Tan Sri Murad Mohammed Noor - Penawar For The Nation.
He’s been around long enough to know what exactly needs to be done, and this former educationist has some strong views on race relations too, writes SU AZIZ.
"WHEN you look at someone, do you think about whether he is Chinese or Indian?" asked the bright-eyed, 76-year-old gentleman in front of me. "It shouldn’t even cross your mind unless it is out of superficial curiosity." Yes, Tan Sri Murad Mohammed Noor believes that we should think of ourselves, first and foremost, as Malaysian.
Murad was our director-general of Education for 10 years until he retired on his birthday on April 10, 1985. As a full-time educationist, Murad was directly involved in establishing the International Islamic University and spearheaded a study in the 1970s which detailed the problems of school dropouts. The study, famously known as the "Murad Report", highlighted ways to address this problem.
"Remedial education. That is the way to tackle the problem," explained Murad. "Before you can remedy a situation, you must first know what the illness is. Every teacher is a remedial educationist. "If a student cannot read, then teach him to read. Don’t let it go and expect someone else to pick up the pieces."
Murad applies this same logic to a pressing issue of our time: racial polarisation. "How we can remedy our racial issue is perhaps by pointing out to them (our children) the various factors that can make them feel Malaysia is their country. "Point out opportunities, feed them knowledge and yes, using the same language also helps."
So education is key then? "Positivity is vital. As a teacher who imparts knowledge, teach them how to contribute towards the nation and how to appreciate the multi-racial aspect of our country."
Born in 1930, and educated in Kedah, Universiti Malaya, Singapore and Britain, Murad lived through one of Malaysia’s most turbulent periods — the 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur. This riots led to a state of Emergency, the suspension of Parliament until 1971 and the NEP (New Economic Policy).
Thirty-six years on, we can only imagine how difficult it must have been in those early days after May 13, to rebuild the nation. Murad was one of those people who helped pull Malaysia out of those dark times. "It was tough but not impossible to restore peace quickly," explained Murad. "This was because the NOC (National Operations Council which was established to govern the country provisionally) that drew up the NEP and Tun Abdul Razak (our prime minister then) were adamant about promoting national unity... to prevent May 13 from ever happening again."
The NEP’s aim was to help eradicate poverty among the Malays through rapidly expanding our economy and "to wipe out the identification of race with economic function. "Our country recovered much faster than other countries that faced the same situation. This is due to the co-operation of all races. Everybody felt the same way, they never wanted the incident to happen again. May 13 shattered our beliefs. It shook us," said Murad. "Everybody was aware of the danger but we got on very well. This was because of the NOC’s rigid control of the situation.
"At the Umno general assembly, some of them lost their cool. They used strong and emotive words. To me, that was unnecessary. It could be misunderstood, and was it necessary to do that? It could create ill-feeling between the races. Why do we want to backtrack? Bury the dead, this is what I say. Move on from there. I was very pleased when our deputy prime minister said he will ensure that such things will never be said or happen again. He will and should nip it in the bud."
Murad said post-May 13, education played a vital role in re-building the country and it still could. "Do you know how? Children in our (national) schools suffered from uncertainty then. This is also the problem we face today. We should be able to break the racial barrier through education. We have tried for almost 50 years to do so.
"Admittedly, we (educationists) succeeded in making Bahasa Malaysia the common language in schools but speaking a language alone will not instill racial harmony. I speak English but that does not make me an Englishman! Let the educationists go back to handling the education of our children. Right now, they (the policy makers) don’t allow it.
"During my time, a director-general could decide on everything except for the policies. Today, the Cabinet decides on every tedious thing. When then can they concentrate on the more important policies or issues concerning our education system?"
Murad started as a teacher in Kedah in 1957. "When I started (teaching), it was the time when our government decided that Bahasa Malaysia should be the medium of communication instead of English. I was told to go and teach the students and I did that, armed with only the English textbooks that I had to translate myself. Back then, what the teachers said was more important than what the parents said. Teachers were bodies of knowledge.
"Now, everybody is a teacher. It may seem so simple but in fact, it is complex. Today, there is the Internet, sophisticated television programmes and so on. Teachers today no longer play that important a role in a student’s life.
"We (educationists) cannot force unity externally. Then it is superficial. It has to come from within, we should teach our children that we share a common country. That this is ours."
Throughout the interview, Murad noted down his thoughts. ("It comes from being a teacher, you see.") Today, he is still active in research and currently has been asked to evaluate the sekolah rakyat (religious schools). Murad is also chairman of the Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris Council and a senior non-independent director of IJM Corporation Berhad. There are also the numerous talks that he is asked to give. "I enjoy that. This is because in the past I was told what to say and now I am allowed to say what I want."
With slightly more time on his hands now, Murad indulges in another love — cooking. "I prefer cooking European food. Not for the taste. I don’t eat much, you see. But it is not so messy. Malay food is a big production, and all that cleaning up!"
Having had to read so many reports and files when he was working, he now enjoys reading biographies and classics, plus — as a pile of books were placed in front of me — cookery books.
Having brought up two sons and two daughters, Murad now spends a lot of time with the youngest of his four grandchildren.
"I used to enjoy travelling but nowadays, they (the airport officials) take the joy out of it with all these paranoid checks.
"I also enjoy doing what I am doing now — talking to journalists!"
After a thoughtful moment, he asked, "Do you know what an abstract noun is? It describes something you see but cannot touch."
Would the word Malaysian fall into this category? "I wish to see one nation, which was what I set out to build in the first place. I passionately believe in the preamble of education.
"I long to see a nation of greater morals with higher civic- consciousness, a nation that can call their neighbour, neighbour, irrespective of their race."
Related post: Let The Teachers Teach.
Labels: Outstanding Malaysians.