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once did: sitting in rows, listening to teachers lecture, scribbling notes by hand, reading from textbooks that are out of date by the time they are printed.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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A crying need for more disabled access in Sabah.

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012
KOTA KINABALU: Every visitor to Sabah has a unique experience, with some struggling with transportation problems in the busy city area and traveling to tourist destinations.


Duchenne muscular dystrophy-afflicted Dusty Brandom using a personal aluminium ramp to navigate places with difficult access for disabled people while in Kota Kinabalu. Pic by Catherine Jayasuriya

However, visitors like 19-year-old Dusty Brandom struggle more than others. Dusty, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, is confined to an electric wheelchair.

For people like Brandom, being in a wheelchair is a challenge in a place where most buildings, footpaths and shopping centres are not designed with the disabled in mind.

“It seems that everywhere I want to go here has a step, a gap or some other obstacle,” said Brandom, whose mother, Catherine Jayasuriya, is a Sabahan.

However, new developments such as Perdana Park, have special parking for disabled people and ramps instead of steps allowing wheelchair access.

The same can be said for major hotels, such as Shangri La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Sutera Harbor Resort. However, other popular destinations, such as shopping malls, have obstacles.

Brandom, who lives in California, the United States, with her parents, said popular local shopping mall Wisma Merdeka had steps only to get in, but the people were kind and helpful.

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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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Throw the book at fake university degree scammers

Monday, July 30th, 2012

HUNDREDS of Malaysians have reportedly bought fake university degrees from scam artists in a multimillion-ringgit business.

Most involve foreign “universities”, with 20 fake degrees from Universiti Sains Malaysia. Similar developments 10 years ago involved fake MBAs and postgraduate degrees from fictitious universities abroad.

Such scams are unlike others because the fake graduates had willingly and knowingly purchased counterfeit material.

Their purpose, presumably, is to trick prospective employers, business partners or legitimate educational institutions, ultimately the victims of such scams.

Police have been looking for 525 of these “con”-sumers but as expected, only a few have responded. They must know that their own status is closer to that of accomplice rather than victim.

Nonetheless, police are confident that their statements will be obtained, if necessary, through use of Section 111 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Since police have their databases, their names and fake qualifications may also be publicised to inform their associates and the relevant institutions.

Police action has not come too soon and could also have come earlier. One of the fake universities, Britain’s “Glastonbury University”, was revealed in a British press report last September which found “con artists from Malaysia had invented” the university to cheat students.

British professionals had known about the scam about a year now, with British authorities subsequently contacting the FBI to investigate.

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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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I helped educate my village

Monday, July 30th, 2012

GALLANTRY: Despite his own lack of a formal education, former Iban tracker and bearer of British’s George Cross medal for gallantry, Awang anak Raweng is determined to make sure that every child from his village has access to this basic right, writes Dennis Wong.


The school, SK Nanga Skrang, currently has 65 pupils and six classrooms.

IBAN hero Awang anak Raweng knows only too well the meaning of sacrifice.

Having risked his life for a man he barely knew in a jungle far from home during the Emergency, Awang thought nothing of sacrificing what he owned for the greater good of his community in the village of Nanga Skrang, Sarawak, some 10 years later.

While the world may know him as the Iban tracker who forced 50 communists to retreat after a 40- minute standoff in the jungles of Johor, to the villagers of Nanga Skrang, he is the father of education.

Thanks to Awang’s generosity, the children from nine longhouses in the village have had access to a basic primary education for the past 49 years.

It all began when the owner of a sawmill near the village, located along the Batang Lupar river about 45km from Sri Aman, wanted to build a school for the villagers.

“They could not find the right location as there was no extra land. As I had a few plots of land which I hardly used, I donated them for the construction of the school.

“My condition was simple — if they wanted to build a school, I would give the land for free. But if they were going to build something else for their own financial gain, then I would take back my land,” recalled the 83-year-old when met by the New Sunday Times.

Despite not having had any formal education himself, Awang believed that a good education was the only way to overcome the plight of his community.

It took less than a year to build the school and the villagers were especially proud to finally have one.

The school was officiated by the second chief minister Datuk Penghulu Tawi Sli five years later and the main building is still used today.

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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.

Teaching through news

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Thanks to the NiE pullout, teachers in Kuala Kangsar learnt new techniques of conducting English lessons.

SUNGAI Siput may be a quiet and sleepy town to many but that misconception was proven wrong by 40 English teachers from the Kuala Kangsar district.

The teachers were enthusiastic and immersed themselves in the various activities conducted at The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) workshop in SMK Methodist, Sungai Siput.

The teachers, who came from 17 schools in the district, made collages, told creative stories and even acted during the four-hour workshop conducted by Star-NiE freelance trainer Lucille Dass.

“This is my first time training the teachers in Sungai Siput and they have given very positive responses to the modules and activities conducted.

Engaging: Teachers presenting their group story through a collage of images during the workshop.

“They were eager to learn how to use The Star newspaper to teach their English classes and add an extra methodology to their teaching,” she said.

Stating that teachers needed to vary their teaching methods, she added that the workshop helped them focus on creating both activity-based and learner-centred teaching sessions through the NiE pullout.

by Edmund Ngo.

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