Malay Stereotypes in Academia and Business

May 2, 2016

Malay Stereotypes in Academia and Business

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Malay Academic Inferiority stated at this age

This burden of self-affirmation and stereotype threat can crop up well beyond our formative years and at the most unexpected venues. During the Alif Ba Ta Conference a few years ago, organized by the UMNO Club of New York and New Jersey at which I discussed self-affirmation and stereotype threat, a group of students confided to me their experiences in the special matriculation class preparing them for American universities. Midway through that class they were given a test. Those who excelled were sent abroad earlier.

Even though the class was filled predominantly with Malays, for the group selected to leave earlier, non-Malays were over represented. How do I explain that, the students inquired? I immediately sensed their burden of stereotype threat – Malay ineptitude in academics.

Matured with a wrong attitude towards Learning

So I asked them what they had done between their school examination in November the preceding year until they were enrolled in that special class the following July. To a person they all replied “Nothing!” Yes, nothing! Then I also asked them whether they had discussed with their successful and predominantly non-Malay classmates how they managed to do so well, specifically what were they doing from January till July when they started their matriculation classes together. The Malay students could not answer me.

Obviously they never thought to ask or were too embarrassed to discuss that sensitive topic with their non-Malay classmates, or their teachers. For their part, their matriculation teachers, unlike my Mr. Peter Norton at Malay College in the 1960s during my Sixth Form years there, merely accepted the fact as it was.

Whenever I meet Malaysians at elite American campuses I always try to discern through casual conversation what schools they attended (in particular their matriculation classes) in Malaysia and what made them choose America and pick that particular university. Invariably those students (even Malays) came from other than our national schools, reflecting the quality of such schools. Further and far more crucial, they had spent the six-or seven-month hiatus following their November SPM examination enrolled in private pre-university classes.

So when they were selected into the government’s special matrikulasi class, they were already six months ahead as compared to their Malay classmates who did “nothing.” That is a significant advantage in what would typically be a two-year course at most.

The Malay College IB Program

Malay College recently (July 2011) started its International Baccalaureate (IB) program after over a decade in planning. Again, the students were those who did well in their SPM the previous November. Apart from its radically different learning and teaching philosophy, IB is all English. Meanwhile those students had spent the previous 11 years in Malay medium. I suggested to those in charge that they should enroll the students earlier (as in January) so they could have six months of “pre-IB” where they could improve their English and other skills.

The response? No funds lah! I hope the first batch of students had done well. Should they fail or even just not excel, then expect those ugly stereotypes to be resurrected. The burden would fall not only on them but also on those following and on Malays generally. They will certainly not blame the teachers or the organizers of the program.

The government had already spent hundreds of millions of ringgit to set up the IB program, yet it could not secure extra funds to ensure that it would succeed.

An UMNO Crony

Meanwhile in the business sphere, when Bank Bumiputra collapsed in the 1990s, ugly stereotypes on Malay aptitude for and competence in commerce were again resurrected, and not just by non-Malays. That too was very ugly, and the public behaviors of the key players merely reinforced those stereotypes. Conveniently forgotten was that the bank failed not because it was run by Malays, but because of corruption, incompetence and political patronage, the very same afflictions that burdened GLCs in China (CITIC), India (Air India), and America (Freddie Mac).

From BMBB to 1MDB

Today a generation later, the same tragic story is being repeated with 1MDB, another GLC, this time at a much greater cost and with the nation’s highest leader involved. Again here the main players are Malays. Just in case the point is missed, they brought in a non-Malay to resolve the mess. Never mind that he was no more successful than his predecessor.

The 1MDB scandal again resurrected yet another stereotype, this time on the Chinese. One of the players, the few except of course for Najib who came out like bandits literally, was a Malaysian Chinese character close to Najib’s family.  Here we have the all-too-familiar story of a scheming Chinese taking advantage of a dumb Malay leader. Well, that dumb Malay leader part of the stereotype is true. At least Malaysians should be comforted by that fact. Imagine if we had a Malay leader who was smart as well as corrupt. The damage he would inflict could be horrendous! Count your blessings, Malaysians!

