Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tunku Scholarships

The following report from the Star on the Tunku Scholarships.

Tunku scholarships increased to 50

PETALING JAYA: Fifty scholarships will be available under the Tunku Abdul Rahman Foundation this year.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed said there would be 50 recipients this year, 30 more than last year.

They would be selected from first-year undergraduates in public and private universities who had obtained excellent results.

“Students must have finished their first year with a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 3.5,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Other criteria include having excellent Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), Matriculation or Foundation results, leadership skills and being active in co-curricular activities.

When Mustapa took over as foundation chairman last year, it was decided that the help previously offered in the form of educational loans be changed to scholarships instead, and that the recipients be known as Tunku scholars.

The first batch of Tunku scholars, from various races, are excellent students as well as active in co-curricular activities, he added.

He said the Tunku Abdul Rahman Foundation was set up in 1966 in honour of the country’s first prime minister.

Applications for the Tunku Abdul Rahman Foundation scholarships are now open, and must be supported by the institution’s deputy vice-chancellor (Academic).

Students can download application forms from

The closing date is July 15.

I checked out the website and found the following additional information:

(a) Syarat Asas
(i) Warganegara Malaysia.
(ii) Umur tidak melebihi 25 tahun pada tarikh tutup permohonan.
(iii) Baru tamat Tahun Pertama Ijazah Pertama di mana-mana Institusi Pengajian Tinggi Tempatan.

(b) Syarat Kelayakan Akademik dan Ko-kurikulum
(i) Memperoleh keputusan cemerlang dalam SPM / STPM / Matrikulasi/ Asas.
(ii) Kepujian dalam Bahasa Malaysia dan Bahasa Inggeris di peringkat SPM.
(iii) Memperolehi PNGK / CGPA minimum 3.50 dalam peperiksaan Tahun Satu (1),program Ijazah Sarjana Muda.
(iv) Memiliki kualiti kepimpinan dan penyertaan yang cemerlang/ aktif dalam ko-kurikulum.

(c) Syarat Tambahan
(i) Penerima BIASISWA TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN diperlukan berkhidmat dalam negara sekurang-kurangnya lima (5) tahun selepas tamat pengajian yang ditaja.

Kadar Biasiswa adalah seperti berikut:
(i) Yuran Pengajian mengikut kadar yuran sebenar yang dituntut oleh IPT.
(ii) Elaun Sara Hidup bernilai RM1,000 sebulan.
(iii) Elaun Buku bernilai RM300 / semester.
(iv) Elaun-elaun berkaitan pengajian seperti tesis, elaun latihan amal / kertas projek, elaun alat perkakas (sekali setahun).
(v) Tambang penerbangan kelas ekonomi (2 hala) sekali setahun (untuk pelajar Semenanjung yang belajar di Sabah & Sarawak dan pelajar Sabah & Sarawak yang belajar di Semenanjung).

I think the terms of this scholarship are quite generous. RM1000 for a student is more than sufficient for living expenses especially in a non-urban campus. And the flight tickets is a nice bonus.

I thought it was interesting that the 'bond' requirement is that one needs to work in Malaysia for at least 5 years after one graduates. While this is a good idea in theory, in practice, it is almost impossible to enforce in a cost effective manner.

Deadline is July 15th, so 1st year students, get your VC's approval and apply quickly.

Update on JJ

This issue was first brought up on this blog in early May. A letter written to Malaysiakini alleged that the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Jamaludin Jarjis (or JJ), had made insulting remarks towards an Indian student (and Indians in general) in a speech made to students in LA. There's been a couple of updates on this so I though I'd highlight them for the benefit of our readers.

First update - MP for Ipoh Barat M. Kulasegaran was reported to have asked JJ about this issue in parliament and JJ replied that he had already apologized to the person in question (student Sheena Moorthy) although Kula still insisted that JJ had not apologized directly.

Second update - a letter written in Malaysiakini defending the actions of JJ. It seems like such a passionate defense that I thought I'd reproduce it here in full:

JJ didn’t mean to insult student
Abdul Kadir Azhari

I refer to the report Minister taunted over remarks made to student and the letter Apology demanded from racist minister by Dr Sheela Moorthy.

I am surprised by the recent escalation of the situation revolving around the allegedly discriminated Sheena Moorthy and the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, Dr Jamaludin Jarjis (JJ). I have read Sheela’s letter regarding JJ's remarks and feel I should clarify the incident.

