Saturday, March 28, 2009

Allocation of JPA scholarships

Read this Bernama piece in the Star today about 20% of PSD scholarships being set aside for bumiputra students in Sabah and Sarawak. The Minster in question, Bernard Dompok, Minister in the PM's office said that "under the new PSD scholarship scheme, 20 percent or 400 of the 2,000 scholarships offered this year were for excellent students and 60 per cent or 1,200 scholarships were for bumiputra and non-bumiputra SPM leavers nationwide. He said the remaining 10 percent were for disabled students who excelled in their studies." Not really sure how the 20% of 'excellent' students are different from the other SPM students elsewhere except perhaps to say that these 'excellent' students may have better extra curricular records and activities than those who scored better academically. Let me dig up more information on the changes in the JPA scholarships policy and write another lengthier post later.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tok Pa for Minister for Higher Education

OK, one final note from the UMNO GA and we can move on. Since Khaled Nordin, the current Minister for Higher Education, failed to win one of the 3 VP positions and since there will be a cabinet reshuffle coming up soon, I'm going to publicly state my support for Tok Pa or Mustapha Mohamed, to be given back the cabinet position of Minister for Higher Education. I've always had more praise than criticism for Tok Pa during his time as Minister for Higher Education and I hope that his skills and intellect will once again be used to improve the state of our public and private universities and colleges in Malaysia.

Appoint UMNO loyalists

I knew that it was going to be a challenge to keep the UMNO elections out of this blog. Check out this quote from an UMNO delegate:

Musa’s call was also echoed by a Malacca delegate, Datuk Hasnoor Husin, who also urged the government to ensure that only Umno loyalists be appointed to senior positions in public universities. “Please make sure the faculty members are all Umno men, and the same goes for other civil servants,” said Hasnoor. He cited the example of UiTM vice chancellor Datuk Seri Ibrahim Abu Shah who was a party loyalist.

I leave you guys to comment.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Not Enough PhD Applicants

A couple of weeks back, I blogged about how the mini-budget / stimulus package provides for an additional 10,000 places for Masters level courses and 500 places for aspiring PhD candidates in public universities as well as at Uniten, Multimedia University and UTP.

A week after this announcement, on March 17th, Bernama reported that only 16 people had applied for places in the PhD programs. On March 22nd, the Deputy Minister for Higher Education announced that less than 100 applications had been received.

In a typical university in the US, the ratio of applications to places is about 30 to 1 for most programs. This means that if there are 10 spots open, there should be 300 applications for this program. Some PhD programs like Economics will have more. Some, like Romance Studies, will have fewer.

With so few applicants, our public universities should be worried if they can actually find good enough candidates to fill these places. If they can't, typically what will happen is that these spots will go to overseas candidates. This is not necessarily a bad thing but one needs to find out and understand why there are so few local candidates in the first place. Especially since the number of people who want to do PhDs in a developing country like Malaysia should be increasing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Politicising Education

No, this isn't about the issue of teaching science and maths in English — an issue where I slightly disagree with Kian Ming's take, by the way — but more on that later. This is about the authorities cracking down on opposition politicians who participate in events organised by students in their schools, colleges and universities. The government claims to recognise that to nurture the freedom of thought and inquiry necessary for a good education, academics and students need the freedom to explore a variety of different viewpoints, but then why does it persist in throwing up all kinds of obstacles when students invite opposition politicians attend their events?

A couple of days ago, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad — a PKR state assemblyman in Selangor who, for the sake of full disclosure, is a friend of mine — was invited by the Persatuan Mahasiswa Islam Universiti Malaya (Muslim Students Association of the University of Malaya) to officiate at an event they sponsored. Of course, Nik Nazmi ran into all sorts of difficulties when he tried to attend, and eventually had to be smuggled into the campus riding on a student's motorcycle. You can get the full story from Nik's blog and Malaysiakini (Malay).

This is of course not anything new. Not too long ago, it was DAP state assemblywoman Hannah Yeoh who complained she couldn't even attend an event held by her old secondary school's Prefects Association — when she herself had been head prefect once.