He did not do well academically

Linked to stereotype threat is the maintenance of the integrity of self-affirmation. When we see something that threatens our self-image, for example, Malays not doing well academically, we shift the focus elsewhere. Thus we say we do not care for “secular knowledge;” we are more into “spiritual” and “real” knowledge, the kind that would get us into Heaven. In that way we protect ourselves as non-Muslims would certainly not be competing with us in that field. If Muslim Chinese and Indians were to later beat us and excel in the same field, then we would have to spin yet another fanciful narrative.

When I see Malays focused on religion and the Hereafter and neglect their worldly obligations, I see that as nothing more than a manifestation of this threat to their self-affirmation rather than a genuine love for religious knowledge or concerns with personal salvation.

A similar phenomenon is seen in children. When kids run a playground race, those who are left behind would rationalize that they are not really “racing” or competing. Or, it’s only a “practice.” Likewise when I am sailing; I am always racing, that is, when I am overtaking the other sailboats. When I am being overtaken, well, I am out just for a leisurely afternoon cruise!

Both stereotypes and self-affirmation threats can be remedied. We do not have to be resigned to being their victims. To do that however, we first have to free up our minds from those cluttered and unproductive mental patterns. We have to create new or modify existing narratives to be more reflective of reality, one that would also be more useful and productive.

We can learn much from the insights of modern neuroscience on how to better understand and appreciate our current particular dilemmas.

Let institutions educate, but don’t suffocate them

April 29, 2016

Let institutions educate, but don’t suffocate them

by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz

“Real education enhances the dignity of a human being and increases his or her self-respect. If only the real sense of education could be realized by each individual and carried forward in every field of human activity, the world will be so much a better place to live in.”– A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

A recurring theme in this column is the importance of institutions in building the nation: in particular those preserved and established by the Federal Constitution and other laws.

Tunku Abidin Muhriz and Associates

But nation-building can also rest in institutions that are not established by statesmen, constitutionalists or hacks seeking a narrow political objective: in particular, those created by educators.

Over the past week, I have been reminded of this in powerful terms visiting schools and universities in the United Kingdom that — despite their academic accolades, graduate employment statistics or state-of-the-art facilities — still speak proudly and passionately about their histories and traditions. On their students they impart not only knowledge, but an institutional heritage too.

At the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, where my father was last week conferred an Honorary Fellowship, it was clear how proud they are of their founding in 1505, and their central role in the development on the profession itself. A story to which they have devoted a large (and sometimes macabre) museum.

At Aberystwyth University, where my father was an undergraduate and was made an Honorary Fellow in 2014, they spoke beamingly of how the university pioneered certain disciplines and enthusiastically shared their plans to renovate their Old College building.

At the University of South Wales, where my father received an Honorary Doctorate in Law in 2013, a connection was made between the latest facilities in the aerospace engineering faculty and the origins of the two establishments that merged to form the current university — a mechanics institute founded in 1841, and a school serving the coal mining industry founded in 1913.

These visits were short, but still their peculiarities shone through. When talking to Malaysian students at the three universities, their focus was no doubt on how the knowledge and skills acquired will contribute to their goals in support of their families, employers or country (there were many government scholars), but still they were aware that they have become ambassadors for their universities and not just ambassadors for Malaysia while there.

More so than universities, in terms of instilling a unique identity and character building, are secondary schools, especially boarding schools. At my old school, Marlborough College, on the way back to London, a brief walk around campus reminded me of the hours I spent reading history books, imagining glacial formation, getting my head round quadratic equations and practising Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, and also an entire vocabulary of school-specific terms that I haven’t had to use since 2000.

St John’s Institution is once again known by its old name. — Picture by  Malay Mail

St John’s Institution is once again known by its old name.

The Penang Free School (Founded in 1816) will celebrate its 200th Anniversary on October 21, 2016–Fortis Atque Fidelis. The name is back too. UMNO Politicians, known to mess everything up, tried to call it Sekolah Menengah Penang Free.

I realise now how crucial this was in fostering a deep camaraderie. Some critics condemn such institutions as elitist and exclusionary, and their reaction is to favour uniformity: to remove the things that make specific establishments unique: to make most people get the “same” treatment.

