PM: Role of family, school, community should continue to be strengthened

February 17th, 2020

KOTA KINABALU: Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the role of the family, school and the community should continue to be strengthened by instilling noble values and fostering a national culture, especially among the younger generation, in pursuit of making Malaysia a developed nation.

“This is in line with Islam as the addin (way of life). Every move, act and action we make is subjected to our religious values.

“Therefore, we should not follow the act or do things that are against (the teachings of) the Quran and the (authentic) hadis that will lead to destruction, subsequently preventing us from achieving success and progress,” he said.

The prime Minister said this in his speech when opening the 63rd national-level Quran Recital and Memorisation Competition at the Sabah International Convention Centre (SICC) here last night.

A total of 28 Quran reciters are taking part in the competition, to be held until Friday.

Dr Mahathir said the government, while determined to make Malaysia a developed nation, is aware of doubts on the country’s future direction.

“Some are worried that when the country developed, we will be losing the feeling of penance and will push aside the values and teachings of Islam, but, obviously, the progress and prosperity that we achieve are entwined as we celebrate the diversity of races and religions in the country.

“Islam is growing rapidly and has become a catalyst for progress. This balance is achieved and maintained if we hold on and go through our daily lives by adhering to the Islamic principle of addin, a way of life,” he added.

In line with that philosophy, Dr Mahathir said on Oct 25 last year, the government agreed that the “RAHMAH” approach will be used as the foundation for the Malaysian model of Islamic administration based on Maqasid Syariah and ‘Rahmatan Lil ’Alamin ‘which is universal, inclusive and transparent and in tandem with the customs and culture of Malaysians themselves.

RAHMAH stands for six qualities: amicable (ramah), peaceful (aman), harmonious (harmoni), genial (mesra), universal (alami) and respectful (hormat).

The government believes that this policy can give a positive impact on the people and the country in enhancing the social well-being, prosperity and unity of the multiracial and religious community in the country, he said, adding that the policy was also in tandem with the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030.

The prime minister also touched on the industrial revolution 4.0 and expressed the need for the people to be prepared to face the challenges.

“We must be more innovative, creative and continue to empower ourselves with knowledge, high skills, competitiveness and self-identity, in developing Malaysia according to our own mould.

“This is our country. We are the one ones who will determine our destiny. No one else can shape our future, except ourselves, with Allah’s permission,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said the country also needed people who are matured, knowledgeable, hard working and place importance on unity and called for them to together continue to build a more prosperous country and make Malaysia more competitive, clean and with integrity.

by Bernama

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Reforming key areas in the Malaysian education system

February 17th, 2020
AS acting minister of education entrusted with a narrow time frame to make impactful reforms, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad needs to prioritise a few key areas which will have the biggest and longest-lasting changes for the benefit of the nation as a whole. The prime minister’s cap he wears will reassure the rakyat that his proposals are constitutionally fair, just and non-discriminatory like his repeated calls to uphold the rule of law.

Finance, economic development and education are the most challenging portfolios for any government, more so for Malaysia and its heterogeneous society. In an instant the minister in charge can be accused of ethnic bias or worse, of marginalising groups and communities. Principles of equitability and egalitarianism must be starkly visible in any policy reform and its implementation up to scratch.

Education has always been mired in controversies as it serves to satisfy the needs of a whole array of stakeholders with diverse interests. Even the former education minister’s practical suggestion for students to wear black shoes invited brickbats and criticism. A change which should have applauded became the subject of derision. His call for four values – love, happiness, mutual respect, responsibility – to form the core of the education philosophy was thought to be soppy by some. Mahathir has to take the bull by the horns and turn to more contentious matters which only he as prime minister cum minister of education has the clout to reform. That is, if he dares to lose the political support of some factions to gain the support of right thinking Malaysians. First, he must address the vernacular school system which is at the root of polarisation among the school community. Paradoxically, the constitutional interethnic bargaining which resulted in giving Chinese and Indian Malaysians their own vernacular schools has worsened Malaysia’s interethnic relations.

Sixty years on, the national education system poised to produce knowledgeable, well-informed and socio-culturally enlightened citizens contributing fully to the nation’s development is instead churning out narrow-minded bigots and chauvinists winging in their own silos. The self-professed progressive group, on the other hand, is calling for a single school system with English as the medium of instruction – a proposal which even the far-sighted Mahathir would not be naïve enough to undertake.

