Malaysia Day: Who are we as a nation?

September 16th, 2019

When is Malaysia’s birthday? It seems to me that the accurate answer is Sept 16,1963.

Aug 31,1957, is of course the day the Federation of Malaya gained independence from the British.

In comparing the significance of the two dates, I am inclined to think that perhaps Malaysia Day deserves more focus and celebration than Merdeka Day.

While the latter marks when we became independent of colonial powers, the former marks when we consciously, of our own free and independent will, decided to become one nation.

Sept 16,1963, however, is that moment in history where we chose to come together, in a moment defined rather more by our own agency and purpose. The before and after story here starts with three separate states and ends with a united Malaysia.

Given this story and backdrop, as well as the pressing problems we face today in Malaysia with regards to unity, it has often seemed like Malaysia Day is very much neglected as compared to Merdeka Day.

I can only imagine the degree to which people from Sabah and Sarawak feel about this. After all, Merdeka was not the day that they became independent.

Almost from 1963 to today, there has been ever growing sentiment in East Malaysia that they are the neglected children of the Malaysian family.

Who can blame them? Time and again, they seem cut out from the national narrative, with the peninsula always consciously or subconsciously relegating East Malaysia to positions of diminished importance – if they think of them at all.

Sabahan and Sarawakian exceptionalism is fast becoming reflective in its politics.

For GE14, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal made the decision to go his own way in forming a Sabah-based political party, Parti Warisan Sabah. The results there speak for themselves.

Amidst the unfolding political landscape in Malaysia, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) in Sarawak has recently reiterated its decision to not take one side or another in peninsula politics, also choosing to go their own way.

These political decisions do not take place in a vacuum, but rather likely reflect what is obviously voter sentiment on the ground. Perhaps for some East Malaysians, Sept 16 is a little like Awal Muharram – a day of celebration of joy for Sunnis, but a day of mourning for the Shias.

At the root of East Malaysian exceptionalism is identity politics. When they are neglected by the peninsula, why should we be surprised when an East Malaysian feels like a Sabahan or Sarawakian first, rather than a Malaysian first?

Needless to say, East Malaysia is not the only place in the world in which identity politics is coming to the fore.

Indeed, in an era of Donald Trump and Brexit, the primacy of identity politics seems rather more the norm than the exception.

Not that we need to look so far abroad of course. We are obviously seeing the exact same thing play out in Peninsular Malaysia.

Coming out of the assembly at PWTC last weekend, a few things are becoming more and more obvious.

If Pakatan Harapan had played their cards a certain way, especially on the communications front, I think there was a good chance that Umno and most other Barisan Nasional parties might have faded quietly away over the last year.

They did not, and over a year later, we are seeing quite the resurgence.

Just to clear any doubt, I have never in my life supported Umno, and am likely to continue this position as long as they remain race based and tainted by decades of corruption.

That said, our own personal feelings should not compromise our ability to analyse politics objectively.

While it has been brewing for quite some time now, this last weekend’s assembly at PWTC may be the most distinct and momentous turning of the tides since GE14.

Like it or not (and I personally lean towards not), my reading is that the perception now is: Umno and PAS are the ones breaking ground and leading boldly, pioneering exciting new spaces in Malaysian politics; while Harapan on the other hand seem to still be shuffling their feet muttering something bland about sharing prosperity.

Part of this is of course due to how the Umno-PAS tie-up takes a big step in addressing a key anxiety among a large Malaysian demographic: the fragmentation of Malay political power.

One important underlying subtext of the last year has been the comparison of Malay political power (split into five relevant parties) versus say Chinese political power (all concentrated in just one relevant party).

In my view, it is this subtext that has directly or indirectly blown up controversies related to race and religion recently.

I think the reaction of the crowds at PWTC and Malaysian netizens indicate that they see this tie-up as a step in the right direction. People tend to respond well to bold manoeuvres, such as the way in which Umno and PAS are doubling down on race and religion.

Harapan on the other hand has continued to waffle in no man’s land. After GE14, instead of committing fully to showing how Malay interests would still be strongly protected in a multiracial political model (coupled of course with actual good governance), they decided to be timid and half-hearted, waffling between multiracialism and being “Umno Lite”.

People never respond well to ‘timid and half-hearted’, and can tell when you’re not playing to win, but just playing not to lose (which of course invariably leads to a loss anyway).

