Archive for January, 2015

Comparative religion from the earliest years

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

The idea is that young children will become used to diversity naturally and hopefully grow to become adults who are respectful of religions other than their own.

FOR three consecutive years I’ve been invited to speak to a group of Norwegian students visiting Malaysia about the work that my colleagues and I do on Muslim women’s rights.

These students are learning about different faiths in order to be better able to teach comparative religion back home in Norway.

Instead of merely learning about all these religions in theory, every year, their university organises a trip for them to visit various South-East Asian countries to observe first-hand how these religions are lived and practised.

In Norway, every child learns about comparative religion from the age of six with the idea that they will grow up understanding the diversity of faiths and beliefs in their society and the world today, and respecting all the faiths equally.

The books they use are vetted and approved by the respective religious authorities, so, for example, the Norwegian Islamic authorities approve the books on Islam.

The students who came to listen to me will eventually become the teachers of those Norwegian school kids.

Lest anyone think they only get to listen to “liberals” like me, they also meet and talk to all sorts of people with knowledge on the religious landscape in our country, including in our universities.

This is to ensure that they get a balanced picture of things in Malaysia.

I was really impressed by this approach by the Norwegian government to address potential issues in a rapidly diversifying society.

Obviously, one of the ways to avoid conflict in society is by ensuring that everybody understands each other.


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A nod or not for the rod

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

While some believe corporal punishment is ultimately beneficial for kids, others are convinced that caning is tantamount to abuse. But it’s possible to strike a compromise.

IN the missionary school I went to as a child, caning and other forms of corporal punishment were a given – teachers meted out this form of discipline and parents rarely, if ever, questioned their children’s punishment.

There was an unspoken code among my classmates – if you were disciplined in school, you were meant to “take it on the chin” and not tell your parents when you got back home.

I remember quite clearly being caned by my accounts teacher for not submitting my homework.

The punishment hurt, but my ego hurt even more. There was no way my father would find out, I thought, hence I didn’t say anything to him when I returned home after school.

I resolved henceforth to submit my homework on time, but the matter did not end there. My La Salle School Klang teacher met my father soon after and to cut a long story short, I was given another caning for my failure to reveal the first caning.

Coming from an all-boys school, I could regale you with numerous stories of the various forms of discipline meted out. Our school was famous in Klang as being the most disciplined.

In fact, I can remember all our headmasters (all La Salle brothers) as having stern demeanours and not hesitating to use the cane when required.

Watching your classmate being caned was a common occurrence, less so when it came to the dreaded public caning. This form of punishment was only used for serious offences, including gangsterism, vandalism, smoking and being caught with pornographic material!


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The sheep really gets my goat

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

THIS is the Year of the Yang. That’s the word in Mandarin for “a ruminant mammal, generally with horns on its head”.

To the Chinese, yang can refer to either sheep (mianyang) or goat (shanyang), so therein lies the confusion as to what animal is the eighth in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. To the Japanese, it’s the Year of the Sheep, to the Vietnamese, it’s the Goat, for the Koreans, it’s the Ram. The Chinese don’t mind either one.

But after a tumultuous Year of a runaway wild Horse, which would be a better animal for the year ahead? Let’s take a look at the characteristics of both cud-chewing critters, starting with the sheep.

According to David Murray in his essay, 12 Characteristics of Sheep, this is one stupid animal.

“I don’t know what sheep would score in an animal IQ, but I think they would be close to the bottom of the scale. They seem to only know how to do one thing well – eat grass (and produce more grass-eating sheep).

“It’s possible to know little, yet not be foolish; but not if you are a sheep. They are so irrational. You watch them as they pause in front of a stream. They know they can’t jump it or swim it. So what do they do? They jump in any way!” writes Murray, a pastor who got to know the animal well after 12 years in the sheep-infested Scottish Highlands.

Another characteristic is being slow to learn. Murray cites the example of a sheep getting caught in barbed wire while trying to break through a fence. Instead of learning from that painful lesson, it will do it again and again. That’s why sheep are dependent creatures, requiring close supervision by their shepherd, he adds.

Granted, scientists say new research shows sheep to be as intelligent as monkeys. But it will take a great deal more to change the long-held perception of this creature as being not just woolly on the body but in the head, too.

