June 14th, 2013

Two tales of two brothers

It’s an old story, and it’s a new story. Two brothers, one an opposition man to the last and one who made the decision to join hands and work with the government. How will it unfold?

THERE’S this story of two Malaysian Indian brothers in politics. Both are lawyers. One is a fierce orator, a powerful leader of men – and an opposition man to the bitter end.

The other is the soft-spoken one, the planner who joins Barisan Nasional, is vilified for it, becomes a senator, holds public office, and gets bestowed with a Datuk Seri title as well.

Am I peering into the future? No, it’s actually a tale from the past.

It’s the tale of the Seenivasagam brothers – Sri Padhmaraja and Darma Raja, more popularly known simply as SP and DR.

DR was the younger brother but he was the leader of the Perak Progressive Party which became what is now the People Progressive Party (PPP).

The older SP was the soft-spoken one. Together, they founded the PPP.

DR was every inch the opposition man, marshalling the forces with his fiery oratory. He is known even to have taken on first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman in a name-calling match.

A week or so after their quarrel, DR and the Tunku, it is said, were spotted having a drink and joking with each other. Such was the gentlemanly nature of politics then.

Before the 1969 elections, DR worked with Gerakan and DAP to forge an electoral pact. The result? The then Alliance suffered its worst results since Independence.

Sadly, DR died on March 15, 1969, two weeks before parliament was dissolved.

The older brother then led PPP and its allies to their success in the 1969 polls. He was the first – and only – elected president of the Ipoh Municipal Council, now the Ipoh City Hall.

Even as an opposition leader, SP was given a Datukship in 1964.

He was made a senator in 1975 and was conferred his Datuk Seri title in 1972. He also took PPP into the Barisan Nasional before the 1974 general election.

It is said he was heartbroken by the events after the 1969 elections and did not want a repeat of such bloodshed, so he decided to join Tun Razak Hussein’s coalition.

Just 10 days short of the 44th anniversary of DR’s death, the 13th general election was called in Malaysia.

And the tale seems to repeat itself. Another electoral pact has handed the ruling coalition its worst result since Independence.

There are again two Malaysian Indians – the Ponnusamy brothers – in the news. Both are lawyers, too. And they are on the opposite sides of the political divide.

I first heard Uthayakumar speak in Kulim during Deepavali of 2007. He was rallying the troops for the huge Hindraf march, an event that probably sparked great political change in the country.

He was a fierce orator, listing out a litany of woes that he said the Indian community faced. He wanted them to come out in numbers and fight for their rights. The hall was packed. And the crowd cheered even as sombre-faced policemen looked on.

He led the march on Nov 25, 2007. Waythamoorthy was there. And so was I, as a journalist covering the event.

I met Waythamoorthy just before the elections, He was on his hunger fast in a small village, Kampung Benggali, on the outskirts of Rawang. The village was little more than a handful of houses and at least two temples.

Waythamoorthy seemed so frail in his dhoti, and had difficulty walking, even speaking. I asked him why he was carrying out his fast miles from anywhere.

A place like Klang, or Brickfields, I felt, would bring the media circus to his couch and the politicians would come running.

He pointed to the run-down houses around him. Many were made of corrugated iron and some were leaning over.

“It’s these people who need my help. So I am holding my protest among my people,” he said. In a strange way, that made sense.

But his critics did not believe him. On the same day, one critic pointed to an SMS Waythamoorthy had sent out to his supporters.

It called for a boycott of DAP and PKR ceramah but made no mention of Barisan or even PAS. That, claimed the critic, meant he was ready to join Barisan.

Well, he did not join Barisan, technically. But he signed a pact with the coalition and has been embraced by the Government. Sadly, he dropped a line about custodial deaths in his pact. And it is custodial deaths that have come back to bite him.

On June 5, Waythamoorthy, the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Dept was sworn in as senator.

