Targeting teens

August 24th, 2019

Some of the latest e-cig and vape devices are cheap, as small as your thumb and can even be worn as a watch. Tobacco control experts say awareness among parents and teachers are crucial in keeping this new addiction out of schools.

LET’S be clear – e-cigs and vape (ECV) are electronic drug delivery devices that can be used with the likes of meth and marijuana, warns Universiti Malaya Centre of Addiction Sciences (UMCAS) chief coordinator and the varsity’s Nicotine Addiction Research & Collaboration Group (NARCC) coordinator, Assoc Prof Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin.

The smoking cessation specialist says there’s a chance that students using ECV will be exposed to other drugs.

“And it’s likely they’ll face the same problems – like poor grades – as students who smoke.”

Dr Amer Siddiq was commenting on findings published in the July edition of the Journal of Criminal Justice.

‘It’s all the rage! Exploring the nuances in the link between vaping and adolescent delinquency’ suggests that there may be something “criminogenic about vaping among adolescents”. But the strength of the relationship between vaping and delinquency depends on what is being vaped, with marijuana vaping being most heavily correlated with delinquency.

Dr Nur Amani@Natasha Ahmad Tajuddin, the lead of the NARCC smoking prevention programme in schools, says when the use of ECV is related to crimes like theft, violence, fighting, bullying, and running away from home, more effort is needed to curb the habit.

“Parents must realise that ECV has negative health, mental, economic and academic impact on youths.”

Young at risk

Four years ago, ECV use among students was less than 3% because the devices were too pricey for most teenagers, Assoc Prof Dr Anne Yee notes.

According to the Tobacco and E-cigarette Survey among Malaysian Adolescents 2016 (Tecma), a whopping 36.9% of students start on the devices between the ages of 14 and 15, and now, we’re seeing a spike in teenage use.

Easily passed-off as a smart watch, thumb drive or pen, the eye-catching devices look like the latest fashion accessories, says the addiction psychiatry expert and UMCAS member.

“Sellers are going all out to push the product to teens by making it cheaper and more accessible.

“Many even give it free to attract young customers. Drug pushers use the same tactic to get people hooked so that they keep coming back.”

These days, huge, eye-catching banners adorn night markets with traders openly displaying their wares. Clearly, the colourful e-liquid bottles with fancy names were designed for kids, teenagers and women, she says. These are groups that may never smoke yet we’re turning them into ECV users.

“If sellers are targeting adult smokers who want to quit, they wouldn’t need gimmicks. Why make such fancy designs?”

Dr Nur Amani says a recent study reported that 22% of children aged between 11 and 15 in England, use ECV compared to 18% who start smoking.

“This is because ECV ads are appealing. Here we have celebrities promoting ECV on social media to entice kids.”

Dr Amer Siddiq says more needs to be done to prevent a new generation of nicotine addicts from emerging.

“ECV isn’t safe. The devices could burn and the e-liquids could be adulterated.”

While studies have shown that children and adolescents see ECV as cool, pleasurable and fun to use, Dr Nur Amani says there’s a pattern of kids from lower socio-economic income groups being targeted by unscrupulous sellers.

Getting the girls

National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan says teachers nationwide are noticing a rise in ECV use among girls.

“This is scary because with cigarettes, it was mostly just the boys. But these devices are popular among both boys and girls.”

Dr Yee is worried because nicotine is being touted as a way to lose weight. It’s like what drug pushers tell women about meth.

As it is, more young girls are experimenting with e-cigs as compared to cigarettes.

Cute cartoon packaging and fruity flavours are aimed at female non-smokers.

Society still has a negative perception of women who smoke. But with ECV, the message is that even ‘‘good girls’’ use it because it’s fashionable and can help you lose weight, adds Dr Yee.

In December last year, The Star highlighted how ECV and e-liquids were promoted as weight management aids.

“Even e-liquids that claim to be nicotine-free contain the drug. And you’ll never know for sure how much nicotine is inside. It could be equal to 20 cigarettes.

“A nicotine high lasts for less than two hours before the craving starts. So getting youngsters hooked on ECV is a business tactic, ” explains Dr Yee.

If your kids are turning to cigarettes, ECV or drugs, it could be because they’re bored or have no one to turn to, she says, adding that children who feel a sense of belonging in the family don’t need these harmful distractions.

