Monday, June 10, 2013

Confession of A Teach for Malaysia Teacher

Editor's note: The following is taken from the Facebook status of Alina Amir, a Teach for Malaysia teacher with her permission. In these times of plunging education standards, it is both heartwarming and at the same time heartwrenching to see such determined, bright individuals struggle with educating our children. One must wonder however, how much real change can a few teachers make? The education system requires structural reform from the inside especially. Good things to ponder while reading this excellent 'confession'.

So here’s a public confession: After 4 months into teaching, I came back from a class this morning, put my books on my desk, coolly walked to the ladies, and broke down; with tears, sobs, frantically fanned myself with my hands thinking that could help calm me down, the whole enchilada. Something I have not done for a very long time. 
In the last four months, I could have cried when I had kids calling me a prostitute in mandarin, or that time when a kid told me I should not mess with him because his dad is part of the notorious along gangster crew (which I have never heard of and the phrase “ignorance is bliss” could not have rung truer), or that time when I was wolf whistled at for weeks wherever I went, or when a disruptive boy decided get up in the middle of my lesson, ran around the room and banged every table before he ran out of the class despite me calling after him and then having him come back and literally went on the floor, hugging my feet and begged for my forgiveness the same day, or when I was locked in the school building and then had to come out through the roof (long story) or when a big fat rat, literally, decided to chill right in front of my front door. Those were legit reasons to cry if I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. Not a single tear rolled down my cheeks. I stood up to my boys, I had sleepless nights thinking of strategies to get my kids to just sit down for a single lesson, told every kid who threatened me to bring it on, went to every boy who wolf whistled and threw inappropriate remarks at me, looked them straight in the eyes and said, “how dare you”. I have got nothing to lose and I am sure, as hell is not scared of anybody, no matter who your daddy is.

This morning however, was different. In fact, I wasn’t teaching at all this morning. I was in a form 4 class, of which I only teach PJK to the six of the girls every week. So what was I doing with the entire class? I was invigilating their mid year exam, Sejarah Kertas 3 to be exact; An open book test where students are required to write an essay on a topic given. Just as I finished handing out the exam papers to all 35 students, one boy put his hand up and asked, “ujian apa hari ni, cikgu?” and I went, “HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW WHAT PAPER YOU ARE SITTING FOR ON THE DAY OF THE EXAM AND EVEN AFTER I HAVE HANDED OUT THE EXAM PAPER” silently in my head. Out loud, I said, “ujian Sejarah, kertas 3. Ujian ni boleh tengok buku, so keluarkan lah buku”. Half of the classroom started to rummage through their bags and looked under their tables for books while the other half put their heads down and went to sleep. Ten minutes into the exam, they were all just staring at their books, opened to the first page. I went to a boy and asked if he knew what he was supposed to do. He shook his head and continued staring at his book. Another boy looked at me pleadingly, and asked, “cikgu, macam mana nak buat ni?” No one was writing anything. No one.

I went to one of the girls and asked her to read the question and then looked for the answer in the book. The first question she asked after I told her that was, “bab berapa tu?” and I could sense the whole class was waiting for me to tell her which chapter to open to. I knew then, that they have never read a single thing from their textbook nor have they learned anything in the past four months of school. Heck, I wouldn’t be going too far if I said they barely learned anything in the last 10 years of school. At that moment, I saw their future flashed through my eyes and I wanted to cry.

I wanted to cry because it was unfair for them to be sitting for an exam that they are clearly not ready for. I wanted to cry because someone allowed this to happen. I wanted to cry because as I was explaining to some of the students on how to do the exam and they were eagerly listening, while I was quietly panicking because I am no way near being a Sejarah Form 4 teacher. I wanted to cry because I felt incompetent, wishing I remembered what I learned back in From 4 so that I can teach them something at that moment. I wanted to cry because it is not their fault. But most of all, I wanted to cry because I have 200 students and I have classes back to back from 7.30 AM up to 10.00PM every day that it would be completely impossible to take on new students. All I could think of was how if only all the educated people in the country would spend their time teaching these kids, then maybe, maybe I’d be writing a different story.

I have never actually done this before; asking people to consider teaching. I believe that entering into the profession should come out of your own will. I have never recommended Teach for Malaysia to anyone. In fact, I’d be all-skeptical to anyone who are actually considering to join TFM. What are you in for? To have connections with top corporate partners? To meet CEOs of this and that? To be featured in newspapers, radio, magazines, online blogs? What are you in for? Is it the tagline? Is it really for the kids? I’ve been asked these questions before and I personally used to think that it was a fair concern. It needs to be out there that being a teacher, through TFM or not, is not even a tad bit glamorous. You don’t get paid on time, you’d be missing best friends’ weddings, family gatherings, birthdays etc., you have crazy deadlines and you’ll feel like crap because you don’t know how you’re doing. Nobody sends you a “good job” email on that awesome class you just had, or though you had. Are you sure you want to be a teacher? If you think it is a walk in the park, be rest assured that it’ll be the ghettoest, most messed up park you have ever walked in. I used to think that only the strong should be a teacher. Only those who know that they won’t quit should be a teacher. Today, I don’t care anymore. Today, I realized how desperate the country is and beggars, can’t be choosers. If you have gone through the education system and came out alive, teach. If you have no idea what to teach, trust me you’ll learn. You’d be surprised to meet kids who have never been told that cleanliness is a virtue, that rempit is not a legit career path, that you don’t have to give up at 16.

Listen to me, drop everything you’re doing and come back to school. Teach them to be human beings because they need to know that screaming at a lady is not the way to speak, that not knowing how to read at 13 is not cool, that cursing at your teachers is rude and to talk back to your mother in front of everybody at school would get you to every hell of every single religion in the world. Teach. If you think it’s too hard and teaching isn’t your thing, then quit. But you can’t quit teaching if you have not actually tried teaching. My point is, every one should teach. Decide later if it is something you want to do in the long run. Just teach. Join TFM, do it the normal route, stop a kid in the middle of the road and ask him/her to tell you the multiplication table, tell him/her a random fact about Egypt or aeroplanes, teach them the right intonation after seeing a question mark, teach.

