June 3rd, 2012

Design, test, inspire

EXPERIENCE is invaluable. Or so says convention. But I argue that it's better to have an uninhabited mind ready to challenge. That's why I bring fresh engineering graduates to work at Dyson's facilities in Senai, Johor. We challenge them, giving them every chance to succeed. And the space to make mistakes.

I was given a chance as a graduate, thrown in at the deep end (literally) on a project to design a boat -- a flat hulled, high-speed landing craft called Sea Truck. Jeremy Fry, who entrusted me with the challenge, taught me the value of trying and failing. He insisted that I go outdoors, get my feet wet, and build models to prove my ideas.

In 1972, I came to Malaysia to sell the finished vessel. It was well received for its speed and ability to land directly onto beaches. What I didn't know was that 30 years later I'd be back to set up our manufacturing plant in Johor. Today we employ almost 1,500 people in the region developing some of our most exciting new technology.

James Dyson

We give young people opportunities, early and without overbearing guidance. But we also try to encourage them to follow in the footsteps of others. We recently brought a Skyhawk jet to Dyson as part of an exhibition on design and engineering heroes. It sits in front of the building, surprising but also inspiring.

The Skyhawk owes a debt of gratitude to the perseverance of one of my personal heroes: Frank Whittle. Whittle created the first ever turbojet engine during the 1930s, despite those around him insisting his idea wouldn't take off. He persevered and even 70 years later, his invention is the driving force of modern aviation.

There are lessons to be learnt from many of engineering's greats. Japan's Soichiro Honda began with a question. "What's new about this design? What's different?"

He would go on to invent the Honda A-Type motorcycle. Its patented, manually operated transmission mechanism was revolutionary for its time.

Instead of being embarrassed by failure, he embraced it. "Success represents the 1 per cent of your work which results from the 99 per cent that is called failure." Dyson engineers aren't afraid of failing. We test our designs and they fail. But we know that it's just a part of getting to the final product. In Malaysia, almost half the space in my 13,000sq m facility is used to run tests. The tests are not part of end stage quality control. Rather it's a part of the design and development of a machine.

That's the message my foundation communicates when it holds workshops in Malaysian universities. The James Dyson Foundation encourages young engineers to be fearless in their approach to design and engineering. They apply the same methods my engineers use at Dyson -- sketch, build, test, rebuild. Often, ideas end up on the scrap heap. Occasionally though, there's a spark of genius.

We run an annual international design award to support the young inventors who will shape Malaysia's innovation future. Last year, Rapid Energy Deployment System (REDS) by a group of four students from the University of Nottingham's Malaysia Campus was the national winner.

An ingenious idea, it looks to solve the problem of how to get a temporary energy source into an emergency situation. Like food aid, a large box with solar panels is deployed into the disaster area providing a vital power supply. Simple but effective use of existing technology.

It took me 5,127 prototypes and 17 years of development from the day I discovered cyclone technology for use on a vacuum cleaner to the day I launched the world's first bagless vacuum cleaner in Japan.

Whittle, Honda and other engineering heroes will inspire. But it will still be a long journey to success. To paraphrase another great inventor, Thomas Edison, "it's 1 per cent inspiration and the rest, perspiration."

By James Dyson
Source: New Straits Times Columnist 02 June 2012

Once upon a time, the caned waned

NOT LA-LA LAND: If we think hard enough, and are honest, we’ll see why many deserve the rod

A WISE and wizened traveller comes upon a land fair and friendly, but greatly troubled by an illness of misconduct in its institutions of "learning".

He enquires of its citizenry at a town hall, and is told the lords take counsel every now and again, and deliberate at length, yet cannot claim a remedy acceptable to all.

Some in the hall favour the cane and the pain which is its venom, for in this way were they brought up and much good has come from the lacerations of the soul and skin.

But clever men and those schooled in the science of the mind, of which many are there, think little good and much ruin will come from the rod. To the traveller, they say, "it is barbarous, and has no place among men who call themselves civilised".

And then charlatans come about these rival assemblies, and add their weight to one side or the other, as is convenient. The discerning visitor notes that their numbers are not few, and wonders if this society is not disproportionately supplied in intellect and idiocy.


Now, even as the disputation grows deafening and hearts become harder, the old man strokes his wiry beard and asks, "But what is the nature of these offences that invite such wrathful strokes. Is there no other less painful way to inter indiscipline".

A voice from the first group cries, "Alas, we have tried. But little has come of it. The transgressors cannot be cured with mere words and gentleness, although it is the fashion of many in these times to claim to the contrary".

Swiftly comes the rejoinder from the other side: "Your ways are old ways. We cannot use the cane any more to teach, for it does not. Begone with you."

The traveller is greatly distressed, and asks yet again, "Why punish?"

There falls a hush, and then he is told by one and many as all the tongues in the hall find common cause in shared shame: "They are disrespectful to their teachers and masters and rules. They cuss and shout and expect no reproach."

"They do not do their assignments for they are lazy. Instructions mean nothing and do nothing to change them. Harlots are better."

"Oh, such utterance makes you like the transgressor yourself," says the old man. "But, carry on with your grievances. Only, leave out the foul words."

Thus a citizen continues: "They detest punctuality. How may they learn, how may they truly understand values if they cannot be loyal to the least of things?"

"Fights are not uncommon among them. Ruffians and scalawags they are, bruises and blood and brutes are their bosom companions. Only to a cane... only to its power will they bend as it does when it cuts them, if only for a while," says another with a tremble in his voice.

"Nay! They are miscreants but they are human beings, not animals. Their minds are malformed, but not beyond reform. If they fail, it is because we have failed to teach them!" shouts one of the obviously clever ones from atop a table where he stands.

In this hall of little furniture and many people, of commoners and aristocrats, the traveller takes pause, breathing lightly and waving his staff so that all eyes are set on him.

"From what I hear, you suffer anguish beyond measure at the deeds of your students in your schools. I cannot comprehend this, for whence I come all who study are refined. There is no need for the cane, and little in the way of any other correction."

"I can only say you have quite adeptly deceived yourselves upon your facility in the teaching of young minds."

At these words, a wave of astonishment sweeps and stays upon the faces of the people, for suddenly, they realise that he does not truly understand.

One man steps up to the wise traveller, and this he does say: "Old one, the ills we speak of do not come from our children, but the adults. Us. The institution of fathers and mothers. Of teachers and writers. Of labourers, lawyers and the lords. The experts and the ignoramuses.

"We are the ones who do the wrongs. Things maybe not foul of the law, but wrong nonetheless and make us as indisciplined children."

The traveller wrings his hands and says: "Then the adults must first take courage and cane themselves... let the children be, for their misdeeds, if any, are merely the seeds of your own sins."

By Davis Christy | davidchristy@nstp.com.my 
Source: New Straits Times Columnist 03 June 2012 

Fading art of letter writing

TURNS OF PHRASE: You never know where your missives will lead

FOUR decades ago, we looked forward to a man who came to our house on most days around the same time, except weekends. He used to ride a bicycle with a bell attached to it. He was  the friendly postman.

Nowadays, with all the Internet gizmos, we hardly get anything interesting from the postman (the bicycle has made way for the louder and faster motorcycle) except official letters, unwanted mail or bills. A sad development indeed.

As I am currently living in the countryside, I am stepping back in time as the postman here still cycles and he is the regular guy in the neighbourhood, who everyone knows by name. His bag, plumped with letters, is green.

When I was in my teens, the Internet was unheard of. The only way to live life outside the familiar was through books, movies and letters. Books and movies still entertain us now but letters from pen-friends belong to the dinosaur age.

I had a friend whose sister had put an advertisement in a European music magazine in the 1970s and she received hundreds of letters from curious Westerners who wanted to know what was happening in this part of the world. Needless to say she had to sift through the letters to select the pen-pals she would keep. So, her sister brought the rest of the letters to school and distributed to all who would like to have a Western pen-pal. I chose an Irish one.

We corresponded for years, exchanging information about nasi lemak, coconut trees, lamb stew, river dance and leprechauns. A letter would take seven to 10 days to arrive. Then the letter would be read and re-read. Usually it would be written on very thin writing paper if sealed in an envelope or on an aerogramme.

Letter writers were usually stamp collectors as well, so I would carefully cut around the stamps and soak them. For special occasions, like birthdays, we would send little gifts. I remember sending a small pewter plate to my pen-pal. Sometimes the gifts would go missing and we would accuse the postman of stealing them.

The topics in the letters were varied and innocent, ranging from things that happened in the classroom, in town and in the family. The most exciting part, perhaps, was when photos were exchanged.

