December 28th, 2015

Dong Zong pressured to reform curriculum

DONG Zong has come under tremendous pressure to bring about urgent reforms to the curriculum of Chinese independent high schools as its content has largely been unchanged in the last 40 years.

The leading Chinese education group, or United School Committees Association of Malaysia, is in charge of the curriculum for 61 Chinese secondary schools and conducting the standardised United Examinations Certificate (UEC) examination. Currently, there are more than 82,000 students in these schools.

The UEC curriculum, taken from Taiwan in the mid-1970s, is falling behind the times. While Taiwan – taking after the West – has instituted reforms since the 1990s to lean towards a generalist and less exam-focused curriculum, Dong Zong has been accused of not doing much to keep up with changes in technology and global education trends. Schools continue to focus greatly on Science and Mathematics and making students memorise rather than be creative.

As a result, students from Chinese independent high schools are generally less flexible compared with their peers from public and international schools.

Seeing the problems faced by Chinese high schools that could threaten their survival, headmasters of these schools called for urgent reforms at a regular biennial two-day meeting organised by Dong Zong late last month.

School heads pointed out to Dong Zong that the mushrooming of international schools with flexible syllabi offering Mandarin as a subject is posing a threat to the survival of Chinese high schools.

They told Dong Zong that the current Chinese high school education system is losing its appeal in the face of globalisation that is spurring the resurgence of English as a medium of communication.

Many Chinese high schools are losing high achievers to international schools after the students complete their UEC junior examination and score well in the government SPM examination, normally taken by good students in the second year of senior high school.

2 Dr Phoon Wing Keong says Chinese High School curriculum needs urgent reforms
Need for change: Phoon says the Chinese High School curriculum needs urgent reforms.

In fact, the inaction of Dong Zong with regards to the curriculum in the past has forced some schools to draft their own textbooks to keep up with the times.

“The UEC examination was introduced in 1975 but after 40 years, there is still not much change in the curriculum or improvement in the exam system. Many of us see the need for reform,” says Dr Phoon Wing Keong, principal of Confucian Private Secondary School, who led the call for reforms at the meeting hosted by Dong Zong over Nov 23 and Nov 24.

“The curriculum and examination system of many international schools are creative and progressive while ours are traditional, conservative and do not encourage creativity and self-learning. Now, we still focus on monologue teaching and memorisation,” adds Phoon, at an interview with Sunday Star.

The principal, who is also a prominent writer, blames the recently-ended 18-month power struggle in Dong Zong for the current sad state of affairs.

He argues that the organisation has not paid heed to developments and trends in education despite the emergence of YouTube, Facebook and e-commerce over the past 10 years.

“In the past 10 years, a lot of technology and IT changes have taken place. Yet, there was no change to our syllabus. Hence, parents from the upper middle class are sending their children to international schools although their school fees are very much higher than ours,” says Phoon.

The school fees in Chinese independent high schools range from RM60 to RM250 per month, depending on the size and location of the schools. But international school fees can go as high as RM20,000 or more a year.

Lai Soon Keat, who was a senior member of staff at the Dong Zong’s secretariat in Kajang, Selangor, when Dr Yap Sin Tian was president, agrees with Phoon that the previous leadership had wasted more time quarrelling than developing Chinese education.

But Dong Zong’s leadership before Dr Yap was not blamed for the missing action. This was because in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, the Dong Zong was confronted with many thorny Chinese education issues that threatened the very survival of Chinese education. Leaders had to deal with larger problems. Hence, the curriculum issue – though it existed – was not highlighted then.

Chinese independent high schools, which are largely supported by donations from the Chinese community, emerged in the 1960s and 1970s after they refused to change their medium of instruction from Chinese into Bahasa Malaysia. As the UEC certificates issued by the Dong Zong are not recognised by the Government, school leavers cannot enter public universities and join the civil service.

The outspoken Phoon feels that Dong Zong “has missed one decade of golden years of opportunity” to push for greater recognition of Chinese education and its status due to weak leadership and a power struggle.

