November 24th, 2013

School sports need urgent help

I READ with much interest the statement by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin: “Schools should give priority to sports too, says Muhyiddin” (The Star, Nov 18).

Muhyiddin, who is also Education Minister, went on to say that the Education Ministry was coming up with a more comprehensive programme to enhance sports development in schools and educational institutions.

Perhaps we should ask what has happened to the 1Pupil1Sport (1Murid1Sukan)programme? Has it produced any positive results so far? I doubt it.

Under that programme, the ­ministry had failed to produce first-class athletes.

Schools could not churn out athletes of calibre because of the restrictions imposed by the 1Pupils1Sport initiative.

Under the programme, pupils ended up as the losers because they could choose only one sport.

Some pupils ended up not choosing the sport they excelled in and instead were forced to accept the choice made by teachers.

To add salt to the wound, district, state and national-level competitions were held almost simultaneously and the all-round athletes were denied a chance to excel in various sports.

In the good old days, it was not surprising to see a student being an outstanding athlete and at the same time excel in his studies.

This was because competitions were stretched throughout the year and not concentrated and cramped into one month like what is happening now. Students had the opportunity to take part in many sports.

We had students who were footballers, hockey players as well as track and field athletes at the same time!

In the past decade or two, we hardly produced world-class athletes, save for the likes of Nicol David and Lee Chong Wei and even these athletes can be considered to be from the old school.

When the hands of the teachers are tied with policies deemed fit by the higher authorities, the whole purpose of nurturing the young ones to be good athletes is defeated.

The Ministry should not have intervened with unrealistic programmes for schools. The teachers involved in sports know best. They should be given a free hand in developing sports in their respective schools instead of being told what to do.

If the ministry is serious about uplifting the standard of sports, it should start by going back to basics. The good old method and the results speak for themselves.

Let’s be practical. Spread out the sports calendar for all levels of competitions. Allow pupils to excel in as many sports as possible when they are young and let them choose what they want when they are mature enough.

The interest in sports has diminished. There is no more fun. No more excitement.

During my school days, any game involving the school will have a large turnout of supporters. It would be like a big carnival. Teachers and pupils would turn up in full force to support their teams.

I have travelled with bus-loads of supporters all over Malaysia to cheer my school, King Edward VII of Tai-ping, be it for football, rugby or even track and field relay events.

There was so much enthusiasm and passion in us to rally behind our team.

Nowadays, a school team will be lucky to even have its headmaster or principal with the team. There will be hardly 10 supporters to cheer them on.

The glory of sports is missing with all the new of policies by the ministry.

Maybe those “up there” are not aware of the situation on the ground but the teachers do feel the heat and are unable to do anything about it.

The teachers have become mere “yes men” and dare not question the authorities for fear of being reprimanded and given low appraisal marks.

Many teachers are in limbo. The heart and mind are willing but the policies are stopping them. So, many take the easy way out by just doing what is being asked without questioning.

I hope the ministry will find ways to bring back the grand old days of sports instead of embarking on new policies such as the 1Pupil1Sport. It has not served its purpose.

Millions have been spent on the programme but where are the results? Mere slogans do not work.

Statistics from schools are produced to please the departments and ministry. In reality, there is nothing to shout about.

Jayaraj K.G.S The STAR Online Home News Opinion 20/11/2013

Not limited to one sport

I REFER to the letter “School sports need urgent help” (The Star, Nov 20) by Jayaraj K.G.S.

Hopefully, this explanation will allay his fears and concerns that schools are not churning out athletes of calibre or are being forced to do sports that they have no interest in, as well as misunderstandings about the 1M1S (Satu Murid Satu Sukan) programme.

Prior to the launch of the 1M1S policy in 2011, the Education Ministry had already implemented the co-curricular policy where every school-going child had to be involved in one co-academic society, one uniformed body and one sports club.

The 1M1S policy was implemented to give more emphasis on sports activities in schools as well as to bring back the glory of sports. Nowhere in the 1M1S policy does it state that a child must only do one sport.

The policy states that every child must do at least one sport. They are free to participate in more than one if they desire to do so.

I am also nostalgic about the good old days but the reality is that we can never go back to the good old days.

In this highly sophisticated technology driven era, the demands on the time and attention of students are very different.

In the education field, it is almost imperative to get a good education for a secure adult life.

In the field of sports for excellence, research shows an athlete needs at least 10,000 hours of training before he has the range of skills and fitness level to compete against the best in the world.

The question that begs to be answered is whether we want to be ‘A Jack of all trades” or “ A Master of One’.

Malaysia has a National Sports Policy that focuses on sports for excellence as well as sports for the masses.

