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.

Auf Wiedersehen, Not Goodbye Malaysia

April 30, 2015

Auf Wiedersehen, Not Goodbye Malaysia


My friends,

As of tomorrow May 1, I shall be in Phnom Penh to take up my appointment as Associate Dean, Techo Sen ( Hun Sen) School of Government and International Relations, University of Cambodia. I am grateful to my colleagues at the University, especially President-Minister of State Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, for accepting a soon to be 76 year old activist, who is considered to be irrelevant in his own country, and allowing me to partake in this major assignment. I feel appreciated and shall get on with the challenging task of building this School, which bears the name of the Prime Minister of Cambodia, HE Samdec Techo Hun Sen, into an academic and research center of  excellence.

Phnom PenhThank You for Your Support

Fortunately, I am not alone. Even before I board to the plane, I have been assured of collaboration with The S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, Nanyang Technological University where I will have the opportunity to work with Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Emeritus Secretary-General of ASEAN and former Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia and Ambassador Murshahid Ali, former Singapore Ambassador to Cambodia.

In Malaysia, Tan Sri Mahbob Sulaiman, Chairman, Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) where I am a Associate Fellow has expressed interest in a research and consulting tie-up with the School and the University of Cambodia. Dato Dr. Paul Chan, Vice Chancellor, HELP University and his colleague, Dato Dr. Zakaria Ahmad have concrete collaboration proposals with the University of Cambodia. Upon arrival in the Cambodian capital by the Mekong, I will brief Dr. Kao on these matters.

This blog will be active as usual and I hope you will continue to support it with your comments andDin Merican@facebook ideas. You have contributed a lot to making it a well visited site. According to the 2014 Annual Review by, it is read in 206 countries throughout the world and in 2014, it had 2.5 million visitors. It is most gratifying to have your support. I welcome your suggestions which can make this blog a home where ideas matter.  So it is auf wedersehen, not goodbye Malaysia.–Din Merican

Good Ideas but bad policies on Education

February 17, 2015

Good Ideas but bad policies on Education

Ambitious education policies don’t work because they are premature given the current inadequacies of the system.

COMMENT by Wan Salman Wan Sallam

Although he is actively critical of the Najib Administration, Tun Dr4th PM of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad seems to be still in possession of his sense of humour. He quipped recently that he’d want to be Prime Minister again if he had the chance. He said one of the things he would do would be to bring back the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI).

PPSMI is one of the many things he gave the nation during his tenure as Prime Minister. It was intended as a means of globalising students at an early stage. But things didn’t turn out as nicely as they should. It did not, for instance, succeed in narrowing the gap of educational opportunities between the urban and rural populace.

The problem of availability of extra materials and classes to reinforce learning has always been more severe in the rural areas. To worsen the situation, English language education has always been less effective in the rural areas. It is an open secret that in schools with large majorities of Malay and Bumiputera students, English teachers speak more Malay than English during lessons, perhaps thinking that this would help the students better understand the lessons. This happens even in secondary schools.

The students therefore do not have enough opportunities to communicate in the language, let alone enhance their skills. At the end of the day, they essentially don’t learn much. They experience problems not only with English, but also with understanding the basics of Mathematics and the Sciences. Thus the urban-rural gap is widened even further, and we can conclude that Mahathir’s policy was premature and problematic. It was premature because it was implemented without the conditions being ready for it.

After Mahathir retired, PPSMI was abolished and Science and Maths are now taught in Malay again. A problem may have got solved, but another one arises.

A step forward

In 2014, the Ministry of Education introduced a more thorough implementation of the School-based Assessment System (PBS). Formerly, it was implemented mainly in the form of oral tests for language subjects.

DPM of MalaysiaIt is good that we have finally found a way out of an extremely exam-oriented system and made a step forward. But yet again, the implementation was premature, with the pre-conditions not satisfied beforehand.

The enhanced PBS makes it necessary for teachers to keep updating students’ achievements in the system, adding yet another burden to their teaching duties.

Generally, we can assume that a classroom has about 40 students. Unlike a university lecturer, a school teacher must get to know his students individually and constantly give them personal support. Now that they are burdened with greater workloads, their chances of nurturing the pupils through the personal touch are reduced.

It has been reported that nearly 30% of schools in Malaysia are categorised as “schools with very small numbers of students”. One would think that the PBS system would work better in these schools. But no, 90% of these schools are poorly funded. Some of them even operate in other schools’ buildings and use their facilities. These schools, due to having few students, practice multi-grade teaching. As far as we can see from the environment of these schools, this is not a conducive condition for the implementation of PBS.

If that isn’t bad enough, the PBS management system (SPPBS) adds to our compilation of the worst things about PBS. With the system continually lagging if not hanging, we have another huge burden to add to the tons of workload already piled upon the shoulders of teachers.

Furthermore, the Internet speed also argues against the implementation of the online system. According to an Asean report, Malaysia’s average Internet speed is only around 5.5 Mbps, far from the global average of 17.7 Mbps, let alone Singapore’s 61 Mbps. Even Vietnam beats us.