“Since the political tsunami in the general election of 2008, the political situation has favoured the opposition. And yet, there were little or no effort made to champion legitimate rights to Chinese education.”

Phoon says Chinese education has also lost one generation of young Chinese. “Now, young people are not interested in the Chinese education movement. They see the Dong Zong as lao hua (ageing) and falling behind others.”

At the meeting last month, Goh Kean Seng, principal of Kelantan Chung Hwa Independent High School, said reforms should also include introducing a system to reduce instances of the board of directors interfering in school management, as this has hampered the schools’ development.

According to a Chinese media report, Goh also listed school factional disputes and the lack of a clear policy direction and proper management system as factors that undermined progress.

In proposing changes, principals suggested that the Dong Zong set up its own teacher training college to upgrade the quality of teachers and modernise teaching methods.

Many teachers, who are graduates specialising in their own respective subjects, have no professional teaching qualification. And even administrators do not have professional management skills.

Acknowledging the need for reforms, Dong Zong president Temenggong Datuk Vincent Lau Lee Ming says the organisation has formed a working committee with another education group Jiao Zong “to study and develop matters on the building and reform of Chinese independent secondary schools with regards to curriculum, examination and teacher training”.

Lau was elected on Aug 23 this year after Dr Yap and his team were ousted.

Planning for reform: Lau says that Dong Zong and Jiao Zong has formed a committee to look into reforms of the Chinese education system.
Planning for reform: Lau says that Dong Zong and Jiao Zong has formed a committee to look into reforms of the Chinese education system.

In a written reply to questions, Lau says that the joint working committee will invite experienced educationists to develop a “Malaysian Chinese Secondary School Education Blueprint”.

The curriculum issue has also caught the attention of the public. Columnists in Chinese media have reminded the Dong Zong not to water down the characteristics of Chinese education and culture when introducing changes to textbook content.

They also reminded the Dong Zong not to accept “unreasonable demands” from the Government as conditions for recognition of the UEC.

Even without government recognition of the UEC, good students with strong results are accepted in many top universities, they argue.

On Nov 25, Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid met Dong Zong leaders to discuss Chinese education issues and, after the meeting, the minister gave a verbal promise that they would explore the possibility of getting UEC qualifications recognised.

The Dong Zong has been told to amend its history and Bahasa Malaysia curriculum.

To allay the fears of the Chinese community, the Dong Zong says it will maintain its longstanding stance “to oppose the implementation of monolingual education policy, such as the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025, that threatens the survival and development of education taught in the people’s own language (mother tongue).”

The Dong Zong has also been reminded by school heads that it cannot afford to be complacent just because student enrolment at Chinese high schools has risen to a new peak of 82,000 this year.

“This peak does not mean there is no crisis faced by Chinese high schools. Enrolment has risen partly because public schools are not well managed and partly because some public schools show racial and religious discrimination,” says Phoon, pointing out that the population of Chinese is stagnating.

But amidst all the concerns for the Chinese education system and calls for reforms, not all is gloomy.

Most believe that Chinese schools will not vanish in Malaysia, as its tradition of preaching Chinese values (such as respect for elders, filial piety, and integrity) and inculcating strict discipline in students is greatly appreciated by Chinese parents.

In addition, many students with a strong Chinese background find it easier to acquire knowledge and skills via their mother tongue.

And the rise of China as the world’s second largest economic power will lure more students – including those from other ethnic groups – to learn Chinese and its culture.

Fighting the ideology of 'radical Islam' , Battling Islamic State's ideology

Battling Islamic State's ideology

Malaysians need to separate the true threat of Islamic State (IS) from its noise. Until the most recent wave of attacks, conventional wisdom went that IS focused almost exclusively on establishing a caliphate and expanding its boundaries in Syria, Iraq and surrounding regions.

However, the IS ideology has reached far and wide and would not likely spare any Muslim country. Despite the recent capture of IS inspired militants in Malaysia, there has been no IS-related attacks in this traditionally moderate Muslim majority country. Nevertheless, some officials continue to highlight that an attack is imminent and “just a matter of time”.

