September 22nd, 2015

Absolutely no room for mistakes

EVERY time a public examination (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah, Penilaian Menengah Rendah /Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia ) is ongoing, students and parents not only endure the pressure linked to the exam but also bear a lingering feeling of apprehension.

This worry and fear is because now and then, our public exams are wrought with incidences that are beyond the students’ or parents’ doing, but affect them dearly nevertheless. Incidences in recent years include the leakage of exam questions that resulted in the resitting of papers.

Questions set were faulty in terms of content, syllabus or grammar, and multiple-choice questions provided no correct answers which confused the candidates. The distribution of wrong question papers in some centres also resulted in students being quarantined for hours.


Examinations can be an enjoyable experience if all those involved play their part responsibly and with dedication.


Most recently, it was reported that the SPM-level Chinese Language comprehension passages had appeared in the UPSR Chinese Language paper!

No doubt the authorities acted quickly each time to contain and limit the damage done.

Parents were reassured that the marking and grading of the affected papers would take into consideration the “mistakes” made.

This is all very well and with good-intention but, unfortunately, it happens once too often! I venture to argue that those who are managing exams must reckon that they are in for a zero-defect business.

The responsibility is heavy and no excuses can absolve them of their carelessness or lack of foresight in anticipating probable problems. It is not out of order to expect that exams have to be foolproof as they had been in years gone by.

We need quality teachers and officials of the highest integrity to be in charge at all levels of exam management, from the drafting, formatting and selection of questions to the final printing and packaging of the exam papers.

These teachers and officials should have adequate knowledge of the subject(s) they teach or oversee. They must have sufficient field experiences, meaning they have spent enough years in classroom teaching and/or supervision of the subject(s).

These classroom experiences will give them knowledge and understanding of what are fair questions for the candidates to answer and (even) for teachers to teach. In addition, exam officials should learn the basic management skills and safety measures to coordinate meticulously the process of getting those exam papers printed, packaged and distributed efficiently to all exam centres.

Unfortunately, if I may say so, the learning curve for teachers and officials involved in exam matters has to be steep. They do not have all the time to hone or sharpen their skills.

Demanding it may sound, they have to get it right the first time. Just remember that the students who are sitting a paper in an exam have just that one and only chance to do their best and enjoy the experience.

The teachers and officials in charge of exam have the responsibility and moral obligation to get all the settings right for these students.

Examinations can be an enjoyable experience and not a stressful one if all parties involved play their part responsibly and with dedication.

Learning new things in English daily

I WOULD like to thank English teacher Sumati Muniandy from Johor, for her letter, “Correct common language mistakes” (NST, September 17). I believe her letter has enlightened NST readers on the usage of English, including me.

As an English teacher for so many years, even I had overlooked the correct usage of “My handphone is spoilt”. I had to look up the definition of the word ‘spoil’ in the dictionary and find out the nuance of its meaning.

The dictionary states: “to have a bad effect on something so that it is no longer attractive, enjoyable, useful…” Thus, the word is not applicable for something that is damaged or not working.

Further, I had thought that “outstation” is a proper English word, as I had been hearing my colleagues and friends using the sentence, “I am going outstation next week.”

So, when Sumati highlighted this, I consulted the dictionary and it turned out that “‘outstation” does not exist in English. She mentioned the phrase, “I always sleep late”, which is not the same as “I go to bed late”.

In fact, “I always sleep late” means “not wake up until late in the morning”. Hence, the phrase is confusing to anyone learning English.


We can say ‘We have lunch together’ or ‘We eat lunch together’. Both have the same meaning.
Also when people say,

“I usually sleep in at the weekends”, it means “sleep later than usual in the morning”.

To “sleep over” means to “sleep at somebody’s home for a night”.

“Where got such thing” is a common error among Chinese students.

In fact, they always say “Where got?” especially when they are being accused by someone for wrongdoings.

The proper reply should be “I didn’t do that!” or “It’s not me!” I would like to share a common English errors by Malaysians.

First, the phrase, “Where do you stay?” should be said as “Where do you live?”

The word “stay” means to live for a short time as a visitor or guest, whereas “live” means to have your home somewhere. Unless the person you are asking is a visitor or a tourist, otherwise “Where do you live?” is the proper sentence to use when we want to know where someone’s home is.

The word “calculative” is not an English word but is being misused by Malaysians. The closest word in English for “calculative” should be “fussy” or “picky” or other related synonyms.

Finally, the phrase, “look forward to” should be followed by the “-ing” verb, when there is a verb after the phrase. “I am looking forward to visiting the zoo” is correct, whereas “I am looking forward to visit the zoo” is not standard English.

