July 16th, 2015

National challenges to achieving moderation

I REFER to the letter “Continue fiscal, financial reforms” (The Star, July 7) by my former colleague Tan Sri Sheriff Kassim.

Sheriff rightly concludes that “the growth of the economy and the happiness of the people depend on the country taking the moderate path, in line with the principles enshrined in the Constitution and our obligations as a member of the international community.”

I fully agree with Sheriff that the return to the moderate path in our national policies and practices will enable Malaysia to succeed and prosper and rise as a united nation in the longer term.

I have to confess that I fear Malaysia will gradually decline, decay and fall if it continues to veer from the path of moderation.

But I also believe Malaysia can return to the glorious days when all our races mixed freely and regarded our diversity as our strength. Back then, we enjoyed greater national unity and less Islamisation in our society and national schools. There was also certainly a much lower level of putrid politicking on both sides of the house.

But I would respectfully disagree with the views sometimes expressed that the moderate path can only be achieved if we are prepared to accept English as the sole medium of instruction in our national schools. Surely we can carry on with Bahasa Malaysia as our main medium but with English taught seriously as a second medium of instruction.

Children worldwide are known to be able to learn several languages with ease, so why can’t our children do so? We could also teach English literature and Science and Maths in English to raise their capabilities.

At the same time, mother tongues like Chinese and Tamil can be made compulsory subjects for Chinese and Tamil students while Arabic could also be taught for those who opt to learn another language. However, there are many more national challenges that we must overcome to succeed in adopting the Malaysian middle path of moderation.

I have listed some of the measures for further consultation and debate.

1) We must all reaffirm our loyalty to the King, the Sultans and Heads of States.

2) We have to fully support the Federal and State Constitutions in word and spirit and reaffirm our commitment to the Rukun Negara.

3) We must all agree that Malaysia belongs to all Malaysians regardless of race, religion and geography. We have to remove the acute divisive feelings caused by notions of ketuananship, racial and religious bigotry and supremacy.

4) Bumiputraism has created racial and religious divisiveness and dichotomy in Malaysia. This can and should be phased out as soon as possible and replaced by the bottom 40% income anti-poverty policies and programmes enunciated so well in the 11th Malaysia Plan. Most of the poorest and underprivileged Malaysians are still the Malays, orang asli, and orang asal of Sabah and Sarawak.

5) As pointed out by Sheriff, meritocracy, competition, efficiency, countering corruption and slashing government expenditure and wastage must be given priority to build good governance and moderation. These important goals have been getting less Government attention. This is one major reason why Malaysia is now caught in the middle income trap and is suffering from so many socio, economic and political ills.

6) Although we are proud of our relatively strong economic fundamentals now, can we honestly ask ourselves how long can we remain strong and sustainable?

With the current worrisome political uncertainty, the declining ringgit, narrow buffers for budget deficits, national debt and weakening balance of payments, even the encouragement derived from the recent favourable Fitch ratings may be temporary and not sustainable. We therefore need to buttress our economy with more real reforms and transformation to ensure sustained growth and development and better equity and income distribution to benefit the rakyat.

7. I agree with Sheriff that the Rule of Law must be protected and promoted more strongly to preserve and enhance our national and international confidence.

Some would argue that we are experiencing the early signs of a failing state. I don’t believe this but there are many who think this way, and that is the problem of less confidence and more pessimism. How else do we explain the continuing brain drain, where many of our best brains are in Singapore, Australia, Britain and all over the world? At the same time, Malaysian businessmen and entrepreneurs are finding it very difficult to recruit and retain able and experienced managers and professionals.

8) Many former civil servant colleagues like Sheriff and those in the G25, G33 and most Malaysian moderates would be aware that many senior civil servants like us did often advise the Government while within the service. We urged them professionally and politely to cut the national coat according to the available cloth, and to think long term instead of just seeking short-term political gains.

9) The reason for the Government to rush forward in the past was the pursuit of the concept of “state capture”. Many countries practise this policy of using the apparatus of state to remain in political control for as long as possible.

