Friday, July 31, 2009

UiTM Professor Seeks PhD Students

A professor from UiTM in the faculty of chemical engineering has informed us of an opportunity for students looking to pursue their PhD in the field. We are publishing this notice as a public service for interested students, and this should not be taken as an endorsement of the programme. The details:

Ph.D. studentship opportunities

Master's degree holders interested to pursue Ph.D. in any of the following research themes at Faculty of Chemical Engineering, Universiti Teknologi MARA are invited to forward their CVs to and A stipend will be provided for the suitable candidate to support his/her study.

The research themes are:

1) Hazardous waste treatment (e-waste; soil, water and air decontamination).
2) Synthesis and application of nanoporous materials.
3) Life cycle assessment
4) Clean technologies
5) Brownfield management

Candidates that show excellent progress during their study shall be considered for paid short-term research placements in either Japan, South Korea, Australia or Germany. The selection criteria for this Ph.D. studentship are listed in the following:

1) Good written english;
2) Published at least an ISI-indexed journal article as the first author (preferably - not essential);
3) Graduated either cum laude or has at least an Upper Second Class Honours undergraduate engineering or science degree.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Admissions Workshop for Top US Universities and Liberal Arts Colleges

If you missed the DECC info session on top US institutions this past Saturday, Yeoh Chen Chow (Cornell '05) is organising a three-day workshop to walk students through the exact process of applying to the best schools in the US.

All eight Ivy Leagues will be represented by alumni or current students at the workshop -- I'll be there for Dartmouth -- in addition to 11 other prestigious institutions (if you haven't heard of schools like Brandeis or Mt. Holyoke, look them up on Wikipedia). Interviewers for Harvard, UPenn, MIT, and Cornell will be there as well. This Saturday a lot of us were talking about how we wished this sort of resource had been available when we applied, so if you're thinking about the US for your undergraduate studies, we really hope you'll attend this workshop.


Date:- 1st Aug 2009 (Sat), 2nd Aug 2009 (Sun), 15th August 2009 (Sat).
Time:- 10am to around 5pm/6pm for each day.
Venue:- Taylor's University College, Subang Jaya
Cost:- RM25 for all 3 days (Payable by cash on registration in Day 1)

The fee will be waived or reduced if you have financial difficulties. To sign up for the workshop and for more information, visit

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Register for MSLS 09

The Malaysian Students Leaders Summit 09 is taking place on the 8th and 9th of August in KL. Click here for further details. I'd encourage all our readers who are students and are back in Malaysia to attend this for 2 reasons. Firstly, it's a great opportunity for you to hear directly and possibly meet many prominent Malaysian business and political leaders. Who knows, you may even hear them say things which are not 'on the record' and show a side which you've not seen before. Secondly and more importantly, it's a good chance for you to meet other students who share similar interests be it in politics, business, the environment, education etc...

For those who have already signed up, I just have 2 pieces of advice for you. Firstly, keep an open mind. Try to interact with as many people as possible including other students. Don't try to just hobnob with the politicians or students who are from Oxford or Cambridge or one of the Ivy league schools. Cast your net wide. You'll learn more this way. Secondly, don't be afraid to ask questions especially those which you don't know the answers to. Don't be afraid to push the speakers especially in areas in which you think they may not feel comfortable to venture.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Science & Maths in BM Again II

Some on this blog has called for my comments on this issue. Some have even emailed me privately to "declare my stand". Well, I wrote on my Facebook early today a short note on my position, which I copy below. I've also taken the liberty to also include some of the 40+ comments on this issue so far in this post.
"Tony Pua hopes that schools in urban areas where the students, teachers and parents are keen to retain English as the medium for Maths and Science will be given a choice to opt out of the switch back to BM/BC, especially in secondary schools."
I've also made the following short comment to another Facebook friend who had asked the same:
"My stand is that PIBG should have a say/choice in the language use, particularly in urban areas where competency in English is already fairly high and in demand. You/we should push for this.

Rural areas can't help it, especially with teachers who can't even string a sentence together in English."
The above is my personal and public position which I will highlight in parliament. I've also written on the same in my Chinese column in Oriental Daily a few months back.

DAP's position, for those who are interested, is that urban national primary and secondary schools should be given a choice by the parents on the language to be used. Some have accused the party of staying silent on the issue. I beg to differ. Both Chong Eng, MP for Bukit Mertajam as well as the party Secretary-General, Lim Guan Eng has made the party's stand known for a while now. But if the press doesn't print (or print it often enough), there's little we can do.