If we look at the shifting political alliances over the last two decades, the story is almost an amusing one. Friends become enemies, who become friends, and then enemies once again, and so on. Like I was told as a younger man: There are no permanent friends in politics, only permanent (self) interests.

The short explanation for all these shifting alliances is that in a (defunct and completely anachronistic) first past the post Westminster system, there are only two poles that matter – and eventually, everyone gravitates towards one or the other.

In our system, that’s really the only thing that counts. Ideology, principles, values, and so on – all of that is secondary, and is shaped according to political convenience.

How else could PAS have gone from being vehemently anti-Umno and independent, to teaming up with DAP under Pakatan Rakyat, to teaming up with Umno – all in the space of two decades?

All that said, I don’t think the right response to this new union is sound and fury.

One PKR stalwart who has been relatively quiet – a period some may have hoped (in vain) would mellow the man – came out firing on Facebook, sarcastically saying that the Tok Kadi performing the marriage between Umno and PAS should check the genders of the couple.

Not to be outdone, an Umno vice-president said they want to check the stalwart’s gender instead.

Welcome, once again, to the lofty heights of Malaysian political discourse.

My guess is that for better or worse (worse, one assumes) the Umno-PAS tie-up is here to stay for a while at least, and that the Opposition is going to coalesce around them.

I would love to see Harapan respond to this development by redoubling their own efforts and governing well and demonstrating clear, exciting visions for the country, alongside engaging in a level of political debate at least somewhat higher than genital checking.

Of course, the announcement by the Finance Minister last Friday that yet another Harapan manifesto promise would be, at best, delayed was not a good step.

A fact that is sure to even further dampen Malaysia Day spirits is that said promise was to increase the oil royalties to Sabah and Sarawak from 5% to 20%.

It looks like this Malaysia Day is going to feature a lot of divisive rhetoric and even more (understandable) discontent from our East Malaysian brothers and sisters – who we should be celebrating today of all days.

The question is: what kind of Malaysia Days will we be celebrating one, two, five or 10 years from now?

I guess if we leave it to the current crop of politicians, regardless of which side of the aisle they sit, there isn’t too much indication that there will be much change.

If we can institute genuine changes in our political culture, however, maybe one day we will see Malaysia unite once again, the way it did on Sept 16,1963.

By Nathaniel Tan

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Teaching English goes future forward

September 16th, 2019

Dr Airil Haimi (lefft, seated on the desk) with the VR goggles on his head together with several of his team members who have been trying to bring innovative practices into English teaching, using modern media platforms.

MUCH has been said about the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR but much more needs to be done on the ground, especially in the field of education in the Malaysian setting.

Many are still unable to see that the very nature of the teaching and learning process is changing, what more with the arrival of Generation Alpha – the next generation of students born entirely within the 21st century.

To complicate things further as we cross into the era of 4IR, the field of education has also moved into the Education 5.0 stage. As the world prepares to usher in year 2020, our national education system must address the challenges of globalisation and deal with changes in computer and telecommunications technologies sparked by 4IR ‘disruptions’.

At the Academy of Language Studies of the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Perak branch in Bandar Seri Iskandar, its head of Centre of Studies decided to become an adopter of a not-so-new technology, hoping to take the teaching and learning of English into the 21st century.

“The name of our project is ‘English Language Simulations Augmented with 360° spherical videos’. We codenamed it ELSA 360°-Videos, because it’s cuter,” said Dr Airil Haimi Mohd Adnan, the learning technologist and project manager.

Together with his young team of English lecturers – Muhamad Khairul, Muhammad Anwar, Nurul Nadiah and Ahmad Ariffuddin – they have been hard at work trying to bring innovative practices into English teaching, using modern media platforms.

“The problem is that you need money to be an early adopter of learning technologies, and you need to constantly reskill and upskill yourself because what is high-end today might be old-tech next month or next year,” said Airil Haimi.

The primary challenge that he faces is the limited time to teach critical language skills to degree level students, who also need to contend with their specialist core subjects.

“So, when 360° video cameras became more mainstream and not too expensive, I saved for a few months to buy one online and to start the ELSA 360°-Videos project,” he added.

Nevertheless, applying 360° or spherical video technology to the teaching of English for Professional and Workplace Interactions was not as straightforward as he thought. It took him six months of learning about 360° video technology and the methods of using this effectively in lesson delivery.

“You don’t want to do something just for the sake of doing it, right? But I’m happy to report that many educators have shared positive results on using 360° videos to teach.

