Impact of mental illness stigma

December 11th, 2018
(Stock image for illustration purposes) Stigma devalues a person and affects his self-image.

GOOD mental health is something we all need. It is a feeling of wellbeing, happiness, the ability to cope with life’s many challenges, to accept others and, most of all, to have a positive attitude towards oneself.

Scientific and medical research demonstrates that mental health is a foundation for good health as physical and mental health are inseparable. Despite its increasing significance, the reality is that governments, public health practitioners and citizens alike devote little attention and consequently fewer resources to mental health.

Meanwhile, the suffering caused by mental illness and mental disorders is quite staggering. Patients with mental illness suffer a great deal and are unable to function normally. On top of that, they face discrimination and rejection from the community, and this has a detrimental effect on their recovery.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in four individuals develops a common mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety, every year. Two in every 100 people in our community develop schizophrenia or manic depression (bipolar disorder) in their lifetime. Two to three per cent of all families have a family member who is affected by intellectual disability. Five of the 10 leading causes of disability are mental disorders — depression, substance abuse, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The symptoms of a mental disorder may greatly reduce one’s ability to work, study or participate in community life. The disorder could also lead to other health problems, and in some cases, even suicide. To make matters worse, if one suffers from a mental disorder, he may be shunned by the community.

Why do we do so little? According to WHO, on average, the 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific region devote less than one per cent of their health budgets to the treatment and prevention of mental disorders. Region-wide, one in five individuals who seeks the help of a healthcare professional suffers from a mental disorder. Of this number, only a fraction are properly diagnosed, and of those who are, few ever get treatment or receive appropriate care.

The number of people at risk of developing mental health problems is increasing daily. People in developing and developed countries of the Western Pacific region are becoming increasingly vulnerable to mental illness.

It is believed that depression will be one of the largest health problems worldwide by 2020. Surveys show that mental disorders occur in one in five individuals, or 20 per cent of the world population, each year.

There is growing evidence to show that the burden of disease in societies is gradually but surely moving towards mental diseases. While heart disease, cancer and HIV-AIDS take their toll yearly in the form of death, mental disorders, such as depression, are rapidly becoming a major source of stress not only to the individual and his family, but also to his community.

In Malaysia, most mental health promotions are focused on the individual. We have overlooked other essential factors, such as the environment in which we live in. Is our environment conducive to the development of healthy bodies and minds?

Poorly planned urbanisation and uncontrolled deforestation could contribute to poor mental health of the people. Unstable economic status, increased unemployment, poverty and severe stress have proven disruptive to mental health as well.

When dealing with mental disorders, it is essential to address the stigma attached to it. Stigma devalues a person and affects his self-image. Some of the harmful effects of stigma include refusal to accept illness, delaying or refusing treatment, isolation, fear and shame.

Creating greater awareness of mental health, empowering the mentally sick and their family members to stand up against the stigma and discrimination through education and engaging the public to understand the issues related to mental disorders are some strategies that can be undertaken to de-stigmatise mental illness.


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School holidays a great time to nurture minds

December 11th, 2018
(File pic) Some children feel that school holidays are the perfect time for them to do whatever they want. (NSTP/SALHANI IBRAHIM)

THE holiday season is on and schoolchildren jump for joy as they look forward to spending time on their hobbies and holiday plans. This may be a happy time of the year, but it is also a risky one as children may s quander time and money while engaging in unhealthy activities, especially when they are left unsupervised.

Some children feel that school holidays are the perfect time for them to do whatever they want.

It is a great challenge for parents to ensure that their children do not engage in inappropriate and immoral activities. Parents need to correct their children’s mindset that something interesting is not always right, while something good is not always boring.

When it comes to making a move to ameliorate a situation, it is now or never, as there will come a time when it will be too difficult for rebellious and disobedient children to ditch bad habits like smoking, vaping, loitering or watching pornography.

Parents need to set strict, yet smart, house rules that include dos and don’ts. When children are trained to wake up and go to bed early, make their bed, and keep their bedroom clean, they grow up into organised, disciplined and responsible adults.

This will make it easier for them to manage time, finance and stress .

Unhealthy activities like staying up all night playing video games, watching television, and sharing and checking updates on social media should be limited as this digital immersion and obsession encourages a sedentary lifestyle, affects social interaction skills and is bad for their body and brain.