This ultimately results in a centralising tendency in which bureaucrats, rather than principals and teachers, make many of the decisions that directly impact on the student experience. Thus, instead of having educational institutions that are inspired by their own ethos and history, we have schools and universities that have to operate within over-prescribed limits.

We have already seen the effects of this, from the reduction in diversity between schools and the reduction of diversity within them. That is why so many who were educated at English national-type schools want them to return, because they attracted Malaysians of all races.

Most tragic is the loss of institutional memory in our historic schools, where simply the passage of time, the relocation of campuses or name changes have been used to erase aspects now deemed undesirable.

There does seem to be some resistance:  St John’s Institution just won the right to revert to its original name after a campaign from its alumni. Even this needed to be cleared by the ministry, though.

Earlier this month, I was at Tuanku Muhammad School in Kuala Pilah (which my father attended in the 1950s) to witness the unveiling of its centenary landmark, and there too I saw different generations reminisce about the classrooms they were taught in, the food they ate, the corridors they walked.

But recently, in much newer schools too I have seen how innovative principals have used what they can to endow some unique characteristics for their pupils, from the names of their houses, or even the murals on the walls. I hope that such phenomena will be seen as beneficial by our politicians and bureaucrats.

Great educational institutions may have their idiosyncrasies. And in being so, they prepare young people for real life: to endow the idea that as workers and citizens, it’s the shared experiences that create unspoken bonds, that everyone is bound by the rules, and that traditions matter.

* Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz is Founding President of IDEAS.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.


Grading Vietnam’s Higher Education Reforms

April 26, 2016

Grading Vietnam’s Higher Education Reforms

by Tran Van Hoa, Victoria University and University of Wollongong

Vietnam has announced a bold new higher education reform agenda. The government of Vietnam will offer up to 10,000 government scholarships for overseas doctoral study between 2014 and 2020 (or 1300–1500 per year) to tertiary and research institute staff. The so-called 911 Project will also offer scholarships to qualified non-academic professionals committed to tertiary teaching careers. This ambitious project, together with the government’s other scholarship and fellowship projects (including the 599, 322, 165 and Mekong 1000 projects), aims to produce highly skilled personnel capable of engaging in a contemporary knowledge economy able to support Vietnam’s continued socio-economic development.

Higher education reform has been recognised as a national priority since Vietnam’s successful reform or ‘Doi Moi’ policy in the late 1980s. Higher education reform has, in conjunction with other reform policies, assisted in sustaining Vietnam’s high growth, significantly reducing poverty, and in improving Vietnam’s foreign relations and global influence over the past three decades. Significantly, Vietnam made progress towards these objectives even during the volatile periods of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the 2008 global financial crisis and the 2011 Euro crisis.

Vietnam’s focus on higher education reform initiatives as a way of supporting development can be explained by three factors. Historically and culturally, Vietnam, like many of its neighbours in the region, is a country deeply influenced by Confucian teaching due to its long history of association with China. Education has traditionally been considered a great asset for personal development and rendering useful services.

Looking externally, in these modern days of increasing globalisation and regional economic integration, strong competitiveness among the trading economies is a dominant reality. A highly skilled and educated workforce plays an important role in achieving competitive and comparative advantages. These are crucial characteristics for achieving high productivity and favourable international trade expansion, which are in turn key to promoting development and growth.

In a similar way, the government acknowledges that overseas training of graduates provides an efficient way of transferring advanced overseas knowledge and research and development experience to Vietnam. This can foster a more vibrant domestic tertiary sector by improving the country’s national education quality in areas of research and training.

Vietnam’s vision of higher education, and the reforms deemed necessary to achieve it, was encapsulated in Government Resolution 14/2005/NQ-CP, the ‘Fundamental and Comprehensive Reform of Higher Education in Vietnam, 2006–2020’. Known as Vietnam’s Higher Education Reform Agenda (HERA), the resolution aims generally to build by 2020 a higher education system that is advanced and highly competitive by international standards, while also appropriate to a socialist-oriented market. The 911 Project falls into one of HERA’s specific objectives of ensuring that by 2020 60 per cent of tertiary education teachers have a master’s degree and 35 per cent have a doctoral degree.

