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An integrated Malaysian educational system

I don’t normally do Malaysian politics, but education is something I feel strongly about.

In Malaysiakini, Mukhriz is reported as saying:
"The government can foster greater unity by streamlining all the schools under one education system where the medium of teaching, besides Science and Mathematics, are taught in Bahasa Malaysia.

"We can make it compulsory that the Chinese and Indians study their own language in their mother tongue while these two languages can be optional for Malay students to learn or we can make it compulsory for students to learn at least three languages," he suggested. (Malaysiakini)

I have to say that I find myself agreeing with him, in principle. This is based on my experience in a European School in Luxembourg (this one), from age 4-16.

The European School system
The European Schools are for the children of European Civil Servants from all the countries of the EU; we were in different sections according to our mother tongue, but from six years old onwards, we had to learn a second language – I think it was one class every day. I did French, and in my French class there were Italians, Germans, Danish, etc; the teacher spoke only in French and we all had to speak in French in the class. When we got to 3rd grade primary (age 8), we started an afternoon arts and crafts lesson on Wednesday in French – meaning the class was conducted entirely in French and – once again – I shared the class with Dutch, Germans, etc. During all this time, I also mixed with other kids in the playground, in the school bus, etc, and we had a common language most of the time.

Later, in Secondary (age 11), I started doing gym classes in French (same principle, sharing with others doing the same second language); and we also started History and Geography in French from year 3 (age 13). Later again, we did Economics in French. I also did a third language from year 2 or 3 (I did Italian), and also started a fourth language at about year 4.

What this meant was I became fluent in French from a relatively early age, and could use it in contexts outside of a language class; it also meant that I regularly mixed with children of the other nationalities, and we shared common experiences (such as annoying the teachers ;-)). However, none of us was denied an education in our own language too, and most of us became proficient in two or three languages (some even more). Having an extra language always helped me later when looking for a job. For me, growing up in such a school, mixing with other cultures and respecting their differences was never an issue – it just came naturally.

An Integrated Malaysian educational system
So – how could this be transmitted to Malaysia? Well, many people here speak two or three languages as a matter of course, but not always very proficiently (i.e. being able to write well, speak formally, etc.). The right of the Chinese and Indian minorities to have their own vernacular education was an essential part of the post-independence agreements, and I think language is an essential part of any culture, and Malaysia would be the poorer for not having the cultural diversity it does. But, there is inefficiency in the system – for example some Chinese students do primary in Chinese and have to do more work (dual curriculum or something, not sure of the details), then switch to BM and may have to do some catching up there - WW had to do an extra year because of this, but I think that rule has stopped now.

I think there should be a system that goes something like this. All kids do the same curriculum in the same schools: however, there are three main languages used – BM, Mandarin, and Tamil; a core of subjects will be done in BM (I’m not sure what Primary kids have as classes, but I guess Maths, Social Studies, stuff like that). Each child gets an hour a day in their mother tongue (reading, writing), and an hour a day in their chosen second language (e.g. a Malay does Mandarin or Tamil, an Indian does BM or Mandarin, etc.). Language classes also include aspects of culture –a bit of history, songs, fairy tales, etc. In practice, the non-Malay students may have to do BM as a second language in order to be able to do the other core courses. Children whose mother tongue is English will have to choose one of the other ones, I suppose.

If this works well, by the time the children are 10-11, they are proficient in BM, and in another language; they have had exposure to the other ethnic groups’ language and culture, and had to sit together, play together, eat together, with children of other ethnicities. Importantly, although there is a bias in favour of BM, everyone has had to learn a second language, and so no-one feels particularly disadvantaged.

At this point, they all have to start learning English so as to be able to so the science and maths in English (which is a good idea, I think). They also continue their second language, and have the option of a fourth language (Mandarin or Tamil) if they want to. By the time they finish, in theory, each student has BM and English, as well as either Mandarin or Tamil; in practice, Mandarin would probably be more popular than Tamil; so, after ten years or so, there would be a whole generation of Malaysian children proficient in BM, English and Mandarin or Tamil – imagine how this would benefit Malaysia in terms of international competitiveness!