The workable solution lies in standardising the composition, structure, curriculum, methodology, syllabus and training of the three national school types, ie Sekolah Kebangsaan, Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina and Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Tamil to make each the school of choice. National integration should follow as an important outcome.

The following recommendations are proposed:

l make the school population truly interethnic by introducing a 50/25/25 quota for each school type eg 50pc Chinese, 25pc Malays and 25pc Indians in Chinese schools

l regulate the curriculum and syllabus by allocating the same number of hours for the subjects across all school types

l allocate the same number of hours for teaching the national language Bahasa Malaysia and the second language English

l use the vernacular language to teach the same academic and co-curricular subjects

l standardise teaching methodologies and methods for subjects across all schools

l standardise teacher training

Second, Mahathir’s call to bring back PPSMI, that is the teaching of Maths and Science in English can be positioned as a pragmatic compromise to alleviate all schools and students to a higher educational level in English where all school types will teach Maths and Science in English. To this, add the teaching of History in English where the neutral universal language has the potential of developing the right sentiments through a standard History syllabus and reference list.

Third, remove religious education from the core curriculum and reinstate it as a subject to be taught after school hours. Instead, consolidate the Moral Studies curriculum by making it compulsory for all students. Inject into it the component of World Religions and highlight common moral values across all religions.

To make Islamic Religious Education truly relevant and beneficial for the development of modern-day Malay-Muslim students, revamp the curriculum and syllabus by focusing on the key precepts and moral values of Islam. Enhance students’ understanding and interests by highlighting not only the deeds of Prophet Muhammad and his sahabah but also of modern day role models among Muslim thinkers and leaders. Leave the teaching of the religious rites and rituals and the correct reading and pronunciation of religious verses to the Tafiz schools to be regulated at federal rather than state level. In this, schools can collaborate with mosques in the vicinity to take on the role of teaching Islam to students and the ummah in a more structured way.

Parents should seriously take on the responsibility of religious education for their children. Even if they are not schooled in the formal teachings of the religion, they can read up on its general teachings to pass on its value system. Admittedly, Mahathir has the unenviable position of righting the wrongs (perceived or real) of the country’s education system. We hope and pray he will succeed in reforming some key areas.

By: Datuk Halimah Mohd Said

Datuk Halimah is President of the Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason.

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Handicapped and jobless

February 16th, 2020
Dr Ruziah Ghazali.

A university degree is often perceived by undergraduates as the ticket to jobs with a steady income and promising career advancement.

But with a competitive job market and unpredictable economic landscape, this is no longer the case.

For graduates with disabilities, the situation is even more challenging. With an uncertain business climate, many organisations and companies prefer to employ graduates who they think can hit the ground running from day one. For them, graduates with disabilities may not match their expectations.

While there are persons with disabilities (PWDs) armed with university degrees who have gone on to become lecturers, lawyers, marketing executives, account executives, and administration officers, there are many who still struggle to gain employment.

And when they do land a job, it may not be a permanent one or have the pay packet and job grade that commensurate with their qualifications.

To address the issue of unemployment among the disabled, the government had some time ago introduced the one per cent PWD (OKU) employment in the public sector policy.

But as Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh pointed out in June last year, the policy has yet to gain traction despite the fact that its plus points include diversity in the organisation and making the workforce more inclusive.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan highlighted that the government’s inability to fulfil the one per cent OKU in the public sector policy after more than three decades also reflects the situation of employment for PWDs in the private sector.

“From the employers’ perspective, the employability of a graduate, including graduate PWDs, will depend on whether the graduate is able to perform the requisite tasks and has the right attitude and skills,” he said.

According to Shamsuddin, there are internal and external factors that influence the employment of PWDs.

“Internal factors include lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem and inability to work, despite them obtaining degrees. External factors include support and facilities for PWDs to commute to the workplace and at the workplace itself.

“In the private sector, the job market is a level playing field. The PWD candidate needs to compete with normal candidates for the same job.

“With the incentives given by the government to employers of PWDs and the employed PWD, the PWD actually has an advantage over the other candidates. But there is still a lack of awareness among private sector employers of such incentives to the employers.

