Rally shows need for a radical revamp of the curriculum
by Dr.Azly Rahman@ www. malalaysiakini.com
by Dr.Azly Rahman@ www. malalaysiakini.com
I have this feeling that the 2020 presidential election in the United States will be unlike any in my lifetime — and not only because it will likely involve Donald Trump running as an incumbent — he alone is a one-man, three-ring circus — but also because the huge issue that should have been the focus of the 2016 election will be unavoidable by 2020. That is: How do we govern the “Next America’’?
“You know William Gibson’s line, ‘The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed’? Well, the future is here, and now it’s starting to really get distributed. This is the Next America. But our institutions and political parties have not adapted to it,’’ Gautam Mukunda, a Harvard Kennedy School Research Fellow and the author of “Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter,’’ remarked in an interview. By 2020, it will be impossible to ignore the Next America. “The basic premises of how the economy works have shifted under our feet and the government will have to respond.’’
This Next America will raise a whole web of new intertwined policy, legal, moral, ethical and privacy issues because of changes in technology, demographics, the environment and globalization that are reaching critical mass.
Where do I start? A good place is with 5G — fifth-generation wireless systems. With the two telecom giants Verizon and AT&T now beginning to deploy 5G technology across the country, the metabolism of business, entertainment, education and health care will dramatically accelerate in the Next America, beginning around … 2020.
Getting the most from artificial intelligence and machine learning — like deploying self-driving vehicles — requires quickly transmitting massive amounts of data with very low latency. We will have that capacity in the Next America. With 5G, a Hollywood movie that now takes six or seven minutes to download onto your iPad will take six or seven seconds and microsensors in your shirt will gather intelligence and broadcast vital signs to your doctor.
As AT&T notes in one of its 5G ads, “Think of this as the next frontier in untethering, giving you the ability to take the ultrafast experience you have in your home or business with you virtually anywhere.’’
It could be as revolutionary as the internet.
But it will require all kinds of new regulations to govern applications from self-driving cars to drone delivery systems to robots that will work as security guards and home health aides.
An Associated Press report on Monday said that the government estimated there were currently “about 110,000 commercial drones operating in U. S. airspace, and the number is expected to soar to about 450,000 in 2022.’’
All of this new technology will have important implications for the education-to-work pipeline. My friend Heather E. McGowan, a future-of-work strategist, puts it this way: “The old model of work was three life blocks: Get an education. Use that education for 40 years. And then retire. We then made the faulty assumption that the next new model would be: Get an education. Use it for 20 years. Then get retrained. Then use that for 20 more years and then retire.’’
But in fact, in the Next America, argues McGowan, the right model will be “continuous lifelong learning’’ — because when the pace of change is accelerating, “the fastest-growing companies and most resilient workers will be those who learn faster than their competition.”
That means that in addition to our traditional big safety nets — Social Security and Medicare — we will need new national trampolines.
We will need to make some level of postsecondary education free to every American who meets a minimum grade and attendance requirement, so that every adult and every high school graduate can earn an associate degree or technical certificate free of tuition at a community college at any time.
Tennessee has already done that.
These same technological transformations mean the Next America will require changes in antitrust policy. Since the 1980s, antitrust policy judged if a company was getting too big largely by one question: Was the loss of competition hurting consumers through higher prices or fewer services?
“But that definition is increasingly irrelevant in an age in which the most powerful companies in the world offer products and services for ‘free’ in exchange for personal data,” Rana Foroohar, the Financial Times technology columnist, noted in a June 24 essay. “This has provoked calls for a return to the definition of monopoly in the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act, which emphasizes the need to ensure that the economic power of large companies does not result in the corruption of the political process.’’
That’s because we are more than consumers, “we’re citizens,’’ notes Mukunda, “We have interests that stretch far beyond consumer pricing, and it’s the job of the government to protect citizens’ liberty, not just consumers’ interests. It says so right in the Constitution, and we’ve forgotten that.’’
