Archive for July, 2012

How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century.

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

There’s a dark little joke exchanged by educators with a dissident streak: Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred-year snooze and is, of course, utterly bewildered by what he sees. Men and women dash about, talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears. Young people sit at home on sofas, moving miniature athletes around on electronic screens. Older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic. Airports, hospitals, shopping malls–every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when he finally walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school,” he declares. “We used to have these back in 1906. Only now the blackboards are green.”

American schools aren’t exactly frozen in time, but considering the pace of change in other areas of life, our public schools tend to feel like throwbacks. Kids spend much of the day as their great-grandparents once did: sitting in rows, listening to teachers lecture, scribbling notes by hand, reading from textbooks that are out of date by the time they are printed. A yawning chasm (with an emphasis on yawning) separates the world inside the schoolhouse from the world outside.

For the past five years, the national conversation on education has focused on reading scores, math tests and closing the “achievement gap” between social classes. This is not a story about that conversation. This is a story about the big public conversation the nation is not having about education, the one that will ultimately determine not merely whether some fraction of our children get “left behind” but also whether an entire generation of kids will fail to make the grade in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad or speak a language other than English.

This week the conversation will burst onto the front page, when the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, a high-powered, bipartisan assembly of Education Secretaries and business, government and other education leaders releases a blueprint for rethinking American education from pre-K to 12 and beyond to better prepare students to thrive in the global economy. While that report includes some controversial proposals, there is nonetheless a remarkable consensus among educators and business and policy leaders on one key conclusion: we need to bring what we teach and how we teach into the 21st century.

Right now we’re aiming too low. Competency in reading and math–the focus of so much No Child Left Behind (NCLB) testing–is the meager minimum. Scientific and technical skills are, likewise, utterly necessary but insufficient. Today’s economy demands not only a high-level competence in the traditional academic disciplines but also what might be called 21st century skills. Here’s what they are:

Knowing more about the world. Kids are global citizens now, even in small-town America, and they must learn to act that way. Mike Eskew, CEO of UPS, talks about needing workers who are “global trade literate, sensitive to foreign cultures, conversant in different languages”–not exactly strong points in the U.S., where fewer than half of high school students are enrolled in a foreign-language class and where the social-studies curriculum tends to fixate on U.S. history.

by Claudia Wallis.

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The divine dimension of fasting

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

The Arabic terms for fasting – sawm or siyam – basically means self-restraint (kaff or imsak), involving at its most rudimentary level the restraining of oneself from eating, drinking, and sexual congress with one’s spouse, the three essentials of the worldly life.

THE blessed month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, has been more than a week already.

And Muslims worldwide are observing one of the five pillars of Islam, the obligatory fasting throughout the days of this month.

The Arabic terms for fasting – sawm or siyam – basically means self-restraint (kaff or imsak), involving at its most rudimentary level the restraining of oneself from eating, drinking, and sexual congress with one’s spouse, the three essentials of the worldly life.

Apart from positive health factors for one who is fasting, fasting first and foremost pertains to the spiritual and moral uplift of oneself.

This self-improvement, as observ­ed by a number of prominent Muslim scholars, is in turn intimately related to the theological and metaphysical dimension of fasting.

Such a relation actually stems from an established moral teaching in Islam, grounded in a number of Quranic verses and numerous sayings of the Prophet, that man has to emulate such Divine Names and Attributes as befit man according to his real ability.

For in truth, the names and attributes of Allah constitute the benchmark of good character and praiseworthy deeds for Muslims.

And in attempting to fast sincerely and correctly, a Muslim is actually trying to emulate an important Name and Attribute of Allah, al-Samad.

According to voluminous, authoritative Arabic lexicons such as al-Qamus al-Muhit, Lisan al-Arab and Taj al-Arus, the term al-samad means among others “the one who does not eat”.

The term is thus employed at times to signify an individual who neither thirsts nor starves in a battle.

