August 23rd, 2011

People who are friends in good and bad times are priceless

THE MAS-Air Asia alliance remains very much the talk of Corporate Malaysia. In the many analyses so far, the recurring theme seems to be about how erstwhile enemies are going to work together as friends.

My colleague used the Sun Tzu quote, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” to lead off the cover feature on the deal in StarBizWeek on Aug 13. Somewhere in the story, there is this quote by Tony Fernandes: “You don’t have to be an enemy forever, life is too short.”

Actually, there is not that much that separates the corporate world and politics as far as alliances are concerned.

In politics, it is said that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Politicians are fond of referring to their adversaries as “strange bedfellows” but will not hesitate to climb into the same bed if it suits their interests.

In the world of high-finance, bitter rivals can easily sleep on in the same bed, so long as it is good for the bottom line.

For some business people, however, friendship is not a word that exists in their vocabulary. Many good friends who go into business together learn the hard way that years of friendship count for nothing once the business issues get into the way.

A friend told me once that he will never hire me, or ask me to be his business partner, simply because he values our friendship too much.

I once met a man at a hospital as he was dying. He told me how he had pursued wealth and success at any cost. If a family member or close friend went against him, he would not spare them any mercy.

“But look at me now. I do not have long to live. But if I recover, I will surely be a different person. I will seek the forgiveness of those I have hurt. I will forgive others. I will give back to society. I will try not to be so nasty to people,” he said.

I was there to bring him a message from a former business partner who was somehow not able to bring himself to see him personally. He told me to tell him that he did not hold anything against him and to wish him well.

Tears came to his eyes. “I wish he would come and tell me this personally. I have done so much harm to him and his business. But he still thinks of me and is concerned for me.” I told him, “I hope and pray that you will both meet up and forgive each other.” They never did. He died one week later.

I was thinking about friendship this past week after a friend posted on his Facebook this simple reflection: “It has been said that everlasting friends go long periods of time without speaking and never question the friendship. These friends pick up like they just spoke yesterday, regardless of how long it has been or how far away they live; they don’t hold grudges. They understand that life is busy and know that you will always love them.”

Whether we want to admit it or not, sheer numbers of acquaintances in itself is no reflection of the number of real friends we have. Just ask anyone previously in a high position who has retired and he will tell you about the sense of “abandonment” that one feels sometimes.

Suddenly, no one is free for lunch or for teh tarik, one such person told me recently.

This is not to say that it is not possible to have real friends within working relationships. But it can only come about if we are genuinely concerned about the person, and not just the title he or she holds.

And the test of that friendship will come when you are going through a difficult journey, and he is there for you.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin is thankful for friends, near and far, new and old, who bring that special touch into his life, through good and bad times.

Source: Monday Starters - By Soo Ewe Jin Monday August 22, 2011

Eagle Story -Truly Motivational ! ( Interesting One )

Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, Not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. 

A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. 

It is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results. 

Let’s change to make a change!!! 

When it rains, most birds head for shelter;

the eagle is the only bird that, in order to avoid the rain, starts flying above the cloud. ...

Juliana Soon Siew Fuang via Malia Mam

English language: Encourage students to speak out in class

I AGREE with the letter "It all starts with teachers" (NST, Aug 16). The quality and the ability of teachers are equally important if we want to seek improvements in the way we use the English language.

As a university student, I can vouch for the fact that a good teacher will contribute towards producing a good student.

English is an international language. Therefore, there is no question of its significance.

Learning and mastering English is not easy, especially for those whose mother tongue is Bahasa Malaysia and who are raised in an atmosphere where all communication is in BM.

This group naturally does not have an interest in learning English.

This is where the teachers come in. They should apply various types of skills to make the learning of English interesting.

In Malaysia, most subjects are taught only for the purpose of passing examinations. For the English subject, the stress is on writing rather than speaking skills. To master English, one should be good in both writing and speaking.

Unfortunately, what I see now is that some students are good in writing -- for instance, they can write good essays -- but when it comes to speaking, they fail.

It might be due to lack of self-confidence. I believe that it is better for someone to speak English with incorrect grammar than not speak it at all. The listener could help correct the grammar and help the speaker improve. Practice makes perfect.

Freedom of speech should be applied in learning sessions. For instance, they should try to relate the learning process to current issues in the country. They should allow students to voice their opinions and views whether they are right or wrong. Just let the students speak as much as they can in English.

Teachers can start using newspapers to polish up students' skills. Ask students to bring newspapers and choose any article they like. This way, students will be more focused and pay more attention.

Then, ask them to highlight any word that they do not understand and try to look up the meaning in the dictionary. This will definitely widen their vocabulary.

This method had really helped me improve my English when I was in school.

The government's move to employ English teachers from overseas is a great idea. It will definitely help local teachers and students to be exposed to native English language speakers.

But at the end of the day, it is the students themselves who need to want to learn English because of the benefits it will bring them.

NOR MAHIRA MAHMOD, Rawang, Selangor

The NST Home Letters to Editor 2011/08/23

Feedback should be precise

EMPLOYERS give feedback to employees to increase their efficiency.

