Boosting transparency, accountability through information technology

February 11th, 2019
(Stock image for illustration purposes) The adoption of information technology (IT) by the public sector is one of the means to improve services.

OF late there have been several accountability studies involving private and public delivery services

For the government, public services delivery is the ultimate concern. The adoption of information technology (IT) by the public sector is one of the means to improve services.

IT promotes public services provided and disseminates information on websites to improve the government’s transparency and accountability.

Accountability is closely related to openness and transparency. To achieve this, disclosures are necessary for all materials regarding the organisation, financial situation, performance, ownership and in particular, governance of the organisation.

The desire for openness, transparency and accountability has prompted the government to use open data to improve public delivery services.

The Public Sector Open Data Portal launched by the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu) in September 2015 is one of the initiatives to enhance transparency and create innovation in digital technology, which will improve accountability.

In 2016, Mampu, in a long-term collaboration with the World Bank, implemented the Open Data Readiness Assessment (Odra) to advance the initiative for Open Government Data.

This also means Malaysia became the first Asean country to implement Odra to assess the readiness to adopt open data.

The Public Service Department is implementing practical approaches to enhance the distribution of information to the masses.

The government has also launched several online portals for the local government, for example, the Public Service Portal (myGovernment), the e-Local Government (e-PBT) system and the OSC Online under Smart Local Government Governance Agenda.

All these portals are aimed at improving public service delivery by increasing the speed and quality of online services.

More needs to be done to improve the accountability of local governments.

By Associate Prof Dr Saunah Zainon.

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Testing students’ sporting abilities

February 10th, 2019
Muhammad Luqman Danish (right) getting ready to throw a discus while the other boys rest behind the discus cage in the SPI field.

Muhammad Luqman Danish (right) getting ready to throw a discus while the other boys rest behind the discus cage in the SPI field.

MUHAMMAD Luqman Danish Azman Omar enjoyed the challenge of the Standard Taking held at SMK St Paul (SPI) in Seremban from Jan 23 ro 25.

The boy who is in Form One Henry, had to compete in the 100m sprint, 400m, shot putt, discus throw and long jump.

The boys in the afternoon session competed in all the events so as to score points for their respective sports houses named after the SPI’s La Salle Brother Directors (former principals).

The programme also promotes better understanding between the seniors and juniors in SPI as they compete side by side in the same Under-14 category.

Muhammad Luqman Danish who represented Director House said: “ The discus throw is a new event, which I didn’t learn during my time at the SPI Primary School.

“My Physical Education and class teacher Mr S Rajasingam taught us how to throw it two weeks ago and I managed to do well.

“I made many new friends from other classes during the Standard Taking,” added Muhammad Luqman. Rajasingam who is also the school’s athletics coach said: “In a boys’ school like SPI, there is a wealth of sports talents.”

“The boys are full of energy and excited every time they step into the field.

“The Standard Taking events tested the boys both physically and mentally as well as identified the boys who will excel in athletics.

By Fong Ai Lian
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‘Verify programmes to ensure degrees are recognised’.

February 10th, 2019

PETALING JAYA: Verify the accreditation or quality assurance status of programmes offered by universities, local or foreign, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) advised students, parents and employers.

MQA chief executive officer Datuk Dr Rahmah Mohamed told The Star that the quality of higher education is a priority for the government.

“For that purpose, (the government) has set up an accreditation system through MQA and other professional and regulatory bodies.

“Every country has an accreditation and quality assurance system, which the public can access.

Dr Rahmah explained different countries have different regulations and arrangements for accreditation or quality assurance.

“It is advisable to engage relevant authorities of the country to get the right information,” she added.

A list of accredited local programmes is provided on the agency’s Malaysian Qualifications Registry and List of Provisionally Accredited Programs website, she said.

Other professional and regulatory bodies, too, Dr Rahmah said, have provided their recognised qualifications on MQA’s website for easy public reference.

Last year, the Education Ministry launched the University Degree Issuance and Verification System, or known as e-Scroll, to tackle the increasing number of fake degrees.