If you think, all this doesn’t make sense and it’s just some really long facebook status/note by a crazy lady who just cried in a high school toilet, then darling, my dear, you have not taught in a classroom where half of them can barely read and write and the other half is just lost by this immense language barrier that no logical inspiring words can get through them. So teach. I am on my facebook knees.

This morning however, was different. In fact, I wasn’t teaching at all this morning. I was in a form 4 class, of which I only teach PJK to the six of the girls every week. So what was I doing with the entire class? I was invigilating their mid year exam, Sejarah Kertas 3 to be exact; An open book test where students are required to write an essay on a topic given. Just as I finished handing out the exam papers to all 35 students, one boy put his hand up and asked, “ujian apa hari ni, cikgu?” and I went, “HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW WHAT PAPER YOU ARE SITTING FOR ON THE DAY OF THE EXAM AND EVEN AFTER I HAVE HANDED OUT THE EXAM PAPER” silently in my head. Out loud, I said, “ujian Sejarah, kertas 3. Ujian ni boleh tengok buku, so keluarkan lah buku”. Half of the classroom started to rummage through their bags and looked under their tables for books while the other half put their heads down and went to sleep. Ten minutes into the exam, they were all just staring at their books, opened to the first page. I went to a boy and asked if he knew what he was supposed to do. He shook his head and continued staring at his book. Another boy looked at me pleadingly, and asked, “cikgu, macam mana nak buat ni?” No one was writing anything. No one. 
I went to one of the girls and asked her to read the question and then looked for the answer in the book. The first question she asked after I told her that was, “bab berapa tu?” and I could sense the whole class was waiting for me to tell her which chapter to open to. I knew then, that they have never read a single thing from their textbook nor have they learned anything in the past four months of school. Heck, I wouldn’t be going too far if I said they barely learned anything in the last 10 years of school. At that moment, I saw their future flashed through my eyes and I wanted to cry. 
I wanted to cry because it was unfair for them to be sitting for an exam that they are clearly not ready for. I wanted to cry because someone allowed this to happen. I wanted to cry because as I was explaining to some of the students on how to do the exam and they were eagerly listening, while I was quietly panicking because I am no way near being a Sejarah Form 4 teacher. I wanted to cry because I felt incompetent, wishing I remembered what I learned back in From 4 so that I can teach them something at that moment. I wanted to cry because it is not their fault. But most of all, I wanted to cry because I have 200 students and I have classes back to back from 7.30 AM up to 10.00PM every day that it would be completely impossible to take on new students. All I could think of was how if only all the educated people in the country would spend their time teaching these kids, then maybe, maybe I’d be writing a different story. 
I have never actually done this before; asking people to consider teaching. I believe that entering into the profession should come out of your own will. I have never recommended Teach for Malaysia to anyone. In fact, I’d be all-skeptical to anyone who are actually considering to join TFM. What are you in for? To have connections with top corporate partners? To meet CEOs of this and that? To be featured in newspapers, radio, magazines, online blogs? What are you in for? Is it the tagline? Is it really for the kids? I’ve been asked these questions before and I personally used to think that it was a fair concern. It needs to be out there that being a teacher, through TFM or not, is not even a tad bit glamorous. You don’t get paid on time, you’d be missing best friends’ weddings, family gatherings, birthdays etc., you have crazy deadlines and you’ll feel like crap because you don’t know how you’re doing. Nobody sends you a “good job” email on that awesome class you just had, or though you had. Are you sure you want to be a teacher? If you think it is a walk in the park, be rest assured that it’ll be the ghettoest, most messed up park you have ever walked in. I used to think that only the strong should be a teacher. Only those who know that they won’t quit should be a teacher. Today, I don’t care anymore. Today, I realized how desperate the country is and beggars, can’t be choosers. If you have gone through the education system and came out alive, teach. If you have no idea what to teach, trust me you’ll learn. You’d be surprised to meet kids who have never been told that cleanliness is a virtue, that rempit is not a legit career path, that you don’t have to give up at 16. 
Listen to me, drop everything you’re doing and come back to school. Teach them to be human beings because they need to know that screaming at a lady is not the way to speak, that not knowing how to read at 13 is not cool, that cursing at your teachers is rude and to talk back to your mother in front of everybody at school would get you to every hell of every single religion in the world. Teach. If you think it’s too hard and teaching isn’t your thing, then quit. But you can’t quit teaching if you have not actually tried teaching. My point is, every one should teach. Decide later if it is something you want to do in the long run. Just teach. Join TFM, do it the normal route, stop a kid in the middle of the road and ask him/her to tell you the multiplication table, tell him/her a random fact about Egypt or aeroplanes, teach them the right intonation after seeing a question mark, teach. 
If you think, all this doesn’t make sense and it’s just some really long facebook status/note by a crazy lady who just cried in a high school toilet, then darling, my dear, you have not taught in a classroom where half of them can barely read and write and the other half is just lost by this immense language barrier that no logical inspiring words can get through them. So teach. I am on my facebook knees.


Alina Amir

Sunday, June 09, 2013

What is the International Baccalaureate?


Well, Tony's previous post on the IB programme was way back here in 2006 and since then the IB programme has really taken off with more and more Malaysians opting for it as an alternative to the A-levels programme/ SAM etc. 

I had the good fortune of being a scholarship recipinet of the IB Scholarship at the International School of Kuala Lumpur, which was the first IB school in Malaysia stretching way back to 1989. The IB at ISKL has beena wonderful experience and I will write more on the ISKL scholarship soon, in the meantime if you are interested you can read more here.

In the course of the next two weeks, I will be covering various aspects of the IB diploma in a series of articles including:
  • History of the IB diploma
  • The general structure of the IB diploma
  • Some benefits of the IB diploma
  • Some pitfalls of the IB diploma
  • Compare it to A-Levels
  • Recognition worldwide in terms of university acceptances
  • Who I would recommend the IB to

Today I will be discussing the general structure of the IB diploma. For ease of reference, the article will be framed in a FAQ style.

