October 25th, 2015

RIMUP satukan murid sekolah berbilang kaum

KEMENTERIAN Pendidikan akan memperluas dan memperkukuhkan lagi pelaksanaan program Rancangan Integrasi Murid Untuk Perpaduan (RIMUP) di sekolah rendah dan menengah di negara ini.

Pendekatan sempurna lebih ketat dan sarat dengan mesej perpaduan ini diyakini memberi impak langsung kepada agenda perpaduan kaum secara holistik.

Banyak perkara perlu ditambah baik dan diperkasakan dari semasa ke semasa bagi memberi peluang pelajar dan guru menterjemahkan dasar kementerian yang mula diperkenalkan sejak 1986 lagi di sekolah rendah.

Baru-baru ini, Menteri Pendidikan, Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid sendiri mengumumkan cadangan pelaksanaan penambaikan program RIMUP.

Justeru, saya terpanggil untuk membantu menjayakannya apabila diberi tanggungjawab khas berkaitan pelaksanaan program RIMUP era baharu di semua sekolah rendah dan menengah.

Nilai tahap pelaksanaan RIMUP

Hal ini terbukti hasil penilaian Jemaah Nazir dan Jaminan Kualiti (JNJK) kementerian dalam pemantauan yang dijalankan di 78 sekolah bagi menilai tahap pelaksanaan RIMUP.

Laporan Tahunan 2014 Pelan Pembangunan Pendidikan Malaysia (PPPM) menyatakan, pemantauan itu membabitkan sekolah menengah kawasan bandar dan luar bandar yang mempunyai komposisi murid pelbagai etnik.

Berdasarkan pemantauan itu, didapati sekolah yang melaksanakan aktiviti yang menjurus kepada pembentukan perpaduan dapat dilihat melalui interaksi dan tingkah laku murid dalam bilik darjah dan ketika aktiviti kokurikulum.

Pemerhatian mendapati, 84.6 peratus atau 66 sekolah sudah melaksanakan lima kategori RIMUP dan secara rawak di 10 bilik darjah setiap sekolah menunjukkan 73.1 peratus atau 57 sekolah sudah melaksanakan susunan tempat duduk secara bercampur dalam kalangan pelbagai etnik.

Dalam perkembangan lain, interaksi murid adalah positif dengan 87.2 peratus atau 68 sekolah menunjukkan murid pelbagai etnik berinteraksi ketika pembelajaran, kokurikulum dan kelas Pendidikan Jasmani.

Sehubungan itu, kementerian ini turut merancang membangunkan strategi dan pelan tindakan bagi mengukuhkan penerapan dan amalan nilai perpaduan di bilik darjah dan juga aktiviti kokurikulum.

Selain itu, pembabitan ibu bapa dan komuniti dalam program seperti ini akan dipertingkatkan lagi bagi memastikan perpaduan dan semangat patriotisme terus diamalkan dalam kalangan murid semasa serta selepas waktu persekolahan.

Ingin saya tegaskan program RIMUP ini mempunyai hala tuju jelas menyatupadukan pelajar berbilang kaum di negara ini. Jelas diketahui bahawa pelaksanaan program ini berdasarkan Buku Panduan RIMUP diterbitkan kementerian pada 2004 lalu yang menyokong terus Pelan Induk Pembangunan Pendidikan (2006-2010) di bawah teras Membina Negara Bangsa. RIMUP mencakupi beberapa elemen khusus tersendiri.

Ini termasuk pengisian program kecemerlangan akademik menerusi pelaksanaan aktiviti seperti seminar, kuiz, debat perpaduan, sayembara perpaduan dan pertandingan fotografi.

Model pupuk perpaduan

Kita perlu menaruh keyakinan bahawa program ini mampu menjadi model untuk memupuk perpaduan yang penting untuk membantu mengekalkan kestabilan, kemajuan dan tamadun di negara ini.

Saya melihat RIMUP ini mampu memberi nilai tambah kepada program pengurusan sekolah dengan aktiviti mahupun objektif yang ditetapkan pihak kementerian. Baru-baru ini saya merasmikan program RIMUP kelompok Zon Kerling di Hulu Selangor membabitkan pelajar dari Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (SRJK) Tamil Kerling, SRJK Cina Kerling dan Sekolah Kebangsaan Kerling.

Ternyata program diadakan selama sehari itu mampu menyuntik semangat kerjasama perpaduan 1Malaysia kepada peserta. Program ini juga boleh diadakan di sekolah aliran Cina dan arus perdana (SK) secara giliran.

Malah, amalan kunjung mengunjung rakan pelbagai bangsa pada musim perayaan itu adalah praktikal mudah menyatupadukan rakyat Malaysia secara berkesan.

Kementerian optimis mampu terus memperkasakan lagi temasya program RIMUP secara berkala pada masa hadapan demi merealisasikan agenda penyatuan kaum secara kukuh.

Keyakinan ini perlu disahut pelbagai pihak khususnya ibu bapa, badan bukan kerajaan dan pemimpin komuniti. Saya tidak setuju dengan pendapat yang mengatakan media sosial adalah penyebab utama meruntuhkan benteng perpaduan negara khususnya masyarakat pelajar dan guru di sekolah.

Kita mampu menangani ancaman ini daripada menguasai negara yang cukup memberikan kesan buruk. Media sosial boleh digunakan untuk tujuan lebih positif seperti pendedahan program RIMUP di sekolah dalam negara ini. Kesan yang baik ini mampu menjana kecemerlangan institusi perpaduan kaum.

Paling penting keikhlasan hati setiap insan membantu kerajaan menyatukan kaum berbilang bangsa. Kita mampu melakukan sesuatu yang lebih baik asalkan diri ini mempunyai keikhlasan hati dengan sentiasa berbaik sangka satu sama lain dan terus menyokong dasar holistik kementerian ini secara menyeluruh.

Bimbing murid Orang Asli tuntut kesabaran

TRAGEDI Pos Tohoi sangat memilukan apabila tujuh kanak-kanak Orang Asli hilang di hutan walaupun gerakan besar-besaran mencari mereka.

Hanya pada hari ke-48, dua daripadanya ditemui hidup, manakala dua lagi sudah menjadi mayat dan dua rangka, seorang lagi belum ditemui.

Bagaimana mereka yang berusia antara tujuh hingga 11 tahun, itu berlawan untuk hidup di hutan belantara dan mengapa pula pasukan mencari dan menyelamat (SAR) gagal menemui mereka, selepas hilang pada 23 Ogos lalu.

Adakah mereka ini sesat atau sememangnya enggan kembali kerana takut dihukum? Anak Orang Asli ini sudah biasa dengan hutan, boleh menemui jalan keluar jika mereka mahu berbuat demikian.

Lokasi Mirsudiar Aluj, 11, dan Noreen Yacoob, 10, bersama mayat rakan mereka, Ika Ayel, 9, ditemui pada 9 Oktober lalu, adalah laluan pasukan SAR setiap hari tetapi langsung gagal melihat kelibat kanak-kanak ini.