The ministry said the blockchain technology is secure and has the potential to increase the efficiency in authenticating genuine certificates.

The system was developed by a team led by International Islamic University Malaysia.

Higher Education Department director-general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir said a consortium of six universities has agreed in principle to adopt the e-Scroll system in their coming convocation.

“We are enlarging the membership of the consortium to include the rest of the public universities; private universities have shown interest to adopt the system, we will gradually (include) them.

“We have presented the blockchain system to the Malaysian Examination Syndicate and Malaysian Examination Council committees who are in the process of getting approvals from their highest management.

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TVET, the way forward.

February 10th, 2019
Yeoh (left) and Junita share the stage during the forum.

Yeoh (left) and Junita share the stage during the forum.

EXPERIENCED Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) practitioners need to be part of the education system as specialists.

Innovation in TVET must be strengthened.

Integrate STEM into TVET.

These were some of the points that were put across during the Malaysian TVET Forum 2019; a one-day forum organised by Kingsley Strategic Institute (KSI), that discussed important aspects of TVET over four sessions.

KSI president Tan Sri Michael Yeoh said as the nation moves towards the fourth Industrial Revolution and digital disruption, TVET will be critical in providing the skilled manpower the industry needs.

“We need (more) public and private partnerships to further scale-up the delivery of TVET programmes,” he added.

IBM Malaysia government and regulatory affairs director Hasnul Nadzrin Shah said TVET must be seen as a strategic enabler for national competitiveness, in the digital economy.

“In today’s world, we have to ensure that the country implements a “no one gets left behind” policy.

“TVET enabled employees will be an integral part of the digital transformation revolution.

“We have to make sure that TVET students are digitally literate and we leverage on their natural propensity to enjoy materials from the web.

“TVET must become mainstream and (be made) an integral part of the education (system),” he said.

Provide a platform for TVET students to improve on their skills, said National Union of the Teaching Profession secretary-general Harry Tan.

“This is so they can serve at a higher level.

“This is what we aspire to have, and it is a challenge we are facing,” he added.

Tan said the country needs to look at TVET not as an alternative, but as the main way forward. “Academics propel the country forward, (but) it cannot build (the nation).

“We need to stand up on our own feet and the only way we can progress is by (implementing) good policies,” he explained.

Taylor’s University faculty of innovation and technology executive dean Prof Dr David Asirvatham believes TVET will be a major supplier of the workforce as it is critical for the economy of the country.

“Some of the things we need to look into is how to introduce innovation in TVET.

“Among the approaches to strengthen innovation in TVET is, we need more project-based learning.

“The teaching of concepts must be strengthened, especially in terms of ideas, skills and knowledge, as well as building a (collaborative) team because innovation isn’t about individuality,” he added.

Relevant programmes and suitable career paths must be looked into, he said, to prepare graduates for a global market.

On the integration of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) into TVET, Eduspec Holdings Berhad chief executive officer Lim Een Hong feels TVET offers an ideal platform for integration.

“When STEM is taught, we need to focus on critical thinking, problem solving and creativity, which are essential for the workforce.

“(Here), there are similar elements between TVET and STEM, and how we can integrate them,” he explained.

It is possible to integrate STEM skills into each subject, he said, but more research needs to be done.

Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran said the 11th Malaysia Plan projects an increase in the percentage of skilled workers among the local workforce from 28% to 35% by 2020.

“In order to achieve this target, TVET is to become a game changer so that it could easily meet the demand and requirement of the industry in terms of addressing the mismatch.

“The target is to increase TVET students’ annual intake gradually from 164,000 in 2013 to 225,000 in 2020,” he added.

His speech text was read by human resources department planning and research division director Junita Mohamed Ali.

Kulasegaran said there are 564 public and 690 private TVET institutions in the country.

Among the challenges TVET face, he explained, include factors such as dual accreditation bodies, overlapping of courses offered by the institutions, non-uniformity of entry requirements and different fee structures.

Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching said changing the social perception of TVET is not an easy task.