How many subjects do I take for the IB?
In the IB diploma, one is required to take 6 subjects. These subjects all belong to different categories (Arts, Sciences, Humanities) to ensure the student is well-balanced and versed in multiple disciplines. However there are additional components to the IB such as Theory of Knowledge, the Extended Essay and CAS.



What are the areas covered in the IB?
As you can see from the chart above, a student usually takes:
  1. One main language, e.g. English
  2. A secondary language, e.g. French, Spanish, Mandarin
  3. A humanities subject (individuals & societies), e.g. Economics, History, Business & Management
  4. A math course, e.g. Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Math Studies
  5. An experimental/ natural sciences course e.g. Biology, Chemistry, Physics
  6. An arts course, .e.g Theatre, Visual Art, Dance
These areas are further divided into Higher Level and Standard Level subjects. Essentially, one is more comprehensive and challenging than the other, though the gap between the two may differ depending on subject. An IB student is required to take at least 3 Higher Levels.

Is that it?
No. There are 3 additional components to the IB which are Theory of Knowledge, the Extended Essay and CAS. 

What in the world are those things?
Theory of Knowledge, otherwise known as epistemology, is a sort of philosophy course. It essentially tries to instill in a student questions like: What is morality? Is there a God? How do we know what we know is real?

In other words, it's pretty mind blowing things that does wonders for your thinking. 

The Extended Essay is a 3,000 to 4,000 word thesis paper that is written over the course of two years. Basically like a mini university paper. You can choose the area in which you choose to do the EE in. I chose History, and my EE was a research paper on whether the May 13 race riots were a coup d'etat or a spontaneous uprising. 

The CAS hours stands for Creativity, Action and Service. You're required by the IB diploma to do at least 40 hours of each component. Briefly, it's extracurricular activities. More on these later.

Wait... So could you recap again what the IB diploma involves?
Alright here goes:
  • You take 6 subjects, one from each field
  • Out of the 6 subjects, at least 3 are Higher Levels.
  • You also take Theory of Knowledge, write an Extended Essay, and fulfill CAS hours.

Hmm...Can I pick all Sciences or if I'm lousy at Science pick all Humanities?
No. Such an act would sort of defeat the purpose of the IB, which is to produce a person that is capable of multiple disciplines and is well rounded. If you're the type of person interested in a lot of things, the IB might be for you.

What if I don't want certain areas?
Well there's still some flexibility there. For example, I opted to forgo the Arts component in favour of an additional Humanities subject. 

I also opted to take 4 Higher Levels rather than only 3.

So there is some flexibility to the course, not to worry, but you can't get away with not doing languages, math or at least one science.

What did subjects did you do?
Well I had some flexibility so I did the following.
  1. IB History HL
  2. IB Economics HL
  3. IB English Literature HL
  4. IB Mathematics HL
  5. IB Physics SL
  6. IB French Ab Initio (Ab Initio means from the beginning, so essentially a starter course)
Why so many subjects? Isn't it really taxing?
Well as I've said before, the IB diploma is really meant to produce multidisciplinary people. I won't lie and say it is an easier course. Definitely I think A-Levels people had it easy (and I know because I went through 6 months of A-levels before obtaining the scholarship). Even in the beginning stages, the workload is heavier.

That being said, the schedule is really no more demanding than your regular Malaysian secondary school's. It's just that compared to other pre-u programmes you probably won't have as much free periods as your friends.

And what are individual subjects like?
There is a lot of emphasis on coursework. While the A-Levels are almost entirely exam based, the IB is a lot more diverse in terms of its grading. I'll use the example of my English Literature subject.

IB English Literature score breakdown
Oral Presentation (15%)  
This was a 20-30 minute long presentation about an aspect of a literary work. I explored prejudice and judgmental-ism  in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God through means of presenting black and white photographs and a poem set to music.

Oral Commentary (15%)
This was a 20 minute commentary on a previously studied piece of work with a teacher, followed by a 10 minute Q&A session. I did a commentary on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and during the 10 minute session answered question of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. The oral components are internally graded but are recorded and sent to the IB authorities for moderation.

World Literature Paper (20%)
This is a 1,500 word paper examining a particular aspect of a piece of literature. I examined the significance of the opening scene of Friedrich Durrenmatt's play, The Visit. The paper is marked externally. 

Final examination (50%)
This part is your standard final exam with timed written responses to a prompt. Pretty standard stuff. 

As you can see, there is a lot more emphasis on various aspects such as oral presentations, papers etc. One might say it mirrors the university grading system much more closely than purely exam-based pre-university programmes.

Anything else you want to add?
Nothing much, except stay tuned for more in depth, first hand info on the IB programme. Feel free to email me at ongkarjin@gmail.com if you want to talk in person/ have any other concerns. Thanks for reading!

























Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Recent Visit to our National Library – Some Worrying Observations

Editorial Note: 
The following article was written by our very own Ong Kian Ming and is making the waves in the social media! I have just taken the liberty to post it up here, I'm sure he won't mind.
Truly though, the article is worth a read and is a microcosm of the problems that plague our education system, and by extension, our next generation of Malaysians. 


A Recent Visit to our National Library – Some Worrying Observations
by Ong Kian Ming

Recently, I had to get my hands on some education statistics and the only place where I could locate some of this data was at the National Library.[1] The National Library is located just off Jalan Tun Razak, near Jalan Semarak in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The first and only time I had been to the National Library was in the last 1990s, after completing my studies in the UK. I remember the grand entrance into the library but recalled little of the books and reading materials.

My visit in December 2012, which took place over a few days, illustrated, in a microcosm, what is wrong with the way the country is currently being governed and administered. Despite its sizeable overall budget of RM54 million in 2013, the flagship library of the National Library system is disappointingly poorly designed and not public friendly, focuses on the wrong priorities, has poor ‘software’ and is not representative of a truly ‘national’ library.