Hours later, big brother Utha­ya­kumar, the opposition man, was sent to the Kajang Prison for the letter he wrote before that fateful march of 2007.

Two brothers, one march, two different journeys.

How will these two brothers change the face of Malaysian politics? Or will they even make a mark?

DORAIRAJ NADASON can be reached at raj@thestar.com.my hopes Senator Waythamoorthy remembers the village in Rawang and the people who live there. And that he spares a thought for his big brother. The STAR Online Opinion 14/06/2013

Teaching Profession: Teachers need discipline, too

EVERY profession has its fair share of black sheep. Teaching is no exception. If we want quality teachers, identifying the black sheep is a necessary first step.

Who are they? They are the irresponsible, lukewarm, uninitiated, lackadaisical, indifferent, manipulative and deceitful teachers. They are a bane to the noble teaching fraternity.

We need to expose their "traits and tricks" so that they would feel ashamed and hopefully repent and begin anew in the right way.

Also, young and new school administrators need to be made aware of the unscrupulous acts and indiscipline of these errant teachers and know how to deal with them according to disciplinary regulations.

How do these black sheep "operate"?

In my 32 years in education -- in teaching as well as in school administration --I had come across some difficult colleagues and staff. I believe their "clones" continue to exist in our schools today.

Let me share a few cases.

First, as senior assistant (academic), my duty included supervising the running of the school library. Upon reporting to the school, I was soon taken on a "guided" tour of the library by the library teacher. He explained as we moved along and soon we were at the "works" section.

I could see some new books, magazines, periodicals, comics and stationery items on a large table; some books were half wrapped, some seemed like in the process of being catalogued and there were many half-finished labels of different colours.

The teacher pointed out that it was his workstation and that on the table were simply some work-in-progress materials.

Impressive! But later, I was to find out that the same "display" on the table was on all the time for any potential visitor. It was a show put up to "impress". In reality, the library teacher's work was sluggish. We have teachers who are showy in form but empty in substance.

Second, a teacher requested that he be exempted from teaching the last period of the day, citing age and health as excuses. Every day, about the time for the last bell, he would park his car with the engine running near the school front gate.

The moment the bell rang, his car moved off. No time was wasted. I found out that he was rushing off to his tuition classes outside, which on certain days ran into more than one session. What dedication and commitment was he exhibiting?

We have teachers who "work" part-time at their full-time job in school but work full-time outside of school.

Third, is a teacher who had worked very hard and had produced results. But, somehow he was bypassed in the first promotion exercise that came his way. He was naturally disgruntled and discouraged. Then he made the "fatal" decision to boycott and even to sabotage the system. He became uncooperative, rebellious, shunning responsibility and inert even in his basic teaching duties. Assuredly, he missed his second promotion exercise. He should have been wiser, and soldiered on. We have teachers who need to strengthen their character to take on the wears and tears in life. A positive outlook and right attitude is the prerequisite to being a good teacher.

Fourth, are the many teachers who are at the top of their salary scale and who take their tasks lightly. They are in "cruise" mood, like dead wood. There was one teacher who went overboard. He became not only irresponsible and unconcerned, but insubordinate. He was telling others that even if he was to get a "static" for his annual performance assessment it would not affect his pay as he was already at the top of his salary scale. We have teachers who unfortunately prioritise pay more than their profession.

Poor performing and unrepentant teachers have a damaging effect to their charges and a negative influence on their colleagues. They must be identified and disciplined. It is hoped that the Education Ministry would be strict in ensuring that quality prevails in the school system.

Liong Kam Chong, Seremban, Negri Sembilan New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 13/06/2013

Social Degradation: The world is lacking in human values

I REFER to the letter "Heed the good that religion teaches us" by R.I Rudy (NST, June 1).

He stated that people throng mosques, temples and other places of worship to show their devotion to religion. But as it seems to be with so many things we do, they just stop there.