“We have made significant progress in addressing the acceptance of TVET into mainstream education. “However, it is still perceived as the ‘second-best option’ in comparison to general education,” she said.

Her speech text was read by Education Ministry polytechnic and community college education department senior director (academics) Zainab Ahmad.

As economies transform, Teo said, TVET must as well, as it needs to adapt to the new configuration of the economy and a different cluster of needs.

By Sandhya Menon
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All set for digital learning

February 10th, 2019
(From left) Azizi, Roslan and Badrul Hisham checking out the tablet on how TM ONE can help to transform the national education landscape.

(From left) Azizi, Roslan and Badrul Hisham checking out the tablet on how TM ONE can help to transform the national education landscape.

TM ONE wants to equip schools and ensure they are ready to carry out 21st century learning techniques.

TM One chief executive officer and executive vice president Azizi A Hadi says the company has the necessary infrastructure to support interactive digital learning.

He adds that it needs the green light from the Education Ministry but once they have it, it can deliver on their promises.

Azizi says TM aims to “enable” 85% of Malaysia’s over 10,000 national schools with high-speed Internet access, to use fibre technology within the next six months.

“That’s about 8,700 schools,” he says, adding that this will include both urban and rural schools.

TM, he says, has a network of over 50,000km of cables nationwide, adding that “fibre is the best solution for schools.

“We feel this is our uniqueness. We have the readiness to equip the schools.

“We want to fulfil the ministry’s aspirations to be quick and impactful while being cost-effective.

“TM’s network is secure and we can provide security to the whole infrastructure and protect from hackers,” says Azizi.

One of its key focuses is to ensure nationwide access to education, he says.

“We want to become the digital enabler in a very hyper-connected ecosystem,” he adds.

Azizi says its key stakeholders are the students and teachers, while parents are also important.

TM One has engaged with other stakeholders such as the state education departments, district education offices and the National Union of the Teaching Profession to understand their needs so it can create the best learning environment.

Over the past two years, TM One has learned that the company needs to meet the technological demands of the 21st century classroom and Education 4.0, which aims to equip students with the necessary skills to meet the fourth industrial revolution.

Azizi says teachers have a “wishlist” and want to see augmented and virtual reality being used in the teaching and learning process one day.

Teachers, he says, would also like to not have to rewrite their lesson plans or attendance list.

“Why rewrite something when it can be digitised?”

“They want to use rich content, they want it to be interactive. Teachers want to be able to discuss with their counterparts in other places or teach multiple classes at the same time,” he adds.

But, Azizi points out, “to do all these things, we need the platform and the connectivity.”

“This is where, we believe we can come in and help all these stakeholders,” he says.

“To do this you need the right infrastructure and technology to do it.

“TM has our (ready) data centres (nationwide) and we have the infrastructure to store all the content.”

Azizi says that with the right connectivity and technology, all kinds of things can be possible in the future.

As an example, students can use a smartcard for almost all their daily schooling needs.

“Just imagine, everything from recording attendance by tapping into readers, to purchasing food in the canteen,” he explains.

He says parents can even check if their child has boarded their transport home, so increasing the safety and security aspects too.

“Items such as smartcards and e-wallets can be part of this solution.”

This is not the first time TM is getting involved in education, he says.

“We started way back in 2004 when we started providing SchoolNet to schools.

“But now, we want to play a bigger role in Malaysia’s education so that we can bring our nation into the next level, which is the fourth industrial revolution,” he adds.

TM One chief operation officer Roslan Rashidi and senior director Badrul Hisham Besri were also present.

By Rebecca Rajaendram
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Let’s go back to basics

February 10th, 2019
The right fundamentals: By cutting out the ‘fanciful non-productive’ elements, we can beef up our core curriculum that would increase the standards of our education at no additional cost overall.

The right fundamentals: By cutting out the ‘fanciful non-productive’ elements, we can beef up our core curriculum that would increase the standards of our education at no additional cost overall.

Reforming Malaysian education can be affordable and simple – if we put our minds to it.

