November 9th, 2015

Kepentingan kuasai bahasa Inggeris

PETANDA serius masalah penguasaan bahasa Inggeris dalam kalangan pelajar sekolah sudah lama dibangkitkan. Hal ini memang 'isu panas' terutama bagi ibu bapa dan majikan yang bimbang, namun belum ada kepastian. September lalu, Unit Pengurusan Prestasi dan Pelaksanaan (PEMANDU) merangka satu tinjauan ringkas dalam talian secara 'anonymous' untuk memperoleh pandangan awam pentingnya kemahiran berbahasa Inggeris dalam kalangan pelajar.

Hanya dalam tempoh seminggu, lebih 90 peratus daripada 190,000 responden memberi maklum balas positif untuk meningkatkan standard bahasa Inggeris di sekolah.


Tinjauan ini tersebar secara 'viral' dengan pantas, di luar jangkaan saya. Ke mana-mana pun saya pergi, orang akan memberitahu saya bahawa mereka sudah memberi respons dan memuji usaha kerajaan untuk mencari penyelesaian.

Ramai responden luar bandar daripada baki 10 peratus turut sependapat. Kerajaan juga prihatin akan kebimbangan disuarakan golongan luar bandar mengenai kemampuan anak mereka sekiranya peraturan umum dibuat untuk mengajar subjek teras dalam bahasa Inggeris.

Dua program baharu

Perbincangan bersama mereka yang ada kepentingan, berserta hasil tinjauan yang dikumpul membolehkan Kementerian Pendidikan, menerusi makmal bahasa Inggerisnya meyakinkan Majlis Ekonomi yang dipengerusikan Perdana Menteri.

Makmal diselenggarakan oleh Unit Prestasi dan Pelaksanaan (PADU) dan PEMANDU dalam bulan Julai memperkenal dua program baharu di bawah dasar Memartabatkan Bahasa Melayu dan Memperkukuh Bahasa Inggeris (MBMMBI) iaitu Program Highly Immersive (HIP) dan Program Dual Language (DLP). Bajet 2016 memperuntukkan RM135 juta untuk menyokong program itu.

Malah, RM38.5 juta daripada peruntukan ini diagihkan kepada projek perintis untuk melancarkan kedua-dua program HIP dan DLP pada 2016. Aktiviti sokongan HIP sebenarnya bukan perkara baharu kerana program ini adalah peneguhan kepada pekeliling iktisas 1999 yang diterbitkan oleh Kementerian Pendidikan.

Yang baharu cuma pendekatan diambil - pemerkasaan sekolah, oleh sekolah, untuk sekolah. Menjelang akhir 2016, dijangka 1,000 sekolah akan melaksanakan HIP. Sementara itu, DLP pula membabitkan pengajaran subjek seperti Matematik, Sains, Teknologi Reka Bentuk dan ICT dalam bahasa Inggeris.

Fasa awal membabitkan 300 sekolah yang cukup syarat. Bagi memastikan usaha ini berjaya, kami perlukan pemimpin sekolah yang bersetuju melaksanakan program ini, guru yang berkemampuan mengajar bahasa Inggeris serta ibu bapa yang mahukan program ini.

Namun, sekolah yang terbabit, wajib mematuhi syarat tahap penguasaan bahasa Melayu ditetapkan Kementerian Pendidikan.

Saranan mengenai HIP dan DLP daripada makmal bahasa Inggeris disokong sepenuhnya Perdana Menteri; bekas Menteri Pendidikan, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin; Menteri Pendidikan, Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid, Majlis Ekonomi, Kabinet dan pegawai kanan Kementerian Pendidikan.

Pilih kaedah terbaik

Memandangkan pandangan yang jelas berbeza mengenai pengajaran subjek lain dalam bahasa Inggeris, kerajaan ambil jalan tengah.

Kami percaya cara terbaik mengendalikan perbezaan ketara ialah pendekatan 'bawah ke atas,' yakni, dengan memperkenalkan elemen 'pilihan' kepada sekolah dan ibu bapa.