The overuse of gadgets will neither help them forget problems nor relieve their stress.

Reading, cycling, fishing or having a picnic by the lake are therapeutic ways to spend time that will never go out of style. Books will expand knowledge and imagination while nature will clear minds and calm hearts.

By Muhamad Solahudin Raml.

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More needs to be done for a peaceful and just world

December 10th, 2018
Children from an Mro community look at boats delivering rice bags from a local NGO near Buthidaung, Rakhine, Myanmar. The violence taking place there is a human rights violation. Reuters

SEVENTY years ago, on Dec 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations (UN). The UDHR, which for many is the most influential document of the last century, begins with a powerful statement, declaring that “the inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights” of all people are the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace”.

What a vision, emerging immediately after the dark years of World War 2. How revolutionary to proclaim that “dignity is inherent” and that “rights are equal and inalienable for all” in an era, when half the world was still under colonial regime.

When the UDHR was adopted, the UN was just three years old. The UN Charter obliged all member nations to promote “universal respect for human rights”, but this was not further defined. During World War II, the world witnessed a multitude of apocalyptic events that led to the deaths of tens of millions of people, leaving a permanent scar and an indelible mark on mankind.

While there were many reasons contributing to the war, extreme nationalism stemming from the indoctrination of racial superiority was a key factor that triggered it. Cognisant of this root cause, the UN established a drafting committee comprising experts from different parts of the world, including from Asia and the Middle East, who developed the UDHR based on the common values and principles of all major cultures and religions of the world. From this, emerged the Declaration that was founded on the core principle that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

The UDHR, which is considered the “mother” of all human rights documents, consists of 30 Articles, covering both civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. They address an array of basic human needs, including life and liberty, private and family life, thought and expression, education and health, and work. The Articles form the very foundation of what is known today as international human rights law, comprising the various UN treaties, conventions and jurisprudence.

In the 70 years since the General Assembly passed the UDHR, it is fair to say that the world has changed dramatically. A comprehensive wave of decolonisation swept the globe in the following three decades; scores of human rights treaties elaborated on the articles of the UDHR, specifying how states are accountable to promote and protect human rights; treaties were translated into national constitutions, legislation and adjudication; development around the globe advanced life quality, education and life expectancy.

Despite such progress, one cannot overlook the alarming situations of societal tensions and conflict that are taking place across the globe. In some areas, we see racism and xenophobia gaining ground, especially against minorities and vulnerable groups with disregard for human dignity. Human rights serve as the common value framework that bridges the differences between peoples — peoples of various ethnicities, cultures, religions and beliefs, gender, political views, nationalities and other status. The recognition of human dignity and equal rights are the foundation for justice, and the respect for human rights promotes social cohesion and is therefore a precursor to peace and stability. Hence the human rights agenda is a powerful framework for a country rich in diversity like Malaysia. Because human dignity is established and promoted in all religions and faiths, the promotion and protection of human rights will be a unifying force in Malaysia’s multi-religious and multi-ethnic setting.

Human rights include a set of minimum standards applicable to all human beings, which seek to ensure that even the most vulnerable and disadvantaged of peoples can benefit from the fruits of development and enjoy a life of meaning and self-worth. As such, human rights are a precondition for “leaving no one behind”, which is pivotal to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that all 193 UN member states unanimously adopted in 2015. A human rights-based approach ensures a people-centred and inclusive development agenda that can effectively address pockets of deprivation and reach those who live on the fringes of development such as low-income earners, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, refugees, migrant workers and the undocumented

In addition, human rights act as a safeguard against excessive use of force and abuse of power by the state. They are also imperative to democracy, espoused by the right to freedom of opinion and of expression, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association as well as the right to vote.

In this regard, the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) commends Malaysia for successfully expanding the democratic space, political and civil liberties in the country, following its historic 14th General Election and stands ready to support its transformative reform agenda.

On the 70th anniversary of the UDHR, it is only befitting to remind ourselves how far we have come since the cataclysmic world wars that brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reflect how much more needs to be done to further consolidate and bolster a peaceful and just society.

We must all understand and appreciate that human rights are universal to all of us and promoting greater respect for human rights will create an enabling environment for people to make choices in life for their own good and well-being. In essence, human rights are basic to human existence; human dignity will only be intact when human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

By Stefan Priesner.

