Monday, July 27, 2009

Minister: M'sian football on the rise (because we managed 2 goals against Man Utd)

n July 23, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek (image) said that Malaysian football is on the brink of renaissance after an impressive performance against English Premier League champions Manchester United on July 18 [source]. I'm saying that is a very shallow basis of evaluation, Mr. Minister.

Shabery was also glad that the match between the Malaysian XI and Manchester United was given extensive coverage by the foreign media and as well as, YouTube. The Malaysian XI eventually went on to lose 3-2. Despite the loss, the Youth and Sports Minister believes Malaysian football is on the road to recovery.

I watched the game. And to be honest, I truly felt Malaysia's first goal was rather exquisite (because it was intentional and not a fluke) while the second goal was equally good albeit a mistake by the Man Utd goalkeeper. I do not want to take that away from the national squad - it was a good game. But to say that Malaysian football is on the rise after just ONE game against ONE club in pre-season is a short-sighted conclusion.

It doesn't help to also know that Man Utd were not playing on high gear given that the match on July 18 was their first club friendly after a month-long summer break. With all due respect to the national team, that match was nothing short of a pre-season warm up.

That being said, kudos to the Malaysian national team for giving Man Utd a run for their money - even though the Red Devils weren't exactly on high tempo. Nonetheless, I am deeply disappointed and dumbstruck each time Malaysian leaders fail to move beyond the 'jaguh kampung (village champion)' mentality by over-comparing Malaysia's achievements.

Lest we forget the time when a certain parliamentarian boldly argued that Malaysia should be proud for being 'ahead' of Ghana who also gained independence in 1957 while forgetting the fact that our closest neighbour whom we kicked out of the federation, Singapore is already in an economic and social league of its own.

If losing 3-2 to an English Premier League team is worth a cheer then what about the Thai national team drawing 1-1 with League runner ups Liverpool. Or the 3-2 defeat of FC Seoul at the hands of Man Utd. Surely, there isn't really something to rave about when a domestic club like FC Seoul (not necessary South Korea's Best 11) is more than capable of getting a similar score.

The fact is that Malaysian football is still eons away from returning to its former glory of the 1970's. The FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) seems clueless to what should be done to improve a sport plagued with corruption, shortage of talents and lack of public interest. If Malaysia qualifies for the World Cup or say, the Asian Cup, that would definitely be something to celebrate about - not losing 3-2 to a domestic English club.

And now there is even a movement to bestow Amri Yahya (the scorer of both goals against Man Utd on July 18) the Datukship for his brilliant performance [source]. That is just silly.

The question is this: When will our leaders stop making derisory conclusions over minor achievements, get beyond the 'jaguh kampung' mentality and really swallow reality for what it's worth?

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

When will narrow-minded Malaysians wake up?

It is disappointing to see and hear narrow-minded things some Malaysians had to say, despite belonging to a nation of more than half a century old; let alone a multi-racial one. When will some of us learn to understand the concepts of a matured, open-minded society to move beyond such insularity?

A couple of incidents that took place in the course of the week were really self-explanatory (of the point I am trying to make here). There are still narrow-minded citizens and MPs alike out there who continue to put the rest of our society to shame with their remarks and statements.

One that really left me annoyed and disgusted was the argument Kulim Bandar Baharu MP Zulkifli Noordin put forth in his support for the abolishment of the PPSMI (the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English) initiative. In his blog post, Zulkifli reasoned that there was no real urgency for Malaysians to be proficient in English and the government had done the right thing to honour the Malay language. Taking Japan as an example, he said that the Japanese have gone on to accomplish great technological triumphs without being proficient in English.

To further support his premise, he also argued that the Filipinos was only capable of producing household maids despite being highly proficient in the English language.

Firstly, Zulkifli (image) is naive enough to compare Malaysia with Japan. Japan can afford NOT to learn English because they are in a position to offer much to the world. They are not the 4th largest world economy for nothing. Malaysia, on the other hand, imports the majority of technologies and knowledge from abroad. Thus, who are we to decide that the world should learn our language and we can all together forget about the learning the most important language of all - English? Unlike Japan, Malaysia has relatively little to offer the world for us to demand such privilege Japan is currently enjoying.

Secondly, Zulkifli's statement about Filipinos is utterly disrespectful. There's even a sprinkle of racism in that, I reckon. Being a lawyer himself, he should know that his remarks may have had an impact on the Malaysian Filipino community. But above all, it is also disrespectful towards the good and honest people who have no choice but to work as household maids in this country due to poverty and the lack of job opportunities back home.