There were also miscommunications. Once, when my pen-pal saw a beautiful rainbow, he casually wrote and asked whether I had seen a rainbow in Malaysia. Mortified, I explained to him in great detail how a rainbow is formed and Malaysia being in the tropics has plenty of rain and sunshine. He was talking about the aesthetic and I the scientific.

He sent me a lock of hair (which I still have today) and I sent him mine, which he said would make a fine paintbrush. He was merely stating a fact about the strength of black Asian hair but I thought he was totally like the romantic Hollywood film star. Through it all, letters that were much awaited for forged a great friendship.

So lately, I decided to find out whether the art of writing letters to pen-pals still exists. I looked through a family magazine and was surprised that there was a whole page dedicated to making friends, not so much friends overseas but within Ireland itself. What caught my eye was the way such advertisements are worded these days.

Now there are short forms everywhere: WLTM (Would Like to Meet), SD (Social Drinker), GSOH (Good Sense of Humour) and ALA (All Letters Answered), to name a few. Most of the advertisements are very amusing and appear sincere enough. The age of people seeking pen-pals could be anything from 20 to 80.

One advertisement read: "Single soft-spoken man in his 60s seeks sincere lady for companionship with a view to marriage. Lives a quiet life. Has car. Can go for rides."

I could not help but suppress a smile at the mention of the car and going for rides, which to me is not exactly like owning a private jet and going for flights. I later found out that because most of these people live in the country, having a car and going for rides is seen as a treat and a getaway from the mundane.

However, pen-pal advertisements in a local newspaper are completely different. With the exception of a few, most of the people in the advertisements are seeking a fun time, and for floozy relationships with no strings attached.

The long and short of letter writing is that it is very rewarding. As we celebrate our wedding anniversary this month, I know that it was not by coincidence that I married the same pen-pal from Ireland so many years ago.

By Dr Koh Soo Ling

Discipline with care

It's not the cane that matters, but the right essentials of bringing up children

WHEN the current generation of parents and grandparents look back to their schooling years and the halcyon days of their childhood, the ones who turned out all right will see a time when school indiscipline was not a very serious issue; when children were generally well behaved; and when teachers took the responsibility of being in loco parentis (standing in for the parents) seriously.

Teachers were good, but firm; and if or when children misbehaved, it was because they were naughty, not bad. Those who turned out all right will recall (with relish) how the school meted out "six of the best" -- public canings in front of the entire school -- and how no one was any the worse for it.

And so, it is probably in this nostalgic light that the National Parent-Teacher Association has asked the government to bring back caning in schools. Public caning was banned in 2004 and limited to only the head teacher or teachers specifically authorised by the head teacher to mete out caning. The National PTA wants caning to be extended to ordinary teachers, who would wield the cane as and when the need arises. And, they want parents to also be allowed to cane their children at home. So far, the law minister has dismissed the idea, on the grounds that it would be a regressive move.

Many forget that caning was not the be-all and end-all of discipline. It was a small part of the whole of bringing up a child; for caning means nothing if the child has not been taught correct behaviour, and has no good role models in life. It was a sign of severe disapproval from a person who was already very well respected.

Yet, wielding a cane did not give a teacher or a parent authority or respect; that was something that had to be earned in that person's capacity as a parent, an educator and a human being. In the happy past, parents and teachers were a cohesive tag-team when it came to bringing up and disciplining children. In fact, many children who were caned in school were then caned again when they got home, as punishment for being caned in school. But if children turned out all right, it was not because of the cane; rather, it was because there were people in those children's lives who cared enough to take corrective action when the children strayed.

And, most of the time, the corrective action was not caning, which was only the last resort. So, before reminiscing further on the alleged effectiveness of caning, people should first consider on what the essential elements of bringing up a child properly are, and whether these have been met.

Source: New Straits Times Editorial 03 June 2012 

Let’s see more transparency to instil public confidence

THE Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is finalising a proposal to require members of the Cabinet and the civil service to declare if any of their family members are applying for government facilities.

This commonsensical step follows from an existing regulation requiring civil servants on a project approval committee to declare and recuse themselves if a relative is applying for the project.

These requirements are neither contradictory nor redundant but complementary. They make sense in avoiding any conflict of interest and the taint of complicity.

As the adage goes, those who are not guilty have nothing to hide and thus have no reason to obstruct such regulations. All upright individuals should encourage and welcome them.

Public officials serving the public interest must expect to be publicly accountable. Fairness and due process are vital in the judicious discharge of their appointed functions.

Proper conduct in the public domain must not only be done as standard operating procedure, it must also be seen consistently to be done. Public confidence in the nation’s institutions deserves to be protected.

Transparency in such cases simply means abiding by a standard course of openness. It will help dispel undue suspicions of improper conduct, while a lack of transparency only encourages the opposite.

Subjecting such official procedures to greater scrutiny does not mean that deserving members of the government or the civil service will be excluded from meaningful consideration.

But it does mean that a clean record of the award process for opportunities and entitlements will be maintained.

Furthermore, including the proposed new clause in the Public Service Code of Conduct will also mean that those who have been awarded the government facilities are truly the deserving ones.

The larger issue here concerns the standard of governance popularly deemed acceptable.

As society develops, these standards inevitably rise, reflecting a more mature polity.

However, the efficacious execution of these requirements also demands more by way of specifics.

Clear criteria need to be spelt out for the level or scale of the government facilities requiring declaration. There should also be no doubt about who constitutes a “family relative”: the distance from the immediate family must be defined.

With clarity instead of ambiguity, there should be no excuse for misunderstanding, misconduct or misplaced suspicions. More work is needed for better work.

The Star Says 
The STAR Online Home News Opinion Sunday June 3, 2012

Let’s celebrate life by sharing our joy and sorrow

HERE is an equation that you will not find in any mathematics book – A joy shared is multiplied, a burden shared is divided. There is something similar in a Swedish proverb that says, “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow”.

I first heard it more than 10 years ago at a gathering to celebrate the retirement of a friend from the teaching profession.

Her husband used it to illustrate the kind of impact his wife had made on so many lives, from the students she taught, to the teachers she worked with.

He spoke about how his wife, a biology teacher, would beam with joy each time her student achieved something and shared it with her.

Although she taught her fair share of bright young sparks with their strings of A’s, her joy overflowed in the heartwarming stories of the problem students who gave their best and transformed their character under her charge.

She always had time for others and it was only natural that her students and colleagues turned to her whenever they were in trouble. And sharing their burdens with her always helped, hence the second part of the equation.

Over the years, this couple has taught me a lot about life. Though past their mid-60s, their post-retirement life is amazingly full and they astound me with their energy and passion.

While the wife continues to pour her heart out to inspire teachers ne­­ver to give up on their students, the husband is out there visiting the elderly and the sick, often with his trusty old guitar strung over his shoulders in case they want him to sing.

The wife was in Penang recently for a conference and a mutual friend, also a former teacher, shared with me: “She has touched so many lives with her fire and passion. And she remains steadfast, immovable, al­­ways abounding in good work, knowing that her labour is not in vain.”

I could not agree with her more.

Many people, unfortunately, do not believe in sharing, be it good or bad news.

There are some who feel that if they share good news, they may come across as being boastful. Some just do not want to share any form of bad news because they are afraid of being harshly judged.

I recently edited a book of short stories which rejuvenated my belief that sharing is indeed a powerful testimony. There were heart-wrenching stories of those who went through trials and tribulations; extraordinary stories of blessings in ordinary situations; and simple tales from young people struggling with college or work.

Editing the book while I was going through my own medical journey, I am thankful that I was not alone, and that others too had difficult mountains to climb.

And I was especially blessed by those who shared good news, because we often take such sharing for granted.

Telling your wife she is wonderful, thanking your boss for the promotion, or smiling at the toll collector are ways we pass on the blessings in our life.

As I mentioned in my column last week, life is certainly not a bed of roses. But if we learn to share our moments of joy, the multiplier effect can be tremendous. Likewise, when we share our burdens, things will not look so bad after all.

Mathematicians look at numbers to arrive at a perfect solution. We must look at life and embrace our imperfections.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin is thinking of how the hills can come alive with the sound of music, as he heads to Fraser’s Hill for a break over the weekend.
Source: The STAR Online Home News Opinion Sunday June 03, 2012

Having a firm grip

The Chinese revolt in Sarawak has failed to dislodge Tan Sri Taib Mahmud and more Chinese seats may fall but the irony is that he is the super glue holding the Sarawak Barisan Nasional in place.