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Looking beyond oil

December 10th, 2018
Wind turbines and solar panels are a feature of the landscape in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, China. Southeast Asia is cited as a potential renewable energy hotspot. Reuters

ALTHOUGH expected for some time, the recent establishment by Petronas of a “New Energy” team to look at renewables for possible future sources of energy is a far-sighted and welcome development.

Petronas has expressed interest over the last year to diversify into renewables amid low oil prices. In March, its chief executive officer Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin said Petronas would explore new business areas including new energy, citing opportunities in solar power in particular.

Petronas joins a number of large global oil and gas firms looking into renewables, including ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total — all of which are raising investment in cleaner energy.

Why the interest in renewable energy (RE)?

It’s reliable, plentiful and will continue to decrease in cost as technology and infrastructure improve. In addition to solar and wind, the RE portfolio includes geothermal, hydropower and tidal energy, and biofuels from algae. And, of course, these energy sources produce few emissions of carbon dioxide which cause the greenhouse effect and global warming.

With respect to electricity generation, the latest United Nations figures show that the world last year installed a record 98 gigawatts of new solar capacity, far more than the net additions of any other technology — renewable, fossil fuel or nuclear.

Solar power last year attracted far more investment, at RM699 billion, up 18 per cent, than any other technology. According to the annual Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018 report, produced by UN Environment, the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, investments in solar power made up 57 per cent of the 2017 total for all renewables (excluding large hydro) of RM1.15 trillion, “and it towered above new investment in coal and gas generation capacity”, estimated at RM428 billion.

A driving power behind last year’s surge in solar was China, where an unprecedented boom saw some 53 gigawatts added — more than half the global total — and RM359 billion invested, up 58 per cent.

Driving the trend are falling costs for solar electricity, and to some extent wind power. Global investment in renewables has exceeded RM830 billion for eight consecutive years. Since 2004, the world has invested RM12.2 trillion in these green energy sources.

That said, renewables generated just 12.1 per cent of world electricity in 2017. That’s up from 5.2 per cent a decade earlier, but still a small fraction of total world energy needs.

The writing is on the wall, nonetheless. With growing evidence of the impacts and rising cost of climate change, pressure is building to reduce CO2 emissions. On Dec 2, negotiators from around the world opened the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, now three years after a landmark deal in Paris set a goal to keep global warming well below 2° Celsius.

Displacing and replacing fossil fuels won’t be easy and the world’s big oil companies, with their global infrastructure networks, are among the most important allies in this effort.

And as one commentator recently observed, the big energy firms have the most to lose if they fall behind the technology curve. They need to lead the march towards clean energy sources.

ExxonMobil is spending RM4.2 billion per year on basic research in low-carbon technologies, with a major focus on genetically engineered algae being farmed with an aim to produce an initial 10,000 barrels per day of renewable crude, which can then be upscaled to larger levels. Among other efforts, ExxonMobil is also partnering with America’s largest biodiesel producer, Renewable Energy Group, to create microbes that could turn waste biomass into biodiesel fuel.

BP, meanwhile, produces about 200 million gallons of low-carbon ethanol each year in Brazil. Its three facilities there also burn leftover agricultural wastes to power themselves and add 850 gigawatt-hours of electricity to the grid.

Meanwhile, BP and DuPont have formed a joint venture to use genetically engineered microbes to manufacture butanol, an alcohol that can be blended into gasoline, much like ethanol is added in the US. The annual US market opportunity for butanol is estimated at more than 20 billion gallons.

Royal Dutch Shell is focused on solar power and energy efficiency. It also recently acquired a firm specialising in power management solutions.

It is the giant French company Total that leads all the world’s energy firms in green energy investments. Its goal is to generate 20 per cent of its business from low-carbon products within 20 years. Its venture capital fund has invested RM667 million in about 20 projects and it owns over half of a global solar company starting to turn sustainable profits.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) recently cited Southeast Asia as a potential RE hotspot. Unfortunately, the agency said, the region lacks policy frameworks that would encourage investment. That needs to change.

By Zakri Abdul Hamid.