Easily addicted

Dr Yee says teenagers are much more susceptible to addiction compared to adults. Some even start to have nicotine cravings after just one try.

“The teenage brain has yet to mature. That’s why adolescents are more impulsive, emotional and susceptible to advertisements aimed at influencing their behaviour.”

Parents whose children are already smoking aren’t helping by getting them an ECV. While it’s better than a tobacco cigarette, ECV is harmful for non-smokers.

When inhaled, tiny chemical particles in the e-liquids can enter the bloodstream and cause long-term harm.

Those between the ages of 10 and 18, adds Dr Nur Amani, are especially vulnerable to addiction.

The medical doctor says e-liquids contain toxic materials like lead, arsenic, manganese and chromium. Exposure to even small amounts can worsen symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

ECV use among varsity students is also worrying, says Dr Amer Siddiq, who was among the researches behind The use of e-cigarettes among university students in Malaysia journal paper published in December.

The study, funded by the Education Ministry, involved 1, 302 students in six Malaysian varsities.

“Over 40% of students smoke and use ECV. This means that ECV has not helped them quit smoking, ” he says, adding that some users even experienced adverse effects like dizziness, coughs and headaches.

Anti-vape campaign

The Education Ministry recently announced that it would intensify awareness campaigns after claims of ECV being freely distributed among students, and photos of youths vaping, went viral.

Calling on parents and society to stop students from bringing the devices to schools, the ministry’s director-general Datuk Dr Amin Senin notes that ECV has become the norm these days – becoming more sophisticated and difficult to distinguish from other electronic gadgets.

Welcoming the ministry’s move, Dr Nur Amani feels it’s important to get tobacco cessation experts onboard to work with teachers.

More awareness campaigns need to be conducted by health scientists, educationists, politicians and non-governmental organisations, to show that ECV use is not “normal behaviour”.

Group activities, instead of talks, work better to impart knowledge. And, it’s more sustainable.

“The children themselves can then act as ‘peer experts’. The impact is greater when the message is shared by those of the same age group.”

Campaigns can be effective if we target parents and teachers, says Dr Yee.

With children and adolescents, the more you say no, the more they will want to try it, she says, adding that parents shouldn’t over-react if they find their child smoking, using ECV or taking drugs.

“It’s not the end of the world. Be an ally to your children instead of acting like the police.”

She suggests talking to children about the dangers out there instead of sweeping things under the carpet.

“Make them realise that sellers only want to make money by getting youths hooked on an addictive habit whether it’s nicotine or drugs.”

The Health and Education Ministries are already working together on the Kotak (Kesihatan Oral Tanpa Asap Rokok) programme to highlight the harms of cigarettes and its related products, says Dr Amer Siddiq.

But with the introduction of newer ECV models, there’s a need to raise awareness among the adults.

Citing some pod-and-USB-like devices as examples, he says these have very high nicotine content but most parents and teachers don’t know about them.

Recently, children were mimicking vaping because of what they see on social media, Dr Amer Siddiq says in reference to the crackdown on Ghost Smoke – a candy consumed by sucking on a straw to produce a vapour-like effect.

“The Kotak programme must be enhanced to cover ECV and its dangers especially the impact on young developing brains.”

NUTP’s Tan says most teachers are in a cocoon when it comes to ECV.

“We need to expose teachers to this new threat so that they know what to look out for.

“And teachers must be given more authority. Since we cannot cane and are vulnerable to lawsuits, we want legislation that compels parents of problematic students to come to school and be responsible for their kids’ behaviour.”

UM, says Dr Nur Amani, has been conducting educational and advocacy programmes in schools through its No-Cotine Club and Community and Sustainability Centre (UMCARES).

Trained students go to colleges and schools to carry out activities that de-normalise smoking and vaping, she says.

“Soon we’ll be approaching 80 partner schools to tell our children that EVC is not just ‘evaporated water’.

“The effects are harmful and it’s haram for Muslims. Hopefully when they go home, they’ll share the message with their parents.”

Smoking and IR 4.0

ECV will be among the hot topics at the upcoming KL Nicotine Addiction International Conference (KLNAC) 2020, says its organising chairman Dr Amer Siddiq.