The government often claims it just does not want education to be politicised, but the way this implicit policy is enforced, it often seems that the government really wants education politicised in its favour. When I was in school, the administrators never shrank from inviting local politicians — always Barisan Nasional politicians — to attend and officiate at school events.

What's obvious is that when you give people in power the authority to ban people from campuses because they are political, you basically give them the power to ban almost anyone they like. Unless you have perfectly unbiased human beings in power — people who actually honestly want to keep education depoliticised and are completely just about doing it — bad things will happen.

And what's often overlooked is that education is itself political; there's no running away from this. We as a society collectively have a stake in how we bring up our children and what kind of citizens our schools create. And you don't need a political scientist to tell you that when society has a collective stake in something, you need some sort of political system to work things out.

So I think exposing students to politics is actually a fantastic thing; what's important is that they get the full picture, and not just the picture which one interest group wants them to see. Schools and student societies should be free to invite just about anyone to their events. The important thing is to promote a culture of questioning and critical discussion; students shouldn't blindly accept whatever any politician tells them. I would hope that at the event he attended, Nik Nazmi got peppered with questions from students about why he believes what he does. That should be the whole point of organising events with politicians.

There is no reason to arbitrarily depoliticise education, when education is supposed to make you a good citizen, which requires you to know something about politics. If you're worrying that your students will be misled by politicians because they blindly accept anything they hear, then your real problem is that you haven't nurtured the right values in them. That's what we should be trying to fix, instead of worrying about politicians speaking to the students who will one day themselves be voters, if not politicians.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Benefits of Education Fairs

I've always liked the idea of education fairs even though I've not had the opportunity to attend one in the recent past. Since someone asked me to plug an upcoming education fair for postgrads (more on this later), I thought that I'd sit down and write a few words on why I think education fairs are a good thing, on the whole.

1) Education fairs are "free", at least for the attendees who are looking to find out more about the schools and programs which they are interested in. The people who foot the bill are the organizers of these fairs and the exhibitors who participate in them. This is only fair since the organizers profit from putting these fairs together and the exhibitors profit for marketing their courses to their potential 'clients' i.e. the students and parents who make up most of the attendees.

2) Education fairs are a one stop shop to gather the necessary information on the courses and schools which one is interested in. Of course, a lot of this information should be available on line but there's nothing like the process of being able to compared the different course offerings between the different schools in an education fair. Furthermore, students who have questions about specific details which are not available online can use this opportunity to ask the marketing reps from each school. If the marketing reps cannot answer these questions, they should be able to point the student to someone within that organization who CAN answer those questions.

One also needs to remember that not all kids have internet access at home or in schools and hence the ability to do the necessary online research to find out more about these course, especially kids from rural areas and from less fortunate backgrounds. These education fairs are a great opportunity for them to find out more about different schools and programs.

3) Education fairs are not only useful for potential students but also for the parents of these students. I know that sometimes parents can be overbearing and some even try to dictate the course which their kid or kids should take. Nonetheless, if parents and their kids have a good understanding in terms of expectations on both sides, education fairs can be very helpful venues where parents as well as their children find out more about the courses of interest.

4) Education fairs are also a good venue for students and parents to find out more about schools and colleges which they would otherwise not know about. Most students and parents are aware of the 'big names' like Sunway and HELP and INTI and so on but there may be smaller schools which offer programs that are more suitable for certain students or be more affordable to some students. Of course, one needs to do the proper due diligence when looking at some of the smaller schools but I won't prejudge small and not so well known schools because some of them may actually have very dedicated lecturers in certain niche fields.

5) Education fairs should also be a place where students get to interact with former alumni and current students of some of these schools. Ideally, the exhibitors should not only send out marketing people to 'man' their booths but also include former and current students in their marketing strategy. After all, who better to give first hand information to potential students than former and current students? I particularly like what Chen Chow and his team have done in the past to promote US universities by encouraging former and current students to 'man' the exhibition booths representing their respective universities.