“Here on campus, our undergraduates love being immersed and having the feeling of ‘being in’ actual meeting rooms and ‘joining in’ simulated workplace discussions,” he said.

360° or spherical video technology has the distinctive advantage of immersing learners and helping them to feel as if they are actually part of whatever is happening on screen. With three DOFs or Degrees of Freedom, learners can look around the meeting room or office space and see everything that is happening around them.

For degree level students who have limited contact hours to learn English for Professional and Workplace Interactions, this technology bridges the gap between what they could only imagine, and what they can actually see and feel.

With three DOFs, seeing how office mates talk to each other, respond, reciprocate and share ideas while focusing also on their facial and bodily gestures really make a difference in the learning of difficult English skills.

Nur Alia, appreciates the fact that 360° videos technology can help her friends who are not proficient in English to revise and learn on their own.

“My friends who cannot grasp the points in class, can learn while lounging on their beds and raise their English levels on their own,” she said.

For Nurul Liyana, another early user of ELSA 360°-Videos: “I love that I can learn wherever and whenever because the lecturer posted all the 360° videos on YouTube. “So, when we go to class, we just practice a bit then we can do the tests.”

In the next stage of the ELSA 360°-Videos project, Airil and his team are trying to get students to invest in cheap Virtual Reality or VR goggles using their smartphones to power the VR screens.

He is also planning to set up a content development lab focusing on future learning technologies aptly called “Future Learning Initiatives” Lab or FLI Lab.

“When it comes to technology, the problem is always money. True, great teaching ideas don’t need money but to make those ideas real, then dreamers like us have to start saving money to gain access to future learning technologies.

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13 Malaysian universities in Times’ world ranking.

September 16th, 2019
UNIVERSITI Malaya (UM) is the third best performer in Asean in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2020 released on Thursday.

UM which is ranked in the 301-350 band, is the top Malaysian institution.The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University top the rankings in Asean and are ranked 25th and in joint 48th place with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign respectively.

Malaysia improves its representation in this year’s ranking, claiming 13 places overall, up from 11 last year.

These are UM, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP), Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP), Universiti Tenaga Nasional, Universiti Utara Malaysia, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Multimedia University and Universiti Teknologi Mara (see table).

Of the two newcomers, the best-performing is UniMAP, which debuts in the 601-800 band.

Almost all Malaysian universities remain stable in comparison to their performance last year, with the sole move being UPM, moving up into the 601-800 band (from 801-1,000 last year).

UM vice-chancellor Datuk Abdul Rahim Hashim attributed the success to academic members and other UM staff members, thanking them for their dedication to consistently propel the university’s efforts on every front.

“UM will continue to strive for improvement under all the five pillars, as we continue to face internal and external challenges,” he added. On Malaysia’s performance, THE chief knowledge officer Phil Baty said it is an encouraging sign that Malaysian institutions have been able to expand their representation in this year’s rankings.

“For Malaysia to move higher up the table, the country must focus on developing its research environment.

“Investment is also a key

ingredient to attracting the best international students and academics to Malaysian institutions,” he said.

UTAR maintained its position in the 501–600 band.

It’s president and chief executive officer Prof Dr Ewe Hong

Tat said the varsity will continue to improve itself in reaching “greater heights with more industrial and international collaborations”.

“We are working on more joint research collaborations with our partner universities and also industrial based research.

“We are conducting more student exchange programmes for international exposure and improving the curriculum to meet the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution,” he added.

UTP vice-chancellor Prof Dr Mohamed Ibrahim Abdul Mutalib said despite the university’s young age of 22 years, it has continuously achieved excellence by maintaining its position as the top private Malaysian university.

UTP maintained its 601-800 band in this year’s rankings.

“UTP is not pursuing ranking just for the sake of rankings, but as a mechanism to measure the effectiveness of our rigorous and continuous effort in enhancing our teaching and learning, research, students’ development and operational excellence.

“We will continue to emphasise on strategies towards academic leadership, research stewardship, students’ experiences and operational excellence in our quest to become globally prominent.

“We are constantly expanding and growing our network and collaborative efforts as one of the keys for growth is networking with the right partners.

“Our goal is to become an internationally recognised partner of choice for industry and respected scientific communities by 2025,” he added.

Prof Mohamed Ibrahim said UTP has also introduced courses related to data analytics to further equip students for the future and the needs of industry

The University of Oxford tops the global rankings for the fourth year running, while the California Institute of Technology is second followed by the University of Cambridge, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Now in its 16th year, the ranking includes a total 1,396 institutions across 92 countries and regions (up from 1,258 universities across 86 territories last year).