Just one person — Mark Zuckerberg — controls Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. The fact that he has shown himself to be much more interested in scaling his platforms than combating those who abused them for political and economic gain — and that his lieutenants were ready to go after their high-profile critics, like George Soros — should make breaking up or regulating Facebook a front-and-center issue in 2020. But just the raw political weight of behemoths like Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple needs a closer look.
The Next America is more than technology. It literally will be born in 2020. The United States Census Bureau has predicted that by 2020, for the first time, “more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group.” That will begin a process by which by 2044 “no one racial or ethnic group will dominate the U.S. in terms of size,” NPR reported.
Alas, though, the fiscal tools we need to build the Next America have been weakened by President Trump’s tax cuts. The federal deficit was not supposed to hit $1 trillion until 2020, but the White House now says it will hit that number in 2019. We’ve had deficits this size in response to the 2008 financial crisis, but we’ve never run one so huge during a boom.
That means the Next America may have to be built in the face of higher interest rates on more debt, with less fiscal ammunition to stimulate the economy should it slow down or face a crisis. So the Next America may very likely have to raise taxes or trim military spending, or Social Security or Medicare — just when all the baby boomers are retiring.
In sum, the Next America requires addressing each of those issues, and many more — from climate change to zoning rules — and how they interact. So the next election must too. The craziness around Trump has delayed much of this discussion. But 2020 won’t let us do that again. The Next America won’t wait.
November 8, 2018
by Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas
Malaysia’s Education Minister Dr. Maszlee Malik: I would not trust my cat in his care, would you? –Din Merican
“…three months ago, Maszlee was quoted in a daily newspaper as saying “in some countries, such as Finland for instance, it is a crime for teachers to even conduct exams from Primary to Form Three”.
Firstly, I have yet to find evidence of the “criminal” aspect of conducting exams in Finland. Secondly, yes, there are no mandated standardised tests in Finland and no national assessment exams (like Singapore’s Primary School Leaving Examination or our UPSR); there is only one nation-wide exam when students are 16 years of age, to determine their entry into university. Testing is practised, but solely at the teacher’s prerogative.”–Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas.
November 1, 2018
by Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas
Since 9/11, global scrutiny turned to contentious concepts such as terrorism, mono-polar, bipolar, superpower, economic and cultural imperialism, as well as linguistic colonialism.
It is the latter which is the subject of this commentary because it has stirred harsh, aggressive and sometimes, amusing reactions in the media (local, regional and global), as well as in Malaysia’s recent parliamentary sitting.
A few days ago, Parliament was entertained by the rantings of a particular opposition MP who claimed that English is not an intellectual language. Among the many incoherent sentences that were uttered, he cited examples of ancient civilisations and conquerors, attempting to rationalise that, “English is not an intellectual language that develops the mind and brain”. He also confidently pontificated that “modern economies like Japan, Taiwan and non-English speaking Europeans do not use English in their journey to become developed nations”.
I hope this issue commands the attention of most Malaysians because for a multi-cultural, multi-religious, economically-developing and relatively-peaceful nation, we need to separate the “wheat from the shaft”.
Linguistic colonialism or imperialism as a concept is a derivative of Edward Said’s conceptualisation of cultural imperialism (in his two famous books Culture and Imperialism, and Orientalism). I doubt, though, that the recent local uproar about the use of English as a medium of instruction of a few subjects in school is based on any knowledge of Edward Said’s work.
Nevertheless, anti-English language crusaders keep creeping out of the woodwork because it seems fashionable. It is glaring that all of these narratives to date have been devoid of historical context. And this makes for extremely wimpy analyses.
Hasan Arifin, BN’s MP for Rompin, is not alone. There are many in Malaysia, among the public, government and elite who feel that English is being “deified”. They also believe that English speakers never created great civilisations. Leaving aside that this notion is erroneous, it also begs the question, “what is a great civilisation?”
