Archive for October, 2013

Early education can solve US poverty

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

HEAD START: Research suggest this is the best way to resolve economic inequality.

CONGRESS is often compared with pre-K, which seems defamatory of small children. But the similarities also offer hope, because an initiative that should be on the top of the national agenda has less to do with the sequester than with the A.B.C.’s and Big Bird.

Growing mountains of research suggest that the best way to address American economic inequality, poverty and crime is — you guessed it! — early education programmes, including coaching of parents who want help. It’s not a magic wand, but it’s the best tool we have to break cycles of poverty.

United States President Barack Obama called in his State of the Union address for such a national initiative, but it hasn’t gained traction. Obama himself hasn’t campaigned enough for it, yet there’s still a reed of hope.

One reason is that this is one of those rare initiatives that polls well across the spectrum, with support from 84 per cent of Democrats and 60 per cent of Republicans in a recent national survey. And even if the programme stalls in Washington, states and localities are moving ahead — from San Antonio to Michigan. Colorado voters will decide next month on a much-watched ballot measure to bolster education spending, including in preschool, and a ballot measure in Memphis would expand preschool as well.

“There’s this magical opportunity” now to get a national early education programme in America, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told me. He says he’s optimistic that members of Congress will introduce a bipartisan bill for such a plan this year.

“When you think how you make change for the next 30 years, this is arguably at the top of my list,” Duncan said. “It can literally transform the life chances of children, and strengthen families in important ways.”

Whether it happens through Congressional action or is locally led, this may be the best chance America has had to broaden early programmes since 1971, when Congress approved such a programme but president Richard Nixon vetoed it.

‘Diabetes not caused only by sugar intake’

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR: The higher price of sugar may not lead to lower number if diabetics, said the Association of Muslim Restaurant Operators Malaysia.

Its president, Noorul Hassan Saul Hameed, said there was no direct correlation between the price of sugar and the disease.

“Sugar is just one factor out of many that contribute to diabetes.

“Diabetes is connected to one’s lifestyle, not purely by sugar intake.

“Schools should take part in raising the awareness on diabetes as Malaysians are still clueless on the importance of healthy living.”

He was commenting on the government’s move to abolish sugar subsidy in the 2014 Budget.

He felt the implementation should have been introduced in stages.

“The people are still adapting to the recent fuel price hike.

“It is not the right time to further burden them with a sudden increment of 34 sen.”

He said the abolition of sugar subsidy would not necessarily result in higher food prices, though he cautioned that it might happen if manufacturers increased the prices of processed food.

“Canned drinks, condensed milk and syrup are just a few examples of many sugar-based products that are used in restaurants.

“If the prices of these items go up, restaurants will have no choice but to raise their prices, too.”

Groups asking for exclusion of items bought by lower-income consumers

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

PETALING JAYA: Some consumer groups want the list of items exempted from the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to be expanded to include other essential items, especially those consumed by the lower-income group.

Apart from rice, cooking oil and salt, they said, there were many other essential food items which had not been included.

“We are concerned over whether foodstuff such as canned sardines, bread and biscuits, which are essential goods as well, will be taxed under the GST,” said Consumers Association of Penang president S.M. Mohamed Idris.

“Such basic food items should be exempted as well because they are widely consumed by the lower-income group.

“The GST should be imposed on high-end food items that are consumed by the high-income earners.”

If not, he said, the poor – who spend most of their income on food – would suffer with the implementation of the GST.

The Sales and Services Tax (SST) will be abolished on April 1, 2015 and replaced with the GST, which has been set at 6%.

It was announced that the GST would not be imposed on basic food items such as rice, sugar, salt, flour, cooking oil, piped water supply, and the first 200 units of electricity per month for domestic consumers.

Some of the services exempted would be government services such as the issuing of passports and licences, healthcare services, school education and public transportation services, including highway toll.

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How will RM441m budget allocation for disabled be spent, asks community

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

PETALING JAYA: The RM441mil allocation in the 2014 Budget for the welfare and development of people with disabilities (PWDs) raised more questions than answers in the minds of PWD advocacy groups.

“I am unsure how this funding will be allocated. Previously funding was given to the Women’s Ministry which started a program called Karisma and they used the money for charity handouts. RM 441mil is quite a huge sum,” said Damai Disabled Persons Association of Selangor and Federal Territory president V. Murugeswaran.

Murugeswaran, who spoke to The Star Online on Monday, added that the money should be spent on addressing the root causes of problems that were keeping PWDs from leading independent lives.

“The Prime Minister said that 33 new schools would be built and all schools would be upgraded. My call is that these schools also consider PWDs,” said Murugeswaran.

He said many PWDs could not get meaningful employment as they lacked basic education qualifications because they could not gain entry into the mainstream school system.

“I urge the government to use this opportunity to make schools fully accessible so that PWDs can get a full education from Year 1 up to university,” said Murugeswaran.

