June 3rd, 2013

The colonial era

AFTER setting up the first English-medium school in Penang in 1816, it was the Christian missionaries who were responsible for establishing Western-style schools in Malaysia.

At the turn of the 20th century, following the success of the mission schools, the British colonial government also decided to establish English-medium schools.

Like the mission schools, most of these English-medium government schools were located in urban areas. As such, while those in English schools may have enjoyed a healthy mix of students of all races, this option was limited largely to an elite group of well-off urbanities.

For the bulk of the country, schooling was sharply divided by racial lines, with Malays, Chinese and Indians mostly attending their respective vernacular schools.

Although the colonial government also set up Malay vernacular primary schools around the same time, these were clearly not of equal quality.

One paragraph found in an official British document, routinely quoted in academic research on the era, neatly captures the government’s attitude towards vernacular Malay education at the time: “to improve the bulk of the people, and to make the son of the fisherman or peasant a more intelligent fisherman or peasant than his father had been, as a man whose education will enable him to understand how his lot in life fits in with the scheme of life around him”.

Aside from a limited number of Chinese medium secondary schools, most secondary and tertiary education available used English as the medium of instruction.

Besides the limited opportunity for social mobility through education for pupils from vernacular primary schools, there was a wide gap in terms of gender differences as very few girls completed schooling at the primary school level.

Those from English-medium schools had a much better chance of gaining civil service positions or entering into commerce and business fields.

Critics say that the move was driven more by economic need and paternalism rather than the idea of social mobility for the locals.

As one Western researcher put it, the purpose of English medium-schools was to provide clerks and subordinate staff for the colonial bureaucracy.

PRIYA KULASAGARAN educate@thestar.com.my The STAR Online Education Sunday June 2, 2013

Building a nation (pre-Independence to 1957)

AFTER World War II, educational opportunities increased with the setting up of more English-medium and Malay-medium schools.

However, there was still a significant urban-rural divide in terms of access to English-medium schools and reports at the time noted a relatively low level of support for Malay-medium schools, especially in rural areas.

The first step taken by the colonial government to establish a national education system was with the Barnes Report in 1951.

The report called for all primary schools to be bilingual, using both English and Bahasa Malaysia, and students would go on to English-medium secondary schools after six years of free primary schooling.

This drew strong opposition from some quarters as it was felt that non-Malay vernacular education was completely sidelined; Chinese educationists endorsed the Fenn-Wu Report, which advocated a trilingual system using Bahasa Melayu, English and Chinese.

As the country geared for Independence, the Razak Report in 1956 sought to lay the foundation for a national education system with nation-building aspirations.

It proposed two types of primary schools based on the main medium of instruction; “standard schools” which used Bahasa Melayu, and “standard-type” schools which used either English, Chinese or Tamil. The report also proposed a new “assimilated national type” secondary school for all with English as the medium of instruction.

Chinese and Tamil vernacular secondary schools that converted to the new model would receive government financial support while the rest would be allowed to continue as private entities with partial government aid.

The STAR Online Education Sunday June 2, 2103

The language debate (1958 to 1969)

THE major education review in this period was the Rahman Talib Report in 1961, which was incorporated into the Education Act of 1961.

The report called for all publicly financed secondary schools to only use either Malay or English as the medium of instruction.

While Malay-medium secondary schools were free, English-medium secondary schools required tuition fees.

Both English and Malay were required in examinations to enter secondary schools as well as for post-secondary education.

The Chinese and Tamil languages were to be taught as separate subjects if required, and remove classes were introduced for students who were entering secondary schools from vernacular primary schools.

Chinese secondary schools meanwhile, had to change to either Malay or English as the medium of instruction, or risk losing public financial assistance.

By the mid-1960s, then Education Minister Abdul Rahman Ya’akub initiated a programme to convert the medium of instruction to Bahasa Malaysia. The race riots of May 13, 1969 further accelerated this idea.

In July 1969, as Malaysians were still coming to terms with the events of May 13, the Education Minister announced that English would cease to be the medium of instruction in any school from 1970 onwards.

It has been said that the language policy was the most controversial aspect of education policy post-1969, as Malay-language nationalists pushed for the greater usage of Bahasa Malaysia while non-Malay language proponents reacted by campaigning for the retention of their mother-tongue languages and their respective vernacular education.

The STAR Online Education Sunday June 2, 2013

The end of English (1970 onwards)

Going one grade at a time, most English-medium primary schools in the country had changed to Malay-medium schools by 1975, while the conversion for the secondary level was completed by 1983. Schools in Sabah and Sarawak meanwhile, only started the conversion process in the mid-1970s.