The existence of HERA implies that Vietnam’s higher education system has weaknesses that require reform. It is critical that any reforms are appropriate and successfully implemented. Existing problems in how aspects of the education system currently function, alongside Vietnam’s status as a relatively poor country that faces high social demand for higher education will likely complicate this task.

The efficacy of the government’s scholarship projects and programs for overseas doctoral study may also have specific practical weaknesses. These include a lack of suitable applicants because of high language sufficiency requirements, including for English-speaking destination countries, and low retention rates of masters and doctoral students at overseas tertiary institutions, due partly to the personal pressures of living overseas.

Still, a review in 2015 by the Independent Evaluation Group of the World Bank demonstrated that HERA has operated at a fairly successful rate. The review assessed Vietnam’s tertiary sector according to three major criteria: strength of governance, quality improvement in research and teaching, and financial management. HERA’s achievement of its intended outcomes was rated as substantial, substantial and modest for the three criteria respectively.

The success of these projects and programs can be further improved through collaboration with relevant organisations in overseas destination countries. One example is the Vietnam Education Foundation in the United States, which has collaborated closely with the Vietnam International Education Development under the Ministry of Education and Training to increase successful higher education outcomes.

Prioritising higher education reform will allow Vietnam to effectively capitalise on new opportunities for continued economic growth and development. The key question now is how Vietnam can most effectively implement these reforms.

Tran Van Hoa is the Director of the Vietnam and East Asia Summit Research Program and a Professor at Victoria University and University of Wollongong.


Malaysia:Witch Doctors in Modern Society

April 25, 2016

Malaysia:Witch Doctors in Modern Society

by Azly Rahman

Malaysia’s Bomohs: Witch Doctors in Modern Society

Last week, students at several schools in the town of Pengkalan Chepa in the eastern Malaysian state of Kelantan suddenly began screaming and gyrating, seeing a particular Malay ghost called Pontianak,  also known as Kuntilanak in Indonesia — evil, half-dead, foul-smelling, dripping blood with a nail stuck in her neck, a shrieking female poltergeist.

The case of girls in school dorms or dorm-like habitats in multinational microchip assembly plants such as those in Penang is not new. In the 1970s and 1980s they were regular occurrences, with factories filled with screaming women, and western multinationals kept close contact with bomohs, or Malay shamans, to dispel the spirits.

Nor are they are unique to Malaysia although Malaysia seems a particular center for the phenomenon. They have been observed since the Middle Ages, where nuns in a French convent simultaneously began mewing like cats, according Robert E. Bartholomew and Erich Good, writing in the Skeptical Inquirer in May of 2000. Episodes, the two wrote, typically occur in small, tightly knit groups such as schools, factories, convents and orphanages.

Growing up, I recall elite boarding schools such as those Mara Junior Science Colleges experiencing mass hysteria and group-dynamics demon possession as well In a Kuantan town in the mid-1970s. One ghost was said to look like an angry belly-rubbing monk from Thailand, a “bomoh-Siam-looking ghost” that sat on the rooftop of the girls’ dorms. One girl said she saw him and the dormitory exploded into humming and screaming and ghost-dancing and praying, and the bomoh was called in. He brought a live chicken as a tool for healing.

The school, based on the concept of the Bronx School for the Gifted in Science, was in chaos for a good two weeks. More than a dozen girls were said to be possessed by evil spirits. The school’s authorities, through the daily efforts of the ustazs and ustazahs, Islamic teachers, orchestrated daily readings of verses from the Quran. Few improved immediately.

There was more than just en-masse demon possession. It was a case of young girls in a coeducational residential school under a tremendous amount of stress or adolescent pain.  In the town of Seremban during that time, it was the “green ghost” the students saw – a half-dead woman perhaps from the Seremban Lake Garden and all green, dripping with red blood.

In the town of Pengkalan Chepa in Kelantan over these past few days, all of them saw the same ghost – the daughter of the Demon Ponti, the Pontianak. But why? Why did they, in all the three cases above see the same evil half-human half-spirit being? I think because when these girls were wide awake and congregating, huddling or perhaps cuddling in those dorms while outside it was ‘a dark and stormy night, they love to tell tales of ghosts.

