As an ethnic Indian in Malaysia what were the early experiences of the family after the migration from India?
PR: My parents migrated to Malaysia from Vellakovil, Coimbatore District, Tamil Nadu, India in the 1920's. They migrated because they found it difficult to make a living in their District. At an early stage, my parents were workers in European owned rubber plantations. Later my father took on the role of head supervisor (Kangani) and he was also responsible for recruitment of laborers from his village in Tamil Nadu under the Kangani system which replaced the indention system of labor recruitment in the 1930's. By the mid 1930's, my father left the plantation after he bought some lands nearby. During World War II, except for my brother, the rest of my siblings left to India with my parents to escape the Japanese invasion. They came back after the Japanese surrendered in 1946 and I was born in 1949.
From your early years as an outstanding academic, how was your transition to public life?
PR: I was born and educated in Malaysia. I went to universities in Malaysia, Unites States of America and Canada. For 25 years, I was lecturer in National University of Malaysia. I retired in 2005 and I spent around two years in Singapore before returning to Penang to contest in the 2008 general election. After the victory in the election, I was appointed as the Deputy Chief Minister of Penang.
A considerable period of my life was spent as an academic, researcher and commentator on public affairs. I retired from the university in 2005 and took up the position of a visiting professor for 2 months at University of Kassel, Germany before I was appointed as a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies, Singapore in April 2006. Anyway, a series of events changed the course of my life in 2008 when I was asked to contest in the parliamentary seat of Batu Kawan and State seat of Perai. Due to a wave of public support, I won the two seats before taking up my position in the state of Penang. In 2013 election, I gave up my parliamentary seat to contest the Perai State assembly seat.
Before I assumed the present position in the Penang State Government, I lacked political experience. However being open and willing to learn others, I have filled in the lacuna to some extent.
What are the key Malaysia is facing in developing an employable resource pool?
PR: The cardinal issue that Malaysia is facing is not so much as lack of investment both local and foreign, but the issue of whether we have adequate human resource talents that meets the needs of the industry. The challenge before us is to develop human resource talents to its full capacity to meet the needs of the growing industry especially in the manufacturing and the service sectors. It is estimated that only 30% of the Malaysia workers are skilled and in Penang it may be slightly higher. Still there is a huge gap in human resource talents. While human resources comes under the federal ministry, Penang State Government can play a complimentary role to ensure that Penang has adequate supply of human resources in years to come. This is why the Penang State Government is placing emphasis on science education by setting up the Penang Science Center, Penang Tech Dome and giving incentives to the private sector to work closely with the State Government in actually making science interesting and challenging to the younger generation of students. The key is the have an education system that will took into the human resources scarcity and how to overcome shortages in supply in years to come. While the traditional strength of Penang was in manufacturing, now the emphasis is on high end service sectors. Penang believes in the concept of triple P's - that is public and private partnership as the driving force in developing and sustaining human resources talents. While the State Government can provide some initial capitalization, the most effective mechanisms for the availability of human resources comes to when there is public and private participation. We can provide the governance but the initiative and training of the work force must come from the private sector.
You have very clear views on integration of science and humanities learning. What are the key points you see for interfacing the two?
PR: Major innovations and changes in the scientific world do not simply come with advances in technical learning. It is the combination of the sciences, social science and humanities that actually produces revolutionary outcomes - what Thomas Kahn called 'paradigm shift'. While research in science and mathematics are crucial, it is the cultural disposition of the individual or a group of individuals who bring about far reaching changes to our physical environment. The idea of paradigm shift does not take place as a result of humdrum activities but when scientists question/challenge the existing paradigms that provide little or no clue in explaining reality.
What are the key plans in developing talent in the State of Penang?
PR: First, it is very important for the primary and secondary school children to develop a love and passion for the sciences and mathematics. Currently there is a movement away from the sciences. I am not sure of the reason. Perhaps students are looking for an easy route to higher education by just focusing on the arts. There is nothing wrong in focusing in arts but the important thing is the education system should not include a mechanical bifurcation of what is science or arts. The conventional practice of sending less fortunate students to the vocational and technical institutes and good students up the ladder of upper secondary and tertiary education should be frowned upon. This could be one of the reasons why the passion or interest for sciences was not developed in this country. Much thought must be spent on developing technical institutes where the industry will be a major player. For a long time, the government has been going around setting up technical college and institutes. These have not been effective because they have not been synchronized to the needs of the industry. The government must consult with the industry and key players and come out with some mechanisms where the needs of the industry are addressed. The Penang government initiated Penang Science Center, Penang Tech Dome, the digital library, robotics learning are important in reorientating the interest of students.
What in your views are the reasons for Penang's comparative prosperity as taken together with other States of Malaysia?
PR: Penang has a unique history compared to the order States in Malaysia. Penang, Melaka and Singapore were the first to be colonized by the British and came to be known as the Straits Settlements. Compared to the other States, Penang had an early start. Moreover the very fact that Penang has a port, it is strategically located in the straits of Melaka and it is has been an important stopping place for international ships, gives it a national advantage in terms of attracting companies coming to invest. Penang has good governance under the current government, modern infrastructures, high productivity, good system of communications, preferred location for global companies, excellent food restaurants and hotels which makes Penang a destination that is much sought after.
What according to you are the future directions of growth of collaboration between Malaysia and India?
PR: Malaysia and India always enjoyed cordial relationship before, during and after independence. There is great deal of collaboration between India and Malaysia in trade, investment and as well as in other areas. Malaysia looks upon India as a friend and vice versa. India has advanced much in high tech service industries. The friendship between Malaysia and India is excellent. The relationship is based on sound diplomatic ties. The trade ties and two way flow of investments have improved. Malaysia companies are involved in building highways in India. India is a major importer of palm oil and petroleum from Malaysia. The recent naval visits from India to Penang basically indicates India wants to improve the relationships whereby both the countries can explore mutual and collaborative efforts.