November 25th, 2015

SPM Moral Paper Blunder

Exam board to explain SPM Moral paper flap to ministry this week

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 24 — The Education Ministry has summoned the Examinations Board for a briefing following the uproar here over the allegedly politically-driven questions in this year’s SPM Moral paper.

Deputy minister Chong Sin Woon said he has already been in touch with the board and that a meeting will be held some time this week.

“I have called for a briefing by the Lembaga Peperiksaan to look into the matter. The meeting that will take place within this week,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted, referring to the board by its Malay name.

Last Thursday, Malay Mail Online reported students complaining that the SPM Moral examination included political questions, including one depicting a teenager encountering a promotional poster for an anti-government rally in which participants would receive RM100, and inviting a friend to join in.

Malay Mail Online was unable to verify the contents of the SPM Moral paper as the examination is “closed”, which means students are not allowed to take home the question sheets.

Parents and education lobby groups, however, later complained over the possibility that the SPM examinees were forced to answer politically-skewed questions, saying the classroom is not the place for politics.

DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang also made a call on the ministry to make publicly release the Moral paper questions to allow the Malaysians to judge whether the questions were appropriate for a national-level exam.

Examination Board director Datin Nawal Salleh today also responded to Malay Mail Online via email to say that the board was in the midst of preparing an official statement in response to the claims. AIZYL AZLEE Malay Mail News Nation 24 November 2015

Say sorry for ‘brainwashing’ in SPM Moral paper, Examination Board told

KUALA LUMPUR, 20 Nov — A coalition of six student groups demanded today for the Examination Board to apologise and explain the alleged inclusion of politically-driven questions in this year’s SPM Moral examination.

The groups accused the Education Department of politicising examinations and claimed that the “student-brainwashing attempt” was part of its bid to discourage the younger generation from becoming politically active.


Parents and education lobby groups complained over the possibility that SPM examinees were forced to answer politically-skewed questions, saying the classroom is not the place for politics. — File pic

“We call out to fellow citizens to view this issue critically. It is necessary to impose pressure on the authority in charge and find them responsible for such decisions.

“At the same time, we demand that the Examination Board provide an answer and apology to the students,” said the coalition spearheaded by University Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany) in a statement.

The groups also claimed that instead of instilling critical judgment and independent thought among students, the questions in the 2015 Moral paper were doing the opposite.

“The questions also assumes all political activity to be anti-government and places a negative perspective on such activities,” the groups said.

“Student groups are concerned that the questions do not enforce a truly democratic ideology, and proposes the idea that students should not partake in political activities,” they added.

“The Examination Board is utilising the SPM questions to manipulate and influence the judgement of students as such to breed a generation of citizens that fear and oppose political activism.”

Yesterday, Malay Mail Online reported students complaining that the SPM Moral examination included political questions, including one depicting a teenager encountering a promotional poster for an anti-government rally in which participants would receive RM100, and inviting a friend to join in.

Malay Mail Online was unable to verify the contents of the SPM Moral paper as the examination is “closed”, which means students are not allowed to take home the question sheets.

Parents and education lobby groups complained over the possibility that SPM examinees were forced to answer politically-skewed questions, saying the classroom is not the place for politics.

Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan gave his assurance that he would issue a statement after checking on the allegation with ministry officials.

Explain ‘brainwashing’ in SPM Moral paper, minister told

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 20 — Education Minister Datuk Mahdzir Khalid must state his involvement in the alleged inclusion of politically-driven questions in this year’s SPM Moral examination, DAP’s Lim Kit Siang said today.


DAP’s Lim Kit Siang (pic) wants an explanation from Education Minister Datuk Mahdzir Khalid on the alleged inclusion of politically-driven questions in this year’s SPM Moral examination. ― File pic

The DAP parliamentary leader said the minister is obliged to explain if he or officers from his ministry were responsible such action, and whether punitive action would be taken over the test that caused uproar among students and parents.

“The blatant attempt to brainwash students with politically-loaded questions in the SPM Moral Education paper is most reprehensible and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, especially as it involved a not-so-subtle attempt to tell lies and demonise protest gatherings as anti-government and anti- national, even suggesting that those who participate in them are not high-minded idealists but ‘mercenaries’,” Lim said in a statement today.