In light of these benefits of education fairs, I'd like to draw attention to an upcoming post-grad education fair that I was asked to plug. Most of us are aware of undergraduate fairs but fewer of us are aware of postgraduate or graduate education fairs. I was made aware that there was such a fair that took place in January of this year at the Mid Valley Exhibition Center and that there will be such a fair taking place again in September 2009. This event is organized by AIC, an exhibition and events organizer in Malaysia and for the January event, it was co-located with, one of the leading job search sites in South East Asia.

I think this is a good time for potential students to think about postgraduate / graduate education in Malaysia as well as overseas. Some people may want to take a break from work, some people may want to take advantage of the fact that the economy is slowing to do a postgrad / grad degree, some people may want to increase their expertise in certain fields of study etc...

It's probably a good time for universities, both local and overseas, to recruit potential students as well given the current economic conditions as well as some of the recent financial incentives for students to further their education in a local public institution.

Of course, students and parents should attend these fairs with their eyes wide open and do as much background research as possible before attending these fairs. It will make the experience a much more beneficial one.

P.S. Just to reiterate again, none of us (Tony, John or myself) receive any 'benefits' in return for promoting these education fairs.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Science and Math in English - Writing on the Wall

I wrote this in December of last year - "I suspect that a compromise decision may be made. Either continue teaching S&M in English at the secondary school level or start after Primary 3."

A recent piece by the Malaysian Insider - written by Leslie Lau, who has strong links to BN leaders, had this to say - The government is likely to scrap the policy of using English to teach science and mathematics in primary schools while maintaining it for secondary schools. Education Ministry sources told The Malaysian Insider today that the compromise in policy will be recommended to the Cabinet for a final decision soon in an effort to resolve a controversy which has been brewing for months.

Frankly, I would have liked the policy to continue and improve on its implementation. Now we are in a half way house where neither side is really happy and students and teachers continue to be confused. No one wins.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stimulus package for postgrad students

One area affected by the mini-budget or stimulus package that was announced yesterday is postgraduate education in Malaysia. All the details are not out yet but here are some of my preliminary thoughts based on the following Star report.

This is what the DPM who is also the Finance Minister and will soon by our PM said:

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said it would finance tuition fees and research grants up to RM20,000 for every student pursuing a PhD locally and RM10,000 for students pursuing a Master’s programme.

“A total of 500 places at PhD level and 10,000 at Masters level in public universities as well as at Universiti Tenaga Nasional, Multimedia University and Universiti Teknologi Petronas will be offered,” he said.

The Higher Education Minister had this to add:

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin was happy that the stimulus package took into the consideration the needs and problems faced by fresh graduates during the current economic slowdown.

“Not only are there several schemes for unemployed graduates, the Government is also helping them further their studies by providing financial aid,” he said at the Parliament lobby.

Right off the bat, I want to state that I am not against increasing the number of postgraduate students in Malaysia. In fact, this is probably a necessary step if we want to increase the R&D capacity in our country. But there are a few caveats here, caveats which I have discussed before in previous posts. These include - having a sufficient number of professors who can teach and guide these postgrad students and having a selection process that is rigorous enough such that only well-qualified students are admitted into these postgrad programs.

The remarks of the Higher Education minister do not inspire confidence in me. It seems to me that he sees the increase in the number of postgrad places in our public universities as a way to decrease graduate unemployment. In fact, his remarks seem to imply that these scholarships should be given to unemployed graduates!

In any economic downturn, especially in the US context, a larger number fresh graduates will opt to go to graduate school because the opportunity costs associated with grad school is lower - fewer high paying jobs under current market conditions and so on. But many of these students, especially those who can get into the top graduate programs, would have found a job if they didn't choose to go to grad school albeit one which may not meet their high expectations. These are not students who go to grad school because the alternative would be unemployment.