They would love scaring themselves to sleep, and add more vital statistics of these bad spirits not only to their own consciousness but also to the sociology of knowledge of it. Hence everybody agreed to the ghost’s the shape and characterization.

When stress sets in or when adolescent sexual tensions engulf the self and when one girl starts screaming, it triggers a chain reaction. And when one screams bloody murder of that blood-dripping pontianak or the Seremban green ghost or that Siamese ghost, everybody gets possessed and sees the same ghost. That is the logic.

This is a psychological explanation of demon possession. Every soul possessed would tell the same story. Despite living in a rapidly industrializing society, Malays love to turn to the bomoh or the shaman or the pawang or the dukun or the tok batin, the Malay-Muslim ghostbuster when it comes to such cases. This merry band of bomohs make a comfortable living speaking the language of demon banishment.

Malaysia saw these bomohs in the news two years ago, attempting to locate the missing Malaysian airplane MH370. We saw a federation of them pledging allegiance to the current regime, and we saw three decades ago a Mercedes Benz-driving telegenic female bomoh from the northern state of Perlis named Mona Fandey, brutally murdering a Malay politician by cutting him into 18 pieces.

The poor politician was seeking help in winning elections and advancing his career and all 18 pieces ended buried under a concrete slab behind the bomoh’s house. It was a sad and gory story.

My advice

But here is my advice to the Kelantanese, concerning the pontianak possession of the school girls. It is about repression and the way education is approached as well as the way human relations are perceived and most importantly how the human mind is nurtured. This not new. The ghost and spirits are always unfairly blamed, Not their fault.  Whether or not they exist, the bomohs will benefit from the crisis.

Those who developed the anti-hysteria kit being recommended will benefit and make huge profits. It is a psychological, socio-cultural, and pedagogical issue. Don’t blame everything on the polong and the pontianak. They are already retired – on a pension scheme, And with the invention of the electricity, the ghosts have all escaped through the electric cables and are probably dancing on the poles before they die of old age.

But seriously, these girls in the dorms and the factories are repressed. There is probably too much control and telling them what to do, dumbing down teaching or simply a common case of en masse adolescent sexual tension.

Look at these and humanize the system and make the school a happy place. Make learning more active – the mind has a life of its own. It is more philosophical and cultural than religious. Understand this premise of the foundation of teaching and learning. Maybe that is the cure for mass hysteria in a mass-babysitting enterprise called schooling.

Dr. Azly Rahman grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a doctorate in International Education Development from Columbia University and multiple Masters Degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has written seven books and more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia and global issues.  He currently resides in the United States where he teaches courses in Education, Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Political Science, and American Studies. He blogs at


Self-Affirmation and Stereotype Threat

April 25, 2016

Self-Affirmation and Stereotype Threat

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Dr. M. Bakri Musa

Our mind’s narrative of the world includes the perception we have of ourselves, and what we believe others have of us. The first is self-affirmation; the second, stereotype. Each of us is a member of some groups or other (race, profession, culture); thus we cannot escape from being stereotyped.

As for self-perception, like all other of our mental patterns this one too grew out of our experiences. Should we encounter something that does not conform to that mental picture we have of ourselves, we react like the patient with Cabgras delusion; we alter or ‘edit’ that information to make it conform to our pre-set pattern.

Our “self” narrative includes the stereotype others have of us, as with the colonialists’ “lazy native.” Not surprisingly, we often perform to those expectations, further reinforcing the stereotype. This vicious cycle continues, each cycle reinforcing earlier ones.

You have to work doubly hard and perform beyond well just to dispel the stereotype. Then even if you do succeed, there is no guarantee of escaping the stereotyping. It is a heavy burden to bear.

Consider girls and mathematics; there are many associated negative stereotypes. Should a girl were to stumble at her first test in college, not an uncommon experience especially at an elite college where all your classmates are top students while in high school, she would risk being a victim of negative stereotype when there could be other and more valid reasons, as with poor study habits or wrong choice of course. This stereotype burden would be worse if she were also to be a member of a visible disadvantaged minority.