Selected comments from my Facebook update:
  • Vivian Chiang at 10:13 on 09 July
    i totally agreed that ..hopefully

  • Bee Hui Chuah at 10:21 on 09 July
    yes... agree!!! especially secondary school!!! Education, is not Experiment!!!

  • Justin Wee at 10:22 on 09 July
    It's a silly thing to scrap of, the malay lingu 'experiment' was conducted ever since the early 70's, & it's almost 30 years project. For a mere less than 10 years project on english medium being scrap of, it's not a pronounced fair campaign

    We cant compare our so called 'looking at other nation', whereby the japanese still maintains their language, and the french themselves. but bare in mind that these nations have 'comparative advantage'.

    Japan has their advantages on technology, and the nation is a pioneer export to America, so they eventually 'do not have to worry on language', but anyways, they do learn english, but i bet their learning is WAY better then here itself... Read more

  • Kong Chia Yew at 10:25 on 09 July
    You should put this suggestion up to Parliament if you get a chance. Will be a pain in the ass for administrators of the policy but then the old maxim takes over "it'sfor the best of us"

  • Steven Fung at 10:29 on 09 July
    can they do that?

  • Lim Yong Keat at 10:31 on 09 July
    what is the ministry doing? we are not like Japan or US or Germany.

  • KhengTeong Goh at 10:32 on 09 July
    In a LOCAL university. Some of the lecturers allow us to answer in English although the questions were in BM. In final year, we are strongly encouraged to write our thesis in English. And our exam papers were in 2 languages, English and BM....

  • Eoh Teng Kor at 10:32 on 09 July
    why not creating english medium school for the option no 4. since we can allow "international school" , i dont see why we cannot have one more option.

  • Terrassie Lau at 10:40 on 09 July
    At the end of the day, for the younger generations, it is again ' head you win, tail I lose" We may soon ended up without english lessons too if the money spent do not generate good english teachers, in accordance to the DPM's silly statement. Just scrap english la.

  • See Hong at 10:48 on 09 July
    Actually good result not related wt language. Japanese, Germany, Italian, France ppl also not study in English, but today they still advanced country. It is the matter of education system. Correct way is study in mother language in Primary, English in Secondary. Since so good why need to wait another 3 yrs ? To prepare for the changes & objection of TDM ~ the idiot who initiate this plan few yrs ago ?

  • Felix Leong at 10:59 on 09 July
    Japan, Germany, Italy and France ARE PART OF G-7! They are the world's economic power house and their domestic markets are huge! What are we ???

  • Albert Tan at 11:00 on 09 July
    For those in Form 1 now should be allowed to use English in Form 4 and Form 5 in 2012 and 2014 so that continuity is maintained.

  • Claire Khoo at 11:05 on 09 July
    eh hello ... to implement immediately, where to find books? Excuse me, you wanna scold the gohmen also think before you scold can? its like the Dong Zong head who said we should implement this immediately. Buku mana nak cari? Guru mana nak cari? (I think our education system really failed, that's why obviously malaysians don't think before they comment.)

  • Leroy Ng at 11:13 on 09 July
    The decision is political and politically backward mindedness. Unfortunately PKR's Anwar Ibrahim and PAS support this decision. Why DAP kept silence b4 decision made?

  • Chin-Huat Wong at 11:21 on 09 July
    revive English schools as a form of mother tongue education!!!

  • JooLee Tan at 11:27 on 09 July
  • I believe that DAP is also in favour of this reversal. Tony, I think it's futile to even suggest an option that hasn't been discussed. Frankly, the whole exercise has been futile and our children and grandchildren will be paying the price for generations to come.

  • Eoh Teng Kor at 11:31 on 09 July
    Agreed with See Hong, it is about system. We just allow BM/BC/BT/English medium in Science and Math. Let parents have a choice/option. Let parents decide which is suitable for their kids...

  • Lillian Danielle Khoo at 11:36 on 09 July
    I am surprised the DAP was in favour of the reversal. Meanwhile UAE has just announced that they plan to teach Math & Science in English.

    It just seems like Malaysia is taking 1 step forward and 3 steps back in our education system. They made a good decision to make it compulsory in passing English - I couldn't believe that it was optional to pass in the first place. Then they decide to revert Math & Science back to BM. During my studies, I had the opportunity to share classes with ...

  • Cheryl Witha at 11:52 on 09 July
    what's new with the education system? Student have always been lab rats, they constantly change the system to suit whoever is currently in tht position(at their whim and fancy). It has always been absurd and still is. They never think things through, ever. What is to happen to our education system, I feel very sad as an educator..