It also signifies “an obeyed master without whom none shall be executed (al-sayyid al-muta’ alladhi la yuqda dunahu amr); the one a person will walk up to when the person is in need (alladhi yuqsad ilayhi fi al-hawa’ij); one who prevails, staying through it all (al-da’im)”; as well as “the lofty and sublime one (al-rafi)”.

It is perfectly logical and in line with valid inference from human experience that one who does not eat, yet being neither thirsty nor hungry, is better qualified to be the one who can last out forever and, thus, become a Lord who rules over us, mortals, and everything evanescent and to whom we turn whenever we are in need.

by Dr. Mohd  Zaidi Ismail.

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Lam Thye calls for more aggressive efforts to inculcate courtesy among Malaysians

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR: More aggressive efforts should be undertaken to inculcate courtesy and noble values among Malaysians, said social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.

He said promoting those virtues was essential in view of the deterioration of such values, particularly among young Malaysians.

“Based on my observation, the virtues of courtesy, politeness, patience, humility, tolerance and respect have yet to become our way of life. Despite our technological progress, we are confronted with the issue of decaying morality in our daily lives,” said the 1Malaysia Foundation trustee in a statement, here, yesterday.

He was commenting on the latest appraisal by the Reader’s Digest magazine, which placed Kuala Lumpur at number 34 out of 36 major cities in the world in a list of Least Courteous Cities.

Six years ago, Reader’s Digest placed Malaysia’s rudeness level at 33 out of the 35 countries ranked.

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Weather turns extreme

Monday, July 30th, 2012

It was lucky the Olympics opening ceremony was not washed out by rain, because floods, heat waves and droughts are on the rise this year.

FRIDAY night’s opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London was widely acclaimed for its spectacular display. But besides the brilliant design and smooth implementation, another factor played an important role – luck.

It was lucky that the ceremony was not ruined by rain. Just a few weeks ago, much of Britain was deluged by floods caused by a lengthy spell of rain.

TV screens and newspapers were filled with images of cars being washed down streets that had turned into rivers.

Even now, the Olympic Games organisers, athletes and spectators alike must be keeping their fingers crossed that there is no major downpour in the days ahead.

The unusually intense rainfall and floods have reached historically worst levels in Britain. In January, a government report said that flooding caused by heavier rainfall will be Britain’s worst effect from climate change in the coming decades, costing damage valued at billions of pounds a year.

Extreme weather events are of course not confined to Britain. They are taking place all over the world at an increasing rate and with damaging intensity.

Only last week, at least 77 people died and thousands were displaced in the worst flooding to hit Beijing in more than 60 years. This was due to a long downpour on July 21.

It was the heaviest rain in Beijing since records began in 1951, causing rivers to burst their banks and flood major highways, submerging cars with people trapped inside, and sweeping houses and people away.

Meanwhile, the United States is facing a severe heat wave and drought. This has caused significant falls in farm output, with serious effects on global food supply and prices.

The dry weather in the United States is partly attributed to La Nina, which has a cooling effect on the Pacific Ocean, bringing warmer and dryer weather to the south of the country, including Texas whose agriculture has been devastated in the past year.

But many climate scientists are also linking the drought to climate change. According to Peter Stott of the British government’s Met Office Hadley Centre, La Nina is only part of the story.

Stott co-authored a recent study which links climate change with the Texas drought and other extreme weather events. Interviewed by the Voice of America, he said his study found “clear evidence for human influence on the Texas heat wave and also in the very unusual temperatures we had in the United Kingdom in 2011”.

According to the study, the 2011 Texas drought was 20 times more likely to occur than in the 1960s as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. The heat wave last November in England was 62 times more likely to have occurred than 50 years ago.

by Martin Khor.

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A ringing problem

Monday, July 30th, 2012

ANY move to allow children to take handphones to school was bound to be controversial. Even though the handphone has become mainstream in the last decade, the fact is unlimited access, even in the hands of adults, is controversial.