Kini, penentuan masa depan anak terletak dalam tangan ibu bapa, tanpa perlu gadai penguasaan bahasa Melayu. Demi memastikan tahap penguasaan bahasa Melayu tidak terketepi, Kementerian Pendidikan bersama PADU dan PEMANDU akan menjalankan sebuah makmal pada 2016 untuk mengkaji hal ini.

Ada kira-kira 70,000 guru bahasa Inggeris di sekolah kebangsaan. Terkini, hampir 12,000 guru dari tiga kohort telah dipertingkatkan kemahiran mereka dalam tempoh menjangkaui setahun.

Ramai yang tidak sudah-sudah mengkritik kerajaan kerana tidak mengambil pegangan wajar untuk memperbaiki penguasaan bahasa Inggeris.

Antara kolum saya (http://bit.ly/1l8UFFD), saya sudah sebut mengenai empat gugusan- guru besar, guru, ibu bapa dan pelajar - semuanya harus sejajar dan selari bagi memastikan kehebatan sesebuah sekolah.

Namun, yang lebih penting, sekiranya pembaca sedar, pengagihan kuasa pemutus dan pemerkasaan sekolah serta ibu bapa sudah bermula.

Kini, masa depan anak anda dalam tangan anda sendiri. Berbalik kepada isu kepentingan penguasaan bahasa Inggeris, saya akui betapa besarnya hikmah saya membesar di ceruk pedalaman tanah tinggi di Sarawak.

Tarikan hidup di kawasan kampung ada batasnya. Justeru, saya menjadi pustakawan di sekolah kerana sikap saya yang amat dahagakan ilmu.

Itulah caranya saya dapat membaca sebanyak buku yang saya mahu dan menyingkap kehidupan dunia luar.

Di sinilah bermulanya penguasaan bahasa Inggeris yang cukup mendalam buat saya. Saya bekerja dengan Shell, sebuah syarikat antarabangsa, selama 23 tahun.

Bertugas di London, Belanda dan Sri Lanka - tidak mungkin saya mampu mencapai kecemerlangan dalam kerjaya saya tanpa penguasaan bahasa Inggeris.

Kemampuan berbahasa memang penting untuk mendapatkan kerja, namun, keyakinan dalam penguasaan bahasalah yang menyerlahkan kehebatan kita apabila digandingkan dengan rakan global.

Don’t let emotions get in the way of DLP

“WHEN we think about our country, the future of our country, the future of our students ... I feel very sad to see that many of our students, when they have finished school, they can’t even speak in English.” The words of SK Bukit Beruntung principal Nor Azian Abd Manan, as published on our front page yesterday, speak volumes.

And, if we are truly honest about the situation, we know that she is not alone.

It is not an unfamiliar lament.

Even the policymakers will acknowledge that there is a serious need to boost the proficiency level of the English language of this country if we are to take on the world.

Today, we find that many of our graduates cannot land a job because they cannot speak or write good English, which is so vital in the working world.

And it is not just about the working world.

English, as the Sultan of Johor pointed out earlier this year in an exclusive interview with The Star, is the universal currency which is “accepted everywhere and used everywhere, even in countries where the people don’t speak English well.”

The irony is that many Malaysians, including those in leadership positions, are fully aware that English is indeed the passport to more opportunities in an increasingly connected world.

Many of them in fact have benefited from going to English-medium schools before they were abolished.

Today, they are the ones who send their children to private and international schools locally, or even to boarding schools abroad, because they want them to have the English advantage.

But our concerns must not be on those who have the means to be in such a privileged group.

We must remember the majority of our students, which is why we must begin at the source.

The Dual Language Programme (DLP) initiative is the latest move to boost English proficiency at the school level.

It is a step in the right direction.

But we have to be serious and implement it properly so that it can eventually be made available in all schools.

For a start, the DLP will be used in 300 schools – just 3% of the national total – but only if they meet certain criteria: proper resources, principal’s support, teachers who can teach in English and Bahasa Malaysia and parents who are supportive.

It is clear that the three video clips issued by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) to garner support for the DLP, have convinced many about the need to enhance the teaching of English in the schools.