Menurut Ketua Polis Kelantan, Datuk Mazlan Lazim, sehari sebelum dilaporkan hilang, tujuh kanak-kanak ini, Mirsudiar, Noreen, Ika, Linda Rosli, 8, Sasa, 8, Haikal Yaakob, 8, dan Juvina David, 7, bersama 16 lagi rakan dari Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Tohoi, mandi di sungai berhampiran sekolah berkenaan tanpa pengetahuan guru.

Perbuatan mandi sungai itu diketahui pengawal sekolah yang memaklumkan kepada warden. Warden memanggil tiga daripada 25 murid terbabit dan memaklumkan akan menghukum mereka keesokan harinya.

"Pada jam 9 malam, 23 daripada 25 murid berkenaan merancang melarikan diri ke kampung mereka, iaitu Kampung Penad dan Kampung Gawin keesokan pagi," katanya.

23 murid melarikan diri Pada jam 7 hingga 9 pagi, 23 Ogos lalu, warden memeriksa dan mendapati 23 murid asrama melarikan diri.

Warden bersama Pembantu Pengurusan Asrama, pengawal keselamatan dan dua penduduk kampung mencari murid berkenaan.

Mereka bertemu 16 murid di satu lokasi pada jam 6 petang dan memujuk pulang ke asrama, bagaimanapun tujuh lagi tidak ditemui sebelum pihak sekolah dibantu penduduk melakukan gerakan mencari.

Kini jelas kanak-kanak itu melarikan diri takut dihukum pihak sekolah. Mereka mahu pulang ke kampung masing-masing melalui jalan hutan tanpa ditemui pihak sekolah.

Menurut sumber, walaupun lokasi dua kanak-kanak itu ditemui kawasan laluan SAR, semua kanak-kanak itu menyembunyikan diri takut dikesan.

Mereka tidak muncul ketika pasukan SAR memanggil mereka. Di hutan, tumbuhan serta air sungai menjadi penyambung nyawa untuk seketika. Tubuh kecil mereka tidak mampu bertarung dengan alam sehingga membawa kepada kematian.

Sasa dan Haika dikatakan menemui ajal kerana terjatuh dalam sungai ketika hujan lebat melanda Gua Musang pada 1 Oktober lalu.

Kanak-kanak itu dipercayai mengalami kesukaran sehingga seorang demi seorang menemui ajal. Siapa yang perlu dipersalah dalam soal ini?

Adakah harus menuding jari kepada pihak sekolah yang dipertanggungjawab terhadap anak ini. Tindakan guru memberi amaran kepada 25 murid kerana mandi tidak harus dipersalahkan kerana sudah menjadi tanggungjawab mereka menjaga keselamatan murid.

Jika ada yang lemas sudah tentu pihak sekolah akan dipersalahkan kerana tidak mengawal murid kendalian mereka.

Harus diingat mendidik anak Orang Asli memerlukan ketabahan berikutan perasaan sensitif mereka. Kesabaran tinggi perlu ada pada guru jika ditugas mengajar murid Orang Asli dan ada guru terpaksa menumbuk dinding melepaskan perasaan mereka.

Seramai 225 murid Orang Asli ditempatkan di asrama SK Tohoi kerana kampung mereka jauh seperti Kampung Simpor, 70 kilometer dari sekolah terbabit.

Pulang 2 minggu sekali

Bagi menyelesaikan masalah itu, Menteri Kemajuan Luar Bandar dan Wilayah, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, berkata semua murid di 94 Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Orang Asli yang mempunyai asrama, dibenarkan pulang setiap dua minggu dengan kenderaan disediakan Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli (JAKOA) berbanding hanya pulang ketika cuti persekolahan.

JAKOA perlu melantik tunjang untuk agensi itu dari kalangan Orang Asli kerana mereka lebih memahami kehendak kaum itu.

Ada anak Orang Asli berkelayakan menjadi ketua kerana memiliki ijazah doktor falsafah (PhD) dan menjadi pegawai kanan dalam sektor perkhidmatan awam.

Sudah tiba masanya anak Orang Asli diberi peluang mengetuai jabatan yang menjaga kepentingan masyarakat sendiri.

Lebih elok dilakukan sekarang supaya jurang di antara kerajaan dan kaum pribumi itu tidak menjadi semakin luas.

Keyakinan pemangkin roda ekonomi

NAIK turun ekonomi bukanlah perkara baru atau luar biasa. Dari zaman turun temurun lagi ekonomi sesebuah negara dan dunia sudah alami perkara ini.

Cuma pada zaman dulu kala, ekonomi lebih mudah jadi punca naik turunnya pun lebih senang difahami. Ada yang boleh diatasi dan ada yang tidak sampai hapus tamadun dan negara.

Walaupun ekonomi dunia sudah maju, canggih dan berjalan secara berterusan 24 jam sehari, tujuh hari seminggu ikut pergerakan mata hari, macam yang Kunta Kinte dah cerita, tapi saki baki ekonomi lama masih ada.

Kita tengok di benua Afrika, Amerika Selatan dan sesetengah kawasan terpencil di Asia, Eropah dan Amerika Utara, ada lagi individu dan masyarakat yang masih amal ekonomi tradisional seperti memburu, memungut hasil hutan belantara dan bertukar barang.

Dalam ekonomi macam itu, naik turunnya mudah diramal kerana ia banyak bergantung kepada alam semula jadi, cuaca dan tindakan manusia.

Orang yang amalkan ekonomi cukup makan atau kais pagi makan pagi tahu macam mana nak atasi naik turun sumber rezeki mereka.

Sukar untuk diramal

Tapi dalam ekonomi moden yang kita amalkan hari ini, naik turun makin hari makin susah nak diramal, makin kerap berlaku dan sukar diatasi.

Kalau empat lima puluh tahun lalu, pusingan ekonomi (economic cycle) - iaitu masa antara ekonomi naik dan turun mungkin 10 hingga 15 tahun.

Tapi sejak dua tiga dekad ini makin pendek iaitu antara tiga hingga lima tahun saja. Lagi pendek putaran, lagi susah nak ramal dan tangani. Satu daripada sebabnya ialah ekonomi dunia terlalu bergantung kepada pasaran bebas dan mata wang.

Cakap saja pasaran bebas, tapi yang kawal dan monopoli adalah negara-negara maju. Tak cukup dengan itu, mata wang pula dah jadi bahan perniagaan besar-besaran.

Produktiviti ekonomi tidak lagi diukur semata-mata dengan nilai barang dan perkhidmatan yang dihasilkan tapi oleh spekulasi pasaran.

Sekarang ini ada macam-macam pasaran yang berurus untuk hantaran semasa dan untuk masa depan. Di Chicago, Amerika Syarikat ada pasaran masa depan (futures) daging babi.