“As many employers are still unaware of such benefits, the institutions of learning and the PWD candidate should take it upon themselves to inform the prospective employers of such benefits and advantages,” said Shamsuddin.

Dr Ruziah Ghazali, a member of the National Council for PWDs and an honorary adviser of the Little People National Organisation of Malaysia, said the lack of accurate information on PWDs — about dwarfism, for example — has led to unjust treatment by the public, resulting in PWDs being unnecessarily pitied, misunderstood and ignored.

Despite that, she said PWDs must be professional in approaching and dealing with employers.

“PWDs have to present themselves as reliable and highly professional — suitable for the position they are asking for. They must be well prepared before the job interview. PWDs have to be encouraged to think competitively and to promote their skills.

While there are persons with disabilities (PWDs) armed with university degrees who have gone on to become lecturers, lawyers, marketing executives, account executives, and administration officers, there are many who still struggle to gain employment.

“Employment should be seen as a real, professional and economic occupation, which does not depend on charity,” she said, adding that if disabled graduates could not get their dream jobs, they could still apply their knowledge to other fields of work and “most importantly, they must have a source of income for survival”.

Ruziah emphasised that disabled graduates should be accepted as part of the workforce who could contribute to the development of a country.

“In fact, this effort will help the disabled to get out of poverty because the disabled are often associated with this issue.”


One of the reasons why employers hesitate to offer a job to a PWD can be a concern about the unknown.

“Employers require quality in their work. They want to ensure that the employees’ performance can be assessed and discussed. This refers equally to all employees, regardless of their possible disability,” said Dr Ruziah.

She said employers should attend the Disability Equality Training which is supported by the Department of Social Welfare to have a better understanding of PWDs.

The government has also introduced an employment support service programme called Job Coach. The programme, provided by the department and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), focuses on coaching PWDs in securing employment.

“Furthermore, career service centres need to be established for the benefit of PWDs by providing knowledge, skills and a support system. These centres can initiate access to quality infrastructure that support PWDs and to enable access to world-class education, skills development and high-quality health systems.”

A disabled graduate receiving her scroll at the 35th International Islamic University Malaysia convocation last year. -NSTP/Aizuddin Saad

Dr Ruziah said the programme should adopt a multi-sectoral collaboration in addition to the involvement of the Office of the Deputy Minister of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and the Human Resources Ministry.

“The Career Service Centre will identify the list of experienced organisations in hiring the PWDs and the potential employers for PWDs to be corporate partners,” she said.


Shamsuddin pointed out that the workplace and the nature of jobs were changing, and many jobs were now being done by machines, or at home. For certain jobs, PWDs may even have the advantage over their normal peers.

“In anticipation of future job requirement for skilled workers, the government has identified TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) as a way forward for Malaysia,” he said.

He said that the institutions of learning had a critical role in equipping the PWDs with the requisite skills and knowledge that could be enhanced through direct collaboration with industry, including in the field of research and development, internship, training, equipment and recruitment.

“MEF is actively engaged at various national, regional and international platforms on the important subject of future jobs. We are currently an active member of the steering committee on Research on Employment Opportunity for PWDs in Malaysia under Institut Sosial Malaysia, a member of the National Council on Employment for PWDs under the Human Resources Ministry, and a member of the Department of Occupational Safety & Health TVET under the TVET Empowerment Cabinet Committee.”

By Rozana Sani.

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A faster route to a bachelor’s degree

February 16th, 2020

Foundation and matriculation programmes are two well-known stepping stones to a university degree.

Students should consider these pre-university options if they already know their fields of interest. The subjects will give students a taste of their future undergraduate studies.

In Malaysia, foundation programmes offered by public universities serve as a direct route to specific degree courses at the same institution, while the matriculation programme is run by the Education Ministry.

Students taking matriculation enjoy wider prospects as the course is recognised by all local public universities and many others abroad. It comes in four streams — Science, Engineering, Accounting and Professional Accounting — with a study duration of between two and four semesters.

Other universities might not recognise the foundation programme if one decides to pursue undergraduate studies elsewhere. However, students who pursue their foundation programmes at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and Universiti Malaya (UM) can apply to other public universities via the Central University Admission Unit.

