no doubt doing time in purgatory! The prohibition was lifted only in 1970 and by the 1990’s the majority of Trinity’s students and many of the professors are Catholic.

A brash new entry into the scene is the secular University of Limerick, modeled after an American institution, complete with electives and a year spent off campus. Like many competitive American universities, Limerick encourages interdisciplinary research and studies abroad. With a curriculum heavy on technology and biotech, the university attracts many potential students and employers who value its graduates.

The education system continues with the use of English. Had it succumbed to nationalistic impulses and reverted to Gaelic on achieving independence, Ireland would have been severely handicapped. Today young Irish with their English proficiency enjoy a definite advantage in the global marketplace. With Ireland now prosperous and successful, there is a resurgence of interest and pride in the Irish for their ancient language. Gaelic is now mandatory in schools.

Too many independent countries are obsessed with developing their own language at the expense of handicapping their own citizens. A language is more likely to thrive if the nation or race behind that language is successful and thriving. Had the Irish remained poverty stricken, I am certain that they would not be very proud of their language and culture. The decline of Gaelic coincided with the economic eclipse of the Irish. Until Ireland’s recent economic revival, less than 1 percent of the Irish used Gaelic. With Ireland poised to join the ranks of developed nations, even Mary Robinson sprinkled her speeches with touches of Gaelic. The language is now chic. For Malays, a point to ponder!

The tight grip the Church had on the Irish extended to the arts. With the active backing of the Catholic establishment, the government in 1926 set up a Committee of Enquiry on Evil Literature, leading to the formation of a Censorship Board. You can bet that none of the committee members had contributed an iota of creativity. The Board still exists today but it has a much lower profile. More importantly, the state has duly recognized the value of artists and writers by setting up an academy (Aosdana—The Wise People) where they receive modest state stipends to pursue their crafts. And earnings from creative works are free from income tax for anyone living in Ireland, native or foreigner.

None of these remarkable changes occurred in isolation. They all go in tandem, one reinforcing the other. The secularization of the education system would not have occurred without there being a corresponding decline in the influence of the Church. This also enabled the introduction of significant social and political reforms such as legalizing birth control and the subsequent decline in fertility rates. In turn these would not have happened had Irish leaders not looked outward and freed themselves from the trap of their colonial experience and excessive nationalism, together with the tight leash the Catholic Church had on them.

It is significant that the Irish fought a vicious civil war over the issue of partition soon after their independence. Even up until recently, reunification with the north obsessed many Irish. Today such previously divisive nationalist issues rapidly fade into the background as the Irish concentrate on developing what they have instead of thinking of expanding their domain.

Any change of the social order can be very disruptive and destabilizing. As we have seen in South Korea, it has its own price tag. The term “moral vacuum” has been used to describe contemporary Ireland because of the gap created by the decline of the Church’s authority and there being no comparable element taking its place. The old certitude is gone and with it, for some at least, the sense of security and anchoring stability. It is indeed a challenge to come up with an alternative value system. However such challenges are more likely to be solved when the nation is thriving than when it is economically stagnant or declining.

Next: Don’t Cry For Argentina

  1. #1 by cseng on Friday, 6 August 2010 - 12:34 pm

    Malaysia is globalization, right we have gone more globalised in the following;

    1) We got Jho Law, global Malaysian.
    2) We got first lady of Malaysia in US press.
    3) Taib in Oxfart, what can global than that?
    4) We got angkasawan beyond global, universe.
    5) We got Twin-towers, global what?

    The only not so global are these;

    1) We do not have a real nationality, we still not sure we are ‘once malaysia’ or ‘one malaysia’. That confuse and 23 years experienced PM, but definitely is not Malaysian’s Malaysia.
    2) We have public service like a dam, water that not absorbed into soil flow into the dam and it has higher pay than private sector.

  2. #2 by k1980 on Friday, 6 August 2010 - 12:54 pm

    Tir: Psst, Jib, what does 1malaysia mean?

    Jib: Psst, Tir, I oso dunno.

    Tir & Jib: Waaaahkaaaahkaaaa!