But in most countries, state capture does not last long because of frequent changes in governments at election time. In our country, we joke that civil servants who become permanent secretaries hold their posts for short periods or temporarily, while many ministers stay in their posts for longer periods. That is why permanent secretaries are now called secretary-general.

So how can we get real government and economic transformation when checks and balances are reduced? We must reject state capture that can keep us stuck in the middle income trap. Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam Chairman ASLI Center of Public Policy Studies The STAR Home News Opinion Letters July 15, 2015

Little beggars the bane at Raya

TRADITIONALLY, Hari Raya Aidilfitri is celebrated with much joy, abundant food, morning prayers, visits to the graveyards, visits by friends and relatives and the young asking for forgiveness from their elders.

These few years, however, a new trend has been added to these noble traditions. Young children whom you have never seen before are now coming in droves to your house to ask for forgiveness and expect duit raya in return.

Not too long ago, you only gave duit raya to family members, relatives and children of the neighbours. Now, the list has been extended to include every youngster who comes a-calling.

These are not children from the far-end corner of your housing area whom you hardly talk to or some distant, long-forgotten cousins.

Most of the time, they do not even know the owner of the house or any other member of the family. They come in large or small groups from different areas of the towns or villages, moving patiently from house to house with a mission to collect as much duit raya as they can.

Their presence can be very embarrassing, unpleasant and totally unfair for the hosts as many of these young, uninvited guests are not there to get to know you or for the food and drinks.

They are there for the money. It can be an expensive and time-consuming affair as your small guests sit awkwardly and you try to make small talk.

At the end of the day, it is not unusual for these duit raya hunters to compare and boast of the amount of money they have amassed in such a short period. Their collections sometimes run into hundreds of ringgit!

Many Muslims do not see this silent, undignified practice as an affront and insult to the real meaning and purpose behind Hari Raya. In fact, Muslim society in general seems to accept and condone it.

Some parents see it as a harmless enterprise and even encourage their children without realising that they are turning their young, innocent children into shameless beggars.

As a matter of fact, it is not wrong to give and get duit raya, but it is wrong to tarnish the noble traditions of Hari Raya by going from house to house of people you do not know just for the money.

Presumably an offshoot of the Chinese tradition of giving ang pow during Chinese New Year, the practice has outdone the Chinese in many ways.

The fact is that during Chinese New Year, many Chinese only visit people they know and the ang pow are given only to unmarried relatives, close friends and the neighbours’ children.

Parents, teachers and the Muslim community must be made aware of this pervasive money-driven practice that has already evolved into a tradition of sorts.

Perhaps our ministers too should take a hard look at the practice of handing out duit raya and ang pow at their open houses during the festive seasons. It is a silent endorsement of the act and should not be encouraged.

On such occasions, I do not envy our beloved Prime Minister and wife standing bravely, big smiles on their faces, tirelessly disposing of hundreds of duit raya packets or ang pow to rows and rows of people. Alkut Kota Baru The STAR Home News Opinion Letters 15 July 2015

Ketekunan guru, ibu bapa kunci pendidikan bermutu

Sesetengah pihak di negara ini mempercayai pendidikan bermutu hanya terbekal apabila disampaikan dalam bahasa Inggeris. Ia diungkit setiap kali kita tidak dapat memperlihat prestasi baik dalam bidang pendidikan di persada antarabangsa.

Sehubungan ini, kita kelihatan bukan saja kerdil, malah bebal pula apabila negara yang jauh lebih mundur, berjaya memperoleh pencapaian lebih cemerlang.

Sudah tentu ini menggusarkan kita. Ia menjadi lebih parah apabila negara berkenaan tidak pun menggunakan bahasa Inggeris untuk sistem pendidikannya.

Oleh itu, bahasa Inggeris bukan faktor penentu utama mengenai hal pencapaian baik dalam bidang pendidikan.

Kesedaran mendalam

Jadi apakah rahsia kejayaannya? Apabila ditinjau, faktornya didapati tidak berapa ada lagi di negara ini. Ia tidak lain tidak bukan kesedaran mendalam terhadap pendidikan, baik oleh golongan pendidik mahupun ibu bapa dan masyarakat.

Ia didapati masih utuh di negara yang selalu memperlihat kejayaan. Kesedaran ini sebenarnya sangat utuh di negara ini pada masa dulu.