Foundation students can experience a campus learning environment, said UiTM Dengkil Selangor corporate coordinator Rozi Hanum Shaharudin.

“The syllabus comprises highly intensive content, which strengthens their cognitive skills.”

UiTM offers five foundation courses in science, engineering, Teaching English as a Second Language and two law programmes — UiTM Law Foundation and KPTM Law Foundation.

“Students in the Law Foundation can go on to study law, humanities and languages,” she added.

Eirene Nabila Amani Williams-Hunt, 20, who completed her foundation at UiTM before reading law at UM, chose to do foundation because it focuses on a particular area of study.

“This is easier for me as I didn’t have to learn any unrelated subjects. I had the opportunity to understand how tutorials work and experience group and individual assignments as well as presentations. It helped me to adapt when I pursued my degree studies.”

Dr Shamarina Shohaimi.

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Centre of Agricultural Science Foundation Studies deputy director (academic and research) Associate Professor Dr Shamarina Shohaimi said foundation students would face similar assessments in undergraduate studies.

“This involves less didactic teaching and more student-centred learning. Students can get an idea of which undergraduate programme they want to pursue.”

UPM Biomedical Sciences degree student Yasothaa Velusamy, 21, said: “Although I was accepted into both UPM foundation and matriculation, I selected the former because it is a highly-ranked university. The comprehensive syllabus helped me realise where my interest lies.”

The tuition fees for foundation studies at public universities are subsidised and they range between RM2,013 at UiTM and RM3,000 at UPM.

Underprivileged students are entitled to RM1,420 tuition waiver by the Education Ministry. They also receive an allowance of RM2,500 and return airfare from Sabah and Sarawak to Peninsular Malaysia and vice versa.

Matriculation by the Education ministry is more affordable as students only need to pay the registration fees. They range between RM446 and RM521, depending on the college. Tuition and accommodation are fully funded by the government. Eligible students will also receive an allowance of RM1,250 per semester.

Coming from a big family, Negri Sembilan Matriculation College student Esther Law Cong Jie, 19, said matriculation was a cost-effective choice.

Through the Matriculation Programme Teachers Training Scheme, scholarships are given to students upon completing their studies to pursue a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degree in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Siti Najihah Mohd Sariff, 25, who studied at Kedah Matriculation College before pursuing her chemistry degree at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said her pre-university studies offered flexibility and other advantages.

Entry to foundation programmes at public universities requires at least five Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) credits, including Bahasa Melayu, and a pass in History. For medical and engineering courses, they would have to fulfil additional requirements.

In Malaysia, foundation programmes offered by public universities serve as a direct route to specific degree courses at the same institution, while the matriculation programme is run by the Education Ministry. – NSTP/File pic

For matriculation, general entry requirements include at least a B in Bahasa Melayu, English and Mathematics, credits in Additional Mathematics and two other science subjects, as well as a pass in History. Its Professional Accounting stream is more competitive, requiring a minimum A in Mathematics, English and three other subjects.


Students can also opt to do their foundation and matriculation programmes at private universities, where entry is not only open to SPM, but also O Level, International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) holders.

Compared with public universities, they present a variety of options and more specified foundation courses, such as creative multimedia, mechanical engineering and hospitality.

With an average tuition fees of RM10,000 to RM25,000, the cost is higher than its public university counterparts.

With eight foundation programmes to choose from, Taylor’s College Pre-University Studies School head Dr R. Sivabala Naidu said foundation was a great transition from a dependent learning environment to an independent one.

“Excellent students can apply for Taylor’s merit, talent, sports and community scholarships.”

Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman Centre for Foundation Studies senior lecturer Nabilah Abdul Aleem Sidek said the UTAR foundation programme was tailored to suit the degree courses there.

“The comprehensive programme equips students with a wider understanding of different fields. Students can expect better acquisition of theoretical knowledge and skills required prior to entering degree study life.”

Students can also consider international matriculation programmes provided by private institutions in the country.

Among the programmes offered are South Australian Certificate of Education, Australian Matriculation and the Canadian International Matriculation Programme, which is based on the Ontario (Canada) Education Ministry standards.

By Rayyan Rafidi

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Time to bring back Higher Education Ministry

February 16th, 2020

Due to the complexity of our educational system and to reduce the burden on our Ministry of Education (MOE), the government should consider bringing back the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE).