And trainers give feedback to trainees to improve their skills.
With respect to educational institutions, feedback is the process of helping students assess their performance and identify areas of their strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, it involves guiding them to improve on their weaknesses and sustaining their strengths.

Teachers are most often thought of as a source of feedback. However, a student’s peer can be an excellent source mistakes go uncorrected and good performance is not reinforced.

However, there are many barriers to providing effective feedback.
Although students are eager for feedback, they may be uncomfortable interacting with teachers and asking for it.

Also, since students’ self-assessment skills are not yet well developed, they may not know what questions to ask.

Many teachers have no formal training and feel uncomfortable giving specific feedback to students.

They have fear of “hurting the students’ feelings”, or they do not know how to translate their observations into specific and constructive feedback.

Consequently, feedback is often general and not helpful to students.

Feedback is not the same as criticism, which is driven by the frustration and fears of the provider, not by the needs of the recipient.

The underlying assumption is that the recipient somehow “should know better” and needs to be set straight.

In contrast, feedback has an approach of caring concern, respect and support.

Far from being a sweet chat, feedback is an honest, clear, adult-to-adult discussion about specific behaviours and their effects.

The assumption is that both parties have positive intentions and they want to do what is right for them, the profession and institution.

There is an art to giving feedback. If not done properly, or done with the wrong intention, recipients will take the comments as criticism and respond defensively. In teaching institutions the students may be asked how often they would like feedback, and a plan is developed accordingly.

To be effective feedback has to be “PRECISE”:

P — Positive and practical: For effective feedback a positive approach is fundamental. Feedback is a constructive process and both the teacher and the student have to understand its purpose.

Feedback is not intended to insult or demean and should be delivered in a non-threatening and positive manner.

It is often helpful to ask students to assess their own performance.
Often they will be harsher about their performance, which then allows teachers to be more positive in their approach.

When assessing performance, focus should be on what went well and what can be improved. Feedback is more effective if teachers and students agree on this assessment.

Some educators advocate the P-N-P (positive-negative-positive) sandwich approach to providing feedback. Begin with a positive statement, then give corrective feedback and conclude with another positive assessment.
However, the positive comments must be genuine, or the provider will lose credibility with the student.

There is no point in making suggestions that are not practical. Focus on what can change and make suggestions for improvements that the student is capable of implementing.

R – Relevant: The feedback should be relevant to the issue at hand. Give a clear and specific description, and avoid generalising. Keep it objective. Deal with the facts of the current situation. Describe the incident and provide a step-by-step plan on how the incident should have been handled.

E — Evidence-based: Good feedback is based on personal observations, not on hearsay. Be descriptive rather than evaluative and tell the student what you noticed or what has happened.

C — Constructive/
confidential: Feedback is meant to be constructive. It is intended to improve future performance, and should not be given for any other reason.

Preferably the feedback should be given in private, unless it can be given in such a manner as not to embarrass anybody.

Let the saying, “praise in public, punish in private,” be your guide.

I — Immediate/informal: It goes stale when left unsaid too long, so give feedback as close to the event as possible.

The best feedback occurs daily, not just at the end of the course. If done frequently, the comments will seem less like an evaluation, and more like helpful suggestions.

Excellent feedback given at an inappropriate time may do more harm than good. Often after a bad outcome, students are working through their own emotions, and are often quite critical of their performance.

At this time, brief feedback and emotional support are best, followed by more detailed feedback later.

S — Specific: Use precise language about what students did right specifically or what they need to do to improve. Students may momentarily feel good about themselves when you say “well done”. However, they will also wonder what specifically they did to earn your praise. Instead of saying“you are rough”, provide specific feedback such as “The subject appeared uncomfortable when you were doing the procedure.”

Remember to focus on the performance and behaviour, not on the person. Focusing on the behaviour allows a dispassionate dialogue with the student.

Often, the best help is not simply providing the information but also supporting students to come to a better understanding of the issue, how it developed and how they can identify actions to address the problem more effectively.

E — Encouraging: Before providing feedback, take a few moments to choose your words and confirm your intention that you are providing feedback to improve students’ performance.

Avoid evaluative language and end with encouraging words.

NB: Alam Sher MalikThe writer is Professor of Paediatrics and curriculum coordinator of the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Teknologi Mara. Email him at

The NST Home Learning Curve Article 2011/08/17

Education for creativity, not captivity

RECENTLY I had the honour of addressing a distinguished group of Malaysian scholars, administrators and teachers on the problem of reforming assessment practices in Malaysian educational institutions.

As is always the case with presentations on almost any topic, the speaker finds that he suffers the twin evils of either over-simplifying or over-complicating the topic.

He is caught on the horns of a dilemma and often seeks some safe middle path. Seeking the middle path is however a different thing from finding it and you are always haunted by the thought that you could have said this or that better or added or subtracted this or that to make the presentation more palatable, coherent and relevant.