Hari ini, orang bukan lagi tukar mata wang untuk berbelanja, misalnya kita tukar ringgit kepada rupiah kerana nak melancong ke Indonesia atau nak import sesuatu barang dari negara itu, tapi tukaran mata wang sudah jadi perniagaan global.

Ikut kajian Bank for International Settlement, sebuah institusi kewangan milik bersama bank-bank pusat, pada tahun 2013 sebanyak bersamaan AS$5.5 trilion mata wang dunia diniagakan setiap hari dalam bulan April tahun itu.

Nak tahu berapa besar trilion, cuba tengok contoh berikut:

1,000 > satu ribu
1,000,000 > satu juta
1,000,000,000 > satu bilion
1,000,000,000,000 > satu trilion.

Mana-mana saja mata wang yang tidak diikat nilainya, apatah lagi mata wang itu penting dalam perdagangan antarabangsa, akan jadi sasaran jual beli.

Bila berlaku jual beli, berlakulah juga spekulasi. Kita pernah tambat nilai duit kita iaitu masa berlaku krisis kewangan Asia 1997/98.

Untuk sekat kejatuhan nilai ringgit dan halang spekulasi, Perdana Menteri masa tu, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad tambat nilai ringgit kepada dolar Amerika pada kadar RM3.80 bagi setiap dolar hinggalah ditarik balik pada zaman Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Selama lebih enam tahun nilai duit kita tetap, inflasi stabil dan pelaburan asing terus masuk. Bila tambatan ditamatkan, nilai duit kita naik.

Pada satu masa, kita boleh dapat satu dolar Amerika dengan hanya RM3.29.

Tapi hari ini duit kita merudum. Sekarang nak beli satu dolar Amerika kena bayar RM4.30.

Nak tambat balik rasanya dah tak boleh. Kesannya mungkin lebih buruk.

Duit kita mungkin ditolak terus. Macam Kunta Kinte dah banyak kali cerita, nilai duit kita jatuh teruk sejak setahun kebelakangan ini akibat kelembapan ekonomi dunia dan kejatuhan harga bahan-bahan mentah utama kita macam petroleum, minyak sawit dan getah.

Inilah buruk dan baik jadi negara perdagangan besar macam kita.

Nilai duit kita sangat sensitif terhadap turun naik jumlah dan nilai perdagangan kita serta tanggapan luar terhadap kestabilan politik kita.

Dalam pasaran global, khususnya pasaran mata wang, tanggapan sama penting dengan hakikat. Sebab itulah satu dunia cakap pasal piawaian global, ketelusan dan kebertanggungjawaban.

Asas atau fundamental ekonomi sesebuah negara mungkin kukuh, tetapi kalau persepsi pelabur terhadap negara itu lemah, fundamental yang kuat tak bermakna.

Keyakinan penting pikat pelaburan

Keyakinan sangat penting bagi menarik pelaburan dan menggalakkan kepenggunaan. Kalau pelabur yakin, mereka akan melabur. Kalau pengguna yakin mereka akan berbelanja.

Bila ada pelaburan dan perbelanjaan, ekonomi berkembang. Kalau mereka tak yakin, mereka tak melabur dan tak berbelanja ekonomi akan mengucup.

Bila tak ada pelaburan dan berbelanja oleh swasta, tak adalah kepenggunaan swasta atau "private consumption".

Bila tak ada kepenggunaan swasta, kuranglah pertumbuhan ekonomi sebab pelaburan dan perbelanjaan adalah kembar siam ekonomi bebas.

Ekonomi negara kita bergantung besar kepada kepenggunaan swasta untuk berkembang.

Jadi kita wajib perbaiki keyakinan swasta supaya roda ekonomi boleh berputar dengan licin dan lancar.

Kalau tidak kita mungkin hadapi masalah ekonomi yang lebih runcing. Wallahuaklam.

Forging lasting friendships in school

STUDENT life is one of the most memorable times of our growing years. Most of us have many treasured memories associated with it. Ties formed during these years usually last a lifetime.

In this article, I’d like to talk about how friends influence us when we are in school. It is the reason why we should be careful when choosing our friends.

Birds of a feather flock together which aptly indicates that a group with similar values, interests and attitudes will always be together. Now this outcome is neither positive nor negative in itself. It really depends on the group a student associates himself with.


An alumni gathering as seen. MRSM PC 1973 (all boys batch) somewhere around Shah Alam, October 2015

Friends have a unique position in our lives. It’s one of the few relationships that we aren’t compelled to accept, but will fully and consciously choose to let into our life.

Parents, siblings, relatives and children are all relationships that we have no choice in accepting as it is decided by destiny and fate.

But friendship is a true bond that is a result of decisions made by individuals on their own free will.

It’s important to remember that the choice of friends will have a big impact on your life as students.

There’s even a saying which exemplifies this: Show me a man’s friends and I will tell you his character. Such is the immense impact of friends on our lives.

As students there will be many temptations and attractions that you will be exposed to.

If you don’t have the mental strength and discrimination to make positive choices, then the results could be life-altering and negative. These ties can either be good or detrimental to you. A good yardstick in deciding your friends is to first be aware of your responsibility and duties as a student. Definitely, the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom in the hallowed halls of your schools and even your universities, should be the top-most priority.

Having understood this, then naturally your friends should be those who share the same aims and objectives. Anyone who acts as a distraction to this core duty isn’t someone you should be associated with.

The reason is simple – if your friends aren’t people who motivate and support you, then they really aren’t your friends at all.

True friends are those who help us when we are down. They can also be colleagues and comrades in the pursuit of a better life. They will help you with your studies and enlighten you when you are confused. They will motivate and spur you to work harder and strive unceasingly to succeed and make your life a brighter one.

Friendship can be a powerful tool in shaping even one’s values and habits. Many studies have shown that bad habits such as smoking, drug abuse and even pro-anarchy behaviour such as vandalism are closely related to peer pressure.

I’m not advocating a victim mentality here for those who make mistakes, but I’d like to heighten the awareness among students that their behaviour can be very much influenced by their peers. So, they should choose their friends and even associates wisely.

Looking back, I must say that I have many good friends and some are from my school days. Thomas and Hasliza come to mind immediately. There were supportive, helpful and motivating.

I’m lucky and proud to say friends like them have been my inspiration and acted as a catalyst for my personal and academic growth. My parents had inculcated in me at a young age that I had to pick my friends “wisely and rightly” and for that I am thankful. There is no doubt that I have great friends.

I’m hoping this article gives students some valuable pointers in deciding whom they want to call or regard as “friends” as this is a privilege. Finally, I’d like to ask parents to take an interest in getting to know their children’s friends.

If all parents can reach out to their children’s friends, it could be a powerful “force” in making sure their children are on the right track.

Parents can monitor their activities, this way.

Building a relationship with teachers in school will also go a long way for parents to nip a problem in the bud, should it exist.

