July 29th, 2013

Route to excellence

Germany has a dedicated and disciplined workforce, thanks to its academic-based and hands-on education system.

I WENT to Germany for the first time in 1952. It was a short break during the time when I was studying in England. One of my first observations was the attitude its people had towards work — they truly impressed me with their perseverance, responsibility, discipline and dedication.

Germany has for a long time been among the strongest economies in the world.

Its cars, chemicals, engineering items and even its environmental technology – are products famous for their high quality, making Germany one of the world’s leading export countries.

Even today, as the Euro crisis is shaking Europe, the nation’s economy thrives. What is the key to Germany’s economic success? What can we learn from their example?

First of all, I believe that Germany is one of the countries that have gained an identity essentially through their system of education.

As a country with few natural resources, Germany’s wealth relies entirely on the innovative potential and the dynamics of its companies and workforce.

Focus on research

It is no surprise that the country puts great emphasis on education and learning and just as much attention on research and development.

Education and research provide the basis for the creative and innovative potential that drives Germany’s economic success.

I would first like to introduce some facts about Germany’s tertiary education system. There are about 400 institutions of higher education in Germany, offering some 16,000 degree programmes in which over two million students are enrolled.

Since 2010, courses at German universities have been adapted and cater to the internationally-recognised Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes.

Approximately 12.5% or 265,000 students are pursuing degree programmes that are internationally recognised at German universities, making the country the fourth-most proffered host country for international students, following the United States, Britain and Australia.

Of that number, 38,000 international students come from India, China and Southeast Asia.

Many of Germany’s international students undertake degree programmes partly or entirely taught in English, particularly at postgraduate level.

The number of Malaysian students in Germany quadrupled in the last 10 years. Currently, almost 900 young Malaysians pursue degree courses in German universities.

The majority of them take advantage of cutting-edge science and engineering courses.

Some important characteristics of the German higher education system can be traced back to the famous scholar Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Humboldt carried out substantial university reforms.

His ideals of the coexistence of research and teaching has become a model for universities all over the world.

Central to this model is the idea of research-oriented learning and the transfer of knowledge from the spirit of research.

Students and teachers are joined together in an endeavour to critically examine traditional bodies of knowledge and to actively advance learning.

Although quite some time has passed since Humboldt implemented his model, his ideas are still present in the German understanding of what a university is.

Teaching at a German university, for example, tends to be less based on instruction than elsewhere. Instead, project-oriented learning where students jointly solve complex problems on their own is preferred.

This requires a higher responsibility for their learning process on the side of the students, and space for them to try their own ways of inventive problem-solving in this research-oriented learning.

Thus, in order to teach students to be innovative and creative, they are granted more academic freedom.

Obviously, this system demands, and at the same time trains the students to be more responsible, disciplined and independent. Besides, they also learn to make their own action plans and manage time.

Being industry-friendly

Another distinctive feature of many German universities is their close co-operation with the industry. More than 200 German universities of applied sciences or Fachhochschule (FH) typically maintain close ties with companies.

The FH offer more practice-based oriented teaching and applied research, primarily directed towards practical, vocational requirements and local industry’s needs.

Studying at a FH usually involves internships. Research projects for the Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis are often conducted in intense collaboration with industry companies, thus ensuring the applicability of the education and the acquired knowledge.

The FH model of a hands-on academic education in collaboration with local industries has advantages.

It is closer to the demands of the labour market and ensures employability.

The majority of Malaysian students in Germany are keen to embark on courses at FH.

Finally, one of the peculiar characteristics of the German higher education system is the fact that it is mostly state-financed.

As opposed to other countries, Germans strongly believe that education is not a business.

The vast majority of universities are public. Private universities play a comparatively subordinate role.

More than 95% of students attend public institutions, which fully concentrate on keeping a high, internationally competitive quality in teaching and research.

As a consequence, German universities generally do not charge tuition fees. Only two out of 16 states levy fees, namely Bavaria and Lower Saxony, and even then, the amount is capped at 500 (RM2,000) per semester.

Malaysians have a tendency to focus on the Anglo-Saxon countries when it comes to studying abroad.

