Archive for April, 2015

Treating the elderly with respect

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

FOR those who study demography, the term “pyramid population” strikes a familiar chord. It is used to explain the age structure of a society.

The pyramid, which has a wide base and narrow top that vanishes into a point, is an indication that the age structure of a population is predominantly youthful and only a small proportion is elderly. How­ever, in today’s demographic trend, the term is hardly appropriate to describe a population structure.

According to the United Nations, the shape of the global population in 2015 looks more like a bell as there are more adults and an increasing growth of the older population in the world. Propelled by longevity and low fertility, the shape will again change by 2050. At that time, it will be referred to as a population barrel, and by then, older persons aged 60 and above will outnumber the population of children (0-14 years) for the first time in human history.

In short, the world population trend is moving towards an ageing society and Malaysia is not exclu­ded in the process. Data from 2012 shows that there were about 2.43 million senior citizens in the country. Based on the UN projection, the figure will increase to 8.85 million or 20% of the population in 2050.

But Malaysia will achieve an ageing country status earlier than 2050. By 2030 or before the 14th Malaysia Plan, it is forecast that 15% of our population will fall within the age bracket of 60 and above.

Islam recognises ageing as a normal stage of life. For those whose lives Allah prolongs, it is a reality that they must deal with.

In verse 67 of surah al-Ghafir, Allah declares:

“He it is Who created you from dust, then from a small life germ, then from a clot, then He brings you forth as a child, then that you may attain your maturity, then that you may be old – and of you there are some who are caused to die before – and that you may reach an appointed term, and that you may understand. (Quran 40:67)”

In Western countries, such as the United States and Europe, population ageing is deemed a threat to economic stability.

For example, the European Union’s Economic Policy Committee (2010) in its assessment of the threat warned: “The ageing of the population is becoming a growing challenge to the sustainability of public finance in the EU member states.”

Indeed, the warning has its merits. As the ratio between the number of retirees and workers increases, so will expenditure on public pensions and health care. As a result, governments will face tough times to maintain a sound balance between future expenditure and tax revenues.


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Where are the manners?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

We should treat everyone with equal respect, regardless of their backgrounds.

I GET easily riled up when I see people failing to show good manners or indulge in abusive behaviour towards others.

We hear so many of these abuses taking place, usually aimed at people who work as manual labourers. The foreign workers and foreign labourers from countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh are common targets of the rude behaviour.

Just think about it. If we go to a shopping mall and we see a cleaner who looks like a foreign worker, do we treat him with the same respect that we give to everybody else? In fact, do we treat a white Caucasian foreigner equally as we would treat a non-white labourer?

I tend to take these cases quite personally because I was once a foreign labourer, too.

When I was in the United Kingdom, I worked as a cleaner for almost five years to pay for my studies. First, I was cleaning the wards and toilets at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. I was sacked in April 1999 when the minimum wage was introduced by the then Labour government.

I then found a new job as a shelf stacker in a supermarket in Anfield, where I lived at that time. When I moved to Carlisle, near the England-Scotland border, I started my day at 5am as a cleaner at Kwiksave, a budget supermarket before heading for university lectures and continuing again as a shelf-stacker at the same place in the evening.

Similarly, when I was doing my Masters in London, it was manual labour at a factory that produced industrial cookers that helped pay my bills. Every day from 5am to 10am I would be at the factory to clean the toilets, canteen and offices.

Thinking back, I had no problems at all when I was working there. I was obviously a minority and I was doing menial jobs. But I did not face any mistreatment, either from my employers or from the authorities.

It angers me to hear stories about abuse of power by people in positions of authority. Recently, I was particularly upset when I heard a story about how a fellow member of the National Organising Committee (NOC) of the Asean Peoples’ Forum (APF) was mistreated by our authorities when he came to Kuala Lumpur to attend our meeting in January this year.


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Aid reaches quake-hit Nepal villagers as death toll passes 5,000.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

GORKHA, Nepal: Hungry and desperate villagers rushed towards relief helicopters in remote areas of Nepal Tuesday, begging to be airlifted to safety, four days after a monster earthquake killed more than 5,000 people.