I believe Sheela was exaggerating the facts; I was present at the dinner at the Belacan Grill in Los Angeles in April together with 40 Cal Poly, Pomona, University of Southern California, Cal-Tech and International Islamic University of Malaysia students and representatives of the Malaysia Students Department in Los Angeles. I would like to make it clear that Sheela was not in attendance at the dinner. Though her action of sending the letter on behalf of her sister, Sheena, is with good intention, I do not believe she could provide context to what had happened that night.

I have read Lim Kit Siang's blog regarding the incident and find that he best summarises Sheena's grievances over JJ's comments. His blog can be read here. From this point and further, I will use his blog, as well as Sheela's letter above as my references.

Through Sheela’s letter, Lim identified Sheena's three complaints as listed below. I will describe each incident chronologically and provide an actual description of each incident within context.

Incident 1 - ‘Each student had to briefly introduce themselves. When it came to her turn, while speaking, he interrupted her and asked if she knew Samy Vellu, because he knows him. She did not see any relevance in that and he mentioned it a few times for no apparent reason’.

The only reason why I could see this as discriminatory or why Sheena took offence was because of the reputation that S Samy Vellu carries and the fact that they are both Indians, insinuating that because she is Indian she is like Samy Vellu. It's true that JJ interrupted her and asked her if she knew Samy Vellu. However, Sheela failed to mention JJ's comments on Samy Vellu's importance in scholarship distribution. After asking if she knew him (Samy Vellu) or had talked to him before, JJ said he knows him very well and would get Samy Vellu's help in sorting out scholarships.

Samy Vellu is the president of the MIC, and therefore in charge of the distribution of scholarships and grants to Indian Malaysians. His assistance would be beneficial to Indian students. Sheena failed to realise the relevance of Samy Vellu to the further education of Indian Malaysians.

Incident 2 - ‘He gave a speech regarding how agriculture started in Malaysia. He mentioned how the British invested in Malaysia and made farmers work. Due to the lack of a work force, ‘buruh India’ were brought in. While mentioning this, he looked at her saying ‘That's how we get Indians in Malaysia’.

JJ did not give a speech on how agriculture started in Malaysia. Rather, he gave a speech on the development of Malaysia's biotech industry. He talked about our abundance in natural resources and its potential for utilisation and began his speech with Malaysia's agricultural industry. He explained how Malaysia has progressed from an agricultural-based economy to becoming a leader in the biotech industry.

He wanted to stress the leap from an agricultural-based economy to one that has taken a cutting-edge science to the forefront. To further emphasise that leap, he stressed the importance of the Indians in the agriculture industry which contributed to the progression of our country.

During his speech he did not mention ‘buruh India’ nor did he say ‘that's how we got Indians in Malaysia’. Instead, he used the term ‘pekerja India’. JJ said neither of the two remarks attributed to him during the dinner. So then, giving Sheela and Sheena the benefit of a doubt, I will assume then there was a communication mix-up. It is understandable that a speech on the immigration of Indians be summarised as ‘how Indians came to Malaysia’ and from that to JJ saying ‘that's how we get Indians in Malaysia’.

JJ was standing in the middle of the restaurant; it is almost impossible to say that JJ was directing his remarks towards Sheena because he was looking at all of us during the time.

Incident 3 - ‘After saying he is going to get Mara to help the bumiputera students, he looked at her and asked ‘How many Indians are here?’ Sheena did not keep track of the number of Indian students so she mentioned that in the room there were two (pointing to another Indian Malaysian friend, who is fair skinned) and Jamaludin looked at him and asked ‘Oh. You are an Indian? Which means you are an upper-class Indian and she is the lower-class one’ (pointing at her). Jamaludin went on to say that, ‘Oh, I am not going to help upper-class Indians, I only help the lower-class ones. They are the ones that need it'.’

All that is written above is true, and I will not dispute that. However, I'd like to mention that there is no distinction between light-skinned and dark-skinned Indians. Can you say that lighter-skinned Indians are more prosperous than darker-skinned Indians? You cannot. If you believe so, then you are misleading your mind from the truth. In Malaysia, we do not have that kind of distinction with the Indians.

And you should see Sheena and the other Indian guy - both of them are equally fair. JJ did not make his statement based on their skin colour but instead on the way they dressed and represented themselves. Neither did he make any remark based on their skin colour or race. He has even clarified it was meant to be a joke, though it may sound rude. I believe he had no intention to offend anyone including Sheena.

