Raggie Jessy Rithaudeen
The Government of Malaysia (GoM) should seriously consider developing a New Age Research and Development (NARD) blueprint for Higher Education to bring local talent to the cutting edge of innovation and creativity. The blueprint would help chart the course for Institutions of Higher Learning to venture into sustainable research and development activity like never before and help researchers accommodate new ideas and approaches that typical Malaysian scientists or thinkers would otherwise consider as “nonsensical” and (or) “crazy.”
This is necessary.
If it is nobel prize winner we want or a research prodigy we seek, we have to start building a Futuristic Academic Incubator for Malaysia (FAIM) to help nurture and nourish a new breed of thinkers. Sometimes, it serves to aim beyond the realms of “existing logic” and build a base for intellectual evolution. If it is the top of a mountain you wish to climb, it wouldn’t hurt to think of ways to get there via a rocket thrusted backpack or a “quantum-leap pod.” Nine out of ten Star Trek fans have probably wondered if we would one day be able to disappear from one location and reappear elsewhere simply by saying, “beam me up, Scottie.”
Most of the time, futuristic ideas lead to innovation both in thought and process. For instance, if a group of scientists were to ponder on how to build a polymer suit that ‘breathes in’ carbon dioxide and ‘exhales’ oxygen to its wearer, they will stumble upon a series of “mind boggling” problems that need addressing. Attempting those problems could lead to the rediscovery of science and allow researchers to view exiting problems in very different ways. Innovation isn’t always about physical or tangible accomplishments but also about the evolution of thought paradigms. Only with such evolution will one break free from the shackles of “complacency” and realize that “the impossible” is sometimes the prison you choose to contain your mind in.
They key factor here is support.
If the NARD initiative is government supported, then, with the right group of pioneers, one would no longer feel stupid doing research that a typical Malaysian scientist would otherwise brush off as ‘nonsense’ or a ‘waste of time’. It’s all about the realization that there are a hundred and one ways you can cross a river. If you were to ask a fisherman how to do it, he (or she) would tell you to cross the river with a boat. If you were to ask the contractor, he (or she) would talk of building bridges. Ask a scientist, and he (or she) would probably tell you to go with the boat and (or) bridge idea simply “because it’s there.” It only takes a ‘crazy’ innovator to ask why people aren’t already thinking of ‘anti-gravity’ suits to resolve everyday gravity issues.
And that’s not crazy.
Granted, there has to be some degree of “reasonability” to all ideas and views put forward. For instance, we wouldn’t want scientists to start talking about “getting cats and dogs to talk.” But we equally wouldn’t want scientists to think that exploring time travel theories is crazy and a waste of time. Whatever the aim, you have to have some sense of the innovative challenges you’d end up facing and the benefits that can be derived from resolving them. Even then, you would be shot down by an academic grant board as such boards comprise academicians who’re products of old school paradigms. They tend to view anything extraordinary as a waste of time and will probably mark you off as someone “eccentric.”
That’s precisely why we need a NARD blueprint. The blueprint will help set new rules and criteria for researchers who want to participate in out-of-the-ordinary, cutting edge research. The key objective of the blueprint is to set the base for research that poses enigmatic problems conventional research may never be able to pose. Only when you have such problems will one be compelled to think out of the ordinary.
And when you think out of the ordinary, you’re likely to stumble upon unique ways of approaching an issue you thought was already within your grasp. In the process, you may discover something that could turn out to be the next best thing since Einstein spoke plasma. The whole exercise may lead to hundreds of useful discoveries and help redefine the way scientists approach existing problems. When scientists begin to change the way they think, so will their students, some of whom will go on to become school teachers and ministry officials and help redefine the way we teach our young.
That, in essence, is the real development the Ministry of Education needs to consider if its a New and Innovative Malaysia we seek…not the need for students to wear black shoes and black socks.