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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

HARESH SAYS: Restore dignity in our education system

As published in Malay Mail today


HARESH SAYS
By Haresh Deol

CRIES of “Aunty!” echoed in the porch. There stood our neighbour’s son with a dumbfounded look on his face.
 
Lee junior, who studies in a vernacular school, came armed with a workbook, pencil box and plenty of questions.
 
Right after he stepped into the house, the Year 4 pupil flipped open his book and zoomed in at a question — Danny bought a _______ for his father and a pair of _______ for her mother.
 
“So is Danny a boy or a girl, aunty?” Lee junior asked my mother. The other question is about the book The King of Kites.
 
“Who is the author?” the question read. As the young man pointed out, the book is written by Judith Heneghan and Laure Fournier. 
 
“Shouldn’t it be ‘Who are the authors?’” he asked.
 
“I is so confused leh,” the boy said jokingly, poking fun at the literals.
 
He highlighted another sentence in the book: “Anil’s mother is know as _______” when it should be “Anil’s mother is KNOWN as ______”.
 
Overhearing their conversation, I asked him why his teacher was using a workbook by an independent publisher instead of one endorsed by the Education Ministry. He shrugged his shoulders and said: “I don’t know”.
 
There were many other glaring mistakes best kept for another day. But this is not about pointing out errors in the particular workbook. It is surprising schools continue to promote the use of such workbooks that are not scrutinised by any regulatory body including the ministry. 
 
If there was indeed a body checking the standards of these books, more than half would not be sold in bookstores.
 
Calls to the publishers in the past to highlight such mistakes were often greeted with “Oh, really?” or “We will look into it”.
 
Teachers tend to shy away from textbooks provided by the ministry, a practice even during my days in school. My biology teacher merely read out paragraphs from a Sasbadi textbook. She confessed the contents of the ministry’s Form 4 and Form 5 textbooks were “insufficient” to prepare us for our SPM examinations.
 
Millions of ringgit (and paper) are used to produce school textbooks. It is a waste that they will, more often than not, remain untouched and shelved either at home or in schools. And why is information in our textbooks “insufficient” to prepare our students for examinations? If so, shouldn’t there be a revamp? 
 
Doesn’t the ministry engage with teachers about such matters?
 
Books by independent publishers often reproduce similar mistakes year in year out. How will our children learn?
 
But the problem does not just lie with our textbooks. The school system itself has many woes. 
Teachers whine they spend more time on paperwork than teaching. Students complain teachers are often fixated with everything else but teaching while some parents admit they have no faith in the teachers and the school system thus send their children to two, if not three, tuition centres.
 
Schools, especially in the rural areas, are in dire need of new infrastructure and facilities. 
 
Some students are still forced to use damaged furniture and makeshift sporting equipment. Mailsport last month highlighted hockey players from SMK St Columba in Miri who relied on modified polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes and sponge from old cushions as shin guards. They trained using wooden sticks.
 
Umno supreme council member and Special Affairs Department director-general Datuk Dr Puad Zarkashi, had last week, highlighted the woes in our schools on his Facebook page. 
 
He took issue with Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also Education Minister, and the deputy education ministers, saying they were “lazy” to check on the deplorable condition of some schools in the country. 
 
Harsh as it may sound, the former deputy education minister was merely revealing the realities of what some school children go through daily.
 
Puad has been accused of being “critical” after losing his ministerial post — a common trait of ousted politicians. Critics slammed him for taking issue with Muhyiddin, adding he was causing “trouble” within Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration.
 
Politics aside, Puad knows how some schools lack accessibility and basic necessities. In 2010, he walked for hours in the jungle as he made his way to SK Saliliran in Nabawan, Sabah.
 
He was quoted by Berita Harian on March 3, 2010, as saying: “This is the first time I am walking in the jungle in the wee hours of the morning. I am shocked to learn about the journey. I even lied down on the grass four times as I was tired (of walking).”
 
And we are supposed to achieve developed-nation status by 2020. 
 
Students, parents and teachers are tired of their arduous journey in pursuing a progressive education system. The powers that be can certainly make life better for everyone. 
 
Books on the shelves must be vetted. Schools must be provided proper furniture and teaching tools. 
 
Teachers must spend enough time to mould our young minds.
 
If only the decision-makers know how tiring it is to constantly stare at the same “mistakes” over and over again. 
 
Let’s tackle these woes collectively and restore faith and dignity in our education system.

HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at haresh@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @HareshDeol

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

BEING FRANK: Will we get the whole truth?

As published in Malay Mail today


Being Frank
By Frankie D'Cruz

THE discovery of mass graves and abandoned migrant ‘prison’ camps in Perlis is the most brutal chapter in the flight of the oppressed to Malaysia. 
No one knows how they died but it points to the barbarism of people smugglers and inaction by Asean nations to counter trafficking.
It pains our hearts that there were many horror jungle camps that held migrants who had fled persecution in Myanmar and Bangladesh. 
We will never know if those in the graves were victims of mass slaughter by traffickers, starvation or illness, but it certainly is man’s inhumanity to man. 
This is more proof that our region has plummeted to new depths of monstrosity.
How did we allow the mass killings to happen on our soil? It reeks of incompetence and Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia must get the answers. 
We are told the authorities were aware of smugglers’ camps five years ago, but how could it be that these were only discovered now? 
The revelation brings to focus Malaysia’s record in fighting a scourge that activists claim is run by criminal gangs, likely in cahoots with the authorities.
We know how easy it is to enter our country through the Malaysia-Thailand border. The red flag has been raised on corrupt officers but clearly intelligence on the existence of such detention camps has been sorely lacking.
No country has been able to convincingly demonstrate the scale of the problem, let alone come up with clear ways of how to address it.
Over the past year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) learnt from hundreds of Rohingya survivors about horrific abuse and deprivation by smugglers on boats in the Bay of Bengal and in camps along the Thailand-Malaysia border. 
Some said they saw people dying from beatings and lack of food. These findings had been shared with governments to push urgent action. Nothing happened.
Smuggling is a problem that requires coordinated efforts by countries in the region, including countries of origin, transit and destination.
Law enforcement measures must be accompanied by efforts to reduce the need for migrants and refugees to turn to smugglers in the first place, including by addressing the root causes driving people to undertake these dangerous journeys.
With Malaysia’s tiniest state Perlis becoming a mass grave, the migrant crisis has deepened and shaken politicians who are struggling to understand and respond collectively to the problem.
The catastrophe has emerged as both a failure of policy and of humanitarian values among Asean nations.
In many human trafficking cases there’s no resolution because there’s no cooperation, despite agreements being in place. 
It doesn’t look like action will come soon, but it looks like we will continue to deal with fleeing migrants.

FRANKIE is editor emeritus of  Malay Mail. He can be reached at frankie@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @dcruzfrankie

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

ARCHERY: Hitting the bulls-eye

As published in Mailsport today

By Wan Noriza Meor Idris

THE National Archery Association of Malaysia (NAAM) is determined to go for gold at next month’s Singapore SEA Games.

Its president, Mohamad Yazid Yahya, said he was optimistic the squad can shoot down three gold medals, as the women’s compound team had won its first ever gold medal at the Archery World Cup in Shanghai, China earlier this month.

“Their confidence is at its peak and we’re aiming for two (gold medals) in compound and one in recurve,” Yahya said, adding a fourth would be a bonus.

The compound team comprising Fatin Mat Salleh, Nor Rizah Ishak and Saritha Cham Nong emerged victorious after defeating world No. 1 USA on May 9. 

Their win came as a surprise as it was only their second appearance in the competition, their first being five years ago.

“We won silver in Laos (2009) and Jakarta (2011) so we’re hungry for our first SEA Games gold,” said Fatin.

“However, we don’t want to be overconfident and lose focus. We are working hard to be in the best possible condition when we leave for Singapore.”

National coach Lee Jae-hyung believes the recurve archers can also make an impact at the biennial Games and has challenged them to prove their capabilities by beating the region’s best archers.

The men’s recurve team performed dismally at the Shanghai World Cup, with individual archers seeing an early exit during the qualifying rounds while the recurve team was knocked out by the United States during the elimination round. 

The recurve athletes should improve their performance as they are experienced archers, said Lee, who sees Indonesia and Vietnam as serious contenders.

In the 2013 Myanmar SEA Games, the national archery team clinched two gold medals (recurve), three silver medals (recurve and compound) and two bronze medals (compound).

FAM: Explain yourselves, please

As published in Mailsport today

By Nicolas Anil 

PETALING JAYA — FA of Malaysia (FAM) secretary-general Datuk Hamidin Amin has promised to resolve the Terengganu fiasco as soon possible.

The Turtles could face disciplinary action after their fans clashed with police following referee Amirul Izwan Yaacob’s decision to disallow a last minute goal against LionsXII in the FA Cup semifinals on Saturday. 