Teachers from English-medium schools were offered courses in Bahasa Malaysia to cope with the conversion, but not all could manage the sudden switch in policy. Some even opted to become English teachers despite lacking the specific training to teach the language.

There was still a significant divide between the changing English-medium schools and other schools.

A “DropOut Study” carried out in 1973 concluded that most of the children of the poor attended vernacular schools while parents from wealthier and urban areas were more likely to send their children to English-medium schools.

As one local researcher noted in 1976, the perceived “higher status” of English-medium schools was still an allure to Malaysian parents even as the conversion process was ongoing: “The physical conditions of the English medium schools, the facilities available therein and the type of teaching staff they have, contribute to making the English-medium school the prestige school in Malaysian schooling system.”

The STAR Online Education Sunday June 2, 2013

Special Need's Children : They've right to inclusive education

THE National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) would like to highlight the plight of children with special needs who are denied access to inclusive education. We recount real-life stories of children (names changed to protect their privacy) who struggle through an education system that marginalises them on the basis of their disabilities.

Ibrahim's story

Ibrahim is a delightful boy who has autism. Autism is a condition where the child has difficulties with communication and social interaction. Most children with autism have a normal IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and the potential to succeed in school.

Ibrahim is a good example. He is currently in Form One in a regular government school. Unfortunately, he is repeatedly misunderstood by teachers and peers.

They keep saying he is "inattentive" and does not focus on the teacher. Hence he receives "demerits" and is sometimes physically punished (caned). This is despite repeatedly writing to the school and explaining his situation to his teachers since primary school. They still fail to understand that he is not ignoring the teachers or being stubborn; Ibrahim has autism.

Recently, the school authorities referred him back to the Paediatric Specialist Clinic again, requesting that Ibrahim be registered as an OKU (Orang Kurang Upaya), so that he could be transferred to a special education class.

It is important to note that Ibrahim was placed 130 of 240 in the school's entire Form One examinations! Out of sheer frustration, we requested the school to send all the other children who scored lower than Ibrahim (all 110 of them) to be registered as OKU before we considered registering him.

Murali's story

Murali is a cheeky young man with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). DMD is a muscle wasting condition, affecting boys, which usually presents itself around 5 to 7 years of age, with progressive muscle weakness.

Most sufferers will need to use a wheelchair by 12 and their lifespan is 18 to 25 years. Despite knowing what his future holds, Murali's parents have worked hard to ensure a reasonably good quality of life for him and that his needs are met both at home and in the school. This has meant carrying him into the class, buying the aids he requires, taking him to the toilet at school, etc.

Recently, Murali sat his Penilaian Menengah Rendah examination. We wrote to the Education Department requesting that he be given a little extra time as his hand muscles have, by now, been affected. Murali is no longer able to lift his arms and his ability to write has been impaired.

Despite these difficulties, Murali scored 3As and 4Bs in the examination! This is remarkable, considering the fact that the invigilator refused to grant him extra time despite his handicap.

Worse still, when Murali needed to go to the toilet assisted by his parents, the invigilator refused him and Murali wet himself while doing the examination paper.

It is hard to understand such uncaring teachers but look at the unyielding spirit of this child. Imagine what results he could have achieved if he was supported just a little. Often the rationale behind the refusal is: "We have to be fair to every child" despite the fact that a child like Murali did not have a "fair chance" to begin with.

Amanda's story

Amanda is a 5-year-old girl with Down's syndrome. As soon as Down's syndrome is mentioned, many people, including teachers, have doubts about future educational prospects.

But there are many exceptions, and Amanda is one. Despite being born with Down's syndrome, Amanda is functionally better than many children her age. She can read and write in two languages and outperforms her kindergarten classmates academically.

You may wonder how this happened. Well, Amanda has teachers who allow her mother to sit in and support her learning. The problem is how will this work out when it's time to move on to primary school? Amanda does not belong in a special education class; she is well able to cope with the regular classroom curriculum provided she is given the appropriate support.

What Amanda needs is a system that will take into account her learning needs, supporting her, and including her in every sense of the word, i.e. an inclusive system. This may mean being in a class with a low student-teacher ratio which is able to provide better personal attention to individual students.

It would be ideal to have the support of a teacher aide, or else allow Amanda's mother to be in the classroom. The reality is that few schools offer such support and most are not keen to have a parent/teacher aide in the class.

Educating children with special needs in segregated settings contradicts the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008, which stipulates that these children shall not be excluded from the general education system on the basis of disabilities.

The recent Malaysia Education Blueprint reiterates an inclusive education policy for children with special needs. Regrettably, however, implementation of such an inclusive policy creeps along at a negligible pace.