With the implementation of PBS, both teachers and students are expected to make use of information and communication technology (ICT). But from a study done in a rural secondary school by a team from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, almost 80% of the students don’t have computers at home and more than 50% of them are not competent enough to use them. In fact, 70% of them get to use a computer for only about an hour a day. A good 42.9% don’t know how to use Microsoft Word and 60% aren’t familiar with e-mail.

PBS is, after all is said and done, another premature education policy. So if Mahathir wants to be PM again or if anyone else has the ambition to take over from Najib Abdul Razak, I’d ask him to please make sure that education policies are made to be compatible with current conditions. What is the point of an education policy if it benefits only a certain group of people, and a small one at that?

Wan Salman Wan Sallam is an FMT reader

With a firm belief in freedom of expression and without prejudice, FMT tries its best to share reliable content from third parties. Such articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. FMT does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by any third-party content provider.

Where values begin

January 8, 2015

Where values begin

by Tricia

Tricia YeohFOR all of our technical analysis of how to improve such-and-such a public policy, the most current of which being the deforestation decisions that may have contributed largely to the flood disaster, the main question often asked is whether there is political will to follow through.

This is the conundrum that policy wonks like us in think-tanks have to face squarely each day: whether or not facts and figures really influence policymakers at the end of the day (both civil servants and politicians).

Sure, it is still crucial that someone does the job of number-crunching and doing comparative policy research. But perhaps it is equally – if not more so – important that non-governmental organisations like ours get our feet dirty to wade in the more difficult waters of changing cultural values in a more direct way.

It is our values that shape us, which influence our weltanschauung (worldview), sometimes “through a glass darkly”. These values are inculcated at a young age, influenced by the society we keep, both family and otherwise. The great divide we have observed in the ethno-religious debate in Malaysia is a perfect example. Just like how you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it is near impossible to convince several deeply entrenched NGOs that the Sedition Act should be abolished, for instance.

If I were to recall my personal motivations for doing the things I do today, one would need to trace the values imbibed from a young age. Books that I read, experiences encountered during those very impressionable years of teenagehood, and most profoundly, people I looked up to as leaders, who eventually became – and still remain – mentors to me during periods of vocational self-doubt in this journey.

It is for this reason that IDEAS, after much deliberation, decided to embark on a new and exciting project, based on the understanding that it is the shaping of values from a young age that can truly transform the future of this now fragile nation. Through this, we hope to provide the same experience that many of us now working hard in civil society had the opportunity of having those many years ago.

We are calling for 20 of the brightest young Malaysian leaders from all over the country to be part of a nine-month National Unity Youth Fellowship programme, during which they will engage in a series of roundtable discussions, seminars and national conference where they will interact with community and religious leaders and other speakers we will identify. This is being done with the support of the National Integration Research and Training Institute at the Department of National Unity and Integration.

We hope that by the end of this period, we would have built up a strong and united, multi-ethnic and diverse “fellowship of 20″, whom, through their close-knit interaction, discussions and purposeful sessions of working together to formulate solutions, will become advocates for liberal ideas in tackling the problem of unity that we face today.

Values TreeIt is not enough that the youth of today have access to online media. Being connected to the internet ensures young Malaysians are exposed to the many dimensions of a particular issue. But a structured programme like this allows for young leaders with the greatest potential to be given specialised training on technical skills, the opportunity to build relationships with academics, opinion-shapers and thinkers, and most importantly, the ability to network with other like-minded leaders from different states across both Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak.

It is a continuing challenge for the moderate-minded in Malaysia who feel frustrated over the way this nation of great potential has instead regressed. Overhauling the system would be ideal, but it will also take a long time, with many corresponding layers to tackle.

We have instead chosen to channel those frustrations into this programme that can have an immediate impact upon the young. It is hoped that at least one or two eventually feel that this intervention was meaningful to them, and that the right leadership, mentorship and training helped them reframe the way they see Malaysia and its plethora of identities. Perhaps we would then have contributed to the values of these future leaders, whatever they choose to do next with them – this is where values begin.

Dedicated to the families of those affected in the floods and the recent AirAsia crash.

Message of Moderation for 2015

December 27, 2014

Message of Moderation to Najib, PERKASA and ISMA for 2015

by Azmi (12-24-14)

When facing the challenges of a nation, one can approach it through a crude and hateful ideology determined that it is the only valid viewpoint and filled with the malicious intent of the bigoted. Or we can choose rationality, compassion, fairness, justice and inclusiveness.–Azmi Sharom

Azmi Sharom 3WHAT do the IS, Taliban and Boko Haram have in common?Firstly, they all describe themselves as Islamic.Secondly they all have carried out acts of despicable brutality.Finally, they are convinced that they are absolutely correct in what they do.

I think there is a lesson to be learnt from these three groups for us in Malaysia. I don’t think we in Malaysia can truly comprehend the horrors felt by those who are the victims of these three organisations.

Mass kidnappings, forced conversions, the murder of schoolchildren, the beheadings of innocents, out-and-out war; these are things which are so grotesque that, to me at least, they seem almost unreal. But they are real and we are blessed that we do not have to experience them first hand. But we must not be complacent.