A report in Newsweek had claimed that it was not just the city of Mosul that IS conquered in June last year; it is the whole Western psyche. And, with Singapore joining the coalition airstrikes, this statement could not be any less true.

After 9/11, al-Qaeda has won the battle by sensitising Western audiences to the threat of specifically Islamic terrorism in a way that any small, fragmented execution of attacks can throw the West into an anaphylactic shock. Singapore promised to contribute a KC-135 tanker plane to the international coalition fighting against IS forces in the Middle East. However, Singapore’s inclusion is symbolic to involve yet another non-Muslim country in a war against Islamic militants.

The history of terrorism itself has been described in many forms since the beginning of the history of mankind. Adolf Hitler and Nazism could be described as terrorism which drew European and American military cooperation together. How do these Islamic militant attacks compare with the activities of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC — Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia)?

FARC is one of the world’s richest guerilla armies profiting from illegal drug trade, kidnappings, extortion schemes and an unofficial tax.

There are roughly 7,000 rebel fighters, and women and girls are thought to make up nearly a third of FARC ranks. Female fighters are expected to fight alongside men and are taught to handle AK-47 assault rifles.

The 51-year-old conflict has killed more than 220,000 and displaced millions. It has not been highlighted that since the 1980s, non-Muslims carried out more than 90 per cent of all terror threats in America.

However, these threats have not thrown the West into a wave of panic in which even Donald Trump could earn a favourable reputation as a presidential candidate using the Islamic terrorism issue.

Trump promised to advocate new restrictions such as enhancing surveillance activities, including in mosques. Therefore, the important question is how seriously should we take the IS threat.

And, how do we know that as there are more and more Muslim and non-Muslim countries like Singapore joining to counter Islamic terrorism, this is not making the situation worse by isolating Muslims, leading them to believe that this is truly a war against Islam? Malaysia branded IS as a “new evil” that has blasphemed the religion.

It is not purely religion and yet it is not unrelated to a certain warped view of the religion. Some people genuinely believe this is the way to heaven and so they pursue this path. Others know very little about religion or doctrine.

Something has happened in the lives of many vulnerable Muslims and this is their way to hit out at the world or at society. Some of them are young people who are just misled.

They are at the soul-searching stage of their lives and they stumble across this and then get led deeper and deeper in. It is not just “random individuals” who are being radicalised.

There have been repeated incidents of even military personnel going to Syria. The authorities are most wary of these militants returning home.

Reports about IS militants entering the country through Thailand are not greatly surprising. Southeast Asia’s long coastlines and porous borders make it difficult for the regional authorities to monitor or stop the movement of militants in and out of the region.

Despite being home to large Chinese Buddhist and Christian communities, and other ethnic and religious minorities, the lack of interfaith tolerance poses significant worries for Malaysia’s future cohesion.

Violence is kept out of Malaysia. The security forces have enforced a zero-tolerance policy on civil unrest, which is to some extent maintaining a fragile peace. Jihadists can be detained preventively under the 2012 Security Offences Special Measures Act.

IS has so many Indonesian and Malaysian fighters that they have formed a unit by themselves — the Katibah Nusantara (Malay Archipelago Combat Unit). Katibah Nusantara is likely to gain importance in IS’ strategic goal of establishing a world-wide caliphate. Katibah Nusantara has been playing a part in connecting the local extremist networks, leading to the globalisation of the IS threat. In spite of that, various militant groups are planning to unite under the IS banner, including the most active and violent group, Abu Sayyaf.

The current US-led fight against IS is largely limited to the Middle East. But, the jihadists’ approach to fighting the West has no geographic boundaries, unless the anti-IS coalition does more to cooperate with countries in the region and elsewhere.

A military solution, especially involving more non-Muslim countries alone, will not be enough to defeat terrorism. It is the ideology propagated by these extremists that is the cause of this sadistic violence.

And, isolating Muslims, leading them to believe that this is a war against Islam, will only add fuel to fire.

