A Better Deal for Teachers–More than Appreciation

May 21, 2018

A Better Deal for Teachers–More than Appreciation

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria


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John Steinbeck writes, “In the country the repository of art and science was the school, and the schoolteacher shielded and carried the torch of learning and of beauty. . . . The teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside. A family could indeed walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.”–In East of Eden

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and I intended to write on the subject, but a more newsy topic intervened. That’s an apt metaphor for the plight of teachers in America today. We live in a media environment in which the urgent often crowds out the important. But this week, I will stick to my plans.

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Novelist John Steinbeck and his companion

In “East of Eden,” a sprawling, magisterial novel about the great American West, John Steinbeck writes, “In the country the repository of art and science was the school, and the schoolteacher shielded and carried the torch of learning and of beauty. . . . The teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside. A family could indeed walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.”

The picture Steinbeck paints (set in the early 20th century) is almost unrecognizable in today’s America, where schoolteachers are so poorly paid that they are about five times as likely as the average full-time worker to have a second job, according to Vox. We have all heard about stagnant middle-class wages. But the average pay for a teacher in the United States, adjusted for inflation, has actually declined over the past 15 years, while their health-care costs have risen substantially. The Economist reports that teachers earn 60 percent of what a professional with comparable education does.

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The average salary for a teacher in many states is under $50,000. Teachers in West Virginia went on strike a few months ago to demand higher wages, and the government agreed to a 5 percent pay raise, which means the average salary will rise to only $48,000. Like many other states, West Virginia failed to restore education spending after slashing it in the wake of the financial crisis a decade ago. As of last year, per-pupil state funding (adjusted for inflation) was still down between 8 and 28 percent in five of the six states where teachers have now gone on strike, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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“…the countries that do best at public education — Singapore, Finland, South Korea — can recruit top college graduates into the teaching ranks because they pay reasonably well, they invest in professional development and their societies show deep respect for the profession.”–Fareed Zakaria

With low wages and stretched resources, American educators burn out and quit the profession at twice the rate of some of the highest-achieving countries, as Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute points out. Since 35 percent fewer Americans have studied to become teachers in recent years, she notes, there are massive teacher shortages, forcing schools nationwide to hire more than 100,000 people who lack the proper qualifications. In fact, the New York Times reports, it is so hard for public schools to find qualified Americans that many districts are starting to recruit instructors from low-wage countries such as the Philippines.

It’s not all about salaries. One veteran educator I spoke with, who began working in California in the 1960s, reminisced about that “golden age” when she had ample resources to use in the classroom, went to seminars to develop her skills and felt fulfilled. Today, teachers have little time or money for any of this. A recent survey of public school teachers found that 94 percent pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, without reimbursement, at an average of $479 a year.

It’s not even all about money. Leading a classroom was never a pathway to riches, but teachers once did command the respect and status that Steinbeck’s quote reflects. Andreas Schleicher, who heads the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s education division and has spent years doing careful international comparisons on education, has often observed that the countries that do best at public education — Singapore, Finland, South Korea — can recruit top college graduates into the teaching ranks because they pay reasonably well, they invest in professional development and their societies show deep respect for the profession. In the United States, when we encounter a member of the armed services, many of us make a point to thank them for their service. When was the last time you did the same for a public school teacher?

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Yes, education is a very complicated subject. Simply spending more money does not guarantee results — although there are studies that indicate a significant correlation between teacher pay and student achievement. Yes, the education bureaucracy is rigid and often corrupt. But all of this masks the central problem: Over the past 30 years, as part of the assault on government, bureaucrats and the public sector in general, being a teacher in America has become a thankless job. And yet, teaching is the one profession that makes all other professions possible.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Fellow Malaysians–Lead a Life of Integrity

May 20, 2018

Fellow Malaysians–Lead a Life of Integrity

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I admire Rex Tillerson not because he was Secretary of State in the Trump Administration. He was never given the chance by the insecure and ego-centric  Donald Trump to prove his worth as America’s top diplomat. I believe, he could have done a great job in that role, given his education and experience in the private sector.

