June 19th, 2015

Marrying industry with education

“HARD work, discipline, knowledge, no short cuts and never give up”.

These are some of the success factors highlighted by Datuk Seri Syed Zainal Abidin (pic), former Proton CEO, to about 30,000 attentive Universiti Institut Teknology Mara (UiTM) students on June 10.

The talk at UiTM’s majestic Dewan Tuanku Canselor was packed with 4,000 students while another 26,000 watched via live-feed from UiTM’s branch campuses all over the country.

Now an adviser at various technology and automotive companies, Syed Zainal gave the lecture as part of the CEO @ Faculty Programme launch. The programme is a key initiative under the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) to enhance public-industry collaboration.

In his inaugural lecture, the trained engineer who was casually dressed in shirt and jeans, focused on leadership.

He shared with the audience his life growing up and studying at the Penang Free High School, going abroad for the first time to study at the University of Maryland, his first job as a furniture salesman, his time in Proton (where he introduced the Preve which, in my opinion, is the last solid car from Proton) and the difficult decision to quit the company he so loved.

And he ended the lecture with a tribute to his parents and family whom he described as the most important people in this world to him (aww…).

The lecture was inspiring and gave a unique insight into the life and experience of this well-known CEO. Syed Zainal's subsequent lectures will cover more technical areas, including management, international business and relations and the automotive industry. In total, he will cover 30 hours worth of lectures (he has about 27 left).

The CEO @ Faculty programme will see many well-known CEOs participating, including  Tan Sri Tony Fernandez of AirAsia, Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar of Khazanah and  Anna Braun, President of B. Braun Medical Industries. I’m sure their talks will be very interesting too.

Also recently, the Technical University of Melaka Malaysia (UTeM), in collaboration with Samsung, has started the Internet of Things (IoT) Academy.

The first of its kind in the world,this academy will expose local university students to emerging technologies and enable them to undergo training on software (cyber security applications for Android devices) and hardware development (for new Samsung IoT-enabled products).

For the techies, myself included, the UTeM-Samsung IoT academy is pretty cool. The ‘Internet of Things’ is seen as the next big thing in the technology world which focuses on enabling products to communicate with each other to make our lives easier. Samsung has pledged more than US$100 million for IoT-related efforts worldwide, and expects all its products to be IoT-enabled by 2020.

Imagine walking into the shower with the perfect water temperature and not having to toggle any levers.

The above are just a few examples of industry – academia collaborative efforts now taking place in Malaysia. There are many more happening.

For instance, the Education Ministry has started the Public-Private Research Network (PPRN) where universities act as solution providers to problems faced by the industry.

For instance, if Company A needs a new type of casing material for its safety equipment, University B could develop it through its materials engineering faculty. Company A would pay a certain amount, with the Government providing some support (matching grants). As at May 2015, 154 projects have been matched to researchers from 20 universities / research institutions, with 10 such projects having been successfully completed.

Another major public-private collaborative initiative is the Industry Centre of Excellence (ICOE). This initiative aims to enhance R&D, encourage technology transfer and help industry meet its human capital needs. There are currently 10 ICOE clusters, each, led by a university and supported by industry. These include ICT (IBM, Motorola etc), construction (Sunway Construction, CIDB etc), biotechnology (Biocon, Orchid Life etc), automotive (Toyota, DRB Hicom), and wholesale and retail (MyDin, AEON, Giant etc).

So, why am I sharing all this information?

It is to show that the industry plays an extremely vital role in developing our education system.

Improving student accomplishments such as English proficiency, work attitude and skills, can be done with industry support and involvement.

The same goes for conducting relevant high impact research and the commercialisation of findings. In some institutions, industry members help craft the curriculum to ensure market relevance. And soon, industry experience will count towards lecturers promotions.

Industry-academia collaboration is now happening in Malaysia in a big way. More still needs to be done but the future looks positive.

The writer wishes all Muslims a blessed Ramadhan.

Grounding faith in thinking

THERE are a number of young and exceptionally talented Malaysians who have made their mark in the fields of sports and music.

Yuna, for example, has made her name in the United States, the most developed and competitive music market in the world. Her brand of unique and refreshingly youthful music has also made her popular in Malaysia, where she has topped four categories at the Anugerah Musik Negara.

Malays are also proud of the fact that she wears the tudung, albeit sassily fashionable ones, and it seems many of them are more taken by her attire than her music. I am sure that if she did not cover her hair there would be much less frenzy and adoration for her success among Malays.

She might even be at the receiving end of the kind of criticism that national gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi was showered with recently for wearing costumes that do not cover her aurat.

Farah Ann is an exceptional athletic talent. At the SEA Games in Singapore, which concluded recently, she won a number of medals, including gold in the gymnastics floor exercise. Many Malaysians praised her for winning glory for the country, but there was an equally strong, critical reaction from some Malays over her costumes.