To parents, I must reiterate that it is in your interest to know your children’s friends.

Building a science-lab, together

Using the National Blue Ocean Strategy approach, school facilities are being improved through collaboration between schools, universities and industry.

There was a problem at SMKA Hishammuddin Sg Bertih, Klang. Its 30-year-old science lab was not in the best of condition. The floor was uneven, the drain covers cracked, most tables and chairs broken, the pipes rusty, and the equipment...

It certainly wasn't a conducive learning environment for inspiring the curious budding scientists within students.

To compound matters, students were not able to practice their scientific experimentation skills, which would, in the near future, be tested in national exams.

Fortunately, knights in shining armour, equipped not with lancets or swords, but rather acute knowledge of physics and engineering came to the rescue.

These knights were, and still are, part of a project known as NBOS-PILS (National Blue Ocean Strategy-Project Inisiatif Libat Sama). The project adopts the famed Blue Ocean Strategy approach to solving problems.

According to Datuk Seri Zaini Ujang, the Secretary-General of the Higher Education Ministry, “NBOS-PILS is one of 60 projects under the University Community Transformation Centre (UCTC) which aims to leverage on local talent and expertise in infrastructure and related programmes that are able to have positive impact on a local community”.

In this case, the NBOS-PILS project involved the Higher Education Ministry, Education Ministry, universities and the private sector.

The first immediate task of the knights: To repair and upgrade SMKA Hishamuddin Sg Bertih’s 30-year-old science lab.

The project, coordinated by Encik Shanusi Ahmad from the Education Ministry, was lead by three invididuals -- Prof Azmi Ibrahim and Ir. Mohd Salmizi from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and Ar. Nur Akmal A. Goh from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) as the Head Consultant.

These project leaders are experts in various engineering and architectural fields. They would choose the materials to be used and the new lab’s design.

They were assisted by their students, mainly final year undergraduates, also from engineering and architectural programmes. This was an opportunity for the undergrads to apply the knowledge they had gained in their lectures

The upgrading process began with a series of meetings and brainstorming sessions involving the ministries, universities and private sector practitioners.

Above: Before, Below: After
Above: Before, Below: After

From these meetings, a number of challenges arose: How could they complete the project within an allocated time period, as cost-efficiently as possible, and with the greatest possible impact?

This was the necessary criteria to ensure that efforts were sustainable, scalable and impactful because they would be applied to other schools eventually. The success of this project (or lack thereof) would make or break the NBOS-PILS initiative.

Not-so-coincidentally, the NBOS-PILS mantra is ‘High Impact, High Speed, Low Cost’.

In this regard, the team had two weeks, a RM100,000 budget, and needed to ensure that the science lab was multi-functional, namely that it could be used for physics, biology and chemistry lessons (talk about being demanding!).

Once the meetings were done - and within the respectable duration of a week - the work began.

The team cleared-out the lab and removed broken, unusable fittings. They then fixed the gas pipes, electrical sockets and broken lights. Next, they levelled the floor with cement and laid new tiles. The walls were then repainted and a small raised platform for the teacher's table was built at the front of the class. At times, the lab resembled a Life Inspired episode of the cluttered 'Hoarders’.

Once the cleaning up and construction-related work was done, spanking new lab equipment was installed. A state of the art internet-enabled smartboard was fitted, and tablet computers became part of the new lab set up.

The lab was given a modular design. Its equipment could be rearranged to cater for physics, biology and chemistry experiments, as well as to optimise lectures.

On the 30th of July, a little over two weeks after the clean up began, the science lab was handed over to Sekolah Menengah Sultan Hisamuddin’s principal.

The team had succeeded.

The mix of professionals, lecturers, students and industry practitioners had proven to be effective.

I spoke to Encik Shanusi Ahmad, the NBOS-PILS coordinator. He said: “We are satisfied to have been able to complete the project within the set parameters. People may not be aware of what we are doing but our mission is to ensure that our schoolchildren have the necessary tools to learn science. It’s important for their future”.

When asked about what was in store for the future of NBOS-PILS, Shanusi said, “There’s still more to do. Next up we’ll be upgrading four schools in Terengganu and one in Tawau. There are a few hundred schools that need upgrading, not just its science labs but other infrastructure as well. We believe that getting our universities involved, especially its undergrads, will enable us to achieve our goals quicker”.

“The undergrads," he says, “are especially keen because many have a personal stake in the locality of the work and want to make a difference in their community”.

In the 2014 Annual Report of the Malaysia Education Blueprint (2013-2025), it was stated that 3,070 upgrading and repair projects in 2,410 schools were completed in 2014. The types of infrastructure and repair projects included physical structures (roof and painting), classrooms, toilets, electricity and treated water (safe for drinking).

Datuk Seri Zaini Ujang described NBOS-PILS as a manifestation of the acknowledgment that the Ministry has the capacity to harness talent and resources effectively, with less bureaucracy involved, and in a flexible manner.

He is hopeful that the programme may eventually cover polytechnics and community colleges, and even cater to agencies and organisation outside of the education arena.

University of the Future (Part 1)

It’s 22nd October. We are still waiting for Marty McFly and the time-travelling DeLorean.

We do, however, have hoverboards, electric-powered vehicles aka Mr Fusion, rejuvenation clinics, and self-drying jackets – well, sort of.

Back to the Future (Part II) inspired many of today’s innovations. Some, like flying cars remain a dream, while others are best left in 1989’s imagination, in particular the sense of fashion.

Some of today’s innovations have in fact surpassed what was dreamt of almost 26 years ago, such as our smartphones, the internet, and our fashion sense.

When we talk about the future, technology almost certainly always plays a role. It is, after all, the most vivid way to portray change and advancement.

So, when asked ‘How do you foresee the University of the Future’, what comes to mind?

Recently, a forum was held at the Higher Education Ministry, discussing this very question. The panelist of the forum consisted of Tan Sri Dr Lin-See Yan, Tan Sri Dr Nordin Kardi and Tan Sri Tg Mahaleel – esteemed individuals well versed in education and industry.

With the proliferation of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), nanodegrees, and e-education, we tend to envision a future away from the conventional confines of a classroom whilst we leverage on technology.

Whilst I cannot disagree that the future university will be dictated largely by this surge of technology driven learning, the forum’s panelist seemed to have advocated a return to the core values of a higher learning institution.

Dr Nordin presented a comprehensive recap of the university as an institution throughout the course of history.

There was a romantic notion of the university as a conglomerate of classical buildings within a campus, as a safe zone for thought, research, discovery and collaboration – and even, a space to commit errors and learn from them.

Romantic notions aside, when considering the university of the future, one has to ask – what is the end product of this utopia?

For Dr Lin the end product is the “person” that the university produces. He then beautifully describes the ideal future graduate.