However, they should broaden their horizons and perhaps consider Germany as an alternative.

Graduates from German universities have easy access to the German employment market.

They are now allowed to work up to 18 months while they seek a graduate-level job.

Graduates who have such a graduate-level job can stay and gain some valuable practical work experience.

The German Alumni Association Malaysia (GAAM) is now playing an active role in promoting German education and acts as a networking platform for German graduates in Malaysia.

TAN SRI DR YAHAYA IBRAHIM is the vice-patron of the German Alumni Association Malaysia. The STAR Online Education 21/07/2013

The spark to make the grade

What low-achieving students need is guidance and motivation to address their weaknesses and tap their strengths.

TEACHER, I want to go to USA but my parents don’t have the money,” said my student Amir*.

“That’s okay,” I said. “In four years, you will sit for your SPM. You will get excellent results, and then you can apply for a scholarship to study in the United States (US) for free. You can go to Harvard or Yale, if you work hard.”

His eyes shone at the mention of Harvard. “Yes, teacher, I want to go there. Isn’t that where Helen Keller (deaf and blind author, political activist and lecturer) received an honorary degree?”

Then he said, “I want to be like Thomas Edison. I want to go around and write my lee-gan-cy.”

Lee-gan-cy?” I asked. “Can you write it down for me?” I handed him a pencil. He wrote — ‘legancy’. I smiled.

“Yes, you will leave your legacy. You said you want to be a professor? You can do your PhD, then you will be known as Dr Amir*,” I said.

“But – I don’t want to be a doctor. I don’t want to stay in the US. I want to come back and write my legacy, like Thomas Edison. I want to give (back) to the country.”

“Which country?” I asked, just to confirm.

“My country – Malaysia!” he proudly said.

His sincerity and the “pureness” of his words warmed my heart. I realised that I could learn a thing or two from him.

However, I must say that he is not the only one who speaks with such frankness and honesty. All my students are full of hope.Nesh*, for example, is artistic. He’s a burst of energy who doesn’t sit still during most lessons, but give him an art paper and some paint and he’s a different person — he can sit quiety engrossed in a corner creating “visual wonders” on the paper.

Dan* shows the ability to pick up concepts and make connections quickly.

Ray* is particularly helpful to those around him — he’s not sure yet what he wants to be when he grows up, but he is certain that he wants to be “a helping guy”.

It is the same with the rest of my students. They have hearts of gold — many have ambitions of wanting to become policemen, soldiers, teachers … it just shows how much they want to give to society and the sacrifices they are willing to make. Yet it is ironic that before they are even given a chance to contribute, society might be failing them first. Sadly, they are the same students who are in my lowest-achieving classes.

We were shocked to find that some of them did not know the English word for biru, and how to spell “blue”.

Among them are students who have trouble reading basic English or Malay words and subtracting double-digit numbers. Their education is grossly misaligned with their vast potential.

The reading standard of about half my Form One students is of kindergarten level. A quarter of them are of about Year Three level, placing them some four years behind.

Everyday, they come to school wanting to learn, but they struggle to follow materials which are increasingly indecipherable for them. They get frustrated and don’t fully understand why it’s so hard for them. But it is really not their fault.

The majority of these students come from low-income homes and get little or no help and guidance in their studies from their families. They are lost and fall through the cracks, mostly forgotten.

This is the achievement gap. It is not an isolated problem. The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment results show that almost 60% of our students fail to meet minimum benchmarks in Mathematics. About 43% do not demonstrate minimum proficiency in Science, and 44% do not show minimum proficiency in reading — the baseline required to participate in life.

These are our children, in and around Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kedah and Perak, across the nation, across races, genders and ages.

These are our children whose lives are marred by education inequity. These are our children — we need to recognise them. We can no longer turn a blind eye to them. We cannot allow them to be forgotten.

They desire to play a part in society, but being part of their community, we must first do what it takes to remove the restrictions in the system that hold them back from opportunities.

We need to go all out to rectify this situation and allow these children to be part of the mainstream for otherwise their future will remain bleak. Education is one of the first things we need to get right. And if change is needed, we are the ones who have the capacity to make these changes happen.