Something similar happened to my daughter. She excelled in mathematics in school but she aspired to be a lawyer. Her undergraduate college required all students to take a math (as well as a science) course, the choice of which to be based upon the college’s own placement test. She was assigned one and found the going rough. She had to devote more than her usual effort just to stay abreast. She confided to us her problem, and as concerned parents we suggested that she met with her counselor.

To the horror of her counselor, my daughter was assigned to a class for honors mathematics and engineering majors! Presumably she aced her placement test and was thus assigned the “appropriate” course. It may be appropriate based on her test scores but not for her career aspirations. Fortunately it was early in the academic year for her to switch course. Also luckily for her she had sufficient self-confidence and was not burdened by any possible negative stereotype. Imagine a Malay girl having a similar problem at the University of Singapore or even the University of Malaya.

This stereotype threat is the rationale for having single-sex schools and colleges. This phenomenon is also seen in non-academic settings like sports, as with, “White men can’t jump!”

Stanford’s Claude Steele

Claude Steele, the Stanford psychologist (above) who had studied stereotypes and self-affirmation threats extensively, shared his insights in his book, Whistling Vivaldi. And Other Clues on How Stereotypes Affect Us.

The title itself is intriguing; he had the idea from his fellow African-American student at the University of Chicago. Like at other elite campuses, African-Americans were noticeable for their rarity at such places, then and now. This friend sensed that his fellow students felt uncomfortable by his presence and would purposely avoid him. He overcame this prejudice by whistling Vivaldi (a classical composer, thus indicating a “high brow” taste in the finer things of life) to smooth the way. I can just imagine the horror on the staid white campus had he tried rap music!

There are many negative stereotypes burdening Malays, like our supposed lack of aptitude for mathematics specifically and academics generally. Unfortunately the statistics reinforce this. Consider that when the results of the SPM and other public examinations are announced, the consistent feature would be Malay under-representation among the top scorers.

The tempting conclusion, and not just by non-Malays, would be to believe these ugly stereotypes about Malays. However, consider this. The Sixth Form science class at Malay College I joined in 1961 had been threatened with closure because there were too few students from the college who had passed the entrance examination. And the college supposedly took in only the brightest Malays! That only fed the prevailing ugly stereotype.

It took the initiative of its chemistry teacher, Mr. Peter Norton, a non-Malaysian, to identify the problem and then push to solve it. Malay College boys did poorly in science not because they were Malays rather they were insufficiently prepared. So in 1961 the college vastly expanded it science laboratories and instituted for the first time a pure science stream at the fourth form. For perspective, my old school in Kuala Pilah had been doing this for years. No surprise then that my old school outperformed Malay College in science.

That first batch of “pure science” students at Malay College excelled, as did others following. They are now among the nation’s eminent doctors, scientists and professors, as represented by Ariffin Aton, a University of Leeds PhD in Chemical Engineering, now head of MyIPO, the body concerned with intellectual properties.

Then there was my calculus class experience at Malay College. At Lower Six we had a Canadian “Peace Corp” volunteer as our teacher. Being new to the country he did not harbor any negative stereotypes of or preconceived ideas on Malays, except perhaps that we lived in trees. On finding out that we did not, he proceeded to treat us like his Canadian students.

Mr. Allen Brown began his class with us without any fuss; no dire preamble about how “tough” calculus would be and that we had to “buckle up.” He treated it like any other subject; he assumed we could handle it.

I remember well his first day in class. He began by drawing a series of arcs of from the same center point, each with a longer radius. Then he asked us to comment on the shape. It was obvious; as the radius got longer, the curve became flatter. No mystery there. Then he asked us to imagine an arc with a radius of infinity. That would be very flat, we responded. Then he beamed and exclaimed, “Yes! A straight line is nothing but a curve with a radius of infinity!”

“Now imagine the opposite,” he continued. “Consider two points on a curve that are infinitely close to each other.” Then he began taking a small arc and magnified it serially, and with each magnification the curve became flatter. “As you can see, if I were to magnify a wee tiny part of this curve a zillion times,” as he pretended doing it on the board, “the two points on it would essentially be on a straight line.”