Near the end of my presentation I briefly drew reference to the ideas of the late Professor Syed Hussein Alatas, author of the seminal The Myth of the Lazy Native

I introduced Syed Hussein’s important theorisation of the captive mind and its antithesis, creative development.

His critique of the captive mind was articulated clearly in two important articles, The Captive Mind in Development Studies, International Social Sciences Journal, Volume XXIV, Number 1, 1972, pp. 9-25 and, The Captive Mind and Creative Development, International Social Sciences Journal, Volume XXVI, Number 4, 1974, pp. 691-700.

The ideas in his articles provide an evocative way to understand the task ahead of us in reforming assessment and education.

The opposition he drew between captivity of the mind and creative development is a critically useful and insightful way for us to consider and reflect upon the nature of contemporary educational reform.

I drew upon his theorisation to help my audience think through the distinction between reform to educational assessment that is conducive to learning and lifelong growth, and a revamp that hinders creative growth and learning in students and teachers.

The essential argument I made was that for assessment practices to be useful and aid in learning they ought to ensure that they were animated by a commitment to learning as an ongoing formative and creative process. This stood in stark contrast to learning that was characterised by captivity, triviality and the rote repetition of knowledge without deeper forms of understanding and application.

My use of Syed Hussein’s distinction between captivity and creativity was generative and meant to solicit a reaction, engender debate and suggest that one of Malaysia’s greatest scholars of sociology, religion and history was also an educational thinker of the first order who provided us with a significant contribution to pedagogical theory.

Two things happened, however, to further inspire me to write on the significance of Syed Hussein to current educational debates in Malaysia in a more popular forum.

First, after I had delivered my paper, one of the participants congratulated me on my reference to Syed Hussein’s work. He wished I had made more of it in my presentation.

I immediately concurred recognising that Syed Hussein’s distinction between the captive and creative mind and his broader critique of intellectual imperialism stood out with equal force in the history of ideas of pedagogy to Freire’s critique of banking education or Illich’s critique of the consumer logic that underpins contemporary schooling.

Not only was Syed Hussein’s conceptual framework equally generative of insights into education as the former two great thinkers, his work was also located in a broad Malaysian context which provides us with an important pivot from which
to debate current issues in local education.

The second thing that happened was fortuitous. As usual in my visits to Malaysia I try to go to local book stores and see what’s on offer. Luckily for me I maintained my habit.

I chanced upon an interesting book written by Syed Hussein’s daughter Masturah Alatas titled The Life in the Writing: Syed Hussein Alatas. With chapter titles as thought-provoking as Because Said said So, My Father and Virginia Woolf and the excellent Sergio Leone, Captive Minds and Spaghetti Westernization I simply had to buy it.

What struck me immediately was the clear and elegant prose which was a joy to read. It reminded me that my sometimes opaque writing could do with a dose of clarity from time to time.

The thing that really gripped me, however, was its combination of knowing and empathic insight into Syed Hussein as well as its opening up of interesting intellectual issues and arguments. For example, the insight into what an exchange between the great British Marxist historian Victor Gordon Kiernan and the equally erudite Syed Hussein would have looked like reminds us of what we have missed out on in the history of ideas.

It equally reminds us of the significance and status of Syed Hussein’s writings as universally significant.

The discussion of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western genre referred to above is another valuable and appealing part of the book, which on the whole is well written, reflective and highly engaging.

Finally, the discussion about the early reception of Syed Hussein’s classic The Myth of the Lazy Native in Malaysia is highly suggestive.

I began this column with reference to an argument I have tried to make in regard to educational reform.

The argument in its essentials is that a core way to judge the validity of current reform proposals in Malaysia is to ask to what extent they would negate or reinforce the captive mind mentality critiqued by Syed Hussein.

I argued that even in our discussions about assessment reform we must take consideration of how our practices of assessment either encourage learning and ongoing development of our students or the extent to which they do the opposite.

The same holds true of teachers. Do they see assessment practices as a way they too can improve and creatively develop their teaching and their own learning?

A creative and innovative society, which is so often referred to by academicians, journalists and politicians alike, must have its roots in the depth of learning that occurs in our educational institutions.

The distinction between the captive mind and creativity articulated by Syed Hussein provides us with an interesting and instructive way to judge educational reform in Malaysia. It is a contribution that needs to be discussed more often and taken more seriously.

Both the conference participant, who offered some friendly advice, and my purchase of the Syed Hussein biography reminded me that engaging with the latter’s thoughts in discussions regarding educational reform is unfinished business.

I was reminded by the conference participant that I should have made more of Syed Hussein’s work in my presentation. He was right. Masturah’s biography reinforced this view for me.

Her biography also reminded me, among many other things, that clear prose combined with committed scholarship is something to aspire to.

There are not many times when a friendly criticism at a workshop and a chance find in a bookshop cohere to remind us of intellectual work to be finished. This was one of those times.

NB: The writer is a Lecturer in Education in Australia and author of Understanding Reform and the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Agenda: Discussion and Critique released by USM Press, 2010. Email him at

The NST Learning Curve Article 2011/08/17