As our stories illustrate, just a little support would have gone a long way in helping these children realise their true potential.

Ibrahim, Amanda and Murali are not alone. There are many children with similar special needs. Helping or pitying one or two of these children with intermittent financial gifts won't help much. We need a system that involves all who surround special needs children to be supportive, to make the school environment more supportive.

Sarah's story

But we want to close on a more positive note -- the success story of another child, Sarah -- that illustrates how easily a supportive school environment can be created.

Sarah is currently in Year Six in a regular primary school (normal class). Sarah has a normal IQ, is reasonably functional and has autism. However, she does have social impairment and does not fully appreciate all the social situations she is faced with.

So what made the difference? Sarah's headmaster is a gem. As soon as he became aware of Sarah's condition, the headmaster rallied support around her. Teachers and classmates were made aware of her needs, helping her with the daily routine of school life, like helping her to copy down her assignments correctly, helping her to articulate her needs, etc. Not surprisingly, Sarah is doing well academically and, what is more important, she has found a home in this school.

There are teachers and headmasters like Sarah's in our education system but they are always not supported well by their peers. We need countless more such individuals to cope with the many children that should be in the system.

None of us can make it alone. We all need support. But when even the minimal basic support cannot be offered to children with special needs, it means we have failed to include them. We have failed those who most deserve our support.

It is not the child with special needs who needs to change; rather it is the system and the teachers who surround the child who need to change.

We cannot emphasise enough: include the child with special needs in the regular classroom. This inclusiveness is not just physical but also educational.

The teacher aide training programme to support a child with special needs in normal class is long overdue. We must progress towards the inclusion of all children, with different abilities and needs, into our education system so that they will be accepted fully as part of our society.

Datuk Dr Amar-Singh (president and consultant community paediatrician), Dr Wong Woan Yiing (secretary and consultant paediatrician), Dr Toh Teck Hock (member and consultant paediatrician, National Early Childhood Intervention Council

New Straits Times Letter to the Editor 31 May 2013

Men or Women The Better Boss? : Values are not gender-specific

INSTEAD of asking who would make better bosses, it would be better to ask what traits would we look for in a boss.

Today, norms and paradigms have changed. Human traits are no longer gender specific.

We have been made to believe that pride, guts, arrogance, confidence and aggressiveness are predominantly masculine characteristics, while humbleness, sensitivity, gentleness, adaptability and kindness are feminine.

It is true that most male bosses have "traditional" feminine leadership traits and most women bosses have taken on the arrogant, aggressive approach. They have switched traits.

Male bosses are generally kind, understanding, compassionate and sensitive to their employees. They listen to their subordinates and work together.

Female bosses are generally tough, rude, assertive and domineering to prove a point that they are capable of doing the job.

Apart from that, they adopt aggressive leadership styles to keep their male subordinates in check and remind them that they are in charge.

Some of them could have low self-esteem and lack confidence, so they are pushy and bossy.

Most primary and secondary schools have women as heads, assistant heads and heads of panels, and they often rule with an iron fist.
They are generally feared and uncompromising in their work.

A good boss should be flexible, understanding, consistent and transparent.

There should be no favouritism towards anyone.

Bosses should not listen to tales about colleagues and make hasty judgments.

Everything should be discussed and communicated openly.

Many of us spend a lot of time at work. It is important that our workplaces and bosses do not stress us. Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.

Male or female, an ideal boss is one who should be firm yet gentle and fair, and adheres to a defined set of rules and values.

Samuel Yesuiah New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 02 June 2013

The Mind and Education: Holistic schooling is the way to go

IN explaining the "right brain" function in learning, Md Yusof Ibrahim ("Provide know-how to use it efficiently" -- NST, May 29) defined the meaning of education from the Latin word "educere", which means "to draw from within".

He also said "the goal of true education must be to provide the know-how to utilise the brain efficiently". I agree. Since the start of formal education after the 1800s, there have been mixed views about education. Two schools of thought have persisted.

Supporting education, Albert Einstein said: "Never confuse education with intelligence". Many agreed with this notion.

On the other hand, John D. Rockefeller, who started the General Education Board, said: "I don't want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers".

This disparity still exists in education. Is education or schooling the issue?

It is recorded that in 1913, Frederick Gates, in writing for the Rockefeller Foundation, said: "We work our own goodwill upon a grateful and responsive rural folk.

"We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or of science. We are not to raise among them authors, orators, poets or men of letters.

"We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor will we cherish even the humbler ambition to raise from among them lawyers, doctors, preachers or statesmen, of whom we now have ample supply."