THIS piece was prompted by a very interesting exchange during a “townhall” dialogue session with the Education Minister at the Malaysian High Commission in London last month. In the said townhall, the Minister had reportedly alluded that “70% of education budget is spent on salaries, hence the remaining 30% is not sufficient to radically revolutionise and reform our education agenda”.

This reminded me of an open letter by the Perlis Mufti, Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, to the Prime Minister and Education Minister on Dec 22 last year.

Now I am not prone to quoting muftis and ulamaks, but when one makes sense, I will acknowledge it. This letter makes so much rational and economic sense that it is amazing that it has been basically ignored by the government and the mainstream media.

He even conceded that we could not deny that our national school (Sekolah Kebangsaan) environment has become Malay-Islam dominant.

In a nutshell, here are the Mufti’s proposals:

1. One school system for all, being the national schools, must be truly Malaysian in character, which would allow all race and religions to learn in comfort.

2. Eliminate all religious elements that tend to produce unconducive learning environment for all races in the schools.

3. Carry out Islamic education outside of the normal school session, not during the hours where children of all races and religions are learning.

4. Revamp the Islamic education content such that it is enhanced and improved, and it does not disturb the character of the national schools, which is the domain of all races and religions.

5. All costs for Islamic education should be borne only by Muslims from zakat and/or the respective Islamic state departments. The same should be for other religions, borne by their respective communities.

6. All Islamic schools, Chinese and Tamil primary schools can carry on as supplement to the national schools as an evening session after the main school sessions are over.

Tell me now, is that not one of the most progressive and impactful ideas forwarded by anyone in a long, long time with respect to Islamic education and its possible impact on our school system, children and society?

We need our Government to take these ideas seriously. It is consistent with our Constitution’s requirements that funding for religious activities should only in principle be from that community itself.

There is, however, one issue that needs to be thought about when implementing these suggestions. The Chinese national-type schools have today became a refuge for students from all races wanting to have a more secular and challenging learning environment compared to our national schools. In fact, even the Tamil schools are becoming more credible primary learning institutions compared to before. They are no longer a place where parents seek ethnic identity but more a place where the parents feel more assured of its standard of education than the national schools.

In fact, the educational standards at the national schools has eroded so much that Chinese national-type schools are the school of choice for demanding parents who cannot afford international private education. Therefore, while the aspirations for a single-school system devoid of religious classes and environment are laudable, we need to also address:

1.  A transitional strategy to convert Chinese national-type schools into a single-school system without losing their high standards.

2. Strategies and plans on how to raise the standards at national schools.

We cannot do one without the other. In fact, the second need is more important and critical and must be achieved first, i.e. that the standards at national schools be raised first such that a single-school system would be of high standards overall.

To do that, we need a revamp of the school curriculum. A secular and scientific school curriculum and learning content will achieve such objectives. Recall that prior to the 80s, that was the emphasis of our primary and secondary schooling.

We need to remember that primary and secondary educations are basic education. A time to learn the fundamentals of thinking and basic methodology and principles of the different disciplines – through subjects like mathematics, science, biology, physics, chemistry, history, geography, art and language (or literature). Our students completed their O-Levels or SPM in those days and had no trouble being accepted in tertiary institutions all over the world. It is not that hard. We just need to return to the old fundamentals of education, the way we did it in the 70s. Specialised knowledge and skills are for tertiary education – vocational, colleges and universities.

This then takes us back to the Education Minister’s claim that since 70% of his budget is for salaries, therefore the remaining 30% is insufficient to revamp and revolutionise our education system. This cannot be further from the truth.

If we were to implement the proposal put forward by the Perlis Mufti – to remove Islamic classes and any other religious influence activities from national schools – no additional cost would be incurred; in fact the budget would be reduced. This would allow us to allocate the freed cost to increase other classes that would raise the standard of national schools – mathematics and science related ones, especially.

We would be able to enhance our curriculum for even primary students to encompass a more in-depth learning in the sciences such as in history of science, evolutionary biology and genetics, astronomy and cosmology, and modern technology that would perk their interests going into their secondary schooling.