Perhaps the Higher Education Minister was quoted out of context but it really does seem to me that he doesn't 'get' postgrad degrees. He may really think that it's a good solution to solve unemployment in the country. If these students cannot get a job in the private sector or in government, why not ship them off to do postgrad degrees which we i.e. the taxpayer will foot the bill for?

At least the Education Minister seems to 'get' the picture a little bit better:

Meanwhile, Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said the 1,000 additional posts for graduate teachers, who would be hired on contract, would enable the ministry to address the shortage of teachers in certain sectors.

These teachers will be put to productive use, hopefully, in areas where there are teacher shortages, both geographically as well as by subject. The academic 'bar', so to speak, may not be as high as that needed for a PhD student.

The costs associated with selecting a large group of students who are unsuitable for PhD programs are far greater to the taxpayer as well as in terms of human resource management. There may be high drop out rates, dropping of standards to allow sub-par students to obtain their PhDs, frustrated PhD students who are not well guided by their professors, etc...

Monday, March 09, 2009

Thoughts of Wisdom from Fikri

I first 'met' Fikri though the education blog. I found that he left pretty interesting comments and emailed him because of this. I found out that he's doing his Masters degree in film studies in Korea under a Korean government / university scholarship. Fikri tells me that there are approximately 300 JPA students studying engineering in Korea, He has a couple of colleagues who are doing their Bachelor's in Directing and Cinematography respectively and he tells me that a number of other Malaysians got the same scholarship to study Dance, Fine Arts, Graphic Design and Multimedia in Korea. Fikri also spent some time during his high school days in the UK while his parents were living / studying there. Below are some of his thoughts on the education system in Malaysia which reflects his experience growing up. I think they warrant some discussion.

Fly To The Sky

I believe that the quality of one's education is the key factor in one's ability to reach for the sky. That seems obvious enough, once written down on paper. Of course, other factors come into play as well, but it is the quality of the schooling we receive that determines, to a large extent, the kind of opportunities we receive later in life. Thus, in writing this, I should make it clear that while I have done a fair amount of research on the subject of education in Malaysia (through my own personal initiatives and when I was working a Malaysian education magazine), my experience with the local schools system is limited. Somehow, I ended up doing things in a very roundabout way, and the ideas I will postulate here is largely based on that experience. It is by no means perfect, merely a very personal opinion aimed to spark something more, and to somehow improve upon a very public issue.

Generally speaking, there's plenty that can be improved within the Malaysian primary and secondary education system. Within a single sentence, its objective is to produce people who are capable, well-rounded, multi-cultural, confident, and able to make a significant difference in Malaysia (and beyond). Someone who is, first and foremost, a Malaysian, rather than a Malay, Chinese, Indian or Other. Of course, these are still vague notions, to be honest (How capable? And in what way?). It does, however, provide something to aim for in this particular post.

Let's go one step further than that, though. Let's imagine for the moment that I am the Education Minister of Malaysia, and have the power to set the tone for the schools in Malaysia. What would I do? I aim to change a couple of things, and make sure that there's a little bit more room for people to negotiate with. To that end, there are two main things that I will do:

1. Integration

By this I mean have a single school system that does not demarcate our students and schools into different streams based on race and religion (the public/private debate will probably be left for another time). Let's face it, it's not exactly something that will win me plenty of brownie points. Mukhriz Mahathir didn't get much either, when he suggested a similar ideal at the tail end of last year.

It is a form of political suicide in Malaysia, but perhaps it is a necessary sacrifice, and a suicide worth taking, for it shouldn't really be a political issue. One one level, I'll stick my head on the line and say that it is not a bad idea. I do not believe for a moment that all the national schools are in an absolutely terrible shape; some schools are good, others not so. Some succeed due to good implementation of good ideas and effective teaching, others fall by the wayside due to things like politics and money. History have shown in other countries that it can be done properly; France jumps to mind in this case.

