Anti-palm oil play: Engage, not impose your views on kids

Anti-palm oil play: Engage, not impose your views on kids

I am very disturbed by the Education Ministry’s decision to investigate an international school for staging an anti-palm oil performance by students, following a complaint made by Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok.

I do not think the issue has a simple solution. Instead, it needs more debates and conversations. The collapse of oil palm market worldwide will land the Malaysian economy into trouble and contribute to socio-political instability which we can ill-afford.

The minister would be failing her job if she does not speak up for palm oil. At the same time, the existential threat faced by Orang Utan is real, and we cannot pretend that all palm oil plantation companies have done their best. And our students should be praised for caring about Orang Utans, where Malaysia is one of the two countries in the world count as their home.

If what is portrayed by groups like Green Peace is not true for Malaysia, then we need to present facts to correct misinformation.

Kok told me that many international schools have barred the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) from sharing their information. Then, what the Education Ministry should do is to ensure schools – not just international schools attended by kids of foreigner and elites, but all schools – to have open channels for debates and conversations.

Let both the voices of Green Peace and MPOC be heard and considered by our school children. Let us find the best ways through open debates and conversation to save both the oil palm industry and Orang Utan.

To suppress dissent – even if it is fuelled by misinformation – is archaic in today’s world. It will be counterproductive to the government’s effort to promote palm oil.

Our success to suppress pro-Orang Utan voices in schools back home will only fuel more anti-palm oil protests abroad. Do you think we can win the battle even if we are more right than wrong?

Our ministers and ministries need to embrace new ways of thinking. The time for one voice to triumph over others is over. Pro-environment schools and teachers must also be open to opposing views. Challenge any information that does not convince you but keep the students’ mind open to opposing views.

The world needs more people – children and adults alike – to appreciate its complexity and find best solutions amidst imperfect choices, instead of heeding patriotic or moral calls that show only one or some sides of the picture.

Wong Chin Huat

Political scientist, The Penang Institute

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Leaders Online