And as suggested by the mufti, the religious classes provided as an option in the evening or outside the formal educational curriculum or session for the national schools will be financed by the religious bodies, including funds from zakat.

Everybody wins.

I would like to point out another aspect to our primary and secondary national education, which in my opinion is excessively unnecessary. We put our children through too many hours of Bahasa Melayu and English. There is no necessity for that. Language is learned primarily by practice, not by attending classes. Reading is the biggest contributor to learning a language. The next one, will be listening and practising. That should be the emphasis in the learning of Bahasa Melayu and English.

We can again halve the hours spent in language classes and beef up our other core curriculum that would increase the standard of our education at no additional cost overall.

My 70s and 80s Malaysian education served me well then and so did it for my friends, who took up very difficult disciplines in science, medicine, engineering, business and many other challenging vocations.

Malaysian primary and secondary education needs to return to its fundamental roots, curriculum and teaching. It needs to rid itself of all the fanciful non-productive elements of religion and those associated with it. It needs to focus on what is real knowledge and preparing our children with the thinking methodology and skills needed for them to survive and progress and be competitive as world citizens in the 21st century.

By Siti Kasim
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There’s no shortcut to a good education.

February 10th, 2019

BUYING yourself a degree rather than actually studying for it isn’t a new phenomenon.

Many people, politicians included, take the easy way out when it comes to obtaining tertiary education or higher qualifications. The many degree mills that have mushroomed over the last few years is testament to this.

But the controversy invol­ving Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Marzuki Yahya has once again shone the spotlight firmly back on the business of fake degrees.

Marzuki claimed that he obtained his business administration degree from Cambridge International Uni­versity via a distance learning prog­ramme.

Cambridge International Univer­sity offers distance learning prog­rammes with degree courses costing US$5,000 (RM20,340) but on its website, the university admits that it has not been accredited by an agency recognised by the US Secre­tary of Education.

This alone should set off alarm bells for any person intending to pursue a distance learning prog­ramme.

Marzuki, also a senator, must now be regretting listing his degree as part of his credentials. He certainly isn’t the first politician to be embroiled in a dubious degree row, and one suspects he won’t be the last.

To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing a distance learning course. These types of programmes are considerably cheaper than a typical undergraduate course in a university and they also allow for flexibility for those people who already have jobs and are looking to get a tertiary qualification.

Private education does not come cheap these days and a distance learning programme is a boon to many people who otherwise may not be able to obtain a degree.

But please verify the accreditation or quality assurance status of the programmes offered by these universities before you make your decision.

Most countries have an accreditation system which the public can access, with different countries having different regulations and arrangements for quality assurance. In Malaysia, we have the Malaysian Qualifications Agency and its website provides a registry of recognised qualifications for easy public reference.

It is surprising though that people in powerful positions continue to crave acceptance or an increased social standing by buying fake deg­rees. In fact, the more prominent a person, the more impressive his qualification appears to be.

At one time fake MBAs were all the rage, but now even a master’s degree isn’t enough. The latest trend is to buy yourself a PhD.

These “doctorates” immediately give you a sense of importance with the prefix “Dr” in front of your name.

A simple Google search is all it takes to debunk or expose these type of credentials. You may have fooled your peers or your employer with a fake qualification, but there will always be the fear that the diploma hanging in your office will one day be exposed. Embar­rassment lurks around the corner.

The Star Says
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New emojis are coming

February 10th, 2019
The new emojis emphasise inclusivity.

INTERRACIAL couples. A guide dog for blind people. A person using a wheelchair. These were among the new emojis announced last week by Unicode Consortium, the non-profit that provides standards for text on the Internet and oversees emojis.

The list — which includes 59 new emojis, as well as variants for a total of 230 options — emphasises inclusivity. People will soon be able to create a “holding hands” emoji to reflect their own relationship, selecting for the skin colour and gender identity of each individual. Other options include emojis showing a hearing aid, prosthetic limbs, sign language, a cane or a wheelchair.