THE men in Kuching say that the secret to Tan Sri Taib Mahmud’s rather spritely looks is his young trophy wife Puan Sri Ragad Kurdi Taib.

She is a Kim Kardashian lookalike and her exotic looks and luxe style have given Taib’s ageing image a fresh lease of life.

The Sarawak Chief Minister turned 76 in May and his birthday banquet was a black-tie event held at the State Legislative Assembly complex. It was the grandest birthday celebration since his first wife Puan Sri Laila Taib died of cancer in 2009.

His daughters Hanifah and Jamilah were there on the stage, holding on to his hand as he cut an elaborate birthday cake. Guests received souvenir mugs bearing the official portrait of the couple.

He looked healthy and happy, and Ragad, who has shed some weight, looked as ravishing as ever. It has been more than a year since their nuptials but the couple still behave like a honeymooning couple. He often feeds her morsels of food while those around them look on in awkward fascination.

As Taib’s birthdays had been quite low profile for some years, some saw the big do as a sort of new phase in his life and a video screened during the banquet seemed to suggest as much. The video was a down-memory-lane account of his career, and what a career it has been! This is his 31st year as Chief Minister and next year will be his 50th in politics.

But as some of those at the banquet noted, there were lots of scenes in the video showing him and Ragad, but none at all of his late wife who had been by his side throughout his political career.

Taib seems to have put the humiliation of the losses suffered in the State election behind him as he prepares to face the general election.

Sarawak is no longer the solid fixed deposit that it was made out to be. More seats are expected to fall and predictions of losses for Barisan have ranged from six to 12.

But Taib’s own party, Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu or PBB, is set to repeat the clean sweep of seats in the general election as it did in the State polls.

The same cannot be said for the other three parties in the Sarawak Barisan Nasional.

The Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), the biggest loser in the State polls, is expected to lose more seats to the DAP.

Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) can no longer take the native vote for granted.

As in last year’s poll, peninsular parties like DAP and PKR will be making an aggressive play for Sarawak seats in the general election.

Taib is aware that the Chinese are not with him but he will go on his own terms and when he is ready. Besides, the opinion is that the big loser in the State polls was not only the SUPP but also the Chinese voters. The Chinese thought they were voting out Taib, instead they have voted themselves out of the Government.

“How the Chinese feel about him has become irrelevant, there’s no point talking about it anymore. He is still the Chief Minister,” said a Sarawak journalist.

New compromise

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has been around long enough to know that you cannot push a man like Taib around. All talk of Taib going has died off and there seems to have been a new compromise between the two leaders.

Some say the two men have reached an understanding. What is apparent is that the Federal side will not press Taib about retiring and he will do what is needed to deliver in the general election.

When Najib was in Sarawak last month, Taib hosted a dinner for him in his palatial official residence on the outskirts of Kuching. Insiders said it was a significant gesture because he would usually have held it in a hotel.

Taib is somewhat like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in that it is hard to elicit praise from them. As such, Taib drew public attention earlier this week when he said Najib has the capability to deliver and the vision to lead the country.

In the next breath, he slammed Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as someone who had caused “problem after problem” and had stood in the way of development in Sarawak during his time as Deputy Prime Minister. It was a double compliment of sorts.

Najib has also been working to iron out the friction caused by the contest for the SUPP leadership. The friction was not just because of Miri MP and Federal Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin Fah Kui defeating Sibu SUPP warlord Datuk Wong Soon Koh for the presidency but also the fact that Taib had preferred Wong over Chin.

Taib was also displeased that Chin had sought Najib’s blessing to contest. As a result he viewed Chin as “a federal candidate”.

Taib is known for his imperious manner and for months after the SUPP election, he ignored Chin. His glaring absence at the SUPP Chinese New Year open house was a pointed snub of Chin’s leadership and became the talking point throughout the next 14 days of the lunar festival.

Taib claimed he could not make it because he was tired and busy yet he spent the next three days in Miri, Sibu and Bintulu visiting the homes of politicians and some of the biggest tycoons in Sarawak. The first house he dropped by in Sibu was that of Chin’s rival, Wong. It was a big loss of face for Chin.

At a dinner hosted by the Sarawak Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry a few days later, he shook hands with everyone lined up along the red carpet except Chin. The snub, said a journalist at the event, continued when Taib omitted Chin from the honorific during his speech.

When he returned to the VIP table after the speech, he again tried to ignore Chin’s outstretched hand until Ragad tactfully nudged her husband’s hand towards Chin. Even then, it was more a brush of hands than a handshake.

Talk of the town

But the tensions are slowly easing. When Najib flew into Sibu last month, he brought along Chin and there was a major photo session where Najib, Taib, Wong and Chin were featured holding on to a symbolic “unity rope” woven by the Orang Ulu.

The talk is that Najib has struck a truce between the two camps and asked the two rival SUPP politicians to work together for the sake of the coalition.

Since then, Chin and Wong have made statements talking about putting up a united front against the opposition. It remains to be seen whether the “unity rope” will hold or break.

As for Taib and Chin, they are not exactly on the same page yet, but winter has thawed into spring between them.

But the talk of the town in recent days has been the emergence of the Sarawak Workers’ Party (SWP), a new political party led by Larry Sng. Sng’s father is a former MP and assemblyman and his father-in-law is developer tycoon Tan Sri Ting Pek Khiing.

The emergence of SWP is quite typical of the bizarre twists and turns in Sarawak politics and there is more to it than meets the eye.

For a start, SWP has been declared Barisan-friendly and is widely believed to have the tacit blessing of Taib. Sng, 33, used to be part of the State Government until he was sacked from PRS after falling out with PRS president Datuk Seri James Masing a couple of years ago.

But Taib is reportedly very fond of Sng and had appointed him Youth Special Adviser after the State polls. That was a slap in the face for Masing.

Bigger troubles lie ahead for Masing, however.

Jaws dropped when Sng announced that his party would be contesting in all the six Parliamentary seats contested by PRS in the election.

A grudge fight lies ahead but more than that, it is apparent that SWP was formed to take on PRS in the election, finish off the party and to rival its place in the Barisan.

Masing has evidently fallen from grace with Taib and speculation remains rife about the “sin” he committed against the latter.

Whatever the reason, his party is in the danger zone. And Sng, given his close ties with Taib, is the man to watch in the months ahead.

Sarawak politics has not been this complicated in decades.

According to political analyst Dr Jeneri Amir, this general election will be the toughest that the Barisan has ever faced.

“It’s not only the Chinese seats in the town areas, but I think the opposition will also make inroads in the rural heartland,” said Dr Jeneri.

The days when Taib romped home with near-clean sweeps are over. The DAP has grown very ambitious and is preparing to be the big winner again.

DAP politicians have been on Taib’s back, reminding him of his retirement plans. At the last State Legislative Assembly, Bandar Kuching assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen demanded to know when Taib was stepping down.

Taib snapped at him: “I am not going to tell you because it is our private affair. When the time comes, I will announce.”

DAP is looking to add another four or five Parliamentary seats to its current two. But it may not be able to hold on to Sibu, the seat that State DAP chief Wong Ho Leng won in the 2009 by-election, due to several developments.

The Barisan is planning to field Temengong Vincent Lau, the local paramount leader who, according to local banker Dr Gregory Hii, is quite well-liked and respected in Sibu.

“Ho Leng has also been perceived as rather high-handed in his political style after his party did so well last year,” said Dr Hii.

Sarawak politics has changed irrevocably after the last State election and it is unlikely Taib would want to endure another State polls and another bruising round of attacks.

But he is not the type to be dictated to. He is used to doing the dictating and he will decide when to go.

Several years ago, his deputy Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang, in a birthday tribute to the Chief Minister, said he wished he could clone Taib so that Sarawak would never be without him.

It was a brazen case of apple-polishing and many people cringed in distaste.

Anyway, Taib has no wish to be cloned and he knows that he has overstayed his welcome. He probably feels his age even though his wife makes him feel young again.

But as some in the Sarawak media have pointed out, the irony is that Najib and the Barisan still need Taib to be around for the general election because Sarawak’s most powerful man still has the ability to deliver the seats.

Insight By Joceline Tan Source: The STAR Online Home News Opinion Sunday 03 June, 2012 

New blood in old wounds

Nothing sustains an insurgency better than unresolved old grievances revived by young militants with no effective representatives, as Thais learn.

VIOLENCE in Thailand’s southernmost provinces Patani, Yala and Narathiwat erupts sporadically, growing more faceless and intractable.

Officials say they cannot comprehend the motives behind the violence, or whether they are political, criminal or personal in nature. Apparently random shootings and bombings target everyone.