For more information, visit

Maszlee: Bright future ahead for TVET in Malaysia.

September 16th, 2019
PETALING JAYA: A bright future lies ahead for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in Malaysia, says Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik.

The ministry, he said, is working in tandem with industry players as well as German groups to improve TVET in the country – which is set to be similar to Germany’s TVET structure.

Noting that the ministry had strongly emphasised the advancement of TVET starting this year, Maszlee said that “Germany has given a lot of help and cooperation in helping us boost TVET here, while Malaysian industry players are also now directly involved with us (ministry) to structure TVET education in Malaysia.”

He called on students and the public to not look down on TVET.

“TVET is part of our education system. It isn’t the last resort as many still see it to be. It is a good option and the way forward in the world,” said Maszlee during a visit to the #mydigitalmaker Fair 2019 at MITEC on Sunday (Sept 15).

He also noted that TVET takes up quite a sum in Budget 2019 as well as Budget 2020.

The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP), in a statement, had called on Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to make TVET a “national priority”.

“We are so far behind as compared to our neighbours,” said NUTP.

In the statement, NUTP agreed that TVET is the way forward but that its ability to make sure everyone is going the same direction was “questionable”.

“The main grouse by the industry is that they are not getting skilled workers. Government trainers, lecturers and teachers are not getting support to churn out correct people for the industry.

“Almost every government institution is fighting for the same pool of students,” read the statement issued on Sunday (Sept 15).

NUTP added that to keep abreast with the latest developments at the industry level, based on the current model is a “tremendous challenge”.

“Conventional machines must be Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines for our students to be industry-ready but we are unable to do so on a wide scale.”

NUTP added that proficiency of English in the learning of technical subjects is “much to be desired” as the National Occupational Skills Standard (NOSS) is in English.

Maszlee and NUTP were speaking in response to Dr Mahathir’s comments about TVET.

At a press conference after a special Cabinet meeting at Perdana Putra, Putrajaya on Saturday (Sept 14), Dr Mahathir had said in the coming years, there will be more emphasis on skills development as well as TVET.

“TVET will play an important role in realising this vision because it can help increase the skills of our workers. There will be more priority towards TVET in our national budget allocation,” he said.

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More students keen to learn technical and vocational skills

September 16th, 2019

Kulasegaran (second left) presents certificates to the participants while Ravichandran (centre) and others look on.

KOTA KINABALU: An increasing number of students are keen to acquire technical and vocational skills, said Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran.

Kulasegaran said the enrolment at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions under the ministry had increased from 14,000 last year to 16,000 this year.

He said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had recently announced that the government would prioritize TVET because our country needed a more skilled workforce.

Kulasegaran said he recently officiated an event and came across a critical occupations list.

“The list indicates that 80 per cent of the job of an accountant can be taken over by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

“On the other hand, courses with a ready job market are electrical, air-conditioning, chargeman, welding and underwater welding.

“People are showing interest in courses which, in the past, are not desirable,” he said when closing the Mount Kinabalu climb initiative organized by the Global Expedition Club (GEC) and sponsored by the Ministry of Human Resources and others here yesterday.

Kulasegaran said the enrolment at TVET institutions under his ministry had risen as more and more people were keen to acquire skills.

He added that the TVET institutions were opened from 5.30pm to 11pm to allow those already in the workforce to learn technical or vocational skills after working hours.

Meanwhile, Kulasegaran hoped to see an increase in participation for the Mount Kinabalu Climb from 10 this year to 20 next year.

Themed ‘Let’s Inspire the Young Ones’, the Mount Kinabalu Climb was initiated by Kulasegaran for underprivileged youths. The programme is held twice a year, in February and September.

GEC founder Ravichandran Tharumalingam said the minister had scaled the Mount Kinabalu summit with a group of youths in the first climb in February this year.

He said the latest Mount Kinabalu Climb, which was held from September 13 to 14, was participated by 10 youths from the MySkills Foundation, Tanjung Malim.

He said the climb was joined by adults as well to give an opportunity for the young participants to meet with professionals who were successful in life.

However, Ravichandran said the group only managed to reach Laban Rata at 3,300 metres this time due to bad weather and strong winds.