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SIDMA College Sabah Signed MoU with Fortis Invictus Sdn Bhd Creating Landmark for Athletes’ Future

December 10th, 2018

Passionate about sports? Have you ever dreamt of Sports Management as your future career; an occupation in facility management, sales, information technology, personnel management, event planning, athletic recruitment, finance and many more? In fact, across Malaysia, highly qualified individuals are needed to implement the daily operations and the business side of the sports’ industry- including the general evaluation of sports programmes, improvement of organizational efficiency, overall profit generation, and many other challenging tasks.

The good news is SIDMA College on 6 December 2018, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Fortis Invictus Sdn Bhd; a renowned sports management agency in Malaysia, at Wisma Kinsabina, Kota Kinabalu thus initiating the way forward for athletes’ future dream.

Madam Azizah Khalid Merican; CEO of SIDMA College; and Mr Azhar Ismail, CEO, Fortis Invictus Sdn Bhd signed the MOU during the highly anticipated ceremony. The ceremony was witnessed by Dr Morni Hj Kambrie (Founder and Chairman of SIDMA College) and Dr Sukiman Sukardi (Academic Coordinator, Fortis Invictus Sdn Bhd). Also present during the signing ceremony were Madam Azlina Ngatimin (Director), Mr. Aliudin Jumaat (Director, Sabah Sports Counsel), Managers and Heads of Departments of SIDMA College.

The signing of the MOU paved ways for SIDMA College to establish SIDMA Sports Academy; the first ever to be established in Sabah, and together with Fortis Invictus Sports Sdn Bhd, where both organizations will be establishing strong relationship with local athletes, families, sport clubs and associations, to build a team around the team and to win together.

Dr Morni Hj Kambrie, Chairman and Founder of SIDMA College Sabah and Sarawak, in his welcoming address congratulated and thanked Fortis Invictus Sdn Bhd for their efforts to sign the MoU and collaborate with SIDMA College to establish SIDMA Sports Academy.

He stressed that the new SIDMA Sports Academy, under the patronage of SIDMA Board of Management will work closely with Fortis Invictus Sports Group to help athletes to be in their best condition and will be able to showcase their full potentials. Such assistances will be professionally structured and established to assist athletes, sports clubs, as well as related associations or agencies; thus providing the needed intervention to guarantee on the value and potential of our local athletes. He added a special Operation Room, equipped with basic information about sports schools, athletes, sports facilities, and more will be set up to facilitate the whole operation of the programme; thus enabling the Academy to offer various exclusive services to local athletes; to undertake complete workouts on their physical, mental and nutritional attitude; followed by specialized doctors consultation on performance improvement as well as injuries prevention and management.

Dr Morni when met after the signing ceremony announced that the programme is expected to be offered to athletes and Sports Science students beginning March 2019. Beginning July 2019, SIDMA College is expected to offer Diploma in Sports Management particularly for athletes with the required minimum SPM qualification. SIDMA College Sarawak is expected to follow suit in 2020. The college is currently in the process of obtaining the necessary accreditation from the relevant authorities.

The main focus of the whole set is to ensure that local athletes who are very passionate about sports after completing their SPM examination will still have the opportunity or alternative pathway to enter their tertiary education while at the same time continue with what they really enjoy doing and ultimately pursue their intended field of studies such as coaching, trainers, event planners, personnel management and more.

As a start, SIDMA Sports Academy will work very closely with local and international sports associations, Sabah Sports Council, National Sports Council of Malaysia to provide the necessary intervention and conduct professional training. With the establishment of SIDMA Sports Academy, the future of our local athletes will be properly nurtured, which indirectly guaranteed in producing professional athletes and sportsman for the country with brighter future both academically and in sports.

For more information on SIDMA Sports Academy and Diploma in Sports Management, please call SIDMA Hotline 088- 732 000 or 088-732 020.

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Prof Jomo gets national award

December 9th, 2018
Dr Mahathir (second from left) presents the award to Prof Jomo (second from right) while Dr Maszlee (left) and Higher Education Department director-general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir look on. — Bernama

Dr Mahathir (second from left) presents the award to Prof Jomo (second from right) while Dr Maszlee (left) and Higher Education Department director-general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir look on. — Bernama

PROF Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram has been awarded the prestigious “Tokoh Akademik Negara” award.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad presented the award to the prominent economist at the 12th National Academic Awards ceremony in Putrajaya last week.

Prof Jomo was recognised for his outstanding achievement in various fields, both in Malaysia and abroad.