Once an emperor was accompanied by a great guru to prayers. When the emperor prayed, the guru, who sat at the back, laughed loudly. The laughter annoyed the emperor. Later, the emperor asked the guru why he had laughed.

The guru replied: "Before you came here, several horses were sent to you by a king. You have great liking for horses. Although you were praying here, your thoughts were on the horses. Is this not true?" The emperor admitted it and realised he could never change for the better if his mind was never on God during prayers.

The letter further stated: "The social degradation we observe is indeed a poor reflection of all the devotion and religiosity we show."

What is devotion? Does running to places of worship and praying with pomp amount to devotion? Many pray for more money, property, promotions, power, position, a good wife and others. In fact some have made worship into a business proposition.

This is common as we have become slaves to our desires. We have become artificial and crooked. Money has become our salvation and in that process we ignore the teachings of our religions.

When Alexander the Great was dying, he told his generals to take his body out and expose his empty hands as a sign that although he was a great conqueror, he was dying empty handed. Did mankind learn from Alexander's lesson? Man can forget God but he can never forget money.

We have become masters of science and the scriptures, yet we have not conquered our desires. Fear of sin has vanished. Every day we witness wicked deeds spreading all over the world. What is the cause of this? Love is dying. We have become walking cemeteries. Sin is nothing.

The world is lacking in human values. We become fascinated by the false and ignore the truth. We do not discriminate between what is good and bad. We consider ourselves great when we are decorated with degrees and scholarship and look down upon others. Some even question if God really exists after acquiring a little bit of knowledge.

There is no harmony in thought, word and deed. We hate others. We do not look into our own defects but consider a small defect in others as gigantic. We do not look inside ourselves. Our actions are determined by our thoughts. At the moment our mind is infested with bad thoughts, all of our actions will be bad.

Man is becoming a zero. When we are zeroes, we are nothing. When man realises that the Almighty is watching us, and we surrender and follow His instructions, only then do we have value, for no matter how many zeros there are, they are still valueless without the number one at the front.

Only when we are truly devoted to the Almighty, can we change and prevent social degradation. Then again, what is devotion?

Ariff Shah R.K, Penang New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 13 June 2013

Menjadikan proses belajar lebih seronok

Aplikasi ilmu penting hadapi cabaran masyarakat, negara pada masa depan

Ketika bertitah secara spontan dalam satu majlis meraikan Hari Keputeraan Ke-70, Raja Perlis, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail menzahirkan kebimbangan baginda terhadap tekanan yang dilalui oleh anak-anak sekarang ini dalam memenuhi harapan semua pihak untuk melihat mereka berjaya dalam akademik.

“Walau pun kita tahu pencapaian akademik penting, namun perlu juga difikirkan bagaimana untuk menjadikannya sebagai satu proses yang menyeronokkan,” titah baginda dalam majlis yang turut dihadiri Timbalan Perdana Menteri, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, yang juga Menteri Pelajaran.

Seruan itu tentunya berkait rapat dengan pelbagai cabaran yang dihadapi rakyat, masyarakat dan negara pada masa ini dan masa hadapan sebagai sebuah negara berbilang kaum dengan kepelbagaian dan kerencaman bahasa, budaya, adat dan keturunan seperti di Malaysia, yang pada masa sama ingin meningkatkan daya saing negara dalam bidang ekonomi dan industri serta mengekalkan jiwa dan jati diri mengikut acuan sendiri.

Ia harus bermula dengan proses pembelajaran dari sekolah hinggalah ke universiti dan bagaimana aplikasi ilmu dalam kehidupan mahu pun kerjaya dapat dilakukan. Ia juga harus bermula dengan proses pendidikan dengan melihat semula infrastruktur bilik darjah, persekitaran bilik darjah, persekitaran sekolah, malah guru-guru yang mengajar dan segala-galanya secara terperinci untuk memulakan misi ini tanpa perlu menyentuh dasar dan apa-apa juga perancangan yang dibuat, dikaji dan digubal selama ini.

