Ahad, 8 September 2013

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Spelling the blues over English ruling

Posted: 07 Sep 2013 04:53 PM PDT

If 100,000 students don't make the grade in SPM English three years from now, they will leave school without an SPM certificate.

Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is right when he says that his proposal to make SPM English compulsory has received much support from parents and the public. If it worked with BM in the 1970s to get everyone to take the language seriously, why shouldn't it work with English?

Leanne Goh, The Star

Our SPM students do best in Bahasa Malaysia and worst in English.

Going by last year's SPM results, 23% of the candidates failed English and this group risks completing 11 years of schooling without that final paper qualification come 2016 when a pass in the language is made compulsory.

They number more than 105,000 out of the 459,118 candidates who sat for the exam last year.

And to compound the problem, there will be another compulsory pass next year (besides BM) – History. This core subject saw the biggest decline in passes in last year's SPM – 19.7% failed compared to 16.7% the year before.

So, in the near future, low achieving students have to overcome three "hurdles" to obtain that SPM certificate or join the workforce without paper qualification. And we are talking about potentially a six-figure number.

This puts tremendous pressure on everyone. And no one knows it better that the Education Ministry as the mastermind of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 which was launched on Friday.

For decades, the decline in English proficiency has been of serious concern to all and one of the most vocalised problems in the media.

The blueprint is set to address this issue, among many others. Generally seen as a no-holds barred master plan where, for the first time, the warts and all of our education system are revealed, it charts our path towards world class education.

It acknowledges, for example, that since 2006, poor English proficiency among fresh graduates has consistently ranked as one of the top five issues facing Malaysian employers.

We are also in the bottom third among 74 countries against international benchmarking. A comparison of scores shockingly reveals that 15-year-olds in Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Shanghai are performing as though they have had three or more years of schooling than their Malaysian counterparts.

The blueprint also highlights that only about a quarter of our SPM students achieved a minimum credit against Cambridge 1119 standards.

Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is right when he says that his proposal to make SPM English compulsory has received much support from parents and the public. If it worked with BM in the 1970s to get everyone to take the language seriously, why shouldn't it work with English?

But there will be much pain before any gain, as circumstances have changed.

At the students' level, how do we persuade them to see the relevance of English proficiency in their lives, especially among rural children? No one wants to learn something they don't need, says an educator. Hence, the need to create that relevance.

Bumiputra students, according to statistics, perform the worst compared to the Chinese and Indians when it comes to English.

The ministry realises that the failure rate is high in certain states like Sabah, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu – more than 40%.

It has also identified more than 1,000 schools as hot spots, mainly in the rural areas, and prioritising them for action.

Is increasing the teaching or contact hours the solution? The blueprint says the time is insufficient and the ministry is looking at extra contact hours after school.

But an education consultant shares that based on existing contact hours – 300 minutes in primary and 200 in secondary schools – students should have achieved the "independent user" band of B1/B2 (able to effectively express views and hold one's own in social discourse) of an international benchmark.

"It's not about the contact hours but the teaching and learning process," she says.

One problem is that English is taught as a single subject with total disconnect with other subjects, thus limiting students' perception of its relevance and their vocabulary.

Over the past week, there have been intense "labs" working on how to bring about the culture of wanting "an English experience".

"We've been tasked with thinking of ways to help students soak the culture of English and to enjoy it as an experience. Unfortunately, the objective of getting an A often takes the fun out of learning," shares an educationist.

With so many organisations involved in teacher training and curriculum development, the observation of a few who have been involved in the labs is that not everyone is on the same page.

Many are working in silos and not talking to each other.

"There is no clear direction and we're not achieving the objectives. We have the corporate suits who are not educators dishing out management jargon like 3-feet plan, backfill, granular and syndication. And they have no clue about what really happens in schools," he adds.

One heartening note from the blueprint is the Government's plan to increase the number of Trust Schools to 500 by 2025. Trust schools are selected public schools that undergo "transformation" with private sector input.

The first batch of 10 schools in Johor and Sarawak, launched in December 2010, have seen tremendous positive changes at student and teacher levels and the school culture as a whole.

This is in large part due to the autonomy granted to the school to do as it sees fit with help from full-time education advisers with international experience. The aim is to raise the quality of the school's education to global standards.

Those who have been to visit have come away gobsmacked by the transformation they see. Teachers put in longer hours but are happier and the kids are bursting with questions and confidence.

As one teacher puts it, Trust Schools are "sheltered from all the madness" that many public schools are subjected to, especially poor leadership and paperwork. In most schools, more effort and time are spent doing work outside the classroom than in.

The powers that be should seriously take note of the research findings in the blueprint that: only 50% of lessons are effectively delivered and high performing teachers can improve student outcomes by up to 50% over three years versus low performing peers.

Countries like Singapore and South Korea choose quality over quantity and willingly pay more for quality teachers.