This individual must:

-  have the ability to compose a literate and persuasive essay;

-  obtain sufficient insight to interpret a famous humanistic text;

-  possess the capacity to history to the present;

-  know how to understand the foundations of science and scientific method and to unravel the mysteries of science and technologies in the real world and;

-   possess enough quantitative reasoning ability to sharpen analysis of everyday problems that we encounter.

“For instance, the difference between genes and chromosomes, and how Nobel prizes are awarded, are basic things that people need to know and be able to explain,”  he said.

The aspiration that resonated with me the most was how a university of the future graduate has to have the capacity to link history to the present.

When I asked my colleague, Erica Cheong Wen Li, who is also a Perdana Fellow attached to my office, she said that the forum drove home a key point for her - all three panelists envisioned the future university graduate to be a globally aware, wholesome and well-rounded individual, that he is to be an expert of his specialised field, yet be well-versed in artistic, cultural and civic pursuits.

She accepts the notion that the delineation of conventional disciplines is fading and that the challenge will be to recognise rapid changes and be impactful with swift responses.

“What an exciting future!” she said. “But how prepared are my peers and I?”

“Looking back, I recall my university days at the University of Melbourne being incredibly diverse and eye-opening.
"Under the newly launched Melbourne Model, all students were required to take one subject outside of their faculty every semester.

“So, amidst making site contour models and memorising the different types of classical Greek columns (Erica was an architecture major), I was able to pick up Mandarin, study Australian microeconomics, and even learn a few African tunes in World Music Choir.

"This diversity – which arguably contributed nothing technical towards my pursuit of an architectural degree – helped broaden my world views and exposure, helping me value and appreciate the sum of all parts of my qualification”.

She added: “To quote panelist Tan Sri Tg Mahaleel, ‘no problem can be solved by a single discipline’. With the breadth of my university education, I hope that I am able to rise and compete with these future university graduates”.


Ultimately, this will take time.

According to Dr Lin, Harvard University had spent 10 years reforming its curriculum in arriving at the eight areas of knowledge that every Harvard graduate must have, namely:

1.  Aesthetic and intepretive understanding;

2.  Culture and belief;

3.  Empirical and mathematical reasoning;

4.  Ethical reasoning;

5.  Science of living systems;

6.  Science of physical systems;

7.  Societies of the world;

8. Role of politics and economics in the world economy.

Personally, I believe that the key is to look forward but remember to remain grounded. Technology facilitates progress but is not the be all and end all. The University of the Future, undoubtedly, holds lots of promise.

Overall, the forum was insightful and I look forward to more.

In parting, Dr Lin said “A graduate of Harvard needs to also have international experience of a significant nature."

"And this does not include having a girlfriend from Shanghai”, he quipped.

No worries for me there.

Appropriation of monies

Be wary of the fine print in your contract about how payments are to be treated when received.

ACCORDING to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, to misappropriate is to take somebody else’s money or property for yourself, especially when they have trusted you to take care of it.

Misappropriating is a criminal offence, defined in the Penal Code in Section 403: “Whoever dishonestly misappropriates, or converts to his own use, or causes any other person to dispose of, any property, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months and not more than five years and with whipping and shall also be liable to fine.”

“Appropriation of payments”, on the other hand, in the context of business and financial dealings, refers to how payments are to be treated when received, especially in the context of outstanding sums that are due and which need to be paid.

A reader asks whether there is such a topic in law. Whilst not a major subject, the aspect of appropriation of payments is referred to in the Contracts Act 1950. In fact, three sections deal with the subject of appropriation of payments.

Ordinarily, one may feel that the subject of appropriation of payments may not be of any significance. This is because one can owe another person money and when the payment is made, the debt is extinguished. So what does it matter?

However, it does, because if and when a dispute arises there can be issues as to whether the money has been correctly demanded or indeed is payable. And then there is the law of limitations which, broadly and generally, creates a six-year limitation period in Peninsular Malaysia but in some cases, a shorter period in Sabah and Sarawak.

Let me provide an illustration. One owes RM10,000 to another person for a loan more than six years ago. There is also RM10,000 owing to the same person for rental which is very recent and therefore within the limitation period.

If RM10,000 is paid without saying anything, what is the effect?

Section 60 of the Contracts Act 1950 reads: “Where a debtor, owing several distinct debts to one person, makes a payment to him, either with express intimation, or under circumstances implying that the payment is to be applied to the discharge of some particular debt, the payment, if accepted, must be applied accordingly.”

However, when it is not stated how or to which debt the payment is to be applied, then the law allows the creditor to choose how the payment received is to be treated. This is on the basis of Section 61 of the Contracts Act which reads:

“Where the debtor has omitted to intimate, and there are no other circumstances indicating to which debt the payment is to be applied, the creditor may apply it at his discretion to any lawful debt actually due and payable to him from the debtor, whether its recovery is or is not barred by the law in force for the time being as to the limitation of suits.”

Thus a debtor could, where there are two debts, specify that payment is for the rental and escape repayment of the loan. Of course this may not be morally the right thing to do, but this is how the law provides for the parties to deal with the appropriation issue.

But what if neither party pays attention to the payment sent and received? The sender does not state which debt it is for and the recipient does not state to which debt the payment has been applied. In such a case Section 62 of the Contracts Act 1950, which is somewhat self-explanatory, will apply. It reads:

“Where neither party makes any appropriation the payment shall be applied in discharge of the debts in order of time, whether they are or are not barred by the law relating to the limitation of suits. If the debts are of equal standing, the payment shall be applied in discharge of each proportionably.”

Of course there are cases where the right to apply the payment received may have been agreed to very much in advance. This is the case with the documents involving financial institutions, where clauses are formulated to give very broad rights to the lender.

So it was in Ambank (M) Berhad v. Peter Marajin @ Peter Marazing & Ors which arose out of the manner in which the bank had treated payments that had been made and received.

The bank, the plaintiff, had granted a housing loan to the defendant with a monthly instalment payment of RM1,115.00 for the first year. The defendants had not failed to pay the monthly instalment amounts provided for in the loan agreement.

However, the plaintiff used part of the instalment payment made by the defendant to pay for insurance premium paid on the defendants’ behalf and legal fees incurred by the plaintiff, thus causing arrears in payment. In this connection, the bank relied on Section 14.08 in the loan documentation, which provided:

“The Chargee may apply any payment received from the Chargor(s) or any party towards satisfaction in whole or in part of the principal, interest or other sum then due and payable from the Chargor(s) under this instrument in any order that the Chargee deems fit, and the Chargor(s) hereby waive his/their right of appropriation under Section 60 of the Contracts Act, 1950.”

The objection of the borrower was that the section in question was invalid because it amounted to contracting out of Section 60 of the Contracts Act 1950.

However the Court took the view that Clause 14.08 was not invalid.

The Court decided that despite what was provided for by the Contract Act 1950 as to appropriation of payments, it was possible for both parties to contractually agree – meaning contract out of the Contracts Act 1950 – so that the bank could in principle apply the payment received towards payment of legal fees and interest.