Poor design and not public friendly

For a National Library that is supposed to promote a culture of reading, only two floors out of 3 buildings were dedicated to books and materials which the public could borrow. And both these floors were located in Wisma Sejarah, which is to be found at the very back of the National Library.[2]


Most of the public libraries I’ve been to in the US have their borrowing section on the ground floor of the main library building so that the public can have easy access to these books. It’s not really convenient for people to trudge all the way to the back of the library complex and go up to the third or fourth floor of the building to borrow and return books.

Even getting to this building was tricky. We had to walk through the front of the main library complex (Anjung Bestari) to the back and there were no signs as to where exactly Menara Warisan Sejarah was located. It is also very difficult for a disabled person on a wheelchair to get to this building. Even though there was a disabled ramp that led to this building, from the photo below, one can see that the ramp is far too steep for someone on a wheelchair to go up and down easily.

A steep disabled ramp leading up to the Menara Warisan Sejarah which houses books which the public can borrow


In other related news, we did not see any outdoor parking lots specifically reserved for disabled drivers although we drove around the entire library complex twice. We might have missed them but if there were any specifically reserved slots, they were clearly not marked or visible to visitors.

As for parking lots in general, there were certainly enough for us given that the National Library was largely deserted of public visitors during the times (weekdays and weekends) we visited. However, the sheltered parking annexe in Menara PNM (the tallest building with 15 floors, which houses special collections and government documents) had only just over30 total parking spaces for the public, with parking slots on the first 3-4 floors reserved exclusively for Library directors and staff. This shows that the National Library is not designed to handle high-volume traffic, should more people decide to visit in future.

Sheltered parking annexe at Menara PNM – each floor had about 20 parking spaces


When we got to Menara Wisma Sejarah, we were surprised to find that 5 floors have been rented out to other parties including a law firm and an event management company! One really has to wonder about the rationale of this rental agreement and how these contracts came into being.

4th floor to the Penthouse


Basement Floor to the 3rd floor


And even the small space that was allocated to public rentals was not properly maintained. Stacks of books were found piled up on shelving carts and strewn haphazardly all over the floor.

This kind of maintenance would be a disgrace in any public library. That this would occur in the flagship National Library building is utterly shocking! We may have all the funds in the world to buy the newest books but if we cannot even shelve our books properly, then all this money spent has clearly gone to waste.

Books piled up on the shelving carts


Books strewn all over the floor


Wrong priorities

Instead of putting the books which the public could borrow in the main library complex (Anjung Bestari), this space was reserved for exhibitions instead. There is a lot of material here promoting the Minister in question – Rais Yatim – and of course, 1 Malaysia propaganda, but also a lot of underutilized space. Wouldn’t it be more productive to use this space to put reading materials which the public can borrow and have access to, and to put in a nice cafĂ© where people can sit and read instead of these largely empty exhibition spaces?

Main hall of the main library complex (Anjung Bestari) – with a lot of empty and underutilized space


Even the types of books published by the National Library and put on prominent display smack of government propaganda. Not surprisingly, many of the books on display feature the accomplishments of Dr. Mahathir, Najib and the other Prime Ministers of Malaysia. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we shouldn’t publish literature on our past PMs but a lot of other people and institutions such as the Perdana Leadership Foundation (PLF) are already doing things like this. Wouldn’t it be better for the National Library to focus on publishing and promoting literature which is not covered by the mainstream but which is important to the culture and heritage of our country?

Literature published by the National Library featuring the usual cast of suspects


Not truly a ‘National Library’

In my humble opinion, a national library should be a progressive institution that aims to preserve, highlight and conduct research on the literary traditions of all communities and cultures in the country. Even though BM is the national language and should be given the most important status, other languages used in Malaysia have also produced important literary contributions which are of literary, cultural and historical significance and therefore should not be ignored.

And yet, this seems to be the case for our ‘National Library’. A sign which is prominently displayed has “Membudayakan Bahasa Kita” as one of the tag lines as well as “Membudayakan Tulisan Jawi”.

Taglines for the National Library 


I don’t have anything against the usage and learning of Jawi. I learned Jawi in primary school and was pretty decent at it but I don’t see why Jawi should be given prominence at the same level as BM while many of the other languages spoken and used by Malaysians are totally ignored.

Many of the signs at the National Library have both BM as well as Jawi featured which is a bit odd to me – since Arabic speakers from the Middle East who may visit the library would not understand the Arabic words in Jawi, and Malaysians who can read and understand Jawi would also be able to read and understand the words in BM. Why not state basic visitor information, such as opening times, in Chinese and Tamil in addition to BM?

Opening times of the National Library in BM and Jawi

 

One of the other odd things I found on one of the posters at the National Library was this poster emphasizing “Kedudukan Istimewa Bumiputera”. The special status of the Bumiputeras in Malaysia is found in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution. I have no dispute with that but I was left to wonder why this specific issue is highlighted in our National Library?

Poster with “Kedudukan Istimewa Bumiputera” in the National Library


Ironically, the photo of the children in this poster is actually a photo of 3 Temiar children who are part of an Orang Asli kampong in Perak.[3] And the Orang Asli are not recognized in the Federal Constitution as belonging to the Bumiputera population in Malaysia.

Photo of the Temiar children taken by the Center for Orang Asli Concerns and featured in a Nut Graph article (http://www.thenutgraph.com/left-in-the-margins/) The poster in the National Library does not attribute credit for the photograph to either the COAC or the Nut Graph.


Documentation Problems

Even in the area of collecting government documents – which the Library should be good at since it is a government agency – the National Library fails miserably. I was looking for education statistics at the state level and I found out that the various state education departments stopped submitting their records to the National Library in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When I asked the person in charge why these documents were stopped in the early 2000s, she said that these government agencies simply stopped sending their reports to the National Library, and the National Library never followed up to ask them to do so (even though they are supposed to by law). The Library of Congress in the United States is supposed to collect and house every single newly published book that it can possibly lay its hands on. This is a mammoth task which by most considerations, they do pretty well. In contrast, our National Library can’t even keep track and collect all of the government’s own documentation, much less the other books which are published in Malaysia.