  • Fok Kuk Fai at 12:00 on 09 July
    I agree with using mother tongue as teaching medium at the primary school level. But I strongly advocate to shift it to English medium in secondary school level and above. This is not only for enhancing English proficiency, but also for the future generations to easily access to the science and technology as well as social science knowledge pool ...

  • Juliana Yoong at 12:00 on 09 July
    What a shame! I totally agreed...

  • Cheryl Witha at 12:07 on 09 July
    I teach at college level and every batch that comes in..well most of them can't even speak English let alone write a simple application letter. What is to become of them in the future?

  • Chong Hou Yin at 12:22 on 09 July
    learn from singapore please, stupid najib

  • Joseph Ng Swee Wan at 12:28 on 09 July
    malaysia will be back to those 1970's day ...... we are going backward and not forward. let's see in the next 6 years, where are we heading? oh, maybe by then DPM wil be out of job and poor PR has to take over this baby and to answer to everyone for such absurd policy.

  • Ho Kok Kuan at 12:28 on 09 July
    All for PPSMI to be retained. Dual languge in primary, follow by full English in secondary school. Person will be fully equipped when leaving for uni/college.

  • Marsha Maung at 13:21 on 09 July
    YES PLEASE!! I am so sad with the switch to BM/Chinese!

  • Walinong Sari at 13:28 on 09 July
    No. Follow the MOE directive.

  • Alwin Lim at 13:38 on 09 July
    Havent we done enough damage to our brilliant childrens ?

  • Steven K C Poh at 13:58 on 09 July
    I'm bewildered by this news. We have a flip-flopping government that's playing Russian roulette with our children's future. What now? How can we stop this madness?

  • Lee Wei Jie at 14:02 on 09 July
    secondary schools should retain English as medium for Maths and Science so that pupils can have a bright future to study overseas and be linked to the world is good to switch back mother tongue for primary school level as it is a good way to build up the basis of children, let them hv a effective learning process and happy childhood...

  • Ooi Beng Sun at 14:21 on 09 July
    agreed with Lee Wei Jie. secondary students should be given the choice to choose the medium of instructions. we should not deprive our gifted students who are proficient in English acquire more knowledge to pursue their career. reverting to malay is like chaining our children with big stone, stop their progress, making them going backwards to the dinosaur age!!!

  • Daniel Hong Aan Lee at 14:22 on 09 July
    YB, I believe that Science&Maths for primary education should be taught in mother tongue (esp for SJK(C)/SJK(T)), however secondary schools should teach their science&maths in english, so that the Malaysian english teaching system will not deteriorate.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Science and Maths to be taught in BM again

Thank you to the anonymous commenter who brought this to our attention; I am sure Tony and Kian Ming will have a lot to say about this. Here is the story from The Malaysian Insider, and here are some graphs from The Star. My take is as follows:

This is horrible. But anything which had a realistic chance of happening would be almost as bad.

In a perfect world, students would be learning all subjects in the best language for them individually, and also learning Malay and English perfectly fine regardless. But we do not live in that perfect world. In the next best world, we would have a consistent policy (sticking to either English or Malay for Science and Maths, if not all subjects) and competent teachers able to implement this policy.

This being Malaysia, and our politics being our politics, what we got was a silly compromise that made nobody very happy, and a paralysed bureaucracy uninterested in making this policy work. One of the most telling graphs in the link to The Star above is the last one, which shows only 20% and 10% of secondary and primary school science and maths teachers respectively scored 67 or higher on an evaluation of their English proficiency.

The fact is, this policy failed. But was the old policy working? As far as I can tell, no. That's why we tried this policy in the first place. Our students were not doing as well as they could in science and maths, and their English was atrocious. So our politicians got this bright idea to try teaching them science and maths in English.

But the execution was fatally cocked up. The Education Minister says that now they will try a different approach to enhance English learning: English literature will be reintroduced as a subject, along with grammar and composition. (I wonder if that is a misquote by The Star, because that would make a total of four subjects for the English language alone.) The Minister also said that they would rehire retirees and foreigners if necessary to supply more English teachers.

All these are things which should have been done before! In particular, it's not like the government had no idea our science and maths teachers were so fatally flawed in the English department. Rather, they completely ignored this, and rammed through this ill-thought-out policy anyway.

Maybe teaching science and maths in English is a fatally flawed idea, but we have no way of telling that from this six-year experiment, because the government so thoroughly messed up its implementation! (There is also the counter-argument that teaching these subjects in English worked perfectly fine for thousands of schoolkids before we switched to Malay as the national medium of instruction in the 1970s.)