So please do come by and say hello to these children and listen to their stories; volunteer to teach those who cannot read; sponsor materials or scholarships for these children, help them see the possibilities they can achieve. After all, this is just the spark they need to change their lives.

*Names of students have been changed.

CHARIS DING is a Teach For Malaysia fellow. The final deadline for the Teach For Malaysia Fellowship is July 29. For more information, visit www.teachformalaysia.org. The STAR Online Education 28/07/2013

It’s so wrong to ‘fail’

MY SON, a pupil at a national school failed both his Bahasa Malaysia (BM) papers in Penulisan (writing) and Pemahaman(comprehension) in the mid-year school exam recently.

Those were the only two papers he failed out of a total of 13 papers.

However, when I went to collect his report card during the parent-teacher meeting, I was shocked to find out that he had failed the entire exam.

The word gagal (fail) had been written in bold red letters.

When I asked the class teacher who is also his BM teacher, why my son failed the exam, when it was only the two papers that he had low scores in, she blamed it on “the system”.

Re-sitting the papers she said was not possible as “the system” did not allow that.

I am a foreigner and being a parent, I did my best and had bought many BM workbooks to help my son with the language but obviously this wasn’t enough.

I have since sought the services of a BM tuition teacher to help him out.

While there is no denying that BM is the national language of the country and that Malaysian students should be proud and proficient in the language, is there a need to “fail” and condemn primary schoolchildren in such a manner?

My point in raising this issue is to highlight to education authorities and policy-makers how the word gagal can scar a child for life.

This in effect means that the child is a failure and a loser.

In the exam, my son had obtained As and Bs for the other subjects and yet, he was in a way considered a total flop since he had failed the exam!

Haven’t experts advised the authorities about the psychological repercussions that children have in such instances?

Doesn’t “the system” recognise the meaning of a “total individual”?

Some children are better in the sciences compared to others who may be stronger in other areas such as languages or the fine arts.

Before the meeting ended, I asked the teacher if there was anything I could do to improve my son’s BM language skills and she replied that I could get “outside help”to tutor my son.

If students who have poor grades, fail their papers, should not their teachers be gauged the same way too?

After all, “the system” should ensure that teachers help their charges progress and score well in the subjects they teach.

Frustrated Parent Petaling Jaya The STAR Online Education 28/07/2013

A transparent system needed

The uproar over student intake to public universities can be easily averted with a little more openness in the selection process.

IN 2009, the Chicago Tribune uncovered a “shadow admissions system” in place for relatives of law-makers and trustees at the University of Illinois, United States.

Through a Freedom of Information request, the newspaper detailed how the university had a separate admissions list for well-connected applicants who had a higher chance of getting accepted regardless of their qualifications.

Then in February, The Guardian reported on data implying that there was a racial bias in student admissions to the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

Also based on information gathered through a Freedom of Information request, the report stated that “43% of white students who went on to receive three or more A* grades at A-Level got offers (to study medicine), compared with 22.1% of minority students.”

Back home, we too have an angry lot who suspect that something is fishy about how students are selected to study in a public university.

However, we do not have a tool such as the Freedom of Information Act which could help to clear up matters a little bit.

In the most recent uproar over the failure of some top scorers to secure places at public universities, the same complaints heard over the decade resurfaced.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam who broke the silence by the Government, announced that the Cabinet had directed the Education Ministry to look into any possible weaknesses in the selection process for entry into local universities.

Calling for transparency in the system, he admitted that something was lacking but that it was not impossible to improve it as there was sufficient mechanism in place to address the issue.

“I think this can be solved with more transparency, for people to know how the selection process is conducted. It’s the system (that is the problem), not so much on the number of places,” he said.

While transparency may be seen as an issue here, the more pressing problem is the jaded view of those who failed to get a place in the system. Many feel a sense of lack of trust in the “meritocracy” system in place.

Some have argued that the meritocracy system currently in place for public university intakes has been more detrimental for a greater mix of students.

A total of 68,702 students with Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), matriculation or foundation studies qualifications applied for spots at public universities this year — a 7.6% increase compared to applications made last year.