Two Terengganu players were also sent off, which led to fans taking their frustrations out on the police. Four vehicles were destroyed — including an ambulance — which was torched.
“We received the match report from the general coordinator and the match officials on Monday.  Our legal department will send a letter to Terengganu FA (TFA) requesting an explanation before the disciplinary board decides on the matter,” said Hamidin. 

The fracas also left the visiting team and its 199 fans stranded at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium for four hours. 

Twenty six fans, including two who tested positive for drugs, were arrested and kept in remand until Saturday to facilitate investigations.

Amirul’s decision to rule out Ahmad Nordin Alias’ goal, which would have taken Terengganu to the final also angered Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman, who threatened to pull the team out of the M-League. 

Hamidin however hoped TFA would accept the referee’s decision, which was deemed right by FAM and Terengganu coach Abdul Rahman Ibrahim.

“I’ve spoken to Terengganu Sports exco Datuk Rozi Mamat, who accepts the referee made the right call. I hope TFA can do the same because things like these happen in football.

“We are working hard to improve the refereeing quality in the league but in this case the officials got it right. 

“Fans should not retaliate like this just because they lost a football match.”

Yesterday, Ahmad Razif said the state government will start repair works at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium immediately.

Ahmad Razif said the damages, among others at the stadium’s entrance and seating area, were estimated at RM150,000. 

“We want the stadium to be repaired immediately,” he said.

On the arrest of the 26 fans, Ahmad Razif said: “If it’s true they were involved and started the violence,  we will not compromise.”

MACC board wants civil servants to declare assets

As published in today's Malay Mail

By Haresh Deol

KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) advisory board admits the anti-graft body tends to “go in with a bang only to end in a whimper”. 

It is also said sections in the MACC Act 2009 must be revised to compel those suspected of corrupt practices, including civil servants, to declare their assets and to curb abuse of power.

The board’s chairman, Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim, said MACC had followed up on its major crackdowns but was done at a “lower profile”.

“It’s not just us but even the men in MACC feel the same. We go in with a bang only to end in a whimper. Public perception is something we need to work on,” he said after the board’s meeting yesterday.

“Investigations are on-going but we need to keep the public informed. We are all interested in the outcome (of the cases).”

He was referring to MACC’s recent series of crackdowns. 

The commission arrested more than 10 Royal Malaysian Customs Department officials, including a northern state director, over their alleged links with alcohol and tobacco smuggling activities September last year. In December, it probed more than a dozen top Pahang officials over the landslides in the Cameron Highlands. 

Last week, MACC raided 49 locations in Sarawak believed to be involved in illegal logging activities. It also froze bank accounts of a Sarawak assistant minister, totalling RM4 million, following allegations of abuse of power in awarding a government project for the construction of a building in Petra Jaya. 

The board had, during its meeting, urged the government to be serious in addressing suggestions that have been long brought to its attention. 

It said MACC’s hands were tied as it does not have the legal power to compel those whose wealth exceeded their means and those who are suspected of corrupt practices to declare their assets. This included civil servants whose lifestyles do not match their wages.

It said Section 36 of the Act must be amended to ensure these individuals declare their assets. The board also highlighted that amendments must be made to Section 23 of the same Act to ensure civil servants do not manipulate lacunas specifically in awarding tenders, contracts, government projects and awarding ownership of land.

He said the board disagreed with critics who argued MACC were afraid of going after the big fish — mainly politicians and ministers.

“Provided there is sufficient evidence, MACC will go after them. But when it comes to crunch time, those who claim to have evidence will pull out. Without witnesses, MACC cannot do much.”
“As long as members of the public are willing to step forward and help, then we will be able to do more.”

Tunku Aziz argued none of its board members owed the government anything and that they were not afraid to speak up against efforts to combat corruption.