In my understanding, a great civilisation is based on a network of cities (territories) comprising cultures that are defined by the economic, political, military, diplomatic, social and cultural interactions among them.
So, the Roman, Spanish, Arab, French, British and Chinese (with their various dynasties) were great civilisations. How did language then become the signature dish, so to speak, of that civilisation?
Through these empires, languages spread and shifted in dominance. In the past, empires spread their influence through their armies, and after the conquests, so began the social and linguistic assimilation. Between the 3 BC and 3 AD, the Roman Empire was bilingual — Latin and Greek. This was because the Romans knew that Greek was a language of prestige, philosophy and higher education — an “intellectual” language.
Spain succeeded in making over 20 sovereign states today, that speak Spanish, excluding millions of Spanish speakers in immigrant communities in other non-Spanish speaking nations such as the United States, Canada and the Philippines.
Castillian Spanish became the most important language of government and trade. It was the lingua franca of the Spanish empire, a derivative of Latin. Latin was still the “intellectual” language of the Spanish and of the Church.
The Chola Dynasty was one of the longest, most civilised empires in the history of southern India. Tamil and Sanskrit were the official languages.Tamil and Sanskrit are two distinct languages, the former being Dravidian and the latter being an Indo-Aryan language. As we can see, all three great civilisations were bi-lingual.
In 21st century Malaysia, however, we are faced with a backlash of a-historical pundits who reject the ebb and flow of civilisational change, yet advocate for national progress and development.
Let me educate them on the current position of English in the world today. First, it is an intellectual language. The British Empire, between the reigns of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II (1588-1952), had about 250 million English language speakers. English achieved unique conditions of development. The large continents of North America, Africa and Asia were colonised with industrialisation and trade in mind.
Global conditions at the time facilitated the transition towards the flourishing of English in previously French and Spanish colonial territories of North America and Africa. Due to abundant natural resources and human capital in these regions, the wheels of commerce and trade helped to “deify” (not my word) the English language. English was “at the right place, at the right time”.
Today, all civilisations are enriched by the ideas, thoughts and knowledge disseminated world wide in English. Of course there are other languages that perform this function, but English is predominant.
Second, people like Hasan Arifin and his supporters cannot distinguish between modernisation, Westernisation and imperialism.
Modernisation is the development and application of current and innovative science in the development process of all sectors of society. Westernisation is a process subsumed under modernisation when specifically-Western notions of what it means to be modern are accepted as universal values of modernisation.
Many aspects of Westernisation should not be accepted as modernisation. Imperialism, on the other hsnsd, is the process of domination of policies and ideas with a specific agenda in mind. In history, imperial powers have imposed power and influence through diplomacy or military force.
I think the current discourses in France and India of a “linguistic imperialism” are far-fetched. Like Westernisation, there is good and bad imperialism. It is also era-specific.
In the 21st century, military and economic powers like the US, China, Great Britain, Japan, Germany and Russia do not mirror the same imperialistic goals of the World War Two era.
Anintellectual, would realise that the need to master the English language is hardly the imposition of an imperialistic agenda.
The inadequacy of the historical-context approach is dangerous for nation building. A system oiled by pseudo-intellectuals who run the policy-making machinery will be suicidal for our “new” Malaysia.
My advice is to be firmly grounded in historical processes, be up-to-date with current economic and socio-political trends and subdue ethnocentric tendencies which are embarrassing and underdeveloped.
Critics of the English language quote China and Japan as being ignorant of the English language, yet they challenge the US and other great powers economically and militarily. It takes more, however, to become a global hegemon.
Anti-English crusaders in Malaysia believe religiously that China and Japan, despite their incapacity to speak and write in English, have reached a level of global economic hierarchy that threatens US and other major power positions. However, even this notion is skewed.
