In conjunction with the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Carnival held at Dewan Sri Sulaman during this weekend, I hosted a “2050 National Transformation” or TN50 dialogue with almost 500 youths, university and secondary school students.
Prior to the dialogue they were provided with sticky notes to write their aspirations down for Malaysia in year 2050 and put them up for the public. We received a staggering number of 400 aspirations.Many wrote about using technology in education, clean energy, smart cities, transportation, employment opportunities and good governance.
Announced in the Prime Minister’s Budget Speech last year, TN50 would be a policy document formulating Malaysia’s vision for 2050. The Ministry of Youth and Sports has been actively organising town halls in a nationwide tour that started with Sabah in late February.
At my inaugural dialogue in Dewan Seri Sulaman, participants were very enthusiastic of a Malaysia of tomorrow.
Some of the subjects they raised were about entrepreneurship opportunities, regulation of Blockchain and gender balance in top leadership roles.
The blockchain technology in brief, is an “infallible” digital ledger that records transactions of cryptocurrency such as bitcoin, discarding the need for a trusted authority. The birth of digital currencies has called for the need to review its regulation.
But the point is, these series of TN50 discourse have sparked a forward-thinking mindset among young Malaysians, especially crucial at this turning point of our country and the globe.
The world today, let alone in 2050, has been very different from the time we formulated our national policies almost 30 years ago. We are experiencing unprecedented turbulence in the world’s political, economic and social climate.
To transform the country and in handling new challenges, Malaysians ourselves have to transform our mentality by setting new, higher standards. We also have to move away from stereotypical approaches and should not be carried away by short-term gains.
I have always been impressed with Bhutan’s revolutionary development indicator of “gross national happiness”.
It is a set of guiding principles towards a sustainable and equitable society, where the wellbeing of its citizens and natural environment take precedence over material growth.
Perhaps towards 2050, Malaysia should aim to be among the top 20 countries in terms of gross national happiness.
Another trend that should be considered seriously is our aging population. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, 196 000 or a 5.1 per cent, out of the 3.8 million population in Sabah, were 60 years and above in 2016.
By 2040 this percentage is expected to surge to 16.8 per cent.
Are we ready to sustain an aging society with a shrinking workforce?
And then there are fears of “jobs being replaced by the robots”.
In recent news, artificial intelligence (AI) is reported to becoming increasingly mainstreamed.
AI would potentially cut out some lawyers by reading and analysing hundreds of pages of due diligence documents per minute.
Rather than being over pessimistic about “losing jobs”, we can shift our perspective to being adaptable and exploring new horizons. In the case above AI could free up time for lawyers to focus on more important tasks rather than being bogged down by the grunt work.
Imagine the consequences should we resisted the use of modern computers over half a century ago when some claimed that it would “steal” the jobs of mathematicians!
This calls for us to start thinking deeply about transformation, more so to formulate an evidence-based policy document.
For Sabah, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) has implemented several programmes to nurture a scientific mindset among local communities.
At the carnival that is happening over this weekend, we introduced over a dozen government agencies under our purview to the participants. Each agency has a dedicated outreach team; technical STI experts are also onsite to explain their services and the sciences to the people.
The Sultan Mizan Antarctic Research Foundation for example, promotes its work by compiling comics drawn by children about climate change and the Antarctic.
The Chemistry Department holds a “Crime Scene Investigation” or more famously known as “CSI” activity at its booth to educate visitors on DNA profiling. Children are exposed to evidence-based problem-solving techniques, such as applying DNA analysis to identify the crime suspect.
Not to forget our team from the National Science Centre. Although the centre is currently closed for repairs, they have been very actively doing outreach programmes.
I had the chance to meet some of the primary school teachers here that underwent the Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) training provided by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia. I am pleased that they are on board with us in advocating fun science learning among students.
This carnival also marked the official application of Smart Community Infrastructure System or icomm.
Currently at its first phase and executed in Tuaran, the local community now has direct access to real-time, round the clock video surveillance of 12 locations.
By installing the icomm app, users would be able to connect to the Internet free-of-charge, monitor air pollution and flood levels. Local merchants could advertise their businesses on this platform and in the future, direct customers to their retail site via GPS.
This is what I would describe as a “smart community”, where the neighbourhood is connected to each other and to hard infrastructures, being actively engaged to develop their own city.
In this national discourse of transformation, in the field of STI in particular, the government would require the collaboration of all stakeholders such as NGOs. Some excellent NGOs who are advocates of STI are Young Scientists Network, Malaysian Invention and Design Society and the Association of Science, Technology and Innovation.
The list goes on.
We hope for active participation from STI-related associations in upcoming TN50 dialogues as we strive to be inclusive in this unique bottom-up approach. In fact these town halls should be carried on even after the completion of TN50, especially in the engagement of young voices.
We are certainly taking baby but progressive steps toward a change in mentality for a national transformation to actualise. As a Chinese proverb goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Wilfred Madius Tangau.