Admittedly, there are very few places to which adults cannot take their handphones (some government offices and foreign embassies are among them), but there are many places where the use of handphones is prohibited;  hospital wards, cinemas, airplanes, petrol stations and university examination halls, to name a few.

But, of course, just because there are large signs, announcements and even laws specifically stating that handphones are not to be used does not mean that adults, who should know better and be more disciplined, abide by them. So, it would be reasonable to assume that enforcing similar rules on children in schools would be about as difficult, if not more, given that school is where children are just learning about rules, and obeying or breaking them. So, when it was proposed that handphones be permitted in school starting from next year, teachers were right to be concerned about how to regulate its use. Teachers have enough difficulty getting students to concentrate on lessons, without the added communicational avenue the handphone provides. The deputy education minister says the move is to “provide a virtual learning environment so that students can use their gadgets to learn”. But it would be naive to assume that that is all the students will be using their phones for. In any case, in the cyberworld, learning cannot be limited to what is in the school syllabus. So, the ministry must realise to what it is consenting, and the burden it is placing on schools.

But still, the move is not without support. In a society where schoolchildren are out of their parents’ supervision from morning until early evening, the handphone may be the only way for parents to check on their children outside of school hours. But if this is the purpose of allowing handphones in school, then the rules for this privilege must be tailored for it. Students should only be allowed to have basic handphones, whose only function is to make calls and to send and receive SMSes. The phones should not have any camera, video or voice-recording capabilities, or Internet access.

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The 2012 Olympic Games Open with Lots of Bangs—and a Whimper.

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Dylan Martinez / Reuters

Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Fireworks explode over the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games July 27, 2012.

Oh Danny Boyle. The Slumdog Millionaire director’s opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics started with such verve and promise. There were fireworks! There were sheep! There were geese! There was electricity in the stadium, not just the kind generated by 80,000 people in a state of excited anticipation but also a clever arrangement of LED panels at every seat that sent pulses of color across the stands. Rustic folk strolled beneath fluffy cumuli and disported themselves in a vision of the green and pleasant Britain celebrated in verse by William Blake at the beginning of the 19th century, as the industrial revolution gathered steam. By 1916, when Sir Hubert Parry set the poem to music, creating the greatest of all anthems, “Jerusalem,” ever more Britons lived in cities and worked in factories; world war would soon further threaten Blake’s idyll. Boyle’s history appeared to cast industrialists as the greater danger, though the program notes made clear that the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, played by Kenneth Branagh, should be regarded as a hero. Great chimneys sprouted from the stadium floor and the once carefree yokels were transformed into drudges. It was powerful and surprisingly scary for an event that at previous Games has dazzled but never daunted. “This is ****ing terrifying!! i want my mummy,” tweeted the British critic and journalist Giles Coren.

(INTERACTIVE PANORAMARe-live the Opening Ceremony)

And it got better, at least if what you wanted from London 2012 wasn’t a poor man’s Beijing or an updated Sydney, all spectacle and not much substance. In the segment entitled “Happy and Glorious,” Boyle served up great dollops of the quirky humor that sustains his compatriots. A filmed sequence showed James Bond, in his current, Daniel Craig-shaped iteration, on a mission to Buckingham Palace. He is greeted by a pair of corgis and then by the Queen, “in her first acting role,” according to the Olympics organizers though she’s arguably been performing as the Queen since 1952. They board a helicopter and fly to the Olympic Park, and in a coup de théâtre, a real helicopter materialized above the stadium, and 007 and Q (or their stunt doubles) parachuted to the ground. And Her Majesty, in the same fetching apricot-colored gown she wore for the filmed sequence, took her seat in the box.
by Catherine Mayer.

Putting together a language

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

From construction and spelling to connotations and speech sounds, English is a language that is perplexing yet beautiful.

IN this final article on grammatical terminology, reference is made to the definitions of a number of studies that are conducted into particular aspects of the English language.


Semantics is the study of meaning in language, ie. the meanings of speech forms, especially the development and changes in meaning of words and word groups.