Akan tetapi, sejak beberapa tahun lampau, ia boleh dikatakan tiada lagi. Ia belum kehilangan sepenuhnya, tetapi dalam proses ke arah kelenyapan, jika guru dan ibu bapa serta masyarakat tidak melakukan sesuatu yang mendadak.

Golongan pendidik kini rata-ratanya tidak seperti pada masa lampau. Kini mereka yang menceburi bidang pendidikan bukan lagi disebabkan minat mendalam terhadap kerjaya perguruan.

Walaupun begitu, didapati ramai yang masih mahu menjadi guru dalam keadaan sedemikian. Dengan ini, walaupun bilangan mereka itu tidaklah besar sangat, namun ia ibarat nila setitik merosakkan susu sebelangga.

Oleh sebab ketiadaan minat sejati yang berkait pula dengan kecintaan dan emosi positif terhadap bidang perguruan, mereka ini didapati liat dalam menjalankan tugas mengajar.

Berani cemuh guru

Sikap liat mereka inilah yang menjadi faktor utama ibu bapa dan masyarakat tidak lagi menghormati guru secara umumnya. Ia juga menyebabkan mereka mula berani mencemuh guru.

Semua ini tidak sepatutnya berlaku jika setiap guru bijak membawa diri dalam kerjaya yang mulia ini.

Dengan kata lain, semua ini adalah tindak balas ibu bapa dan masyarakat terhadap guru, walaupun akibat tindak-tanduk oleh mereka yang tiada amanah.

Namun, amalan mereka ini dipersepsikan sebagai norma pendidikan pada masa kini kerana seekor kerbau membawa lumpur, akan terpalitlah semuanya.

Ibu bapa dan masyarakat kini juga tidak sama lagi seperti pada masa lampau. Mereka bukan saja cepat mempercayai aduan anak, malah terus melenting untuk menyalahkan guru.

Sehubungan ini, ada aduan yang ada asasnya dan ada pula yang sebaliknya. Sama ada berasas ataupun tidak, ibu bapa dan masyarakat perlu bijak dalam menangani aduan daripada anak.

Ia hendaklah dilakukan bagai menarik rambut dalam tepung.

Perasaan guru dan lebih penting lagi maruah mereka pada mata pelajar mesti selalu menjadi perkiraan utama.

Perasaan yang sudah tersinggung, apatah lagi maruah yang telah dijatuhkan, boleh menyebabkan guru berkenaan khasnya, dan yang lain-lainnya amnya, lemah dan patah semangat serta tawar hati untuk melakukan yang terbaik.

Dalam hal ini, ibu bapa dan masyarakat hendaklah senantiasa ingat bahawa guru hanya manusia biasa.

Sesungguhnya kita semua hanya manusia biasa. Dengan ini, kita sama-sama melakukan kesalahan. Bumi mana yang tidak ditimpa hujan.

Oleh itu, marilah kita insafi kekhilafan yang telah berlaku untuk memperbaiki keadaan.

Guru perlu berintegriti

Bagi guru, sama ada berminat atau sebaliknya, mereka hendaklah mempunyai integriti untuk menjalankan tugas dengan sebaik-baiknya.

Mereka tiada pilihan melainkan menjalankan amanah mengajar sejujur yang boleh. Ia bukan saja diberkati, malah amat penting ia aku janji.

Untuk ibu bapa dan masyarakat, serahkan tugas mengajar sepenuhnya kepada guru.

Tugas ini yang merangkumi disiplin di sekolah tidak boleh sesekali dicampuri sesiapa pun. Ia hak eksklusif guru dan perlu difahami sejelas-jelasnya.

Inilah yang sebenarnya berlaku dalam sistem pendidikan bermutu di merata tempat.

Ia disedari dan dijadikan inti pati Pelan Pembangunan Pendidikan Malaysia 2013-2025, khususnya dalam sebelas anjakannya.

Dengan ini, kerjasama golongan guru dan ibu bapa serta masyarakat diperlukan untuk menjayakannya.Teo Kok Seong Berita Harian Kolumnis 16 Julai 2015