“Why vilify civil society groups as anti-government and anti-national, as well as subtly spreading lies and falsehoods,  when moral education should inculcate students with good virtues instead of being ‘brainwashing’ courses?”

Lim pointed out that this was the second controversy involving Mahdzir’s ministry since the latter took over from Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who was removed in the July Cabinet reshuffle, the other being the disappearance of seven Orang Asli students in Kelantan.

The Gelang Patah MP added that claims of the “ham-fisted” attempt to nurture a “nation of sheep” arose even as the Orang Asli incident was yet to be resolved.

“Even up to now, Mahdzir has not been able to restore the confidence of the Orang Asli people in Gua Musang in the education system as more than 50 per cent of the Orang Asli parents have refused to send their children back to the school because of their safety concerns especially in Kampung Penad, Gawin, Simpor and Rekom,” he said.

Yesterday, Malay Mail Online reported students as complaining that the SPM Moral examination included political questions, including one depicting a teenager encountering a promotional poster for an anti-government rally in which participants would receive RM100, and inviting a friend to join in.

Some noted the irony in a Moral paper requiring students to provide disingenuous answers if their personal beliefs did not align with the politics of those preparing the examination.

Malay Mail Online was unable to verify the contents of the SPM Moral paper as the examination is “closed”, which means students are not allowed to take home the question sheets.

The questions had generated controversy on Twitter and other social media platforms since earlier this week.

Parents and education lobby groups complained over the possibility that SPM examinees were forced to answer politically-skewed questions, saying the classroom is not the place for politics.

Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan gave his assurance that he would issue a statement after checking on the allegation with ministry officials.

Partisan politics in SPM Moral exam?

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 — The national SPM examinations are still underway but social media platforms are abuzz with bewildered chatter over some of the questions in the Moral paper that some say are politically skewed and loaded.

Shankar Chandrasegaran who sat for the paper two days ago, remembers being taken aback by a question that asked students to explain why it was better for them not to participate in anti-government activities.



The Fifth Former at a school in Selangor described the question as depicting a teenager encountering a promotional poster for an anti-government rally in which participants would receive RM100, and inviting a friend to join in.


“I believe many students will believe that the government is trying to make sure that the young generation don't oppose the government,” Shankar told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.

Another student who asked only to be identified as Anna said she too was shocked when she saw the question, as she felt it was too personal and inappropriate for a national-level examination for school leavers.

“I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so by asking these strange questions in the exam, you cannot weigh the situation in the correct perspective because you know what the expected answer is.

“So why bother asking these questions when students would obviously have to provide them with the most ‘morally’ related answers and basically agree with whatever it is?” she posed.

Asked how she answered, Anna said she chose what she thought the examiners would accept as the most “correct” response, even though she believed the answer to be subjective.



The 17-year-old said her mother was unsurprised when she told her about the Moral examination question, adding that she felt a little consoled when she was told “there’s no win-win situation” in that predicament.

Another SPM examinee, Tasha, confirmed the politically-loaded question was included in this year’s Moral paper.

The teen who attends a private secondary school in Subang Jaya said while she may agree students should not participate in political activities, they should similarly not be tested on issues as the answers may not reflect their personal beliefs, which would ironically breach the very moral values they had been taught.


“Not all answers for all the questions are necessarily in line with our beliefs, but we do know what the right answers are,” she told Malay Mail Online when contacted.

Apart from the controversial anti-government rally issue, Tasha said another mind-boggling question students were asked was what they would do when faced with water rationing in their housing area and had to choose between collecting water from the delivery truck for their mother or attending extra classes in school.

Tasha said she answered that she would first collect water before heading to school for the extra class as to not cause heartache for her mother.

Malay Mail Online was unable to verify the contents of the SPM Moral paper as the examination is “closed”, which means students are not allowed to take home the question sheets.

The SPM Moral questions have a hot topic on Twitter and other social media platforms since the test two days ago and even sparked a hashtag, #spm2015 moral.