MOHE was first established in 2004. It was responsible for higher education, polytechnic and community colleges, student loans, accreditation, student volunteers and other matters involving higher education.

After the 14th General Election in 2018, the new government decided to combine MOHE under MOE.

Unlike other countries, our country’s educational system is rather complex as it consists of many types of educational institutions.

Our education system is divided into preschool education, primary education, secondary education, post-secondary education and tertiary education.

It is further divided into public and private education. There are hundreds of schools in the country.

There are also dozens of colleges and universities, not to mention technical and vocational institutions.

It will be very difficult for a single ministry under a single minister to give his or her full focus to deal with all issues and problems being faced by all the educational institutions.

These issues and problems also vary from one institution to another. The issues and problems faced by school teachers and pupils are different from those faced by lecturers and students at university level.

Ever since Pakatan Harapan took over, many plans were developed by the new government to improve the existing educational system at all levels.

To be frank, it will be very tough for the current ministry and its minister to give their full focus to all the issues and problems involving educational matters.

This will affect the government’s noble aim to carry out major reforms in our education system and all the educational institutions.

As such, it will be much better for the government to consider bringing back MOHE as a single entity along with a minister in charge of the ministry.

Bringing back MOHE will reduce the focus and burden faced by the existing MOE as matters involving higher education issues will be placed under a separate ministry, headed and supervised by another minister.

This would allow the existing ministry (namely MOE) to give its full focus on other remaining educational institutions and allow the government to reform our educational system and institutions for the sake of the country and our future generation.

by Dr Muzaffar Syah Mallow.

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Advice to those resisting the use of English

February 16th, 2020

The move to teach Science and Mathematics in English should be lauded and supported by all stakeholders.

As Malaysians who desire world-class knowledge, we cannot deny that technological advancements are built upon the “basic blocks” that are structured in English. The government should not be distracted by naysayers who cast doubts about the move.

Teething problems are inevitable whenever new policies are implemented. To throw in the towel even before attempting it is an inwardlooking way of looking at things. Fear should not be allowed to take control of any decision making process.

We can be nationalistic and patriotic even while we acknowledge the capable qualities of other civilisations.

We need to accept the fact that although all cars run on four wheels, there are some cars that are capable of going up steep slopes faster. The occupants of such cars will reach the summit earlier.

This is just an analogy to reflect upon by those who are resisting the use of English in the teaching of Mathematics and Science. We need to embrace a broader view to help our society reach the global platform faster.

The world is moving rapidly in acquiring artificial intelligence and digital technology.We need to fearlessly embrace the “building blocks” in which they are founded. These building blocks are undoubtedly Science and Mathematics.

We also need to think about creating global employment opportunities in this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The time is now. If the Wright brothers had waited for the right conditions by “treading carefully”, they wouldn’t have invented the first flying machines.

by Dr Z Measias John.

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February 16th, 2020

Heartiest congratulations to all successful graduates of SIDMA College Sabah for your accomplishment at the 6th Convocation Ceremony on 15th February 2020 at ITCC, Penampang, Kota Kinabalu.  Well done! This is a proud moment for all of you, your supportive parents, family and friends and communities who have always been there till this graduation. There are countless individuals who have helped emotionally, financially, and in various non-tangible ways to make sure the success of this graduation. Let this convocation ceremony be the beginning of more significant and impactful achievements for you to contribute back to your family, community, and the nation.

The convocation ceremony were officiated by Malaysia’s Early Childhood Education specialist, Prof Dr. Bustam Kamri. He expressed his pleasure to be part of SIDMA College Sabah 6th Convocation for the 411 Diploma Early Childhood educators. He commended that it was an exciting day as it marks another milestone in the graduates’ life. He added “I am sure it is a day full of anticipation, expectation, hopes and dreams as graduating means that you are now more equipped to face the world compared with when you first started your studies with the college. The scroll alone may not guarantee you success, but with your new knowledge, skills and values in a multi-cultural and multinational environments that you been enriched with, it will, as you step up to face the new levels, provide the confidence to take on challenges that life has in store for you.