Similarly the Education Ministry also ensures all schools do sports for the masses, through the 1M1S programme while pursuing excellence in sports through the Malaysian Schools Sports Council (MSSC) activities, district training centres, state sports schools, as well as collaboration with national sports associations and the National Sports Council.

Lengthy and in-depth deliberations were held before the sporting calendar was finalised, taking into account the overall needs of the students and how well they can cope with the demands on their time.

With regard to the current system not producing world class athletes, I would like to say that it is not a fair statement as about 95% of all national athletes started their career in sports in school.

Approximately 60% of all gold medalists in Sukma are school-going children. About 75%-80% of national athletes in many sports came through the Malaysian Sports School system.

Among them are Kannathasan, Nauraj, Navin, Cassier Renee, Norshahidatun Nadia (track and field); Welson Sim, Tern Jian Hern (swimming); Azizul Hasni Awang, Rizal Tisin (cycling); Yeoh Ken Nee, Leong Mun Yee, Pandelela Rinong and Nur Dabitah Sabri (diving).

The are more from other sports like wushu, squash, football, hockey and badminton who have all come through the Malaysian sports school system.

Every year, the MSSC activities involve thousands of students in more than 24 different sports at different levels where many new stars are born and many records are broken.

The crème de la crème are selected to represent Malaysia in various international school tournaments as part of their preparation for the world stage later.

It cannot be denied that schools play an integral part in producing national sportsmen and sportswomen, be it in the good old days or in this modern age.

I urge all teachers to make an effort to fully comprehend all policies of the Education Ministry and implement them in the best way possible. In fact, teachers who feel the heat can do a lot to bring back the glory of sports.

It is not true that they are unable to do anything about it. There are so many things they can do to ensure children participate actively in sports.

They should ensure that sports activities are conducted regularly. Conduct sports training for students, organise competitions at school level, create opportunities and encourage students to participate in various competitions.

Please visit our website and send us your comments or suggestions to improve sports in school.

EE HONG Director, Sports Division (School Sector) Education Ministry The STAR Online Home News Opinion 23/11/2013

Keeping high standards

Flood of mediocre, undertrained doctors detrimental to nation

IT is the stuff of dreams and fantasy for a newly industrialised country (NIC) like Malaysia to have the complaint of having "too many doctors". Where other NICs and developing countries struggle to provide enough doctors for its population, Malaysia's problem seems to be how to limit the number of graduates its medical institutions churn out every year. Logically speaking, there cannot as yet be too many doctors.

The World Health Organisation's recommended doctor-population ratio is one doctor for every 600 persons  and  Malaysia's ratio  stands at 1:800. The plan is for us to attain the WHO target by 2015; but, increasing physician figures are expected to gallop us to a 1:400 ratio by 2020.

The concern, in part, is if the gallop continues unabated, how do we employ all these medical graduates? Having given out licences for medical colleges to set up shop, the expectation seems to be that it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that the graduates have jobs to move on to. In an ideal capitalist world, there would be no such obligation to ensure the livelihood of the newly graduated, nor that of their alma mater.

In a truly competitive market, an oversupply would act to separate the wheat from the chaff, ensuring that patients get quality doctors. Full acceptance of such a reality would then encourage subsequent batches of school-leavers to really consider whether they have what it takes to make the cut.

If only things are that simple. The increase in graduates means that more newly qualified doctors are flooding a finite number of training hospitals, jostling for access to patients and hands-on experience, just as they would with cadavers in medical school. Coupled with the brain drain of senior doctors to the private sector and, thus, the quantity of experienced mentors, this influx negatively affects the quality of doctors issued out to the field.

That there are too many housemen in hospitals, and that the compulsory service period has been cut down from three years to just one, with the possibility of it being waived altogether because of insufficient places, is indicative of the extent of the problem. And releasing insufficiently trained doctors into the market can hardly help.

That the Health Ministry is considering increasing the (very mediocre) entry requirement into medical colleges will partly address the problem. To further stem the tide, a standardised qualification examination run by a national body ought to be established, rather than leaving it to colleges to issue such "access cards".

The medical profession is deeply respected because of the level of skill required to shoulder the heavy responsibility over human life and well-being. WHO target or not, that high benchmark should be maintained.

New Straits Times New Straits Time Online Opinion Editorial 17/11/2013

Life-long Learning

EDUCATION, the pivotal foundation of the knowledge construct, is sourced both formally and informally. The latter kind is popularly referred to as the "school of hard knocks", making a person streetwise, an accoutrement of life no less important than the formal kind.

Nevertheless, formal education with its established institutions, from primary through to the tertiary and post-tertiary levels, is the backbone upon which rests the quality of a country's human capital.