In fact, has Zulkifli ever thought that it is us who should be ashamed that even household maids speak and write better English than most of our government officials, corporate figures and elected representatives?

There are also the inconsiderate racists among us that still believe in the superiority of a race over others. The last time I checked, this was Nazi/Apartheid-like mainstream mentality that no longer exists today. Recently, a Kajang municipal councillor who was interrogated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) alleged commission investigators hurled racist remarks at him during questioning [source].

MACC officers had apparently called him a stupid Chinese and even asked if he (the municipal councillor) was from China.

Perhaps the municipal councillor could not converse in Malay as good as the MACC officers. But that does not mean he is stupid nor is he from China. Well, I have seen my fair share of Malaysian Malays who cannot even converse or write in proper Malay.

So what gives?

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Taking one step forward & three steps back, the M'sian way

On July 9, the government decided to end the teaching of science and mathematics in English (PPSMI) in national schools, beginning 2012 onwards. Again, the Malaysian people is divided with this latest regression of an initiative set up in 2003 to ensure Malaysia remains competitive in the globalised world of information and technology. But in my opinion, the government has shamefully taken a step forward but three steps back.

1 step forward:
  1. Deputy Education Minister Dr Puad Zarkashi says that by ditching the PPSMI, the government saves RM40 million annually.
3 steps back:
  1. Students who are caught in between the transition between English and Malay will suffer the most.
  2. The government will allocate almost RM5 billion to strengthen the teaching and learning of English in schools.
  3. Malaysia's ability to compete globally in the future is being jeopardized.
If there is one thing that really caught my attention, it is the amount of money the government is willing to pump in to "strengthen the teaching of English" in schools; after deciding to scrap the PPSMI. If the government has RM5 billion in the first place, why isn't that sum of money been put to help improve the PPSMI?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak argues that only 8% of science and mathematics teachers are proficient in the English language. But the depressing statistic could also improve if half of that RM5 billion of funding is to put better use to bolster the proficiency among the remaining 92%.

It will not be a surprise to see the 8% (those who are proficient) to continue to shrink when students of today end up as teachers in a decade's time. Students now have no reason to improve their standard of English - given that the language itself is still not a 'must pass' subject in the SPM examination and also important subjects are no longer taught in English beyond 2012.

The government is not taking a gamble but a miscalculated dive into the dark waters of arrested development. Various cultural/language groups and politicians have come to support the scrapping the PPSMI, saying the initiative to teach science and mathematics in English is unconstitutional to begin with. They say it is an act of defence for the dignity and position of the Malay language as the national tongue. And by reverting back to the old ways, they are also strengthening the status of Mandarin and Tamil in society.

I'd say their argument is flawed. "Strengthening" one's language does not come by teaching science and mathematics in that language. It is through quality teaching materials and literature that improvements are made to one's proficiency. Therefore, to say that by scrapping the PPSMI could memartabatkan or strengthen the Malay language (Mandarin and Tamil included) is highly unfounded.

But the argument of the PPSMI is not to champion the English language whilst disregarding the other languages. Neither it is made to only improve the proficiency of English among students. The PPSMI serves a higher purpose which is to ensure young Malaysians are well equipped to compete globally.

I urge the proponents of the PPSMI-ditching campaign to be realistic. Sure, patriotism is good but blind patriotism can kill. English, whether we like it or not, is the language of science, information and knowledge.

The effort to improve the standards of English as a subject and learning science and mathematics in English are two different matters. One cannot learn the sciences simply by being proficient in English. On the contrary, one has to be familiar with scientific and academic terminologies in order the master a field.

As former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has pointed out in his blog, just how many local academicians in this country do not take English textbooks for references? And if I may add on, just how many non-English speaking local academicians have gone to published world class writings or even being revered by the scientific community?

It is understood that rural schools children face difficulties in science and mathematics due to their poor command of English. But by scrapping the PPSMI in order is to simply run away from reality and is definitely not the solution. Therefore, the government should give more attention in developing and improving the proficiency of English among rural children and not taking their poor command of the language that as an excuse to scrap the PPSMI.

Malaysia was successful in the 1990's because the majority of our workforce and intellectuals were educated in the English medium. We have an edge over neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand when it came to attracting Western investors simply because we have better command of the English language.

So this is my plea to the government: Do not burn the whole forest over a sick tree. If the PPSMI has not achieved its intention, it does not mean that the whole idea is rubbish. The problem lies with its implementation and the lack of thorough study and evaluation. The English language subject in schools should be improved but at the same time, the government should also maintain and further develop the PPSMI initiative. School children are not guinea pigs for our experiments. Neither is the future of our nation a gamble.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

KTM Komuter- A decade and half not enough to be world class?