Semantics study how the meanings, connotations, implications and ambiguities of words and concepts in language are created, determined and varied by the use and inter-relationships of words, phrases and sentences.


Semiotics is the study and analysis of signs and symbols in communication, eg. body language.


Phonology is the study of the pattern or system of speech sounds in languages.

Phonologists study phonemes, ie. vowels and consonants as well as prosody (rhythm, stress and intonation).

Phonology is often included as part of phonetics but also as a separate and distinct, linguistic study.


Orthography is the study of accepted or traditional correct spelling, ie. correct according to usage.

It also studies how the letters or symbols of the alphabet are arranged or occur sequentially in words.

Besides that, the study also includes the relationship between sounds and symbols, and symbol combinations.

by Keith Wright, the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S).

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With royalty and rock, Britain opens its Olympics.

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

FIREWORKS enlighten the Olympics. –Photo taken from

LONDON: The queen and James Bond gave the London Olympics a royal entrance like no other Friday in an opening ceremony that rolled to the rock of the Beatles, the Stones and The Who, Associated Press reported.

And the creative genius of Danny Boyle spliced it all together.

Brilliant. Cheeky, too.

The highlight of the Oscar-winning director’s $42 million show was pure movie magic, using trickery to make it seem that Britain’s beloved 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth II had parachuted into the stadium with the nation’s most famous spy.

A short film showed 007 driving up to Buckingham Palace in a black London cab and, pursued by her majesty’s royal dogs – Monty, Willow and Holly, playing themselves – meeting the queen, who played herself.

“Good evening, Mr. Bond,” she said.

They were shown flying in a helicopter over London landmarks and a waving statue of Winston Churchill – the queen in a salmon-colored gown, Bond dashing as ever in a black tuxedo – to the stadium and then leaping out into the inky night.

At the same moment, real skydivers appeared in the skies over the stadium throbbing to the James Bond soundtrack. And moments after that, the monarch appeared in person, accompanied by her husband Prince Philip.

Organizers said it was thought to be the first time the monarch has acted on film.

“The queen made herself more accessible than ever before,” Boyle said.

OLYMPIC RINGS assembled above the stadium. Photo by Associated Press

In the stadium, Elizabeth stood solemnly while a children’s choir serenaded her with “God Save the Queen,” and members of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force raised the Union Jack.


SHOW TIME: Rehearsals have taken place over the last week to ensure everything is ready for the Opening Ceremony Photo: AFP

The boat is being piloted by David Beckham who played an important role in bringing the Games to London and has been a big supporter ever since. Carrying the Torch on the boat is Jade Bailey, a young footballer tipped to become one of the sporting stars of the future. It set off from Tower Bridge to make its way to the Olympic Stadium.– Photo taken from

INTERIOR VIEW of the Olympic Stadium. –Photo taken from

EXTERIOR VIEW of the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatics Centre are lit up during the Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Park on 27 July. –Photo taken from

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To understand this Olympics, step back into history.

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

THIRD – TIME HOST: In 1908, London stepped in at the last minute.

THE London Games, the 30th Olympiad, begins this morning, the third time the city is hosting the Games, the only city to do so. There will be 10,490 athletes from 205 nations competing in 26 sports. For the next 17 days we will be watching them trying to be “faster, stronger and higher”, the very spirit when the modern Olympics was resurrected in Athens in 1896. There are those who will excel and others who will flounder, but as Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the man responsible for reviving the Games famously said, “the most important thing in the Olympics is not the winning but the taking part.”

It has been 104 years since London hosted its first Olympics (1908) and 64 years since the last one (1948). The 1908 games was the fourth Olympiad since Athens. London then was the centre of the universe. Edwardian England had a lot to prove to the world in terms of superiority and class. The US hosted the third Olympics in St Louis in 1904, understandably under the watchful eyes of the Europeans. Even de Coubertin did not attend but instead sounded the alarm that “the Olympic spirit had not been sufficiently stressed”.