We had a successful stint of producing more than 1,000 "standout" English teachers about 10 years ago under the "overseas linking programme" for Bachelor of Education in TESL (Teaching of English as a Second Language).

This five-year post-SPM programme that offered a two-year study at British universities managed to attract top scorers who would otherwise have not had the opportunity for a foreign education.

A lecturer involved in this programme shares that it has successfully put in schools teachers who make a difference. Unfortunately, the scheme came to an end when funds dried up in an economic downturn a few years later.

A civil servant friend with two bright daughters who graduated from this programme says there must be greater incentive to get the best brains into the teaching service.

"Getting the right person will solve many of the problems. She will want to motivate the kids, focus on the teaching and learning pro­cess, do her own research for best teaching practices, etc ..." says a teacher who is about to throw in the towel.

After more than 30 years of teaching, she wants to call it a day as she does less teaching but more paperwork each year.

"And I can't stand working under a pen­getua whose entire idea of education does not extend beyond the repainting of walls and retiling of floors, not to mention getting skirts for tables!"

And she will soon join the group of retirees that the ministry is trying – and failing – to rehire as they are among the last of the Mohicans with strong language skills.

Note: A frustrated teacher shares this with me: "Our schools are running on documentation. I can actually create a whole school on paper. I can give you attendance, records, photos, reports and even slip it by the authorities."

And she's not kidding!


PAS must focus on substance

Posted: 07 Sep 2013 04:37 PM PDT

PAS must also realise that it is heading towards tumultuous years ahead, carrying bruises of perceived underperformance in the 13th General Election, most evidently by its loss of the state of Kedah.

Radziq Jalaludin, TMI

The ulama-professional dichotomy in PAS has been the subject of interest and intense debate within the party in the last few years. This debate has once again manifested in the wake of the upcoming muktamar (or general assembly).

To some, this debate is unwanted and unproductive, but to others this is indeed a crucial discourse that will shape the future of PAS. The result of this discourse will affect the way delegates at the muktamar are likely to vote.

I do not wish to enter the fray by taking sides because I believe that the more pertinent issue is the need to reconstruct the terms of this debate. PAS members should not make their choice simply based on whether the ulama or professionals are more competent to helm the party.

Rather, the debate should be reframed and should be about ascertaining the leadership qualities of a leader and not his appearance or ideological position alone. I also believe that it is imperative that PAS focus its attention on strengthening its capabilities to govern.

To start with, who is an "ulama" and who is a "professional"? Evidently there is no clear answer. However, there is an informal segmentation of the people (read: potential candidate for party leaders) within the party.

This segmentation is rather arbitrary and judgmental. At the discretion of those preaching the idea of the importance to make a stance on the debate, is the pitiful end in mere labelling of the "other side". This suggests that the very notion of the debate lacks a solid foundation to even merit a useful discourse.

As such, PAS delegates should not be drawn into this debate. Instead, they must exercise caution in ensuring that they do not just view potential office holders from the prism of this divide.

Additionally, PAS members should now start to objectively evaluate the qualities needed for one to be an effective leader. In doing so, PAS members must turn a blind eye towards the "labels" attached to candidates.

PAS members should up the ante by voting in leaders who not only qualify to lead the party but, more importantly, leaders who could lead the nation as a whole.

This would also inevitably lead to another polemic of giving the right meaning to "quality". We can expect many views coming from many vantage points, asserting their own meaning to the word "quality". This could create an intense debate in the party, but this debate is not only important but necessary. Members will postulate their views so that others could try to understand or at least to agree to disagree, subject to the party being matured enough to allow discussion to flow without any quarters trying to suppress it by resorting to calling it un-Islamic.



The same poop in different packaging?

Posted: 07 Sep 2013 04:26 PM PDT

It really does not require a genius to arrive at the conclusion that government spending is the biggest attribute in the worsening of the country's debts.

Vidal Yudin Weil, FMT

More than 100 days have elapsed since the passing of the general election and what has Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak done, let alone achieve, for the people – NOTHING…!

Despite all the colourful and feel-good press statements released in the mainstream media, including state and crony-owned television and radio stations, about how well the economy is doing, the dark shadow of recession is looming over the whole federation.

The entire scenario will spell out in no uncertain vocabulary the naked fact that incompetent management of taxpayers' money and institutionalised corruption will in the end bankrupt this country.

Every day we hear Najib and his ministers dishing out lame excuses to confuse the citizenry; it is a clear indication that for the remainder of his term nothing will come out productive and beneficial to the people anytime soon because even in doing the wrong things lies the fat mark of sloth and stupidity.

Like any other thing that went wrong, the shrinking economy and escalating cost of living is proving to be too complicated and convoluted for Najib's government to understand; it really does not require a genius to arrive at the conclusion that government spending is the biggest attribute in the worsening of the country's debts!

Because it is actually very straightforward, Najib should pursue a policy of trimming down his pot-belly administration where everyone in it is a factor as a transparent sign of substance instead of the present rhetorical distraction to cover up for his ineptness!

