Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What do politicians mean by Malay/Chinese/Indian unity?

JITRA, June 21 - Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir said today it would be difficult to realise the "1Malaysia" concept if the Malays are not united. [The Malaysian Insider]

It has become a rhetorical statement when politicians like to say Malay unity has been split since the emergence of the Pakatan Rakyat. It annoys me every time these elected representatives fail to clearly define the vague and ambiguous claim that unity of a certain ethnic community in this country has been divided.

It is not uncommon for politicians these days to occasionally rant to the mass media of how unity of the Malay Malaysians have been divided. Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir recently commented that unless the Malays are united, the 1Malaysia plan will never take off. But just what does Mukhriz mean by the word 'united'? In what or by what should the Malays be united?

I believe the only thing that stands in the way of that 'unity' is the political beliefs that not only splits the Malays but also the Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, etc. communities in this country. Are the Malays suppose to support only ONE political party in order to be united? Does that consider Malay unity?

Clearly, the subject in question here now is not my fellow Malay Malaysians but the politicians that make such statements. The Chinese and Indians have long been in split, if political singularity is what these politicians mean. So what has that (political beliefs) got to do with their loyalty towards their nation and their support for 1Malaysia. Is anyone less Malaysian for not supporting a particular political party?

The 1Malaysia concept will surely fail when the Malays (and if I may add the Chinese and Indians as well) are not united; that is if 1Malaysia is politically motivated in the first place. But if it's not, then I believe there is no worry about whether who's who is not united because every Malaysians would support the 1Malaysia concept for the greater good - unless of course, if you are one of those who believe one race should remain and the rest kicked out.

In fact, all these talk of Malay/Chinese/Indian unity is well against the spirit of 1Malaysia. What does the country gain when the very lot that proposes the 1Malaysia concept are the ones that consistently clamour about race, race and race. Besides, when politicians mention about the unity of the Malays or the Chinese, I can only wonder: What about the unity of the Sikhs, Orang Asli, Kadazans, Ibans and the other minorities that make up this nation of ours?

You see, the problem with politicians harping on the unity of a particular ethnic group tends to lead the other minorities being undermentioned. It is about time, all Malaysians are considered seriously - not just the major racial groups. The solution is to stop the race bickering and address every Malaysian by his or her nationality first. We are a multicultural country not a multinational country - something most politicians tend to forget.

It is true that every community in this country require different levels of attention and assistance by the government due the stark income and social gaps. These politicians can still address the needs of these communities racially but they should spare the race talk in public. That would be a good start towards nation building. But by doing that, it is also important that we ensure no community is marginalised or sidelined.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

About time making English a "must pass" subject

KUALA LUMPUR: Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is surprised to learn that English is not a “must pass” subject for SPM and wants public feedback on the matter. [The Star, 9/6/09]

The importance of the English language as the lingua franca of knowledge and technology cannot be overstressed. The mastery of the language among Malaysians have spiralled downwards since Independence and unless we make things right in the near future, we may just kiss our hopes of becoming a developed nation goodbye.

But before I start, I must say I am a little baffled over Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's (image) reaction when he discovered English is not a "must pass" subject for the SPM examinations. I'd like to say: "About time, Mister DPM." God knows how long one has to be a minister to actually recognise such an obvious shortcoming in the system.

I belong to the school of thought that fully supports the government's decision to teach science and mathematics in English in schools and making the language a "must pass" subject in SPM. And I am also aware that there are certain quarters of our society oppose this move as they argue that by doing so ,we would put the rural folks at a loss and even compromise the position of the national language. But I must explain that by supporting the teaching of science and mathematics in English does not mean I am less of a citizen. I just feel all of this is essential for the nation to progress.

In my dictionary, forsaking the nation's future is the bigger crime and in this case, the mastery of the English language by Malaysians is of the greatest importance if we ever want this country of ours to succeed.

The issue of the the English subject is a perpetual problem - a vicious cycle where the end has as much influence on the beginning of the problem - and vice versa.