Moved by what Frederick wrote, the NEA (a labour union of public school teachers) in 1914 passed a resolution.

It stated: "We view with alarm the activity of the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations -- agencies not in any way responsible to the people -- in their efforts to control the policies of our state educational institutions, to fashion (them) after their conception, to standardise our courses of study, to surround the institutions with conditions which menace true academic freedom and defeat the primary purpose of democracy as, heretofore, preserved inviolate in our common schools, normal schools and universities."

Recent research on literacy levels in the United States has revealed that about 46 million adults have below-basic quantitative literacy, 30 million below-prose literacy, 27 million below-document literacy and 15 per cent have extreme difficulty with reading and comprehension.

The word educere was found in Shakespeare's writings in 1588. Prior to that, home-schooling had existed in Asia. In India and China, education was the means to achieve moksha (enlightenment). Learning was done under a guru.

Educators of Islamic education in the madrasah also adopted an integrated approach using scriptures, science and the humanities. After the 1600s, the madrasah and monasteries lost their glory.

The "input-output" manner of teaching has slowed down brain activity. To utilise the brain effectively, the Asian method of "input-process-output" is more relevant. In multicultural Malaysia, incorporating this should be easier under a single system of schooling and education.

Mena Jeyaram, Subang Jaya, Selangor New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 03 June 2013

Malaysia's constitutional monarchy still relevant

IMPARTIALITY: The Malay monarchs are traditionally more national than communal in their outlook compared to racial-based political parties, writes Dr Paridah Abd Samad

THE first Saturday of June is mandated by the Malaysian Constitution as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's official birthday. It is not every day that a Ruler gets to inherit a monarchy twice in his life, but this was experienced by Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah. The 84 year old assumed the Malaysian throne in accordance to this country's electoral monarchy system.

Sultan Abdul Halim was the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for the first time in 1970. This is the first time in Malaysian history that a Ruler became head of state for the second time. He is not only Malaysia's 14th King, but also its oldest ever.

Although the role of king in Malaysia is largely ceremonial, he is looked upon by Muslim Malaysians as a symbol of Islam. He is also seen as the upholder of Malaysian traditions.

The King's greatest role is to ensure there will be no cruelty and destruction to the people and to the country.

At both federal and state levels, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the states' Malay rulers are theoretically constitutional monarchs. Unlike the figureheads who stay above the fray in the Bagehotian sense, the Malay monarchs are, however, tasked to protect the interests of the Malays and Islam.

In theory, this could compromise their impartiality in the context of ethno-religious conflicts. In reality, free from electoral pressures to play communal champions, the Malay monarchs are traditionally more national than communal in their outlook compared to racial-based political parties.

Since the existence of this constitutional monarch, the political conflicts involving the Malay rulers are in fact not inter-ethnic but rather intra-ethnic, between them and the politicians. Before Malaya's independence in 1957, the Malay nationalist party initially defended the royals and the feudal order opposed by the Malay leftists who were much influenced by republican Indonesia.

Malaysia is an example of an elective monarchy, in which the supreme head of state, or "Yang di-Pertuan Agong", is elected to a five-year term by a "Conference of Rulers" who hold a secret ballot. Malaysia has acquired 14 Yang di-Pertuan Agong for 56 years since 1957. This explains the inconspicuous and the low profile of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong compared to life-long monarchs such as Emperor Akihito of Japan, Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, ex-King Norodom Sihanouk and even King Abdullah II of Jordan.

In Cambodia, kings are chosen from all candidates of royal blood by the "Royal Council of the Throne".

Today, Cambodia has a new king, but, he holds little of the power that ex-King Norodom Sihanouk once wielded. Instead, a poor farmer's son and one-time communist commander, strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen, now occupies the dominant position that Norodom Sihanouk represented for years.

Sihanouk's death raised questions about the future of the country's royal institution, but Cambodia's monarchy continues to flourish.

King Sihamoni has grown into the role of figurehead, presenting himself as a less volatile symbol of the Khmer nation and national reconciliation. The new king has proven a worthy successor.

Under Brunei's 1959 constitution, the Sultan of Brunei is the head of state with full executive authority, including emergency powers, since 1962. The Prime Minister of Brunei is a title held by the Sultan. As the prime minister, the Sultan presides over the cabinet.

Between 1925 and 1979, Iran was ruled by an emperor who used the title of "Shahanshah". The United States was responsible for putting an end to democratic rule in 1953 and installing what became the long dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Shah.

His dictatorship ended with the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that brought to power a passionately anti-American theocracy. Its radicalism inspired anti-Western fanatics in many countries, most notably Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda and other terror groups found homes and bases.