China, for example is known as “the factory of the world” and “the bridge-builder of the world”. But China’s global hegemonic status is in doubt because it lacks the capacity for economic reform, to minimise economic inefficiencies and it has proven inadequate at reforming the financial sector in order to provide investors with consistently profitable returns (the failure of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port construction is a case in point). Therefore, the issue of language does not figure in the equation.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
by Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas
There is no need to revamp our higher education system, because there is a system already in place. On paper, at least, the system is spectacular.
Just look at the facts that we are regularly bombarded with. Five of our 20 public universities have attained research university status. Five have also been given autonomy in administration, human resources, financial and academic management and student intake.
This move, supposedly is to encourage excellence among our institutions of higher learning. Several initiatives have also been undertaken by the federal government in the past, including the establishment of Malaysian university branch campuses in other countries.
There are lofty plans to create more Malaysian Chairs at universities abroad and to improve the world ranking of Malaysian universities.
Currently, there are seven foreign universities with branch campuses in Malaysia. Part of the system too is that a target has been set of 100 researchers, scientists and engineers (RSE) per 100,000 workforce by 2020.
Also, the previous Malaysia Plan (10MP) had set a goal to improve the quality of academic staff in public universities, by increasing the number of academics with PhD’s. The ambition is to have 75% of academics with PhD’s in public universities.
Last but not least, we are proud of Setara, MyQUEST, MQA and numerous acts and accreditation agencies that allegedly regulate the provision of high quality public and private higher education in Malaysia.
What is all the fuss about our education system then? Why was there an uproar, and subsequently an increasing disappointment among parents and other citizens’ groups with the appointment of Maszlee Malik as our minister of education?
I think many older Malaysians have an intuitive sense about the reasons for the apparent under performance of our education system. However, to date, there has not been a critical and decisive articulation of what has really failed.
It is not the system as much as the mind, the thinking and the lack of an awakening which have failed in nurturing this system.
Australia’s former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd hosted a dialogue with Dr Mahathir Mohamad last month at the Asia Society in New York. Mahathir responded to a question about what needs to be done to improve Malaysia’s education standard and how to inculcate noble values among children in Malaysia. His key answer was to increase the use of English as it is a universal language.
Although I am in full support of this, our education ministry must dig deeper. There has been so much (too much in fact) talk about adopting the Finnish system of education.
Minister Maszlee said Malaysia should focus on a learning system that is technology-centric, with an emphasis on the English language. Agreed.
What I disagree with, though, is his far-reaching ambition for Malaysian youth to embrace multiple languages.
We cannot be fluent in our mother tongue, let alone English, what more a third or fourth language?
Dr Maszlee did make an intelligent point, however, when he said that we needed to further the “formative years” in a student’s learning cycle by focusing on gathering information, critical thinking and “bringing out the humanity in them”.
These are indeed very noble values that all education policies should embrace. However, in what direction is the Education Ministry steering these goals? Was Maszlee actually conceptualising the need for future intellectuals? After all, Finland is known for it’s lively, rich and independent intellectual tradition.
The Finnish model
Five months since Maszlee’s statement about adopting the Finnish system of education, Malaysians are still in the dark about what that means and where we are heading. So, let me try to fill in the gaps.
Finland welcomes foreign students to study in Finland, in various fields, predominantly in forestry, information technology, green technology and medicine.
Part of the reason Finland is an attractive education hub is because of her low cost of living and the superior quality of Finnish universities in the global academic ranking system.
Also, in November 2017, Finnish Ambassador to Malaysia Petri Puhakka declared that his country was in talks with a few local public universities on possible collaboration “to enhance the education sector”.
Almost a year has passed since those talks, but Malaysian parents and educators have seen no such development in our public schools and institutions of higher education.
Will Maszlee ever articulate the essence of the Finnish system, which I believe to be it’s high regard for the intellectual.
Amidst these unanswered questions is a nagging, festering epidemic. Malaysia lacks a dignified pool of intellectuals in all fields of academia. We may have the PhD’s, the engineers, lawyers, doctors, MBAs and computer scientists, but knowledge of a certain subject or the possession of a degree does not make a person an intellectual.
