September 14th, 2015

A valid case for must-pass rule in core subjects

THERE has been much discussion on the decision by the Education Ministry to postpone the policy of making it mandatory for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) candidates to pass English, with professionals and the layman giving feedback on the issue.

Those who support the idea feel that it will give more time for students and teachers to prepare. Those who disagree think that the government should continue with the original plan if we are to improve the quality of education, make students, especially those from rural areas, take English seriously, produce workers with competency in English and help the country compete with developed nations globally.

The reasons are, undeniably, valid. However, as we focus on making students realise the importance of English, we should not forget about our aim to produce critical and creative thinkers, all-rounders and exemplary individuals who will contribute to the economy, educate our children’s children, and be effective leaders of the next generation.

So, instead of contemplating the decision of when to implement the must-pass policy for English, we need to think of the best way to activate and develop not only students’ verbal and linguistic intelligence, but also their visual, logical and kinesthetic intelligence.

The policy of making English a must-pass subject will leave passers feeling contented, and failures, frustrated. It is true that SPM will not determine their future, given that there are successful individuals who were once dropouts but, to finish school after six years of primary and five years of secondary education without a certificate means that their time and efforts would have been in vain.

I feel that it is better if we make it compulsory for candidates to pass important subjects in Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 (PT3). With it being implemented for the second year now, teachers should have been more prepared in helping students do well in the examination.

Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mathematics, Science and Religious or Moral Education should be made a compulsory pass. Failure to meet the requirements will affect the students’ chance to pursue upper-secondary level education (Form Four).

Those who fail, however, should be allowed to re-sit papers. This way, it will ensure schoolchildren take education seriously, as many students believe that regardless of their achievements in exams, they can still continue their studies in Form Four.

Students need to learn the hard way, develop the motivation to study and prove their ability early. This route to success will make them strive to do well in SPM, lift their passion for learning and guarantee them a bright future.

Some students are carried away with their “honeymoon years” after completing their primary education and PT3, so we need to wake them up to help them reap the harvest of their continued efforts with satisfaction.

Every implementation has its pros and cons, but we should be courageous and confident in carrying out our ambitious yet achievable plans without expecting immediate results or jumping to weak and vague conclusions based on early results or negative feedback from naysayers.

It is either we take the risk or leave our goal of becoming a developed nation unaccomplished. Muhamad Solahudin Ramli, Marang, Terengganu NST Letters 14 September 2015

The unrecorded story of ‘Malaysia’

DURING some of my talks on the pre-colonial history of Pulau Pinang, I would inevitably be questioned on my sources. Querying much on the narrative, names and places, the audience would demand evidence in the likes of documentation and publications. We know sources of British history in Malaysia —unpublished primary sources like the East India Company Factory Records, the Straits Settlement Records, family records, notes and jottings, diaries, travelogues, maps, plans and other archival materials, reports, journal articles, and books.

There are even receipts of expenditures preserved in archives and libraries in Britain and the Netherlands. And not forgetting newspapers as sources of history such as early Pulau Pinang newspapers in the Prince of Wales Island Gazette first published in 1806. What about Malay/local sources?

The Malays do not preserve records like the British or other European societies.

Masjid Tengkera in Malacca was built by a Minangkabau, Nakhoda nan Intan Tuanku Patis nan Sabatang (Haji Muhammad Salleh) in 1734, who also built Masjid Jamik Batu Uban in Penang.
When I narrated on the existence of the Malays in Pulau Pinang before 1786, I would draw my sources from oral histories, genealogies, and artefacts such as mosques and other surviving structures.

There are family records and available written documents, and some books. These were created mainly over the last century but describe events and names before the 1780s.

I am rather amused at some of the questions. Some assert “Malays do not write.”

On one of the earliest mosques in Malaysia, the Masjid Jamik Batu Uban built by a Minangkabau, Nakhoda nan Intan Tuanku Patis nan Sabatang (Haji Muhammad Salleh) in 1734, a typical question asked was why is there no Minangkabau-type roof.

The traditional mosque in West Sumatra is either built with a three or a two-tier pyramidal roof form.

There are also some with the Minangkabau roof form, and the traditional dome.

We also find some mosques with modernised, stylised Minangkabau-roof forms, more visible in Padang. It was related to me that Nakhoda nan Intan also built the Tengkera Mosque in Malacca.

This was in 1728, earlier than Masjid Batu Uban. How do I know? This was through communication with one of his descendants, a sixth generation who lives in Banda Hilir Melaka, and also from other descendants in Batu Uban.

I have noted this piece of information in my recent book Batu Uban: Sejarah Awal Pulau Pinang [Batu Uban: An Early History of Pulau Pinang (2015)] Many parties, the policy and cultural establishments included, have always asked for facts when discussing the pre-colonial history of Pulau Pinang.

I can only say that until much of the 1700s, Malays who travelled and traversed throughout the “Malaysia” of the Malay archipelago, and beyond the region, including India and China, did not record their encounters. However, we know of missions to China from Malacca in the 15th century.

And Malays travelling to China also originated from Brunei, Pasai, Pahang and Java before the 1700s. There is also evidence contained in Alburquerque’s letter where he writes of a map with place names written in Javanese, which he had obtained from a Javanese pilot.

Generally the travels and encounters of the Malays from the larger archipelagic geographical space of “Malaysia” — described in early modern Italian maps and British maps later, are not recorded in the present form.

This is not until the narratives found in Hikayat Nakhoda Muda (1788), an autobiography of Minangkabau Nakhoda Lauddin and three generations of his family, Ahmad Rijaluddin’s Hikayat Perintah Negeri Belanda (1811), a 1821 Minangkabau text Surat-surat Keterangan Syeikh Jalaluddin and Abdullah Munshi’s 1842 Hikayat Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir.

Abdullah was not the earliest. From these writers, we know much of Malay society, encounters and influences from the outside world. And of course, we have the numerous classical texts from across the “Malaysia” of the Malay archipelago which need constant reinterpretations, not only in its literary form, but in sociological, anthropological, historical and geographical perspectives.

These Hikayats in Bahasa Melayu stretch from the 1300s to the 1950s. I have heard of a Hikayat Tanjong Malim written in the 1940s/50s. I hope someone can enlighten me on this.

The problem faced in the writing of local histories, and of personalities who merantau, or who traded across and along the Straits of Malacca, and transcending the archipelago and the larger Malay world before the establishment of European rule was the absence of records.

There are exceptions though — as in the Acehnese sent for a mission to Istanbul in 1564; or stretching the imagination on Rum (Rome) as it gravitates from such writings as in Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), Hikayat Hang Tuah (The Story of Hang Tuah) and the Tambo Minangkabau (Traditions of the Minangkabau).

But that is another story where the proof of the nation’s past is in orality and aurality