The former economics professor recently entered the limelight when he was appointed as a member of the Council of Eminent Persons.

Among the list of Prof Jomo’s stellar achievements included his appointment as Assistant Director-General and Coordinator for Economic and Social Development, in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

He currently holds the Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

Dr Mahathir also presented other awards to six other academicians.

Two Universiti Malaya lecturers, Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Roslan Mohd Nor and Assoc Prof Dr Juan Joon Ching received the Book Publication Award and the Promising Academician Award respectively.

Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Mohd Faizul Noorizan received the Arts and Creativity Award (Craft) while Assoc Prof Dr Mawar Safri of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia was presented the Arts and Creativity Award (Creative Writing).

Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Assoc Prof Dr Wan Zuhainis Saad received the Teaching Award (Pure Science) while Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Assoc Prof Dr Fauziah Abdul Rahim received the Teaching Award (Applied Arts and Applied Social Science).

Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir in his speech said academicians are an important group of people who will produce future-proof graduates that are not only knowledgeable, but also have the wisdom to deal with complex life situations.

Even though they are usually victims of criticism, the government remains proud of the achievements shown by our academicians and institutes of higher learning.

Their achievements will contribute to the strategy to bring the country’s education to an international level, said Dr Mahathir.

By Joseph Kaos Jr
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Unique teaching placements

December 9th, 2018
(From left) Arnold, Issa, Lee, Quinn, Soophia and Halfacre sharing a light moment at the showcase held at the Education Technology Division.(From left) Arnold, Issa, Lee, Quinn, Soophia and Halfacre sharing a light moment at the showcase held at the Education Technology Division.

Teaching assistants under the Fulbright programme return home after helping students in rural schools with their English proficiency

OVER the last 10 months, more than 90 English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) from the United States have left a mark on the lives of almost 20,000 Malaysian students.

However, it wasn’t only the students’ lives that were touched as the ETAs themselves will be taking home some precious memories.

Most of the ETAs agreed that it wasn’t the fact that the students improved their language skills that was heartfelt, but it was watching them grow to become more confident.

Soophia Ansari, 23, who was based in Perlis says her most memorable experience was breaking fast with the students at SMK Syed Saffi’s hostel.

“Every day I would go to the school’s hostel and I would break fast with the students and pray together.

“I was definitely getting a little bit homesick being away from my family because Ramadan is definitely a family-oriented activity,” she adds.

Soophia says the school is in a small town in Perlis and that the community’s livelihood centred around driving lorries, fishing and farming.

This posed a problem to her as she had to convince her students that English communication skills were necessary for success in today’s world.

“Many students basically believed that they will be working their parents’ jobs after they finish schooling.

“They had kind of set limits on what they will be able to do,” she adds

Lakhdhir says the programme helps boost English language skills for Malaysian students.

Lakhdhir says the programme helps boost English language skills for Malaysian students.

To overcome this, she says she spent her time convincing the students that “they were brilliant and have opportunities.

“I also told them that it’s never too late to begin learning the English language and that being able to speak in English can take them places,” she adds.

She says she would give examples of how the nearby jetty to Langkawi always had foreign tourists around and how they would not understand Bahasa Malaysia.

“I would tell them how with English, they could get jobs as tour guides or open tourist attractions,” she adds.

For Linda Halfacre, 23, the most memorable moment was when she jointly organised an international camp with 20 Thai students and 22 Malaysian students in Kuala Lumpur for three days.

She says that watching these students form friendships with their counterparts across the border was something that makes being part of the ETA programme worthwhile.

“They had to bond with the common language of English as they could not communicate with each other using their native languages,” adds the New Jersey native.

“This will help ensure that they continue to practise using English in a social context in the years to come (with their new friends).”

Halfacre says that the ETAs spent a lot of time persuading their students to speak English outside of classroom hours, and it worked.

Ayah Issa, 24, says one of the most impactful moments for her happened while she was conducting a creative writing session for her students in SMK Seri Kota, Perak. She says that she asked them to discuss a particular song and its meaning to them.

“I left the class for a little while and when I came back, the girls were in an intense debate in English on what they thought about the song ‘Cantik’ and how it was about women empowerment.

“Generally, my students will switch back to talking in Bahasa Malaysia when I’m not around,” she says with a smile.