Parents education lobby groups have also voiced outrage at the possibility that SPM examinees were forced to answer politically-skewed questions, saying the classroom is not the place for politics.

Malacca Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin said he had not seen the question sheets but stressed that his group will look into the issue that has put their children in an awkward position.

“As a parent I am not happy that my child is required to be put on the spot that way, to state their political stand,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted.


“Why must they set a question with a political undertone? There are hundreds of other questions that could have taken its place. I’m sure it was vetted, and I think action needs to be taken against the people who set the question.”

Shamsuddin Hamid, coordinator for the Concerned Parents of Selangor (CPS) also raised similar concerns, saying while it was important to educate children on political ideas, thoughts and philosophy, the school was not the platform to spread partisan politics.

“It would be ridiculous and horrible. If at all it was in the questions, parents should raise hell. As for CPS’ stand, partisan politics should not be in the classrooms,” he said when contacted.

Malay Mail Online has also contacted the Education Ministry for comment but has yet to receive a reply.

Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan gave an assurance he would issue a statement after checking on the allegation with ministry officials.

AIZYL AZLEE  Malay Mail News Nation 19 November 2015

Why are our teachers still unable to speak English?

QUICK TAKE: Deputy Education Minister P Kamalanathan continues to toe the political line but is being disingenuous when he says that his ministry has never neglected the importance of a mastery of the English language, for  students and teachers.

If our teachers have a poor grasp of the English language, how does he think the students are going to excel?

This is not the fault of the teachers, or the students. The ministry has failed to provide the proper tools for the teachers to teach English.

We are only five years away from "Wawasan 2020" and our mastery of the English language is probably lower than it was five years ago.

We have spent millions of ringgit importing teachers, from England, Australia, America and India, to teach Malaysian students and teachers, but the ministry has failed to tell us if these schemes were successful or not.

Some years ago, we were so ambitious that we announced that we would send our own teachers to teach English, in Oman. So, have we lost our best English teachers to foreign countries? They probably offer better salaries and benefits.

The move to send English speaking teachers abroad, probably came after a 12-man delegation from Oman, visited Malaysia in 2009, to see how the Teaching of Maths and Science in English (PPSMI) was implemented in Malaysia.

The week-long visit prompted Fawzia Al Zadjali, the head of the English Language Curriculum Section in Oman’s Education Ministry, to praise the Malaysian PPSMI.

Fawzia said, "The level of English proficiency among Malaysian students really stands out, and the fun they have in class is very encouraging.

“They are confident and interact freely with their teachers. This indicates your system is working. We hope to achieve the same level of success.”

Fawzia and her delegation had spent the morning observing English and Mathematics lessons, visiting the science and computer labs, monitoring the teaching techniques and the use of multimedia tools, in one Kuala Lumpur school.

The school, which the Omani delegation had praised, was the SK Bukit Damansara. This school is in one of the more affluent parts of Kuala Lumpur, where English is probably used at home, rather more than Malay, Chinese or Indian.

It is also a school, where 'well-meaning' (pushy) parents are not afraid to make their views known, and demand only the best for their children. It is a school where most of the students ooze confidence.

Would the Omani delegation have been as praiseworthy had they been sent to "observe" a school, in ulu Kelantan, like SK Pos Tohoi?

It was recently reported, in The Star, that the careers of 1,000 medical graduates had suffered a hiatus, because of their poor command of English. One wonders, how they were admitted into medical school, in the first place.

Affirmative action policies and lowering the pass-mark, for a certain race, will fail that race, and not help it.  Ministers and the wealthy, will continue to school their children in international schools, or overseas. The rakyat is left with bog-standard education for their children.

If Kamalanathan is sincere about improving English proficiency, in the Malaysian education system, he may need to look at the basics and start at the beginning.

He will have to impress upon his political masters that race should not be the determining factor in the selection of students or teachers, of all subjects.

Alamak! Malaysian authorities fail English, yet again!

QUICK TAKE: American President Barack Obama must have chuckled when he
passed by the billboard en route to another function in KL.

The words read, "Welcome to the President of USA Barack Obama".