Bhag Singh the STAR Home > Opinion > Columnists Law For Everyone Published: Thursday October 22, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM

Too much sound and fury

The current state of politics in the country is marked by a troubled ruling coalition and an opposition in disarray.

TAN Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is still getting used to life in the slow lane.

It will never be the same as walking in the corridors of power but there have been some visible side benefits. The Umno deputy president gets enough sleep these days, he has shed some weight, his complexion has improved and he looks better than when he was the deputy prime minister.

Media crush: Najib, seen here arriving at Parliament, kept his cool in the face of the opposition’s bid to submit a no-confidence motion against him. Inset: Dr Wan Azizah (inset) had to retable the motion after DAP opposed the first attempt by one of her MPs.

A former aide said Muhyiddin is trying to keep a low profile and avoid talking unnecessarily but invitations to speak keep coming in. And everywhere he goes, people seem to expect him to comment on the “elephant in the room,” that is, the 1MDB issue.

He also gets the sense that some people out there think he will take on Najib for the top post but those who understand the nature of Umno politics would know it is not quite possible for now or in the near future.

No one understands it better than Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and that is why he wants Umno to throw out Najib rather than get someone to challenge him for the Umno presidency.

Dr Mahathir has been hammering away at Najib since August last year – yes, it has been that long. The most recent hammering session took place at a press conference to condemn the use of Sosma or Security Offences Act on two of Dr Mahathir’s supporters.

The former premier also managed to get among others, Muhyiddin, Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal and Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to join him at the press conference. The pro-Mahathir segment hailed it as an anti-Najib alignment of notables, and it was in a way.

It was the first time that Muhyiddin and Shafie had appeared publicly with Dr Mahathir since their sacking. As for Tengku Razaleigh, everyone knows there is no love lost between him and Dr Mahathir, and seeing them together was a new development.

Roslan: Elated by huge turnout at PAS’ ‘green rally’
Roslan: Elated by huge turnout at PAS’ ‘green rally’

The reaction to these big names coming out against Sosma has been mixed. Part of it had to do with the contradictory nature of their action. Muhyiddin and Shafie were part of the Cabinet that created Sosma while Dr Mahathir had used the ISA on political opponents in his heydays. Their past coloured their new sense of outrage.

“I respect Tun Mahathir but the trouble is that almost everything he accuses Najib and the government of, he had done when he was in power – detaining people without trial, bailouts, mega projects. He even joined a street demonstration,” said Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad, the assemblyman for Kok Lanas in Kelantan.

Dr Mahathir’s quest to topple Najib has become very personal, emotional and all-consuming.

When he first began raising questions about the 1MDB scandal, many people in Umno believed he was doing it for the well-being of the party and country. Like him, the thinking segment of Umno also wanted answers.

But one year down the road, many of them think it has morphed into a battle of wills and ego, that it has become less about the party and country than about Dr Mahathir’s habit of always getting his way.

“We may be wrong but that is what it looks like to us. I am really worried,” said Alwi who was a former political secretary to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The 1MDB issue has dented Najib’s image especially in the eyes of the urban middle class. There has been explanation after explanation but those who actually understand the issue are not buying it, while those who find the whole thing too complicated have switched off.

And all this while, Dr Mahathir is playing the inimical role of pouring curry power to the bubbling pot.

Razaleigh: Made a rare appearance with his nemesis
Razaleigh: Made a rare appearance with his nemesis

Najib’s popularity rating has slipped to 44%, down from 48% earlier this year although analysts say that it has more to do with public dissatisfaction over GST and the cost of living as surveys have shown that 70% of Malaysians are clueless about what the 1MDB issue is about.

Najib is also struggling with the fact that his coalition has only 5% support from the Chinese.

The ruling coalition is not in a good place at this point in time. However, Umno, despite its liabilities, is still able to pull its weight but the same cannot be said of its partners in the peninsula.

Barisan Nasional is more dependent than ever on Sabah and Sarawak and the outcome of the forthcoming Sarawak state election will have huge implications for the survival of Najib.

The irony is that the opposition pact is in no better shape. It is stuck in a mess of its own making.

The opposition parties have regrouped as Pakatan Harapan but it does not have the full support of PKR. Some PKR leaders support the new pact while others want to continue working with PAS.

PKR deputy president and Selangor Mentri Besar Azmin Ali is behaving as though Pakatan Harapan does not exist and his administration is still operating as Pakatan Rakyat.

Alwi: Dr Mahathir’s attacks have grown personal
Alwi: Dr Mahathir’s attacks have grown personal

The fiasco over their Parliamentary motion of no confidence against Najib exemplified the disarray. They had been talking about it to all and sundry for months but there did not seem to be any coordinated effort.

When the motion was submitted by an MP from PKR, DAP threatened to boycott it unless a new motion was tabled by Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

This Parliament meeting was the first time that opposition MPs were coming in as Pakatan Harapan. The no-confidence motion bid would have been a moral victory for the new pact but they tripped. Instead of embarrassing Najib, it exposed their own internal rifts.

The Barisan side then turned the tables against them and moved a motion to suspend Lim Kit Siang for remarks made about the Speaker. The vote count on Lim’s suspension also showed who has the numbers – 107 Barisan votes against 77 from the opposition bench. To save face, the opposition claimed they were in secret discussions with Barisan MPs to move the no-confidence motion against Najib. But it was so clearly another “Sept 16” kind of ploy and it is no longer amusing.

“We’ve got to choose again in a few years’ time. Barisan is in deep water but there is no viable opposition. Who is there to vote for?” said a Malay executive from a public-listed company.

It is a rather bizarre state of politics. The opposition claims it is ready to govern Malaysia, yet is unable to take advantage of the troubles of the ruling coalition.

Despite being cast out of the opposition pact, PAS still has the numbers given the 60,000-strong crowd at its “green rally” in Kota Baru last week. The collection from the crowd that evening was a staggering RM237,000.

“The numbers basically mean that PAS will survive under Tuan Guru Hadi,” said Roslan Shahir, the former press secretary to Datuk Seri Hadi Awang.

The PAS rally also coincided with the 25th year of PAS rule in Kelantan and Hadi summed it up well when he claimed that nowhere else in the world has a government by an Islamic party survived this long.

The next night, the PAS president told a ceramah in Tumpat, Kelantan, that renown Islamic scholar Dr Yusof al-Qaradawi had informed him that it was haram(forbidden) for the PAS breakaway group to form a new party to go against an existing Islamist party.

It was a damning verdict because Sheikh al-Qaradawi, as he is known, is a big name in the Muslim world. Choosing Tumpat to deliver the news was quite deliberate – the MP for Tumpat Datuk Kamaruddin Jaffar had quit PAS to join PKR.

His party recently scored another moral victory when the Federal Court threw out a bid by Gerakan politicians to challenge the constitutionality of the Hudud Bill passed by the Kelantan Government.