As successive governments fumble for answers without success, the senseless violence deepens and broadens indefinitely.

Don Pathan, director of Foreign Relations of the Patani Forum, recently discussed these issues in an exclusive interview during the Asean-ISIS annual Asia-Pacific Roundtable hosted by ISIS Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.


> How is the current security situation in the southernmost provinces?

The situation hasn’t changed. After the March 31 attacks in Yala and Haadyai, we can expect more violence with more high-profile targets.

The issue is still separatism. Young people on the ground are now selling their skills in making car bombs and motorcycle bombs to civilian (criminal) elements.

The activists had earlier gone underground, with the leaders going to Europe. They resurfaced in 2001, but this was not recognised until the 2004 army depot raid (the raiders stole 400 M16 assault rifles).

Bangkok’s response was typical: sealing the border and putting some districts under curfew, but nothing changed. Some 5,000 people have been killed so far, with most of the perpetrators and victims Malay-Muslim. The groups are Pulo (the more established Patani United Liberation Organisation), BNPP (Barisan Nasional Pembebasan Patani), and BRN-Coordinate (Barisan Revolusi Nasional). There is no unity among these groups. But the BRN has the best working relations with government officials.

Until there is a commitment by the Thai government to the peace process, they won’t come to the table.

> On the concept of “human security”:

That’s such a vague term. The issue is to give communities in the south a stake, a sense of empowerment.

There has been much talk of autonomy, but all the parties promoting the concept did not get a seat in Parliament.

The southern communities are concerned with equality and justice, and they have lost faith in Bangkok politicians.

Chinese and Buddhist votes in the south have traditionally gone to the Democrat party. The Malay-Muslim votes are split, with many going for the Democrats as protest votes against Thaksin Shinawatra (the former premier who lost favour over his rough handling of southerners).

> On the Patani Forum:

It began as a group of young people, academics, Malay-Muslims and those on the ground (in the southernmost provinces) seeking to push the envelope in talking about the grievances that local communities have. Unless the historic grievances are addressed, we cannot solve the conflict.

It is not about Islam but about Thailand’s nation-building concept, which has no room for the Malay-Muslim narrative (culture, history, traditions). This narrative has to be respected to get to the heart of the problems.

The issue is centred on the legitimacy of the Thai state in the Malay-Muslim homeland. These communities are willing to be part of the Thai state (Thailand), but it has to be on their terms.

The Thai military can wipe out the pejuang but in one generation, they can be back. Their narrative has never gone away.

> On international criticism of Thailand’s human rights record:

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group have criticised the Thai government over the deep south.

There is a culture of impunity on the part of government officials. They have to do a lot more in the rules of engagement, for example.

Currently the burden of proof is on the victims (of the political violence) to prove that the violence they suffered had been committed with malice. But people in the local communities see it differently.

> On comparing the records of different Thai governments:

They are more or less the same, using the same bureaucratic means. They need to think outside the box and be more creative in finding solutions.

This involves the need to address the identity of the local communities and acknowledging their cultural space.

> On alleged “hotspots” said to inflame public sentiment against the Thai state:

The madrasah (Islamic religious schools) are not the problem. There is more talk on the liberation of Patani in local teahouses than in localmadrasah.

In the April 2004 incident in Songkhla, for example, the cell involved people from different madrasah, but they were from the same football team.

This shows that the social sphere of the activists is more important than formal institutions like their (religious) school.

> On how to bring the situation under control:

The Thai government needs to negotiate with the people, not just the insurgents. There has to be a sense of ownership (by the communities), a need for the government to acknowledge the past, and to admit to mistakes made.

Autonomy has been discussed by Malay-Muslim elites and academics, but local people are more concerned about social mobility, equality and justice.

There is no short-term solution. There should be a development plan to produce more Malay-Muslim professionals, for example.

Officials have given local communities livestock, but that doesn’t change the issues. It is seen as a way of looking for informants in the community.

Local Malay-Muslims may not agree with the insurgents’ violence, but they share the same sentiments.

Civil society groups should be more active in demanding greater cultural space for the local communities.

If the Thai state itself did that, it would have more legitimacy among local communities.

> On how Malaysia and others can help:

Malaysia would like to facilitate a peace process, but not mediate. There has been cooperation in areas like education and job skills training.

There can be more work with the exile community. More can be done to strengthen the capacity of the old guard and long-standing groups, such as the secret Langkawi talks.

Younger insurgents need the old guard because they have no other way out, but the old guard who can work with the international community must also show they can deliver.

Thais are starting to appreciate the goal of an Asean Security Community. Asean can encourage the Thai government to loosen up its approach.

As in Malaysia and Indonesia, inclusive nation-building that involves minorities can be an example for Thailand.

Behind The Headlines by Bunn Negara Source: The STAR Online Home News Opinion Sunday June 3, 2012

From ethnic to civic nation building

Civic nation building can help realise the full potential of all citizens.

IT is time for Malaysians who love this country to ask ourselves this fundamental question: Do we wish to live together as a nation, with common memories and common dreams? Or do we want to prove the pundits of 1957 right that the ethnic and religious divide of this country would eventually see it fall apart.

That the ethnic and religious faultlines of Malaysia are bursting at the seams cannot be denied. The increasing reports of violence and intimidation against political opponents – be they in party politics or in civil society – and the inability to discuss contested issues on race, religion and politics in a rational and balanced manner are ominous of what is in store in the heat of the upcoming elections.

We are a society polarised and the divide is getting wider by the day – the Rukun Negara, Vision 2020, Islam Hadari and 1Malaysia notwithstanding. Why?

About two weeks ago, I attended the inaugural lecture by Dr Muthiah Alagappa for the Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies, established at ISIS Malaysia and funded by the Noah Foundation.

He spoke on his current research topic which is relevant to the state of our nation – “Nation Making in Asia: From Ethnic to Civic Nations?”

Nation making, says Muthiah, may take several forms but at base, there are two approaches. One is on the basis of ethnic or religious community and the other on the basis of citizenship, equality, and commitment to a political creed. The first may be called ethnic nation making and the second, civic nation making. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive. They share some common elements like historic territory and common culture but they also have distinct features. Citizens’ interests take centre stage in a civic nation. Group beliefs and interests dominate an ethnic nation.

Muthiah made the point that ethnicity has dominated nation making in Asia. And through a survey of China, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Malaysia, he concludes that this mode of nation building is fast running its course.

Much of what he said helped me to understand why we are in the muddle we are in today. More importantly, he offered a way out. To move from ethnic nation building to civic nation building. Actually to return to our history where once political leaders like Datuk Onn Ja’afar and Tunku Abdul Rahman, like other men of their generation, Nehru in India and Soekarno in Indonesia, who opted to build a civic nation out of multi-ethnic states.

Muthiah asserts that nation making on the basis of ethno-nationalism has been the cause of numerous domestic and international conflicts in post-World War II Asia. Core ethnic groups in control of state power engaged in constructing nations and states on the basis of their own ethnic groups. The core ethnic group develops and deploys state power to protect, remedy, and promote its values and interests including language, culture, demographic predominance, economic welfare, and political dominance. Political and other mobilisation, state institutions, and non-governmental organisations are developed to sustain and reinforce the national imagination of the core ethnic group and its domination of the state.

Their “nationalising state” strategies marginalised other populations residing in the country, provoking counter imaginations of nations also based on ethnicity, leading to violence and proliferation of demands for new nation states in China, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.

Ethnic nation making leads to conflict and violence for several reasons, asserts Muthiah.

First, in multi-ethnic countries, constructing nations on the basis of majority communities implicitly or explicitly led to the formation of minority communities and their destruction or marginalisation. These groups became apprehensive about their futures, stimulating alternative conceptions of nation as well as imagination of new states in which minority communities would become the state-bearing nations. The demand for new nations and states led to violence and war as seen in Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and Pakistan.

Second, ethno-national imaginations in homogenous populations were non-accepting of divided nations and of the idea that one nation may support more than one state. The quest for unification of divided nations and the effort to achieve congruence between nation and state were primary causes of inter-state wars in Asia, for example, the Koreas and Vietnam.

Third, ethnic nation making challenged, modified, and in some cases undermined civic nation making, fostering internal conflict in those states.

Fourth, ethnic nation making polarised populations, making them intolerant and unaccepting of plurality and diversity. The forging of a cohesive national community became much more difficult, if not impossible.

Further, Muthiah asserts that if ethnicity continues to dominate nation making, nations will not command the loyalty of all their citizens and national political communities will remain divided and brittle. Asian countries would remain weak as modern nation-states, and unable to realise their full potential. And despite the growing material power of Asian countries, the dream of an Asian century will remain just that – a dream.