One shortcoming of the current educational situation is the fact that not all who enrol at the very beginning will arrive at a convocation ceremony of an institute of higher learning (IHL). Rather, all along the way are dropouts who join the labour force befitting of their educational achievement. But the employment landscape is changing fast, threatening redundancy on unskilled labour.

Towards keeping them relevant to the needs of an economic transformation that demands a greater pool of skilled labour, a third pillar of formal education is being erected: lifelong learning. Several years in the making, the National-Level Life-Long Learning agenda (My3L) is expanding beyond the Education Ministry to evolve a cross-ministerial and cross-sectoral culture of cooperation, enabling the mobilisation of shared resources.

A cost-saving exercise, it is, according to the deputy prime minister, capable of providing value-add to society when those in the workforce will avail themselves of the opportunity. To date, as many as 32 polytechnics and 86 community colleges are already offering My3L programmes. Naturally, the infrastructure must grow to accommodate targets.

Unfortunately, while the policy implementation cost is being reduced, private colleges are upping tuition fees at five per cent annually, outpacing the national inflation rate. However, now that lifelong learning is considered a third pillar of the national education system and not merely just keeping aging minds agile, it must be given the attention it needs and deserves, and accessibility is the fundamental factor of its workability.

There is then a need to cap costs at acceptable levels if this initiative to improve Malaysia's labour force is to succeed. Barring that, further education for employees, paid for by the company as part of the reward system that opens the prospects for promotion, should fall into the category of corporate social responsibility, thus making it attractive to employers.

Of course, if the effort is wholly left to public IHLs (PIHL), appropriate courses that would contribute to the country's human capital needs can be made affordable. Subsidies for private institutions, too, ought to be considered; but only as a last resort when demand outstrips supply in PIHLs.

New Straits Times Opinion Editorial 18/11/2013

1 less A is not the end of the world

UNHEALTHY: Putting UPSR straight-A scorers on a pedestal damages self-esteem of pupils with less than perfect results

THE school holidays are here again. There are big smiles plastered on the faces of schoolchildren and their parents, and they will remain there for the next seven weeks.

The situation wasn't as cheery several days ago, at least for some 12-year-olds. It was as if the world had ended, and they had lost everyone and everything.

These children were beyond placating, wailing piteously on the shoulders of parents and friends after receiving their Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) or Primary School Assessment Test results.

In one school, a child was seen shuddering with grief, his shoulders heaving as he choked with sobs.

His results were by no means bad by any stretch of the imagination -- some As and Bs -- but he did not get straight As.

He wasn't alone in his despair.

There were others with swollen eyes around him, their faces wet with tears.

The atmosphere at the "Majlis Penyampaian Keputusan UPSR" clearly wasn't completely celebratory.

To rub salt into their wounds, the headmistress bounded up on stage to invite all 4A and 5A students to join her for a photo-taking session.

While those on stage whooped with joy and gave each other congratulatory pats on the back, those beneath them, literally and figuratively, howled a little louder.

Others just looked on forlornly.

That moment will likely forever be imprinted in their minds.

In another school, a similar ceremony was held and the names and scores of all pupils were read out before the large gathering of Year Six students and their parents.

It was rather awkward for those who did not secure the requisite string of As as others reached out to not only comfort the students, but also their parents.

"They gave me words of solace as my daughter got 'only' 4As but I told them it's something to be proud of, not mourn over," a mother said, shaking her head, "What have we become?"

One girl, who had been waiting with breathless anticipation, burst into tears when her name didn't turn up at the end of the 5A list being read out enthusiastically by the school head.

She was still crying at the end of the ceremony.

The scenario was replicated in many other schools that day.

Ceremonies to announce public exam results are the norm rather than the exception these days.

It has slowly crept into the school culture, the way grand graduation ceremonies and proms have, over the years.

Previously, students would just turn up in schools to collect their results quietly over the school office counter.

They can choose to share it, or not, with inquisitive friends and relatives, but these days, that choice is no longer theirs to make.

The public announcement and adulation of top scorers is not only wrong, but unhealthy.

It will only, in the long run, serve to permanently damage the self-esteem of pupils with less than perfect results.

As it is, studies suggest that more and more teens are affected by mental health problems.

Life stresses -- be they boy/girl relationships, falling out with a friend or anxiety over exams -- can adversely affect young people who are ill-equipped to handle such travails.

There have been several media reports on suicide attempts among young people unable to cope with exam stress.

This emphasis on stellar results has also created unhealthy behavioural patterns in pupils who generally perform better than their classmates.

They are created by a society that puts high-achievers on a pedestal.