The people who oppose the teaching of science and mathematics in English argue that since Japan, China and Korea can maintain their teaching and learning in their native languages, why can't we do the same? But I would like to simply say that they are Japan, China and Korea...not Malaysia. These countries are major exporters of technology let alone economic powerhouses and therefore have the privilege to not have English being shoved down the throats of their younglings. Malaysia, on the other hand, do not have that kind of choice and privilege.

If I'd be cynical, what difference would teaching science subjects in English make? After all, most of the technical terms and jargon in the national language are direct phonetic translations of their English equivalents anyway.

Those people are right to argue that the rural students who have less access to quality materials would be at a loss if English is made a "must pass" subject. They also believe that the government should first ensure teachers are capable of teaching English. But just how do they expect young teachers to master the English language if they do not have a strong foundation in the language in school in the first place. See why this is a perpetual problem?

But I still believe we should start somewhere. I mean, at least there is a start to a solution to the never-ending cycle and is definitely better than folding our arms and expect English-fluent teachers to grow on trees. Making the English subject a "must pass" would encourage students who are poor in the language to work harder. A standard is set for people to follow, not to set it lower for it to follow people.

At the same time, the government should ensure language teachers are equipped with the necessary skills and materials to teach English effectively and properly. The DPM has recently contemplated to revisit the Kirby College concept first developed in the 1950s where Malaysian teachers are sent abroad to learn English in an English-speaking environment. It is a good idea and must I say the rural schools be given more attention on this compared to urban schools if the concept ever takes off.

Perhaps the government should also consider gradually increasing the passing mark of the English language subject, instead of making the subject a "must pass" over the next few years. That would certainly ease the pressure on the rural students while giving them and the teachers enough time to improve their language skills. But no matter what, it should eventually come a time that the English language subject be made a "must pass" subject in schools.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Limit on SPM subjects to 10 not a good idea

NILAI: The days of students taking up to 20 subjects in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination are over. Next year they will be allowed a maximum of only 10 subjects.[NST, 4/6/2009]

The government's decision to cap the number of subjects taken in the SPM examinations to 10 has received a myriad of reactions from the public. In the wake of mounting public dissatisfaction over how public scholarships are offered, the government has attempted to restore some 'quality' to our education system rather than allowing the 'quantity' of A's to continue to dictate one's level of success. But is limiting the number of examination subjects the best solution to the problem?

In Malaysia, students who have completed their fifth form education are required to take the SPM or the Malaysian Certificate of Education examination. It is equivalent to the British O-Levels.

The current rule of thumb among students is that the more A's you get, the higher your chances of getting a scholarship. Here, the 'quantity (of A's)' is of higher importance when really, the 'quality' of one's overall achievement is what merits a coveted scholarship.

Limiting the number of SPM subjects may seem as a plausible remedy to the problem but I feel it is a short-sighted solution which may not bring the intended results in the long run. The government's decision is a good one but certainly not the best in my books.

Firstly, I do not see why it would be a wise move to stop students from learning more. Learning should be an expandable act where every student should have the freedom and liberty to learn as much as they want and can. It is nothing wrong for a student to take 'extra' subjects in school and with that, I would also like to say that I do not believe that students who have gotten 17 or 21 A's (a ridiculous amount I'd say) have committed a crime. Thus, I feel the government should not punish them of their own success. This is very important if we believe in a progressive society.

In my opinion, the real solution lies not in the students but the system itself. Why treat the leaves when the root has the problem? If this whole conundrum is caused by the criteria being used by the Public Service Department when granting scholarships, then it is only logical to fix that - not the students. Instead of capping the number of SPM subjects, I would suggest a standardized evaluation of a student's work. A Grade Point Average(GPA) system would serve both the students and government's best interest.

A GPA system allows students to take as many subjects as humanly possible but his or her overall scores are standardised to an average value - thus providing an even playing field to students who do not have the privilege of taking as many subjects in the examination. When such a system is in place a student who has scored, say 10 A's out of 10 subjects would have equal chances with one who has 17 straight A's when they both apply for scholarships.