Muthiah acknowledges that ethnicity is deeply embedded in political organisation, mobilisation and governance in Asian countries and will not be easily dislodged. Attempts to do so could also provoke counter reaction and violence.

He admits that while civic nation making is not a panacea, it appears better placed to cope with diversity and the challenges of modernisation as well as manage and resolve domestic and international conflicts. He therefore proposes that governments and civil society take mitigating actions by overlaying ethnic conceptions with features of civic nation that emphasise territory, citizenship, and equality.

The civic nation building approach has the potential to enhance the legitimacy of the nation and state in the eyes of disadvantaged and minority groups without negating them in the eyes of the ethnic core. It can help realise the full potential of all citizens. Increased legitimacy of nation and state will help ameliorate conflict, making for increased stability, domestically and regionally.

In countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan that are ethnically homogenous and in multi-ethnic states like India and Indonesia, national communities are held together not only by ethnic consciousness but also by political loyalty to a higher ideal, obligations and rights.

Muthiah believes that Malaysia was envisioned as a plural nation with the Malay nation as its nucleus. That conception had ethnic as well as civic nation dimensions. The ethnic dimension related to the special position of the Malays and Malay rulers, as well as the position of the non-Malay populations. The civic dimension emphasised citizenship by birth and naturalisation, democracy, and the constitutional basis for the Malayan nation and state. That blend of ethnicity and civic features in nation making came to be characterised as a historic bargain, the social compact. Over time, however, the plural and civic nation dimensions of nation making in Malaysia weakened, with ethnicity becoming paramount in the post-1969 period.

Apprehension, alienation, mistrust and polarisation grew as emphasis on race, ethnicity and religion dominated the body politic.

Today, 55 years after independence, we are debating the very fundamental foundation of the Malaysian nation: should it be based on ethnicity, religion or be trans-ethnic and trans-religious as advocated by the founding fathers?

For me, the answer is clear. An ethnically and religiously diverse country cannot continue to survive as a nation state in peace and prosperity without all of its citizens feeling a sense of belonging and pride in the nation, and imagining a common national identity and a shared destiny.

Legitimacy and support for our socio-political order and in our institutions must be grounded in consent, not coercion. As an ever expanding educated urban middle class demand rights on the basis of citizenship, change is inevitable. The challenge is to recognise and manage these new realities by strengthening the civic foundations of this multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. I believe there are enough Malaysians, enough history and enough wisdom here to make civic nation building possible.

Sharing the Nation By Zainah Anwar  Source: The STAR Online Home News Opinion Sunday June 3, 2012 

From the cradle to college

From homework and hobbies to reading and drawing, parents play a crucial role in a child’s learning ability and overall development.

THROUGHOUT his childhood, graduate student Lau Chia Sheng had earned his collection of Gundam action figures and radio-controlled cars from his father as promised rewards for his stellar report cards.

“It is little wonder that I am working a lot on car engines these days. I have my dad to thank for instilling in me an interest in automobiles at an early age,” said the 27-year-old.

Lau said he could not have made it this far without the support of his parents who motivated him to work hard towards his goal of obtaining overseas scholarships.

GIFTED CHILD: Five-year-old Reese has a fascination for architecture and loves to play with Lego sets.

“When I was 11, my dad told me that I had to study hard to build a future for myself because he did not have a family business to pass on to me. His words were etched in my mind as I was growing up.

“From a young age, I realised that I could make my parents proud by excelling in my studies and getting a good job,” said Lau.

From homework and hobbies to reading and drawing, parents play a crucial role in a child’s learning ability and overall development

His childhood aspiration was realised when he subsequently received two scholarships.

The first was a Nanyang scholarship to study engineering at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He is currently wrapping up his PhD research in biodiesel technology at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

My dad praised us whenever we did well while my mum taught us at home instead of sending us to tuition classes. — CHIA SHENG

Lau recalled: “My dad used a rather gentle approach in encouraging my siblings and I to study. He praised us whenever we did well and I was always looking forward to presents from him.

“My mum was more intense in her methods of coaching us at home. Being a teacher herself, she had high expectations from us to get good grades at school.

“She was very hands-on and would teach us at home instead of sending us to tuition classes when we were in primary school.”

In hindsight, Lau said the motivation to work hard came with maturity.

“As I got older, I realised that I needed to study for myself and not just to please my parents. Also, I wanted to get scholarships so that I would not burden my parents with having to pay for my higher education,” said Lau, who is following in his father’s footsteps of pursuing a career in engineering.

The role of parents

The Programme for International Student Assessment test in 2009 showed a strong association between parental involvement and children’s engagement in reading-related activities in the first year of primary school and their reading ability at age 15, regardless of the family’s socio-economic background.

Data collected from 14 countries showed that students whose parents had read a book with their child “everyday or almost everyday” or “once or twice a week” during the first year of primary school, had markedly higher scores compared to those whose parents read to them only “once or twice a month” or “never or almost never”.

Educational and clinical psychologist Selina Ding Wai Eng believes that parents or primary care-givers have the greatest influence on a child’s academic performance.

She said: “Parents who place a strong emphasis on academic achievement will gear their children towards the same goal.

“Children are good imitators. Those who have parents spending time with them on their school work are inclined to be more focused on their studies.”

Pride and joy: Dahdi and Leha with their children during the recent awards ceremony.

She said there are many ways in which parents can help their children develop their full potential – from teaching them time management to getting the best tutors and exposing their children to various learning opportunities, such as taking part in contests.

The benefits of parents reading with their children are well-documented. At what age can children start learning to read?

It all depends on the child, said Ding. “The usual age is two plus to three but there is no exact age.

“Children of different ages have different abilities to learn different things. Those who have high verbal reasoning abilities can speak more fluently and read faster than their peers.”

Her advice to parents is to abide by their children’s intellectual capabilities, pace and interests, adding that the “tiger mother” style of parenting could have damaging effects on children.

Yale University law professor Amy Chua stirred up some controversy last year with her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which advocates a strict learning regime with no playdates, sleepovers or tolerance for any grade less than an A.

In a scene from the book, Chua threatened to burn her daughters’ soft toys if they did not practise the piano for up to six hours a day.

Artistic flair: Mother and daughter bond over beadwork jewellery.

Said Ding: “Parents should not impose their own unfulfilled wishes on their children, such as expecting them to excel in exams, getting a paper qualification and securing a professional job.

“What makes matters worse is when they impose punitive parenting if their children do not study according to the way they have planned.

“If children are forced to learn something that is beyond their own capabilities and interests, it will be stressful to them. As a result, their self-esteem will be dampened and they will feel anxious and depressed.”

Patience is key

Most children learn to spell the seven days of the week by adding the syllables “sun”, “mon”, “tues”... to the word “day”. Despite drilling this into her then six-year-old daughter Cassandra Yeoh Shu Wen, homemaker Ann Yap Beng Yan was frustrated that she still came home with zeroes in her spelling tests.

“Even her brother who was sitting in his high chair at that time could follow by reading the letters and words aloud but Cassandra just couldn’t learn to spell. We speak English at home so it was a bit hard to believe that my daughter had so much difficulty learning the language,” said Yap.

At the kindergarten, the teachers noticed that Cassandra was constantly lagging behind her peers as she could not read and write properly.

Her parents became deeply concerned and sent her for medical tests to rule out any underlying physical condition.

Cassandra was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia.

“As parents, we have to be very patient and understanding with children who have learning difficulties,” said Yap.

Fortunately, Yap had become a full-time homemaker since her children were toddlers, so she was able to devote her full attention to Cassandra.

“At times, parents may get discouraged when teaching their children, but they must not give up easily,” said Yap.

She added that it is important for parents to build a rapport with their children’s teachers.

When the school term begins and Cassandra enters a new class, Yap would make appointments to meet with her teachers and talk to them about her daughter’s condition.

“I explain to the teachers my daughter’s problem so that they would be more understanding when she is slow in catching up in class.”

She said Cassandra dreaded going to school during her primary school years. The exam-oriented system robbed her of her confidence and she shied away from others for fear of being asked about her exam results.

Yap added: “Although Cassandra may not be the best student in school, she showed a natural flair for arts and design at an early age.

“Since she is very good with her hands, whenever she made a beautiful piece of handicraft, we would praise her to build up her confidence.

“And whenever the family goes shopping for home decor, we would ask for her opinion to make her feel important and appreciated.”

Cassandra has since blossomed into a confident 16-year-old who takes part in elocution contests.