It would also prevent those ‘dark corners’ of language, where – for example – in an office Indians use Tamil to speak amongst each other and others feel excluded. It would also mean that people cannot use that excuse of language to not employ people who don’t speak Chinese – for example. In addition, most people can understand newspapers/TV/websites in different languages, so politicians can’t get away with giving different messages in different media.

I would also start school earlier at six, and have government-run pre-schools (ages 4-6) that also start teaching some multi-lingual skills already.

Not perfect
Of course it’s not perfect. Dialects would not be included. Orang Asli and Asal languages should ideally be included somehow. Non-Tamil speaking Indians are ignored. English mother-tongue schoolchildren would be somewhat disadvantaged at first (but later on would have an advantage). It may be difficult to get suitable teachers, especially in predominantly Malay, rural areas.

But really, it’s said that the first two years are the most important for a child’s character; and I’d say that the first eleven years are crucial for the formation of a child’s social habits. If a child is in a mono-ethnic environment for those years, I think it can only diminish the chance of an integrated society.

Well, that’s my five sen anyway, feel free to criticise or approve :-)

Anti-ISA Candlelight Vigil at Blog House

OK, this is a bit late, but here is my account of the hastily organised vigil last Sunday (15th September). It was very hastily organised: from what I can gather it was decided on at about 3pm and then announced here, here and here; the message also spread by SMS (the way I heard about it) and surely by email too. It started at 9pm and in all about 125 people there (some have placed the figure higher at 160-200). In any case, the speed of mobilisation is testament to the significance of blogs in terms of communication and mobilisation. Although the SMS, email and word of mouth are key to actually making it happen, by having a recognised blog such as the ones listed above (Rocky’s Bru, Nat Tan, Tok Mommy) announcing an event – it immediately has credibility, and provides a stable reference point to check any information that comes from elsewhere. I know that I always check Rocky’s Bru for things to do with SoPo blogs, and Malaysiakini for any political/national information I hear; because there are rumours that swirl around easily too.

Nat Tan, who MC'd for the evening, kicked off by mentioning how when he had been arrested, the knowledge that there were people outside supporting him helped give him strength. Then he asked for a minute's silence.

The people gathered around in the drizzling rain to hear a succession of speakers argue that the ISA is a reprehensible law, and should be repealed and detainees set free. You can get more information in the links below but the basic points were made by the President of the Bar Council Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan who reminded everyone that it was not just about the recently incarcerated ISA detainees, but all of them; YB Wee Choo Keong said that UMNO were making an intra-party problem a national problem; and YB Sivarasa Rasiah said that the government were trying to scare bloggers and the media into silence.

Faisal Mustaffa spoke in BM, so unfortunately I couldn’t understand, but I guess his clothes told me the bulk of what he was saying :-)
Continue reading "Anti-ISA Candlelight Vigil at Blog House"

God is American (and hates Liberals)

I have a terrible secret... I am subscribed to the Human Events newsletter :-O

OK, maybe that doesn't mean much to most Malaysians, but no doubt for American bloggers that would mark me out as a foaming-at-the -mouth right-wing conservative. These are the people who say that McCain "thinks like a liberal" and he is
very disappointing on opposing tough, life-saving interrogation techniques, in wanting to close down Gitmo, and in favoring constitutional protections for enemy combatants.
Only liberals think like that. Only liberal instincts tell us that if we are tough on them, they'll be tougher on us -- as if they need any excuse to be barbaric toward us. They just are. (Limbaugh)

Damn Al-Qaeda loving pussy liberals! Opposing torture - what an idea!

Any way, one of the writers there is Ann Coulter, famous for saying (amongst other inanities) "I don't think I've ever encountered an attractive liberal woman in my entire life.", "It would be a much better country if women did not vote." (yes, she is a woman), and "As soon as the poor start paying their fair share of the tax burden, they'll get a tax cut too." (cited here)

...back to the nationality of God, here is the wonderful example of jingoistic nonsense she started her latest article with:
Last Friday, on the Fourth of July, the great American patriot Jesse Helms passed away. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson also went to their great reward on Independence Day, so this is further proof of God. (Coulter)

Anyway... why do I bother reading her you ask? Well, it's always good to listen to people you disagree with.

Say it like it is

I think that the appointment of local councillors is a very important part of the new state governments’ programme. By doing it effectively – appointing local people who are active in the community and ready to work transparently and engaging with the residents of the area – local democratic practices can be built, strengthening inter-ethnic ties and improving people’s quality of life.