The English philosopher Herbert Spencer had no academic qualifications but he was one of the leading intellectuals of his time.
What Malaysia needs are people who are not just servants of their own special interests (geopolitics, computer design, engine systems or sustainable development), but are dedicated to a larger responsibility.
In many of Edward Said’s Reith Lectures, he eloquently defined the intellectual as “an exile and amateur whose role is to speak the truth to power, even at the risk of ostracism or imprisonment”. In Malaysia, it is more the norm to see academics and educators succumb to the lures of title, money, power or specialisation.
An intellectual is a person who engages in critical, honest thinking, research and reflection about society, and proposes solutions for its normative problems. When you gain authority, you become a “public” intellectual.
The object of intellectual activity is always related to the wider context of life and thought, penetrating into fundamental values and commitments. This is when an intellectual can become a game changer in our degenerative education quality.
Public university academics and Malaysian educators, on the whole, consistently encourage their students to study well so they can get better jobs and earnings.
Of course they are also told to “contribute to society”, “be a model citizen”, “help towards economic growth”, “be innovators in science and technology”, etc.
Platitudes, in my opinion. Many graduates will get good jobs eventually and they will earn comfortably. Even if lecturers do not tell them this, the majority of students are in institutions of higher learning because their goal is to enter the work force and contribute to the Malaysian economy.
If an intellectual was lecturing he or she would not be caught up with such platitudes. Here is an example of how an academic with intellectual attributes might conduct a class.
First, their mode of in-class instruction would not be a rehashing of facts and figures from the reading list assigned to students.
Second, only 40-50% of their lectures would involve audio-visual aides, especially for social science subjects. In a two-hour lecture, for instance, it is ludicrous to display 30-60 powerpoint slides (assuming a 2-4 minute display per slide) to lecture about the sociology of corruption.
I have witnessed such practices in an undergraduate lecture on media and mass communication in a Malaysian public university.
Third, audio-visual aides are exactly that—aides to assist in delivering the most important points and the fundamental theme of the lecture.
In a Political Philosophy class, one could have a few slides introducing the fundamental thoughts of Adolf Hitler, for instance, and key dates depicting his youth and early political career.
The lecturer would then proceed to relate the information on those slides with past, current and future trends in global geopolitics.
An intellectual would prefer this method because it highlights a certain level of consciousness and insight into vital problems. Universities in Malaysia must focus on the value of discourse in classrooms.
Lecturer-student interaction in a class of 30 students is still viable and more valuable for the development of the mind. After almost two decades as an academic,I have noticed that the trend of lecturers shying away from debate and discussions in a classroom is increasing.
Fourth, universities should be a breeding ground for the intellectual pursuit, the spirit of inquiry and the reverence of scientific and rational knowledge. If academics do not value this, how can we expect the students to develop such a tradition?
A step towards correcting Malaysia’s education woes would be to nurture the intellectual so we can have insight into the wider context of life.
Academics should instinctively direct their research to be relevant to society within the wider context of Malaysian life.
Academics should raise the standard and image of scholarship by abandoning the idea of publishing in order to get promoted.
An intellectual considers promotion a bonus, the key objective being a solution to the festering problems burdening society, be it racial, religious, political, social or economic problems.
* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
September 30, 2018
Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly was poised, articulate and to the point.
He did not mince his words when he spoke about global political, economic, social and environmental conditions since his last address 15 years ago, in 2003.
The gist? That the world has not changed much in terms of reform; that the developing world is still being bullied by powerful nations; that the trade war between the US and China continues to impoverish poorer and smaller countries; that there is a growing ambiguity of social values, and that the notion of freedom has become skewed, at best.
Intellectually-sharp and laudable, Dr. Mahathir delivered his poignant message, that the “new Malaysia” is not naive. He told the UN General Assembly that Malaysia will continue to soldier on with other countries, through the United Nations, to make the world a better place, economically, politically, socially and environmentally.