With patience and a lot of coaching from her parents, she was able to overcome dyslexia and score seven A’s in the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examination last year.

Quality time

English tutor Florence Wong first became aware of the artistic talent in her son Reese Matthew Kam when he drew from memory a picture of Mr Fredrickson’s house from the Pixar animation Up at age three-and-a-half.

“Very few children know how to draw with perspective at that age. It was evident from the detailed visual perception in his drawings that my son is a gifted child,” said Wong.

Reese is a self-taught artist with his gallery of pen and ink drawings on famous buildings around the world proudly displayed on the walls of his study room.

Asked why there is a missing “e” in the Times Square sign on the famous New York City landmark that he drew, the precocious five-year-old replied that the sign was displayed on a moving screen.

Reese has not attended any drawing classes as his parents believe that children below the age of six should not be enrolled in art lessons.

Instead, he was given reams and reams of A3 paper, along with lots of colour pencils, crayons and colour ink pens.

“A lot of art schools have programmes to teach children to draw certain shapes and patterns. You can see that the artwork produced by the children in these art schools look like they come from a factory line.

“When adults instil their own brand of creativity on children, they will not discover their own style,” said Wong.

Seeing that their son is clever beyond his years, Wong and her husband have been careful to draw up a plan to help him reach his full potential.

“We invest heavily in books because my son is a fast reader. He enjoys our reading time together when we read books on science, the environment, history and fiction,” said Wong.

The family also watches documentaries regularly and the boy’s favourites are shows on buildings and architecture.

The key factor in bringing up achievers is for parents to spend time with their children, said Wong.

“No matter how clever the child, the input from parents is very important at the end of the day, because schools can only do so much in providing academic input.”

Wong said the trend in sending children to multiple enrichment classes is worrying as children get bogged down by their packed schedules.

“We now hear of children referring to ballet and swimming classes as ‘tuition’ when these are supposed to be fun activities. Also, parents should not expect others to do the job of educating their children,” she added.

Instead of spending thousands to enrol their children in enrichment classes, Wong said parents can achieve more if they spend more time in educational activities with their children.

Dahdi Kooh and his wife Leha Pakpot, who won the Orang Asli Excellent Parents Award recently, are shining examples of the fact that wealth has nothing to do with bringing up well-balanced, well-taught children.

The couple, both in their 60s, are enjoying the fruits of their labour, now that their eight children are successful in their respective careers.

Five of their children went to university, and some of them are working – as a police officer, teacher, lecturer, entrepreneur and doctor.

“Even though I am not highly educated as I only completed Year Three in school while my wife is illiterate, we always emphasised the importance of education because we wanted our children to have a better life,” said Dahdi.

Leha said her children grew up listening to her nagging at them to study.

“I don’t know how to read and write but that did not stop me from checking on my children’s homework when they came home from school. I always told them to study first before they were allowed to go out to play,” said Leha.

The couple’s eldest daughter, Nur Asiyah Aso Abdullah, said her parents constantly reminded her and her siblings that education would enable them to avoid a life of hardship.

“My mother used to walk us to the bus stop where we waited for the bus to go to school. ‘Study, study, study’ were the words that rang in our ears throughout the 1.6km walk from our house to the bus stop,” said Nur Asiyah.

By Kang Soon Chen educate@thestar.com.my 
Source: The STAR Online Home Education Sunday June 3, 2012 

Passionate and enthusiastic

Not many teachers enjoy a rural posting but young Jarod Yong has turned the tide in his favour.

ENGLISH was once an impossible subject for many students at SMK Katibas, Sarawak, especially when the language was hardly spoken at the remote school.

Very few students had ever scored an A for English in the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) while some had already given up learning the “Bahasa Orang Putih” (white man’s language).

But young teacher Jarod Yong was not going to turn a blind eye to the deteriorating standard of the language among his students.

Yong (in black) cultivates his students’ interest in the English language by injecting fun activities into the otherwise dry and predictable classroom routines.

He organised storytelling and spelling competitions, treasure hunts and English language nights.

His students performed the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale by the Brothers Grimm and danced to Korean pop group Wondergirls’s hit song Nobodyat English language night.

By injecting some fun into the otherwise dry and predictable classroom teaching routines, Yong began to see a growing interest in the language among his students.

The Kuching native, 27, says his students have become more confident conversing in English, especially those who have been learning with Yong since Form One.

“They can speak English fluently with me with the occasional Bahasa Malaysia when they don’t know the words in English,” he shares.

Teaching in rural Sarawak is not for the faint-hearted. Water is pumped from the river with the school’s pump and treated on site.

There is no mobile phone coverage. If you need to make a call using a mobile phone, you will have to search for reception near “hot spots” on elevated terrain, just like a ghostbuster.

And the best phones to do this with are the “low-end” phones.

The school generators work on a rotation system that lasts six hours each. If any of the generators break down, the school community will have no water because the pumps require a lot of energy to operate, says Yong.

“When that happens, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. We have to bathe and wash in the river or collect rainwater.

“It is better if it doesn’t rain because if it does, the river will turn your clothes brown and you will get a free mud bath,” he says.

The Internet connection relies heavily on weather conditions and user traffic.

Instead of dwelling on the school’s shortcomings, Yong works around and within the constraints using creativity and imagination to make the language fun and interesting.

Taking pride in his profession, the hardworking Yong tailors his lessons by including games, group work, activities, productions and presentations. These “extras” make the lessons lively and engaging.

He also revived the English Language Society and initiated the school’s first monthly English newspaper — The Katibas Global.

“My students love learning English and will often try to speak English with me outside the classroom, to the amazement of senior students who are unable to do so.

“In the end, the whole school got in on it and almost every student now attempts to speak to me in English,” he says.

Describing them as his “pride and joy”, Yong not only emphasises on passing the national examinations, he also focuses on character building together with other teachers.

“As mental health is related to physical health, I try to give them some exercise by jogging together.

“After the jogging session, I try to talk with them. Sometimes I chastise them, sometimes I praise them. I make it very clear what I expect from them both academically and discipline-wise,” he says.

While this may not be the best approach, Yong says he does it for a good reason.

“I do this because my students have no money or political connections. They depend solely on good grades for scholarships.

“Otherwise they are doomed to continue the vicious cycle of poverty that their parents and grandparents are going through,” he says.

For motivation, Yong dangles the carrot before his students. To those who score an A for the English subject in PMR, they will receive a fully sponsored three-day, two-night trip to Sibu.

Since 2011, the graduate teacher has sponsored four students each year.

“It may not be a lot to many of you but for a 16-year-old who comes from a humble background, a trip to Sibu would be the equivalent of a trip to Kuala Lumpur for a teen from Kuching or Penang,” he says.

Caring for his students is also a priority.

“I spend time with them, listen to their problems, provide avenues for their talents, buy them simple gifts and share the things I love.

“If you want them to learn the English language, you have to be a role model,” he says.

English is more than just the universal language of diplomacy, business, science and technology. It opens the door to more job and university opportunities, career advancements and increased earning power — as much as 50%, according to the World Bank.

By TAN EE LOO educate@thestar.com.my

Source: The STAR Online Home Education Sunday June 3, 2012 

A teacher’s role

FORMER Education Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Noor Rezan Bapoo Hashim will always remain a teacher at heart.

Whenever she meets young teachers, be it in the government service or in her current position as the education adviser and consultant with Khazanah Nasional Bhd, Noor Rezan always has this piece of advice for them — enter the profession with an open mind, teach with a passion and never teach just for the examinations.

“Teachers must remember that education is not about preparing students for exams. Their most important task is to educate the children and make sure they become independent learners,” she said.

Noor Rezan retired in 2011after 35 years in government service - first as a teacher in English and Geography, then as senior assistant and principal in several states before being appointed the ministry’s schools’ division deputy director in 2003 and subsequently as deputy director-general (Education Operations) in 2008.

(From left) Noor Rezan, Termuzi, Jamalliah, Lee and Thanaletchumy sharing a light moment after being honoured as Tokoh Guru.

When clocking out for the last time at the ministry, she said she would choose teaching again given a choice.

Prior to her retirement, she visited SK Ba Kelalan, one of two schools located in the interior of Sarawak which was named joint winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Education Good Practice Awards.

Noor Rezan said the method used by the school teachers to teach Science should be an example to others.

“Instead of copying the drawings from the textbook, the pupils in the school sat on a mat and plotted the star constellations. They will certainly remember the lesson very well because they were involved in the learning experience,” she said.

She stressed that teachers must not be obsessed with their rush to finish the subject syllabus in their lessons.