The word “to” in “look forward to” is a preposition instead of the usual to +infinitive as in the sentence, “I am ready to go.” The former ‘to’ and the latter ‘to’ are not the same thing.

Likewise, we say “I am used to scoring with my right foot”, but we say “I used to play football in my youth”. Again the former and the latter ‘to’ are not the same.

Last, but not least, “eat lunch” is acceptable in English. Anyone can look up the word ‘lunch’ and learn that it is a proper usage. We can say “We have lunch together” or “We eat lunch together”.

Both have the same meaning. Luckily, we are honoured to have such a devoted English teacher like Sumati to highlight these English errors misused.

We need to be lifelong learners in the pursuit of excellence in English. Even after learning English for more than 30 years and teaching English for more than 10 years,

I keep learning new things every day. I hope that there will be an English column in the NST for learning English, so that English teachers can put forward their learning and teaching insights.

As Apple founder Steve Jobs used to say: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”.

Thus, English learners should always stay hungry, stay foolish, and keep learning. 

Mutual trust, respect and understanding

“YOU are anti-national.” This was what I got for my trouble at a public forum in Penang in 1971 for expressing reservations about the New Economic Policy (NEP).

The meeting was chaired by Geoff Lembruggen, a Malaysian of Dutch Burgher lineage and formerly of the Straits Settlements Civil Service.

He decided to throw in his lot with the country of his birth, returning to Kuala Lumpur when Singapore merged with the Federation of Malaya in 1963.

Geoff had had a distinguished career, quickly reaching the senior ranks of that elite body of men. Upon his return, Geoff was quickly pressed into service by Tan Sri (later Tun) Ismail Ali, then governor of Bank Negara Malaysia.

Ismail, who had built a team of dependable professionals to help him run the bank, had a knack for spotting talent, and Geoff was appointed general manager of MIDF. Ismail was chairman.


National integration can be achieved through a single unified education system where Malaysians of different racial and cultural backgrounds grow up studying and playing together.
The gentleman who was brimming over with fire and brimstone when challenging my loyalty to my race and country was unquestionably a Penang Indian Muslim who, like many of his ilk, gave the impression that he was more Malay than I with my roots going back to 1136.

I am sure this constitutional Malay would lapse into Tamil at home. What riled him was my saying that putting young Malays into Mara colleges that excluded children from other ethnic groups was not the way to create a truly united Malaysian nation.

I was a strapping 30 something, a former rugby second row forward and was not going to take aspersions on my loyalty to my country lying down.

I was up on my feet like a shot, only to be brought down by a mighty tug at my sleeve by Geoff who intoned like a long-suffering uncle, “Sit down. Don’t be a fool and go down to his level. Remember who you are!”.

I have never forgotten his words of wisdom and have tried, not always successful, I fear, to abide by that piece of advice given me all those years ago.

As Malaysians, our overarching aim must be to bring about sustainable national unity so as to rid our fragile country of racial strife.

Whether we succeed or fail in this collective endeavour depends on the social, educational and economic policies that we develop and implement.

Of these, I consider education to be the most important agent of change. I am absolutely convinced that because our education policy allows for separate existence of ethnic schools, a sort of educational apartheid of choice, whole generations of young Malaysians of different racial and cultural backgrounds have grown up without the benefit of studying, playing together and enjoying the rich cultural diversity to be found in this country of ours.

The results are predictable: apathy, indifference, ignorance and prejudice — an explosive mix of ingredients to derail our efforts to create a new nation.

I do not believe that we can neutralise and overcome racial polarisation by ignoring the fact that the greatest obstacle to national unity is the unyielding position adopted by chauvinistic elements, like those who challenged former deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to say he was Malaysian first and Malay second.

He said he was Malay first and I say the same about who I am because I believe if we are Malay, Chinese, Indian or whatever first, it does not exclude us from being good Malaysians because they need not be mutually exclusive.

National unity is about taking some and giving some: it cannot, in all the circumstances, be a zero sum game. This apparently is what the proponents of mother-tongue schools have opposed for decades.

They are not prepared to compromise in the larger future interests of a new Malaysia. The government must find the courage and exhibit the necessary political will to review the education system with the single overriding aim of transforming it in such a way that while meeting the language needs of the Chinese, Indian and other communities, it is truly national in character.

All of us who have made Malaysia our home must remember that we have to develop a distinctive Malaysian identity sooner rather than later, taking into account the historical and constitutional development of this country.