When will we ever learn?  In 2012, the English version of Mindef's official website was criticised for its series of embarrassing gaffes. The site soon became a Twitter and Facebook sensation.

The erstwhile then Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi, was forced to close down the site and make a humiliating admission that his staff had used and relied on the free online services of Google Translate.

So, was Google Translate also used for the caption to welcome Obama to Malaysia?

With 1.5 million civil servants in Putrajaya, couldn't Najib Razak have asked the best English speakers to proof-read the electronic message before it went out?

If none of the ordinary civil servants are free, perhaps the Prime Minister's Department (PMD), which is 45,000 strong, could have come to the rescue?

What do the civil servants do? Where are the linguists?

Perhaps, some of the money could be used to pay for a first-class proof-reader?

Do we not have any good English language graduates? We have spent millions of ringgits on students, to study Islamic studies, and apparently marriage courses, in Paris. Perhaps, a few students could be sent abroad, to study languages?

A similar, embarrassing translation was made in 2011, during the visit of Chinese premier Wen JiaBoa. The banner at the welcoming ceremony in Putrajaya, contained several errors of grammar and syntax.

Again, where were the proof-readers and quality controllers?

In Malaysia, English is widely used in the private sector, unlike the public sector, where it is alleged that only high-ranking civil servants use it as a communication tool.

When contacted, civil servants agree on the importance of English, but many felt that they were not compelled to improve their English, as it was not used in their day-to-day work.

A retired civil servant, said that proficiency in English, in the 1980s, was much higher among older civil servants than the younger government employees.

She claimed that this was due to the "far superior" education, which Malaysians received in the 1960s and 1970s.

She said, "Today, if you speak English, people think you either want to show off, or that you look down on your national language."

A local university lecturer confided that it was frustrating to teach students whose English was very poor.

"The new intake of students can hardly write, let alone speak English. I cover the hospitality industry course and students are required to present certain assignments in English. Their work is difficult to mark. What is happening to the students now, has its roots in their early schooling."

It is believed that many students, especially Malays, aspire to a job in government, where they understand that English is unnecessary.

So much for our Wawasan 2020 dream, when we cannot speak English properly, to compete and communicate, in the global market.

SPM exams: Can our kids take the pressure?

SPM exams: Can our kids take the pressure?

KUALA LUMPUR: Last night, the nation was shocked by the news of a teenager taking his life after failing to answer one of his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) papers.

The 17-year-old Chinese-language drama actor from SMK Raja Abdullah was found hanging by his necktie in an apartment unit in Taman Jinjang after failing to answer his Additional Mathematics Paper 1 questions.


The overemphasis on examination results places immense pressure on schoolchildren.
The incident jarred many Malaysians, who expressed their sympathy and dismay on-line over the tragic death.

Many were also puzzled as to what could have driven the youngster to act in such a way.

Audrey Vijaindren spoke to psychologists, students and parents about academic expectations, preparations and fears which students endured as they prepared for the SPM examinations, which many regard sets the stage for success or failure in later life.

MANY Asian countries, Malaysia included, have the typical Asian academic culture where a child’s academic success is cherished and associated with success and happiness later in life.

This “achievement-driven” attitude is putting undue stress on children, especially during the crucial exam years such as when they are sitting the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination.

“Asian families have high academic expectations and the attitude they demonstrate to their children is one that is achievement-driven.

“Exams, therefore, are emphasised for their ability to gauge their children’s achievements and innate aptitude to succeed,” said Rekindle Centre for Systemic Therapy counselling psychologist Cathie Wu.

She said children’s stress usually came from parents and teachers.

“The desire to motivate their children to achieve success and happiness in life is natural for parents and is not the problem behind this phenomenon of overstressed students.

“It’s when over achievement and perfectionism is expected, as the only acceptable form of self-worth and success a child can show and that the child has no other personal qualities that can be accepted or celebrated. That puts immense physical and mental pressure on the children.”

Wu said the overemphasis on examination results had led to many children experiencing panic attacks and heightened anxiety and depression, which not only decrease their ability to perform academically, but also erode their confidence and self-worth.

While Western countries steer children into areas that interest them, she said, our syllabus focused on mugging for examinations.