Of these applicants, 73.59% were Bumiputra, 17.56% were Chinese, 5.22% were Indians, and 3.63% were students of other ethnicity.

Meanwhile, of the 41,573 applicants to receive offers, 74.3% were Bumiputra, 19% were Chinese, 4.4% were Indians and 2.3% were of other ethnicity.

If the racial diversity of our campuses is an issue, perhaps more needs to be done in getting qualified students to apply to public universities in the first place.

Even as the ministry assures that it has sufficient mechanisms in places to ensure that applicants are given fair consideration for admission, this is not enough to satiate public debate over the matter.

The conspiracy theories that abound from years ago — racial discrimination and the power of having the right connections — are brought up year after year.

It does not help that some of the ministry’s frontline staff may have been less than professional in easing the ire of disappointed students.

A case in point is a public post made by the Students Admissions Division (UPU) on its Facebook page in reply to one of its possibly irate applicants.

“Since you have ‘blacklisted’ UPU ... would you like the administration to help you cancel your e-Rayuan (appeal) application... (and) here is how you can ‘unlike’ the UPU Facebook page,” read the post, which also listed the student’s reference number for his appeal.

Even if such unprofessional conduct is an isolated incident, this coupled with the lack of transparency will merely allow doubts over the system to fester.


Low point for high achievers

It is a perennial problem each year as students with high scores compete for limited places and choice courses at public universities.

WHEN student Choong Yong Sheng put in his application to study medicine in March, he did not expect to be rejected.

With a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 4.0 in last year’s Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), the 20-year-old from Penang was confident of securing a spot in one of the local universities (IPTAs).

“In the application form, I stated that I would not accept any other course because I had only one goal — to study medicine.

“I studied very hard ... but it turned out to be a disappointment because my hard work did not really pay off,” said Yong Sheng.

Now stuck in a limbo with no offers at all, Yong Sheng added that he was told that the Students Admission Divison (UPU) would not entertain appeals for competitive courses such as medicine.

“So if I were to appeal, I have to appeal for other courses which are not of my interest,” he said.

“The only option available is to study at a private college or university, but most private universities have already begun their programmes,” he said.

The Friday before last, MCA Education Bureau chairman Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong stressed that top scorers should be given the courses of their choice, and not “leftover courses”.

“Students who have applied for medicine are offered veterinary science, it must be understood that treating human beings and treating animals are two different things,” he told reporters in jest.

In a separate press conference on the same day, MIC’s Higher Education Bureau chairman Mahaganapathy Dass also made the case for top scorers who failed to receive any university offers.

“These are among our brightest students — are you telling us that they are not good enough for any university despite their results?” he asked.

In response to the hue and cry over the issue, StarEducatesought to shed more light over the student selection process for IPTAs and sent a list of questions to the Education Ministry on Monday evening.

Among the questions asked were: the total number of applicants with a CGPA of 4.0 right up to 3.6; whether STPM students were at a disadvantage compared to their matriculation counterparts due to the way marks were counted; the total number of CGPA 4.0 students who did not receive their courses of choice or any offers at all; as well as the racial breakdown of these statistics.

We also sent to the ministry a supplementary list of questions later in the week, namely on whether the UPU sends to universities the full list of applicants who meet the minimum academic qualifications of courses applied for, and if the UPU has the final say on which applicants are successful.

While the ministry agreed to reply, we have yet to receive any answers as of press time. We hope to publish the answers in next week’s pullout.

According to an earlier press statement, a total of 68,702 students with STPM, matriculation or foundation studies applied for spots at public universities this year — a 7.6% increase compared to applications made last year.

Of this total, only 41,573 applicants were offered places.

During the IPTA application process, students were allowed to select a maximum of eight courses, including up to four courses at four research universities — Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Putra Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.

Students were also required to state their top three preferred fields of study and whether they would accept courses that were not in their options.

Being an apex university, Universiti Sains Malaysia has its own application process that is separate from the UPU system and students may apply up to eight courses.

The Education Ministry has clearly stated earlier that students may only appeal for a place in university if they did not receive any offers at all.