Kembali kepada asas

Kita perlu kembali kepada asas dan isu fundamental untuk melihatnya secara jujur mengenai proses penyampaian dan persekitaran yang ada. Sejauh manakah bezanya dengan bilik darjah yang pernah kita lalui 10 tahun lalu, 20 tahun lalu malah mungkin lebih jauh ke belakang?

Adakah perubahan berlaku atau dilakukan selari dengan pelbagai perubahan persekitaran yang terjadi selama ini, kemajuan infra dan infostruktur yang canggih dengan konsep langit terbuka, kemudahan internet dan tablet yang pantas sebagai pengganti alat tulis, buku teks dan bahan rujukan? Atau kita masih pada tahap dan persekitaran yang sama dengan hanya manusia (guru, pensyarah dan pengurus) yang berbeza dan pelajar yang silih berganti?

Bagaimanakah sikap cintakan kepada ilmu pengetahuan, minat untuk meneroka dan berfikir serta melihat ilmu dalam konteks kecintaan yang mendalam dan menjadi asas kepada reka cipta, inovasi dan pengetahuan baru dibangunkan secara segar selaras dengan sifat ingin tahu anak-anak kita atau hanya masih sama seperti dahulu, membaca buku teks, menghafal segala fakta dan guru sentiasa betul lalu meluahkannya di kertas peperiksaan saban tahun?

Atau kita masih berlegar di sekitar masalah, daripada pelajar, ibu bapa, sekolah, guru, pendidik dan pensyarah yang bermasalah, termasuk tekanan mental, perasaan atau apa juga yang dianggap sebagai masalah yang berterusan sebagai kekangan kepada apa juga yang ingin dilakukan?

Habiskan silibus

Adakah kita masih lagi melihat ilmu sebagai usaha menghabiskan silibus, mencapai keputusan sebanyak mungkin A dalam setiap subjek, menghafal dan meluahkan semula dalam ujian dan peperiksaan termasuklah sehingga berada di universiti?

Ini samalah dengan usaha mendidik mengenai kepentingan mempunyai keprihatinan terhadap persekitaran, sama ada amalan budi bahasa, kesopanan dan kesusilaan, hormat menghormati malah juga integriti melalui buku teks dan pelajaran sekolah seperti sivik yang kerap kali menjadi bahan jenaka yang jarang dianggap serius.

Kita perlu kembali kepada hal fundamental ini dan melakukan penambahbaikan secara berterusan dan realistik. Semua pihak berkepentingan perlu melihat dengan jujur ke mana kita ingin bawa proses dan sistem pendidikan yang ada. Sistem kita boleh sahaja menjadi antara yang terbaik tetapi yang lebih penting ialah bagaimana ia dihayati, dilaksana, dirasai malah berupaya untuk kembali kepada roh ilmu yang bertunjangkan kalbu, fitrah manusia dan alamnya serta menjadi mekanisme dalam kesejahteraan sosial, kelangsungan alam dan manusia seluruhnya.

Tentunya proses pendidikan, pembelajaran pengajaran dan penguasaan ilmu seharusnya berasaskan kecintaan mendalam terhadap ilmu, memahami konsep penerokaan ilmu dan bersemangat menggali segala khazanah ilmu untuk dihayati dengan penuh keseronokan dan kebebasan.

Sekolah, kolej dan universiti pula mesti menjadi khazanah yang ingin diterokai, didatangi dan dicintai. Kasih sayang kepada ilmu itulah menjadi puncak keseronokan belajar apatah lagi mengajar.

Mohamad Abdullah ialah Timbalan Pendaftar Kanan, Pejabat Naib Canselor Universiti Sains Malaysia Berita Harian Online Rencana 11/06/2013

Education helps build character

Clarifying Literacies: There are many courses that can contribute towards nation-building

RIGHT across the education  system there have been efforts to develop potentialities of individuals to the fullest, as there have been efforts to build the nation.