Dr Faridah Abd Samad NST Columnist 23 December2015 @ 11:00 AM

Fighting the ideology of 'radical Islam'

Radical Islamic terrorism. Apparently, the phrase — if you can actually say it — has mystical powers. At Tuesday’s Republican debate, the candidates once more took pains to point out that they would speak the dreaded words that President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton dare not.

“We have a president who is unwilling to utter its name,” declared Ted Cruz in his opening statement. As it turns out, the first time I described the enemy as “radical Islam” was in a column I wrote days after 9/11.

Violence within Muslim communities has become the source of so much misery.
I used the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in another column later that month.

So, having established my credentials, I can honestly say it gives one absolutely nothing in the way of an answer or strategy to deal with terror attacks.

It’s not just Republicans who have decided that Obama’s and Hillary’s unwillingness to use this phrase is a sign of weakness and strategic incoherence.

There is now a cottage industry of writers who boast routinely that they are brave enough to name the enemy.

In fact, Obama has often spoken about the problems of extremism in Islam.

His speech last year to the United Nations General Assembly focused significantly on that topic, saying, “Today, it is violence within Muslim communities that has become the source of so much human misery. It is time for the world — especially Muslim communities — to explicitly, forcefully and consistently reject the ideology of organisations like al-Qaeda and IS (an acronym for the Islamic State).”

In his speech after the San Bernardino shootings, Obama again made some of these points, leading late-night comic Seth Meyers to quip, “So he used the words ‘radical’, ‘Islam’ and ‘terrorism’, he just didn’t use them in the right order.

Which would be a problem if it was a spell and he was Harry Potter, but he’s not, so it isn’t.” Obama and Hillary have chosen not to specifically and directly describe the enemy as “radical Islam” out of deference to the many Muslim countries and leaders who feel it gives the terrorists legitimacy. Former president George W. Bush was similarly careful in his rhetoric.

For this reason, throughout the Middle East, the Islamic State is called “Daesh”, an acronym with a derogatory connotation, which the group dislikes being called. Conservatives have discovered a new-found love for France after its president declared war after the Paris attacks.

They may not have realised that Francois Hollande purposely declared war not on the Islamic State, but on Daesh. His foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, explained: “I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists.

The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats’.” The best proof that calling radical Islam by its name provides no solutions is that the Republican candidates had none at Tuesday’s debate.

After all the huffing and puffing, the most aggressive among them proposed more bombing, no-fly zones and arming the Kurds. These are modest additions to Obama’s current strategy, each with its problems.

More bombing has proved hard because there are many innocent civilians in Islamic State strongholds. No-fly zones would require about 200 United States aircraft and would do almost nothing to stop the violence, which is all conducted on land and via helicopters (flying low enough so that they are not covered by a no-fly zone).

Arming the Kurds directly will enrage the Iraqi and Turkish governments, as well as many of the Sunni tribes that would have to eventually occupy the lands that are liberated.

These are judgment calls, not no-brainers. Most important, however, fighting this terrorist group is not the same as fighting radical Islam.

Strangely, after the GOP candidates boldly and correctly described the enemy as an ideology — which is much broader than one group — they spoke almost entirely about fighting that one group.

Even if the Islamic State were defeated tomorrow, will that stop the next lone-wolf jihadi in New York or Paris or London?

The San Bernardino killers appear to have been radicalised when the terror group barely existed. In fact, the enemy is radical Islam, an ideology that has spread over the last four decades — for a variety of reasons — and now infects alienated young men and women from across the Muslim world.

The fight against it must, at core, be against the ideology itself. And, that can be done only by Muslims — they alone can purge their faith of this extremism.

After a slow start, there are now several important efforts underway, more than people realise.

The West can help by encouraging these forces of reform, allying with them, and partnering in efforts to modernise their societies.

But that is much less satisfying than hurling invectives, calling for bans on Muslims and advocating carpet-bombing.