“The ground keeps shaking, even this morning it did. Every time it feels like we will be swallowed, that we will die now. I want to get out of here!” said Sita Gurung, 24, whose home had been wrecked.

As the Himalayan nation’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said getting help to remote areas was a “major challenge“, aid finally began reaching areas that had to fend for themselves since Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake.

In a televised address late Tuesday, Koirala declared three days of national mourning for the 5,057 people known to have perished in Nepal alone.

More than 100 people died in neighbouring countries such as India and China.

Around 8,000 people had been injured while the United Nations estimated that eight million people had been affected.

Among the dead were 18 climbers who were at Mount Everest base camp when an avalanche triggered by the quake flattened everything in its path. The victims included two American climbers, an Australian and a Chinese.

Countries far and wide have joined the relief effort in what is one of Asia’s poorest countries, with neighbouring India playing a leading role.

In Gorkha, one of the worst-hit districts, terrified residents ran with outstretched arms towards an Indian army helicopter to plead for food and water.

An AFP journalist on board saw scores of houses across several villages in the district turned into twisted mounds of wood and corrugated tin roofs.

“We haven’t had any food here since the earthquake. Everything has changed, we don’t have anything left here,” Gurung told AFP, gesturing towards what was left of her home in the village of Lapu.

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Permata Curriculum Programme Can Be Expanded To Private Sector

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, April 27 (Bernama) — The curriculum of the Permata Negara programme can be expanded to the private sector as one of the efforts to help in the development of children under the age of four.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said the effectivemess of the progamme was proven when several agencies in the government adopted the curriculum to teach children.

“The Community Development Department (Kemas) and National Unity and Integration Department (JPNIN) had used the same programme, which was managed by Permata and the agencies.

“Currently, Kemas has 448 kindergarten programmes with Permata, with 9,075 children and 1,816 teachers.

“There are 41 programmes at JPNIN involving 880 children and 246 teachers,” he said when replying to a supplementary question from Senator Datuk Boon Som Inong who wanted to know if the government was planning to expand Permata at the parliamentary level and rural areas in particular, in Dewan Negara here, today.

Shahidan said the Terengganu Foundation has 64 kindergartens using the curriculum of the programme with 3,670 children and 628 teachers.

“The community kindergartens at the work place have 101 programmes involving 2,525 children and 505 teachers,” he said, adding the government also aspired to expand the programme to all 222 parliamentary areas.

Meanwhile, Shahidan said Permata received RM51,248,399 million to manage and operate 88 Permata Negara children centres including paying the emoluments of their teaching manpower, this year.

The fund was also used to implement the Permata Pintar, Permata Insan, Permata Seni, Perkasa Remaja and Permata Kurnia programmes.


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Teaching College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

An increasing number of individuals are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), particularly the higher functioning form of autism previously known as Asperger’s disorder. Many of these individuals choose to attend college and it is no longer unusual to encounter them in your classes. Although they can be excellent students, those with ASD may come across as odd or eccentric with idiosyncratic behaviors and interests. This can make their presence in the classroom somewhat vexing for instructors who do not understand the challenges and strengths of these students.

Characteristics of ASD

Many students with ASD have social difficulties, including problems with verbal and nonverbal communication (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). They may be unable to understand others’ points of view; have problems with taking turns in conversations (language pragmatics), speak in a loud or flat voice; and have problems understanding sarcasm, abstract language, and some forms of humor. In class, they may be preoccupied with certain subjects; inhibit other students by monopolizing class discussions; or may never speak at all. Students with ASD are comfortable being alone and often have difficulty reading social cues (APA, 2013). This is especially true in novel situations, such as the college classroom, and their behavior may seem stiff or unfriendly.

Students with ASD also have repetitive and restricted activities (APA, 2013). This can take the form of difficulty adjusting to change (i.e., change in assignments or seating arrangements) and sensory sensitivity (e.g., sensitivity to fluorescent lights, sounds, or smells). Time management can be difficult and students may lose track of time and miss class or arrive very early to ensure they get preferred seating (Dillon, 2007).

by Kathy DeOrnellas, PhD

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The power of PSAs

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

TEXTING while driving is a reckless thing to do. Should we crack down on this by heavier fines? Or can words and images make a difference?