  3. #3 by waterfrontcoolie on Friday, 6 August 2010 - 3:42 pm

    After reading the above article: how far is our current educational system, especially a pinch of the BTN differs from the old Irish system? No much! We have decided on the same course of trying to prevent the youngsters from thinking and forming their own opinions. in the process, the mind simply shut-up to the extent that all ideas are rejected even before they bother to find out any detail of that idea suggested; in the worse case, they simply reject it outright! With such conditioned mind would never pursue anything new or outside their preconceived environment. this is found in every aspects of my interactions with the industry I am dealing in. It is withput doubt the most important aspect of the system and the power that be is surely aware of it and had planned accordingly. They are not concerned that those delicate minds have been hammered into eternal submission so long that they are in charge. It is about the cruelest thing that can be done to a human being; the fear to face challenges in life. But the saddest thing is many are accepting such process happily and continue to support those who impose such environment on them. Is it fate or simply being naive?

  4. #4 by boh-liao on Friday, 6 August 2010 - 11:28 pm

    Y Ireland so strange 1 selling condoms n oral contraceptives 2 control population growth?
    Here we want population growth as encouraged by MMK n in Melaka, OK 4 preteen Muslim boys n girls, who enjoy sex, 2 hv sex, no problem 1
    Girls at 12 become mothers n then at 24 or 25 become grandmothers when their daughters also enjoy sex n give birth at 12 later
    By 37 or 38, oredi elevated 2 b great-grandmothers
    D more d merrier, lots of fun, global n glocal mah, boleh boleh 1M’sia

  5. #5 by johnnypok on Saturday, 7 August 2010 - 5:17 am

    The smart will become smarter

    You cannot simply widen the goal-mouth to enable the handicapped / tongkat to score … so forever cannot qualify for the world-cup … only shout, and wear Manchester United T-shirts, chew chewing gum like the mat-salleh, drink more coca-cola, eat more KFC, and become faked Americans.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 7 August 2010 - 11:36 am

    From what Bakri Musa says, Ireland shredded its historical religious strictures, secularized its education system, emancipated its women, and elected its first woman president, Mary Robinson. “Like the Koreans, the one thing the Irish have going for them is their eagerness for learning” – Bakri.

    Talking of human capital development – and climbing up the value added ladder- the Irish have much going for them. Ireland’s 15 year olds achieved a mean score of 515.5 on the PISA reading literacy scale in 2003. This is significantly higher than the OECD country mean of 494.2. Ireland’s ranking in reading literacy is 7th out of 40 countries, 6th out of 29 OECD countries and 2nd out of 20 European countries. Just three countries have mean scores that are significantly higher than Ireland’s (Finland, Korea, and Canada). [OECD is a reference to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development an international economic organisation of 32 countries). For a comparatively small country, Ireland has contributed abundantly to the world in literature (eg YB Yeats) Beers (Guiness, Kilkenny & Harp Larger) and Music (Cranberries, U2, Ronan Keating, BoyZone, Enya, WestLife) and if one includes Irish immigrant heritage in Irish disapora worldwide one has even in British music the Beatles’ Lennon, Harrison and McCartney, US’s music Gilbert Sullivan, Bruce Springteen and politics, JF Kennedy to add to the growing lists.
    Ireland had the world at its feet beginning 1990. Between 1993 and 1998, it became the “Celtic Tiger” as its GDP increased by 45%, with annual rates of growth approaching 10%, while unemployment tumbled from 15% to 6%. Its IT industry boomed, matched only by growth in pharmaceuticals and biosciences. Ireland became choice location of Pfizer that gave “Viagra” to world’s males in boost of their potency. There was an influx of foreign investments transforming Ireland’s agrarian exports to that of drugs, software and services. As if not to be overshadowed the Celtic Tiger also produced its own entrepreneurial cubs like Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair revolutionis-ing European air travel with its ferociously aggressive low fares, inspiring the likes of our Tony Fernandez’s AirAsia. In corporate finance there were Dermot Desmond, JP McManus and John Magnier, in Cement, Sean Quinn and in hotels Derek Quinlan outbid Oil Sheiks for Savoy (Strand, London) in 2004. A study by The Economist in 2005 found Ireland to have the best quality of life in the world (Ref: The Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality-of-life index)