We must be careful not to allow emotions and politics to get in the way.

Often times, we have seen how any debate on this issue turns awry when certain groups and individuals play the “racial and nationalist card” to stop any effort to raise proficiency of the English language among our young.

It is their future that is at stake here.

If we care about our future generations, we will make sure we equip them with the right tools, including the correct language, to do well.

The STAR Home > Opinion > Columnists The Star Says Sunday November 8, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM

Beauty of staying in touch

True communication is all about choosing your words with love and care.

MY wife reminded me recently that it’s that time of the year when I write my annual family newsletter to send to our friends across many continents.

George Herbert that “good words are worth much, and cost little”.

She had already received some updates from various people, even though December is still some weeks away.

I think it’s a good tradition for keeping in touch with people whom we do not meet regularly, yet are dear enough to us that we want them to know how we are getting on.

Even in this age of constant updates via Facebook posts and WhatsApp, receiving a newsy letter in the mail is still a joy for me.

Sitting down to put our newsletter together compels me to review the year and the progress and status of each member of our family.

I find it helpful to take stock of the year ahead of the time when we traditionally formulate new year resolutions.

For one, there is still time to tie up loose ends and perhaps make good some promises made.

And secondly, November doesn’t have busyness of December with its extended festive season.

So there is more time for reflection.

So what will my newsletter say? Well, there have been happy moments this year as well as sad goodbyes, high points as well as low ones.

There were exciting new frontiers to explore for one member of the family, hurdles to overcome and challenges to face for another.

It has been a mixed bag and I am grateful for every experience.

I know that though not all journeys are pleasant ones, they are a means to make me complete.

I try and give equal space in our newsletter to each member of the family – my wife and my two boys – but it is inevitable this year that I will have more to share.

There is much to update on the ups and downs of my fourth battle with cancer where the timeline demarcated with dates on the calendar year cannot really tell the full story.

Then there is the joy of having this column emerge as a book, which also gives me the opportunity to pen a few lines to friends who want me to autograph their copies.

A favourite sentence I have used in this context is, “May you uncover gems to treasure in the pages of this book.”

I have been in a rather communicative mood this year, perhaps because I am on extended medical leave, with time to spare to write personal cards and letters to dear ones, near and far.

I firmly believe that encouraging words can be balm for the soul.

I have seen the restorative power of well chosen words of positive affirmation, whether written or spoken, used at just the right time.

At the same time, I have learned that in communicating, we must not expect to always get a response.

I believe that not getting a response does not mean that one’s sharing is not appreciated.

We are just different and express ourselves differently, that’s all.

If what I share in a private note, or even in a public column such as this, has the effect of bringing joy to the person reading it, then that is all that matters.

In the remaining weeks of the year, I will make it a point to convey my appreciation for those around me.

I will remind myself that each day is a precious gift, and I will love well and live fully.

And I will certainly start working on the family newsletter now.

Soo Ewe Jin The STAR Home News Sunday Starters Sunday November 8, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM

Adenan brings it on

Tan Sri Adenan Satem has shown great political will and acumen since becoming Chief Minister of Sarawak, but can he stop the Chinese tsunami still rolling across the state?

THE year is drawing to a close, the monsoons have arrived and the window to call for the Sarawak state election is getting smaller for Tan Sri Adenan Satem.

Some think the Sarawak Chief Minister has waited too long. They say he could be making the same mistake as Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who stretched it out for so long that his approval rating had dipped by the time he called for the general election.

Although the Sarawak Legislative Assembly is still good till June next year, there is quite a narrow window left for Adenan to hold his first state election as Chief Minister.

The weather will be too unfriendly from now till January for any kind of campaigning and it is no surprise that everyone is talking about a March election simply because that’s the only aperture left.

Adenan had held out this long because he wanted to go into the election with an additional 11 new state seats that will be legislated by Parliament next month.

Following that, it will be all systems go after Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 8 next year.Sarawak politicians, especially those from Barisan Nasional, hope the Chinese New Year festivities will soften the Chinese sentiment.

Adenan has been hugely popular across the board, particularly in the rural areas. The more remote the community, the more thrilled they are to see him and some behave like he is some mythical bird that has flown into their longhouse.