“What I wanted was for them to continue in English and that was amazing.”

Samuel Lee, 23, felt that the connection he built with his students gave him much joy.

He says he went into SMK Bukit Payung, Terengganu, with some “pretty big plans” but soon realised that they would not work as there was no personal connection with the students.

Their command of the English language was quite poor, he says.

“It definitely helped me realise that it wasn’t the programmes I had planned for them but that bond with them that has had the most impact on me,” he adds.

Peter Arnold, 23, says that he hopes what he taught his students will continue to stay with them throughout their lives.

He adds that the sustainability of the ETA programme is what will ensure its efficacy long after the ETAs have left.

Based in SMK Sindumin, Sabah, he says: “I want to see the successful continuity of programmes we started at the school.”

“The biggest hurdle was definitely the language level,” says Katherine Quinn, 24.

Although her students from SMK Bukit Mendi, Pahang, could speak a little English, very few of them were brave enough to talk to her when she first arrived.

She believes the students wanted to build a connection with her but were too shy to speak in English for fear of embarrassment.

To help them, Quinn took it upon herself to learn a little bit of Bahasa Malaysia so that the students will feel more at ease.

“It helped them relax around me because they saw my efforts to make a connection with them and respect part of who they are.

“It also helped us meet each other halfway,” she adds.

She says she would also find the Bahasa Malaysia translation of English words and put them side by side during her lessons.

The ETAs are part of the 2018 Fulbright ETA programme, which is now being run in nine states with Melaka joining the list this year.

The programme is a joint bilateral programme administered by the Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange (Macee) and the Education Ministry, and supported by the US Embassy.

The ETAs taught nearly 20,000 school students in 2018 and conducted 210 English camps including three international camps, six at the national level and six statewide camps.

During the 2018 Fulbright ETA showcase, US Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir says that the programme helps boost English language skills for thousands of Malaysian students each year since its inception in 2006.

“Most importantly, it exposes these students to American culture, American ways of thinking and the American attitude.

“There is this large world out there that Malaysian students can access through English.

“To the ETAs, I hope your lives are also enriched by having this relationship (with your students),” says Lakhdhir.

Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching says the ETA programme not only promotes English language learning, but also cross-cultural exchange.

She adds that the Prime Minister has also expressed his concern over the poor command of the language among Malaysian students.

“I believe one way (to overcome this problem) is to increase exposure time to the language.

By Rebecca Rajaendram
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Creating a culture of reading

December 9th, 2018
Dr Maszlee (middle) is flanked by Prof Hassan on his left and Dr Siti Hamisah (right) as he launches the ReadUni programme at UiTM in Shah Alam. — Bernama

Dr Maszlee (middle) is flanked by Prof Hassan on his left and Dr Siti Hamisah (right) as he launches the ReadUni programme at UiTM in Shah Alam. — Bernama

UNIVERSITY students should be agents of change, take the lead and encourage society to read more.

This is Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik’s message to all varsity students in order to create an educated and civilised society.

He recently launched the Read@Uni programme at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in conjunction with the National Reading Decade.

The programme is part of efforts to create a society that likes to read and with world-class knowledge.

Themed “With knowledge, we lead”, the programme aims to intensify the current activities to foster a love for reading among the target groups – students, lecturers and the staff at universities.

He said that the onus to spread the love of books does not just fall on the students but on the universities as well.

“I also hope that the libraries in Malaysian higher learning institutions not only target the Read @ Uni programmne to university students but should also go down to the community,” he added.

Dr Maszlee said that universities should conduct more discussions and debates based on books that require a high level of thinking.

“(Universities should) create a vibrant reading environment.

“A developed nation cannot be formed if it doesn’t have a young generation that is (morally) balanced, mature and highly knowledgeable,” he added.

These attributes can only be formed through reading materials that require a high level of thinking.

Dr Maszlee said he hopes to see Malaysians spending more than 10 hours a week reading.

He added that according to the World Culture Index 2017, Malaysia ranks among the countries that spend less than five hours a week reading.

During the launch, UiTM vice-chancellor Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said said libraries are the main drivers to intensify efforts to create a reading culture among Malaysians by 2030.

“Libraries should play a role in promoting and implementing campaigns from time to time to ensure the reading culture will always be a close friend of university students,” he added.