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A peek into voters’ minds

September 16th, 2019
Voters will naturally vote for their interests. FILE PIC

IN the run-up to the 14th General Election, a leading business newspaper had published a 12-page pullout on the election and posed a burning question that has been on the minds of political strategists the world over: will voters be swayed by political or economic factors?

While one can take the middle ground and say that when casting their votes, voters might take both economic and political factors into account, mainstream studies in political science and economics have accepted the idea that human beings are by nature homo economicus.

Put in another way, as an economic man, human beings are a simple creature who makes life’s choices like a shopper who’s shopping for the best deal car dealers have to offer on a model that has more or less the same features.

If that is your view of human nature, it is easy to create mathematical models of behaviour because there’s really only one principle at work — self-interest.

People do whatever it takes to maximise their utility. If this view of human nature is correct, then predicting the outcome of elections is not that challenging.

Unfortunately, we know that human behaviour is much more complex than any mathematical model is able to predict, and the political mind is no different.

If we were to predict voting behaviour solely on how well the economy is doing then we will be in for a surprise.

This is due to the fact that social scientists have long discovered that politics has always been as much about identity and community as about the economy.

It is therefore erroneous to define self-interest purely in economic terms. Such a conception of a voter will only reduce a political party to an economics and social welfare outfit that is only interested in how fast the economy is growing, how many jobs are being created and whether or not the populace has been properly vaccinated.

This is not to suggest that the preceding factors are unimportant, but political life is also concerned with the fundamental stuff of life such as who we are and how we organise our society.

As the neuroscientist Drew Westen has said, it is easy to forget that that the states that really determine elections are voters’ states of mind.

A peek into the voters’ minds has revealed that their state of mind is really far from the assumptions made by conventional political scientists and economists — that they have dispassionate minds which will lead them to logical conclusions.

The political mind, according to neuroscientists, is an emotional mind.

What this essentially means is that the idea that human beings are homo economicus, a view that has been dominant since the enlightenment, is incorrect.

The political mind is not a dispassionate calculating machine, objectively searching for facts, figures, and policies to make a reasoned decision.

Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist, has also demonstrated that people reason and people have moral intuitions.

The relationship between reason and moral intuitions has been debated endlessly by philosophers, and there is no consensus among them as to whether reason or moral intuitions should be the master.

Plato, for example, is of the opinion that reason should be the master.

The most recent study undertaken by Haidt has shown that the mind is divided into two parts — controlled processes and automatic processes — and when in conflict, the controlled processes are made to serve the automatic processes.

It just goes to show that Plato’s view that reason should guide our behaviour is far from the truth.

The automatic processes or intuitions come first and strategic reasoning second.

What does this tell us about the political mind? The homo economicus view of the political mind tells us that if voters are made aware of the facts and figures, they should naturally reason to the right conclusion.

Voters, in this view, will naturally vote for their interests, they will calculate which policies and programmes are in their best interests, and vote for political parties that advocate those policies and programmes.

Unfortunately, the political mind does not work that way and the long-held phrase coined by James Carville — “it’s the economy, stupid” has to be changed to “it’s the voters’ state of mind”.

Voters vote against their self-interests, they allow bias, prejudice and emotion to guide their decisions.

In the political arena, emotion is both central and legitimate in political persuasion.

If political parties want to change the political mind, they have to appeal to voters’ intuitions because 98 per cent of our thought is not conscious.

Psychologists and neuroscientists tell us that unconscious thought is automatic.

Conscious thought, on the other hand is reflective. Because most of our thought is unconscious, we are not able to control what our brains are doing in most cases.

In trying to understand the political mind, we need to move away from the homo economicus view that is based on old enlightenment values to the twenty-first century view of the mind as largely unconscious, embodied, emotional, empathetic, metaphorical, and only partly universal.

Such a view will tell us why for the past 29 years, voters in Kelantan did not vote in their economic interests and why the overwhelming blue collar workers in the US voted for a billionaire as their president.

By Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk.

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Grading system limits our children’s mindset

September 16th, 2019
Our education system is a vital ingredient for solid and sustainable nation-building. FILE PIC

OUR education system serves numerous long-term goals. At the humanity level, it is responsible in educating the people.

At the economic level, it plays the function of a human capital developer for current and future market needs.

At the societal level, it plays the role of a social engineer, to ensure that the human capital it produces can be the driver of values and provide livelihood for current and future generations.

And at the political level, it serves as one of the instruments of patriotism.

Together, they make our education system a vital ingredient for solid and sustainable nation-building.