That being said, I feel we should not discourage students from outdoing themselves by capping the number of examination subjects. Instead, the government should strive to improve the quality of our education system and review redundant subjects that serve no purpose but to produce 'parrots' and 'tape recorders'. I would not say the Malaysian education system is abysmal but neither would I boast to the world it is world-class. But what the government can do is to inspire students to push their intellectual limits and at the same time, lobby to better our books, teachers and schools.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Malaysia can learn from Britain

We can all learn a thing or two from the recent British Parliamentary allowance scandal that has made public confidence in the House of Commons hit rock bottom. For those who may not know what it is all about, the British parliament is in dire straits over allegations of public funds abuse by several MPs - including Prime Minister Gordon Brown himself.

In Britain, elected representatives in the House of Commons receive a monthly salary of £4,000 (after tax). On top of that, MPs are also eligible to make several claims over miscellaneous expenses and enjoy various allowances.

One of the earliest revelations exposed in the media was that of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He claimed £650 for food, £83 for telephone bills, £1,403 for cleaning, £90 for home repairs, and £108 for his satellite TV.

Another senior minister, the Chancellor Alistair Darling, was reported to have claimed £2,000 for furniture, another £2,000 for new carpets, and £300 per month for food. He also claimed £1,200 to pay for his council tax and mortgages.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, claimed for a £412 hand-crafted chair, a goose-down duvet and chenille throw from Marks & Spencer. He also bought a £450 John Lewis sofa, and claimed £9,000 to do his kitchen, plus £89 for other “household items”.

And the list goes on with the names of more than 200 MPs already exposed.

So what can we all learn from the shortcomings of our former colonial masters? Britain and Malaysia share a similar system of governance. Perhaps, the biggest moral-of-the-story we can all take, dissect and apply to our own backyard at the end of the day is the reaction of the British people and the Parliament to the crisis.

Looking at what the lack of public accountability has done to Britain, the Malaysian government should encourage transparency in every level - from ministries to local municipal councils. And if a government has second thoughts in enforcing public accountability among its staff, then the people should seriously consider who are they voting into office in the first place. Being transparent is not a choice, it is a must.

Therefore, making information such as personal allowances and other claims on expenses by ministers and MPs should be made available to the public. And any Abu, Ah Meng and Muthu should be able to have access to such information with ease. It is our right as taxpayers to know where all our money is going or has gone to.

The fact that British newspapers are responsible for exposing the dirty linen of MPs show that the mass media in Britain have no fear in reporting the truth. It is common knowledge that the local media in Malaysia have their news and articles filtered to avoid being too critical or cynical about the government or risk having their printing permits revoked. It is no wonder why so many people these days have turned to the so-called alternative media i.e. the Internet in search of news and independent opinions. Taking the crisis in Britain as an example, a free press could do the country a world of good by helping to promote public accountability. Press freedom is one of the prerequisites of a progressive nation and there is no debate about that.

The scandal has also forced British Parliament Speaker Michael Martin to step down for his 'failure to maintain public confidence in the Parliament'. It is the first time in 300 years that a Speaker in the Westminster parliament was forced to resign. Nonetheless, the response of British MPs to this was exemplary.

Despite growing dissatisfaction towards the Speaker, British MPs still behaved appropriately - there were no shouting, shoving or a contest of who has the richest vocabulary of insults in the Parliament. Government and Opposition MPs all followed procedures and protocols, obeyed every order of the Speaker and yes, there was no motion to remove the Speaker from his post - much of which is a testament to the maturity of the British Parliament. British MPs knew that as long as Martin is in the House, he has the authority.

This is indeed a far cry from what happened in Perak recently where the State Assembly Speaker V. Sivakumar was forcibly removed from his seat during an Assembly (images below).

The criterion of having elections every five years alone is not enough to fully describe what a democratic society should be. Public accountability, a mature Parliament and press freedom are the aspects of which Malaysians and their government should learn to give enough attention. Taking how their British counterparts handled themselves in the wake of embarrassing scandals, Malaysian politicians have a lot to learn and do.
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