As the country moves towards realising the National Strategic Plan to make Malaysia smoke-free by 2045, it’s crucial to look at all forms of technology that can prevent the uptake of cigarettes, he says.

“We’ve decided on the theme ‘Mission IR 4.0: Redesign Tobacco Control’ because of the emergence of various disruptive technologies that can either assist quitting, prevent youths from starting the habit, or attract people to smoking.

“ECV was initially touted as a way to help smokers quit but we’ve seen how Juul has ended up enticing youths to take it up instead.”

UM, he says, is already using data and technology in its tobacco control efforts.

The varsity’s dental group is working on an app for school children to prevent initiation to smoking.

And, Dr Yee is collecting data to match smokers with cessation apps that are right for them.

“We’ve thousands of smoking cessation apps yet the success rate is only 25%. Each app caters to specific personalities so we’re trying to match smokers with apps that cater to their preferences. This will ensure a higher success rate.”


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Entrepreneurship can be nurtured, study shows

August 24th, 2019

ARE entrepreneurs born or can they be made? This has been a much-debated question for years.

Now, a National University of Singapore (NUS) research study on its entrepreneurship programme shows proof that entrepreneurs can indeed be nurtured.

It found that students who participated in the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme are 10 times more likely to have gone on to start a business within a year of graduation, compared with other NUS graduates.

One in three students had set up their own technology-based businesses after one year of studying and working in start-ups in business nodes of the world, such as Silicon Valley in California, Shanghai and Stockholm.

At the time they were surveyed last year, about half of that one-third were still running start-ups.

More than half of the alumni surveyed also reported having gone to work in start-ups. About 24 percent of them were still working in such companies when the survey was done.

A large proportion also reported having gone to work in companies where they take on roles requiring them to innovate and develop new businesses.

Another significant finding was that more than one in 10 NOC alumni are based full time outside Singapore.

The study, done by NUS professor Wong Poh Kam from 2012 until last year, surveyed 984 NUS graduates who participated in the NOC programme.

To date, more than 3, 000 NUS students have gone to colleges in 12 locations around the world, including New York City, Toronto, Munich, Tel Aviv and Jakarta.

When these students return to NUS, they can choose to stay in a special residential complex called ENterprise House, where they can continue networking with other NOC alumni. Those who are keen to launch start-ups are given a range of support and help.

Prof Wong, who heads NOC and is known for his research into entrepreneurship, said detractors initially sniffed at the idea.

But many established entrepreneurs now credit NOC, which started in 2001, with developing entrepreneurial talents and seeding the start-up ecosystem in Singapore.

Prof Wong noted that entrepreneurial talent refers not just to those who launch start-ups, but also those who take on various supporting roles, such as venture investors, managers of accelerators or key hires in new companies.

“This study provides concrete evidence on the role and impact of the NOC programme in developing entrepreneurial talents for Singapore, ” he said, noting it found that, in all, NOC alumni had started 665 technology-based businesses, of which 335 are still in operation.

Of those businesses in operation, 287 are based here, while the others are based in places such as Silicon Valley, China and Sweden.

Several NOC alumni interviewed said the year they spent abroad was “transformational”.

One of them is Ahmed Aljunied, 37, who is vice-president of engineering and product at Gojek in Indonesia. The company has evolved from a ride-sharing app to one which allows its customers to make online payments and order everything from groceries to massage services.

Aljunied, who studied computer engineering, was initially hesitant about the NOC programme.

“I was worried taking a year off would bring down my GPA and I would have problems completing my degree. But my dad told me I shouldn’t give up on the opportunity, ” he said, recounting how his ambition initially was to take on a comfortable, well-paying job in a big company upon graduation.

The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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Civics classes held within several subjects

August 24th, 2019

Dr Mahathir is with SK Taman Megah pupil Ian Haris Amsyar, 8, at the launching of the National Civic Education in Putrajaya. Also present are Dr Maszlee and his deputy Teo Nie Ching (left). – MOHD SAHAR MISNI/The Star

CIVICS education is being implemented in schools in an integrated and holistic manner, encompassing both the literacy and practical aspects of the subject, said Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik.

“The implementation is done inside and outside the classroom involving schools, the community, the private sector and the ministry, ” he said at the launch of the Civics Education 2019 by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad last Tuesday.