So far, I’m not super-impressed to be honest, though I’m not following it very closely. MP Tony Pua says something about it.

Anyway, it’s funny to see “Former Subang Jaya assemblyperson Lee Hwa Beng” (I assume MCA) trying to criticise the PR Selangor government, but at the same time shooting himself in the foot:
“They are like us - putting our cronies and supporters into local councils. They are doing the same thing which they have criticised us for before” (Khir: Some councillors 'not locals' [needs subscription], my emphasis)

Well. At least he’s admitting it I suppose :-P

OK, I was going to try to do a list of Selangor government politicians’ blogs, but it’s not as straightforward as I thought, and I’m not feeling well today (slight fever and cold…).

SoPo Sentral has a list of Political Parties & Politicians - but it could do with being updated and expanded.

And here a few more:
elizabeth wong: she hasn’t updated her profile and I can’t remember exactly what she is, I think both assemblyperson and MP for PKR.
Tan Seng Giaw: DAP MP for Kepong

Screenshots: Jeff Ooi - DAP MP in Penang

I must say, it seems that politician-bloggers such as Jeff Ooi and Elizabeth Wong have been doing a lot less blogging since they got elected. It doesn’t surprise me, as I’m sure they’re very busy – and there may also be some concern about having a common voice for their party, but all the same, a blog is a very good way of keeping interested constituents up to date…

**Update 22/06**
A correction to the above: Jeff Ooi has been keeping his blog up to date, but I am surprised to see that Eli Wong, and Tian Chua have not updated their profiles to say they are now MPs.

Newspeak in Zimbabwe

The [Justice] minister [Mr. Chinamasa] said Zanu-PF would not allow an opposition victory, as this would be what he described as tantamount to slavery.

Asked whether the will of the people would be subverted should Mr Mugabe lose, Mr Chinamasa said: "If people attempted to unfree themselves, moves would be made to free them." (BBC, my emphasis)

In 1984 by George Orwell (full text here), one of the slogans of the Party is " Freedom is Slavery" and in one scene Syme, a colleague in the Ministry of Truth, explains some of the concepts of Newspeak and how it is aimed at eliminating free thought:
...what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take "good", for instance. If you have a word like "good", what need is there for a word like "bad"? "Ungood" will do just as well -- better, because it's an exact opposite, which the other is not....

How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking -- not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.' (Source)

Once again, I find that George Orwell managed to define the essence of totalitarian ideology and practice. How it requires an embracing of ignorance coupled with a sophisticated intelligence that identifies enemies and manipulates thought even at the most subtle psychological levels.

Unfortunately, with the statement above by Mr. Chinamasa, we can see that the arrogance and ignorance of those who deny humanity's most intrinsic defining nature - the will to question and seek knowledge - is still alive and well in the 21st century.

Bloggers censoring the government??

Well it’s the world upside down really :/ I’m sure some of you noticed this article in the Sunday Star, or heard about it.

The Higher Education Minister complaining that they had sent in replies to “inaccurate statements and false allegations” on blogs, but they were “removed by the bloggers.”

I wonder what happened. The ‘removed by bloggers’ bit suggests that comments were left – rather than a direct email to the blogger, which may be more effective in trying to ask for some ‘air time’, so to speak.

Were the comments left by the ‘government’ in the official capacity, or by people asked to leave comments that appear to be from a normal reader? I do think that it would be more effective to do it transparently and formally.

It may be that BN did not want to be seen to be legitimising blogs, which would be one result of leaving official comments on blogs. So it seems like they were caught in a bit of a bind: on the one hand blogs were being dismissed as the puerile bleatings of disaffected and unemployable miscreants – so they could not be engaged with directly; whereas on the other hand an ‘undercover’ operation (i.e. the infamous ‘cybertroopers’) was functioning to put over their point of view on the blogs – but they were perhaps being ignored as mercenary propagandists.

Now the government wants to engage, and even Khir Toyo has jumped on the bandwagon! I think that their challenge now is to understand what makes bloggers tick – it’s more than just opening a blog…

It’s at moments like this that I really regret not knowing more BM :-( But I guess cherwith, who is also researching blogs, will be looking at his blog with great interest :-)