As far as I am concerned, the student delegates were not surprised at all with his speech. How is it possible that he could make remarks based on their skin complexion? During the dinner, the Indian guy was wearing a very nice collared shirt, unlike Sheena who wore a simple and dull black shirt with a skirt (which I would say doesn't suit her at all).

Nonetheless, JJ, in Boston, a few days later clarified that he had said some things in jest and he wished to apologise to ‘the student in LA’ if he had offended her. And that is a great and generous gesture from our honourable minister.

It is interesting to note the writer 'implies' the underlying rational for JJ saying certain things without being clear on whether JJ tried to explain the things which he said in context (I don't think he did).

My response to his letter would be that many times, when our 'own' race is not being insulted or denigrated, it is often easy to overlook these insults as oversights on the part of the speaker. But if Sheena, as one of two Indians in that room felt insulted and aggrieved, then I think that the said Minister (as well as other politicians) should be more sensitive and careful in his speech.

Perhaps all our politicians should undergo some sort of gender (reference to the 'bocor' incident) and race 'sensitization' class!

Last update - In response to the above letter, the following letter was posted on Malaysiakini.

Minister both racist and elitist

I refer to Abdul Kadir Azhari's letter, JJ didn't meant to insult student. I am in awe of the intellectual sophistication on display in this particular letter, especially the way in which Kadir manages to conflate two issues that are particularly controversial within the Indian community - skin colour and class.

After confirming that Jamaludin Jarjis did indeed make a crass and insensitive remark by associating (however ludicrously) skin colour with economic standing, Azhari says, ‘All that is written above is true, and I will not dispute that.

owever, I'd like to mention that there is no distinction between light-skinned and dark-skinned Indians. Can you say that lighter-skinned Indians are more prosperous than darker-skinned Indians? You cannot. If you believe so, then you are misleading your mind from the truth. In Malaysia, we do not have that kind of distinction with the Indians’.

So what is your point, Kadir? The fact is, your ‘honourable Minister’ did indeed make that distinction; it is obvious to anyone with a brain that Jamaludin, at least, views Indians in terms of binaries like fair-skinned - upper-class; dark-skinned - lower class. I do not want to reduce my intellectual capacities to rubble by deigning to argue this point by further scrutinising the complex racist beliefs that underlie those remarks.

My comments should be reserved for this particular gem: ‘And you should see Sheena and the other Indian guy - both of them are equally fair. JJ did not make his statement based on their skin colour but instead on the way they dressed and represented themselves. Neither did he make any remark based on their skin colour or race. He has even clarified it was meant to be a joke, though it may sound rude. I believe he had no intention to offend anyone including Sheena’.

Jamaludin did not make his statement based on skin colour, but instead on the way they dressed and represented themselves? That makes complete sense. So what Kadir is saying is essentially this - Jamaludin didn't mean to cause offence by being a racist dimwit, but instead, by being an elitist dimwit. Okay, point taken.

Kadir continues: ‘During the dinner, the Indian guy was wearing a very nice collared shirt, unlike Sheena who wore a simple and dull black shirt with a skirt (which I would say doesn't suit her at all)’.

So if a person is viewed as wearing unflattering clothes, for whatever reasons (it could very well be that she couldn't afford better clothes, or it could very well be that the choice of garment was not unflattering to the person wearing it), it is perfectly acceptable for someone like Kadir to write and publicly ridicule the person by making a comment such as ‘which I would say doesn't suit her all’, (I'm sure Kadir's fashion sensibilities are far superior to anyone else's).

And then by some strange twist of logic, he uses that very reason to defend the ‘honourable’ Jamaludin, exempting both himself and Jamaludin from accusations of racism and class prejudice.

And to top it all off? After hearing Jamaludin's remarks, ‘the students were not surprised at all with his speech’.

Brilliant. My faith in Malaysian politicians (our esteemed leaders) and Malaysian students (our bright hope for the future) has been duly restored. Am I glad to be Malaysian.