“A teacher’s role is to nurture students to be responsible, balanced individuals in society. The developed nations have realised the importance of achieving this goal and we must do the same,” she said.

In 1998, she set a record of sorts as she was principal of SMK Wangsa Maju, SMK (P) Air Panas and SMK (P) Puteri Titiwangsa in the Klang Valley. Later in the same year, she became a super principal in SMK Seri Bintang Utara. Although she served short stints in SMK (P) Air Panas and SMK (P) Puteri Titiwangsa, her expertise and experience in the teaching profession helped to turn around the performance of the schools.

Recently, Noor Rezan was honoured with the 2012 Federal Territory Tokoh Guru award together with former Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka director-general Datuk Termuzi Abdul Aziz, Jamalliah Rahmat, Lee Kam Wah and Thanaletchumy Ayanadian.

Retired headmaster Lee shared a similar view with Noor Rezan on the role of teachers.

“Teachers should instil good moral values in students. Even though we are now living in the ICT age, the core values of having respect for elders and obeying the rules should remain the same as the high number of criminal cases involving students is quite worrying,” said Lee.

Meanwhile, Termuzi urged teachers to embrace the evolving changes in information technology so as to keep up with their students.

“It was common for teachers in the past to use manila cards but the scenario is different now with LCD projectors being used. Students can be smarter than their teachers these days as they have more information at their fingertips. When teachers are preparing lesson plans, they should look for extra information on the Internet,” said Termuzi.

By KANG SOON CHEN educate@thestar.com.my Source: The STAR Online Home Education Sunday June 3, 2012 

The Indon experience

IN Jakarta, Indonesia, one of my favourite places is Loewy, a French restaurant located in the Oakwood premises. Seated outside, you can catch sight of the nearby JW Marriott Hotel. I have to walk past it to get to Loewy.

That is how I know that over there, security guards and sniffer dogs scan every vehicle that swings into the hotel’s driveway for bombs. It is a reminder that things can and have turned nasty before.

The Loewy is also a meeting place for the large expatriate community of men that work and live in Jakarta.

Here, a Sri Lankan top executive told me in a matter-of-fact tone, that it costs US$19,000 (RM60,000) a year to put his eight-year-old daughter through an international school in Jakarta.

Indonesian students standing outside a museum in Jakarta during a school trip.

There are two Malaysian students in her class and a good number of Japanese, Taiwanese, Koreans and Europeans. The teacher who teaches his daughter English is a British citizen.

Listening to him extol the virtues of the school she attends, I find myself thinking of the plight of the Indonesian students I had met that morning at the Jakarta Museum of National History.

What a far cry their fate was from that of this Sri Lankan girl whose father’s company paid for her education in Jakarta.

The local students I had talked to were junior high school students from a rural school in Tangerang, Jawa. Clad in their Boy Scout uniforms, they were respectful but could not speak a word of English.

Although they were 14-years-old and had been exposed to English (taught for three hours a week) throughout their primary school years, they collapsed into silence when I asked them some basic questions in English.

The Indonesian education system follows the 6 + 3 + 3 formula. There are nine years of compulsory education – six primary and three years junior high; and three years of senior high school.

I learned this from the Indonesian teachers who had accompanied the primary school pupils to the museum. Dressed neatly in uniforms topped with prim hats, and sitting on the ground, these children patiently took dictation from a tour guide hired to explain the history of the gedung (the museum building) they were visiting that day.

The teachers were themselves all dressed in Indonesian batik. They were all university graduates but confessed that their spoken English was too poor for communication. We conversed in Bahasa Indonesia instead.

Salary-wise, I was a little startled to discover that a teacher with 25 years of teaching experience there earns only half of what her Malaysian counterpart makes.

I wondered whether they were dissatisfied but they said “no”. For them, teaching was a respected profession. One told me she found it stimulating to teach the new generation of pintar (bright) kids.

“Besides,” said another, “wherever you go, or however much you earn, isn’t it important to cut your cloth according to your means?”

I had to agree. I am also aware that there are wide discrepancies between teacher pay and allowances between provinces in Indonesia. Centralisation has often been suggested.

On this particular trip to Jakarta, I was also fortunate enough to visit a local state school, called Sekolah Menengah Pertama Negeri (SMPN) 11. It is located in Kebayoran Baru, Jakarta Selatan.

By the way, “SMP” is Indonesian for junior high school.

Of interest to me was the fact that the teaching of Science and Mathematics in this school is bilingual.

I met Ghinva Kamalaputri, a 14-year-old Indonesian student who attends this school, and her classmate Fikri Abi. These students confirmed that while they were taught Science and Maths solely in Bahasa Indonesia in primary school, they switched to English once they began attending junior high.

They sit for two papers in these subjects – one in English and the other in Bahasa Indonesia. A compromise seems to have been struck somewhere. “It’s not a problem,” says Dhea, another student. Her English is slightly accented and judging from the Blackberry phone she carries, her parents are obviously well-to-do.

All of them work hard to obtain good grades in Science.

One of them wants to be an architect and the other two, doctors. They know how important it is to be proficient in English.

In many other ways, they are typical urban kids. Confessing to being Lady Gaga fans (or Little Monsters, as Gaga fans are called), they also shared how much they preferred teachers who are “warm, friendly, kind” and honestly, “not too serious”.

Abi’s confession that he had had some “killer” teachers in his schooling years made me laugh and Dhea quickly added that for her, it is teachers “with a sense of humour” who make her day.

Earlier, I had a good sharing session with their kepala sekolah(principal), Heryadi, who hails from Yogyakarta.

A man with 12 years of experience in leading schools, he has been heading SMPN 11 for a year and a half.

“To beat the macet (traffic jam), I have to leave my house in Jakarta by 5am,” he told me.

Having personally witnessed Jakarta’s traffic jams, I understood his practice of being safe rather than sorry.

Manning a staff of 62 teachers, 14 administrative personnel and eight cleaning staff, he is justifiably proud when he reveals that his school was recently placed eighth, academically speaking, in the district it comes under.

Of his teachers, all are university graduates, with two PhD holders.

Asked about the challenges he faces as a school principal, he told me that he finds the small minority of teachers who “lack commitment and professional etos (ethics)” hard to take. “A lot of effort goes into enlarging their vision,” he said sadly.

I thought the Indonesian expression — membuka wawasan guru(enlarging/opening up the teachers’ vision) — very apt.

As for the students, his main challenge lay in promoting academic and co-curricular progress despite the fact that they came from diverse backgrounds. Some are very well off economically and some rather poor. Some had parents who showed a high degree of kepedulian (concern) while some had absent parents or those who did not stress the importance of good study habits.

Listening to him, I could have transplanted him to a Malaysian school and not noted the difference.

While he was taking a phone call, I noticed how smart he looked in his long-sleeved Indonesian batik shirt. (Friday is Batik Day for them). Hung on a wall nearby was a framed copy of the memorandum of understanding and school partnership programme his school had recently signed with one in Bangkok, Thailand.

Standing up to read it at close quarters, I found that a whole year of programmes, beginning January last year, had been drawn up for the exchange of academic and co-operation efforts between the two schools. These included a common blog, student and teacher exchange visits, the sharing of test papers (English, Science and Maths), the outline of mutually-beneficial learning activities, as well as research and capacity building programmes.

Heryadi told me that, challenging though it may be, the country’s education system strongly encouraged English as the medium of instruction for Science and Maths, particularly for junior and high schools in Indonesia.

I met a Maths teacher later and he told me how he freely used a bilingual approach to facilitate understanding and smooth transition. “The students who can manage it do the subjects fully in English. As their teacher, my English is all right but I can do better,” he said seriously.

In Asia, the problem of proficiency in the English language is obviously prevalent. Unless you have enough exposure to the intricacies of its use, a teacher who is expected to teach in English will definitely face problems.

Even in Indonesia, the students who fare better in English at school are those who have been exposed to it at home or use it regularly outside school. The students I met in Jakarta, for instance, did not surprise me when they spoke better English than the ones I met from rural Tangareng.

Of note is this fact: In Indonesia, the bilingual approach in Science and Maths (in terms of resources, books, test-papers and teaching) has given both teacher and student a huge degree of freedom and personal choice. I respect that.

TEACHER TALK By NITHYA SIDHHU Source: The STAR Online Home Education Sunday June 3, 2012 

To right the wrongs

As long as one is willing to correct one’s mistakes, learning English can be a piece of cake.

PERSEVERANCE, practice and persistence are what it takes to be a superior communicator of the English language.

Besides that, not much is required except that one needs to be introspective. By recognising the common mistakes made in daily conversations and correspondence, learners can improve their grasp of the language.