To understand this Olympics, one must go back to 1908. Rebecca Jenkins came out with an incredible book, The First London Olympics 1908: The Definitive Story of London’s Most Sensational Olympics To Date. This is a sporting book with a difference, it dwells not just on history but the people behind the scene and the trials, tribulations and successes and failures of the athletes involved.

The truth is London was not even supposed to host the 1908 Games. The eruptions of Mt Vesuvius in 1906 derailed the Italian plan to showcase Rome. De Coubertin needed a replacement fast or else the Greeks would insist it was their birthright to host the Olympics every four years. After all they did hold their own games in 1906, which is not recognised as part of the four-year cycle by the Olympic committee. De Coubertin found allies in the form of Theodore Cook, Lord Desborough and Robert Laffan, who were instrumental in organising the London Games.

They had no government support (the British leadership believed it should be a private initiative), no stadium and worst, not enough time. It was up to Desborough to make it happen. Lucky for them, there was a Hungarian émigré by the name of Imre Kiralfy. He was a showman with massive ambition. He was planning a Franco-British Exhibition, the biggest ever exhibition in Europe. He agreed to build the facilities for the games, including the stadium. While mindful that all the previous two games were associated with exhibitions, Kiralfy offered the organisers something else — the freedom to manage the Games and no financial worry.

The unpredictable English weather created havoc on the games, especially during the first few days (looks like history will repeat itself). But despite rivalries between nations (especially between the US and Britain) and lots of complaints about fairness and nepotism on the part of the judges, the London games was indeed a memorable one as promised by Desborough. It was also the first to be filmed, when moving pictures were still in their infancy.

by Johan Jaafar.

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How to impress examiners

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

The semester examination has just ended at my university. Working late till the wee hours of many mornings, I completed the evaluation of several thick bundles of examination scripts. As always, a fair number of answers were illegible, incomprehensible and terribly disorganised.

FOR all of us in the teaching profession, the periodic ordeal of marking examination scripts arouses suicidal as well as homicidal instincts!

Many students fail to exhibit basic knowledge of the subject and, understandably, fail the examination. Others have undoubted ability but not the technique or methodology of writing effective answers. It is to the latter group of law students that I wish to address today’s column.

Let me begin by saying that law is “reasoned argument”. To perform satisfactorily in the field, some special skills and techniques need to be cultivated.

Language: A law student should understand that oral and written communication skills are absolutely indispensable for the effective practice of the law. Law students should seek constantly to improve their command of the language by reading newspapers, law books and law journals.

Original sources: A good law student buys her own textbooks and statutes and does not rely entirely on class handouts. She constantly supplements class handouts with self-study from textbooks and adds to the “bank account” of knowledge opened by the lecturer for the students.

Art of reading: Reading is an art. Unless we have a smart strategy, it is entirely possible to get lost in the undergrowth. In reading a book or article, the student must avoid beginning at the beginning and plodding to the end. She must first look at the headings and sub-headings to get a broad feel or outline of what the chapter contains.

She must proceed from the general to the particular; from the woods to the trees. If an easy book or handout is available, she must read that first to get a background.

Self-study: Her study techniques must have three aims. First, to understand the basic principles of the law. Second, to recall basic ideas. To achieve this she must summarise the main principles or ideas in simple diagrams, charts, “magic words” or acronyms. These “scaffoldings” or outlines must be committed to memory. A third aim must be to evaluate existing materials and to highlight the flaws in the laws.

Attending tutorials: Successful students go prepared to class bubbling with queries. During the class or tutorial, they don’t just hear, they listen. They jot down prolific notes. They ask questions orally or by e-mail or in other written form. They participate.

Study groups: Successful law students form informal groups for study and revision. They try to be in a group of hard workers and independent thinkers. They encourage differences rather than conformity. They expose their understanding to scrutiny by others.

Summarising notes: Organising, systematising and summarising knowledge is the best way to master it. In preparation for the examination, a good student summarises each topic on one A4 page or on index cards or uses flow charts or diagrams to organise the vast amount of material collected.

by Shad Saleem Faruqi.

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