‘Software’ issues

I think that many of the problems I’ve highlighted with regard to the National Library starts with the issue of leadership. If the leadership, starting with the Minister, cares more about public appearances and publicity – which explains the large exhibition area and the 1 Malaysia propaganda stuff – then this will filter down the line and into the mentality of the organization. The leadership in charge of the National Library will then also focus on the wrong priorities – making themselves look good in the eyes of the Minister – by organizing events that will help promote themselves and the Minister rather than to focus on what is really important – to increase the reading culture in our country, to make our national library system into one that is widely accessible, frequented and used by the public and that is truly inclusive, and to protect, promote and conduct research on the important literary contributions in this country in all languages and traditions.

No amount of money spent on building new libraries and procuring new books and developing new apps can make up for this shortcoming in ‘software’ – the most important of which is the issue of leadership.

--------------
[1] The educational statistics I was looking for could only be found in the Social Statistics Bulletins and the Department of Statistics only provided soft copies for 2012.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why the Malaysian Government should fund Higher Education

The following is an article from TMI by Anas Alam Faizli.

Education was institutionalized to formalize the process of knowledge acquisition and research in man’s quest for understanding. Earliest universities in the history of mankind namely Al-Azhar, Bologna, Oxford, Palencia, Cambridge and University of Naples (world’s first public university, 1224) have one thing in common; they were built by notable early world civilizations as institutions of research, discourse, learning, proliferation of knowledge and documentation. This contrasts largely from the role of universities today as institutions of human capital accreditation, qualification, and most unfortunately, business and profits.

Ibnu Khaldun, father of historiography, sociology and economics, in his work Prolegomenon (Muqaddimah) argued that the government would only gain strength and sovereignty through its citizens. This strength can only be sustained by wealth, which can only be acquired through human capital development (education), which in turn can only be achieved by justice and inclusiveness for all. Aristotle too proposed “Education should be one and the same for all.” A system that discriminates, in our case, based on household economic ability, can and will rile an unhealthy imbalance in the quality of the resulting labour force and society. These form the basis of our argument here.

In America, the individual funds his higher education while many European countries have public-funded institutions of higher learning. The latter is the best for Malaysia. Our societal and economic progression (or digression) does not depend on any one factor, but on the interaction of economic, social and political factors over a long period of time. Let’s first look at some realities that we need to contend with to understand why the Malaysian government should fund higher education.

Reality #1: Society benefits from education
We can never truly measure the immense positive externalities derived from an educated society. Outcomes of university education and research continuously found the progress of mankind. In developing Malaysia, higher education is an impetus for establishing a civic-minded society, highly skilled manpower and competitive value proposition for capital and production. Investing in education may cost the society tax Ringgits, but the consequences in failing to do so will be devastating. Walter W. McMahon (economist at University of Illinois) outlined the "private non-market benefits" for degree-holders. These include better personal health and improved cognitive development in their children. Alongside is the "social non-market benefits", such as lower spending on prisons and greater political stability.

Reality #2: “Neither here nor there”
Malaysia is neither here nor there, and education opportunity is a major contributing factor. Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labour and professor at UC Berkeley, made a compelling argument that is very applicable to Malaysia. To attract jobs and capital, nations and states face two choices; one is to build a low-tax but low-wage “warehouse economy” competing on price, another is to compete on quality, by increasing taxes and regulation to invest in human capital for a highly productive workforce. In Malaysia, wage growth caught up with productivity growth only up until the late 1990’s. Since 1996, we have been living in the “middle income trap”, stunted at the World Bank’s definition of upper middle income; neither high nor low income. In fact, for the past 10 years real wage growth has been negative. Having 77% of the Malaysian workforce with only SPM and below qualification is a structural barrier to us crossing over to the higher income group. The labour force is largely unskilled and unable to move their labour services up the value chain where higher salaries are paid.

Reality #3: Education is fundamental to a competitive value proposition
Another case for education is competitiveness for both FDI and outputs. On the FDI side, our factors of production, in this case labour, needs to be attractive enough. With a labour force that is neither highly skilled nor cheap, our value propositions dwarf next to the likes of Vietnam and Singapore. As a result, technology and automation service the lower-value processes replacing need for labour, while R&D and origination have not caught up due to lack of expertise. Malaysia has been the only country in the region facing net outflow in FDI since 2007.

On the output side, our goal to move away from producing lower-value manufacturing and primary goods, into the higher-value services sector too have been held back by limited talent and capabilities. Lack of advanced education is one major factor causing this lack of competitiveness.

Reality #4: Efficiency driven economy versus Innovation driven economy
A study released by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) categorizes Malaysia as an efficiency-driven economy, behind innovation-driven economies. We focus on improving existing processes, but we are not out there inventing new things where the big money is. Focusing on the latter is extremely important now more than ever for Malaysia, because we can no longer offer very cheap labour, land and factories to produce mass generic products competitively. The number of researchers in Malaysia for each 1 million population is only 365 behind Japan’s 5,416 and South Korea’s 4,231. We are in dire need for more trained professionals and innovators, and we could have harvested them from talents that did not pursue tertiary education due to the lack of opportunities.

Reality #5: Education is an investment…
Like parents investing in their children’s future, the state must invest in the population for the future of the nation. An educated society is able to position themselves into higher standards of living characterized by higher income, production of high value goods and services, longer life expectancy, subscription to civic and moral values, political stability, existence of civil liberties and openness to change and development. While highly developed nations like Denmark and the Netherlands invest 11.2% and 10.8% (respectively) of GDP in education, we invested only 4.8% last year (majority on infrastructure and emoluments!). To make matters worse, the education budget education is slashed from RM50 billion to RM37 billion this year! To get an idea of how counter-intuitive this is for a developing Malaysia, even Afghanistan (7.4%), Vietnam (7.2%) and Timor Leste (12.3%) spent more.