In foreign policy jargon, Mahathir delivered a warning against the acts of dangerous, threatening Hitlers and the misconceptions of peaceful, law-abiding allies.
Overall, his Address championed the aspirations of the developing world and smaller non-aligned nations. However, there is more that we should take away from his Address, in order to render his thoughts more relevant in the domestic Malaysian context.
There are three key areas the new Malaysia should focus on. Mahathir spoke of global terrorism. Although he did not specify the actual definition of the term (or of the word “terrorist”), one can read between the lines. He lamented that there is “something wrong with our way of thinking, with our value system. Kill one man, it is murder, kill a million and you become a hero”.
What he actually means is that the powerful have the capacity to define concepts in order to justify certain acts. Terrorism, as coined by the powerful, is a notion applied to non-state actors, jihadists and transnational communities of oppressed people who react violently to achieve justice.
Powerful states have the sole purpose of pushing their economic and political agendas and so a global understanding of the concept of terrorism was born after 9/11.
Yes, about 3,000 died mercilessly at the World Trade Center in 2001. But almost 130,000 (mostly civilians) perished in one day, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945. This is more than 43 times the death toll at the hands of the so-called Islamic terrorists.
Yet, throughout the decades after World War Two, the acceptable narrative describing US geo-political advances (and those of her allies) was never termed “terrorist” or “terrorism”.
I am not condoning such acts as no mass killing of civilians can be considered civilised behaviour. However, we must consider here the socio-political manipulation of labels.
In the Malaysian context it is happening all around us to the detriment of the common people. For instance, the notion of “the rights of Malays” and “the welfare of the Malays”. What rights are we focusing on? The right to get a job based on race or the right that all qualified and capable Malays should be appropriately awarded?
For me, it is the latter. Yet, certain politicians still choose to speak about the unfair treatment of the Malays and that the new Pakatan Harapan government should be tasked to help bring them up to greatness and to be protected.
The label of “rights” is bandied around but its meaning is deliberately couched in ambiguity for an ulterior political motive.
Using Mahathir’s example of the plight of the Rohingyas, his message was an appeal for “caring”; that just because a nation is independent it does not mean the world should close an eye to domestic suffering and injustice.
He reiterated that nations need to solve the problems of global conflict, racism and bigotry by going back to the root causes.
Similarly, the state of Malaysia’s education system needs care and we need to identify the root causes of the inequality that exists in our schools and universities.
Agreed, our teachers and professors are not being massacred, and neither are our students. But mentally, the massacre began 61 years ago.
The public university leadership has failed to produce thinking professional graduates and to my mind, this is humanity’s greatest form of oppression.
We are all aware that our public university leadership is more concerned with national and international rankings, administrative positions of the academic staff, titles and research funding.
But are the research funds, for instance, channeled into meaningful projects to help society overcome real problems of poverty and discrimination?
Are the researchers and academics “caring” enough to plan such research even though they may not be awarded a future government contract or a datukship?
This brings me to my next point: values. Mahathir commented that there is something wrong with our way of thinking. To my mind, the sole purpose of an education is to instil good values. These include moderation, dignity, integrity, hard work, perseverance and honour. No matter what religion or creed one belongs to, these are universal values.
In post-election Malaysia, this topic has surfaced many times. But I fear it is just a narrative with no substance.
There are many issues that have surfaced since PH took over. From the appointment of key ministerial positions, to presidents of universities, to the PD move, to child marriage, the list goes on.
Nepotism, cronyism and corruption still loom over us but it is not too late for values reform. What better way to start than to realise that, while it is important for us to preach values to the international community, we should apply this to our own society.
There is a need for all Malaysians to delve deeper into Mahathir’s UNGA Address because he was not only sending a message to the superpowers and their allies.We should also see his message as a warning to tackle our own domestic crises; problems that have arisen as a result of past mistakes, on-going stubbornness to address those mistakes and a lack of foresight.
Dr.Sharifah Munirah Alatas is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.