All of us must avoid chauvinistic grandstanding, and start to think about the country and its long-term future for once. Otherwise there is not going to be a ghost of a chance of creating a society that can live side by side in harmony, grounded in mutual trust, respect and understanding.

Some years ago, the then minister of higher education, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed invited a small group of people that included the high commissioners of Britain and Australia, to a closed-door meeting.

In the discussion on the role of English in education, Datuk Azman Ujang, then Bernama general manager, who was not afraid to speak his mind on this and other critical national issues, and I were the only persons, both Malays, advocating the return of English as the language of instruction in government secondary schools.

In our search for a new system to satisfy the practical, utilitarian needs of Malaysians, I believe Malay language and literature must be made compulsory subjects. Special periods must be set aside for Chinese and Indian pupils to study their languages if they choose to.

School subjects should be reduced to eight at the most so that they can be studied in depth. Chinese and Tamil primary schools will over time be required to restructure their syllabuses in preparation for the English medium education, with Malay as a compulsory subject.

National integration, and I mean integration, not assimilation, can only be achieved through a single unified education system. This idea will be resisted by the blinkered of all races who while claiming noisily their Malaysian provenance are quite happy to wriggle out of their duty and obligation when it comes to the crunch.

They are fair weather Malaysians we can do without on this long, difficult and arduous journey to a new Malaysia.

When accountability hides its face

CINA babi is not a racial slur — even if the expression is hurled aggressively by a mob. After 58 years of becoming a rainbow nation, that’s what we just learned. Or were made to learn.

And here’s the kooky explanation reportedly coming from the people who uttered the language at the Red Shirt rally last week: “For Malays to say babi we are sensitive because babi (pork) is forbidden but for the Chinese, it is their food, no problem.”

Oh dear. No matter how hard some of us try to deny it, I think we have a big problem here, especially when people who regard themselves as leaders have mouths that move faster than their brains.

Malaysia’s deficiency problem unfortunately does not end there because such quirks have slid so much into many facets of our daily lives that they have become a culture of sorts.

Like the numbed statement from Syabas three days ago about possible water cuts coming yet again. It is true then when a friend told me the other day that in a country blessed with rain, everything is taken for granted that when there’s rain our homes get hit by flash floods and just one week without rain, news reports become aplenty about the so-called dry season and water rationing. In this latest case,

Syabas, the water supply company in Selangor, has come up with a caveat so early. It is blaming the El Nino phenomenon and saying, based on the current situation, the level of the existing treated water supply reserve was under the one per cent level and would become negative when the demand peaked and could often cause supply disruption and low pressure.

“The El Nino phenomenon causes long droughts and shortages of raw water supply in rivers and dams, and simultaneously production of treated water would decrease. “If this situation takes place, consumers will face the possibility of water supply rationing, the same as the ones the Selangor government and National Water Services Commission (Span) were forced to implement in 1998 and last year,” said Syabas.

In the same statement, Syabas explained that currently, based on the capacity of the main pipeline system, the capacity of distributable treated water fixed by Span to be distributed by Syabas to consumers is at the average rate of 4,686 million litres a day (MLD), whilst the rate of output of treated water from all the 34 water treatment plants under normal circumstances under the four operating companies for August is 4,716 MLD.

That’s what you get when your fate in water supply rests on just one company. The images of mothers and old folk carrying buckets of water up to their flats mean nothing to it.

It is not Syabas fault, they say, it’s El Nino. Which brings me to the next irritant besetting us — the almost complete absence of accountability.

Whenever there was a rare one, like the case of former chief executive officer of Mass Rapid Transit Corporation Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid who offered to quit following the death of three workers in an incident at the company’s railway construction site in Kota Damansara a year ago, there were voices who insisted he shouldn’t.

And although Azhar did eventually leave many months later, that reminds us of very much the Malaysian way. Save face. Forgiving for the wrong reasons with scant regard for accountability.

Just like the Malaysian football mess we are witnessing. Everyone knows that international football is a competitive sport. And that means it has to be absolutely result-oriented.

So when the national team got clobbered in matches, made worse by the crowd fracas in a home game, people in charge must take the blame and be accountable.

No two ways about it. But when coach Dollah Salleh quit after the failures — though initially he had said he would not resign as he was no coward — there were people who actually tried to ask him to stay on. I couldn’t believe it.

And the same for the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah. He has offered to quit which is honourable of him but then it shouldn’t be “in phases” as he put it.

A failure is a failure. Make it clean. He should quit now especially in this season of sacrifice, not in phases because things could get worse and the national team could sink deeper. The bottom line is to show accountability in this mid-autumn rant from me.

Dollah Salleh