Currently, about 80% of the bottom 40% income households are only-SPM qualified and below, while only 5% received higher education. The rest never made it to school at all. The reason is crystal clear; it is education that can lift households into higher income thus significantly reducing poverty and its consequences. If this group were to receive higher education, it is the state that ultimately benefits as social capital is returned from the household to the state in increased production and tax income. Social justice is served; while nobody is left discriminated or neglected from being given an opportunity to develop his or her own merits.

Reality #6: … with a Positive Net Return-on-Investment (ROI)
Entertain this simple simulation: Consider a fresh graduate entering the workforce with a salary of RM2,500, working for 30 years with a modest increment of 5% a year. Upon retiring at the age of 55 years, he would have paid back at least RM290,000 to the government only in income taxes. Even after discounting, payback in taxes is significantly beyond the investment cost providing education.

Reality #7: Education correlates with wealth and income
Tertiary-educated individuals have an average of RM182,000 in wealth to their name, while SPM holders have only an average RM82,000 in net worth. Degree holders have at least 2.2 times the wealth of SPM leavers. But the tertiary education penetration rate for Malaysia stands at only 36.5%. This is only measured at point of enrolment (not completion)! Not only we are significantly behind “very high human development” nations’ average of 75%, we are also behind “high human development” nations’ average of 50%. In contrast, 86% of Americans, 84% of Kiwis, 100% of Koreans, 99% of the British, 45% of Thais, and 38.4% of Turks are university-trained. As a result, the bulk of our workforce is unable to position themselves in higher-earning jobs. The bulk of our jobs involve the lower portions of the industry value chains. How are we then to move our economy into higher GNI territory, and inclusively move the majority of our population into higher income brackets? Current practice of relying on one-off mega construction projects will not ensure Malaysia move into high-income status, and stay there for the long run!

Reality #8: Education will reduce income inequality
Malaysia ranks as the third most unequal nation in Asia, based on a GINI coefficient of 0.4621 (World Bank). Using only GINI, a simple measure of dispersion between the richest and poorest in an economy, we can already see that there are structural problems with the kind of growth that we have been enjoying. A household that earns RM10,000 monthly and above is already considered the top 4% Malaysian households! 60% of the highest earning income households have at least one member that received tertiary-level education. But 60% of the lowest-earning households have only SPM-holders as their most qualified household member. Not coincidentally, only the top 20% income households in Malaysia have experienced substantial income growth. For the remaining 80% it has been moderate. The gap between the rich and poor has been consistently growing from year 1970 until today. Only non-discriminatory access to education for the bottom 40% will arrest the growth of this gap.

America perceives that the benefits of tertiary-level education are enjoyed most by the individual himself, thus the individual funds his higher education. The Scandinavians believe that the government should pay for higher education. On one hand, we see a privately funded education system in America, and growing inequality between the relatively richer and poorer households. There is at least $902 billion (NY Federal Reserve) in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States today. In contrast, government-funded higher education Scandinavia ranks as most equal nations in the world. The apparent causal-effect relationship here is hard to dispel.

We expect free access to education to allow inter-generational mobility and narrow this inequality gap. If we let economic disability become a prohibitive factor for education, relatively poorer households will never be lifted out of the low-income bracket.

One graduate for every Malaysian family

We need an education system that is inclusive, does not neglect academically-struggling yet vocationally-advantaged pupils, matches industry requirements, yet streams students into disciplines where they will excel most. Most importantly, the system must not allow students to find themselves at the point of entering the industry, handicapped with a student loan on their shoulders, only to realize that they are not employable.

Malaysia has progressed in many aspects by making primary and secondary education free. 100% of Malaysians finish at least primary 6 and 68% finish form 5. The current socio and economic condition in Malaysia now calls to make finishing form 5 legally compulsory and providing free and accessible tertiary education for all.

I humbly urge the government, non-governmental bodies, policy-makers, and lobby groups to move towards providing free tuition fees for higher education at all our public universities. Where public universities are unable to cater for surplus of qualified students, it is suggested that the same equivalent amount of tuition fee funding is to be provided for private universities in a staggered manner, so as to ensure education accessibility by all.

I also propose the target of one graduate in each of the 6.4 million Malaysian households to ensure inter-generational mobility; that is for at least one child of a self-subsistent fisherman or low-salaried factory worker to uplift the entire family into a higher income bracket. A graduate in each family will be the change-agent that ensures his generation improves the family; via a chain reaction multiplying effect, ultimately affecting the graduate’s surroundings.

Education is way too important for us to risk any mismanagement, oversight and underfunding. The generations that go through a robustly managed quality education system, or lack of them, will ultimately decide Malaysia’s direction and the society that we will live in. Only then we can fundamentally assure that our true north for a high income Malaysia is sustainable, inclusive and is enjoyed by all layers of society - not just for the Top 1%.  Let us reflect what Nelson Mandela said for a better Malaysia! “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”


*Anas Alam Faizli is an oil and gas professional. He is pursuing a post-graduate doctorate and is the executive director of Teach For The Needs (TFTN).

** Datas and figures are derived from EPU, DOSM, HIS 2009, HDR 2011, World databank and BNM. For details, please refer BLINDSPOT (http://www.facebook.com/blindspot.msia)

Orginally published at The Malaysian Insider

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

5 Wishes for Education in Malaysia For 2013


As we enter a new year, we reflect back on a year full of trials and tribulations. From the pending abolishment of PMR to the flitting about of PPSMI, from the Rawang school of terror to the plight of Orang Asli education, Malaysians have had their fair share of drama in the education scene. 

Which is why, we have to look forward and strive to do much much better this year. Here's a list of 5 things  everybody from the government to the ordinary citizen should look into for the sake of our children.