Then again, France didn't quite have the same history as we do. It is history and politics that plays a big role here, and I do not believe for a second that schools should be swayed by political intent. For example, some schools do not receive the same sort of allocation According to my sisters, who attended Convent Bukit Nenas (both primary and secondary), the school did not receive enough financial support from the government for many years due to its Christian origins. “But it's a sekolah kebangsaan, no?” I asked, somewhat naively at the time. I am not entirely sure whether this is the official policy, but nevertheless, under one single system, it would be easier to remove one layer of excuse from the cake. I believe that every school deserves a fair bite at the cake, Every single one of them deserve to get money, whether it is to bring on board new teachers or even for something as simple as ensuring that there are enough tables in classes. It won't cut out the dross away completelyl there will be schools who get more money compared to others, but at the very least, I believe that a single school system will be a step forward in this regard. How big a step is another question.

It is not just politics and money that interests me when it comes to this, it is also politics and race. Some say that in Malaysia, the two are forever locked in an intertwined marriage. In this case, the existence of vernacular schools are, in part, a move to appease the minorities in Malaysia that their rights, culture, and history will be preserved. Such a move to integrate schools into a single system, then, will not be accepted lightly, if at all. The main issue that will rankle with people is the perception that such a move will spell the death for their own race and culture within the Malaysian hegemony. While this may be not be unfounded, I believe that each of the respective cultures are strong enough to not roll over and die just because we have a single school system. There are plenty of other factors involved in that potent mix, and people still work hard to ensure that their race and religion is kept alive even outside of the schools. The family and society plays a very powerful role in ensuring that this doesn't happen. While I have my own critiques of the family institute (which I will explore further before the end of this post), I applaud those who do make efforts to keep this alive.

Furthermore, all is not lost, because I am actually not suggesting that we integrate into the current national system...

2. Revolutionise

...I am suggesting that we modify the current national curriculum. Not every school should blindly ape the national agenda, though. Each should still be given some space in order for it to shape its curriculum depending on various circumstances. Nevertheless, I would like to see a bigger variety of subjects and/or themes being touched upon by the curriculum. Mohd Prasad Hanif, a member of the PAS party, wrote about this previously here, and it is an extensive article worth reading.

I would personal place bigger emphasis on humanities subjects like languages, international studies or even cultural studies. In addition to giving our children an extra string to the bow, it's also likely that these subjects can be fun. No, not French or German, but more of, say, Mandarin and Tamil. Perhaps what can be included is a compulsory Modern Languages subject. People bang on about having to speak English well in order to survive in the 21st century. I'd say that being able to speak Hindi or various Chinese dialects just as well would also open up plenty of opportunities for people to work in other Asian countries. Let's face it: knowing more than just two languages (English and Malay), which is what most Malay students are fluent in, is an advantage, and I think it is an advantage that more should be given the chance of obtaining. From a political point of view, although it is not my priority, it would go some way towards convincing people that I'm not trying to stamp out their culture

I would also introduce Drama as a subject. I previously did this in secondary school for three years, and did not drop it lightly when I had to choose the two electives for my final exams (I eventually plumped for Media Studies and Information Technology, but continued taking drama lessons outside of school). What was done in the class was plenty of the things that would jump up off the top of your head. A fair amount of acting, a fair amount of script reading, a fair amount of improvisation. There's also the element of teamwork, where you had to coordinate with other people what to do (there's only so much space in the limelight, after all). Far more importantly, what all this amounted to was a fair amount of actually doing things in front of people. Ever had that fear of standing up and speaking in front of people? It was absolutely terrifying to begin with, and of course, your classmates didn't really help with their constant sniggering as you're trying to remember the Shakespeare line you were given. Nevertheless, over time, I got used to it. You probably won't become actors, singers, or dancers, but that's not really the main point at this level. Let's put it this way: doing drama will improve how you deal with people. There's not point being a straight A student if the confidence to get your ideas across is lacking. It will improve your communication skills, and it will improve your confidence. Once again, conducted properly, it could also be fun, making for a nice break from other, more monotonous subjects.