This means that students cannot appeal for a change in course or university through the UPU system if they had already received an offer.

Since 2002, students’ applications are processed by merit, with a 90% weightage for their CGPA and 10% for extra-curricular activities.

Mismatched choices

Rejected by all the medical programmes she applied for, Leela* said what irked her most is the single offer she was given – animal husbandry.

“The three preferred fields of study I listed were pure sciences, dentistry, and pharmacy.

“With my CGPA of 4.0 (in matriculation studies), I thought that I might be offered a course in biology.

“When I went to the UPU counter in Putrajaya to inquire about why I was given this programme, the officer there told me that animal husbandry was a pure science discipline,” she said.

Meanwhile, Chai Yee Lin was offered veterinary science at UPM instead of medicine.

“Yes, I did list veterinary science as one of the secondary courses in the admission form, but I was confident that with my good results, I could get medicine or dentistry,” said Yee Lin who scored CGPA 4.0 for her STPM examination last year.

Although she was actively involved in co-curricular activities during her matriculation studies, student Y. V. Lim discovered to her dismay that even the 9% score she received from her co-curricular performance on top of her CGPA of 4.0 was not enough for a place in dentistry.

“As far as I know, CGPA 4.0 should be the cut-off point for students to enter medical courses. I want to know why students with lesser grades managed to gain entry,” said the student who was offered optometry at UKM.

She initially thought that she had high chances of getting a place for dentistry in USM after being called for an interview by the university.

“I believe that I had performed well during the interview.

“When asked why I had applied for dentistry, I explained that I had always wanted to be a dentist and that it was a suitable job for me because I loved interacting with people,” said Lim.

The UPU said on its Facebook page that over 2,500 applicants with a CGPA of 4.0 had applied for courses.

Of this figure, a substantial number had applied for competitive courses such as medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.

Based on the admission results released last week, the places allocated for the three courses in all IPTAs were 699, 119 and 260 respectively.

More than just scores

Earlier in the week, USM Medical Faculty dean Prof Ahmad Sukari Halim said CGPA 4.0 was just an entry ticket to the admission interview for the medical courses.

He added that some students, despite their perfect scores, may not have been admitted to the university because they failed their interviews.

Meanwhile, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) also had stiff competition for the 150 spots in its medical undergraduate programme.

UKM deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International Affairs) Prof Datuk Dr Noor Azlan Ghazali said that the university had additional processes that applicants have to go through.

“The academic requirement of a good CGPA is just one of the conditions – having a CGPA of 4.0 only tells part of the story.

“We require students to first sit for an aptitude examination to give us a better picture of who they are and where their talents lie.

“Candidates also attend an interview session to further strengthen their case for admission.

“I won’t say that this process is entirely perfect, but it increases the chances of us getting the best candidates possible,” he says.

Aside from medical courses, several other UKM programmes also required students to undergo an interview process. Some faculties even had subject specific requirements that go beyond just achieving a good overall CGPA.

As in previous years, the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) is among the most sought after programmes in Universiti Malaya (UM) for this intake.

UM deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International) Prof Dr Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor said all students seeking admission to any of the university’s courses had to pass an interview process.

He added those applying for the MBBS programme were further required to sit for a qualifying test.

Elaborating on the importance of the interviews, Prof Mohd Hamdi said that the university looked for applicants who were able to communicate effectively in both Bahasa Malaysia and English. Candidates were also assessed in thinking and problem-solving skills, communication and interpersonal skills, Prof Mohd Hamdi said.

He added that while some programmes do not require a CGPA of 4.0, attention will be given to students’ performance in particular subjects as determined by the respective course’s demands.

While declining to be interviewed for this article, a retired medical professor noted: “Some students think that a string of As and saying ‘I wanted to be a doctor since I was five-years-old’ is enough to be a good doctor... my experience with medical students indicates otherwise.”


The complaints of top scorers that were brought to public attention by political parties had indirectly lent a racial undertone to the debate.

Going by the comments left by unhappy applicants on UPU’s Facebook page however, it appeared that top scorers from all races and qualifications seemed to be left without any university offers.