Dr. Bustam also congratulated Dr. Morni Hj Kambrie (Chairman and Founder of SIDMA College) for ensuring that the college possesses resources relevant to the needs of its students to embrace the creative digital economy as well as the 4th Industrial Revolution. He said that the best investment that can be made is the investment in education, as education raises the potential of the students through value added, which in turn raises the potential of the industries and economics to perform well.

Earlier, Prof Dr. Morni welcomed and congratulated Prof Dr. Bustam Kamri for his continuous passion, efforts and supports shown towards the college; as he has been ever willing to be with SIDMA College students, particularly during this auspicious event such as this, despite his busy schedule.

Dr. Morni also felt honoured and acknowledged all the graduates, lecturers, families and the communities who have worked tirelessly for this moment, and he thanked them as well as wishing them the best in their future endeavors. To all the graduates, he reminded them that they are now SIDMA College Alumni, and he hoped that they will be proud ambassadors of SIDMA College; and we look forward to their continuous support and contributions.

He also mentioned that SIDMA College  prides itself in being the first private institution of higher learning in Sabah, offering more than ten academics programmes ranging from Foundation Studies, Diploma Programmes, Bachelor Degree and Master’s Degree in various field ranging from education to business, through its close network with Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNIRAZAK) and University of Cyberjaya as well as its own homegrown programmes; offering various fields of studies which are tailored to complement and supplement the increasing demand of the growing economies of Malaysia from its diverse industries. SIDMA College cordially invites SPM / STPM or its equivalent school leavers to pursue their tertiary studies at SIDMA College Sabah.

During the convocation, graduate Mellsie Morius received the 2019 Top Student Award for demonstrating her outstanding academic performance throughout her studies as she has strong determination to complete her studies with excellence result. Meanwhile, student Helmina Peter Rospin was awarded the SIDMA 2019 Chairman’s Award. During her studies she has demonstrated her exemplary effort in various co-curricular and social welfare activities; as well outside activities, particularly with the National Department for Culture and Arts (JKKN).

To all our graduates, may you always look back on this day as a memorable day of hope and promising life, and may it all be realised.

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A respectable place

February 14th, 2020

MALAYSIA’S performance in the recently-released Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2019 is our best ever, ranking 43rd out of 167 countries and territories, and scoring 7.16 points out of 10, with individual scores of 9.17 for Electoral Process and Pluralism, 7.86 for Functioning of Government, 6.67 for Political Participation, 6.25 for Political Culture, and 5.88 for Civil Liberties.

The first edition of the index in 2006 placed us 81st with an overall score of 5.98.

Moving up from 52nd place in 2018, the upgrade ranking is significant, although we are still categorised as a “flawed democracy”.

In a press statement, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) congratulated “the people, the Election Commission and the Malaysian government for achieving the highest score in the Election Process category”, before adding a reminder that “there is a lot to do to achieve the status of a full democracy”, and called for including further institutional reform, ensuring freedom of speech, re-introducing local government elections, reducing the power of the Prime Minister, and increasing political participation by women.

There are, of course, areas in which many civil society organisations, including Ideas, have worked over the years, often in partnership with each other.

Still, I could not help but notice that this Democracy Index 2019 result was not greeted with as widespread jubilation as it might have done in the past.

On the contrary, some people I spoke to found it bittersweet, since it would enable the government to trumpet the achievement while not addressing ongoing shortcomings, even reversals, that afflict our democracy today.

These comprise, as I have written before, the halting of some promised reforms, and mounting uncertainty about the future leadership of the country amid talk of deals between erstwhile foes and splits within parties.

No doubt there is a lag between the data being gathered and the index being published; and this is important when considering some individuals, cautiously welcomed to serve in key institutions, who have perhaps not lived up to the initial optimism surrounding their appointment. And as is inevitably the case with any country comparisons, there are intangible or country-specific aspects that the data might not be able to capture.

In Malaysia’s case, the durability of reforms is difficult to assess, since a new Prime Minister and a different set of political alliances could quickly discard what was previously accomplished.

That is why it is important for civil society to work together with the relevant parts of government, parliament and other stakeholders to ensure democratisation is not derailed.

In the long-term this must include civic education, so that citizens understand the relationship between different institutions and can hold the government to account according to their promises, particularly those explicitly stated in election manifestoes.