The last couple of sentences are noteworthy. I think that most of us are no longer surprised by the kind of racist and sexist language that emanates from the mouths of our politicians. I think we should demand a higher standard. And I think we should keep our politicians accountable until the day when such speech is a rarity and is politically costly rather than the status quo of being acceptable.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Liberal Arts Colleges

Descartes Higher Education Counselling Centre (DECC) is pleased to be holding the following seminar on the Top American Liberal Arts Colleges. The details for the seminar are as follows:
Date: 23rd June 2007 (Sat)
Time: 2.00pm – 5.00pm
Venue: DECC, 55-1 Jalan SS21/1A, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya
The panelists of the seminar comprises of Malaysian students at the top universities in the United States. They include:
  1. Eng Han Ng, Dartmouth '10
  2. Andrew Loh, Swarthmore '10
  3. Zhou Hau Liew, Princeton '10
  4. Nicholas Khaw, Harvard '09
  5. Hui Hsing Su, Smith '10
  6. Sabrina Chan, Tufts '10
  7. Yang Jerng Hwa, Bates '05
  8. Joyce Tagal, Yale '09
These students who are back in Malaysia on summer vacation, will share with the audience the mechanisms of application, the benefits, availability of financial aid for the US Liberal Arts Colleges as well as the top universities in the country.

Parents of students, and students in pre-university or high school are most welcome to attend the session. Please spread the message to those interested parties ;)

For more information, feel free to contact me @ tonypua(at) ;)

JPA Overseas Scholarship Policy

Based on a report published in The Star on March 5th, 2007, as blogged here earlier, the Minister stated that overseas scholarships will only be offered to “students who are accepted by renown foreign universities”.
...the move was to produce high quality graduates.

“Tertiary education in Britain and the United States is very costly. We do not want to send our scholars to any overseas university randomly. It’s better if we only send them to renowned universities and in return, we produce high quality graduates,” he said.
However, based on the latest circular issued by Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam (JPA), scholarships will continue to be awarded to students who fail to qualify to the top universities, particularly those from the United States.
Selepas berjaya di peringkat persediaan dan memenuhi had kecemerlangan akademik yang ditetapkan, pelajar-pelajar yang berjaya mendapat tawaran daripada universiti-universiti bertaraf Ivy League atau Ivy League Standard akan meneruskan pengajian di Amerika Syarikat selama 4 tahun.

Bagi pelajar-pelajar yang tidak mendapat tawaran daripada universiti-universiti bertaraf Ivy League atau Ivy League Standard, mereka akan meneruskan pengajian Ijazah Pertama di bawah American Credit Transfer Programme (ACTP) di mana pelajar-pelajar akan mengikuti pengajian 1 tahun pertama di dalam negara dan seterusnya meneruskan pengajian selama 3 tahun lagi di universiti-universiti di Amerika Syarikat.
Hence it is clear that the Government will continue to finance students with scholarships irrespective of the universities which they manage to secure places in despite what the Minister of Higher Education has promised earlier.

In addition, no mention of qualifying for the top universities in the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia was made as a criteria for these countries.

In the pursuit of the quantity of scholars, have we decided once again, to forgo “the move to produce high quality graduates” as expressed by the Minister of Higher Education himself?

I've actually called a press conference on this issue last week and it was reported in most Chinese press. Thanks to VTKY for the heads up ;)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ibn Khaldoun Essay Competition

The 2007 Ibn-Khaldoun Essay Contest
Theme: “Economics and Freedom in Islamic Societies”


The Atlas Economic Research Foundation announces the second annual essay contest about freedom in the Islamic Societies. This year’s theme addresses the relationship between free-market economic policies and freedom in the Islamic societies.

The contest is named after Ibn-Khaldoun to honor the scholarly work of this prominent Islamic historian, economist, and sociologist of the 14th century. His writings continue to inspire free-market scholars to this day, promoting the necessity of responsible government to promote economic prosperity and civilized nations.

The Atlas Economic Research Foundation was founded in 1981 by the late Sir Antony Fisher. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia (USA), it is a non-profit organization that advances freedom around the world by helping develop and strengthen a network of market-oriented think tanks.

This year, Atlas is supporting Malaysia Think Tank London to promote the contest to Malaysians residing both in Malaysia and in other countries. Malaysia Think Tank London is a young research institute founded in 2006 to promote personal responsibility, the rule of law and market solutions in Malaysian public policy.

About the Contest:

The 2007 Ibn-Khaldoun invites young people to write essays that reflect their views
about the relationship between economics and freedom within the Islamic context. Students are invited to write about historical or modern-day economic policy or policies in enhancing or diminishing freedom and prosperity in their country or region. They may propose policy recommendations, emphasizing the principles of property rights, free trade, globalization, etc. within the context of Islamic economic thinking.