The Budget meeting of Parliament will take off in earnest now that Najib has unveiled his Budget for 2016. It is going to be a long, hot and highly politicised meeting.

There is talk of the opposition attempting to vote against the Budget as a means of registering their protest against Najib.

But sabotaging a Budget is rarely a good idea because it will lead to a government lockdown, deprive government servants of their salaries and jeopardise amenities and services for the rakyat. And all because politicians are out to play politics and score politi­cal points.

The two-party system has brought about greater checks and balances in government. Unfortunately, it has also ushered in an unprecedented degree of politicking and a culture of quarrelling and fault-finding.

Traits like basic goodness, kindness and common sense that one sees on the ground seems to get translated into mean-spirited and irrational politics by practitioners. And it is seen in those determined to stay in power as well as those eager to attain power.

It is so debilitating, it is the primary cause of political fatigue among ordinary Malaysians and it should stop.

All together, now

Let’s face the tough times ahead as a nation. It’s going to be a rough ride, so please don’t make things worse.

THE Prime Minister, who is also Finance Minister, has always made it a point to meet journalists to give the outline of his Budget speech a day before he delivers it.

It is an off-the-record session where he emphasises the salient points and allows free flow of questions and answers after that.

This year, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak started the session with a straightforward comment. Looking at the journalists, he said 2016 would be a challenging year. Then, he corrected himself, saying that would be an understatement. It would be a tough year.

The country’s economic fundamentals may still be strong but the reality is that the prices of oil and commodities have taken a beating while the advanced economies, including China, have slowed down.

No one would have expected the collapse of the oil market a year ago. The Budget then was made on the assumption that the price of crude oil would be US$100 a barrel but as it dropped, adjustments were made.

But the price of crude oil has continued to be unstable. Late Friday evening, after the PM had delivered his speech, the United States had an upbeat report that the price of oil was holding steady, reportedly finding support from brighter economic data and a global stock market rally after the European Central Bank signalled more stimulus ­measures.

A report said the positive tone has offset persistent concerns over a glut in global crude oil and refined product supplies that have battered the energy market for over a year.

Benchmark Brent crude oil was 8 cents higher at US$48.16 a barrel by 0700 ET after settling up 23 cents in the previous session. US crude for December was down 10 cents at US$45.28 a barrel, having risen 18 cents on Thursday.

The ringgit, having plummeted to 17-year lows in recent weeks, rallied to 4.222 ringgit against the dollar on Friday after the Budget was presented, it was reported, while the stock market ended 0.34% higher before Najib finished his speech. But not many are convinced the price of oil will hold in the short term, or even long term. There is also pessimism of the local stock market, given the coming economic outlook.

It has not been an easy Budget to table, and surely it must be the most difficult in his career, as Najib admitted to the media on Thursday. He had to balance the need to mitigate the increased cost of living and, at the same time, keep a tight hold on the purse.

There are some realities that Malaysians have to face – the price of oil has an impact on our ringgit, as we rely heavily on oil for our revenue, and the depreciation of the ringgit has hit us badly.

It is beyond Malaysia’s control and if we think that 2016 is bad, then we have not been realistic as many expect the difficulties to drag until 2017 and even 2018.

There’s no point in blaming the PM for the depreciation of the ringgit and, for that matter, the decision to increase the toll rates which is part of the deals that were inked long before his term. We can be critical of Najib’s administration but we have to be fair. Admittedly, the current domestic political issues have not helped.

The private sector is struggling to keep down its operating expenses as revenue takes a beating. Already employers, including banks, have started to rationalise their work staff, offering mutual separation schemes.

A business magazine reported that our banks have discovered that it is no easy task to achieve the headcount reduction, given the soft job market and economic uncertainty.

One financial firm’s recent exit scheme for its 17,500 workers could not meet its target of 15% or about 2,600 employees, the report said, after the offer closed last month.

Another bank, which announced its MSS in May, also could not achieve its target as only 11% of the staff responded.

The market sentiments have been poor this year and the hugely unpopular Goods and Services Tax (GST), which was introduced in April, has not helped.

But Najib has said that without the GST, the Government would be hard-pressed to pay the salaries of its 1.6 million civil service.

If sales and services tax was retained, collection would have been only RM18bil compared with GST revenue of RM39bil.

The rating agencies would have also downgraded Malaysia’s credit standing, resulting in more costly borrowings for the country and even individual loans, Najib explained.

From the Government’s point of view, the GST has been a saviour although the large majority of Malaysians would probably disagree.

There is also another political reality – the civil service remains the backbone of the administration and has strongly backed the ruling party. Najib on Friday announced an allocation of RM1.1bil for the civil servants’ salary increases.

The faithful rural voters were also rewarded as more funds were given to the rural areas, with money to improve infrastructure in villages, including building houses, water supply and other projects.

Several infrastructure and social incentives were given to Sabah and Sarawak, two states crucial to the Barisan Nasional.

No toll will be collected when the Pan-Borneo Highway is completed in 2021 while an interest-free loan of RM50,000 would be extended to the building of every longhouse unit.

For the middle class, though they would like to have more goodies, the higher tax relief for their children in college as well as for medical expenses of their parents should go down well.

In planning this Budget, the Government has the uncomfortable task of helping the huge rural base, bolster economic growth in the face of a weak global market, and having to raise money to bring down the fiscal deficit.

Malaysians, in general, understand the difficulties ahead. As loyal and patriotic citizens, we would want to play our part but we also want to see financial leakages and wastage be reduced, if not eliminated.

There should be zero tolerance for corruption, which has made doing business more expensive and, worse, inflate the cost of development, especially projects meant for the people.

We want to see Malaysia recover quicker and for sure, we must stop racist politicians, especially those who appear to have the carte blanche to instigate racial sentiments.

They do not help to make Malaysia be seen as a moderate and stable country, which is essential to attract investors. To put it bluntly, they are a complete disgrace to all of us and surely a political liability.

Let’s face the tough times ahead together. It’s going to be a rough ride and we need all the help to go through the choppy waters. Wong Chun Wai The STAR Home > Opinion > Columnists On The Beat Sunday October 25, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM

Where should a Malaysian author set her book?

In this week’s column I’m going to write about the way I feel about Malaysians writing stories that are not Malaysian. My feelings have undergone a minor change in the last year or so.

Sometime in 2014 I met an aspiring Malaysian author who told me that he was working on a novel. He said that he’d decided to set the novel in London and that his characters were all white and English. He also told me that he was going to use a Western-sounding pseudonym.

Another attempt ...

Is this a Malaysian Story ?

“But why?” I asked him. “Have you lived in England even?”

No, he hadn’t. He had been born and raised and studied in Malaysia.

“Why not write about Malaysians? Why not set your story in a country you know well?”

His reasons included a belief that it would be easier for his work to be accepted if, as a writer, he took on a white persona and if his book reflected white culture.