I respect him as Chairman, Exxon-Mobil, a Fortune 500 corporation, and for being a corporate executive with integrity. In his Commencement Address to his Alma Mater’s Class of 2018, he urges graduates of VMI to lead life of integrity (both personal and professional). The  Truth shall make us free, he said.

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Listen to Rex Tillerson so that we too shall be free. Let us make ourselves Malaysians with high standards of ethical leadership, and  build our country into great nation which is admired and respected by our neighbours in ASEAN and the world.  Yes, we can.–Din Merican


Appointment of Maszlee Malik as Education Minister raises concern among Malaysians

May 20, 2018

Appointment of Maszlee Malik as  Education Minister raises concern among Malaysians

by FMT Reporters


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Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa questions double standards by those who defend Zakir Naik’s freedom of speech but oppose the right of Muslims to practise their preferred school of thought.

PETALING JAYA: Prominent Muslim activist Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa said he was not surprised by the storm of protests that greeted the appointment of Maszlee Malik as the Education Minister, but said a bigger worry was whether the Perlis fatwa committee member has the courage to press ahead with the concept of Bangsa Malaysia and resist pressures from extremists on Malaysia’s schooling system.

“The main issue here is whether he has the same courage as Dr Mahathir in facing the two extreme camps in this country, the Chinese educationist extremist and the conservative Malay educationist groups,” Farouk, who heads the outspoken Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), told FMT.

A debate has been raging over Maszlee’s suitability for the post since he was named by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Friday. Critics point to Maszlee’s defence of controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik, who is wanted in India over allegations of extremism and money laundering.

They are also concerned with Maszlee’s leaning towards Salafist Islam, and his close association with Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, who was recently summoned to a panel hearing on missing activist Amri Che Mat, who Asri had slammed for practising Shia Islam, which local Muslim bureaucrats label as “deviant”.

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Dr. Maszlee Malik–Minister of Education

Maszlee’s supporters have alluded to his academic background and social activities, with others saying his defence of Naik was based on his belief in free speech.

Farouk said the criticism was expected, and questioned Maszlee’s openness as claimed by his supporters.

“If one were to argue that his defense of Zakir Naik was based on freedom of expression, then this freedom also requires him to grant the same to the Shias,” said Farouk, adding that it was only natural to link Maszlee’s opposition to the second largest Muslim denomination to his “Salafist” leaning.

“There cannot be a double standard in preaching for freedom of expression.”

Salafist Islam refers to a movement within Sunni Islam, with roots going back to Wahhabism, the supposedly puritan form of Islam that is officially adopted in Saudi Arabia.

Opposition to PPSMI

Farouk, a medical lecturer at Monash University Malaysia, who was once active with the Muslim Professionals Forum that Maszlee is also part of, said the calls for Mahathir to hold the education portfolio was based on the public’s confidence that he could initiate radical reforms in the sector.

This, he said, included the call by the Chinese education group Dong Zong to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate, and the pressure from Malay groups seeking to abolish the study of Science and Mathematics in English.

“Only he (Mahathir) has the strength and determination in facing this highly debatable issue,” said Farouk, who has supported past government initiatives under Mahathir to emphasise the use of English in schools.

“How do we compete at the International arena when we forego the most important language of science and technology in the 21st century?” he asked.

A policy championed by Mahathir, the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English, or PPSMI, was aborted in 2011 by then education minister Muhyiddin Yassin, following protests from Malay groups.

The move was welcomed by Ikram, an umbrella organisation of Muslim groups, of which Maszlee is a committee member.

“We oppose any attempts to revive PPSMI because we are convinced that the decision by the education ministry is based on its internal findings,” the group had then said in a statement.

Maszlee, 44, who joined PPBM last March, won the Simpang Renggam parliamentary seat in Johor in the May 9 polls.

The former lecturer who taught subjects related to Islamic Jurisprudence at the International Islamic University was named as education minister after Mahathir changed his mind about holding the post himself.

Mahathir said he would abide by a Pakatan Harapan promise that the Prime Minister would not hold any other portfolio.

But within 24 hours of the announcement, over 60,000 signed an online petition urging Mahathir to return to the post, saying he “will bring much needed reforms to the education system in this country”.

Malaysia: Can Pakatan Harapan handle Change– Mixed Signals

May 20, 2018

Malaysia: Can Pakatan Harapan handle Change– Mixed Signals

by Mariam Mokhtar


…a substantial coterie of Malay nationalists and religious zealots remains in place, with members of the defeated United Malays National Organization (UMNO) still machinating on how to thwart the new government.”–Mariam Mokhtar

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Changes of government –especially after six decades of misrule —  are usually followed by joy-filled, tearful scenes in the streets and mass gatherings eager to embrace a fresh start. A celebration of the throwing out the old, corrupt regime, and welcoming in the new administration.

As the dust settles, there appears fat chance of that happening in Malaysia, where a substantial coterie of Malay nationalists and religious zealots remains in place, with members of the defeated United Malays National Organization (UMNO) still machinating on how to thwart the new government.

One day after the polls, a subdued but delighted crowd gathered outside the palace until 11 pm, waiting several hours for the swearing-in of the seventh Prime Minister — Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year combatant who had led a months-long, take-no-prisoners charge to rid the country of his onetime protège, Najib Razak, saying he had been personally betrayed.

Having secured victory, Mahathir has acted like a man possessed, trying to rebuild Malaysia and restore its reputation seemingly overnight.  He has wasted no time in getting his cabinet in order. This was the old Mahathir, methodical, meticulous and masterful at political machination. If members of his winning team thought they could have a well-deserved rest following the two public holidays that Mahathir had earlier declared after  winning the 14th General Election, they were sorely disappointed.

Having said in previous interviews that he had little time left to rebuild Malaysia, Mahathir held several meetings to form a credible government, appointed three Cabinet ministers, pushed for a royal pardon for his former adversary, Anwar, and still found time to meet the Sultan of Brunei, the Prime Minister of Singapore, and the Governor of Sarawak, Taib Mahmud.

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He blazed his way through matters of state, ordered travel bans on Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, and several prominent politicians and cronies including the former Inspector of Police. He ordered the Police to raid several apartments belonging to Najib’s family members and ordered the Attorney-General, an UMNO hack who had “cleared” Najib of complicity in the 1MDB scandal, to go on a long leave, while sealing his office to prevent important documents from being taken away, or shredded.

Police who raided Najib’s residences seized an amazing amount of loot in more than 350 boxes and bags containing cash, jewelry and designer handbags early Friday including 284 boxes of handbags and 72 pieces of luggage containing cash, jewelry, watches and other valuables, said Amar Singh, Chief of the Police commercial crimes unit. How much of that might be related to assets being seized by the US in its kleptocracy case against Najib, family members and others is unclear.

If Mahathir moved with blistering speed, ironing out what had to be done for the nation, one couldn’t say the same about individual states like Johor and Perak.

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The New Menteri Besar of Johor

Johoreans were furious to find that their new Chief Minister candidate from the winning Harapan coalition was acting like a thoroughbred UMNO politician. He nominated an UMNO officer as his adviser and told UMJNO members, now a minority in opposition, that they weren’t eligible for any state funding. Those actions, reminiscent of the former Barisan Nasional leadership, incurred the ire of the Johoreans.

The practice of party-hopping, which is picking up speed in East Malaysia, was condemned by the campaign reform organization Bersih and various politicians. People took to social media to vent their frustration, and one human rights NGO named ENGAGE penned an open letter to Pakatan Harapan leaders, saying  the nation doesn’t want to see the winning coalition become another “BN 2.0” after several parties affiliated with the Barisan broke ranks and said they planned to join Harapan.

The party-hopping, which was taking place in Sabah, Sarawak and Perak, has eroded voter confidence.

Up north, despite the promise by the new government to ensure press freedom, RSN Thayer, the Democratic Action Party MP for the Jelutong constituency, announced that the license for TV3, the publicly listed media company controlled by UMNO, should be revoked. He incurred the wrath of Malaysians who told him that they don’t want the new government to be a poor copy of the one just booted out. Thayer’s own party leaders distanced themselves from him.

When Rafizi Ramli, a Pakatan politician, whose whistle-blowing on UMNO’s activities had earned him a fine and jail term for violation of the bank secrecy laws, currently under appeal, criticized Mahathir for not discussing the appointment of the finance, home affairs and defense ministry, he too was slammed.

Rafizi said that PKR’s consultation was critical, and he opposed Mahathir’s bulldozing methods.  Upset that the Chinese Daily, Sin Chew had written that Rafizi was only vocal because he had been vying to be made the finance minister, Rafizi has said he would sue the paper. Some party members accused Rafizi of trying to derail Mahathir’s efforts to form a government, but others came to his defense and said change must include exposing any and all wrongdoings.

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Speaking out as he did didn’t please the lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan. She tweeted “PKR please stop your nonsense. I fully support the appointments by the Prime Minister. Please put country above all else. The rakyat (people) did!”

Rafizi merely rather sensibly criticized Mahathir’s lack of consultation among the four new government parties. In his 22 years as prime minister he often acted high-handedly and there were concerns that might be continuing. Elsewhere people who made what were deemed offensive remarks about Mahathir on social media found that police reports had been lodged against them.

Eric Paulsen, acting for the NGO Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), said that demanding police action against individuals who openly expressed criticism of the government, merely trivialized  police reports and disregarded the rights of people with differing views. Paulson himself had been charged with sedition by the previous government.

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Paulsen said that in the new Malaysia, people should be allowed to criticism unless they threatened public disorder and called for violence. He too urged the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to focus on their work and to stop wasting resources investigating these sorts of report.

The following day after the election, groups of UMNO Youth members gathered outside the party’s massive headquarters and starting fighting one another. It was the day the party would have celebrated its 72nd anniversary. Instead, they traded blows and insults while demanding the resignation of Najib, the UMNO president. For his part, Najib denies any wrongdoing, is making out that he is a victim while his party is in denial mode, with its leaders still scrambling after power, expressing regret and doing mock post mortems.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation was a Reuters interview of Anwar Ibrahim following his release from prison. The man Najib put behind bars said that a “shattered” Najib had called him twice, in prison, asking him what to do on the night he lost the elections. Anwar advised him to accept defeat and move on, advice Najib didn’t take.  Sources say he sought initially to round up army and police officials to declare martial law but both forces were split. He eventually had to concede.

As expected, few former Cabinet members came to Najib’s defense. The former Youth and Sports Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin claimed that he tried to help Najib in the campaign to no avail and apologized to party members for UMNO’s failure to cling on to power.

He neglected to apologize to the public for failing to acknowledge that Najib allegedly had stolen vast funds and corrupted the political system. Branded an opportunist by many, Khairy was regarded as vying for pole position to lead the leaderless and rudderless defeated party that had ruled Malaysia for six decades.

Initially, Khairy said that the party needs to reform and return to its original ideals, safeguard the honor of the Malays, take care of the other races, and fight for all communities. He then hinted that he was a possible leadership contender, saying the party needs someone who with the confidence of the grassroots supporters, to revive it.

The same Khairy had, in another report, claimed to have overlooked the clear signals that UMNO had a problem. He blamed the leaders for being detached from reality, for members having a feudal mindset that protected the leader and prevented them from asking tough questions. So says the man who barred reporters for Malaysiakini, almost the only independent media voice in the country, because he despised the questions they asked.

Khairy may have a battle on his hands. The former Home Minister, Zahid Hamidi, is a Malay nationalist and would not take kindly to Khairy’s suggestion for UMNO to accept members from other races. Two years ago, Zahid urged UMNO members to unite because “foreign enemies” were plotting to topple the government.

Zahid can take heart with the sentiments of the Malay nationalist NGO, Perkasa which has criticized the appointment of a non-Malay as Finance Minister.

Najib’s cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein, the usually clueless former Defence Minister, has also said that UMNO needs new leadership.

The irony is that Mahathir is trying to rebalance many of his previous pro-Malay and pro-Islamic policies. One reform that he promised to implement within 100 days of being in office, is the abolition of the deeply unpopular goods and services tax that played a major role in Najib’s defeat. That will now take place earlier than expected, on June 1.

Malay nationalists and religious zealots remain,fanned by years of official recognition of their cause by UMNO in the effort to keep minority races at bay. Although Mahathir and Pakatan Harapan may have won round one, they will have to navigate carefully, or the path to Malaysian reform will be long and rocky.

Mariam Mokhtar is a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel


Of Frogs in Malaysian Politics

May 20, 201

Of Frogs in Malaysian Politics

by Mariam Mokhtar


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No-one should take the Malaysian people for granted.


We were patient for decades despite the injustices, the lack of opportunities for certain sections of society, and the discrimination, but we had faith in our fellow Malaysians.

There was no doubt about our desire for change. In the 14th general election, we gave it our all. The only doubt was on what former Prime Minister Najib Razak was prepared to do to secure a win. Remember the late night meeting at his house, the two-hour delay in the Election Commission’s announcement of results.

The Police handled their duties with the utmost professionalism, as did the Armed Forces. There were no major incidents, only a handful of youths caught with fireworks in Putrajaya because they wanted to celebrate the election results.

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For decades, Malaysians had been fed up with being treated like political football. We were appalled to see many prominent businessmen ingratiating themselves with the Najib administration. We observed with trepidation when government critics like cartoonist Zunar were harassed by the authorities.

By and large, Malaysians are peaceful and law-abiding. We are also a tolerant lot, and have remained so despite the various tricks designed to make us turn against one another.

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A few years ago, we might have had reservations about Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s willingness to team up with the opposition, doubting his intentions and fearing insincerity on his part. Eventually, however, he won the mandate to take charge of the opposition coalition.

Last Thursday, on May 10, we were rewarded for our persistence. The rest, as they say, is history. So why is the new government allowing so many UMNO-Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs and assemblymen to switch allegiance to Pakatan Harapan (PH)?

We won’t name individuals, but many who won their seats, allegedly through vote buying, are now trying to jump ship and join PH.

If PH allows them in, it would be a betrayal of trust. We voted for PH because PH translated our needs and aspirations into its policies.

The four component parties were prepared to forego their own logos for the greater good. They rallied together for the people.

So who are these desperate UMNO-BN frogs? They were prepared to support Najib. They were arguably aware of the corruption, the lies and the manipulation.\

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They cannot simply turn around and expect to be welcomed into PH with open arms. For years, they played a part in our suffering. They colluded with corrupt UMNO-BN leaders. They failed to realise the mood of the people.

Their desire now to desert the sinking UMNO-BN ship is damaging the fragile understanding and trust between the people and the PH leaders. These frogs are self-serving and do not have our interests at heart.

We do not believe that a person who, year in and year out, spewed venom at UMNO General assemblies, would suddenly fight corruption and get rid of discrimination.

We despair when UMNO frogs are not barred from joining PH. Look at the alarm caused in the Perak imbroglio over the choice of Menteri Besar. Nizar Jamaluddin, the candidate of choice for most people in Perak, had a proven track record in his short stint as Menteri Besar. However, his tenure came to an abrupt end thanks to an infestation of frogs in the state assembly.

Nizar is not a career politician, unlike many of those who are now jumping over to PH. On whose advice was the popular choice ignored? Who has their own personal agenda to keep?

These frogs could destroy PH’s reputation and allow the re-election of UMNO in the next general election. They will also hinder the rebuilding of Malaysia. People will think PH is no better than Umno-Baru.

We do not want PH to be contaminated and brought down like this, not in Perak and not anywhere else in the country.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

The views expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of FMT.

Terence Gomez on bfm

May 19, 2018

UM’s Terence Gomez on bfm


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Beginning with Tun Dr Mahathir’s statement to reform political party financing and GLCs, the author of ‘Minister of Finance Incorporated: Ownership and Control of Corporate Malaysia’ published last August, takes us through the many challenges the country faces in this transition from authoritarian to democratic rule. Starting with an analysis of GE14 – including the alleged secret pact between UMNO and PAS – we look at the shape of things to come.

Presented by: Melisa Idris, Sharaad Kuttan