“Malaysian kids quickly learn that interests, hobbies, and other forms of creative exploration do not matter.

“As is often apparent in depressed kids, they come to question the meaning and purpose of life beyond striving for exam results, and grow evermore frustrated and helpless in their outlook on life.”

Parents, Wu said, should demonstrate to their children that they empathise and understand their struggles during this difficult exam period.

“Support your children by helping them find coping strategies.

“Motivate them by incorporating meaning and purpose into difficult study materials. “

Reinforce good study ethics and attitudes rather than focus solely on results.

“Be vigilant to signs of anxiety, depression, isolation, withdrawal and poor coping skills. She said students sitting the SPM exam should take regular short breaks to improve their ability to sustain focus.
There’s a lot of pressure on students to perform well in exams. The overemphasis on examination results places immense pressure on schoolchildren.


They should seek to comprehend their study material instead of merely memorising them, she said.

“To maintain sanity, it may be helpful to find relaxation techniques to manage anxiety because high anxiety levels cripple the ability to think and recall. “

They should practise these relaxation techniques often.”

Wu stressed that students should not neglect their health and, should eat healthy and get enough sleep.

“Physical deprivation has detrimental effects on memory and critical thinking. “

Also, reward yourself in small but satisfying ways to keep yourself motivated. “

Finally, take some time to reflect on your non-academic talents, interests, and strengths.

Develop a healthy sense of self-worth.”

Wu’s view was shared by her colleague, clinical psychologist Dr Charis Geevarughese. “


Students should visualise exams as hurdles that they are slowly overcoming. There’s a lot of pressure on students to perform well in exams. The overemphasis on examination results places immense pressure on schoolchildren.
The big emphasis on exams in Malaysia is partly due to the fact that our education system is based on older traditions and influenced by British colonisation. Exams are the traditional way of evaluating the retention of information taught to students.”

Stress could be the result of many things, she said, adding that self-imposed pressure or goals were contributing factors.

“If a child does not believe other parts of themselves matter or are of less value than grades, there will be stress. Geevarughese said family or parental influence and hopes about exam performances and the pressure to get scholarships for higher education were also important factors. “

It was recently announced that Malaysia ranks third highest in Asia in terms of the cost of tertiary education compared with household income. “Exam scores are the gateway to placement in a university.

So, there is a lot of pressure to perform well.” Geevarughese said parents should show their children how to handle stressful situations, such as exams, by handling work stress well. “

Parents should make time for their children, and study and work with them.

“Set goals and provide rewards for meeting those goals.

“Talk to your children often about how they are coping and feeling.

“Don’t assume that they are not studying and don’t care about their studies when you see them taking break.

“You never know, they may have been studying the whole time and just decided to take their first break when you saw them resting.

“Find out what their goals are and encourage them to determine what scores they want to achieve and help them work towards that goal.

” As they sit one of the toughest examinations of their life, Geevarughese advised SPM students to have a “fun mantra, theme song or fight song” that they could sing when they got stressed.

“It is the toughest right now but not the be all and end all.
When we get tunnel vision it’s easy to get panicky and go ‘insane’.

“Take breaks when studying. For example, take a five minute break for every 30 minutes of studying.

Take a walk, have a nap, sing a song, take a dance break or have a candy reward.”

She said they should try to see the bigger picture by visualising the exam as a hurdle that they were slowly overcoming. “

For example, picture yourself chipping away at a wall or marking off the days in the calendar.

Find ways to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dealing with exam stress ; Time to rest, prepare for the year ahead

Time to rest, prepare for the year ahead

THE 2015 school year officially came to an end last week. The euphoria was evident — screams of joy, cheerful faces running out of classrooms and jumping in the air, and the customary farewell hugs and goodbyes.

The year-end holiday signals the end of one academic year and the beginning of the next. In other words, schoolchildren will be a year older and moving up the academic ladder.

For those going from primary to secondary school, it also comes with a change in uniform — a true sense of pride and maturity.

After a long year filled with classroom activities, homework, projects and portfolios, co-curricular and co-academic activities, and assessments and exams, holidays are a time to unwind and relax. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a lot of domestic work to do during the holidays.