I was quite ticked off with his reasoning. Also, it seemed preposterous to me to think that a Malaysian would try to create believable white characters and depict places that he hadn’t even visited as a tourist. Surely it made more sense to write about whom and what he knew.

Quite apart from feeling that an author ought to strive to be as accurate as possible in his portrayal of characters and places, I also believed that Malaysian writers should grab the chance to write about Malaysians and Malaysia. I do still feel that if you’ve lived in Malaysia for any stretch of time, you will surely have a Malaysian story to tell.

But then, what exactly is a Malaysian story?

The answer seemed clear to me when I didn’t think too much about it, but a discussion at a Facebook group I joined early this year gave me pause. The group, which focuses on African fantasy and sci-fi, started discussing the definition of African literature. This made me think about the ways we might define Malaysian lit, and made me question how I expected Malaysian writers to write only about Malaysian characters, settings and themes.

If a Malaysian writer writes about an English girl living in post-apocalyptic Hampstead, wouldn’t the book still be Malaysian by dint of its author’s nationality?

This question provoked yet another: does a book have to be labelled according to nationality or ethnicity? Does a writer? As Booker prize winner Ben Okri said, “Literature doesn’t have a country”.

So why is it (still) so important to me that Malaysian writers write about Malaysia?

Well, I have worked out that it has to do with there being so few published Malaysian stories in the first place. Never mind stuff that’s available internationally, Malaysian readers aren’t exposed to as much Malaysian fiction as they are to British and American fiction. We are swamped with books from the West, and, for various reasons that I won’t go into today, we notice and choose to read these books instead of Malaysian books.

Therefore, I think it’s important that we write more Malaysian stories. We need to flood the market with Malaysian stories – all kinds of Malaysian stories. There are already so many books about all sorts of white people living in the West, and so few about any sort of Malaysians living anywhere in Malaysia that it seems like a no-brainer.

You know that hash tag #weneeddiversebooks? True. And this includes more diverse Malaysian books, here in Malaysia, as well as on the world stage. There is a myriad of Malaysian stories to tell, and Malaysian writers should be encouraged and allowed to tell them. We should, I feel, also want to tell these stories, and we should not be told which Malaysian stories are or aren’t worthy of notice.

Malaysian fiction, at the moment, seems to only be interesting to the West if it presents aspects of our culture, our history, our being that is already familiar to them. The second world war, the Japanese occupation, the threat of communism, these topics are not entirely alien and, so, are acceptable. Apart from that, Amy Tan has given Western readers a taste for Chinese tragedies so a Malaysian-Chinese story might pass muster, but if you write about pontianak or toyol you had better pad it in a nice, rich Regency setting.

I said that I’d changed my mind somewhat about Malaysians writing stories that aren’t Malaysian. Yes. If, as a Malaysian writer, you have a story that can be set nowhere else but in the seaside town of Eastbourne in East Sussex; if you are haunted by the tale of 63-year-old, newly-widowed Dorothy Selmes who has decided that the only way to face life without her husband is to starve and freeze herself to death, then by all means write it.

As a writer, your ethnicity or nationality should not, ultimately, dictate what you write about. Simply, be true to yourself. Tell the stories that excite you, that move you, that make you laugh and weep, and that keep you up at night; write about the characters who worry you, who nag you incessantly, demanding to be heard.

Research is important, though. If you’ve ever cringed at a white author getting something Malaysian wrong, you know that getting it right is important and respectful. You owe it to yourself, and Elsie.

Why do we write?

A book-related Facebook group is celebrating turning one next month with a festival. People will have the chance to meet local writers, find out about their publications, buy their books and get autographs (and wefies) at events around the country, it seems.

I don’t really know what to make of the events, though. I understand wanting to promote the work of local writers through sales, readings and discussions, but I don’t understand events that are just about showing up to sign books, especially when I have never heard of most of the writers listed.

But does it matter that I don’t know the names? Not if it’s because they have produced work that I am unfamiliar with. However, I believe that the writers are unknown to me because they have not written or published much. Again, this would not matter if the festival sought to provide a platform for them to share new unpublished work or introduce readers to past published efforts.

But according to the festival schedule, there are only two events that feature anything more than just signings and mixing-and-mingling.

Honestly, the event sounds to me like an exercise in self-indulgence, but I do wonder if I am old fashioned or too severe, and I have been trying to work out what exactly about the event bothers me. Well, the question that keeps repeating itself in my head is: “Exactly what are we celebrating?”

The festival site points out that the community “transcends genre, language, function, medium and experience levels”. Thus the group supports all Malaysian writers, no matter what kind of writers they are, no matter how long they’ve been at it, and no matter how successful they are at it. It’s all things to all writers.

So yes, I think the group should celebrate. I think it has been a great source of information and encouragement, and the group administrators should be proud of the support it offers all Malaysian writers.

However, I worry about how they are celebrating their achievements. While I would like to see as many Malaysian writers as possible gather to read their work and offer tips and advice on writing, publishing, and promoting their creations, I am uncomfortable about them assembling simply to sign their names in books. I’m referring particularly to those writers who have barely made their mark in the publishing scene.

It reminds me of something I heard the other day: apparently there is a member of a writing group who gets uppity if the other members offer comments about his stories. It’s unclear whether he has actually said that the others have no right to critique his work as he has been published (a short story in a recent anthology) and they have not. I have also heard of those who continue to dine out on one story published 10 years ago. They fall just short of handing out name cards inscribed “Author”.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendency for Malaysian writers to be more attracted to the “writer’s life” than to actually writing. They want the “fame” and the “glamour” without the effort.

They are quick to consider themselves having “arrived” with the publication of a couple of short stories, or a volume of poetry. Getting published is the prize. Getting published means being interviewed by the media, being photographed (wefies, anyone?), and signing books.

Do I seem too harsh? Surely there’s no shame in wanting your work to be published?

I guess my cynicism has to do with the impression I get that publication is the Holy Grail, whereas, in my opinion, a writer’s dearest wish should be to write well. Would you continue to write if you knew you would never be published? If your answer is “No” then I feel you shouldn’t be writing in the first place.

Some will feel that’s too idealistic of me. Perhaps, but in my experience there are far too many local authors who worry about getting their book published and agonise about how well or not their book will sell, yet have not actually written the book in the first place. It seems that “How do I write well?” is not a question that crosses their minds, and “Will my story touch people?” is frequently secondary to “Will my story make me rich and famous?”

To me, events like this group’s are one of the problems our writing scene faces. This culture of celebrating mediocrity, of self-congratulation is tasteless and embarrassing. Would it be so hard to organise a panel discussion, some readings or a Q&A session?

There are some experienced and talented authors who are taking part in the event who could have been tapped to offer invaluable insights into and advice on writing and publishing. Even those who are just starting out should be given the chance to share their experiences and work.

So. Exactly what are we celebrating? Daphne Lee The STAR 2 Home Culture September 27, 2015