He added employment was another point of concern for PWDs, pointing out the public and private sector had a quota system where 1% of job openings had to be given to PWDs.

“In order for this quota to be achieved, they have to look into accessible building infrastructures and public transport infrastructures such as accessible pavements, bus stops and other public facilities,” said Murugeswaran.

He added that an integrated, accessible public transport system should be drawn up by the government.

by Tan Yi Liang.

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Rising cases of minors raping minors

Monday, October 28th, 2013

WORRYING: Two brothers, aged 8 and 10, who allegedly forced a Year One girl to perform oral sex recently after the duo browsed an adult movie site on their school computer, have shocked the nation.

However, experts tell Audrey Vijaindren and Tan Choe Choe that this is not an isolated incident, as cases of  sexual misconduct among minors are on the rise

INCIDENTS of minors raping minors seem to be increasing of late with many going unreported. This is a disturbing trend among today’s teenagers, especially since almost 80 per cent of rapes are committed by persons known to the victim, says Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan.

“There are various contributing factors to the rise in cases of consensual and non-consensual acts of sexual nature among minors, such as lack of awareness on sexual development, increased sexual urges, irresponsible sexual behaviour and curiosity.”

He says besides being plain curious, minors who have substance abuse problems, such as addiction to alcohol and drugs, are also at risk of committing such acts.

“Parents, too, play a huge part. Poor parenting skills which cause lack of moral development in children and an unhappy family environment can be a trigger.

“Peer influence and the role of social media are not to be taken lightly. Besides that, situations which facilitate intimacy and close proximity are often dangerous factors as well.”

Underlying mental illnesses, such as conduct disorder, schizophrenia and mania, Dr Tharmaseelan adds, are also causes for worry.

Assistant Commissioner Hamidah Yunus, who is the principal assistant director of the Sexual Crimes, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Investigations Division (D11) of the Royal Malaysian Police, told the New Sunday Times that before 2011, there were no reports of sexual misconduct of minors against minors.

In 2011, however, nine cases were reported, followed by seven cases last year and six cases from January till September this year. All these involved children below 13 years old.

Plugging wastage in our schools

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Good programme gone sour: While only 21.9% of milk was supplied under the 1M Milk Programme, the amount spent was 39.7% of the RM183.33mil budget allocation.

Good programme gone sour: While only 21.9% of milk was supplied under the 1M Milk Programme, the amount spent was 39.7% of the RM183.33mil budget allocation.

While some schools openly reveal their accounts to parents at AGMs, most do not and therefore invite speculation and suspicion.

BUDGET 2014 has been announced and over the weekend, we will all be scrutinising the details to see how we are affected as individuals, families, businesses, companies and corporations. We are of course delighted that the education budget is again sizeable but more important is how the Education and Higher Education Ministry intend to spend it.

We would like to see science and mathematics teachers being assessed in the same way as English teachers have been, and a retraining programme conducted in both Bahasa Malaysia and English if the ministry is serious about benchmarking internationally these two core subjects.

The RM38.7bil education budget for 2013 was generous, at 16% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is marginally more than the OECD average of 13%. Let us look over the highlights of last year’s budget:RM2.6bil in welfare aid for 5.4 million students; RM500mil to enhance teaching skills in core subjects; RM400mil for national schools; RM100mil for Chinese schools, Tamil schools, mission schools, government-assisted religious schools, boarding schools and the Maktab Rendah Sains Mara; RM1.2bil for pre-school education; RM380mil for placement of kindergarten teachers; RM3.7bil to train students in technical and vocational fields; and RM50mil to train 3,200 Malaysian Indian students in the estates.

The secretary-general of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) was quoted then as saying that she hopes the “Education Delivery Unit (now known as PADU in the transformational education blueprint) will reduce mismanagement and ensure the government’s funds are used and policies are implemented properly.

All teachers should take these new opportunities to undergo training and upgrade their skills.”

Whether that is the role to be played by PADU, it is a tall order but it would be ideal if Team PADU could do just that.

For those of us with children in national schools, let us ponder over how they have benefited from the budget. Well, we did get RM100 cash per child, twice. Students at private schools too received the amount.

I also know that my children’s school benefited from renovated toilets but whether or not the cisterns flushed any harder has yet to be known!

by Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim.

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Budget 2014: Higher tax rates may not stop house prices from going up

Monday, October 28th, 2013

PETALING JAYA: The increase in Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT) will dampen speculation but it is unlikely to stop house prices from escalating and may even lead to a rise, say developers and consultants.

Real Estate and Housing Deve­lopers Association (Rehda) president Datuk Seri Michael K.C. Yam said the drastic increase to 15%-30% from 10%-15% previously would discourage any would-be speculator.

“Having said that, I have no strong evidence that speculation was one of the main reasons that pushed up property prices. There were some hot spots but it was definitely not on a nationwide basis,” he told The Star.

Property prices in the sub-sale market, added Yam, could increase if homeowners decided to defer selling to avoid the new tax rates.