Leotards are the standard outfit for competitive gymnastics. They are tailored not to titillate audiences, but to allow athletes the maximum range of movement so that they can execute their difficult routines.

These routines require years of training and physical conditioning, not to mention thousands of hours of practice. Our national athletes sacrifice time with their friends and family and risk serious injury in their quest to be the best in their fields.

But this was lost on many of those who tuned in to watch Farah Ann’s medal-winning performances: instead of appreciating her technical prowess, physical discipline and grace, all they could see was her outfit and how it “revealed her vagina shape”.

These Malays then turned to social media to vent their criticism. They ridiculed this young woman for not respecting Islam and for failing to comply with what they said were dress codes for Muslim women.

They soured what should have been a day of celebration, choosing instead to hurl their scorn at a young woman who only wished to do well for her country. Does the Quran really prescribe this kind of hateful behaviour?

Fortunately, we have a sensible Youth and Sports Minister. Khairy Jamaluddin rushed to Farah Ann’s defence, telling her critics to mind their own business. In a tweet, he told her detractors that only God the Almighty can judge her.

I have always maintained that these Malays are hypocrites of the highest order. They are always quick to complain and criticise other Muslims for not being Islamic in their dressing or their way of life, as if they were faultless Muslims themselves.

They emulate the Taliban in their intolerance of other Muslims who are not like them. In fact, some of them are useless as human beings because they have achieved nothing compared to the very people they criticise.

This disease springs from our system of religious education, which teaches a brand of faith that is shallow and misinformed.

Many religious preachers are given a free rein to pass judgment on the personal conduct of Muslims, simply because they claim to understand religion better than those who listen to them. The bizarre thing is how freely these preachers pass judgment on other people when they have achieved nothing that the country can be proud of.

They seldom entertain questions during their lectures, and if you ask them any that they cannot answer then they get very angry.

These religious classes or lectures are always one-sided because no discourse or dialogue is permitted. Ardent students then grow up and follow in these preachers’ footsteps, criticising others who come along even though they know little about the world, much less about the religion. And so the cycle continues.

With such a closed attitude to learning and faith, is it any wonder that there are attacks like the one Farah Ann suffered in the last week? This kind of criticism also reflects the deeply sexist bias against women in our society. It is high time we had women muftis in Malaysia to help combat this ingrained misogyny in our culture.

When I was in school in Kota Baru, we had a religious teacher who was an exception to the rule. His tawhid class was one I enjoyed very much. (Tawhid seeks to understand Allah and His attributes.)

Our teacher always reminded us that in the Quran, Allah’s qualities included being compassionate, merciful and all-knowing. He told us that Allah knew everything.

Now that the fasting month is upon us again, it reminds me of the time when the ustaztold us that one of the reasons why Allah wanted us to fast was to test our resolve, ­discipline and our loyalty to His command.

I countered by saying that this could not be correct; since Allah is all-knowing, He would know the outcome long before the test even took place, rendering it pointless.

Instead of scolding me, our ustaz asked me to explain why I thought we needed to fast. I said that as Muslims, we had to follow God’s teachings and commands – that was all there was to it. We had to have faith, which means we must believe without any justification or reason. We should not second-guess why He has asked something from us.

I could not say if my teacher was happy with my reply, but I will always remember him for allowing me the satisfaction of seeing that religious belief can be grounded by our own thinking, and not by blindly following what others tell us to do.

The ultimate question must always be this: what does Allah want us to do on this earth? He wants Farah Ann to be a gymnast and to win gold medals for her country. Naturally, Farah has to wear a suitable costume that would allow her to optimise her chances.

Farah won because Allah willed it so; otherwise she would not have bagged that gold medal. Allah’s grace was instrumental in her win.

Why did these busybody Muslims take offence at Farah wearing the leotard? Who gave them the right to criticise her winning the gold medal when Allah had willed it so? Why do these same Muslims stay silent when our soccer players wear shorts, which also fail to cover their aurat? Why not pelt them with stones?

They truly are hypocrites of the highest order but we should have pity on them. We are the ones who produced them in large numbers, thanks to the poor quality of religious education we give to young Muslims in this country.

Zaid Ibrahim The STAR Home News Opinion Columnist All Kinds of Everything 19 June 2015

Dr M should justify conviction in policy

IN view of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s continued support for the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English in the national school curriculum,

it would be appropriate for him at this stage to justify his convictions and to say precisely why teaching just two subjects in English would be better than to have all subjects in one language.

There was a time when people, including politicians and policymakers, followed their heart. But the time is right now for solid reason and convincing scientific proof.

I don’t think any present-day educated person would be happy to follow a policy or to submit to new guidelines unless he or she had a clear demonstration that the new course of action would indeed be beneficial.

One of the main reasons given for the introduction of the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English in 2003 was to help graduates increase their employability by ensuring that they can speak better English.