“Besides encouraging lifelong learning and a love of learning, especially among university students, such initiatives can create a society rich in knowledge and knowledgeable in various fields.”

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The woes of vape

December 9th, 2018
A posed picture of youths vaping. — RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star.

A posed picture of youths vaping. — RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star.

While adults claim that e-cigs are helping them quit smoking, researchers worry that it could draw children to the habit

THE good news is that smoking among children is dropping.

The bad news is that e-cigs and vape could disrupt the positive pattern.

Cambridge Behaviour and Health Research Unit senior research associate Dr Milica Vasiljevic says children are picking up e-cigs more than cigarettes.

While they may not be regular users, the mere fact that they are experimenting with e-cigs, is worrying.

Dr Vasiljevic is the principal investigator of a study on e-cig ads and children’s perceptions of tobacco smoking harms. Published in July, the paper warns that e-cigs could disrupt the trend of smoking decline among children as kids exposed to glamorous e-cig ads, perceive occasional smoking as less harmful. This may lead to more positive attitudes towards smoking and the tobacco industry.

Prof Dame Theresa Marteau, Cambridge Behaviour and Health Research Unit director and the paper’s co-author, believes their experiment is the only one showing how the appeal of tobacco smoking is increased among kids exposed to e-cig ads.

“We see a softening of attitudes towards tobacco smoking harms, and risks. That’s a concern. So if that’s your definition of ‘renormalising smoking’, than yes, that’s happening.”

While e-cigs are less harmful and hold great potential as a cessation tool, the gateway risk is under studied, and warrants further investigation, she feels. She says e-cig companies are consciously targeting children with the flavours they’re putting out.

“E-cig companies are taking their cue from the tobacco, alcohol, and sugary drinks industries. That’s how you sell products. Flavours like bubblegum, chocolate milk, and vanilla ice cream, explicitly target children. If you’re talking about cessation, you shouldn’t have flavours that children would like – what’s the point? Such flavours should be banned to protect children.”

In the old tobacco marketing campaigns, all the cool kids smoke, says Dr Vasiljevic. Now it’s vape. Many researchers and public health practitioners are concerned about the gateway hypothesis where addiction to the nicotine in e-cigs might lead people to tobacco cigarettes.

Dr Vasiljevic, who was involved in other experimental studies looking at the impact of e-cig advertising amongst children, found that e-cigs were being advertised similarly to how cigarettes were advertised in the 1950s and 1960s.

“You can’t do that with tobacco cigarette advertising anymore due to legislative restrictions but children were clearly the main entry points into the consumer market for conventional tobacco cigarettes.

“Our concern is that ads portraying e-cigs as glamorous, and healthier than tobacco, may be a contributing factor for children to start using tobacco.

“Kids may think vaping is good, it’s a gadget for the future, and it’s safe even though there’s nicotine. So these cool and glamorous ads may be resurrecting old smoking norms.

“If e-cigs are intended only for smoking cessation, then it would make sense to advertise them as a medicinal product. Tighter controls on marketing materials may be needed,” says Dr Vasiljevic.

On the reason for her focus on e-cigs and children, Prof Marteau says it’s because smoking rates – particularly in high income countries – are going down. This means that adults are stopping smoking. So, from a public health perspective, there’s a need to prevent children from starting. Fewer children are using tobacco in the UK and elsewhere, and e-cigs are threatening the progress in tobacco control policies, she says.

But the fact that tobacco prevalence among children has gone down dramatically at a time where e-cig experimentation has risen, says Paul Aveyard, Professor of Behavioural Medicine at the University of Oxford, implies that whatever gateway there is, is very small.

You can’t have both trains going in opposite directions and saying: ‘Oh it’s luring lots of people into smoking’, Prof Aveyard who is also the senior editor of the journal Addiction, and coordinating editor of the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group, argues.

An alternative way of looking at it, he says, is to ask why young people smoke.

“It’s the rebels – the kids who are unengaged with school, and those whose social identities are other than hardworking. Maybe e-cigs are just taking the place of cigarettes. We don’t know that anymore than we know whether e-cigs are a gateway to smoking or whether e-cigs have driven down the prevalence of smoking in young people. It’s all speculative at this point.

“I don’t want kids exposed to e-cig ads to perceive smoking as less harmful than it is, but this has to do with better ad regulations.”