I am not here to be a cheerleader for the anti-terrorism law now in the works. I have my doubts about this new law, but more importantly, the need for such laws indicate a failure to deal with a problem before it becomes a problem.

Desmond Tutu

Now it would be naïve and foolish to think that the IS, Boko Haram and Taliban, for all their pious posturing, are purely about religion. I am certain that any in-depth study of them will show that their roots are economic, political and social in nature. However, religion is a very useful tool and these people know how to use them.


How much easier is it to convince your followers that killing people is all right if is clothed in the language of a holy war. It is much simpler to deal with economic problems by making the cause of these problems the infidels and the answer is to eliminate them. And controlling society becomes a breeze when you can convince people that you are doing God’s work and only you are correct (coupled with a vicious system of law of course).

What does this have to do with us? Frankly folks, I do not know what our future holds. I do not know if our economy is going to be strong or whether it will collapse. What I do know is that if things get bad, then people will become desperate and they will turn to something to give them hope. The language of the extremist is one such place

It is absolutely vital therefore that we must have many voices and views out there. There has to be opinions which are not reactionary but measured, thoughtful and just. We must dilute the potency of the extreme with a variety of alternative thought.

There are extremists amongst us, and make no mistake they are there, if not in out and out terrorist mode their language and stance is but a few steps away. If we allow only their voices to be heard, then what we are doing is preparing the soil for extremist behaviour to seed and take root the moment things get bad.

inclusivenessOne Choice: Inclusiveness with Compassion

It is therefore of utmost importance to place into the consciousness of the nation a choice. The choice is a clear one. When facing the challenges of a nation, one can approach it through a crude and hateful ideology determined that it is the only valid viewpoint and filled with the malicious intent of the bigoted. Or we can choose rationality, compassion, fairness, justice and inclusiveness.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone.


Politicians and Public Figures told not to meddle in University Academic Affairs

December 21, 2014

Politicians and Public Figures told not to meddle in University Academic Affairs

by Zafira

nazrinsultanHRH Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah.

POLITICIANS and public figures should not interfere in the academic affairs of a university to ensure its integrity, says Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah.

Revisiting his late father Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Al-Maghfur-lah’s speech during a Universiti Malaya (UM) convocation ceremony in 1987, Sultan Nazrin said his father placed high importance in ensuring that universities had full autonomy over its academic management.

Quoting his late father’s speech, Sultan Nazrin said: “Historically, we have seen instances where outsiders have interfered in the management of a university, leading to the deterioration of the academics and making it difficult to improve, not just in a third world country, but even in developed nations.

“I urge political leaders and other public figures in society not to lead, influence or lobby a university in academic affairs,” he said in his speech at a special commemoration ceremony for Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah Al-Maghfur-lah at UM’s Dewan Tunku Canselor here yesterday.

Earlier, several academicians took turns revisiting their experiences working with Sultan Azlan with the audience, comprising UM students and its alumni. Present were Raja Permaisuri Perak Tuanku Zara Salim and UM Vice-Chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Amin Jalaludin.

Before Sultan Nazrin took to the rostrum for his speech, a slide presentation was played showing photographs and quotes of Sultan Azlan in his early years with UM.

Sultan Nazrin appeared teary-eyed during the three-minute presentation and was visibly emotional in delivering his speech, at times pausing to wipe away tears.

Sultan Nazrin said in the 28 years that his father was the university’s Chancellor, all 26 of his father’s convocation decrees consistently stressed the importance for the university to mold a holistic educational syllabus that covered aspects of religion, intellect, moral values and integrity.

He said this was to ensure that the varsity produced graduates that were knowledgeable, ethical, honourable, responsible and capable, as well as honest and sincere.

In a fragile social climate, Sultan Nazrin said it was important for the nation to have an independent judiciary, uphold the Federal Constitution and protect the sovereignty of the country.

“During a convocation ceremony on June 30, 1979, after receiving an honorary Doctorate of Literature from the university, Sultan Azlan, who was then the external examiner for UM’s Bachelor of Law degree, shared his words of wisdom, which were ahead of its time.

“Touching on sensitive issues pertaining to conflicts over race and religion, his words should be used as a guide and reference to deter the country from sensationalising sensitive issues that could ignite conflicts and jeopardise harmony in the country.

“His speech ended with this reminder: to forge a Malaysian society that is strong, dynamic and long-lasting, everyone must come together under one flag, the Malaysian flag; one ruler, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong; one language, Bahasa Malaysia; one song, Negaraku; one culture, a culture based on Malay culture; and, under one motto, ‘Bersekutu bertambah mutu’ (Unity improves quality),” said Sultan Nazrin.

He said yesterday’s ceremony was a manifestation of appreciation by UM to a special individual who had contributed to the university for 28 years.

“The best form of appreciation and remembrance is through embracing and practising all of Sultan Azlan’s guidance,” Sultan Nazrin said, adding he hoped his late father’s words of wisdom would be adopted by many in their daily lives.

Later, Sultan Nazrin was presented a robe and mortar board that was worn by his late father during the university’s past convocation ceremonies.