Thus, English was even then recognised as an edge for greater career success. Yet, there is nothing scientific in a job interview. Even the most qualified and academically successful prospects need to satisfy their future employer’s need for likeability. After all is said and done, people will give you the job because they like you.

No more and no less. Education is a comprehensive endeavour. That means that education develops both the physical and mental abilities of a person, besides bringing to light new resources and possibilities that the person was not aware he or she had.

We have known quite a number of scientists, including Nobel prize winners, to have perfectly unsatisfactory personal lives. There always comes a time when these people had to put their achievements into perspective and recognise that they were, after all, not as happy as they would have liked to be.

In fact, the purpose of life is to be happy — happy with oneself first, and then happy with everyone around us. Many people these days look for happiness in their jobs, too. Being happy in a job means to be doing something that one likes to do with people one likes to be with.

Quite a number of people have given up high-paying jobs and started a new career doing what they felt they were meant to do from the beginning. Invariably, these “love the job” advocates report that they do not miss their former well-paid position, and that the happiness and satisfaction they find in their new profession well compensate for the loss of wages.

I would also like to point out that many students today opt for the humanities, business and the liberal arts, all of which demand a high degree of language proficiency in order to put in a good performance.

Some business conversations, although aimed at highlighting assets and balancing figures, have very little to do with Mathematics and Statistics, and nearly all to do with perception and credibility.

Indeed, much of the facts prove that having a school curriculum taught consistently in one language would be more beneficial to the students’ academic and emotional wellbeing and future success in life than a multilingual approach.

Due to the high level of present-day international trade and travelling, the argument for that language being English is very strong indeed.

Nevertheless, having a very high respect for the former prime minister, who has a high level of education, experience and love for his country,

I am quite sure that there is some merit in his theory. It would, therefore, be appropriate for Dr Mahathir, at this point in time, to clearly state why it would be better for Malaysia's national schools to teach Science and Mathematics in English, and to show, with both figures and validated case studies, that only Science and Mathematics would be better taught in English while all other subjects should continue with Bahasa Malaysia, which is the national language. Marisa Demori, Kuala Lumpur NST Letters to the Editors 19 Jun 2015

Time to shed colonial mentality

I REFER to Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid’s eye-opening article “Tapping our great talents” (NST, June 12), where implicit in his article is the message that our mindset is still being colonised, for not having confidence in local expertise.

Ibrahim said: “In the thousands of projects for the transformation of society, there should be a clear and systematic requirement to encourage a development culture of utilising local expertise first.

” Many Malaysian professionals are known to be unhappy and frustrated having to work under foreign “experts” who are paid much more than locals, doing the same job, when the truth is many of them fall short of expectations.

In some cases, the local professionals have to teach the foreigners. And that can be very frustrating and humiliating. Malaysia has come a long way from the 1960s as the government has invested heavily in human capital and has produced thousands of professionals in a wide field.

They have proven to be good in their area of expertise and today, local professionals are highly regarded by many countries. Many have gone abroad as consultants, contractors and researchers, where they are recognised as having equal standing with their counterparts.

Recently, I attended a Pemandu/Teraju lab on “English proficiency” and was impressed with the young professionals who were given the heavy task of coming up with the right formula.

They are very business-like, analytical, data-based and excellent in coming up with a very systematic and eye-catching presentation.

It is true when Ibrahim said: “There is a vast human resource and knowledge and skills pool, young and retired, with competencies from basic literacies to the most highly sophisticated areas of human knowledge mastery.From the vast knowledge, expertise and experience resources, there are underutilised human resources.”

The underutilised human resources can be a time bomb if not carefully monitored and nurtured. Imagine a graduate with a master’s degree in Petroleum Engineering from a reputable foreign university is not placed in the right place to tap his/her knowledge and expertise, but left to be underutilised.

Some even end up doing what he/she was not trained to do. There are many such graduates out there who are underutilised due to local prejudice in the preference for foreign “expertise”.

Talent Corp, being a lead agency under the government’s Transformation initiatives, should have a good database of all graduates and, where possible, try to match each graduate’s competency with the right industry.

The agency has the expertise and they can do the job of matchmaking. Malaysians are not without talent. But when they have to compete for a job or project with a foreigner, more often than not, they stand to lose.

While not denying that foreign talent is required in certain areas, it appears that today even in the simplest job, like teaching English, we have to bring in a large number of foreign “native-speakers”.

Some question why we can’t mobilise the large pool of retired teachers of the 1960s; some Kirkby-trained retired teachers would do the job for half of what is paid to native-speakers.

Our country has a big pool of professionals waiting to be discovered and they are ready to serve the nation. If only we can shed the colonial mentality of “hiring” and “firing”. Hasssan Talib, Gombak, Selangor NST Letters to the Editors 19 Jun 2015