The issue, however, is the method we use to measure our achievements — the grading system.

Growing up, I have always wondered how is it that the children of teachers are always able to score highly in exams compared with others.

I was told then that this was because they had inherited the ‘genius’ genes of their parents, hence enabling them to understand things better and quicker, relative to other students.

It was only much later in life that I realised the actual shape of these ‘genius’ genes was a bundle of papers entitled ‘Buku Skema Jawapan’ or samples of past examination papers.

It seemed that our whole education system is so immersed in the pursuit of excellence, that it has forgotten the real excellence lies not in schools, but in life after school.

When its proper function as a means to an end is properly understood, the grading system used in our education system can be a strong tool for many purposes.

The grading system is causing our children to have a limited mindset, one that is characterised not by the long-term benefits of their learning, but the short-term gains of their academic standing.

In reality, when we express the merits of our students’ educational excellence through the system of grades 1,2,3, or A, B, C, the first thing that we are teaching them is not the pursuit of excellence, but rather, the formation of the us versus them mentality.

While the grading system is designed to enable educators to identify the weak learners, and allocate more focus on them, in reality, students are pressured by the mounting workload and expectations to deliver more As

Furthermore, our educators would be more likely to focus on those who have potential compared with the lesser performing ones.

The weak students will be demoralised when they realise they can’t make it to the top 5 or the top 10 students.

It is evident that we are actively pushing not for a holistic development of our students, but rather the formation of a successful minority and unsuccessful majority of the future.

Worse, these successful minority might not even be able to sustain their success, once they start their careers after graduation.

While it is true that the market demands graduates with technical abilities to drive operations, the real driver of the market will be by those who are humane with community values.

The economic cycle is characterised by ups and downs, and that being the case, the main determinant of success within the market is not solely the strength of academic qualifications, but rather, the strength of the person’s character.

This is the chief reason why we always come across successful businessmen with an unsuccessful academic record.

Human capital is not something that we can measure through a numerical or an alphabetical grading system; it is something that we measure by gauging our students’ ability to solve real-world problems, and how effective they are at bringing people together.

This grading system was inherited from the Western education system and already we are witnessing its negative repercussions.

But then again, success is never a destination — it is a journey, and all journeys begin with the first step.


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NST Leader: Many happy returns?

September 16th, 2019
The Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) is adamant that we are comparing apples and oranges. And Cuepacs is right. Elsewhere in the developed world, armed forces, police, education and health personnel are not part of the civil service. – FILE PIC

PENSION everywhere is undergoing change. Malaysia may be the exception. A RM27 billion pension payout annually means revamp ideas are aplenty. From going pension-less to reshaping it into some hybrid form.

Reaction to this is equally rich: from cacophonous rejection to silent welcome. We advise a studied caution.

Money is just one variable of the pension permutation. Recall the job sales pitch? The private sector was sold on big salaries while the civil service hawked on huge benefits. Pension was one of them.

Compensation must enter the permutation, if the civil service is to remain attractive. A government cannot help but deliver.

Economist Dr Aimi Abdul Rashid suggests one such permutation. A “cap and contract” scheme, if you will.

Taking into consideration the prevailing cost of living index, Aimi suggests capping pensions of most positions at RM5,000, with the rest of the jobs going contract.

What the healthy ratio is, it is for the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu) to work out. Placing every position on contract is not the answer, he says.

Renegotiation is in order. Much of the renegotiation will happen for positions with a pension of RM5,000 and above.

Professor Dr Yeah Kim Leng of Sunway University Business School shares Aimi’s view, but the two academics differ on details.

Yeah says the government can keep the pension system, but it must manage the cost by either capping the monthly pension to a living wage across all categories or introduce a lower cap for the upper income categories.

There is also an alternative in Yeah’s scheme of things. For the civil servants who find such a pension scheme unattractive, he suggests what he calls a “defined contribution system” like the Employees Provident Fund (EPF).

If EPF is adopted, the salary must be competitive. Otherwise, it will lose out to the private sector.

There is also a case for extending the retirement age for a limited number of high-performing civil servants, such as doctors, English teachers, nurses, meteorological specialists and identified others.

It is not out of place to put highly skilled ambulance drivers, soldiers and police officers in the same list. The focus should be productivity, not age. Mampu would do well to generate such a list.

While it is at it, Mampu can generate a Productivity Quarterly for oversight purpose. In such a productive environment, heads of departments will be an anomaly. They must be retired off at 60.