After all, we think “sheep” when it comes to mindlessly following the crowd, or for imitating what others do without understanding why.


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Over 80% of Malaysians worry about not having enough for retirement

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

PETALING JAYA: The long-term impact of the global economic downturn will be felt for many decades to come, according to HSBC’s survey of 16,000 people worldwide.

A financial report by HSBC titled, The Future of Retirement, A Balancing Act on Tuesday said that 40% of them stopped or reduced their retirement savings during the downturn whether through investments (25%), cash deposits (24%) annuities (21%) or employer or personal pension schemes (19% respectively).

“Despite encouraging signs of economic recovery, the longer-term impact will cause waves for millions of people who have weathered the storm by raiding their retirement funds and amassing debt.

“This means that millions of people could enter retirement with savings diminished by a quarter or more after getting into debt or severe financial difficulty,” it said.

The report said that Malaysians were the highest in Asia (28%) to say that ability to save for retirement was impacted by debt compared to Singaporeans at 19% followed by Indonesians (24%).

“And despite signs that the global economy picked up in 2014, 32% of Malaysians feel that the recession and current economic downturn continue to blight their abilities to save for their retirement.”

The report also said though 23% of the people around the world felt that their living standards would drop after retirement.

However, Malaysians were positive, with 58% expecting better living standards after retirement.

The report also said that two thirds (66%) of pre-retirees worldwide were concerned about not having enough money to live on day-to-day in retirement, rising to 88% in Malaysia.


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Teachers do better in test

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR: The quality of English teachers has improved, with 76% of 5,000 teachers who sat for the Cambridge Placement Test (CPT) in the first batch moving up a band, says Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh.

He said that another 10% had improved by two bands.

“About 9,500 teachers are currently undergoing training for the CPT. The next batch will consist of another 8,000 teachers,” he said after witnessing the Memorandum of Agreement signing ceremony between Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) and University of Cambridge Admission Testing Service.

The CPT was first carried out in 2012 with around 61,000 English teachers being gauged on their English language proficiency.

The test results found that only 30% of English teachers were deemed to have a high mastery of the language while the remaining teachers either had some or low English proficiency.

Idris said the ministry would train more than 23,000 teachers by December to ensure the quality of English in schools would improve.

“Immediate results should not be expected from this training programme as the teachers in turn have to tutor the students.

“It might take one to two years to see this (improvement in the students’ English language proficiency), but I can assure you that what is happening now is something that has never happened before in Malaysia,” he added.

He also said English teachers would now have to attain a C1 or C2 in CPT before being allowed to teach the language. These grades, Idris said, were equivalent to the requirements for their teaching counterparts in Britain.


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We have no idea how GST works, say petty traders

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

JOHOR BARU: With the Goods and Services Tax (GST) set to be implemented in April, small traders here are worried that they will not be able to adapt to the system in time.

Tailor Noryana Mahat, 44, is terrified at the thought because she is computer illiterate.

“Even if they hold computer classes for us, I still think we need time to learn and get used to the new system.

“We are just small-time traders in our village, we are not on par with the big companies out there who can hire people to help them,” said the mother of five at Kampung Datuk Sulaiman Menteri here.

Coffee shop owner Diyana Yudi, 36, who has been operating in the same village for more than 10 years, hoped that an agency would guide them through the new system.

“I only sell nasi lemak and other breakfast food and drinks, so the new system is very terrifying to me,” she said.

Diyana, who operates her shop with her husband and children, hoped that the GST implementation could be pushed back for the time being so that less informed traders like her could have more time to learn.

The Star on its front page on Monday highlighted how many small businessmen were finding themselves pushed into a corner by the new demands involved in implementing the GST and work permit renewals via MyEG, both of which require computer literacy.


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STAM 2014: 2.9 Per Cent Increase In Passes In All Subjects

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 28 (Bernama) — Candidates numbering 3,823 or 63.3 per cent out of 6,035, obtained at least a Maqbul (pass) grade in 10 subjects they sat for in the Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia (STAM) 2014.

This was an increase of 2.9 per cent or 310 candidates from 60.4 per cent or 3,513 candidates who passed in all subjects out of the total of 5,816 STAM candidates in 2013.

Education director-general Datuk Seri Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof said the number of candidates obtaining the STAM certificate with Mumtaz (distinction), however, dropped by 5.5 per cent or 331 candidates from 6.3 per cent (369 candidates) in 2013.