1. A revamp of the History syllabus
The issue: The History syllabus as it is, is too myopic in its scope. The Russian revolution, Ottoman Empire, Alexander the Great, Kublai Khan all used to be part of Malaysian history syllabus. It is little wonder that a complaint against fresh Malaysian graduates is that they lack general knowledge. Important figures of history like Yap Ah Loy have also been reduced to a mere footnote. The History Syllabus is also incredibly rigid: the textbook lists a few factors causing an event, and anything out of the book is usually considered wrong. History becomes an exercise of pure memorization. I highlighted many of these failings in greater detail in another article here.

The proposal: We need to broaden the syllabus to reflect an increasingly globalized world. It is ironic that while the rest of the world has become more inclusive of other cultures and histories, Malaysia the melting pot of cultures, better positioned than many others to take advantage of globalization has gone the other way.

The increasingly insular nature of our education is most apparent in Geography. In-depth learning is restricted to Malaysia and superficial discussions of weather across vast swathes of land in Europe and Asia. Again, the lack of general knowledge is disconcerting. I probably learnt more about the world through TV than Geography!

2. A less rigid, more flexible style of education
The issue: This was mentioned briefly regarding History, but I think perhaps Moral Education is a far better example of the sheer frustration of the system. Moral Education is an exam-based subject, where students memorize the definitions of various values such as responsibility and tolerance, and regurgitate them word for word. Should there be a mistake in terms of the specific words used, even if they carry largely the same gist, marks are deducted. By doing this, Moral Education becomes the one thing it should never be: a theoretical exercise in futility that has no practical applications.

The proposal: The problem is widespread in the education system. Rigid mark schemes and teachers fearing to make their own decisions make the safer choice the premier choice. Certain syllabuses need to be restructured: Moral Education being one of them. For example, Moral Education should include community service and discussion of current ethical issues such as the crime rate in Malaysia. And for crying out loud, don't make it a SPM exam subject.

3. More opportunities for all
The issue: There is the perennial problem of scholarships for tertiary education. While those are important and certainly should be maintained, we should also recognize that university-going students are a minority in Malaysia and that it will likely remain so. We need to offer opportunities for vocational education and improve the capabilities of our skilled workforce. To offer an anecdotal example, my father's mechanic finds it increasingly difficult to hire good mechanics. The reason being that many graduates are given little practical experience, or have a poor command of language that rules them out from reading car manuals.

Students at Benz Training School.
The proposal: In Germany, a rich and relatively egalitarian society, only 16% of the population has university degrees. Bear in mind also the fact that university education in Germany is virtually free ( for the average German) at 500 euros per term with easy loan terms and scholarships abound. Their secret, and the real driving force of the German economy are their skilled workers, who go through vocational education centres that are partnered with firms like Mercedes Benz. These companies send trainers to these schools, as well as offer top students apprenticeships with the company.

Malaysia should do the same. The government should encourage companies to partner up with vocational training centres, and incentize these companies in setting up training centres of their own. Perhaps some CSR tax benefits may be in line. This way, the government reduces unemployment, companies get tailor fit and capable new recruits, and we all benefit along the way.

4. Resolve the PPSMI debate
The issue: Whether its BM or English, let's just get it over and done with. This flitting about in the span of a few years has thrown everyone from parents to teachers to book publishers in disarray. As seen in the TIMMS survey, Malaysia has had a huge drop in rankings, with deterioration in both Math and Science subjects.

The proposal: Education reform is a long, grueling process. Teacher trainers need to be hired, teachers need to be trained, book publishers need to write, examiners need to reach a standard of largely uniform marking. With Math and Science reverting back to BM after only a few years, one can imagine the dismay of fresh teaching college graduates who trained for PPSMI. The whole system needs time.

The same goes for the new school self-assessment that is to replace PMR. The remedy is simple enough: choose a system, and stick to it, at least for 10 years or so. And if there is to be a change, all stakeholders must be informed, consulted and planning must commence way before.

5. A more holistic education
The issue: PE class has been reduced to a young substitute teacher giving children a ball and letting them do whatever they want. Art class has degenerated into teachers giving random assignments and uninterested students messing around. Our education system emphasizes the superiority of the Science stream above the "dumb" Arts stream.

The proposal: In its current state, our education system is skewed. How are we to nurture the next generation of artists, sportsmen, skilled workers and accountants if they are told at every turn that they are not as important as Science students? Again, it boils downs to the same issues: better teachers, better syllabus. For example, PE teachers should be properly trained to teach vital and basic issues such as warming up before exercise, proper rules of games played and how to deal with a pulled muscles etc.

At the end of the day, many of these issues have been highlighted again and again. My proposals are far from comprehensive, I am young and still learning, but I hope that as we enter this important year of change, we will bear in mind these issues. Whatever your political inclinations, I'm sure we can all agree that education for our children is an important thing, so make sure you ask your MP/ ADUN what they intend to do about it!


Monday, December 24, 2012

Malaysia Going Down the Math & Science Longkang


Click here for full version.

Over the course of the next week, we will be carrying/ publishing several articles on the TIMMS findings. In the meantime, do pore over the results presented in neat infographic form, and Merry Christmas! 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Back From The Dead, With A New Member

Greetings fellow concerned citizens!

You're probably quite surprised reading this post ( and hopefully we still have a readership) after such a long hiatus. As it is, John Lee has been quite occupied with his writings, Tony has been equally busy with his work in DAP, and of course our dear Kian Ming also has his hands full, zipping around in his newly found role as Election Coordinator in the DAP.

And so, here I am. 

Who?

Yup, that's me. 
Well, my name is Ong Kar Jin. Some people call me KJ for short, but especially for socio-politically related matters it isn't the best set of initials to have! (And I imagine you must know why!) 

Anyway, to keep it short I'm a student doing the International Baccalaureate, and possibly heading to the USA next year ( I have an offer from Yale College). I have written for as well as worked with activists from Loyarburok and UndiMsia,  and I was also an intern and still contributing writer at REFSA, which some of you may know as the independent think tank that has done much to take on the role of watchdog regarding PEMANDU's reports. I have various articles that have been published in news sites ranging from MalaysiaKini to the Malaysian Insider. You can read all my published work, as well as some creative writing plus food reviews at my personal blog, Durian Democracy.