Something that's probably a lot less fun for you to hear is also the most controversial of my ideas. I would call for the abolishment of Islamic Studies and Moral Education. Fear not, for in its place will be one single subject that does exactly what it says on the tin: Religious Education (RE). One incredibly big issue I have with religion and morals in Malaysia it is seemingly stuffed down my throat at almost every corner I turn. It was an experience I had back when I was in primary school, and truth be told, I absolutely hated it. Perhaps it was just the way my teacher taught it at the time. Nevertheless, I believe that morals and religious piety shouldn't be forced. This is an education that perhaps should take its cue more from the family rather than from the school. Through my own research, study, and experience of having religion forced upon me (of my own religion and of others; I count five occasions on which people have tried to convert me), I am even more convinced that a heavy handed approach like this will do more to turn people away from religion rather than towards it. This, of course, is largely dependent on how you teach the subjects, and there are other factors that come into play, but ultimately, I believe that such subjects should be integrated into the one, single RE subject.

Through this subject, we will hopefully have a better chance of learning about the relevant religions in Malaysia in a more theoretical way. The aim is not to convert, but to better understand the various religions, and also the various denominations within these religions. It strikes me as interesting that in a country where religion is such a big factor, and where there are so many religions around, there's still a lot of people who rarely venture beyond their own religious, racial and cultural borders. I am still surprised by the number of Malaysians who do not know the difference between me not being able to eat pork and not being able to eat non-halal food. “You can eat the chicken, got no pork wan,” said a friend who was trying to convince me to eat in a Chinese restaurant in Ipoh recently (a Malay guy seeking for halal non-mamak food in Ipoh town on early Saturday morning: I might as well have been looking for the Holy Grail). Neither do I subscribe to the notion that studying the Torah pushes you towards Judaism, reading Mere Christianity pulls you towards the church, or that learning a bit more about Lord Krishna makes you more of a Hindu. If anything, it provides a very good chance for people to come together and better understand each other. These classes should not aim to inspire piety, but knowledge. We could even have a system whereby we'll learn different religions, before specialising in a few for the SPMs. Hopefully in this way, we will suffer less from ignorance. Should parents still feel the need for the children to learn more about their own religion, then they should chip in and pull their weight as well, because...

3. Family

...despite all the harping on that many parties have done about the good, the bad, and the weird of our education system, I believe that the family plays a far more important role. Within the modern day, especially, with both parents holding down jobs, I am nevertheless surprised at the lack of supervision and guidance that a lot of children receive from their parents. They should take charge (as many are wont to do these days, to be fair) in ensuring that children gets more of what they (the family) wants. For example, my parents used to arrange for an ustaz come over to spend time with me and my siblings. He led us one by one in reading the Qur'an, before we'd have a more general discussion on related issues. This would usually be rounded up with all of us praying together, before he'd motor on to another house down the street to do the same. Going back even further, when I was around still in primary school, me and my friends going together to a nearby ustazah, who would teach us how to read the Qur'an. These sessions were actually far more enjoyable and informative than any of the ones I received in school, and it was during this period of time that I felt a lot closer to God. Funnily enough, taking the RE classes at school didn't do the same, which convinces me even more that desire for religion should be cultivated from within, rather than be totally forced. Even in these days, a lot of my Christian friends are constantly meeting up every week for regular discussions at Church. This can be prayer meetings, Bible studies, or even organising Christmas plays. I believe that this is the way to go if truly understanding religion is the aim. It might even be rather fun (there's that word again!). I do not really see as much of the same things happening with children from other religions. Then again, I suppose telling people that you're part of an Islamic 'cell' group is probably not the best of ideas either. The point I am trying to make here is not to marginalise religion in any way, only that it is probably best taught and explored outside of the school rather than within.