We encourage you to be critical and support your arguments with evidence or analysis. Your conclusions should lead to practical policy prescriptions. All Malaysian entries will automatically be entered into a parallel but separate contest run by Malaysia Think Tank London.

• 1st Prize Winner: $2,000
• 2nd Prize Winner: $1,000
• 3rd Prize Winner: $ 500
• Two Honorable Mentions: $ 250 (each)

The winning essays will be posted on Atlas’ website and on Azad -
Atlas’s newsletter about freedom in the Middle East.

Winners will be given priority to attend our regional leadership workshops in different parts of the Middle East, potentially in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Morocco.
In addition to the above prizes, the top 5 essays by Malaysians will also be posted on Malaysia Think Tank London’s website ‘’. Malaysia Think Tank London will also compile these top 5 essays into a special publication.

Submission Guidelines:

Entries should be no fewer than 800 words and no more than 1,400 words, typewritten, double-spaced, and footnoted. Submissions may be written either in English or Arabic.

Who may join:
The contest is open to university students, undergraduate and graduate levels, who
are or below 30 years of age.

Each contestant is required also to send a brief curriculum vitae, summarizing his or
her academic and, if it applies, work history.

All qualified individuals will be considered for the contest, regardless of race, sex, national or ethnic origin, citizenship, or religious affiliation.


All submissions must be received on or before November 15th, 2007.

Judging Process:

Entries will be judged by a select group on the following criteria: clarity and
conciseness, coherence and logic, persuasiveness, and ability to offer practical
recommendations or solutions.

Send Submission to:

Atlas Economic Research Foundation:
Malaysia Think Tank London:

Saturday, June 16, 2007

UM moving? Probably not

In a report in BT on June 12th, it was speculated that "GUOCOLAND (Malaysia) Bhd, a property developer controlled by Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan, has made a bid to relocate University Malaya from Petaling Jaya to Sepang." This
report was met with objections from many quarters, including the PM and the DPM as well as the UM board and the UM alumni. With this kind of public outcry, it is likely that the rumors would remain exactly as that - pure speculation. For the sake of discussion, let's examine the pros and cons of moving UM to Sepang and redeveloping the current UM site into a commercial zone.

Let's start with the possible pros.

Firstly, moving UM to Sepang might be a good thing if brand new facilities (libraries, labs, internet connectivity etc...) could be built for UM as part of the agreement for 'turning over' its grounds in KL. Many of the buildings in UM are old and no amount of 'upgrading' can make these facilities 'world-class'.

Secondly, there is nothing which says that UM has to be located in KL. Many great universities of the world are not located in capital cities or even in big cities per se. Cambridge is a small, quiet little town in East Anglia, UK. Oxford is a slightly larger, industrial town, but a town of less than 500,000. Warwick university, an up-and-coming university in the UK is located about an hour from London.

Stanford is located in Paolo Alto, about an hour from San Francisco. Cornell, an Ivy-league university, is located in Ithaca, a rural area of New York state, about a 4 hour drive from New York city. Duke, where I'm at, is in Durham, a town of about 200,000. University of Michigan is at Ann Arbor, also a smallish town of about 100,000. ANU is located Canberra, while being the capital of Australia, isn't exactly a thriving metropolis, unlike Sydney or Melbourne. Sepang is only about an hour from KL and would presumably be located near Putrajaya, Cyberjaya and the KLIA.

This being said, I have to strongly disagree with moving UM from KL to Sepang for the following reasons.

Firstly, while there are many examples of good universities being located in smallish towns, almost every major city in the world has at least one university located in it. London has UCL, Kings, LSE, Imperial, City, and many others. Washington, DC, has George Washington, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown. Boston has Harvard, MIT, Boston College, Boston U, Fletcher and many others. New York has Columbia, NYU and many others. Sydney has UNSW and U Sydney. There is something to be said about the positive interaction from having a research university in the middle of a bustling, capital city - ties with industry; exposure to the intellectual and social atmosphere of a major city; greater employment opportunities; and so on.

Secondly, the cost of building new facilities and buildings for UM in Sepang would be prohibitively expensive, even if UM can be adequately compensated for giving up its grounds in the heart of KL. Many hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent on new buildings and facilities in UM. It is likely that these facilities will be wasted if indeed the current UM grounds are turned into a commercial / residential area.

Thirdly, the reasons for relocating a university should not be dictated on purely commercial grounds. The emotional ties to the university, as exemplified by the outcry from the UM alumnus, should not be neglected. The historical significance of UM's location also should not be ignored.