Civics education, which was introduced last June, takes up one hour in the fourth week of every month during the teaching of the Bahasa Melayu, English, Islamic Education, Moral Education and History subjects as well as during the assembly and co-curricular activities.

In the case of pre-schools, pupils will be taught civics education for 30 minutes as well as during the assembly and co-curricular activities, he said.

Maszlee said the module, concept and new approach in civics education in pre-schools, and primary and secondary schools throughout the country were implemented on the advice and inspiration of Dr Mahathir.“Our children will know noble values and ethics. They will also be equipped with the knowledge of citizenship, ” he said.

Maszlee said the ministry had mapped out the module for civics education with an example on the subject, a manual on school assembly and noble practices, as well as a manual on civics education practices in the curriculum to help teachers implement civics education.

He said several parties in the private sector have also come forward to help promote the civic values taught in schools so that these practices could also be promoted outside schools.

Maszlee said civics education is aimed at teaching citizens to know their rights, responsibilities and moral values so that they could contribute to the well-being of the community and country.

“Our children will learn integrity, trust, diligence and discipline, hate corruption, power abuse and bullying, the importance of appreciating the less able group and having mutual respect for our differences, unity and love for the country, ” he said.

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Higher education as an industry

August 24th, 2019

Heriot-Watt University Malaysia is one 10 international branch campuses in the country.

EDUCATION is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world – Nelson Mandela.

Education is the one pillar that cannot be absent in nation building. It is, to many, the most important foundation in a country’s social and economic development. Thus, with all these importance and virtues, can it be viewed as an industry?

In Malaysia, the education sector has come a long way since the first school, Penang Free School, was built in 1816 to provide formal education. After gaining independence, the government set up government-owned schools to provide education to its citizens. The establishment of Universiti Malaya in 1962 acted as a catalyst for decades of education excellence. It is realised that the early years after independence only government schools and universities were torchbearers with the responsibility to provide education to the people.

However, the eighties saw the beginning of private higher education as public universities were only able to provide access to about 14% of youth between the ages of 17 to 23. As a result, a number of private colleges started to offer Diploma and Certificate programmes by established universities from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States to Malaysian shores. Students were to spend two years in Malaysia and the rest in the main campus abroad.

When Malaysia was struck by an economic downturn in the late eighties, the government facilitated the private colleges by allowing the programmes to be completed in Malaysia. This gave birth to the term transnational higher education.

Ever since then, higher education in Malaysia has grown in quality and quantity, providing education not only to Malaysians but also to international students. From having only government-owned universities to having more international renowned universities offering twinning programmes with private universities in Malaysia. Some universities even have their own branch campus in Malaysia, for example Monash University Malaysia, Curtin University Malaysia, University of Southampton Malaysia and Xiamen University Malaysia. To date, there are 10 international branch campuses in Malaysia.

The education sector in Malaysia is fast in fulfilling the definition of not only an industry, but also an almighty successful one. Local and international investors have increased in joining this successful industry where purportedly, there exist no recession. These investments are not only in terms of physical academic facilities, but also in terms of research and talent development.

Although some may argue that we cannot put a price on knowledge or education, we cannot deny the fact that the education sector, especially private education, is contributing to the country’s economic growth.

A report by the Department of Statistics Malaysia showed that contribution of Gross Domestic Products from private education has steadily increased since 2015 to 2018 by RM14.09bil, RM14.84bil, RM15.70bil and RM16.62bil respectively. This is a growth of value of roughly 7.7% annually. The private higher education institutions, however, claimed that the figure could go up to RM30bil by taking into consideration the investment on infrastructure and infostructure.

The Education Ministry is the biggest recipient in the 2019 Budget with an allocation of RM60.2bil, which is 19.1% of total government spending. In line with the Quadruple Helix model applied in the education sector, this allocation is for physical infrastructure, teaching and learning, research and also the community. The research and development budget has also increased from RM345mil in 2018 to RM455.35mil in 2019.

It is then, categorically right to claim that Malaysia is now a well-known and trusted education hub globally. Malaysia’s higher education has transformed from importing higher education to exporting higher education. This is not a surprising fact as we are now not only hosting 10 international branch campuses, but we are also ‘exporting’ education through franchising Malaysian academic programmes abroad via twinning programmes and joint award with international universities. The influx of foreign students coming to study in Malaysia’s public and private higher learning institutions marks a positive evolution in Malaysian education sector.