In Malaysia, the Health Ministry defines devices that contain nicotine as e-cig, and those without as vape, or vaping.

The ministry’s deputy director-general (public health) Datuk Dr Chong Chee Kheong says e-cigs with nicotine are regulated under the Poison Act 1952. Nicotine is grouped under Group C Poisons and cannot be sold or supplied by retailer to any person except as dispensed medicine or an ingredient of a dispensed medicine.

“E-cigs without nicotine is not controlled under any law – for now.”

It’s worrying, he says, that ads for non-nicotine liquids or vape, are not banned on social media and the Internet.

“While e-cigs containing nicotine are banned, when it’s advertised online, we don’t know whether it’s really nicotine-free because you cannot tell from the physical look of the liquids.”

Consumers Association of Penang’s (CAP) education officer N.V. Subbarow shares the concern – especially with newer, sleeker devices, like Juul, hitting the market.

Juul which mimics the nicotine hit of a real cigarette, has popped up in schools across the US, sparking concern among parents, educators and regulators.

‘Juuling’ refers to the recreational use of the device which resembles USB drives.

The sale of fruit and candy flavours in convenience stores and gas stations, has been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to counter a surge in teenage use of e-cigs by more than 75% since last year. The FDA will also introduce stricter age-verification requirements for online sales of e-cigs, Reuters recently reported.

Subbarow fears that children and adolescents who see ‘Juuling’ clips on YouTube, will be tempted to try the fad.

“Curiosity gets the better of them and they pick up an e-cig even though they have never smoked before. That’s dangerous.”

International Islamic University Malaysia Assoc Prof Dr Mohamad Haniki Nik Mohamed calls on parents and teachers to be alert.

E-cigs used to be huge but now the latest in the market is a flat, and sleek version that fits into the pocket, Dr Mohamad Haniki, who is the National E-cigarette Survey (NECS) 2016 principal investigator, says.

By Christina Chin
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About time for mandatory rating

December 7th, 2018
(Stock image for illustration purposes) Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching said the ministry was looking into making it “mandatory for all IPTS and IPTA to participate in either Setara or MyQUEST so that we can have a more comprehensive rating.”

At long last, the Education Ministry is making it mandatory for all private institutions of higher learning (IPTS) and IPTA (public institutions of higher learning) to be rated.

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching said the ministry was looking into making it “mandatory for all IPTS and IPTA to participate in either Setara or MyQUEST so that we can have a more comprehensive rating.”

MyQuest was introduced in 2010 to rate IPTS while Setara was set in motion last year to rate IPTA. But not all parties are welcoming the ministry’s mandatory move. Leading the naysayers’ list are some private colleges.

Let’s take the MyQuest rating for 2016/2017 to measure the enthusiasm for the rating system among the private institutions. In the year in question, there were 398 private colleges registered with the ministry, meaning they were prepared to be rated.

Numbers of private colleges in the country are hard to come by, but by Education Ministry’s calculation there are 483. The reluctance to be rated is understandable. To be rated would mean to open themselves up for public scrutiny and bear the risk of being told that they are one-star material or worse. ( MyQuest ranks institutions from six-star to one-star, with six-star being excellent and one-star weak).

For 2016/2017, 48 private colleges received the lowest possible score — one star. That is a worrying number, not only for the colleges but also parents who have to write the fat cheques for their children’s tuition fees.

But parents and students should be pleased with the ministry’s mandatory plan, though Education Ministry’s officials are not able to tell when this would be. Perhaps a public debate may nudge the ministry in that direction.

For far too long, many private institutions have got away by giving very little. Some were fly-by-night entities that were making money by issuing absentee student visas.

A mandatory rating system will put an end to such scandalous business. And possibly even private institutions that operate below the radar of the Education Ministry, if any.

But rating systems everywhere have come under fire. Many — academics, industry experts and parents — ask what exactly do these rating systems assess.

Academics and industrialists say the best of such systems must assess how the universities teach the students and how well these institutions prepare them for life after college. We agree.

These institutions must seek to make students useful members of society. It must be said that a good institution of higher learning is not about how old it is or even how famous it is. If this is so, only universities such as Oxford and Cairo will make the grade.

Reputation counts, but it is not measured in years. Reputation means how well the colleges prepare students for life. A student who is well-prepared for life will live a good life.


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