His party, Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), is expected to make another clean sweep of all the seats it contests. It makes PBB the most cohesive party in the country.

A recent survey showed that he enjoyed an approval rating of 74%.


Tough challenge: Adenan (right) is facing a very strong opposition led by DAP's Chong (left) and PKR's Baru in his maiden state election as Chief Minister.

The Chinese, who were dead set against Taib in the 2011 state election, have only good things to say about Adenan, yet very few expect a big Chinese swing towards Barisan.

There are a few reasons for this. SUPP (Sarawak United People’s Party), the Chinese arm of Sarawak Barisan, has been weakened after a power struggle saw the breakaway group forming a rival but Barisan-friendly party known as UPP (United People’s Party).

Candidate quality is also important to the urban voters and SUPP has yet to impress on this count.

“The 1MDB issue is a talking point among the urban voters. They see Barisan as not accountable because of this issue,” said Philip Wong, president of the Canada Graduates Association of Kuching.

The Chinese also feel very comfortable with the “Chineseness of DAP”. Mandarin is still the lingua franca of the party, the leadership is dominated by Chinese and issues affecting the community dominate the party agenda.

The Chinese had voted against Barisan due to Tun Taib Mahmud or “Peh Mor” (white hair), their nickname for the ex-Chief Minister who is now Governor of Sarawak.

“He is not in the picture anymore and there is a shift in Chinese thinking. Adenan’s efforts to reach out to the Chinese will have some impact in the seats won with marginal majorities. He will do better than in 2011 with the Chinese but not by much,” said Associate Professor Dr Faisal Syam Hazis of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

A good deal of DAP’s appeal in Sarawak has to do with its state chief Chong Chieng Jen. He was a reluctant politician with boyish good looks when he was first thrust into electoral politics by his parents.

His audacious political style rubs some people up the wrong way, but the Chinese like it and he has grown into a powerful warlord in DAP. His highly political family in Kuching is often likened to the Lim family in the peninsula.

DAP, under his leadership, is likely to hold on to the 14 state seats it won in 2011.

The party has not made much inroads into the rural seats despite a great deal of publicity over the recent recruitment of 12 Iban professionals. Several of them used to be division leaders in PKR and, needless to say, the crossover did not go down well with PKR leaders.

According to Dr Faizal, the failure of the opposition in Sarawak is that there is no single leader who can be the bridge between the parties.

The rivalry between DAP and PKR over seats in the last state polls has developed into an open war of words. Both parties are eyeing the same rural seats to do better in the state polls and may take on each other in a number of seats.

DAP leaders see PKR as a party that “dreams of big harvests” but does not work on the ground.

DAP has openly run down PKR state chief Baru Bian as lacking leadership. Some even accused DAP of spreading the rumour that Baru may lose in his Ba’kelalan seat.

The tall and macho-looking Baru is a leading legal authority on native customary rights and his law firm handles hundreds of such land cases. He has the backing of the influential Borneo Evangelical Church (SIB) and was touted as a potential Chief Minister, but he has not shone politically.

PKR has genuine people like Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How, who is so well-liked that Borneo Post, the pro-government local paper, gave him a weekly column.

“He brings up good issues and I often wonder what a nice guy like him is doing in politics,” said a Kuching-based journalist.

Adenan’s health was a talking point when he first came in as Chief Minister. Today, people talk of his witty speeches, his baritone singing voice and how he sometimes greets visitors to his home clad in a simple shirt and sarung.

Of course, they also talk about the way he has stood up to the federal government, his determination to maintain Sarawak’s culturally integrated outlook and the bold policies he has introduced.

Many people thought he was a grumpy old man but Adenan has surprised everyone. His speeches tickle people, he has shown intellectual depth and political acumen in tackling the issues inherited from his predecessor.

The giveaway on his health is that he walks slowly and sounds breathless if his sentences are too long. But for a man with heart problems, he has a strong booming voice and incredible political will.

“There is a good feeling for him. He is acting on what the people want such as autonomy in education, more oil royalty and state recognition of the UEC,” said SUPP secretary-general Sebastian Ting.