What really angers me about this decision is that the government virtually knowingly had this cock-up of a policy going for six years, when they should have bloody well known their science and maths teachers could not teach in English. So we had a whole generation of students undergoing this massive change, all for naught. And now we will have another generation of pain as thousands of kids get stuck in educational limbo while the government phases out this failure of a policy.

All this was completely unnecessary. The government could have at least tried to make PPSMI (Pelajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Math dalam Bahasa Inggeris) a success by not virtually sabotaging it, but they did not. They could have increased the allocation of time to English, refocused the curriculum, and hired professional English teachers six years ago, but they did not.

More importantly, the government could have avoided all this and successfully transitioned to teaching science and maths in English if only it had been patient and first prepared the teachers to use English in the classroom. But they did not. They pushed through the policy when it was plainly not ready.

In short, we spent six years spinning our wheels doing absolutely balls, and we have nothing to show for it. It is infuriating, but I don't blame the government for ending this now. I do blame the government for keeping up this ridiculous charade for six years, when it was obvious to almost everyone -- even people who might have otherwise favoured this policy -- that this could never have worked with the way they rammed it through.

Introducing Top US Universities & Colleges

Descartes Education Counselling Centre (DECC), a non-profit organisation will be organising a talk by former and current students from some of the top universities in the United States on getting into these schools.

The panelists will comprise alumni and students from Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale and Cornell, as well as other top liberal arts colleges such as Swarthmore, Middlebury, Bates and Colby.

Therefore all students interested in top universities and colleges in the US for undergraduate study or those who are still figuring out what to do for their tertiary studies, come join us for the talk at:
Introducing Top US Universities & Colleges
Date : 25th July 2009 (Saturday)
Time : 11am-4pm
Venue : Auditorium, Sunway University College
Confirmed panelists include:
  • Nathaniel Tan, Harvard University ‘03
  • Yeoh Chen Chow, Cornell University ‘05
  • Hwa Yang Jerng, Bates College ‘03
  • Emily Chan, Colby College ‘11
  • Ng Eng Han, Dartmouth College ‘10
  • John Lee, Dartmouth College ‘11
  • Andrew Loh, Swarthmore College '10
  • Anand Pillai, Northwestern University '04
  • Joan Low, Middlebury College '12
  • Lim Su Ann, Columbia University '12
  • Philip Loh, Olin College '13
They will share their personal experiences with the US education system – a system that reputably produces very employable graduates and world leaders with great competency and capabilities. They will also provide interested students with valuable information about selecting the right university, obtaining financial assistance, completing application forms and other practical information on gaining places in these schools.

Students will also learn about the unusual perks and opportunities offered under the US education system (foreign study programmes, self-designed curriculums, freedom to explore personal academic interests, etc.), aspects of a vastly different culture, and student life. To top it off, we have an interactive session, where you can mingle around and talk with the students and alumni yourself personally.

All are welcome and attendance is free.

For more information, please contact Ms Teh Joo Shin @ jshin48 (at) gmail (DOT) com.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Richard Feynman on Learning

Richard Feynman was an American physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics. He was an eccentric figure, and quite a few books have been written by him and or about him on the subject of his life. One of the most famous, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! is now available for reading online, absolutely free. (If reading online gives you eyestrain, there's always Amazon.)

The book deals with a wide range of fascinating topics, from sex to business to art, but because Feynman spent most of his life in academia, it focuses on education. The book is primarily a collection of loosely-related essays, so you can skip the irrelevant parts if you don't find them interesting, but I recommend you read the whole book anyway. The following essays are especially relevant to education:
  • Lucky Numbers
  • O Americana, Outra Vez!
  • Judging Books by Their Covers
Lucky Numbers has a very interesting twist on the standard litany about the evils of rote memorisation. Feynman describes how he was able to best a Japanese man armed with an abacus because he had memorised more combinations of numbers and operations:
I realized something: he doesn't know numbers. With the abacus, you don't have to memorize a lot of arithmetic combinations; all you have to do is learn how to push the little beads up and down. You don't have to memorize 9 + 7 = 16; you just know that when you add 9 you push a ten's bead up and pull a one's bead down. So we're slower at basic arithmetic, but we know numbers.
Feynman's point is that it's understanding which matters the most, and that there is not always a conflict between understanding and memorisation. Sometimes, you need to memorise something to understand it. The abacus salesman had merely memorised how to work an abacus, without internalising any understanding of numbers and how they relate to one another. Because he worked with numbers, day in and day out, Feynman knew them like the back of his hand.