Indeed, one of our current quagmires stems from a promise of which there is no written record. There has been no end of theories concerning possible new political configurations, the secret signing of letters and statutory declarations, and the interpretations of what political leaders say in public versus what they might be doing behind the scenes.

None of this, alas, can be captured in a democracy index, and the impacts of such politicking –including promises made in secret between political elites – risks undoing what was promised to voters in public, with years before another election is due.

At the creation of our country it was openly stated that we were aiming to be “a nation of liberty and justice” with our parliament “a shining beacon of democracy”.

Yet we must not forget that many Malaysians do not care for this history, and by extension, see initiatives like the Democracy Index as worthless, or worse, tools of Western propaganda and domination.

In short, we must present the democratic agenda as one that belongs to us, that is right for Malaysia, and a result of our own sovereign will.

So while we might be happy to lead the rankings among Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Asean countries (though Timor-Leste outranks us at 41st), we should benchmark ourselves against other countries with similar attributes that dominate the top of the rankings.

These include federations like Canada, Australia, Switzerland and Germany (7th, 9th, 10th and 13th) while constitutional monarchies make up half of the top 20 countries (even though constitutional monarchies form a minority of countries overall).

Already, a segment of anti-reformists are gloating, claiming that they were right: that the last election was never about democracy.

Yet, enough promises were secured, and enough reforms were enacted that at least one respected assessor of democracy has measured significant progress in a year when the worldwide trend was towards authoritarianism.

by Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin.

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‘Volunteering Malaysia’ can drive volunteerism to new heights

February 14th, 2020

Malaysia as a nation should do more to harness the power of volunteerism.

EACH YEAR, the third Monday of January is celebrated in the United States of America as a unique national holiday that honours the spirit of community service.

In short, this special day is dedicated to volunteering, a defining way of life for many American citizens, most of them, spurred to take action by a personal and religious ethos, driven to fill the gaps of a weak welfare state that leaves millions behind.

The day has a true distinctive history that goes back to the years of the civil rights movement where millions of African Americans nonviolently protested against a discriminatory system gamed to favour the white population.

One of leaders of such movement was Dr. Martin Luther King, the activist who paid with his life the price of freedom and emancipation.

The 15th of January is the birthday of Dr. King and the third Monday of each January has been officially sanctioned to commemorate the gestures and efforts of this modern times hero, a person that always believed in the responsibility of each person, no matter the background and social economic conditions, to do the best to serve the community, always striving to support those most in need.

From US to Malaysia is a long stretch and yet the teachings of Dr. King have universal meanings that extends well beyond the boundaries of the nation where he was born.

It is true that the 5th of December is already celebrated worldwide as the International Volunteering Day but still, it is important to think of what is now known as Martin Luther King Day as an inspiration for the entire world.

Malaysia as a nation should do more to harness the power of volunteerism, a tool that promotes social cohesion, local development and skills.

There are many ways to encourage local citizens, from all ages, races and economic status, from emboldening local social purpose organisations to the recognition of small but still significant gestures being carried out assiduously and in the shadows by millions of Malaysians, day in and day out.

Theountry is developed enough to design a strong, localised volunteering supporting infrastructure that harnesses, recognises and celebrates locally led volunteering initiatives.

A multitude of stakeholders can play a role, from local schools to universities, from small to big private companies, from local government to the federal one and from citizen to citizen, including the youngest and the eldest.

The government of Singapore, fully cognizant of the ethnic diversity of its population, prone to lead segregated lives and, propelled by a culture that awards resilience over dependency, has always been encouraging its citizens to volunteer and serve their communities

The city state therefore has developed a sophisticated volunteering “architecture” with a multitude of programmes and initiatives.

With different ministries always trying to involve the local citizenry, the leaders of country had the farsightedness of creating a special agency in charge of promoting a culture of empathy across the nation.

Since 2008, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, NVPC has been mandated with the task of engaging not only the people of Singapore but also all its stakeholders with a variety of volunteering options, all tailored made to cater to the specific needs of its constituencies, from school children, to the members of corporate sector.

Recently NVPC has launched a bold and long term strategic vision of making Singapore a “City of Good” which is, according to its chairperson, Mildred Tan, is a “community where people care for one another and building it, “is not the job of one, but the responsibility of all”.

Those thinking of the City of Good as just branding exercise are wrong.

