March 28th, 2016

Red herring for a failing system

I REFER to the report, “Unfit to be doctors” (Sunday Star, March 20), May I as a practising doctor, who graduated from a public university in Malaysia more than 35 years ago, make a few pertinent comments?

1. Medical schools overseas fall into two categories namely (i) recognised medical colleges, i.e. medical schools whose curriculum and training of students are deemed to be of an acceptable standard by the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) and Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA).

Graduates of these medical schools are guaranteed a place in government hospitals to do housemanship; and (ii) unrecognised medical schools that do not meet the above criteria. Graduates of these colleges need to sit for an entry exam here to be trained as a house officer.

2. Leaving aside the fact that there may be students whose entry requirements may not have warranted a place in the medical programme overseas in the first place, which needs to be addressed, are we saying that students who have managed to pass the recognised medical school’s exams, or alternatively the entry exam set in Malaysia, are now suddenly not fit to be doctors? If such is the case, then something is wrong either with the criteria for recognition of these medical schools or the standard of the entrance exam held in Malaysia.

3. The case of the local private medical schools making a hue and cry over the entry requirement, though valid in some respects, is more of a “sour grapes” attitude. Local medical schools have their own set of problems in spite of charging exorbitant fees. The fact is the MMC and MQA do not have a policy of making public their investigations into medical schools, hence these escape public scrutiny.

4. The problem involving the house officers is not their entry requirements into medical school but rather the atrocious nature of the Malaysian House Officer Programme. Where they graduate from has little to do with it. After all, these overseas medical graduates have graduated from a recognised medical programme or have successfully passed the local qualifying examination.

5. No other group of workers or professionals are subject to such abuse as the house officers working in government hospitals. The Health Ministry once advocated an eight-hour shift for house officers but this idea simply disappeared into thin air. Instead, in almost all hospitals house officers start work by 6am, some even 5am, and work till 9pm. When they get home, all they can do is sleep off their tiredness before the slog starts again the next day.

Where is the time to read up on their cases and discuss among their colleagues?

6. Worse, while at work, they are subjected to all kinds of abuse by their superiors, especially by their own medical officers, who shout out and call them names in front of patients. Nobody realises that housemanship is a period of transition. It is no wonder that they are so fearful of consulting their superiors and would rather risk making mistakes. Morale is low and incentive to study, question and learn is suppressed.

7. Does any hospital have a formal programme of teaching or clinical-pathological conferences geared towards house officers to keep them intellectually interested?

8. With nowhere to turn to and fearing victimisation if they voice their grouses, the houseman years deteriorate into a nightmare, such that some opt to drop out or even contemplate suicide.

9. The Health Ministry knows all this but due to the current budget constraints, it will not admit more house officers into the ranks to make it a less onerous system. How is one to pay for more doctors’ salaries when the poor civil servants must have their uniform allowance?

10. Medicine is not for geniuses unless you are doing medical research. Most medical conditions are mundane and can be routinely handled. Even if you have forgotten the dosage of a drug, with a smartphone the information is available in an instant. No one is beyond competence if a sympathetic and structured module is formulated. Hence, this clamour of “unfit to be doctors” is a red herring for a failing system.

11. Instead of these wasteful two years, it is time for a residency programme be instituted. All medical graduates should take an examination based on which they are allocated residencies in the specialities for which they have an aptitude.

Unfortunately, this may never materialise in this country. Failing this, it is hoped that a humane and thoughtful programme be instituted so that all house officers can achieve their potential. Concerned Doctor Seremban The STAR Home > Opinion > Letters Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Developing digital strategies in teaching

Teachers come up with solutions to build 21st century skills among students at a recent global gathering for educators.

FOR a teacher, conducting a technology-infused lesson is not as easy as teaching from the board and telling students to submit homework in the traditional form – the exercise book.

It means familiarising oneself with technology tools, turning textbook content into interactive lessons online and making a requirement for students to complete their homework electronically.


A moment of pride: Nur Riza (fifth from left) and her team with Salcito (third from left) at the awards ceremony.

Sometimes, it also means carrying a laptop and an LCD projector to class, setting up the devices and ensuring that the Internet connection works.

One needs to prepare a backup plan, too, such as downloading videos or preparing handouts, in case a technical glitch occurs.

1 Deep in discussion: Hemawathi (third from left) teaming up with other E2 participants to work out a classroom hack.2 A meeting of minds: Mohd Norhafeez sharing his technology-integrated lessons with a participant at the E2.3 Grantham: It is Microsoft’s vision to ensure seamless continuity for education and for the labour market.
Deep in discussion: Hemawathi (third from left) teaming up with other E2 participants to work out a classroom hack.