The KTM Komuter which runs through the heart of the nation's capital has been awful in both quality and punctuality. Since 1995, the KTM Komuter remains the sole railway network which connects large suburban neighbourhoods and satellite towns surrounding Kuala Lumpur to the heart of the city. Many depend heavily on its service daily despite having to face frustration and annoyance ever day for substandard service. Something just has to be done!

The KTM Komuter is notorious for cancellations, delays, breakdowns and overcrowded cars which occur on a daily basis. First introduced in 1995 to help ease traffic congestion in Kuala Lumpur and reducing travel time, it is depressing to know that it takes less time to drive to the city centre today than taking the KTM Komuter.

It is KTM Komuter's unwritten rule to have 20 minute intervals between trains but we all know it would take a fool or a tourist from Singapore or Hong Kong (where they enjoy efficient and punctual railway services) to at least believe half of that bullocks. The fact is that on many occasions, KTM Komuter trains arrive at stations once every 30 minutes and sometimes even to an hour at peak hours or heavy rain.

The KTM Komuter trains also suffer frequent breakdowns with many excuses ranging from power failure to mechanical problems. Thus, it is high time the government intervene to address this appalling state of affairs. KTM Komuter has enjoyed a relative period of monopoly in the railway business. However, that does not mean they are given the ticket to be complacent and incompetent in their service to the public.

One of the major reason why the KTM Komuter is so inept is their inability to cope with high ridership levels which have risen since 1995 and will continue to do so long into the future. However, the indecisiveness by both the KTM Bhd and the Ministry of Transport is to blame for the current state of the KTM Komuter service.

The KTM Komuter rail network spans 173km but has only 53 units (out of its original 63) to cover that kind of distance. With daily ridership of about 101,000, KTM's newest unit of the fleet was commissioned in 1997. That was more than 12 years ago. In other words, no serious steps were actually taken to cope with rising passenger traffic for more than a decade!

KTM announced on February 7 2008 that they will purchase 8 new commuter train sets (with four cars each) that will guarantee increased passenger capacity. Currently three car train sets are serving the route. And on May 2009, KTM said they will introduce eight EMU (Electric Multiple Unit) Hybrid trains by June to use as a temporary solution should any problem arise with existing trains or for peak hours.

The EMU Hybrid train is a set of existing KTM Komuter train which uses diesel locomotive power with the help of a Power Generating Car that provides electricity for the air-conditioning, audio/ visual system and train doors. Kind of defeating the purpose of having a electrified commuter service, ain't it?

Speaking from my personal experience as a commuter, I still have not seen any improvements to the daily cancellations, delays and overcrowded cars the service is notorious for. I believe many fellow communters share the same view.

Also, I find it very puzzling to see newer stations being added to the already inefficient line in the past 5 years when KTM itself do not even have enough trains to properly function for the existing number of stations. Having newer stations mean higher passenger loads and ultimately, longer delays as the trains need to stop longer and at more places in a day. With new trains not expected to arrive by 2010, how would KTM expect its current fleet to cope with the increased passenger traffic when these stations open?

Perhaps KTM should consider standardizing the amount of time a train takes to travel from one station to the next one. The distances may vary between two stations along the line but that can be compensated by either increasing or decreasing the speed of which the train travels between such two stations.

Also, the KTM could try setting a maximum amount of passengers per car for a train to avoid long boarding times. Since trains have to be at a certain time and distance apart from each other, longer boarding times at Station A could delay the entire line! Current KTM policy (from personal experience) suggests that the driver should attempt to sardine-pack as many passengers as possible before embarking. This, I believe, has a multiplying effect on train delays.

Of course, to ensure all of the above could be carried out effectively, KTM must ensure its trains are all rail-worthy and well maintained to avoid unnecessary mechanical or electrical failures. But above all, having additional trains to ease the pressure should be the priority if the KTM wants to be able to handle the ever increasing passenger volume in years to come. KTM cannot expect its decade-old and limited number of trains to continue ferrying the masses to the city centre for the long haul.

Former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi famously took a one-hour journey on the KTM Komuter and the LRT. He said he was not satisfied with the rail services and wanted immediate improvements to be made after listening to complaints from fellow commuters and experiencing the horrendous service first hand. He told reporters the following:

“I just saw the plight of people using the trains to get to work every morning. They were jostling to get on board every time a train arrived. There appeared to be no system."
“There were many more suggestions given me by the passengers for my attention. I (Badawi)will strive for improvements, I will propose changes.” [The Star, 21/8/08]
Proposing is one thing. Actually getting it to happen is another.

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