A host of other new symbols include an otter, a sloth, a waffle, falafel, a yawning face, a white heart, a sari and a contentious one-piece bathing suit.

In a world where people use emojis to represent everything from weddings to poop, the announcement naturally led to much discussion, with an image of a drop of blood becoming a new way to talk about menstruation and a pinching symbol leading to jokes about a certain
male body part being very, very small

But don’t expect to see the latest offering on your keyboard just yet. That will most likely happen later this year.

The Unicode Consortium sets the standards for emoji compatibility, allowing the symbols to translate across the Internet. Then companies like Apple and Google have to design emojis and incorporate the code into their operating systems, Greg Welch, a board member for Unicode, said. New emojis typically come to cellphones in September or October, Unicode said in the announcement.

Last Wednesday, a representative for Apple pointed to its proposal for Unicode to create accessibility emojis, which said that the new emojis would “foster a diverse culture that is inclusive of disability” and help people express themselves, as well as show support for loved ones.

A representative for Google said that it hoped to release the new emoji designs soon.

The latest update continues a trend toward greater emoji diversity, which began in earnest a few years ago when a range of skin tones was introduced. In 2017, a hijab emoji was introduced.

“You see people are asking for curly hair or skin tone and bald and hijab,” said Jennifer Lee, who serves on Unicode’s emoji subcommittee and helped found Emojination, a grassroots effort to make emojis more inclusive.

Tinder, the online dating app, had campaigned for Unicode to better represent couples of different races and genders in the “universal language of the digital age”.

“Love is universal,” Tinder said on its website. “And it’s time for interracial couples to be represented in our universal language.”

“It’s huge and historic,” said Ken Tanabe, the founder of Loving Day, an organisation that encourages people to celebrate the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalised interracial marriage.

“You are talking about marriages and starting families,” he said, adding that he had heard from people who could not find a wedding cake topper that reflected their relationship and chose to use black and white chess pieces instead.

“Having an emoji that’s already there, it feels like, hey, we are part of the conversation,” he said. “We are part of the community. We are represented in the most personal part of our lives.”

Apple had advocated adding emojis to represent people with disabilities. In a statement, Howard A. Rosenblum, the chief executive of the National Association of the Deaf, a civil rights organisation for the deaf and hard of hearing people, said it worked with Apple to help create the deaf emoji and hoped it would help “raise awareness throughout the world about deaf culture and the many sign languages that exist”.

One of the new emojis — a guide dog for people who are blind and visually impaired — offers a fun way for people to represent their identity and honour their dogs in texts and emails, said Becky Davidson, who works at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organisation that provides trained dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired.

By Sarah Mervosh.

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When best to remind students

February 10th, 2019
Reminders are best given to the entire class. NSTP/ROSDAN WAHID

VISIT just about any classroom and you’re likely to hear one of these statements:

“REMEMBER to complete the task given”;

“PLEASE submit on the date agreed”; or,

“NO talking when I’m talking.”

Some educators and parents are against reminders, saying they may not be effective.

Does reminding improve one’s behaviour?

It depends on how reminders are used. When given in a certain way and at certain times, they can be effective.

Unfortunately, it’s rare to hear reminders being given in a way that improves behaviour. Most often, reminders make things worse.

The good news is that it’s easy to know whether you’re using them correctly.

In the case of assigning homework, this serves various educational needs. It serves as an intellectual discipline, establishes study habits and eases time constraints on the amount of curricular material that can be covered in class, as well as supplements and reinforces work done in school.

It also fosters student initiative, independence and responsibility, and brings home and school closer.

It’s normal to ask your students to do the work or assignment after lessons. And, of course, you need to remind them.

Giving reminders before students misbehave is better than giving them after an incident has occurred.

Reminding students after they misbehave is like giving a chance for it to happen; and you may seem inconsistent.

You are trying to make your students trust you by showing you are flexible and, thus,
things will suffer.

In the long run, inconsistency and a lack of accountability lead to frequent and severe misbehaviours.

If you have reminded your students about a previously taught rule, policy or procedure before giving the signal to transition to a new activity, it will ease their impulsivity.