These are some of the extra efforts innovative teachers like Nur Riza Alias, Hemawathi Gopinathan, Mohd Norhafeez Jusoh and Azizul Othman have taken upon themselves.

Their reward is in seeing students excited, engaged and encouraged.

Their undertakings have proven to be worthwhile. They have not only been recognised as Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) experts, but have also won a spot at the 2016 Microsoft Global Educator Exchange (E2) held in Budapest, Hungary, recently.

The three-day event saw the Malaysian teachers banding together with 300 of their counterparts from around the world to exchange ideas, collaborate and find good solutions to use in the classroom.

In addition, their keen desire to qualify as a Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) was fulfilled when they sat for exams to gain certification in Budapest and passed.

According to Microsoft, the MCE certification validates that educators have the technology literacy competencies to provide a rich, custom learning experience for students.

“Passing the MCE exam is very important to us. It gives us the assurance that we have the skill set to integrate technology in the classroom and to assist students and other teachers in developing 21st century skills,” said Hemawathi, an English and Moral Studies teacher at SMK Yam Tuan Radin, Negri Sembilan.

Clear winners

The awards were the culmination of their group efforts in designing classroom “hacks” using Office Mix, a free extension to PowerPoint with interactive features like audio and video narration.

In their respective teams, the teachers worked to identify a common problem they all shared in the classroom, and proposed a “hack” or innovative solution that matched their assigned “hacker personas”.

Their teams were among 15 top three winners selected across five “hacker persona” categories.

A meeting of minds: Mohd Norhafeez sharing his technology-integrated lessons with a participant at the E2.
A meeting of minds: Mohd Norhafeez sharing his technology- integrated lessons with a participant at the E2.

“It was a big night for us. We were in three different teams but to our surprise, all three teams won the challenge. It was amazing and we just couldn’t believe it.

“The competition was tough as there were a total of 50 groups. My team worked really hard for the project and up to the point of submission, we were still having discussions,” said Nur Riza.

An English teacher at SMK Tanjung Datuk, Johor, she was recently transferred to SMK Subang Bestari, Selangor.

Her team focused on getting students to be attentive during the first five minutes of a lesson, deemed the most crucial part.

Their project submission earned them the third place in the Gamify Category. It focused on “gamifying’ the initial five minutes. Gamify in this context means challenging students to complete a task and incorporating game elements like competition and reward, to get them interested.

“Our Office Mix shows how teachers can collect students’ points, convert scores into data and check progress via Excel,” she said, adding that students could view the scoreboard and be fuelled by the desire to reach the top tier.

Mohd Norhafeez worked with his team to come up with personalised learning which had to meet the needs of all students.

The first runner-up in the Personalise Category, his team addressed the lack of global citizenship among students.

As a solution, they designed an activity for students from five countries to collaborate on a task, which required them to use Minecraft, a video game, to build structures that depict the attractions in their respective countries.

“The activity develops creativity in students, and encourages peer teaching, communication, and sharing of global ideas,” said Mohd Norhafeez, a Biology teacher at MRSM Tun Mustapha in Tawau, Sabah.

Grantham: It’s Microsoft’s vision to ensure a seamless continuity for education and for the labour market.
Grantham: It is Microsoft’s vision to ensure seamless continuity for education and for the labour market.

“It also compels students to engage technology tools and develop digital awareness – all in a safe online environment,” he added, explaining that students could use OneNote to carry out online planning and collaboration, and Skype for communication, apart from going on Minecraft to work on the actual task.

In the Strategise Category, Hemawathi and her team took the second spot. The team identified the lack of student engagement in the classroom as a universal problem.

Their solution? Getting them to share what they want to learn on OneNote and then making decisions based on student feedback.

For the uninitiated, OneNote is a note-taking app designed by Microsoft that allows users to create digital notebooks where they jot down ideas, share information and collaborate with others.

The OneNote Class Notebook makes it easier for teachers to create interactive lessons, organise their lesson plans and course content, keep track of student work, and collaborate with students and colleagues.

The recently-released OneNote Class Notebook Add-in was designed to support teachers.

“There was much emphasis on the use of OneNote in the classroom. Most teachers we met at the E2 are using it to share information and monitor their students’ work and discussions,” said Azizul, a Biology teacher at MRSM Johor Baru, Johor.

He added that he had at the educator exchange, learnt more functions of OneNote to incorporate in his classroom.

At the E2, Skype was another application recommended as a useful educational tool to expand collaboration and interaction.