“I wouldn’t be the chairman of this board if it was not independent. MACC ... the government ... they need us more than we need them.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

FAM mulls matches in empty stadium

As published in Mailsport today


By Haresh Deol

KUALA LUMPUR — Its anti-hooliganism campaign has clearly failed as the FA of Malaysia (FAM) wants to introduce tough penalties including forcing teams to play in empty stadiums to combat rioting on the stands.
FAM general secretary Datuk Hamidin Amin said the Kuala Terengganu incident last Saturday had dented efforts to educate supporters about respect and sportsmanship and it was high time tough decisions were made.
Fans went wild at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium as they torched an ambulance and destroyed a police vehicle after referee Amirul Izwan Yaacob disallowed a goal by the home team in the FA Cup return leg semifinal, allowing LionsXII to play Kelantan in Saturday’s final.
“We are tired of talking and must make a stand now. We cannot tolerate violence and must put an end to this,” said Hamidin.
“There are provisions for the disciplinary committee to instruct teams to play in empty stadiums if fans are found guilty of rioting. I don’t want to talk on behalf of the committee but perhaps this is something we must seriously look at.”
Amirul’s decision to send off both Paulo Rangel and Gustavo Lopez for protesting his decision of disallowing Ahmad Nordin Alias goal added fuel to fire as fans went berserk after the match. They even hurled abuses and items at the match officials who were escorted by Federal Reserve Unit personnel to the dressing room.
FAM insiders said a review of Amirul’s decision showed it was a good call by the referee.
The M-League is no stranger to violence and had forced FAM to introduce the “Love Football, Stop Hooliganism” campaign February last year. Despite repeated calls to curb hooliganism, lighting of flares, smoke bombs and riots on the stands remain.
Said Hamidin: “We have young children and families enjoying matches at the stadium. Why should they be exposed to such threats while watching a match?
“We can only do so much but many fans don’t seem to listen. They too need to play their part.”

BEING FRANK: 'Iron Lady’ goes soft over the Rohingya

As published in Malay Mail today


By Frankie D'Cruz

SO inflammatory is the Rohingya issue that Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for failing to raise it.
Why the Nobel Peace Laureate won’t say the word “Rohingya” is beyond grasp.
This human rights defender wrote an article in early 2012 titled Word power: “Words allow us to express our feelings, to record our experiences, to concretise our ideas, to push outwards the frontiers of intellectual exploration.
“Words can move hearts, words can change perceptions.
“Words can set nations and peoples in powerful motion.
“Words are an essential part of the expression of our humanness.
“To curb and shackle freedom of speech and expression is to cripple the basic right to realise our full potential as human beings.”
Brian Pellot, writing for Religion News Service, asked in an article last year: “This word, ‘Rohingya’, clearly has power. So why won’t Suu Kyi use it?”
A political analyst with access to her relayed one of their conversations to Pellot: “I am not silent because of political calculation,” she reportedly told him.
“I am silent because whoever’s side I stand on, there will be more blood.
“If I speak up for human rights, they (the Rohingya) will only suffer. There will be more blood.”
When a symbol of the struggle for human rights says speaking up for victims is dangerous, fighting discrimination by campaigning for equitable and effective laws is a lost cause.
By showing disregard to fellow human beings, that same person becomes party to crimes against those suppressed.
Suu Kyi isn’t normally someone we would call destructive to society but in the persecution of the Rohingya, she comes across as someone knocked unconscious, thrown head-first onto a concrete floor.
Silence is never the answer and Suu Kyi doesn’t deserve the red carpet treatment she gets worldwide as a human rights champion.
Many are vexed by her being entirely out of character.
She has lost human relationship and trust and that could be because her political ambitions would be disorientated if she spoke up.
But that could also happen is she remained silent.
Suu Kyi, who has turned things around for her country and inspired generations of global thinkers, once said: “A politician thinks of the next elections. A statesman thinks of the next generation.”
That would mean her priority is her party, the National League for Democracy, and not the Rohingya issue.
Are we going to regard her global stature that offers her the unique potential to transcend, or rather circumvent, national politics to change policy or are we going cut her some slack over her stand as no more than differences of opinion? 
Suu Kyi’s silence on one of today’s gravest humanitarian crises is bare naked insult to the people whose support gave her credibility and had counted on her to bring lasting peace to marginalised minorities and a diverse, divided, yet still fledgling democracy.
As Pellot says, she has a moral duty to attempt to do so from the sidelines and must capitalise on her role as a global stateswoman.
“If she cares about her country (and her legacy), she must speak out against the atrocities unfolding within it, atrocities that the government flat out denies.
“More seriously, it leaves the lives and destinies of unprotected minorities in jeopardy.”
Mandela once said “there are times when a leader must move ahead of his flock” and Pellot couldn’t have put it better: “For Suu Kyi’s legacy, for Myanmar’s future, for the fate of the Rohingya, this is certainly one of those times.
“If she fails to do so, her disappointing place among her flock will be secured.”

FRANKIE is editor emeritus of  Malay Mail. He can be reached at frankie@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @dcruzfrankie