All right

The term “all right” is two words, just like “all wrong”. Example: Is Jake all right after falling off that ladder?

It is traditionally incorrect to write the word group “all right” as “alright”, “allright” or “all-right”. Unfortunately, some dictionary publishers include the spelling “alright” thus causing confusion for learners.

A lot

There is no such word in English as “alot”. The term “a lot” should always be written as two words. Example: The gambler lost a lot of money betting on race horses.


The adverb “only” should always precede the word it qualifies. Example:Only the Premier can resolve this political factional impasse. — If onlyshe were here.

Real — really

The word “real” is an adjective that is used to describe a noun. Example: That was a real challenging experience.

The word “really” is an adverb that is used to describe or qualify a verb or another adverb. Example: I felt really well after my holiday at the beach.

It is incorrect to say: Jason is real sorry for crashing your motorbike. (really)

Some — any

While the adjectives “any” and “some” are usually interchangeable, these words should be used carefully in the context of a question.

It is incorrect to say: Where can I buy any batteries for my torch? (some)

It is preferable to say: “Have you any AAA batteries?” rather than “Have you some AAA batteries?”.

Such as — like

It is common practice to use “such as” for examples and “like” for resemblances.

Example: Some police officers, such as those who handle domestic disputes, need very good people-skills. — Those elderly neighbours arelike grandparents to my children.

An — a

A common mistake is to use the wrong indefinite article. To use “a” instead of “an” or “an” instead of “a”.

Example: I ate a orange for lunch. (an) — Can you draw an unicorn? (a)

The indefinite article “an” is always used instead of “a” before the vowels “a”, “e”, “i”, and “o”. Example: an apple, an eel, an ice cream, an orange.

When the following word begins with a “short u”, an is used. Example: anumbrella.

When the “u” sound is “long”, a is used. Example: a unit, a unicorn.

With unstressed “h-words”, an is used. Example: an honest man.

Pronouncing words with the neutral “uh” sound also causes indefinite article difficulties.

Example: Do you have a answer to my problem? (an)


The word “the” is called the definite article. Unlike the indefinite articles “a” and “an”, its function is to definitely or specifically refer to someone or something. Example: That is the car I want. — He is the captain of our team.

In contrast, “a” and “an” are more general in their reference to words. Example: I would like a new bike, ie. the bike could be one of many.

Similarly, in the sentence: I eat an apple every day, ie. any apple.

One of the mistakes made is to wrongly omit the definite article “the”. Example: That was only way to solve the problem. (... the only way...).

Another less commonly made error is to confuse the definite article “the” with the pronoun “they”. Example: They concert was really wonderful. (the)

Either or — neither nor

“Either” is always followed by “or”. “Either” should never be followed by “nor”.

Example: We can either go to the theatre or to the art show. The words, “either - or” and “neither - nor”, form what are called correlative conjunctions.

Both require singular verbs when used with singular nouns in a sentence. Example: Either a cat or a dog is an ideal pet for a child.

In contrast, when one or both the specific subjects are plural, the verb too has to be plural.

Example: Neither the dog nor the cats have been fed. — Either the parents or the students have to pay for the books.

It is a common grammatical mistake to use “or” with “neither”. Example: I like neither that blue tie or that red one. (nor)

Another common error is using a plural verb when two singular subjects are joined by “either - or” and “neither - nor”.

Example: Either David or Mica are going to mow the lawn as neither Peter nor Andrea were able to do it yesterday. (is...was)

Keith Wright is the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) — a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English. The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Programme (AEP) mentioned in this fortnightly column are now being used internationally to enhance the English proficiency of people with different competency levels. E-mail contact@4Sliteracy.com.au for a free copy of the PDF File on The 4S Keys To Plurals.

New assessment system for STPM

IN accordance with the Education Transformation Programme, starting from the year 2012, the Malaysian Examinations Council (MEC) will implement a new Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) assessment system to enhance the form six education programme.

Existing STPM examination system

The existing examination is conducted based on one-and-a-half years of form six studies, comprising the lower six form and the upper six form.

The 2012 STPM examination

In 2012, the examination will be conducted in two modes. The first mode is for students who are currently in upper six form and will be under the existing examination system.

The second mode is for lower six form students in 2012 who will be the first cohort for the new assessment system. They will take the first term examination in November 2012.

New assessment system

In the new system, the duration of form six studies is similar to the present system. The allocation of teaching periods remains the same: eight periods per week for each subject (one period = 40 minutes).

The subjects offered remain at 23 subjects which are General Studies, Business Studies, Malay Language, Accounting, Chinese Language, Mathematics (M), Tamil Language, Mathematics (T), Arabic Language, Further Mathematics, Literature in English, Information and Communications Technology, Communicative Malay Literature, Physics, Syariah, Chemistry, Usuluddin, Biology, History, Sports Science, Geography, Visual Arts and Economics.

The curriculum is divided into three parts based on topic areas. Each part will be taught and studied in either the first, second or third term. The total duration of study is one-and-a-half years.

Students’ assessments will be carried out each term with the results being released at the end of the term. The overall STPM results will be based on the best combined results of the three terms.

Soft skills such as communication skills, teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, problem solving, information management and ethics are included in the new curriculum.

There will be two forms of assessment: the School-Based Assessment (SBA) with a weighting of 20% to 40%, and the centralised examination with a weighting of 60% to 80% (the weighting varies according to subjects).

School-based assessment (SBA)

The SBA consists of project work, field study and practical work. The coursework question/task is prepared by the council and will be conducted either over three terms or as determined by the subject requirements. The assessment will be carried out by the subject teacher in government schools and government-aided schools. For private schools, integrity schools and individual private candidates, the examiner is appointed by the council.

The assessment moderation will be conducted by council appointed personnel at district, zone or state levels to ensure judgments of standards are comparable as well as a fair, valid and reliable assessment of students’ achievements. The council has also prepared a Teacher’s Manual and Student’s Manual for each subject as guidance and reference for all.


A centralised written examination is administered at the end of each term. Question papers are prepared by the council, and the marking of answer scripts will be carried out by council appointed examiners.


The grading system in the new assessment system is similar to that of the existing one. The score (at the question paper level) acquired by students for each term will be aggregated to determine the overall subject grade. There is no prerequisite minimum pass grade in each term for students to qualify to continue their studies in the following term.

Improvement of exam results

A special feature of this system is that students are allowed to improve on their first and second term results by retaking these term examinations at the end of the third term. Students who do not obtain satisfactory results for the third term may also re-sit it.


Through the new system, students will have a lesser curriculum load to study and have more opportunities to obtain better results. The introduction of SBA is in line with the aspiration of the Education Ministry to develop human capital. This is also consistent with the ministry’s vision to strengthen and make the assessment and evaluation system more holistic, with an emphasis on outcome-based education that focuses more on students and is less exam-oriented.

Standards and recognition

In these terms, the new system is similar to that of the present one. In general, the curriculum content has not changed. A representative from Cambridge Assessment (CA), United Kingdom will attend the Standards Setting Committee meeting to endorse the results.

The CA representative will give his opinion on the analysis of the examination results for each paper and a collective decision will be made on the standards.

The Student Intake Management Division under the Higher Education Ministry has been briefed on the implementation of the new assessment system.


The system is expected to strengthen and enhance pre-university studies in order to attract more students to take up the programme, and to transform the assessment and evaluation to one that is more holistic in nature. For more information, log onto the MEC’s website at www.mpm.edu.my.


Source: The STAR Online Home Education Sunday June 3, 2012 

New STPM syllabus ready for use

I refer to the article Form Six syllabus for Tamil subjects not ready yet (Other News & Views,The Star, May 16).

The Malaysian Examinations Council (MEC) is pleased to inform that all syllabus based on the new Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) Assessment System, including the Tamil subject, are ready and can be used by teachers and Form Six students for the 2012/2013 intake.

The council has issued a notification letter, dated Jan 27, regarding the implementation of the new assessment system, to all state education departments and schools which have Form Six classes.

The council has also distributed the syllabus to the Education Ministry, state education departments, government schools, government assisted schools and private schools.

In addition, the council has also uploaded the syllabus including the Tamil subject, on the council portal (
www.mpm.edu.my) on Feb 2, 2012.

All teachers and students may download the syllabus from this portal.

In the Form Six system, no textbook is used.

Instead, students will use the reference books listed in the syllabus throughout their Form Six studies.

On this matter, the council will ensure that the stated reference books are available in the market before the lower six form students begin their studies.

The STAR Online Home Education Sunday June 3, 2012