There have always been the twin efforts to use the education system to focus on individual competencies, for the sake of the individual, and for the sake of the nation.

Beyond basic literacies of reading, writing, numeracy, and moral development, there are other literacies.

Of the new literacies, information communication technology (ICT, or digital literacy) is considered most important.

Over the years, particularly from the 1990s, Malaysia has invested abundantly to ensure that Malaysians are IT literate.

At the school level across the education system, there are the groupings of core subjects related to the fundamental literacies.

Schools and universities offer communicative foreign languages such as Japanese, Mandarin, French, German, Thai and Vietnamese as well.

Actually, if there are positive attitudes towards other people, languages and language learning, Malaysians have the opportunity to be polyglots. The opportunities in Malaysia are much more than available to those in relatively homogenous, monolingual nations.

Over two decades ago, a compulsory course on Islamic Civilisation was offered in universities. The curriculum revision led to the formulation of a new course on Islamic and Asian Civilisation.

The focus is on civilisational knowledge, with emphasis on the great civilisations, and dialogue on the future of civilisations.

With the expansion of higher education and the implementation of the policy of democratisation of education, there has been an increase in the number of graduates.

The powerful leaders of industry and employers as a whole gave feedback that graduates are lacking in what has been termed soft skills or global skills.

The response by the government to the challenges of unemployment, particularly of public university graduates, was to provide undergraduates with soft skills while they are studying or to continue to provide them such soft skills after they have graduated.

The compulsory subjects across the school system into tertiary education are different levels of Malay, Islamic Studies, Moral Education, and Malaysian Studies.

The ongoing revisions of the compulsory subjects to become the general education subjects at university level leads to the emergence or reemergence of such subjects as Ethnic Relations, Employability Skills, Presentation Skills, Community Service and Curriculum, Entrepreneurship, Critical and Creative Thinking, Study Skills, Psychology and Interpersonal Relations, Personal Development Skills, Personal Financial Planning Skills and even Stress Management Skills.

The offerings are somewhat like the Liberal Arts offering without clear and integrated philosophy regarding the compulsory subjects, as well as the electives.

Although the National Service Programme (Program Latihan Khidmat Negara or PLKN) is not part of the school curriculum, it has actually achieved the educational purposes of building personal confidence and nurturing the foundations of citizenry and national unity.

Despite initial glitches including deaths, accidents, bullying or other mishaps, PLKN has come of age.

While there are many areas which still need improvements, overall, PLKN has received positive feedback from the majority of trainees.

Thousands of the young look forward to attend the programme. By word of mouth, it has become one of those programmes institutionalised in Malaysian youth culture. Young people who do not attend the programme feel a kind of loss for not being given an opportunity.

When there are good contents, exciting materials delivered by passionate teachers, subjects, however difficult or seemingly not relevant, can take on elevated status.

Subjects are made mandatory for some reasons regarding the education of the citizenry. Through such subjects several of the purposes of education could be achieved simultaneously.

In the past, at school level, the subject Civics was relegated to a dismissive level. In many nations Citizenship Education is regarded as among the most important in the school curriculum.

Islamic and Asian Civilisation, Ethnic Relations, Critical and Creative Thinking are some of the subjects whose importance may not be fully understood by decision-makers.

In many institutions, such subjects are taught by young academicians. Actually, such subjects meant for all students should be taught by the senior lecturers of calibre of emeritus or distinguished professorship with the teaching for wisdom mission.

With the power of intellect, life experience, pedagogical mastery, and imagination, such subjects should be taught and learned well -- as exciting, inspiring, life changing courses, not dull, boring or mundane courses.

The cumulative impact of such subjects should lead to the achievements of the purposes of education which include character and competence, beliefs, moral values, socialisation, citizenship, autonomy and capacity for values clarification and reasoned action.

Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid | iabaiw@yahoo.com is a deputy vice-chancellor, INTI Laureate International University New Straits Times Education Columnist 14 June 2013