The civil servant-to-people ratio needs working, too. Many argue that our civil service is bloated because it hosts some 1.7 million officers. If this number is used, we get one civil servant serving 19 Malaysians, when in Singapore the ratio is 1:74.

But the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) is adamant that we are comparing apples and oranges. And Cuepacs is right. Elsewhere in the developed world, armed forces, police, education and health personnel are not part of the civil service.

Unburdened of this, our civil service will only be 500,000, resulting in a more palatable ratio: 1:64. Notwithstanding this, the government may want to approach recruitment with studied caution.

This way, the civil service can have many happy returns.

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25 schools in Putrajaya to closed tomorrow if API reading exceeds 200

September 16th, 2019
As many as 25 schools in Putrajaya will be forced to suspend classes on Tuesday if the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading exceeds 200 which is ‘very unhealthy’. (NSTP/MOHD FADLI HAMZAH)

PUTRAJAYA: As many as 25 schools in Putrajaya will be forced to suspend classes on Tuesday if the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading exceeds 200 which is ‘very unhealthy’, according to the Deputy Director (Planning) of the Federal Territory Education Department, Dr Roslan Hussin

He said the department would monitor the API reading from time to time and schools would be required to close if the haze reading exceeded 200 to ensure the health of students and teachers stayed protected.

There are 25 schools in the Putrajaya area of which 15 are primary schools and 10 are secondary schools.

As of 4pm this afternoon, the reading of the API in Putrajaya was 196 which is unhealthy.

“We are monitoring the reading of the API in Putrajaya. The director of the Federal Territory Education Department has asked all principals and teachers to come up with an appropriate plan including postponing all activities outside the classroom based on the reading of the API,” he said when contacted here today.

Putrajaya became the latest area to register a very unhealthy API reading today with a reading of 202 at 12 noon.

By Bernama.

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Muhyiddin embarks on US visit to boost security ties

September 16th, 2019
Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is on a working visit to US until Sept 21. – NSTP

WASHINGTON: A slew of meetings with key American officials await Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as Malaysia seeks to deepen ties with the United States amid security challenges posed by issues such as terrorism and concerns over matters like human trafficking and illegal migration.

Muhyiddin arrived Sunday in US capital for a working visit until Wednesday before flying to New York for similar engagements with US officials there.

His itinerary for Monday will see him heading to the US Homeland Security headquarters for talks with Acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and a visit to the US Terrorist Screening Centre (TSC).

Muhyiddin will also feature at a leadership forum at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies where he is expected to share his views on Malaysia-US strategic relations.

His other programmes in Washington DC over the next few days include engaging with US Ambassador for Trafficking in Persons, John Cotton Richmond, as well as senior officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“The working visit is aimed at deepening bilateral linkages between the US and Malaysia in the field of security which have been long established between the two countries,” he told Bernama ahead of the high-powered talks and visits to the key US security institutions.

Muhyiddin pointed out that Malaysia had well-established ties with world-renowned security agencies such as the FBI and CIA, with cooperation covering areas including information exchange, training and other capacity-building measures.

Such cooperation is needed as the country simply cannot let its guard down when it comes to terrorism as it strives to ensure its security agencies are equipped with the necessary tools, what with the threats posed by terrorist groups such as Islamic State lurking in the background.

Malaysia’s vigilance and intelligence gathering enabled the Royal Malaysian Police to detain 495 people from 2013 to August 2019 over their involvement as members, recruiters, financiers or sympathisers with Daesh. The figure comprised 333 Malaysians and 162 foreign nationals.

With the security landscape spewing more challenges of late, Muhyiddin believes Kuala Lumpur still had things to learn from the Americans on how to tackle them.

This, he said, would include looking at how the US used technological advancements to manage issues linked to terrorism, trafficking in persons, migration and others.

Muhyiddin explained that his visit to the terrorist screening centre would allow him to get a closer look at how technology is used in terms of identifying terrorists or those possessing such inclination.

“This is in line with our proposed initiative to manage a new immigration system which is currently being developed,” he said.

In New York, the home minister is expected to meet with New York Police Department officials on a learning mission to see whether Malaysia could emulate some of the initiatives that it has undertaken for crime prevention.

“In other words, in the space of a few days of my visit to the US, we hope to be able to strengthen ties between our security agencies and learn new things that may benefit us,” Muhyiddin said of his visit that runs until Sept 21.

By Bernama.

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