I'm glad that this move would probably not occur given the political and social outcry emanating after these newspaper reports. But I'd like to end this post by highlighting the fact that UM has not leveraged its position as the premier and oldest university in the country and its location in the heart of KL. I'd like to illustrate this by giving one example.

I remember my time at LSE as being one where I had a pick of prominent speakers to listen to which included world leaders, head of central banks, prominent economists, activists and corporate leaders. Similarly, here in the US, many world leaders as well as corporate leaders would consider it their honor to speak at Harvard or Stanford or Columbia. These universities were considered as destination of choice for many of these world and corporate leaders. UM, as far as I know, doesn't hold the same kind of attraction for many world and corporate leaders who visit Malaysia. These world and corporate leaders are usually ushered to invitation only events usually in posh hotels or in convention centers. Even prominent academics such as the Royal Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies, Professor Jeffrey Sachs (more on him later in another post), has not managed to find time in his busy schedule to grace the halls of our premier university. So, as the outcry on moving UM dies down, it would do us well to examine how UM can leverage on its location in KL and why it has failed to do so in the past 30 years or so.

An old column on Bahasa Malaysia

I managed to find my old column, published in the NST in 2002 / 2003, on calling BM Bahasa Malaysia. I'll repost it here, for what it's worth.

Bahasa Malaysia, the national language for all Malaysians

Juliet’s infamous phrase ‘A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet’ has been quoted and misquoted more often than Shakespeare could have possibly imagined. I have to disagree with her on the principle that a name means much more than just a name.

For example, when Malaya became Malaysia after achieving independence in 1957, the change in our country’s name signified the discarding of our colonial shackles and pointed to a new beginning for a young multiethnic and multi religious nation.

Similarly, the formalisation of Bahasa Malaysia, or BM, as the national language of Malaysia and as the main medium of instructions in national schools signified the intention to build a national identity and foster national unity based on a common language.

Malaysia has come a long way since those heady days of independence 45 years ago. BM is widely spoken and is the common language of communication for most Malaysians. And yet there are still those who do not feel a sense of affinity, loyalty and ownership of our national language.

There are many reasons for this including being in an environment which is not conducive or encouraging towards the use and study of BM.

But another possible obstacle could be the use or rather the lack of use of the proper name for our national language, Bahasa Malaysia, which implies that it is Malaysia’s language for all Malaysians.

Indeed calling BM by any other name would seem to imply that it is a language used by and is the preserve of a particular community. This seems like an unhelpful step towards the already difficult and sensitive task of ensuring the widespread use and sense of loyalty towards our national language.

China, to unite the many disparate regions with its different dialects, chose Mandarin as its national language and called it ‘pudong hua’ or common tongue. That name indicates a language that should be and is used commonly by different peoples across the different regions in China regardless of social status and economic wealth.

Indonesia, with an archipelago spanning over 13,000 islands, chose to call its national language Bahasa Indonesia to indicate its status as the national language of all Indonesians.

Malaysia has followed suit by naming our national language Bahasa Malaysia, the national language for all Malaysians.

But there still remains certain quarters which continue to refer to BM, whether in a public or private, formal or informal context, as something other than BM.

A quick check of our country’s constitution reveals that references to our country’s national language does not name it as Bahasa Malaysia. Would it not be helpful foster a sense of ownership of BM by all Malaysians if all references to the national language in our constitution could be changed to Bahasa Malaysia?

Indeed, I would go further and encourage all public institutions to refer to our national language as Bahasa Malaysia or BM both verbally and in written form. I would also encourage all Malaysians to refer to our national language as Bahasa Malaysia or BM. Although many people and institutions unconsciously use BM interchangeably with other names and have no intention whatsoever to present BM as the preserve of a particular community, the ill effects of such actions can be subtle and long lasting.

If possible, even references to BM in other languages commonly used in Malaysia should be changed such that it reflects the common ownership of BM by all Malaysians.

A country’s national language and its name should reflect the nature, composition and spirit of that country. Bahasa Malaysia is reflective of the roots of our country, our multiethnic composition and our unity in diversity.

We couldn’t imagine calling Malaysia anything other than Malaysia. In the same way, we shouldn’t call Bahasa Malaysia anything other than Bahasa Malaysia.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bahasa Malaysia, not Bahasa Melayu

I'm back in Durham, North Carolina and am once again connected to the online world. Many education issues are on my mind but I'll start with this positive news - the decision by the government to use Bahasa Malaysia instead of Bahasa Melayu. The most recent announcement by the Cabinet was reported in today's Star.