It was time to clean the compound, paint gates and walls, repair broken or damaged equipment and mend the chicken coop, goat and cow sheds.




Students of Sekolah Kebangsaan Bukit Rimau Seksyen 32, Shah Alam, Selangor on their last day of school this year.
I wonder if you could call that a holiday from today’s perspective!

Travelling to beach and hill resorts, both locally and abroad, was a luxury few could afford.

Travelling was confined to attending wedding receptions or visiting relatives. Today, however, the scenario is different.

Rewards in the form of cash, excursions and holiday vacations await those who obtain excellent results or show marked improvement in their studies.

Six weeks of holiday, by any standard, is a long time. Students should plan ahead and plan well. Failure to do so would mean precious time being wasted.

To begin with, they should reflect upon the current academic year, identify their strengths and weaknesses and take concrete measures to consolidate or improve.

They should spend the time concentrating on subjects they are weak in and work on them. This would enable them to catch up on lost time and be on par with other students when school reopens.

Most schools have taken back the textbooks for the current year and given out new textbooks for the following academic year.

It is hoped that students will use some of the free time to look through the books to prepare for the year ahead. This is also a time to catch up with friends and relatives who live far away, and do things that will remain memorable for a long time.

It is also the time to catch up on a hobby or activity that has been set aside.

Parents, too, should seize this opportunity to take a break from work and spend quality time with their children and listen to their concerns.

They should use the year-end report card to gauge their overall performance and plan ahead with the children. They can send their children for career workshops, seminars and educational camps to keep them occupied.

My advice is simple. After sweating it out for a year, students deserve a rest, a good rest that includes a holiday, an adventure and a new experience.

A rest that takes them away from textbooks and classrooms.

It is akin to the end of a football season when players are given a rest while the management does some reflection, deploys new tactics and strategies, and plans international friendlies while preparing the team for the next season.

It is my hope, too, that after the holidays, students face the new school term with renewed determination, replenished energy and enthusiasm. Happy holidays!


Dealing with exam stress

THOSE who dismiss young Malaysians’ stress over national examinations are missing the point of the argument, which is that it is real.

Young Malaysians who have been preparing for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), which begins tomorrow, have lots to say about exam stress.

“I can’t really sleep because I’m thinking about SPM all the time. I’m so afraid I’m going to let my parents down,” is a typical sentiment.

It is not helpful to them when patronising adults tell them to get over it. With the advantage of experience, many adults will say that exams are not the be-all and end-all.

They will say that it won’t be the end of the world if you don’t live up to other people’s expectations and there will be many other opportunities to pursue the career of your choice.

Each teenager will have to undergo the stress of taking examinations.
And that far more stressful experiences and times await you.

This advice means little to the young Malaysians preparing for SPM, the second last public examination at the secondary school level before tertiary level education at a university or higher education institution.

The Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) examination is the last public examination at the secondary school level.

These examinations put too much pressure on students to perform well.

They are fully aware that the few hours in the exam hall can dictate the paths their lives will take.

Their parents’ high hopes for the future and competition from peers add to the pressure. Little wonder that schools report a rise in students needing help with stress management during this time.

Clearly, tests and exams are a challenging part of school life, for both children and parents. And Asian families have been singled out for putting undue stress on children, especially during the crucial exam years. “

Asian families have high academic expectations and the attitude they demonstrate to their children is one that is achievement-driven.

Exams are emphasised for their ability to gauge a child’s current achievements and innate aptitude to succeed,” says Rekindle Centre for Systemic Therapy counselling psychologist Cathie Wu.

There’s nothing wrong with parents and schools wanting their charges to do well in examinations, as long as expectations are realistic.

It is natural for parents to motivate their children to become high achievers but it becomes an issue when over-achievement and perfectionism are recognised as the only form of self-worth and success.

Qualities that do not lead to these outcomes are not worth celebrating. “

That puts immense physical and mental pressure on children,” Wu adds.

The whole atmosphere is not only anxiety-inducing but also reduces students’ ability to perform academically, besides eroding their confidence and self-worth. Putting too much emphasis on exams — by school administrators, teachers, parents and students — creates unnecessary hurdles to educating our children. Instead of teaching children required skills, we teach them to succeed on tests and examinations.