A lesson from long ago

I remember that day well. It was a long time ago on an afternoon that my proverbial baptism of fire arrived. We walked side by side, my late father and me, in the bushes behind our house, eyes peeled and looking for a target.

It was the day he first taught me how to shoot the single-barelled shotgun made by British gunsmith Webley & Scott. I had in my trouser pocket a live Winchester Upland buckshot shell while another one was already in the chamber.

It was after about 15 minutes of walking in the bushes when we saw the intended target, a reptile that had been terrorising the chickens my late mother reared in our large tract of land in that far-flung southeastern corner of Negri Sembilan. We stopped and waited as the reptile, by then already sensing our presence, started to turn towards a pond not far away.

Life’s lessons. We must allow our children to learn from their mistakes and how to make their own decisions. Pic by writer
Slowly, my father signalled for me to cock the shotgun and take aim.

By then I was already sweating profusely, not knowing what to expect when I was to squeeze the trigger.

He asked me to control my breathing and to keep my hands steady. I froze instead, scared stiff, while the reptile moved ever closer to the pond.

Should it manage to reach the water, I would probably never see it again.

But still, I was paralysed with fear. I also felt like it was all a dream that he even let me hold the shotgun, let alone fire it.

My father was a man of few words but those few words were always enough to make any of his offending children feel as insignificant as a speck of dust.

I remember we even had to tiptoe around the house when the man was having his afternoon nap. None of us had dared to even touch the shotgun before.

We were never close with the man, I thought as I held up the gun’s sight to the lumbering reptile, but still unsure of what to do during what seemed an eternity.

My father then whispered to me words that I have never forgotten to this day.

He said, “hesitation will not take you anywhere. Take that shot”. It sounded like a command I often heard in the army garrison where I grew up before my father retired to the “kampung”.

I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger and didn’t even remember hearing the blast. All I could recall was the strong recoil from the shotgun slamming against my frail 14-year-old right shoulder blade and seeing the reptile, slumped some nine metres away, lifeless.

Somehow, I had hit it squarely on its neck. That was the day I mastered fear and, from then on, I became the official “shooter” in the house. I became very good with the shotgun and seldom missed.

Thereafter, and as my father’s health deteriorated, he passed on to me more information about the firearm, how to keep it in good working order and, more importantly, how to always maintain a high degree of responsibility in its handling. He died not long after.

A month ago my eldest daughter asked for my permission to trek solo down south in New Zealand. I was terrified of the idea at first, what with her being a young woman and the going-ons in today’s world.

But I listened to her plans, how she was to fly to Auckland and then travel by bus around New Zealand’s North Island before taking a ferry to the South and continuing with her journey of about 20 days. I

wanted to say no. I could have, but as I took my time before deciding, I recalled that afternoon I was asked by my late father to take that shot.

I thought that since I was given all the chance to discover myself by my late father, it would be unfair for me to deny my daughter of hers.

And so, she left and several days later started to send me pictures of what she saw and the places she had visited during her journey.

She made new friends along the way and when she arrived back home, I could see that she enjoyed herself tremendously. I hope she has discovered more of herself.

It was then that I remembered that afternoon I walked with my late father with the shotgun in hand. In what probably was the closest ever moment that he was with me, I remember him telling me that as I grew up, there would be many things that I would have to discover for myself.

Most importantly, he said, was to always have the courage to face my fears. Allow me to be a bit philosophical. Life is like running a relay race.

When our part is done, we pass the baton to the next runner and let them run their’s. While our children, like most of us, will have their fair share of making mistakes, as parents we must let them cultivate the capability of making decisions.

It has taken me this long to understand the lesson. That was probably what my late father had in mind that afternoon many years ago when he let me fire the shotgun.

He probably knew that when the time came, I, too, will have to have faith in my own children and let them run their own race.

Chasing snarks and boojums

We are now into the worship of fame in whatever way we can. We read authors who are prize winners, we strive for the front line as the desired position.

There was a time when we went for the biggest, in a mania fuelled by books of superlative records — biggest flag, tallest pole, giant ketupat even, highest towers.