The Sarawak government intends to recognise the UEC (United Examination Certificate) issued by independent Chinese schools and which is a no-go in the peninsula.

Borneo Post ran the news on its front page with the headline “CM: Putrajaya’s UEC stand ‘stupid’”.

Some have warned Adenan that the Chinese will just take and not give him their votes but his thinking is that he has got to give it a try. He will probably end up disappointed like Najib.

Cost of living issues rank top of all election issues and Adenan’s move to abolish bridge tolls has gone down well with ordinary folk.

The politics of infrastructure is a big deal in Sarawak. The biggest and longest carrot of them all is the Pan Borneo Highway that will stretch from one end of Sarawak to the other. The 1,089km highway will be toll free and generate hundreds of jobs down the line.

Adenan, said Dr Faisal, has gone along with Sarawak for Sarawak­ians sentiments. The Chief Minister has said Sarawak will remain an integral part of Malaysia but wants more autonomy and devolution of power in certain sectors.

The Barisan side is asking people to “vote Adenan for a stronger Sarawak” so that he can face the federal government from a position of strength.

DAP has retaliated with the slogan that “a vote for Adenan is a vote for Najib” as a reminder of the 1MDB issue.

Meanwhile, an NGO known as S4S (Sarawak for Sarawakians) has gone around with the slogan “West Malaysian parties out!”, which is aimed primarily at Umno but the opposition is upset as DAP and PKR are also from the peninsula.

Adenan, on his part, has said it plain and simple: “I will be 72 next year. Just give me five years to do more. That’s all I am asking.”

He is fortunate in that Taib has assiduously refrained from commenting on politics. Adenan was once married to Taib’s sister but both men have a professional relationship and Taib has been meticulous in observing his boundaries as the Governor.

Barisan’s safe deposit state rests on Adenan’s shoulders and a total of 82 seats will be up for grabs.

It is a big load but the big man still likes to do things he enjoyed as an ordinary YB. Adenan often drops by the wet market after work to buy fish for his wife to cook for dinner.

Some things do not change for the man who wants to bring change to Sarawak.

Testing time for students , Students face a lot of pressure

SIJIL Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) is the mother of all examinations. It is the most dreaded and toughest of examinations because of the pressure on students to perform well.

The overemphasis on examination results places immense mental and physical pressure on students. The stiff competition to get government and private scholarships to local and foreign universities has raised the entry level to As in all subjects.

Students prepare throughout Form 4 and Form 5 for the examination and they are given two hours for each subject paper.

The fate of the students lies in the few hours they spend in the examination hall.

Their results will determine the paths that they take in life. Many variables can affect their performance.

Students have to be physically healthy before and during the examinations. If they fall sick or get involved in an accident, it could have negative effects on their performance.

If their family members fall sick or die before or during the examination, it will disturb their concentration and affect their performance.

The overemphasis on perfection and excellence in examinations has resulted in students pushing themselves to the limits. Is the SPM an examination for the sake of an examination or does it measure students’ self worth, confidence, achievement and aptitude to succeed?

How much of the knowledge studied and tested for in the examination can be used by students in their future? Do students study to learn knowledge and skills or do they study to score?

Somehow, in the learning process, the aim and goal of sitting SPM have been lost with the overemphasis on setting a high benchmark. Parents and teachers have to stop putting pressure on students to excel.


AS the academic year comes to an end, schoolchildren are looking forward to enjoying the holidays. However, the euphoria may not be felt by those sitting the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination, especially after the haze disrupted their preparations.

With the monsoon season expected to hit the country soon, it is not good news at all. These dry and wet seasons add to students’ pressure as they face the most important exam in their 11 years of primary and secondary education.

Our academic culture puts students under a lot of pressure as they strive to meet everybody’s expectations. Some feel that this scenario is unhealthy for children as the high expectations of parents, teachers and society can make them feel depressed, anxious and suicidal. Some students cheat during exams.

Others think that if there is no pain, there is no gain. Parents believe it is helpful to remind children to focus on their studies, instead of becoming addicted to wrong hobbies and habits.