It prompts self-awareness and causes them to focus on following your direction or fulfilling your goal, especially when they know that you’re watching and that you always do what you say.

Early reminders are best given to the entire class rather than to just one student. This way, you’re not singling out students. You’re not branding anyone.

Reminding everyone removes the excuses and helps ensure their performance remains sharp and purposeful.

By A.A..

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Celebrating lunar new year and the diversity of the world’s calendars

February 7th, 2019
The Gregorian calendar has only been used as a global standard for about a century, and is ‘very much a reflection of European commerce and colonialism’. It has now been built into computer architecture, but that doesn’t mean another calendar couldn’t one day become dominant. FILE PIC

THE Lunar New Year kicked off on Tuesday as one of the most important holidays in Vietnam, South Korea, China and other Asian countries. Typically, it starts on the second new moon after winter solstice.

On the Gregorian calendar, the civil calendar used in most countries, including the United States, the Lunar New Year changes every year, as do the dates of holidays like Rosh Hashana, Deepavali and Ramadan.

It can be easy to think of a calendar as a scientific given, or a reflection of the laws of the universe. In fact, as these holidays remind us, there are as many ways to track time as there are cultures and languages. Each calendar reveals something about how the people who created it relate to the world around them while also preserving rich cultural identities and memories.

Most timekeeping traditions track the movement of the sun, moon and stars. Others consider seasonal events, like the autumnal swarming of sea worms, used to orient each year in the Trobriand Islands off New Guinea, or the flowering of immortelle trees into hundreds of tiny vermilion flames, which marks the start of the dry season in Trinidad.

With any calendar, the basic question is which of thousands, if not millions, of cycles in the world to follow, says Kevin Birth, an anthropology professor at Queens College. Calendars “always come down to this cultural choice”, he says, so using one system over another is ultimately a social contract, regardless of how scientifically accurate or sophisticated a calendar is.

A solar year — the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun — lasts around 365 days, while a lunar year, or 12 full cycles of the moon, is roughly 354 days. Because of this discrepancy, a purely lunar calendar — like the Islamic, or Hijri, calendar — doesn’t stay aligned with the seasons. Islam’s holy month of Ramadan may fall in summer one year, and winter a number of years later.

To correct for seasonal drift, the Chinese, Hindu, Jewish and many other calendars are lunisolar. In these calendars, a month is still defined by the moon, but an extra month is added periodically to stay close to the solar year.

A solar calendar is useful for farming, fishing and foraging societies that need to plan ahead for particular times of the year. But a purely solar calendar, like the Gregorian, tells you nothing about the phases of the moon.

The traditional Hijri calendar requires an observation of the early crescent moon to start a new month, and thus encourages paying attention to the cosmos. The Gregorian calendar can’t be tracked in the sky, which might be why many Westerners have less awareness of the moon and other natural phenomena.

Holidays also structure personal and historical narratives. Some secular holidays in the United States centre on legacies of war, which fits “when you think that the United States also has the largest military budget in the world”, Birth says.

Chinese holidays usually emphasise family union and honouring ancestors, Yuan said, which aligns with the importance of filial piety.

Many ancient calendars, like the Chinese and Mesoamerican ones, build in fortunetelling, with prescriptions for when to build a house, get married, have a funeral and other life events. Similar calendars provide structure and comfort to people today.

Britt Hart, an astrologer based in Philadelphia, says she thinks people can be drawn to horoscope-based calendars because they’re seeking a grander sense of time and order in the universe.

In the context of history, staying connected to an alternative calendar can also be a form of resisting the mainstream, or maintaining an identity outside of it. When a calendar is imposed on a society, it usually has to do with politics and power. The ability “to say when the year will start, or decide that a religious festival should be celebrated at a particular time, can be quite useful for a politician,” Stern said.

The Gregorian calendar has only been used as a global standard for about a century, and is “very much a reflection of European commerce and colonialism,” Birth said. It has now been built into computer architecture, but that doesn’t mean another calendar couldn’t one day become dominant.


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