It is sometimes said that “every cloud has a silver lining” and some good can come out of really bad situations. There is a little doubt that the whole world is under a very dark cloud at present with the COVID-19 pandemic. We are facing the most significant threat to humanity since the Second World War.
Despite the tragic loss of life, the damage done to economies, and the impact on individual livelihoods, I believe there are some positive aspects to this crisis as regards Malaysia.
Malaysia doing well in COVID-19 war
Firstly, Malaysia is doing exceedingly well in combatting the deadly COVID-19 disease. Back in mid-February, Malaysia had more cases of COVID-19 than the United Kingdom. But since then things have changed dramatically. Malaysia has kept total fatalities so far to around 100 whereas for the UK the total is almost 34,000 as of May 16. That’s three hundred times worse!
In global terms, Malaysia’s performance has been amongst the very best and this is something for us all to be very proud of. It proves that the combined efforts of clinicians, scientists, the government and its agencies, as well as the behaviour of individual citizens, have all worked exceedingly well together.
Malaysia has proved that it can tackle a major crisis far more effectively than the world’s most developed countries. This is really something very special to celebrate. If Malaysia can be so successful at a time like this, what else might it achieve in better circumstances? This is a reason for much optimism about the future of the nation.
Malaysians adapting well to education going online
Secondly, many educational institutions in Malaysia, including mine, rapidly shifted to delivering courses entirely online at the start of the movement control order. What is noteworthy about this is that both staff and students adapted so well and so fast to an entirely new way of working.
This goes to prove that our young people and our professionals are adaptable, can cope with adversity, and get on with their jobs or their studies in entirely new ways with almost no warning and little advance preparation. This is yet another reason for Malaysia to hold its head high and another very positive discovery to come from a crisis.
Education in general and higher education in particular will change as a result of the pandemic. This will happen globally as well as in Malaysia. That change will take us into a new era of faster, more flexible and more dynamic learning. This can only have very positive benefits for society and the economy. This again gives much optimism for the future.
Learning to appreciate what’s taken for granted
Thirdly, during the movement control order everyone has learnt to appreciate things that we normally take for granted such as freedom, friendships and human contact. These are things that we have been missing during the pandemic and are only slowly beginning to recover.
This experience will undoubtedly have changed us all and hopefully make us all value the things that most matter in our lives and which can so easily be taken away, something we never thought was possible.
A colleague reminded me recently that Nelson Mandela endured 27 years without freedom only to go on to become one of the most impressive leaders of any nation in the world, able to cross over boundaries in society to bring harmony where it did not exist before.
Hopefully, the experience of movement control that we have all endured recently, whilst nowhere near the scale of Mandela’s experience, will make us all more appreciative of human contact. Indirectly this might also make us more tolerant, more respectful and more patient, which will also have an enduring effect on our society as a whole. Such attributes cannot easily be acquired through education but much more through life-changing experiences.
So, despite the significant threat from the COVID-19 pandemic and the many enormous negative aspects of it, there are some reasons to be both optimistic for the future and to be extremely proud of what the nation has achieved so far.
Professor Dr Graeme Wilkinson is the Vice-Chancellor of Sunway University.