  7. #7 by boh-liao on Saturday, 7 August 2010 - 12:14 pm

    1M’sia globalization: drink coca-cola, eat KFC n big M, serf d Internet, watch XXX, increased obesity n diabetes indices, blissfully breeding like young n old rabbits

  8. #8 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 7 August 2010 - 12:26 pm

    (Continuing from preceding posting) –

    Bakri says “A language is more likely to thrive if the nation or race behind that language is successful and thriving”. He says that the Irish are successful. That’s the precondition. He says, “even Mary Robinson sprinkled her speeches with touches of Gaelic. The language is now chic. For Malays, a point to ponder!”

    But Bakri be careful, if you ask Malaysians to ponder and draw lessons by comparing Malaysia with “unlike” economies/countries such as this so called “model modern state” of Ireland, some of us, especially those who support crutches and are apologists for BN’s management of the economy may just draw the wrong lessons!

    [Based as recent as last year 2009 GNI per capita (formerly GNP per capita) [ie gross national income, converted to U.S. dollars using the World Bank Atlas method, divided by the midyear population] benchmark, Ireland at US$ 44,310 was 23rd in ranking compared to Malaysia’s US$7230 at 89th ranking position (Singapore’s US$ 49850 at 11th ranking position) out of 213 countries].

    Some of us might just ask, after pondering, that if Ireland were go great in human capital – with an educated/literate relatively low-cost work force and no NEP and concomitant leakages and rampant corruption of a scale compared to here- how come its economy would go ‘kaputs’ faster than Malaysia? In face of global economic crisis, Malaysians seem to fare (at least presently) better than the Irish as the once dynamic Irish economy (in spite of its) faces plummeting property prices and rising unemployment reaching at least 16% in 2010 with the economy contracting by as much as 9% this year.

    So how come (comparing) Ireland with Malaysia, Ireland (with better educated literate work force, a climate more conductive to productivity compared to the heat here and a time zone matching the US market across the Atlantic with no baggage of laggard human capital or the NEP) went bankrupt and suffered external economic pressure faster than us???

    What have we done wrong that possibly has become, as an unintended consequence, a mitigating ‘right’ factor? Well we were flagrant in spending during TDM’s time, speculators attacked our currency, we fenced it up, and our banking system though still supporting cronies have since become better in terms of credit control/culture than Irish banks and their profligate lending, back to back default swaps, highly leveraged Contracts of Differences (derivatives/swaps).

    Then again don’t forget the Almighty is kind to bestow us Oil & Gas to buffer our profligacy and wastage! We still have it, we are blessed and can afford mah (compared with Ireland) – No need to compare with regional counter parts like S’pore, or Thailand or even Indonesia. [They are not Bakri’s Modern Model States anyway].

  9. #9 by k1980 on Saturday, 7 August 2010 - 12:50 pm

    The Chief Secretary to the Government Mohd Sidek Hassan has announced that graduate teachers on grades DG41 to DG 48 can soon take part in active politics. Before that announcement, teachers have been grumbling that they are being overworked to death by having to cope with unnecessary chores and paperwork.

    However, to date no teacher has put forth any complaint about having to attend to political matters from day to night once they enter politics. The reason is very simple— politics is a short cut to promotion. I need say no more.

  10. #10 by dagen on Saturday, 7 August 2010 - 2:10 pm

    Some one mentioned the silly proposal by the malacca cm to let muslim girls and boys marry early so that they can enjoy sex and have children as a way to overcome unwanted pregnancies and abandoned babies.

    If stupidity is his aim the malacca cm might as well recommend GM. And in the name of fairness and equality have it for both sexes – muslim boys genital mutilation and muslim girls genital mutilation.

    I am sure cintanegara and mel_a_yu would cry in agreement with this proposal. I can feel it.

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