All these ideas put forth are not perfect, as I have mentioned before. To begin with, class timetables are already jam-packed with other subjects. In introducing new ones like religion education and drama, I am not in any way trying to suggest things like history or geography should be shafted off the table. There are also other ways to inspire the same benefits as well; introducing debating as a compulsory after school activity, or even classifying drama as an co-curricular activity (as some schools have done already done; my little sister's school, St George's, have already done this), could also be other ways to inspire the same sort of confidence I was talking about. We could also argue for the inclusion of other subjects, like cultural and international studies. I didn't mention it here, because it wasn't something I had done before at that level. And no matter how many RE classes one may take, it won't completely wipe out racial discrimination and polarisation; if someone really wants to call you “a f*ck*ng Paki”, then I suppose there's nothing to stop them from doing so. Furthermore, no matter how great the plan is, it won't do much good if the execution of the plan is bungled. That much is as obvious as the importance of other institutes like family and friends. After all, statistically speaking, kids spend more time at home than they do at school; despite all the hard work that me and ministry(!) would put in to change the system, the advantages would be wiped out if kids come home to an atmosphere of “Don't trust the Chinese so much,” “Jangan beli nasi lemak dari India tu!” or “Fikri, no matter must marry a Malay girl.” While the sentiments behind it may be sincere in people wanting to further protect their own 'turf', I don't think it really helps as much if increased tolerance and understanding of others is what we're aiming for.

Malaysian education being the complex animal that it is (I haven't even touched on teaching Science and Maths in English yet), this post will not really move us forward that much unless they're actually implemented. And they won't. You and I know that unless there are absolutely drastic changes not only to the education system, but also to Malaysia itself, I don't think most of the ideas I've put forth here would even be seriously considered by those in charge in a million years. Perhaps some will scoff, others will huff and puff their chests out, wield their keris and promises to fight for their race till their last drop of blood. Maybe some of you might nod along quietly to some of the ideas I've put forth here.

Nevertheless, I dare to dream of a day when people will truly be Malaysians first and foremost, when race and religion will truly fade away into the background. I dare to dream of a day when our future generations will no longer be the political toys that I sometimes feel it is.

I dare to dream of the day when we can all reach out for and actually touch that sky.

The politics of language

As we all probably know, the problem of language has flared up again and the police have had to restrain protesters campaigning for a repeal of the English policy in our school system. While I, and I think Kian Ming and Tony as well are sympathetic to the use of English in our school system, the case for teaching in pupils' mother tongues is a strong one. I have argued for a more balanced compromise in the past. But today I would like to draw our readers' attention to this fantastic piece by Jeremy Mahadevan about the national language.

The most salient point I think he makes is that Malay is really in a state of limbo right now. The government tells us we must use Malay, but it prevents the non-Malays from ever truly feeling like the language is our own. Our own cultural and historical revisionism even makes us forget the roots of our own language, and how it reflects the very plural nature of our country. Even more so than English, Malay borrows words and ideas from all sorts of languages. There is no reason that all of us should not be adopting Malay as our own language, except for the government's own intolerant policy of using it to force Malay culture upon non-Malays.

Speaking for myself, I really do feel like Malay is a language that is inexorably bound up with my own identity. This has especially come through to me abroad — when with other Malaysians, nothing truly makes us feel as satisfied and happy as speaking in Bahasa Malaysia and bahasa rojak with one another. Just as Malaysia is our country, Bahasa Malaysia is our language, and no government can take that away from us. What do you think?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

What After SPM?

A plug for what I think is a really really great project spearheaded by a few young Malaysians - Chong Yong Wei Gabrielle, Goh Jing Pei, Kimberley Mei Kay, Tara Thean, Charis Loke - and project advisor Chen Chow (sorry Chen Chow, can't really call you young anymore). The aim of this project is to collect stories of 'young Malaysians who have pursued different pathways after SPM'. You can find out more details about the project here. I especially like this paragraph from the link above:

It does not matter whether you are a scholar with stellar results and a 3-inch thick resume, a typical student who went to a local university after finishing Form 6, or a youth who has to work in the pasar malam at night to foot your technical college fees in the day. It does not matter whether you have chosen the oft-beaten path or the road less travelled. We believe that there every education background offers its own boons and banes. And we believe that there are merits in telling any story.