It is instead a systematic, radical strategic plan that wants to truly transform Singapore for the better, helping to set the foundations for a society that is less divided by inequalities and more united by a government encouraging a citizenry led welfare system.

Maybe it is an imperfect and debatable model spurred by measures to offset the side effects of the local “turbo capitalistic mindset” but it is interesting enough for the way it tries to engage the population.

With Malaysia and Singapore sharing a common history and a shared destiny, also because of their responsibilities as founding members of the Asean, it is mandatory to set aside egos and jealousies and working for a common good by harnessing, locally and regionally, the power of volunteerism.

Stimulated by the work being done in Singapore, therefore it is high time that the Malaysian government invested in setting up a strong volunteering infrastructure able to target all different groups and stakeholders within the country.

Initiatives in this direction taken by local social purpose organisations, many of which are not for profits or social businesses, should not be stifled by this new entity but rather supported.

‘Volunteering Malaysia’, let’s assume this would be the name of such agency, should work as framer of new national policies and initiatives that can build on what already exists.

It can also become an enabler, partnering with programmes currently run by non-state actors, helping them get rid of red tapes and other constraints, especially from the financial point of view.

For example, on the one hand, also following the example of the Corporation for National & Community Service, another public entity that similarly to what NVPC does in Singapore, supports volunteering throughout the US, including coordinating Martin Luther King Day, Volunteering Malaysia should set standards and parameters of national programs able to meet the greatest challenges of the country, helping Malaysia achieving its own Sustainable Development Goals.

It can do this by running programmes directly or by launching bids where local social purpose organisations can become the implementing partners.

On the other hand, while national volunteering programmes will be the unifying glue of national civic engagement agenda, Volunteering Malaysia could nourish local promising ideas from existing and new not for profits, social businesses and private corporations.

Fostering, leveraging and scaling the creativity and ingenuity of those actors already promoting an engaged and cohesive nation should be one of the strategic priorities of this new agency.

Let’s not forget that later this year the International Association of Volunteering Efforts, IAVE, the global not for profit championing volunteerism around the world, will organise the 26th World Conference that will be hosted by the Emirates Foundation in Abu Dhabi in October.

What a great idea would be having the Prime Minister of Malaysia attending its inaugural ceremony and announce the world the creation of Volunteering Malaysia. No doubt that Dr. King would have surely have approved it.

By Simone Galimberti.

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NSTP visit an eye-opener for Meiji University students

February 14th, 2020
Students Japan visit the NSTP Resource Centre. -NSTP/Email

KUALA LUMPUR: In an effort to expose undergraduates to the working world, six exchange students from Meiji University, Tokyo under the Summer School Programme paid a visit to The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad (NSTP) yesterday.

The students, accompanied by four lecturers from University Teknologi Malaysia Kuala Lumpur (UTMKL), were in the country for a three-week English Proficiency Course, run by UTMKL’s Social Sciences and Humanity Faculty.

The main objectives of the programme were to provide exposure to the students on the actual working world and on improving their communications skill.

“We choose to visit NSTP as the company has the most established English daily, New Straits Times.

“Besides the good quality of language used, the newspaper also runs interesting programmes such as the Newspaper-in-Education (NIE) and Empowering English in Education (3E),” said UTMKL lecturer Nurfarah Athirah Abdullah Sidek, who led the students for this visit.

Earlier, the students were briefed on the company’s operation and products by NSTP head of corporate communications Wan Abdillah Wan Nawi.

They were also taken for a tour around the newsroom, INK Studio which is a multimedia studio and ARTCRIB, formerly known as Resource Centre, which houses NSTP’s rich archives of photos and newspaper articles.

While familiarising themselves with the journalism industry in Malaysia through the tour, one of the participants, Kimata Hiromi, an editor in a Japanese publishing company shared some stories from back home.

According to her, the editorial process among Japanese media companies were much more intense compared to here.

“Journalists have to submit their write-ups by 12 noon. After the submission, regular discussions will be held between the editors and journalists to decide on which news will be chosen and printed for the day.

“The newspapers will then be distributed to homes and organisations respectively beginning 4am daily.

“Most people in Japan only read Japanese language newspapers. However, we do have our own fully English language newspaper,” she added.

By Pauline Yee.

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