Is it enough for a headline to shout out PLS DNT TXT+DRIVE? Communication experts have been wrestling with questions like these for decades.

How can a message make people aware of certain risks but also opportunities? What information is relevant? In our example, should the message mention that texting takes your eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds? How do we change people’s attitude so they will think or feel differently about the problem? Can we persuade them to change their actions so they will concentrate on driving, recycling plastic bottles or donating blood?

Research has found that communication in the form of general-interest messages, or public service announcements can help achieve these goals. Public service announcements, or PSAs for short, are announcements made in the service of the general public and are aired or printed without charge. They aim to create awareness, influence attitudes and change actions.

Now that you know what PSA means, and what it tries to accomplish, how can your four-strong team go about making one? Effective communication requires research and planning, so that’s where our five-step process begins.

Find out more about the theme and your audience

It’s one thing to say ‘We are Malaysia’ but another to ‘do it’. What challenges and opportunities do we face as a young multi-ethnic and multicultural nation? When researching the theme, be specific about the people you want to reach. Is your PSA meant for schoolchildren, working parents, or business owners?

Harness the strengths of your team

In crafting your PSA, it is important to balance individual and group creativity. Everyone contributes but not necessarily by doing the same thing at the same time. And don’t forget that someone will have to coordinate the team effort. Creativity involves generating ideas, combining ideas in novel ways, selecting the one idea that will make your entry stand out, and finally, executing that one idea by producing the actual poster or photo ad.


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When teachers give too much

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

ALTHOUGH teachers are sometimes accused of not investing enough time or energy into their students’ learning as they should, at times it can be quite the other way round.

There are occasions when teachers can actually do a disservice to their students by giving too much and failing to recognise the fine line between teaching and learning.

It may however, not always be the fault of the teacher when she oversteps the teaching-learning boundaries and “over-teaches”. More often than not, she may be just fulfilling expectations which are to an extent tainted by some common misconceptions.

The more information the teacher conveys to her students; the longer she speaks or dominates the teaching-learning session in the classroom; the greater her role in “helping” students with their assignments or projects, the more efficient she is deemed to be.

A teacher who does not do as much for her students may very well be labelled as being less effective.

I have often wondered about this especially when someone starts talking about the “declining standards of education” in the country. Although many comments are unsubstantiated and tend to ignore context and settings, there is a measure of truth in them that we simply cannot afford to sweep aside. Have we, by placing expectations on teachers which are not really theirs to fulfil, created generations of students who do not recognise or understand their role as learners?

Is it this what has contributed to masses of students who still look to teachers to feed them with information, solutions, answers, and a sieved form of second-hand creativity?

Is it because teachers were expected to do even the thinking for students that we have ended up with students who are unable to think for themselves? And what about the teachers? It is not uncommon to hear complaints from teachers when new elements are added to the curriculum. Despite the fact that the changes or modifications are within the scope of their own subject content and expected teacher expertise, laments are often heard from teachers at the lack of guide books or ready-made packaged resources.

When workbooks or reference books do arrive in the market, there is a collective sigh of relief because now there is a source of instant, processed information which they can in turn repackage and deliver to their own students. The more there are of these, the better of course.


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Patients can’t get enough of antibiotics

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

PETALING JAYA: Repeated warnings on the dangers of antibiotic abuse have fallen on deaf ears as private healthcare providers continue to indulge patients who ask for it for every ailment.

Multi-drug resistant organisms have spooked patients worldwide, but in Malaysia, the demand for antibiotics continues to rise.

Malaysians very likely rank among the world’s highest antibiotic users, said Universiti Sains Malaysia (School of Pharmaceutical Sciences) Prof Mohamed Azmi Ahmad Hassali.

A recent study showed that many saw antibiotics as a miracle drug, he said.

Quoting another study on upper respiratory tract infections in Selangor, he said a shocking 90% of doctors surveyed revealed that patients expected antibiotics from their general practitioners (see info-graphics).

There are no comprehensive statistics on antibiotics usage in the private sector but Prof Mohamed Azmi believed “that’s where the problem lies”.

“Antibiotics are becoming less effective in treating bacterial infections due to antibiotic resistance. In the private sector, antibiotics are free for all so they are popping it like paracetamol.”