Through Skype, teachers can organise virtual field trips by setting up “tours” to places like museums or classrooms in another part of the world.

Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe president Don Grantham, in his opening speech, affirmed the potential of Skype to transform education.

“It engages and unites educators and students around the world; it enables students to learn from each other, sparks imagination, encourages global citizenship, and prepares everyone for a truly connected world,” he said.

Teacher trailblazers: (From left) Hemawathi, Azizul, Mohd Norhafeez and Nur Riza were the four MIE experts who represented the country at the E2.
Teacher trailblazers: (From left) Hemawathi, Azizul, Mohd Norhafeez and Nur Riza were the four MIE experts who represented the country at the E2.

Such innovative global classroom collaboration was an eye-opening experience for Nur Riza.

“It gave me the idea of extending collaboration beyond the classroom and even globally. Before this, student collaboration in my class had always been among classmates,” she said.

Focus on the five Cs

Communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and computational thinking – these were the five Cs promoted as essential life skills for 21st century learners at the E2.

Microsoft Worldwide Education vice president Anthony Salcito said that they are the “foundation or arsenal that every student needs to succeed in life and the workforce”.

“The core elements of education are shifting to one that is focused on skills. Employers are valuing the needs for entrepreneurship, creation, collaboration and computational thinking,” he said.

Salcito highlighted the need for teachers to expand their innovations and provide immersive activities. This was to enable them to develop skills which would help students to not only progress across their core disciplines and subjects, but become more employable later in life.

Addressing the E2 participants, Grantham also underscored the importance of ensuring students have the digital skills to become tomorrow’s innovators and leaders.

“It is Microsoft’s vision to ensure seamless continuity for education and for the labour market,” he said.

Grantham said that the European Commission had stated that by 2020, almost all jobs (90%) would require some level of digital skills; and there could be as many as 825,000 unfilled vacancies for IT professionals around the world.

“It is a huge challenge but also a fantastic opportunity. If we can assist students in building digital skills, we can help them to find their place in the workplace and reverse youth unemployment,” he said.

As part of its mission to empower 1.4 billion students around the world to achieve more, Microsoft has been working together with teachers and students to create and share technologies in new ways.

Worldwide, it has over 1.5 million teachers and school leaders in its Educator Community, thousands of MIE experts and hundreds of Microsoft Showcase Schools. They lead the way in creating a school learning environment empowered by technology.

From listening to the keynote speeches to collaborating with their teams to design classroom hacks, the Malaysian teachers came away buzzing with inspiration to use technology to maximise impact on learning.

As MIEs, it is also their job now to inspire their peers to take on innovations and explore new ideas of teaching and learning in and out of the classroom.

“Teachers should not be afraid of using technology. It is an enabler, not an obstacle. We need to equip students with digital skills and prepare them for the future,” said Mohd Norhafeez.

Nur Riza added, “Skype and many other tools are the technologies of today, not tomorrow. Stay current. The world of education is transforming, whether you like it or not. Your students stand to lose if you don’t keep up.”

“The teachers at the E2 are tech-savvy, regardless of their age, which goes to show that technology is not just for new or young teachers but for everyone to use,” she emphasised.

Tamas Deutsch, the commissioner of the Hungarian Digital Success Programme, said, “A nation’s strength lies in the abundance of people equipped with digital skills.

“The traditional ways of employment are also changing. It’s wise for everyone to prepare their own digital strategy.”

Learning from a gaming tool

GAMEPLAY has long been a favourite living room pastime among children. In recent years, it has been used to impact learning in the classroom.

Minecraft, for instance, has been used in more than 7,000 classrooms in over 40 countries.

At the recent Microsoft Global Educator Exchange (E2), Minecraft was endorsed as a powerful tool for harnessing the passion students have for playing the game.

“There’s a language of gaming, for example, things like ‘missions’ or ‘quests’, and gathering groups of students into ‘tribes’ or ‘clans’. These are very natural terms used by students today.

“When you bring those game-based concepts into a learning environment, it inspires and motivates students to challenge new ideas in a positive way,” said Microsoft Worldwide Education vice-president Anthony Salcito.

He pointed out that teachers have taken the concept and used it in diverse ways. Some have used it for problem-solving and motivation, while others for expressing concepts in mathematics, history, art and literature.

Regarding teachers who may be a little concerned or fearful of using the tool, he extolled the benefits of having the teachers flip the classroom by challenging their students to help them instead.

“Even asking the students, ‘We’re going to learn history. Does anyone have any idea how Minecraft can help us learn history?’ can create a more organic approach to it,” said Salcito.