O Americana, Outra Vez! is a meandering essay on the time Feynman spent lecturing in Brazil, but it is absolutely worth reading because of its emphasis on the need for the right philosophy of learning. Much of it is still very applicable to the Malaysian education system:
After a lot of investigation, I finally figured out that the students had memorized everything, but they didn't know what anything meant. When they heard "light that is reflected from a medium with an index," they didn't know that it meant a material such as water. They didn't know that the "direction of the light" is the direction in which you see something when you're looking at it, and so on. Everything was entirely memorized, yet nothing had been translated into meaningful words.
This particular discussion caught my eye because it reminded me instantly of all the revision books students buy to supplement their textbooks and lectures:
So I came in, carrying the elementary physics textbook that they used in the first year of college. They thought this book was especially good because it had different kinds of typeface -- bold black for the most important things to remember, lighter for less important things, and so on.


I stuck my finger in, and I started to read: "Triboluminescence. Triboluminescence is the light emitted when crystals are crushed..."

I said, "And there, have you got science? No! You have only told what a word means in terms of other words. You haven't told anything about nature -- what crystals produce light when you crush them, why they produce light. Did you see any student go home and try it? He can't.
Feynman hated the way Brazilians taught science; he refused to call it science at all. He felt the students were not learning anything meaningful about the natural world around them; they were just memorising words and numbers without learning how to relate these abstractions to the real-world concepts they represent.

Judging Books By Their Covers describes what happened when Feynman served on a board of parents and educators preparing the list of approved textbooks for the state of California. Feynman again found himself infuriated by the books, because they explained everything in a completely unrelatable manner:
I turned the page. The answer was, for the wind-up toy, "Energy makes it go." And for the boy on the bicycle, "Energy makes it go." For everything, "Energy makes it go."

Now that doesn't mean anything. Suppose it's "Wakalixes." That's the general principle: "Wakalixes makes it go." There's no knowledge coming in. The child doesn't learn anything; it's just a word!

What they should have done is to look at the wind-up toy, see that there are springs inside, learn about springs, learn about wheels, and never mind "energy." Later on, when the children know something about how the toy actually works, they can discuss the more general principles of energy.
The whole book is a thoroughly entertaining piece of literature, and there is more to learning and academia in it than the bits and pieces I have just quoted. The opening essays which deal with Feynman's childhood in particular show how he himself first learned and developed an interest for science. I hope you find this book useful in thinking about the purpose of education, and how we should go about fulfilling this purpose.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Pakatan's Education and Higher Education Cabinet Committee

Hot off the press. The following opposition MPs have been put on the cabinet committee for the Education portfolio: Yusmadi Yusoff (PKR), Che Uda Che Nik (PAS), Chong Eng (DAP) and for the Higher Education portfolio: Zulkifli Nordin (PKR), Salahuddin Ayub (PAS), Tony Pua (DAP).

I think it's high time that the Pakatan coalition formed its own version of a shadow 'cabinet'. Hopefully this will mean a more structured focus on the part of these MPs, especially those which have been allocated the Education and Higher Education portfolios.

These six MPs are an interesting and mixed bunch. Yusmadi Yusoff is a young, idealistic PKR MP for Balik Pulau in Penang and I've had the opportunity to interact with him a few times. He was a Hubert Humphrey fellow for a year here in the US and is a lawyer by vocation. I'm sure he'll bring fresh ideas and perspectives to his portfolio. Chong Eng, an experienced MP from Bukit Mertajam, is a fiery and passionate DAP MP. She's been very outspoken on women's issues as an MP. I hope that she will do more than just highlight the plight of Chinese and Indian schools but look at how the Education Ministry can do a better job, perhaps in examining how some of their policies may effect girls and boys differently. The gender gap is becoming more significant at the university level (in favor of women) and I think there must be some steps which can be taken at the pre-university level which can arrest this trend. I don't know much about Che Uda Che Nik from PAS except to say that he's the PAS MP for Sik, Kedah.

We're all familiar with Tony's work as the MP for PJ Utara and on this blog. Hopefully, being allocated this portfolio will free up some time for Tony to put forth some of his ideas on Higher Education in Malaysia. I'm sure he'll have an interesting time working with Zulkifli Nordin of PKR, MP for Kulim, who is more well known for his tirades against Sisters in Islam and for protesting the Bar Council forum on religious conversions, than for his view on Higher Education in Malaysia. Salahuddin Ayub, PAS MP for Kubang Kerian, was the former PAS Youth chief and is a seasoned politician. It will be interesting to hear his views on the state of Higher Education in Malaysia since I've not heard him speak on this before.

Hopefully, having these cabinet committees will increase the quality and level of debate in parliament especially when it comes to the Education and Higher Education portfolios. Congrats and all the best to Tony!