A number of applicants, particularly those with diploma level qualifications, lamented their failure to gain entry into any university for the second or third year in a row.

While the full breakdown of applicants based on qualifications is not known, a screenshot uploaded by the UPU on Facebook has indicated that as of a week before the application deadline closed, almost 27,622 diploma-holders had also applied for university places.

Some took to the Facebook page to complain that the online system had switched their information with other applicants because they had used either the same computer or the same Internet Service Provider (ISP) address as that of their friends.

The somewhat opaque nature of the selection process, as well as the despondency felt by the students themselves, led commenters to wildly speculate as to why they did not gain admission to their university of choice.

A common allegation was that “well-connected” applicants had “pulled strings” to secure a place in certain universities.

The UPU gamely responded to this on its Facebook account by saying that this was baseless and that it was brought up every year.

“We receive letters of recommendation from ‘important people’ every year, but we only process applicants’ information following the existing procedure,” said the post.

While some were appeased by the answers given, many others continued to voice their dissatisfaction.

One especially sarcastic commenter took to reposting a link over several comment threads. The link led to a photograph of a man holding a sign, reading: The system isn’t broken, it was built this way.


Weak students because of failed system

Rural schools in South Africa are among the worst in the country.

DESPITE South Africa’s position as the continent’s largest economy, its public education system is not.

Inside the yard of the Alapha Secondary School in the country’s Limpopo province, stray donkeys roam between two classroom blocks.

Windows are broken and the stench emanating from the pit latrines hangs thick in the air. There is little shade or airconditioning to offer respite from the brutal heat.

Academically, things don’t get much better.

At the end of the 2012 school year, not one of the school’s 20 pupils sitting their final high school exams passed.

Like many rural schools across the country, Alapha magnifies the failings of the country’s public education system, which has been ranked among the worst in the world.

Despite education receiving the largest share of the national budget, Alapha has no library and no lab equipment to teach subjects like physics, chemistry or biology.

Mismanagement also plays its role in the lack of teaching aids.

Limpopo was the province most severely hit by the government’s recent failure to supply textbooks for an entire academic year.

“We just listen and visualise,” said Desiree Mathekga, one of the 30 learners who is keen on tackling her final exams this year.

“It is difficult, but this is all we have, we just have to study hard with what we have.”

Limpopo education department spokesman Pat Kgomo admits Alapha’s situation is “cause for concern, but not unique”.

Four other schools in the province are in a similar predicament.

The government blames part of the problem on its inability to attract teachers, despite a 25% unemployment rate.

“Schools in rural areas tend to perform badly because few teachers are willing to work in far-flung areas,” said Kgomo.

School principal Jonas Ramapuputla said teachers who are there, are overworked.

“As school head, I have very little time to manage the school, I have to roll up my sleeves and teach,” he said.

All this takes its toll.

The World Economic Forum recently ranked South Africa the second last in the world for Mathematics and Science education, just ahead of Yemen.

The central government has acknowledged that “the quality of school education for black people is poor” across the country.

Turning that around has been listed as one of nine key challenges on the path to overhauling the economy.

Experts say the government will have to overcome years of under-investment in black education under apartheid.

But 20 years after the end of white rule, progress remains slow, and many say the ruling government’s unwillingness to take on allies in the teaching unions is part of the problem.

So too is in the vicious circle where poor education leads to poorly qualified teachers.

Student Desiree Mathekga, undeterred by her school’s dismal pass rate is determined to go to university next year and pursue a commerce degree.

She wants to become an accountant.

“I want to make my school and village proud of me,” said the petite 17-year-old.

Ramapuputla wants to make sure that his student has all the opportunities to do so.

He has decided to do away with the national norm of preventing failing pupils from repeating exams, by giving them a second chance.

“These children have nowhere else to go and it is only with education that they can move up,” added Ramapuputla. — AFP

SIBONGILE KHUMALO The STAR Online Education 28/07/2013

Cost of Living: Expenses have gone up in 30 years

WITHOUT a doubt I would say that young people today have too little to spend. What is evident is that they have too many things to spend on, compared with, say, 30 years ago.