Some, like celebrities, merely strive to become famous for being famous, and our children fall head over heels in love with them and strive to be like them, too.

And so are we all, in this hunt for the snark, using a road map that is no more than a blank piece of paper. As it is that time of year now, I shall not shirk from my responsibility to make a resolution, even if I am a known breaker of them.

Yes, I made a resolution last year to make no more resolutions. So, true to form, I shall break even that one and continue anew, to make yet another this year, for moderation in myself and other people.

It is the one quality that is slowly fading from sight in this terabyte-sized, hypersonic speed, fast-hurtling into the meaningless void kind of a world.

Do you get the feeling nowadays that being tall isn’t tall enough because there’s another country with the tallest tower, being rich isn’t rich enough because there’s another man in China who is richer, being a seller of things isn’t good enough even if it has earned you a comfortable living and provided jobs for a gaggle of people because there’s another guy on the other side of the globe who’s outselling you all?

Look at how the rich have become super billionaires with more than enough money to buy a cup a tea and a slice of cake for everyone in the world. But do they? No, they are too busy looking and safeguarding their shares so they don’t go into freefall.

We have 20 varieties of cheese in the supermarket, fruits flown in at all seasons from the other side of this sphere, bananas straight from the tree (yes, I mean that, straight ones only, thank you), tomatoes without blemishes and piles of seeds grown for a pittance for us in impoverished parts of the world.

And then we have a charge-the-customer-for-plastic-bags day in an empty gesture to save the world. Nowadays, just being good isn’t good enough; we must be better, higher, taller, richer.

This is an ever-looking-at-the-top kind of world. People craning their necks to see the tip of the long pole while forgetting that there’s a couple of underpaid men painting the rise from the top to the part that is sunk in clay.

That tallest edifice that you have to visit before you die was built by hundreds of poorly paid workers who have left wives and children in the wild, whose parents — some of them — have sacrificed their lives in the building of that showpiece, often meaningless, human endeavour.

That is the price that we — the entire world, not just us at the local level — pay for this new gleaming show.

The world made safe for the wealthiest, the most ruthless derivative traders because we are in awe of young lads and lasses who have made unbelievable piles.

We have allowed basic commodity prices to soar beyond the reach of the starving and the poor because we are proud of our economy of traders who trade grains without ever seeing them, never mind the owning of warehouses to store their made-up wheat, or sorghum, rice or sunflower oil.

We are now all living in a world twinkling with pixie dust but which is still, nevertheless, a make-believe world. This world is overpopulated?

Why, let the population dwindle — by war, by famine, by natural wastage — and then the population will find its own sustainable level.

That sustainable part will, of course be the richer half that is standing by to gobble whatever is left behind by folk who have given up the ghost in trying to make sense of their paltry everyday squalor.

Man must of course strive for the highest reaches possible — a truth that is espoused by those who think that they have the right to be rich as rich can be.

Do you know who the real philanthropists are in this world, asked American author Barbara Ehrenreich.

They are those who work for minimum wages, often less than so, waiting at tables, working on construction sites, striving in raw heat in fields, so that people with money can enjoy a decently priced meal in restaurants in plush capitals.

So they can wear clothes with designer labels whose “designers” make bigger killings than those who break their backs in cotton fields and those who strain their eyes to sew the cuts and print the labels and stuff them neatly into designer boxes for brightly lit shops manned by young people who thank you for the transfer from your cards and wish you have a good day.

How much of the wealth of the world now do you think is owned by the wealthiest one per cent?

The inequity is moving even more in favour of the rich, and Oxfam predicts that in this coming year, that one per cent will be raking in more than the rest of us combined, while one in nine of us will not have enough to eat and more than a billion will earn just over US$1 a day.

Time to move now towards moderation, don’t you think?

Time for the so-called advanced super powers to think of moving back to a more equitable world, something they can do without bombing and droning people into submission and creating more mess and bloody puddles everywhere they go.
Wan A Hulaimi The NST Columnist 27 December 2015 @ 11:00 AM