I'm hoping to liven up this blog quite a bit, after all, as a student I have less work obligations than my fellow bloggers here. I'll also be taking a more conversational, personal style of writing, and I hope that my views as someone who is still a student will prove to be up to par. Overall, perhaps what I'm trying to say is this: It's time to bring back Education in Malaysia back to life.

Tune in over the next few days for some updates regarding Malaysia's declining Math and Science performance in the recent TIMMS study! Also, what would you like us to cover more? Comments, suggestions, opinions are all welcome!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grassroots initiatives in the academy

There are two initiatives I'd like to draw attention to today. The first is Scientific Malaysian, an independent attempt to connect Malaysians interested in science and to raise the profile of the Malaysian scientific community. It's an interesting initiative, so definitely check it out.

The other is a survey by a Malaysian undergraduate studying at the University of Michigan in the US. Jian Wei is trying to understand whether there is a relation between emotional attachment to one's country and one's desire to participate in its national affairs. Finding good data is a challenge for social scientists everywhere, so if you can give Jian Wei your dua sen, I'm sure he'd appreciate it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Malaysia Public Policy Competition 2011

A friend still in university, with Kian Ming's advice, has initiated a public policy competition for Malaysian youth. This is the sort of initiative and independence which more of our students should have. Registration has closed, and now almost 50 teams from a variety of schools and universities are competing for 16 spots in the final, where public policymakers will judge their ideas. The final round, to be held at UCSI University, looks like it will be exciting, even if you aren't participating -- how often do you get to hear 16 teams of Malaysian youth putting their policy suggestions out there for actual policymakers to listen to and critique?

The final will be held on Sunday 4 September, 2 to 5:30PM at the UCSI University North Wing, Kuala Lumpur Campus, in Cheras. The judges include the Chief Commissioner of the MACC, and the Speaker of the Selangor State Legislative Assembly. For more details and to guarantee a seat at the final, visit: http://malaysiapublicpolicycompetition.blogspot.com/p/audience-registration.html

For more general information about the competition, including a list of teams, see http://www.malaysiapublicpolicycompetition.blogspot.com/

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What's After SPM? A whole world awaits

Like most young people, I'm still not sure what I want to do with my life. Most people I think have an inkling of their personality and their interests, but not much of an idea of how to translate this into a vocation, career, or ideally, a calling. This is what makes the book What's After SPM?: 101 Stories, 101 Young Malaysians (edited by Roshan Thiran) so compelling. When I first got the book, I left it on my bedside table when I turned in for the night; my father picked it up, and the next day itself, he bought a few copies for my siblings and cousin. That tells you something about how important this book is, and what kind of niche it fills.

Before I continue, in the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book free of charge in return for agreeing to review it. I was not given any other compensation or instructions. I also happen to know a few of those 101 Malaysians who wrote for the book -- one of whom is my co-blogger here, Kian Ming.

The title of the book is actually a little misleading; some of those who write in it, such as Kian Ming, never sat for SPM. Rather, the point of the book is to give readers a sense of what opportunities lie out there -- what ways there are to fulfill both your personal interests and goals, and simultaneously contribute to society. Each story is a little, sometimes immensely different from the others. In terms of careers, you have doctors, academics, food critics, and students -- and in terms of age, you run a veritable gamut from fresh SPM leavers to freshly minted PhDs like Kian Ming.

Every person writing is at a different stage in life, and pursuing a different life path, which is what makes this book both so useful and so interesting. Even if you would never want to be a fitness trainer or a political scientist, simply understanding how people find their callings -- and how they are continually refining their understanding of what they are called to be -- is so valuable. It does not matter how old you are or where in life you may be. My father, who by right should be beginning to think about how he will spend his retirement years, could not stop talking about the book, recommending it to all his friends. I could not put the book down either.

My personal take away from the book is that we have to embrace some degree of uncertainty about life before finding where we are called to be. Kian Ming's story is actually a good example of this -- he relates how his career as a corporate high flier was suddenly cut short, and how he stumbled around looking for his calling. But I find that almost everyone writing has something similar to share about how they had to cast around before figuring out what was right for them.

The uncertainty of this may sound frightening, but I find it an empowering message for everyone, young or old, because we are in charge of our own destinies. This book is in many ways the perfect antidote for the rigidities of SPM and our general education system, where once you are in the arts or science stream, you are ostensibly set for life. (Science stream people all become engineers or doctors, and arts stream people all become VCD sellers or fishermen, right?) What's After SPM is the perfect way to make a youth think about their future, and encourage them to take responsibility for figuring out who they want to be.

After heaping all this glowing praise on the book, you might think it is flawless. But while it is no doubt a fascinating and useful read, it could do with some improvement. The cover of the book is not terribly distinctive (I couldn't find it in the bookstore and had to ask for assistance when I was buying a copy for a friend), making it hard to stand out on the shelf. The organisation of the book is a simple ordering of each essay by the author's name alphabetically. While this is good for casual reading or flipping through, other organisational schemes might have added more value. Perhaps organising the book roughly by age of author, or type of essay, would have been good.

Probably the most annoying thing for a returning reader is that if you read a fascinating essay by that social entrepreneur or this doctor, and want to find it again, you need to remember the author's name or the essay's title. There is no index of topics covered in the book. This is quite a big oversight, and I hope the editors will address this in a future edition.

In spite of those caveats, I cannot recommend this book more wholeheartedly. Buy it for the primary or secondary school student in your life; buy it for the fresh graduate clueless about his prospects; buy it for the professional with a mid-life crisis; buy it for yourself. At the very least, you will find these stories interesting -- at best, you will have a whole new, fresh perspective on life.

You can get your copy from MPH or Borders. MPH MidValley is hosting the official book launch this August 6; I encourage you to attend and hear from some of the amazing Malaysians behind this project.