These events serve as a stark warning to the United States and to any country that ever seeks to impose its will on a foreign land. Governments that sponsor coups, revolutions, or armed invasions usually act with the conviction that they will win, and often they do.

Their victories, however, can come back to haunt them, sometimes in devastating and tragic ways. This is especially true in today's complex and volatile Middle East, where tradition, history, and religion shape political life in ways that many outsiders do not understand.

The violent anti-Americanism that emerged from Iran after 1979 shocked most people in America, who had no idea of what might have set off such bitter hatred in a country where they had always imagined themselves more or less well liked. This also explains a great deal about the sources of violent currents now surging through the world.

Besides Iran, we may compare this with Singapore in which the majority of population are Chinese and in 1965, broke away from Malaysia and opted to be a republic, abolishing any system of royalty or aristocracy, titles, pomp and ceremony.

Therefore, despite their ceremonial roles, the relevance of Malaysia's constitutional monarch will be tested when a constitutional crisis arises. As a symbol of religion and tradition, but most importantly a key figure for national unity and loyalty of their subjects, the "Daulat Tuanku" is here to stay, and more likely for the better.

Dr Paridah Abd Samad New Straits Times Columnist 01 June 2013

Need for a seamless education system

MERGERS: Let’s learn from the pitfalls Thailand went through

Malaysian Prison BreakWHEN the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) was created, a splinter from the Education Ministry during the days of the then Prime Minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, there was resounding support for the move.

Created on March 27, 2004 and officially came into operations on July 15, MOHE took charge of more than 900,000 students pursuing higher education in 20 public universities, some 33 private universities and university colleges, and four foreign university branch campuses. Twenty-two polytechnics, 37 community colleges and about 500 private colleges were also within its purview.

However, teachers' training colleges were placed under the Education Ministry as degree-awarding institutions re-labelled as Institut Pendidikan Guru.

The rationale for the split was to create a higher education environment that fostered the development of academic and institutional excellence in line with the vision of the government to make Malaysia a centre of educational excellence by 2020. MOHE's mission was to internationalise Malaysian education and nurture individuals who were competent, innovative and of noble character to serve the needs of the nation and the world.

Now almost a decade later, the two ministries are one as the Ministry of Education.

About a year before the split, neighbouring Thailand did the reverse in July 2003. It integrated three education entities, namely the Ministry of Education, Ministry of University Affairs and National Education Commission into the Ministry of Education.

Why did the Thai education authorities merge? And did Malaysia learn from its counterpart's experiences before deciding on the separation only to come together again?

The latest move can be tricky and most likely expensive -- monetarily and resource-wise -- as evident from mergers even at the level of universities.

This is quite apart from the anxiety it caused as possible overlaps will be trimmed to reduce human resource and administrative cost. This is especially so, when the move is seen as more of an "acquisition" of one over the other, rather than a voluntary consolidation.

Maybe this time we should consult our neighbour so that we can at least do better and avoid the pitfalls that it has gone through, in the interest of time and outcomes.

We have to bear in mind that our education system is undergoing a rapid transformation phase of its own and the former MOHE was just embarking on a review of its National Higher Education Strategic Plan.

Thailand's former Ministry of University Affairs is now embedded in the newly formed competent body, Commission on Higher Education (CHE), as part of the reconstituted Ministry of Education. Public and private universities and colleges are under the jurisdiction of CHE with its mandate and authority to manage and promote higher education. It also provides education at the tertiary level and grants degrees, diplomas and other credentials.

Professor Pavich Tongroach, CHE vice-chairman and former secretary general, who now advises on reforms, says the Thai education system in the areas of "quality, management, teacher production, vocational education and higher education" is in "crisis".

The Thai national school curriculum is regarded as too concise, while teachers "need more rather than less guidance". Teacher training schools are purported to produce a glut of teachers with poor employment prospects.

Students rote learn and are said to spend more hours in the classroom than their counterparts in many other countries vis-à-vis the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's recommendation of 800 hours a year.

Public and private institutes of higher education, which are largely non-autonomous, are plagued with issues of graduate supply and demand.

Indeed, some of these problems are not strange to the Malaysian education scene. Similar to Malaysia, Thailand's education budget, including that of higher education, has traditionally been generously funded by the government to the tune of 20 per cent.

The move to "unite" education under one roof can be optimally undertaken. Matters such as perceived insensitive "takeover", gaps in communication and lack of trust leading to petty politicking and power struggles should be quickly resolved for the sake of nation-building supported by a seamless transformational education system.

Dzulkifli Abdul Razak New Straits Times Learning Curve 02 June 2013