As Winston Churchill said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Adults should realise that it is not the end of the world if their children fail to succeed or reach their targets.
SPM students are put under a lot of pressure when they have to meet everybody’s expectations.
Instead of scolding and making their children feel guilty for unsatisfactory performance, parents should encourage them to soldier on while using their failure to shine as the reason to work harder.

Apart from reminding them that every cloud has a silver lining, parents should remember that students need others, especially their loved ones, to help them chase their dreams.

We should stop scaring schoolchildren by giving them the impression that SPM is everything or that having a string of As will ensure happiness in life.

This emphasis on getting As may discourage weak learners and make them think it is pointless to work hard when it is impossible to pass with flying colours.

The wrong definition of success and obsession with grades could kill their spirit and deny them the opportunity to achieve their potential.

Parents should realise that their not-so-smart way of trying to produce diligent and intelligent children will make it difficult for them to understand that learning is not about the results. It is about the determination to improve en route to becoming mature people.

A test that’s part and parcel of life

EXAMS! The mere mention of the word would conjure images of horror that will haunt students from one generation to the next, even adults who have been spared the rigours of preparing for examinations.

Yes. Everyone despises exams. Teachers loathe exams (having the duty to mark a mountain of exam papers). Students detest exams (having to study interminably to ace an exam).

Parents worry about the results of exams (exams determine the future of their kids.) Recently, in the New Straits Times report, “When exam fever hits” (Nov 1), the word “exams” was defined by Dr Charis Geevarughese as the traditional way of evaluating the retention of information taught to students.

Of course, the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination is underway and, according to Cathie Wu in the report, the overemphasis on examination results have led to many children experiencing psychological disorders like panic attacks, heightened anxiety and depression.

She reiterated that Western countries focus on areas that interest their children, while in Malaysia, we just concentrate solely on examinations.

Thus, exams place considerable undue stress on students.

Many people doubt the effectiveness of an exam because it merely tests the rote learning of facts.
I beg to disagree. Exams are as pivotal in the west as they are in the east.

In the United Kingdom, students have to complete their GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and Advanced Level (A Level) exams before pursuing their tertiary education.

In the United States, students are required to do well in their Scholastic Aptitude Test before proceeding to universities.

If Malaysian students think that sitting for the SPM is an ordeal, think again.

In Finland, students have to go through the Finnish Matriculation Examination before entering higher education. According to Amanda Ripley (an investigative journalist for The Times),

Finnish students have to brave three excruciating weeks doing their exams lasting 50 hours.

Teachers escort students to the toilet to ensure there is no cheating.

The Finnish language exam takes two days to complete.

On day one, students have to analyse several challenging texts and write short essays about each text in six hours.

On day two, students are required to write a single long essay in six hours.

Examples of the essay topic are, “Why is it difficult to achieve peace in the Middle East?”; “I blog, therefore, I am.”

Hence, the rigours of SPM pale in comparison with the Finnish exam.

The word “exam” is defined by the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English as a spoken or written test of knowledge.

Thus, an exam is a test.

In life, we face a wide variety of tests, be they exams or other things.

When a person is called by a would-be employer for an interview, it is a test of his or her ability to perform the job competently.

When you are called to give a speech to an audience, it is a test of your speaking proficiency to convince the audience.

Even when you mix around at a party, it is a test of your social graces.

You will fail the test at the party if you are not able to follow the social etiquette required by society. A test can be as traumatic as it is challenging.

Let’s face the reality in life.

We cannot run away from tests or exams in life.

The SPM is just a stepping stone to other tougher tests in life.

If our young students cannot handle the stress of the SPM, how can they cope with other daunting tasks or tests in life?

Many doubt the effectiveness of an exam because it merely tests the rote learning of facts.

Some experts even say we should forget memorisation and place emphasis on higher-order thinking skills.

But every creature cannot live without memory.

Imagine travelling in your car to your workplace and back home without the ability to recollect your memory of the route to and fro.

Imagine our students failing to recall the multiplication tables and having to do their advanced math in an exam.