Technology was relatively simple then -- calls were made using the house phone (fixed line). Phone calls were relatively cheap. Today, young people send out texts and emails daily from their smartphones more frequently than all the calls we used to make in a week. So, it is not unusual that their monthly phone bills take up to about 10 per cent of their take home pay. Imagine the amount three or four young working siblings in one household pay for their phone bills. It is likely enough to pay the monthly installment for a modest house. No wonder the telcos thrive.

Owning a car is a necessity today. Thirty years ago a family car was a luxury. Today, each working person in the family will try to use his or her own car to go to work. So there may be a minimum of two cars parked in the family porch. So the family's monthly income is depleted by car installments, toll fares and petrol. On average, a monthly car instalment would not be less than RM500 to RM600 (25 to 30 per cent of his monthly income). Thirty years ago, a Honda 70 motorcycle or Vespa scooter would be good enough for us to go to work in and also to send our dates right home to their smiling parents.

Young people today are not really earning that much (compared with their counterparts 30 odd years ago). In the 1970s, a fresh graduate earned about RM700 a month but then hawker food, coffee, beer and cigarettes were cheap. Today's fresh graduate would be lucky if he could land a RM3,000 monthly salary. At the same time, the price of necessities and wants have risen 10 times.

So, how can one say that they lack financial management skills? In fact, we should pity them for having to go through the ordeal of making ends meet.

Another often unmentioned factor is life insurance and the medical cards the young have. These, although seemingly good investments, drain young people's income. Their sense of insecurity and protective instincts cause them to get insurance cover when they are least able to afford it. Quarterly or annual premium payments can easily put a dent in their budget. This is not optional and so, another piece of the monthly cake is accounted for. Still think the young have enough to spend?

Bank Negara's move to contain household debt is a good move. It would at least help lessen credit card debt and defaults. Banks and financial institutions have been too greedy and aggressive in giving out loans to the young, knowing fully well that they can reap great profits from the 18 per cent annual interest while they pay four per cent for our savings.

Banks are one of the main causes for household debts because of the easy access to credit card facilities and the lengthy repayment tenures. It's ironic and sad that young people can choose their government and clamour for freedom but are enslaved by their debts to banks and have to plead for leniency from the magistrate when they default and are declared insolvent.

One gets into debt because one does not have enough and has to borrow. The majority of young working adults, married or otherwise, fall into this category. One does not need to borrow when one has more than enough to spend. The majority of young people do not belong to this group unless they have rich parents. Those who overspend even though they have enough, need counselling. Those who have to overspend due to contingencies should be given the choice to renegotiate the terms of repayment and grace period.

Choon Pin, Kuala Lumpur The New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 28/07/2013

Appropriate Clothing: It should be moderate and practical

THE letter "Be sensible on the wearing of suit and tie" (NST, July 13) has indeed some points to ponder on how some people in the sweltering heat are dressed in a full suit, complete with coat and tie walking on our streets.

Odd as it may be, the onus to wear or not to wear a full suit should be left to the individual.

However, most government offices and private companies require their male staff to wear a tie and coat at the workplace.

Teachers and lecturers are compelled to wear ties by their head teachers and department officers.

Most schools have air conditioning in strategic locations like the principals' or head teachers' rooms, teachers' staff room and library. The classroom, on the other hand, do not have air conditioning and are, therefore, hot and unbearable in the morning and afternoon.

The fans do not provide much ventilation and classrooms with zinc roofs are like furnaces.

How is the male teacher expected to teach in the sweltering heat, made worse by the long-sleeved dress code?

Male teachers are told to dress up in long-sleeved shirts with ties and, if possible, with blazers or coats to portray a professional image.

At a time when we are trying to conserve energy, we should be practical and moderate in our dress code at our workplaces because the moment we leave the cool air conditioned room we are faced with the hot blistering heat.

A short-sleeved shirt that is tucked in for male teachers and officers is appropriate, smart, elegant and suited to our weather.

Samuel Yesuiah, Seremban, Negri Sembilan The New Straits Times Online Letters to the Editors 29/07/2013