Tuesday, 12 June 2012

'Malaysia prime example of multicultural learning'


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia can take the lead in multicultural education, even as it strives to create a strong national identity, says peace educator Dr Maya Soetoro-Ng.

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Education specialist and half-sister of US President Barack Obama, Dr Maya Soetoro-Ng says multicultural education will help to increase one’s sense of belonging to each other.
The half-sister of United States president Barack Obama, Soetoro-Ng said multicultural education was about learning to understand subjects, including identity, history and current events, from multiple points of view.
"Here in Malaysia, as well as in the US and Indonesia, people are thinking about identities and their connections -- politically, economically or globally.
"Encouraging this conversation around shared languages, arts and culture will help to foster empathy and increase one's sense of belonging to each other.
"It will also increase the possibilities for collaboration, whether in schools, universities, non-profit or governments," she said here yesterday.
Soetoro-Ng was on a six-day visit to Malaysia as a delegate of the East-West Centre (EWC), an education and research organisation based in Honolulu, Hawaii, working on strengthening US relations in the Asia-Pacific.
So far, her trip had included visits and discussions with students and academics from Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) colleges, the International Islamic University and the Permata Pintar early childhood education programme.
She said Malaysia, with its multi-ethnic, racial and religious makeup, had a lot to teach the region.
"One thing I really found delightful was the number of women represented in schools and universities. It's something that a lot of people and countries can take as an example (of a place) where women's voices are heard and their careers are supported.
"I was also impressed by the dialogue within the Islamic community, where there was an intellectual emphasis on using Islam not only to reach back to the past, but thinking forward to develop a role for strong civil Islam in regional and world events."
She said dialogue without violence was important as there would always exist conflict between ideas.
"You can transform conflict into productive understanding. Once we can openly talk about our own needs and identities as a group, that's the kind of empathy generated that is much more conducive to peace. "
This is Soetoro-Ng's first visit to the country. She was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, where her brother, Obama, also spent his formative years.
Their late mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, an anthropologist who also worked at EWC and lived for many years in Jakarta, played a key role in shaping her approach as a peace educator, she said.

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