The sub-sale market, he said, comprised 70% of residential transactions and a decrease in market supply would be inevitable if homeowners delayed selling.

“This means buyers will move to the new properties market and further increase the demand-supply imbalance there. So, a possible side effect is that it could even move prices higher,” he said.

The flat rate of 30% RPGT for six years on foreign-owned properties, said Yam, would also hurt developers during their promotions abroad.

CH Williams Talhar & Wong Sdn Bhd managing director Foo Gee Jen said the doubling of RPGT to 30% would lessen or stop speculation but that in the long-term, this would only make the market more manageable instead of stopping prices from going up.

However, he said limiting foreigners to buying properties worth RM1mil and above should only be applied to major cities like Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Penang.

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75% of cars running on under-inflated tyres.

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

KOTA KINABALU:  At least three out of every four cars or 75% are running on under-inflated tyres, resulting in compromised safety on the road, shorter tyre service life, increased fuel consumption and millions of tonnes of carbon emission.

Realising that not many motorists are aware of these facts, Michelin Malaysia Sdn Bhd organised a two-day campaign dubbed ‘Fill Up With Air’ (FUWA) at City Mall from 10am to 6pm, ending today.

Corporate Affairs manager Rian Aznani said, through the programme, motorists can learn about the importance of proper tyre pressure to enhance road safety, ensure longer tyre life, reduce spending on fuel as well as conserving the environment.

“This is part of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme and is the second to be held in Malaysia, while the first was held in Putrajaya. A similar event will be held at the Spring Mall in Kuching on November 23 and 24,” Rian said.

This year, he said, Michelin Malaysia aims to reach out to educate as many motorists as possible on FUWA, which could translate to Malaysian car owners reducing fuel consumption of some 47,000 litres per year, not including the added costs of tyre replacement and the hundreds of thousands of ringgit worth of damages from road accidents.

Even by going on 75 per cent of the 552,000 passenger vehicles sold last year, the savings on fuel and reduction of carbon emission would be phenomenal, Rian said.

Large allocation timely for National Eduatiion Blueprint – Mary.

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

LAHAD DATU: The large allocation given to the Ministry of Education showed that the government is concerned about providing the best education for the people to generate national development.

Deputy Education Minister Datuk Mary Yap Kain Ching said the large allocation provided by the government was very appropriate and timely as two ministries have been merged into one.

“The large allocation is needed as we are in the process of implementing the National Education Blueprint (PPPM).

“All of us in the Education Ministry are very happy and grateful to receive the allocation as education is an important factor in developing the country, as announced by our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak,” she said.

According to Mary, she was also happy that the government was continuing their caring concept in the 2014 budget by assisting students with the special allowance and book voucher allocations.

Mary said that the allocation was also an indication that the government was working hard to improving the national education system.

In the 2014 budget tabled on Friday, the government had announced an allocation of RM54.6 billion for the Education Ministry, showing that it was committed to increase academic achievements.

Meanwhile, Mary when met after launching the Lahad Datu Vocational College (LDVC) Agriculture Expo, said LDVC had received a lot of applications from students as a result of efforts from the Technical and Vocational Education Division (BPTV) as well as LDVC in implementing a lot of programmes to attract students to study at the college.

In 2013, a total of 117,000 applications to study in the vocational college were received, however only 21,000 students could be accommodated. Nevertheless, this encouraging volume of applications also showed support from all walks of life to uplift the status of vocational education in Malaysia.

“The Education Ministry is aware about the lack of capacity to accommodate more students in vocational colleges and efforts to address this problem have been included in the Education Development Plan 2013-2025,” she said in a press conference.

Budget 2014: Mixed reaction to Government’s plan to implement GST

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

PETALING JAYA: There is mixed reaction to the Government’s plan to implement the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in April 2015.

Chilis restaurant manager Francis Xavier Joseph, 26, believes that even though the GST would affect the food and beverage industry, it was still the best way to improve the economy.

“We will lose out, as many people will not want to dine out. This will affect our sales and cost.

“But as an ordinary person, I think it’s better for the Government to take such action so that its revenue will be stable and this will improve our economy,” he said.

Restaurant manager Chong Suk Yin, 24, feels that the GST would be tough on the lower income groups.

“The Government should be helping the poor, and implementing the GST is not helping them,” she said.

Alyssa Phoon, 30, believes that GST should not have been implemented.

“Everything that you need to pay will include GST,” lamented the mother of two.

Phoon also believes that the budget was not evenly distributed to society.

Andy Tan, a father of two, meanwhile lauded the move to cut the sugar subsidy.

“The Government is trying to reduce its debt and one of the ways to do this is to cut the subsidies,” said Tan.

He hoped that the money allocated would be used wisely to create a real impact that would benefit the public.

“Over the years, we have seen billions being wasted.

“You can allocate all the money that you want but we want to see whether it’s worth it or not. That’s the most important thing,” he said.

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