Back in the day when I co-wrote a column with the NST (called 'Chisel and Stone') with my former boss, Steven Wong, now with ISIS, I wrote about the merits of calling BM Bahasa Malaysia instead of Bahasa Melayu since this would give the connotation that the language belongs to all Malaysians.

I think that one can make a rational argument that BM should still be called Bahasa Melayu. After all, it is the 'mother tongue' of most, if not all, Malays. There are few Chinese or Indian households which speak Malay exclusively although there are certainly many non-Malay Bumiputera households in Sarawak and Sabah which do speak Malay exclusively or at least substantially. It is only natural that Malays would consider BM as 'their' language given the history and use of the language.

However, I think the move by the cabinet to make this change is a progressive one for the following reasons:

1) Given that BM is our national language and that all of us, regardless of race, learns BM in school
2) That it would encourage a gradual change in mindset that BM only belongs to Malays to one that BM i.e. Bahasa Malaysia belongs to and should be spoken widely by ALL Malaysians
3) That it shows a more magnanimous spirit on the part of the government to perhaps have a more open and liberal attitude towards issues of national identity (okay, this is perhaps a more optimistic reading)

On the part of the non-Malays (myself included), we should also reciprocate by demonstrating a greater willingness to speak, embrace and use our national language.

(An aside: Wasn't it Anwar Ibrahim who changed Bahasa Malaysia to Bahasa Melayu in the early 1990s when he was the Education Minister?)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

50 Years, 50 Heroes: Young Malaysians You Need to Know

A quick note from Andrew Loh who's promoting the above competition ;)

theCICAK has launched its second annual writing competition with the theme 50 Years, 50 Heroes: Young Malaysians You Need to Know in conjunction with Malaysia's 50th Merdeka Day.

Prizes worth RM 1,000 are up for grabs and the top 50 stories will be published into a book!

All one has to do is write about an unsung Malaysian hero between 12 and 29 years of age who has persevered against the odds to succeed or helped his community in unique ways that has not been previously highlighted. The story should not be more than 1000 words in English or Malay, and must be accompanied with a photograph of the hero.

People can choose anyone at all to be their heroes. Just as long as they tell us why he or she is one. Tell us about something heroic that the hero has done and justify it: theCICAK welcomes liberal interpretations of heroism and looks forward to reading he public's take on this competition's theme.

Judges include Jeff Ooi and Marina Mahathir.The submissions deadline is July 15th.

Check out the competition website for more details. These are what the Star and Tinkosong has to say about it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Marginalising Vernacular Schools

As reported by Malaysiakini here, the Chinese education movement Dong Jiao Zong (DJZ) or United School Committees Association, produced a report "in response to a call for feedback on the blueprint by the education ministry early this year."

I'd like to state upfront that the following views are those of my own, and not necessarily that of the political party which I'm affiliated to. There are points raised in the report which I'm in full agreement with, while there are others, which I thought were unreasonable.

First, the points which I'm in general agreement with:

1. More funds for vernacular schools
DJZ president Yap Sin Tian said the blueprint “continues to ignore vernacular schools”

From 1970-2006, DJZ estimated that the country saw an increase of 2,900 national schools. A total of 193 vernacular schools - 58 Chinese schools and 134 Tamil - were closed for various reasons.

DJZ insisted that there is demand for 134 Chinese schools nationwide. Currently, there are 1,810 vernacular schools, 205 of which are run without government aid. DJZ alleged that the government has spent more money on national schools and has marginalised vernacular schools.
As expressed extensively in my artictle "National vs Vernacular Schools", the BN government has persisted in ignoring the needs of vernacular schools in the country.
...despite the consistent claim by the government that it will build more vernacular schools in accordance to the needs of the people, the number of Chinese primary schools have declined from 1,333 in 1957 to 1,288 today while enrolment has more than doubled from 310,000 to 636,000. At the same time, the number of Tamil primary schools has been reduced from 526 in 2001 to 523 in 2006 despite a 12.7% increase in enrolment from 88,810 in 2001 to 100,142 in 2006.
The perception of being marginalised cannot be help when The government's disbursement of RM1.4 million to 248 Chinese primary schools, or a meagre RM6,000 per school as hyped by Deputy Education Minister Datuk Hon Choon Kim in the vernacular press, pales in comparison to the RM709 million allocated to building 15 new Mara Junior Science Colleges (MRSMs), and more for upgrades and repairs of existing MRSMs.