Then he swung around and exclaimed, “There you have it! A curve is nothing but a series of infinitely short straight lines with variable slopes!” He went on to explain that what we had learned about the properties of a straight line would be equally applicable to a curve, or at least an infinitely small part of it.

Thus was the mystery of variable change and calculus revealed, at least to me. I had taken calculus the year before in fifth form and had aced it. Yet I did not fully grasp its concepts. All I did was memorize the formula and then plug in the numbers. The surprise was that I did well just with that.

We had an even greater surprise the following February when the national examination results were announced. The entire class but two had aced it. The two who did not nonetheless scored high “credit” (B plus). It was a record not just for the school but also the country. As we were whooping it up back at the dorm, Mr. Brown came upon us and wondered what it was we were celebrating. To him, it was not a surprise at all; after all he had seen our performances on the many regular tests he had given us during the year. The surprise for him was that we were surprised.

Decades later, I saw the movie “Stand and Deliver” about a teacher, Jamie Escalante, in a predominantly Hispanic Los Angeles inner-city school. He did such an incredible job with his AP (Advanced Placement, college-level) class that the College Board (the examining body) thought his students were cheating and forced them to re-sit the test! They still aced it!

Escalante quickly became a celebrity. Not revealed in that movie were the many monumental as well as petty obstacles placed in Escalante’s path by his principal and others. For example, his principal was against Escalante using the gym to accommodate the large size of his class, and the teachers’ union was against his exceeding the class-size limit. Tellingly, the program collapsed when Escalante left in frustration.

Talk to any dedicated teacher in Malaysia and she would readily identify with Escalante.I too can testify to that culture. Many years ago I visited an elite residential school in Malaysia. I wanted to donate a video microscope for its biology lab. As I also wanted to know of its other needs, I made an appointment to see the headmaster. On three occasions he canceled our meeting at the last-minute as he had “other commitments.” Needless to say, that video microscope was my only gift to that school.

As for the headmaster’s “other commitments,” one was the meeting of the local Koran reading contest committee, the other, planning the reception for a ministerial visit.

Judging from the many social media postings by parents today, things have only gotten worse in our national schools, further reinforcing the burden of self-affirmation and stereotype threats among their students who today happened to be mostly if not exclusively Malays.

Excerpted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released recently in January 2016.

Speak up, oh you young people of Malaysia

April 15, 2016

Speak up, oh you young people of Malaysia

 by Scott Ng
COMMENT:  It doesn’t matter that the politicians don’t represent us. We can make ourselves heard.

National debater turned political activist for the youth, Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman (above) is on a mission. It’s the same mission youth organisers all over the world have given themselves. They want to galvanise youth sentiment into political capital. They want to reach out to the most informed and most judgemental generation in history and make them care about politics because the political process has shut out their voice and fed them bread and circuses to keep them docile.

We often forget that the “battle for the next generation” has come and passed without our politicos realising it. The tail end of Generation Y will be of voting age soon and have already formed concrete opinions about the government and the various political parties, thanks to the availability of information and the ease of access that the smartphone era has brought us.

It is quite amazing how youth values across Generation Y are largely shared across the board – a concern for the environment, a mistrust of government and big banks, a need to secure our mutual futures, and a general acceptance of different cultures. Analysts worldwide theorise that this set of values was determined by the epoch Gen Y grew up in, which was one of terrorist attacks and economic collapses.

Yet, Gen Y shows a great need to come together. What Syed is attempting to do in taking a youth group like Challenger to the fore is to bring back youth activism and youth politics, and the timing is good indeed. He recognises that it’s time that young people be given their own voice in the political arena instead of through the youth wing of any established political party.

A survey that Challenger conducted recently struck us with it’s findings. It turns out that we are fighting for the same things that the youth of America, Greece and the United Kingdom are fighting for – jobs and living wages, an end to the corruption of our governments and corporations and the preservation of our environment.

Whatever you may think of Syed, he deserves our praise for daring to be our voice. They should inspire us to speak up too. We must realize that there are now more of us millennials in the workplace than there are of our parents’ generation. We are the majority, and it’s time to care.