Even when he has no idea how to find alternative sources of funding, instead of raising the prices of fuel which will inadvertently cause the hike of everything else and burden the people, Najib should have immediately conceive reducing the size of his government as a more tactical and effective approach followed by selling all the government-linked corporations.



Pak Samad isn’t the problem here

Posted: 07 Sep 2013 12:17 PM PDT


How will putting a poet behind bars make a difference to the BN government?

Jeswan Kaur, FMT 

Outsiders get murdered in Malaysia and the murderers are never convicted. The country's Islamic Development Department (Jakim) blatantly misuses the Friday sermons to incite the Muslims against the non-Malays but that too is alright with the federal government.

What however Putrajaya under the Barisan Nasional government cannot digest is the fact that there are Malaysians who are willing to forsake glory to uphold their belief in the truth.

Be it then the Bersih chairperson S Ambiga or its co-chairperson A Samad Said, the national laureate-cum-activist, both have experienced the wrath of the BN government for standing up against injustices and wrongdoings.

Just for being honest and dedicated to a cause, both Ambiga and Samad were censured and calls made for their citizenships and honorific titles to be revoked.

Ambiga who was the force behind the Bersih rallies that demanded a clean-up to the electoral system, remains true to her cause, the 'obstacles' coming her way in spite.

Now, it is the 78-year-old poet and novelist Samad who is going through the same motion – the disrespect and uncouth treatment meted out by the authorities to him speaks volumes of their desperation in appeasing the 'powers that be'.

Samad, the 1979 recipient of the Southeast Asia Write Award, found himself in trouble when he was arrested for allegedly flying the Sang Saka Malaya flag on the eve of Merdeka celebrations at Dataran Merdeka.

The country's Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, notorious for his racist sentiments, has described the laureate's actions as indecent and shameful.

The Sang Saka Malaya is a red-and-white flag with 12 yellow stars set in four columns and was reportedly proposed as Malaya's national flag in the 1940s.

The flag was used by the first Malay party, Kesatuan Melayu Malaya (KMM) formed in 1938, that had fought against the colonial British for the country's independence.

This is the second time in two years where authorities have taken action under the Sedition Act 1948, on those caught holding up the Sang Saka Malaya flag.

Muhyiddin said the display of the Sang Saka Malaya was politically-motivated.

"Samad's involvement is incredibly embarrassing and it's improper since he carries the title of a laureate," Muhyiddin had said in his speech at Universiti Malaya on Friday.

The DPM who is also the Eduaction Minister added: "I don't know what intention he has in flying the Sang Saka Malaya. It can't be that someone who is so respected and who has produced many major works of literature would do something so shameful.

"It is not that he is uneducated. He is, and better than us," the DPM had said.

Bingo! Muhyiddin got it right that Samad is far better enlightened that him and everyone else occupying the comfortable offices of Putrajaya.

It is precisely because he is far more 'educated' than prime minister Najib Tun Razak or Muhyiddin that Samad has no remorse over his actions.

As far as this reticent poet is concerned, the authorities can do whatever they please to 'make their point' and calls by Communications and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek for Samad be stripped of his 1985 national laureate title following this incident far from bother him.

BN's fear of truth-seekers

The DPM said the display of the Sang Saka Malays was politically motivated. Even if it was, what was so wrong in that? What was it about the Sang Saka Malaya that left BN insecure to the point that it had scramble to its feet to find scapegoats for reasons best known to it?

How will putting a poet behind bars make a difference to the BN government? To abuse the Sedition Act and punish Malaysians for having the courage to fight against injustices is fast becoming the hallmark of BN.

Is the BN government so unsure of its standing in the eyes of the rakyat that it had to despatch the police at midnight to nab Samad?

How has Muyhiddin arrived at the conclusion that flying the Sang Saka Malaya flag was politically propelling?

What about the murder of Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu? Was her death by C4 explosives not politically connected?

What about the fact that despite having been rejected by the rakyat, former Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Jalil has been appointed as special adviser on women affairs to Najib? Is this not an obvious case of political agenda at work?

The flimsy tale cooked up by the Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar that Samad had gone into hiding when the police went to his house to arrest him past midnight has further damaged the battered image of the police force.

Khalid claimed the arrest was made according to procedures and that the police went to Samad's house on Tuesday afternoon but the national laureate was not at home.

"Samad returned home at midnight and tried to sneak but we caught him. Why blame the police for arresting someone who shamelessly desecrated the flag of our beloved country?," was Khalid's outburst.

The IGP claimed that the police had urged Samad to surrender himself but he failed to do so.

The truth as Samad has pointed out is something else.

"I was at home. I was not in hiding. I was at home all the time, though I did go for a walk at Bangsar and had tea at a mamak shop near my house," he was reported as saying.

The tables have now turned with Samad, more popularly known as Pak Samad, accusing Khalid of fabricating a story to justify the 12.40am Sept 4 arrest at his home in Bangsar.



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