While game-based learning is fairly new to most educational systems across the world, Salcito is confident that teachers and students stand to gain from it.

“When you start to shift the idea and bring the insights of students to the forefront, you can drive some innovation that you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate. That’s been the approach that teachers have had with Minecraft,” he said. The STAR Home > News > Education Sunday, 27 March 2016

Blow lid on whistleblower

MARCH 28 — In the midst of confusion surrounding the business of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), there appears to be bemusement among some sectors of the public on what a “whistleblower” is in law.

A whistleblower, in law, is not someone who whistles loudly any tune or music he wants in public with the purported motive of disclosing a wrongdoing by some government department. If that was the legal position, then any number of government agencies can be vilified and undermined in public on the pretext of whistleblowing — as in the case of trial by media.

Likewise, writing a blog article for example, based on so-called inside information, to disclose a purported wrong by say, a minister or a ministry, also does not qualify as whistleblowing in law.

Contrary to his expectations, the blog writer could end up committing various crimes and may even face potential civil liability if his accusations of wrongdoings are levelled at individuals.

For this reason and reasons that follow herein, I am surprised why quite a few refer to the Sarawak Report as a “whistleblowing site” because, at best, what are reported are allegations which are not proven in accordance with the law.

At the bottom end of the spectrum, they may have committed serious crimes, including breach of national security if indeed they had obtained leaked information from government agencies or had published false news that could undermine the security and general stability of the country.

There is a specific definition of who a whistleblower is in law. A whistleblower is specifically defined as “any person who makes a disclosure of improper conduct to the enforcement agency under Section 6” of the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 (Act 711).

The Act is a powerful tool to combat corruption where it provides it is “an Act to combat corruption and other wrongdoings by encouraging and facilitating disclosures of improper conduct in the public and private sector, to protect persons making those disclosures from detrimental action, to provide for the matters disclosed to be investigated and dealt with and to provide for other matters connected therewith.”

Clearly, the Act seeks to encourage citizens to disclose information relating to corrupt practices and improper conduct by providing legal protection to whistleblowers.

“Improper conduct” means any conduct which if proved, constitutes a disciplinary offence or a criminal offence for example, giving or receiving bribes. The Act covers both the public and private sectors.

However, while the whistleblower is given protection under Section 7 of the Act, he must disclose in accordance with the law. This is to balance interests which may sometimes conflict.

Hence, Section 6 (1) of the Act provides “a person may make a disclosure of improper conduct to any enforcement agency based on his reasonable belief that any person has engaged, is engaging or is preparing to engage in improper conduct: Provided that such a disclosure is not specifically prohibited by any written law”. Hence, the disclosure must be to an authorised person or an enforcement agency, not to the media.

Once the whistleblower discloses the relevant information to the enforcement agency, Section 7 of the Act confers the following protection to the whistleblower namely, (a) protection of confidential information; (b) immunity from civil and criminal action; and (c) protection against detrimental action.

The Act provides comprehensive protection to the genuine whistleblower, including ensuring he does not consequently suffer loss of income or employment and security of personal safety.

This protection, however, may be revoked.

Section 11 (1) of the Act provides “the enforcement agency shall revoke the whistleblower protection conferred under Section 7 if it is of the opinion, based on its investigation or in the course of its investigation that — (a) the whistleblower has participated in the improper conduct disclosed; (b) the whistleblower wilfully made in his disclosure of improper conduct a material statement which he knew or believed to be false or did not believe to be true; (c) the disclosure of improper conduct is frivolous or vexatious; (d) the disclosure of improper conduct principally involves questioning the merits of government policy, including policy of a public body; (e) the disclosure of improper conduct is made solely or substantially with the motive of avoiding dismissal or other disciplinary action; or (f) the whistleblower, in the course of making the disclosure or providing further information, commits an offence under this Act.”

As we saw earlier, the Act protects genuine whistleblowers and not those who have obtuse motives such as throwing sand into someone else’s rice bowl, character assassination or committing some offence under the law. Hence, under Section 21 of the Act, any person who wilfully makes in his disclosure of improper conduct or complaint of detrimental action a material statement which he knew or believed to be false or did not believe to be true commits an offence.

Whenever one thinks about whistleblowing in law, one should not forget the other aspects of governance and life that other laws seek to protect, such as safeguarding national security, the person falsely accused and so on.

There is always a healthy balance a good piece of legislation hopes to maintain. Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos The Malaymail Online What You Think Monday March 28, 2016 07:32 AM GMT+8