This results in prolonged illness and hospital stays, costlier treatment and greater risk of death, he said.

Worldwide, more than 50% of common bacteria was already resistant to antibiotics, Prof Mohamed Azmi said.

By 2050, deaths because of anti-microbial resistance will be the highest in Asia at 4,730,000, a World Health Organisation’s Antimicrobial Resistance 2014 report revealed.


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Helping Students Who Are Performing Poorly

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Unfortunately, all too often performance on the first exam predicts performance throughout the course, especially for those students who do poorly on the first test. Faculty and institutions provide an array of supports for these students, including review sessions, time with tutors, more practice problems, and extra office hours, but it always seems it’s the students who are doing well who take advantage of these extra learning opportunities. How to help the students who need the help is a challenging proposition.

But here’s an intervention (analyzed empirically) that did have a significant effect on the performance of students who did poorly on the first exam in two different courses. The courses were an introductory physics course, part of an engineering physics program, and an introductory oceanography survey course. Students in the first course who scored in the bottom quartile and those who failed the first exam in oceanography received a personalized email from the instructor if they self-reported that they had studied more than the class median (six hours) and still failed the exam. The assumption was that this cohort had used inefficient study strategies and could benefit the most from the intervention. An email sent to part of the cohort indicated that the instructors were concerned about their performance and would like to meet with them. A second email was sent to the rest of cohort, again indicating the instructor’s concern and containing specific study advice but no invitation to meet.

For the students who came to see the instructor (and not all of them did), the 15- to 25-minute meeting started with a discussion of how they had studied for the exam. Most said they tried to memorize everything because they figured that it was all important. “Many students have difficulty figuring out what’s important to learn, particularly in an unfamiliar domain, and their interpretation of what’s important differs from the instructors’ views.” (p. 82)

by Maryellen Weimer, PhD .

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The battle against ignorance

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

It is time for rational and right-thinking Malaysians to ask the Government about the fate of the much vaunted National Harmony Act.

THE recent protest over the display of a cross in a church in Taman Medan, Petaling Jaya, appears to be symptomatic of the growing intolerance and lack of religious harmony in Malaysia.

As a nation that prides itself in being a multi-racial and muti-religious country, we really seem to be shooting ourselves in the foot. We cannot afford to ignore such incidents, but sadly, the Taman Medan “cross” protest is not an isolated case.

There have been a number, and I could list them all here, but the “cow head” protest in 2009 had similar undertones.

Back then, the protestors were up in arms over the relocation of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam.

In both these cases, the rationale for the protests (read: intimidation) was similar – residents living in the areas of concern were predominantly Muslim.

Have we become so intolerant that the sight of a building with a cross or the presence of a Hindu temple would “challenge Islam and influence the young”?

If we have, God help us all. The authorities can no longer ignore or choose to sweep such incidents under the carpet because Malaysians will not allow them to do so.

The widespread condemnation after the Taman Medan protest has now led police to open investigation papers.

To recap, on Sunday, about 50 protestors went to the church and asked its leaders to take the cross on the exterior of the building down. Fearful of the protest escalating into something more violent, the parishioners complied, but the pastor of the Community of Praise Petaling Jaya Church, Victoria Paul lodged a police report on Tuesday.

What action will be taken against the Taman Medan protestors? Typically in this country, we tend to overreact.

There have been calls for the Sedition Act to be used – in other words, throw the book at the protestors.

Even the Prime Minister has chimed in, saying that the Sedition Act can be used against this group.

Personally, while I disagree with the protest and support police investigations, I am against the use of the Sedition Act.

There have been other incidents where this Act could have been used but wasn’t and to me, using this particular law as a big stick against the Taman Medan protestors would open a Pandora’s Box.

Instead, I salute the call from the Sabah Council of Churches urging the police not to take action against the Taman Medan “cross” protestors.

The council has urged Putrajaya to foster interfaith understanding among Malaysians and fight the ignorance that sparks such protests. Finally, some voices of reason.

Instead of screaming blue murder, I think rational and right-thinking Malaysians should be asking the government about the fate of the much vaunted National Harmony Act.


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