Students should not be graded by their performance under pressure but by their dedication, hard work and appreciation of the learning process. All the best to those sitting SPM.

The power of storytelling

WHAT happens when you hear a story? Our brain wants to know what happens next. But, more than that, we get involved with the narration — we are transported into the character’s world.

We feel empathy and give to charity or cry or feel a lot better. Little wonder then that storytelling is universal. There is not a culture in the world that does not tell their children stories.

There is not a place on earth where storytelling is not taking place even now: in advertising, in charity appeals, in the rectangular screen in the lounge that we sit and stare at all day long, sometimes even during meals.

Those Hari Raya/Chinese New Year/Deepavali commercials are stories that appeal and change us a little, that is why they are so popular.

In a previous column I wrote about how you could change your stance, from harsh criticism to the gentle art of storytelling to impart a message.

Not satisfied with the performance of an employee? Tell him a story of how you yourself struggled as he is now to overcome difficulties, and then you did this or that and then, voila! it worked.

How about you giving it a try? People do not like to be criticised to start with but they all love to hear about how others overcome their travails.

Film adventures are mostly this: heroic struggles from adversities to triumph.

We pay the money and grip our seats as our hero triumphs over adversities.

Paul Zak, who is director of the Centre for Neuroeconomics at Claremont Graduate University says that the most successful TED talks are mostly about this struggle.

Zak also discovered in his research that stories change us chemically. People who have empathy with the characters they hear or read about release the neurochemical oxytocin in their body. It is probably the stress that does it, probably the intense emotion, but oxytocin produces empathy.

We are, in other words, transported into the story. It is the oxytocin that makes you susceptible to social cues.

You give more to charity or feel better disposed towards other people or even yourself. Bibliotherapy is another subject that I have touched on many times here.

Reading opens doors to other people and, ultimately, yourself.

A child who feels isolated can seek the company of characters in a novel — but no, this is not fantasy living or escapism — this is a way of seeking others who you can empathise with.

Children seek solace in the plight of other characters who are similar to them.

Ah, so and so in this book was despised by friends because she was different from them, but she overcame that and excelled in what she turned to.

That ‘just like me’ feeling is a comforter.

For writers it is useful to know that character-driven stories draw more interest and empathy than general narratives that do not highlight the feeling of the individual.

A panoramic view of devastation after an earthquake may not elicit as much sympathy as from the camera that focuses on an individual, a little boy, say, who has lost his father and carries his morning basket door to door, singing in the shrill voice of the child, “Kuih! Kuih!”

His mother’s work, the little child’s effort to make ends meet for the family.

The late singer-entertainer Max Bygraves used to begin his television shows with the phrase, “I want to tell you a story.”

He wasn’t much of a singer but he was popular by the charm that he put across in his shows. A speaker can draw attention in an uninterested crowd by beginning with a story.

A story makes you sit up and hear, crane your neck to see what happens next. This is why people slow down when an accident has just happened on the motorway.

Who, what, when, why. “Move along!” says the policeman, “Move along, there’s nothing to see here!” Oh really? OK then, let me see.

Zak says that you must have tension in your story, you must hold their attention. The rewards from this will probably be worth your while.

They will listen or, if they have identified with the characters, they will release oxytocin and be better disposed towards your plea.

This is what Paul Zak, writing in the Harvard Business Review, calls ‘neural ballet’ whereby ‘a story line changes the activity of people’s brains’.

Oxytocin is a useful neurochemical in other people. It makes them better disposed towards you, more likely to give you his trust and be more disposed towards co-operative behaviours.

Role models for the next generation

Fortunate are students, who, during their schooldays, especially on their speech days, have the opportunity to listen to and interact with luminaries and distinguished leaders who are inspirational.

Leaders with lifetime achievements can impress and inspire the young ones. With the imprints of the stories of substantive leaders, students will not be easily swayed or influenced by upstarts considered leaders who are empty barrels or loose cannons.