“Overall, the achievement of the STAM 2014 candidates was comparable to that in 2013, whereby the National Average Grade (GPN) in both years were similar at 3.20 points,” he said when announcing the STAM 2014 results analysis, here, Wednesday.

Khair said the number of candidates who achieved the Jayyid Jiddan (very good) grade, increased by 39 but in terms of percentage, the figure dropped by 0.1 per cent.

The number of candidates who obtained the certificate with the Jayyid (good) and Maqbul grades rose by 1.6 per cent to 160 and 2.3 per cent or 149 respectively.

Khair said overall, 8,800 candidates sat for the STAM last year, including 7,769 from various categories of schools while 1,031 were private candidates.


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Teachers congress against caning ban on children

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who is also Education Minister chairs the Congress of Teachers Unions in the Education Service’s meeting.

PUTRAJAYA: The Congress of Teachers Unions in the Education Service (KKGDPP) does not agree with the proposal to make caning of children a criminal act under a proposed new Child Act.

Its president Mohamed Sabri Mohd Arsad said the congress hoped the proposal would look at the big picture, especially from the cultural and religious aspects of Malaysian society, before the bill is tabled in Parliament.

“We feel that in Malaysia, we combine culture and religion in bringing up children and I see many parties do not support the act which will target parents.

“Even in schools, there are standard operating procedures before punishing students and not abusing them,” he told reporters after a meeting of the KKGDPP with Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also Education Minister, here today.

Mohamed Sabri was commenting on a proposal by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to include detailed provisions in the new legislation on acts which could cause physical or mental injury to children. However, Mohamed Sabri said the matter was not specifically discussed during the meeting of about almost two hours with Muhyiddin.

In JERANTUT, Malaysian Women Development Institute (IKWAM) chairman, Datuk Seri Dr Siti Zaharah Sulaiman, said all parties should sit together to discuss the matter and consider society’s views.

“Do not be in a hurry to pass judgment (on the statement by Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim) as we need to give time for feedback and round-table discussions,”

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Groups back court caning ban

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

PETALING JAYA: The Government’s plan to abolish the caning of minors in court is the right move, say child groups and activists.

Voice of the Children president Sharmila Sekaran said caning in courts should be replaced with rehabilitative punishment methods such as counselling.

“Caning only makes children fearful. Other methods should be looked into to encourage and teach our children, which requires time and effort,” she said.

Sharmila said corporal punishment or caning was only suitable for adults.

On Monday, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry had denied reports that there was a proposal to outlaw the caning of children by parents and teachers.

Instead, the ministry said it had only proposed to abolish caning of minors in court.

The ministry was clarifying newspaper reports that quoted Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim as saying that parents who use the cane on their children could be jailed under a new Act to be tabled in June to replace the Child Act 2001.

Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said the Go­­vernment should not rush to criminalise parents for caning or spanking their children.

The former Women, Family and Community Development Minister said any move to outlaw corporal punishment for children to align local laws to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) should be scrutinised carefully.

“My view is that although Ma­­laysia is a country which supports the CRC, the Government need not be hasty,” Shahrizat said.

She added that priority should be on what was important for children and parents, based on Malaysia’s own mould.

Child rights activist Dr Hartini Zainudin said that if Malaysia pushed for the abolition of caning of minors, the country would be the first in South-East Asia to do so.


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Mixed views over the effectiveness of caning

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

PETALING JAYA: There were mixed views over the effectiveness of caning as a means to discipline children.

HELP University Faculty of Education and Languages dean Dr Frances Lee Moi Fah said teachers regularly had to handle students who lack discipline and interest in school.

“Using the cane seems to be the immediate solution for this problem,” she said.

“Students experience physical pain and the loss of face, and the fear of experiencing both these things again will prevent them from misbehaving.

“However, in the long-term when these students become adults, they may believe that they can use violence too,” she said.

Dr Lee, who specialises in early childhood education, encouraged teachers to treat students with respect and to get to the root of their misbehaviour.

“If teachers address and resolve this problem, then the misbehaviour will disappear.

“But with their workload of teaching, teachers often complain that they simply do not have the time,” she said.

A retired disciplinary teacher said the problem was in the way corporal punishment was meted out.


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