Imagine your pet losing its memory of you as his master.

That would be a grim prospect.

Something wrong with our way of life

Many have asked me “How can we eradicate corruption?”

I often reply that “it is an impossible thing to do — until we understand what motivates people and gets them to instinctively behave with integrity”.

Different people have different ideals and beliefs. We cannot force everyone to want the same thing but that should not stop us from working to achieve the greater good.

We need to see and understand the big picture — that the rich do not want the same thing as the poor.

Those who depend on their jobs for their livelihoods do not want the same thing as those who live off investments and dividends.

Those who depend on public transport, education and protection, do not seek the same thing as those who can afford private transport, education and protection.

If we were to assume that everyone wants the same thing, then we are mistaken and misled.

Societies are complex and there are conflicting interests.

To assert otherwise, that is to deny the distinctions of class, wealth or influence, is akin to promoting one set of interests above another.

Markets have a natural disposition to favour needs and wants that can be reduced to commercial criteria or economic measurements.

But, what of those goods/benefits that human beings value that do not lend themselves to quantification? What of well-being, fairness or equity?

Such considerations mean more to most people, than aggregate or even individual profit or growth. When we talk of our public education for example, it often boils down to how our schools or universities are performing in an imaginary global competition.

Little, if nothing at all is discussed whether the kinds of schools or universities we ought to have, fits into the picture of the kind of society we wishes to live in.

The question of whether our schools and universities produce decent individuals who are responsible and morally aware, sits for most parents and their children, on a rung far, far below whether they will end up with good jobs that will make them endless amounts of money.

This is something I fear that is profoundly wrong with the way we live today.

For decades, we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest.

We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth.

We no longer ask of judicial rulings or legislative acts, whether they are good, fair, just or right. Or, whether they will help bring about a better society or a better world.

Those used to be important political questions, even if they invited no easy answers.

We must learn once again to ask ourselves these hard questions if we are serious in wanting a better future for our children and their children.

The question of integrity or the lack of it cannot be furnished by viewing it purely from the point of view of laws or institutions.

Integrity means to act with virtue. Yet, the cultivation of virtue cannot be channeled merely through the imposition of rules and regulations.

Moral awareness cannot be a by-product of legislation; wise and effective legislation are the by-products of a good and decent society — only then can we begin to tackle corruption and other forms of immorality more effectively.

If we are serious about tackling the problems of moral erosion in society (and I take corruption and the lack of integrity to be critical symptoms of this), then we must be able to see the problem in its proper relief.

We cannot afford to be complacent.

True, sensible laws and public institutions as well as having the right people to man and enforce them, are an integral part of the process.

But, that is only a part of it.

Focusing our struggles on this aspect of the conundrum merely deals with the symptoms of the problems — not the cause.

To tackle the cause, we must first understand the problem.

To understand the problem, we must be able to frame the right questions.

In this, I think, we have sold ourselves short.

For example, in our haste to show that we have begun to tackle the question of corruption effectively, we continually look towards various international indices, such as the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, which rank the levels of corruption in a given country and the efficacy of efforts to overcome the problem.

Thus, just as how we imagine the qualities of our universities as best illustrated through ranking exercises, we frequently do the same for the way we think about corruption.

If we have improved five places from last year’s standing, we must have done something right.

This is both dangerous and misleading. Indices show generalised indicators; they cannot be the guiding principle in which we think about the problems of our society.

No doubt, indices have a general utility but they only reveal a small piece of the puzzle.

In the end, we must have a vision of the kind of society we want, and ultimately, the efforts we invest through our education system must be guided by this vision.

It does us much greater harm to abdicate the responsibilities we have for each other as members of this society to merely a universal template and hope that this will solve our problems.

One key underlying principle that is important in shaping the institutional arrangements to combat the moral erosion of society is a holistic education system, where for example, an accounting teacher would constantly remind his students that the lessons taught are not to be exploited for creative accounting to avoid paying taxes, but for the knowledge gained to be used responsibly and to always do what is right.


Dr Anis Yusal Yusoff NST Home News Opinion 8 November 2015 11:01 AM