Students of Kolej Yayasan Saad (KYS), had the opportunity to listen to Tan Sri Halim Saad (former Renong Berhad executive chairman), Tan Sri Razali Ismail (former United Nations secretary-general’s special envoy to Myanmar), Professor Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman (former director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna and former director-general of Malaysian National Space Agency — Angkasa), the late Datuk Dr Zainal Aznam Yusof (a member of the National Economic Action Council) Datuk Mohammedd Nor Khalid (cartoonist Lat), Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (former deputy minister of higher education), Datuk Seri Jamaludin Ibrahim (chief executive officer of Axiata Group), Tun Mohammed Hanif Omar (former Inspector-General of Police), Raja Tan Sri Arshad Raja Tun Uda (board member of Khazanah Nasional Bhd and chairman of Maxis Bhd) and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.


Datuk Seri Syed Danial Syed Ahmad was the guest of honour and provided rare insight into the symbols of the nation Professor Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman, the former director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna, was among the speakers
Schools and universities throughout the country should invite people with substance so that learners can learn to distinguish role models with records of accomplishment from those who are non-contributors to community and nation-building.

The sharing of lessons learned, the life stories and critical incidents in the lives of such people when recorded become valuable materials of national history and full of lessons.

KYS itself now has a valuable corpus of the stories of the leaders and their advice to students and staff.

Recently, on the 20th Speech Day of KYS, Datuk Seri Syed Danial Syed Ahmad, Keeper of the Rulers Seal, was invited as the guest of honour. Syed Danial is from George Town, Penang. He grew up in Kelawei Road in the vicinity of Gurney Drive, Burma Road, Northam Road and Pulau Tikus.

From that environment were many distinguished leaders including Professor Emeritus Dr Omar Farouk Sheikh Ahmad from Hiroshima University, Datuk Seri Syed Ali Alhabshee, senior lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and Datuk Huang Sin Cheng, the former deputy governor of Bank Negara Malaysia. Tan Sri Wan Mokhtar Ahmad, former menteri besar of Terengganu, Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen and the Raja of Perlis Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail also stayed in the area and studied in Penang Free School.

George Town was a city, the first city in Malaysia and students went to school by trolley buses among other means of transport.

Professor Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman, the former director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna, was among the speakers


Syed Danial provided rare insights and perspective regarding the symbols of the nation, the coat of arms and the meanings of the flag, Constitution, the institution of royalty and the Rukun Negara.

Among the valuable advice he delivered: students must be readers, involve themselves in the culture of volunteerism, manage time well and internalise the culture of excellence as sacred responsibility, focus on mastering the skills of good self-presentation, be always ready to assist others, hone patriotic ideals and become courageous citizens with integrity, develop global competencies, high moral calibre and thinking skills which will ensure that they are as good and better than students in their generation from anywhere in the world.

John Anthony Burgess Wilson was a teacher at Malay College Kuala Kangsar, which was then regarded as the Eton of the East, and at Kota Baru Teachers College. He was a renowned writer, novelist, poet and playwright, who wrote scores of novels, including the Malayan Trilogy. Syed Danial quoted Burgess’s Ode on the Malay College Kuala Kangsar: “                                                                                                                                                                    
We offer our youth

To the world we build

With courage and truth

And love fulfilled.


A city will rise

That is bright and fair Into cloudless skies

And fresh clean air.

Proudly we will serve With faith we’ll strain

Muscle and nerve

And heart and brain. ’til wisdom descends

Like a silver dove ’

Til evil ends And the law is love.”


With respect, humility and love, Syed Danial quoted his teacher Mr Ganesalingam who mentored and coached him to achieve his potential:

“I will today keep my thoughts riveted on my work, and be courteous to everyone but waste no time.

I believe I shall have a successful day and that I will do my work quicker and better than I have done before and with less worry and fatigue.

” The influence of teachers and writers remain lifelong.

Respectfully, learners remember teachers who teach life lessons they do not fully understand in younger years.

They carry the lessons learned inside or outside the classrooms until later, when they are ready to understand, reflect and live lives guided by lessons from early impressionable years.

Good teachers guide their students sincerely irrespective of race, religion, culture, social class and family backgrounds.