2. Greater Transparency & Accountability
DJZ also wants greater transparency in the disbursement of funds... [including] listing subsidies for all schools.
By listing the relevant expenses and disbursements to all schools, both the interested parties as well as the rakyat can decide for themselves if the government has been equitable in their distribution.

3. A call for more dialogue with the Ministry of Education
...the United Chinese School Teachers Association (Jiao Zong) president Ong Chiew Chuen said that "the ministry should initiate open dialogues with associations."
It is actually quite unfortunate that the National Education Blueprint 2006-2010 launched by the Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, had not taken into account the views of the various communities and associations representing the education sector, which falls under the purview of the Ministry.

As the Minister himself represented earlier, he has admitted in an exclusive interview with Nanyang Siangpau that “people should not regard the various types of schools in the country as a hurdle to be cleared. After all, this is not a zero-sum game because multi-culturalism is an added advantage and a strength for the country.”

Hence, we hope that he makes good his promise to receive feedback in good faith from all channels, including those via blogs.

On the point of disagreement with DJZ report, I find that the DJZ President, Yap Sin Tian's concern over the fact that Chinese and Tamil languages have been added as subjects in Malay- medium schools.
“It’s as though there is a move by the government to prioritise Malay-medium schools and phase out vernacular schools,” he said.
Selecting a school for one's children is a matter of choice and certainly, "competition" in terms of offering options and improving the quality of education between different streams is a move which should be encouraged. I've written on my views which are supportive of offering mother tongue languages in national schools. Instead is the much delayed implementation of the programme, despite it being a key objective of the new Blueprint should be subject to criticism.

The availability of mother tongue education is only one of the factors affecting the parents decision to enrol students into national or vernacular schools. Two other overwhelming factors are the actual quality of education delivered as well as the perceived religiousification of the national schools.

If both streams of education seek to compete to provide better quality education in a 'secular' environment for non-Muslims, then the ultimate beneficiaries will be our future young Malaysians. Hence healthy competition should definitely not be obstructed. ;)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Unified Examination for Doctors?

Less than 2 weeks ago, our Minister of Health announced the proposal for a “unified examination” for medical degree graduates seeking entry into our healthcare system.

Medical graduates who studied overseas may have to sit for a unified medical examination and, whether their university is recognised or not, a pass in the examination would allow them to practise in Malaysia.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said this would ensure these graduates had the required standard and quality to practise medicine in the country.

This proposal culminates from the issue of inconsistency of the quality of recent graduates recruited both locally as well as those from foreign universities who has demonstrated substandard performance at our local hospitals.
“...we should not focus on quantity. The standard is more important,” he said, adding that there had lately been a drop in the quality of doctors.
This blog is written extensively with regards to this issue, particularly on the fact that Malaysia recognises medical degree programmes from many third world universities with arguably dubious standards and standing.

These universities include 6 from Burma, 6 from Bangladesh, 11 from Indonesia, 14 from Pakistan, 4 from Iraq and even 1 from Uganda.

The simple question then to ask, is, whether the proposal by Dr Chua Soi Lek makes practical sense for all its good intent, and whether, we are trying to find a solution without addressing the crux of the issue.

As questioned in a letter to the Star from Savariath Beeve Meeralebei of Taiping, Perak, “What is the point of unified exams?”

I find the statement by the Health Minister about the unified medical exams for all overseas medical students very perplexing. It is confusing why the ministry continues recognising medical degrees from the Czech Republic and Taiwan, while several medical degrees in Poland are currently pending approval.
And Savariath added a very relevant point, that is “the ministry should have known better than to use SPM as an entry requirement for first year of medicine in Egyptian universities.”
How will the introduction of this exam affect the fate of 490 SPM school-leavers currently pursuing medicine in Egypt? Another point to consider is will the Higher Education Ministry guideline for attaining the “No Objection Certificate” be a prerequisite for those leaving the country to be doctors?
Savariath's point is very simple. If we are concerned about the quality of particular university which we have pre-approved for our Malaysian students to pursue their studies in Medicine, why should they be subjected to further examinations and tests on the same subjects? What will these students do, should they “fail” the proposed “unified examinations”, after having spent between 5-6 years to acquire their degrees at a significant cost to their parents?

Other related posts include: