Category Archives: Education

Stephen Colbert interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson

May 27, 2015

Phnom Penh

Stephen Colbert interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson


Have a great morning. My dear friend and former Wisma Putra colleague, Dato’ Hamzah Majeed, now a respected educator at Chempaka School Group told me that I should watch this interview with the man from Bronx, New York City. I just did and Neil deGrasse Tyson is an interesting and entertaining man of science.

To know his background, please read this: –Din Merican

Malaysia: Take Education Reform seriously

May 18, 2015

Phnom Penh

COMMENT: For Malaysia’s sake, the Najib Administration  must fix the education system as a matter of blueprinttop priority. If the Minister of Education who is also the Deputy Prime Minister cannot do it except to think that our education is still world-class, he should hand over his education portfolio to someone else with the political will , vision and passion for reforming the way we develop our human capital in the race to meet the challenges of a digitized and globalized world.  We are laggards in this race.

We cannot just turn a blind eye to  the OECD education report. Certainly, we need to worry about out ranking. And The Star  should not be polite with our Ministry of Education by  suggesting that we should… “not get hung up on these rankings”.   As citizens and taxpayers, we have the right to demand quality education because we want our young to be trained to think critically, be imbued with moral and ethical values and have character and leadership qualities.

Cambodia and Rwanda, nations which experienced genocide, are working hard to rebuild their education system so that they can integrate with the world. Their leaders (Hun Sen and Paul Kagame) realise the need to develop their human capital for sustained economic growth. More importantly, they are taking action with gusto.

Urgent action is, therefore, needed if we are to arrest this decline in our educational standards. As HRH The Sultan of Johor suggested, we should look at Singapore’s single-stream education system, which uses English as the medium of instruction with emphasis on science and mathematics. Learn why the Singaporeans are tops in the OECD ranking. That takes humility and the courage to admit our weaknesses and then start taking drastic action to remedy them.

Let us end this leisurely pace of dealing with this serious challenge of educating young Malaysians. Implement the two education blueprints on preschool education and primary and secondary schools, and  higher education in earnest, and end the habit of changing our education polices every time when we have a new Minister of Education. Let us also not delude ourselves into thinking that we are world-class . We are not.

Kamsiah and Din 2015 CNYWe need to catch up in the race to develop our people and boost national competitiveness. In this race, the quality of our human resource is decisive. Education is a good investment and our tax ringgits will be well spent if we do it right by getting politics  out for the way. –Din Merican

Commenter Kellen’s Rejoinder:

I am sorry to point out the obvious but decades of affirmative action in favor of the majority Malays in Malaysia have lulled them into believing that Malaysia is doing well, that they can live comfortably without working hard and there is no need for improvement or more education, much less reforms. The more enlightened ones who challenge this utopian state of mind are often slapped with labels of ingratitude or conspiring with the so-called “pendatangs”.(emigrants)

But there is a cost to this. The “pendatangs”, who know full well that the state does not owe them a living are learning and acquiring new languages, skills, knowledge and competencies in the latest fields to remain professionally relevant and employable. This will inevitably widen the skills and wealth gap between the “pendatangs” and the indigenous majority (and definitely not the elites), and put more pressure on the social fabric that we can do without. Then accusations of the “pendatangs” controlling the economy and discriminating some of their fellow citizens will follow.

Come and Steal Us againThe Malaysian government on its part is contented to allow the majority to remain in this state of mind with a keen eye on preserving political power. Then there is an unwillingness to learn from others, especially from a tiny neighbor to the south who has shown the ability not only to survive after being unceremoniously kicked out (of Malaysia in 1965), but also to thrive, succeed and overtake Malaysia in every field imaginable. Today the government views this upstart nation irritatingly and a indictment of what has gone terribly wrong in Malaysia and more so, what Malaysia could have been and indeed more.

Even a country as advanced as the United States realizes that to maintain its competitive advantages, educational reform is the most important endeavor. In the past year or so, there has been intense and sometimes emotional debates across the United States about the new common core standards which recently came into effect. These new education standards are designed to focus learners on developing the critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills they will need to be successful in college and in the workplace and compete globally.

Arising from this, the tests for kids will become a bit more challenging and requires more thinking and understanding of the subject, be in in mathematics, science, language arts or social sciences. Because the teacher’s performances will be tied their students’ performance, there has been pockets of massive inertia against this change. Some teachers have readily welcomed these changes while others have mounted strong resistances. But I am glad that the federal government and most state governments have remained steadfast in having these new standards implemented even if there is going to be much short-term pain and adjustments, strong likelihood in students’ grades dropping for the first few years and probably losing some votes.

But such is the resolve of responsible and far-sighted federal and state governments that know that unless reforms are undertaken, the US runs the risk of being challenged and overtaken by a resurgent Japan, China, Germany, possibly even South Korea and others.

In Malaysia, it must first start with humility which is why Muhyiddin’s admission is encouraging. Then we need to put aside our pride and airs to learn from those who have succeeded, but make sure we send competent people to learn, not some fat lady leading study trips that include shopping and sightseeing on the side. Then have competent women and men draw up blueprints to stop the rot, strengthen the education infrastructure (teaching resources, languages of instruction etc) and improve the education curricula focus (for e.g, more STEM and less religious studies) from Grade 1 to the Universities.

Today we can still learn from Singapore, Hong Kong or Australia. If we do nothing now, in a decade we will need assistance from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and Rwanda.–Kellen

Take OECD education report as a wake-up call, says The Star

IT does not feel good to know that a new report by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development places us at 52nd among 76 countries in terms of our students’ grasp of basic skills.

Singapore takes the top spot, thus reinforcing the recent call by Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Sultan Iskandar that we emulate the island nation’s single-stream education system, which uses English as the medium of instruction. His Royal Highness said having schools in only one stream would unite Malay­sians and boost their competitiveness.These developments tell us that our education system can be a lot better. Then again, we all know that.

najib and his deputyWake Up and Stop Shaking Hands

The fact that Malaysia has two education blueprints – one focusing on preschool education and primary and secondary schools, and the other on higher education – shows that the Government is already taking steps to transform our education system.

The blueprints’ plans stretch until 2025, which means we should not hope for many overnight improvements. Meanwhile, it is wise for us to keep enhancing our understan­ding of exactly how our shared prosperity is built on education.

New ideas and insights in this area are valuable because they help us to shape and refine policies and practices relating to the education system. At the very least, they encourage us to see things in a different light.

It is clichéd to say education is the cornerstone of development, but what if somebody comes up with projections of how much economies can benefit if school enrollment and education quality go up?

In fact, the OECD has done just that in a report titled “Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain”. Published on Wednesday, it is the same report that has Malaysia in the bottom third of the class based on our teenagers’ mathematics and science scores in international tests.

Let us not get hung up on these rankings. The report is 116 pages long and has a lot more to offer than bragging rights and naming-and-shaming opportunities. For instance, it makes abundantly clear that an under performing education sector costs a country dearly. The OECD warns that poor education policies and practices will result in a loss of economic output amounting to a permanent state of economic recession.

The organisation also points out that high-income status does not automatically eliminate shortco­mings in education.It is also interesting that the OECD argues that when there is universal achievement of basic skills in a country, its economic growth will be more inclusive.

The report suggests that there is still much to learn about how we can strengthen our education policies. We should be open to fresh thinking and approaches. At the same time, we must not waver from the commitment and noble intentions reflected in the blueprints.

Education Minister admits Malaysia’s education system is “not that good”

May 14, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Our education is “not that good”? Why not admit that it is bad and start doing something about it as a matter of national priority in stead of saying that it will take at least several years before any improvements will yield results.We all know that our educational standards have been deteriorating over several decades. Only our officials in the Education Ministry refuse to accept this fact. Isn’t that hubris? Over time, we cannot compete globally.

It should also be noted that the so-called National Education Blueprint 2013-2025 has never been discussed publicly and we do not really what is happening to it. To boot, we do not know how much money was spent on it. That is appalling to say the least. There is no openness, transparency and accountability in our public administration.–Din Merican

Education  Minister admits Malaysia’s education system is “not that good

education minister muhyiddin_yassinThe mathematics and science proficiency among Malaysia’s 15-year-olds is comparable to counterparts in poorer and less developed countries, according to a new study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The study, based on students’ test scores in the two subjects, ranked Malaysia 52nd out of 76 countries, several rungs behind Thailand (47), Kazakhstan (49) and Iran (51). Singapore was ranked first, followed by Hong Kong and South Korea while Japan and Taiwan were joint-fourth, in an Asian dominance of the top five spots in the study.

Also scoring highly were Finland (6), Estonia (7), Switzerland (8), the Netherlands (9), Canada (10), Poland (11) and Vietnam (12).

The OECD study noted that the US (28) performed poorly in mathematics and science, on par with recession-wracked Italy, and also highlighted a decline in Sweden’s (35) education system.

The worst performing countries were almost all from the African continent: Morocco (73), South Africa (75) and Ghana (76). The other two countries are Oman (72) and Honduras (74). The study was aimed at providing a wider global representation of education standards compared to OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and is expected to be formally presented at the World Education Forum in South Korea next week.

In the 2012 edition of the PISA, Malaysia ranked 52nd overall out of 65 countries due to a dip in reading ability and science. Reading ability fell the most, plunging to an average of 398 in the 2012. Malaysian students in the previous edition had recorded a score of 414, while the current OECD average was 496.

Science scores saw a minor decline versus the older findings, with Malaysians getting an average of 420 marks against the 422 that the batch three years ago managed; students in the 34 OECD countries received an average of 501.

Malaysian students recorded an average score of 421 in mathematics, a slight improvement from the 404 they scored in the PISA 2009+ edition, but still far below the 494 mean score for OECD countries.


Last March, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin admitted that Malaysia’s education system is “not that good”, but stressed that it will take at least several years before any improvements will yield results. His statement was a departure from Putrajaya’s repeated declarations that Malaysian universities were among the best in the world despite consistently falling out of global rankings.

Vision 2020 in the hands of Village Universities

May 7, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Vision  2020 in the hands of Village Universities

by Scott Ng@www.freemalaysiatoday

The prevalence of backward thinking makes Mahathir’s project seem like an impossible dream.

I can think of a lot of things to do with RM9,000. Take a week-long vacation in Boracay or some other exotic island and live like some king of a long gone age. Perhaps donate half to charity and save the rest. Or even take the parents out for a first class feast, and maybe even spruce up my work area with memorabilia, as I’ve had my eye on the Hot Toys figurines released in conjunction with the new Avengers movie. Admit it, they are pretty, even if the price tag is daunting.

Perhaps you can think of some better uses for that kind of money, and I’m sure you’ll let me know.. But what you and I can agree on is that it will be silly to spend RM9,000 on a anti-hysteria kit composed of, among other things, chopsticks, salt, vinegar, pepper spray, and formic acid. I don’t know about you, but I can think of some excellent dishes I could make with the ingredients, though pepper spray is largely unproven as a condiment. Sure, you receive some sort of training to use the kit as part of the package, but all in all, the very idea appears to be ridiculous to most sane Malaysians.

Uinversiti Malaysia PahangMost of us know that hysteria is a medical condition that can be treated, and indeed, there are many accredited and established treatments out there that provide the treatment. Best of all, they won’t charge nearly as much as Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP) is asking for its anti-hysteria kit. If nothing else, the kit and its ingredients seem deeply rooted in superstition, but we’ll leave the experts at UMP to regale us with tales of how their kit is rooted in solid medical practice and born of many, many experiments to find the best approach to treating hysteria.

Indeed, if it works, the researchers at UMP must be commended. Give them the full works. The ticker tape parade, national advertising on TV, interviews with the foreign press to prove that our Malaysian universities can indeed make an impact with their research. In fact, be sure to make them datuks, at the very least. All on their own, with easily obtained items, they have made a breakthrough in medical science.

If it works, that is.

Now, in the spirit of the utmost fairness, I will not condemn the kit as a failure. After all, I have not had the chance to sample the kit and the training that comes with it, being a reasonably sane human being who has never had a hysteria attack before. However, I am very much inclined to believe that it is a placebo to replace legitimate medical treatment and counselling. After all, human belief may be one of the most powerful forces in the world.

However, that a public university like UMP can come out and endorse a kit such as this and demand such a price for it makes me lose all hope in the bright and glorious future promised to us in Vision 2020. If anything, we are straying so far from it ideologically and spiritually that we may as well go back to the dark ages and live in hovels, looking to so-called spiritualists to treat ailments of the mind and body with so much snake oil.

Perhaps some people don’t want to have a First World mentality. Maybe they’re content to be scared of shadows, to imagine demons around every corner, playing with our minds and afflicting us with illness and disorder. Perhaps they may be right. There are, after all, more things in heaven and on earth than we can possibly imagine, but this is certainly not a right step in either direction.

It is this kind of thinking that we must cast off, that Mahathir rejected when he dreamt of Vision 2020, of a modern Malaysia where we live in prosperity and harmony. That dream seems so far away now, and as long as we allow the likes of this to poison our minds, perhaps we may never develop ourselves into First World citizens.

MARA get your priorities right

May 7, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

MARA get your priorities right

by Dato Noor Farida

Dato Noor FaridaLIKE many Malaysians, I am appalled at Mara’s decision to offer a “second chance” to Nur Fitri Azmeer, the Imperial College of London student who was convicted by a British court last week for possession of child pornography.

In spite of the conviction for this heinous crime, Mara has described Nur Fitri as an “exemplary student” and offered him a place at any of its institutions of higher learning after he completes his five-year jail sentence in the United Kingdom.

Clearly, the people running Mara have a warped sense of values. Don’t they realise that education is not solely about getting excellent academic results but also about building character and instilling good moral values in the students?

This particular student has been convicted of a very serious crime, that of possession of over 30,000 hardcore porn images involving young children which shocked and repulsed even the hardened officers of the special paedophile squad of the British police.

In addition, when the Police raided his room, he was found with a life-size mannequin of a boy.Nur Fitri Azmeer is obviously a pervert and for Mara to make excuses for his actions is totally repugnant and unacceptable. Sadly, MARA seems to have lost its moral compass.

Nur Fitri AzmeerThis student has a very serious problem which needs to be treated.He should not be released into society until he has received treatment and a team of psychiatrists has certified that he has been completely cured of his condition. Otherwise, from mere possession of paedophile porn, he might graduate to physically acting out his sexual fantasies and pose a real danger to children.

MARA, instead of offering him a place to continue his studies, could help him by ensuring that he receives the treatment that he needs. Only after he has been cured should MARA offer him assistance to pursue his studies. MARA needs to get its priorities right.

What is a Disgrace

May 5, 2015

Phnom Penh by the Mekong

What is a Disgrace


The Ministry of Rural and Regional Development will consider whether to appeal to the Southwark Crown court in London to reduce the sentence imposed on former Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) loan student Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin, 23.

Nur Fitri AzmeerIts Minister, Mohd Shafie Apdal said this when commenting on the London court’s decision to sentence Nur Fitri to five years in prison on 13 offences of possessing more than 30,000 pornographic images and videos of children.

“We can appeal (to reduce the length of the sentence), the problem is we are subjected to the prevailing laws of the country. We have to respect the laws that other countries practise,” he told reporters after attending the MARA programme with Rompin entrepreneurs in Kuala Rompin here, today.

According to British newspapers, the smart mathematics student at the Imperial College London was arrested during a raid at his home in Queensborough Terrace nearby Hyde Park on November 20 last year, while 600 category ‘A’ videos and images – defined by British authorities as ‘extreme form of child sexual abuse’ were seized.

MARA, who were reported to have sent Nur Fitri to London to further his studies last year, terminated the study loan upon his conviction on April 30.


The Education of young Malay Muslim Couples

May 4, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

The Education of young Malay Muslim Couples


A lot of young Malay couples get indoctrinated into their spousal roles the moment they get married.

obedient_wives_clubDedicated to Blog Reader Nora–A Good Muslim Woman

A popular prayer recited during the Malay solemnisation ceremony wishes that the couple will emulate the relationships of Adam and Hawa (Eve), Ibrahim (Abraham) and Hajar (Hagar), Yusuf (Joseph) and Zulaikha, and Muhammad and Aisyah. As it stands, none of them are particularly the best role models for a young couple in a modern world.

One fell in love with the other since she was the only female around at that time. Another left his wife and son stranded in the middle of the desert, only to attempt sacrificing his son years later. Another fell in love with the temptress wife of another man. The lesser said about the last the safer.

A Malay woman takes many vows after she is married. Among others, the husband now becomes her top priority, way above her parents. As for the husband, his number one priority is still his parents. Another vow is for the wife to never leave the house without the consent of the husband.

The message is simple, the husband is the master of the house. As for the wife, she is just a wife. For some, the indoctrination begins a bit earlier, during the pre-marriage courses that are mandatory for Muslims nationwide.

In theory, a pre-marriage course should benefit a Muslim couple. It gives essential education on the jurisprudence of marriage, and should it not work out, the divorce. The courses also offer advice on reproductive health, stress and financial management. But more often than not, these more important aspects are easily overlooked and reduced to rushed slides and presentations.

As for the rest, it would sometimes be nothing more than male religious teachers, or ustaz, telling adult jokes in order to keep students awake. At times, there will be lessons on how women are “different” from men in the way they think, and how a husband should handle his wife. For example, how to be strict with a wife who loves shopping so much until she wastes the alimony given to her.

These skewed gender roles are recycled every so often: Men are the breadwinners. Men are the more frugal ones. Men are good with money. Men spend their money wisely.Not women. They love shopping.

These course are so “effective”, that the federal Islamic authorities had even considered making another course, post-wedding, mandatory for Muslims due to the rising number of divorce cases. As soon as these youths get into their married lives, some would often get their marriage advice from of all people, popular religious clerics. After all, they see them so often, either on TV shows, or giving speeches in mosques, or on their social media accounts.

The abundance of questions on sex and intimacy being posed to the clerics, is just proof that many young couples are clueless not only of marriage, but their own spouse.

But why would they not be, when marriage is presented as a sweet dream, an end goal that must be reached as soon as possible? It’s a running joke that the top 10 bestselling Malay books will almost always be about a dream husband or wedding. It is almost the same with the Malay TV scene.

A reason behind this is mostly the cultural restriction behind pre-marital relationships. Portraying halal relationships in fiction is almost always safer than the forbidden ones. But at the same time, it provides a safe narrative to explore intimacy and sexual tension between the characters. Which ultimately resonates with young Malays, especially the girls, when such excitements are frowned upon publicly.

In the end, this has led to marriage being seen mostly as a way to obtain “halal” sex between boys and girls. Which leads to younger and younger couples getting married to seek a “morally-acceptable” sexual relationship.

Add to that the way clerics feel about how husbands should treat wives, and it is no surprise that many just cannot fathom that it is possible for a wife to cry rape against her husband.

Harussani and NajibThe attitude posed by religious clerics and Islamist groups in the renewed marital rape debate has been nothing but shocking. Instead of recognising the existence of marital rape, the Perak Mufti Harussani Zakaria (above) argued that it was just a “European invention.”

Razali Zakaria, a senior editor of Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), shifted the attention to other religion, accusing them of allowing sodomy. To Razali, Muslim men are masters of the bedroom who do not need to force their wives into sex as they can always marry more wives, or divorce any who refuse them sex.

But more shocking is how many young Malay men view wives as nothing more than property held by a man, and how some women submit to the same notion.

It is undeniable that men and women, husbands and wives, have different roles to play. But these roles should always put them on equal terms, complementing and completing each other. One should not be subservient to the other.

So it all comes down to this: What exactly are we teaching young couples, with the way we view marriage and our gender roles? What sort of men are we telling young husbands to be? And when these young husbands grow to be fathers, what then, will they teach their sons and daughters?