The media, too, shares some of the blame for giving excessive coverage and highlighting only those who scored strings of As.

The message that should instead be continually re-inforced is that failing to score all As does not equal failing in life.

UPSR is just the first hurdle in what is still a very long journey ahead.

At the end of it, the last thing anyone would ask is how many As you scored in your Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah.

Chok Suat Ling | Instagram@suatling27 New Straits Times Online Opinion Columnist 21/11/2013

NZ people believe the rich will make them poorer

REALISATION: Country needs more business titans, not more sports heroes

WHAT happens when a far-flung nation in the antipodes gets so wrapped up looking at the world through the eyes of the poor?

It becomes incredibly debilitating because the nation sees the rich as tall poppies that ought to be trimmed rather than celebrated.

Looking at the world through this rich-poor divide gives rise to a lack of self belief.

The poor or less well-off tend to see being rich or successful as a state to be loathed.

It has become fashionable to keep expecting the government to hand out more in terms of social welfare programmes.

This perpetuates a cycle of complacency, where generations of household are trapped in their cocoon of poverty.

"Let's hate the rich, they are making you poor and poorer"; this seems to be the message heralded mostly by the media.

This national psyche is best reflected by former (Labour government) finance minister Michael Cullen's verbal attack on Prime Minister John Key, calling the latter that "rich prick".

Current Labour leader David Cunliffe, in his first speech as party leader, spoke of the rich wanting to keep the poor from competing on a level- playing field.

He is delusional: there is no such thing as a level-playing field.

If he doesn't recognise that, he doesn't understand reality.

Somehow, it becomes convenient for the average Joe on the street to damn Key, especially for his wealth.

Key is after all the epitome of success, someone who has risen way above his state-house background.

He was brought up by his mum and somehow found the path to success by recognising opportunities, not putting up barriers of self disbelief.

His sterling career at Merrill Lynch is well known.

New Zealand has got to get rid of its self-limiting tall-poppy mentality, which is deeply embedded in its being geographically isolated, as well as having its roots in the hard-working working and middle- class Scottish and English heritage.

Yet there seems to be something of a disconnect: there is this near megalomaniacal tendency that surround Kiwis and their sporting prowess in rugby and sailing.

Then there is this self-effacing tendency when it comes to celebrating corporates and entrepreneurs for their successes.

Somehow, bragging about sports is okay but celebrating successful companies is not.

New Zealand is a nation seriously intoxicated by the adrenaline of sports.

Most Kiwi children go through the drill of a childhood spent at countless hours of swimming lessons, soccer, cricket, netball, rugby -- driven largely by mums and dads more scary than Asian Tiger mums.

These parents have such enthusiasm for their kids to excel at sports, be an All Black (rugby), a Black Cap (cricket), an All White (soccer), or a Silver Fern (netball). These kids have "sport" literacy well before they can count or write ABC.

The fact is, New Zealand needs more business titans, not more sporting heroes.

How much better would it be for New Zealand if most of this exuberance for sports is transplanted onto exuberance for achieving financial literacy.

Start with educating children about how they need to save, and save, and not spend and spend.

Then teach them the dangers of taking on too much debt.

Kiwi homebuyers have no qualms about borrowing 90 or 100 per cent from the bank to fund their love of home ownership.

Treasury statistics show that in the 20 years to 2011, consumer and housing loans (in dollar terms) have seen a six-fold increase.

Households are increasingly putting more and more of their disposable income into consumer loans and housing loans with the ratio having risen to 147 per cent as at June 2011 (up from around 60 per cent in 1991).

National statistics also show that, over the last 20 years, the average Kiwi has been spending more than what he earns.

Kiwis sending bad vibes over the rich should take note that the wealthy households in New Zealand are paying for the bulk of the taxes that go towards funding the country's social programmes.

In fact, households earning about NZ$60,000 (RM156,000) pay virtually nothing into the system while households with income of more than NZ$150,000 pay a fair bit into the government's effort to redistribute wealth.   Someone very wise said "you can't be rich if you don't love money". There is a lot of truth in that. There is a lot of truth in that.

Someone should also be telling the Labour opposition that such mud-slinging reeks of sour grapes, of envy and jealousy.

What is interesting is those who succeed are not attracted to money per se. They are often driven by an incredible sense of self belief and a desire to scale new heights.

I won't have any problems if Key continues to run the national GDP. It would be dreadful for the Labour Party to take over.

The union and its merry band have a disjointed sense of reality. They want all the gain, and none of the pain associated with self restraint and self discipline when it comes to spending other people's hard-earned money.

Lee Yoke Har is an Auckland-based business writer New Straits Time Online Columnist 21/11/2013