As of 2019, a total of 173 thousand international students have been recorded to be studying in Malaysia. These students are spending an average of RM30, 000 a year on tuition fees and accommodation. The higher education sector is also estimated to be contributing at least RM17bil per year to the country’s economy. This is without taking into consideration the multiplier effects on the economy of the community. Higher education in Malaysia has certainly transformed to become a significant industry as it checks in every box:

i. It is a systematic investment from the students and guardians or parents;

ii. It contributes to the technological capability and technical enhancement;

iii. It contributes to the growth of research and innovative findings and output;

iv. It acts as a mechanism in fulfilling market labour force where institutions provide training and upskilling as finishing schools; and

v. It contributes to the socio-economy of the community and also to the country’s GDP.

Benjamin Franklin once said: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Hence, looking at the positive progress that the private higher learning institutions are making, should we now lift the moratorium to allow healthy competition?

Some believe we should but on the same note, we have to take precautionary measures as we would never want to jeopardise the most important pillar in nation building simply for quantity based commercial reasons.

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The sorry state of our unity

August 24th, 2019

It is sad that mistrust among the different races is rising even after 62 years of independence, with the various communities having little interaction or empathy.

IN 10 days, we will mark our 62nd year of Merdeka but unlike last year when elation was in the air with a new government in Putrajaya, the prevailing mood is one of melancholy.

A year on, there is not much to show that we are doing better as a nation in terms of national unity and cohesion.

Instead, the deep fissures that threaten the very structure of the country have become more obvious, as seen daily on social media.

Race and religion remain the most divisive issues, as they were under the previous six-decade-long administration but with the comparatively freer media today, they are being stoked to incite animosity and even flagrant threats of violence.On Aug 14, a man threatened to behead lawyer Syahredzan Johan for urging the withdrawal of controversial preacher Zakir Naik’s permanent resident status in Malaysia. The 28-year-old security guard has been arrested and is being held under remand.

Last Saturday, an appalling video of man unsheathing three menacing weapons – a parang, a sword and katana (Samurai blade) went viral.

In the three-minute clip, he is heard threatening “impudent non-Malays” with violence as he demonstrates his supposed “invincibility” from harm by running the blades across his abdomen, hands and neck.

On Monday, police arrested a 43-year-old officer over a Facebook posting inciting Muslims to shed the blood of non-believers last Wednesday.

The man urged Muslims to “sharpen their parangs for kafir (infidels) who may want to become like sacrificial cows”.

Shockingly, the suspect is said to be an assistant director with the Islamic Development Department Malaysia (Jakim).

In the wake of such provocations, the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has set up email and WhatsApp hotlines to lodge complaints against those who insult race, religion or the royal institution.

It’s tragic that mistrust among the different races is rising even after 62 years of independence. Malaysia is more fragmented with its disparate communities having little interaction or empathy for each other.

In the elation following Pakatan Harapan’s victory in last year’s election, hopes were raised for “Malaysia Baru”, a resetting of the nation towards a more progressive and equitable society.

The new vision, Shared Prosperity 2030, as announced by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in May to mark Pakatan Harapan’s first year in power, was aimed at ensuring fair, sustainable, and inclusive economic growth; fostering unity; celebrating cultural diversity; and creating decent living standards for all Malaysians.

But events and issues over the past few months, such as the move to introduce khat calligraphy, the resistance by Chinese educationist group Dong Zong, the furore against controversial Indian Muslim preacher Dr Zakir Naik and the Selangor government’s plan to allow for one parent to unilaterally convert a child to Islam, have shown that the new government is not much different from the old Barisan Nasional when it comes to matters that are inextricably linked to race and religion.

With Umno and PAS upping the ante in playing the race card and the Pakatan Harapan’s ebbing support in the Malay heartland, the new government has been treading very carefully.

In April, the government withdrew from the Rome Statute, after a storm of protests from Umno, PAS and Malay NGOs, which claimed that acceding to the treaty covering the International Criminal Court (ICC) would affect the sovereignty of the Malay Rulers.

Last year, it retreated from assenting to the International Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) after similar protests.

As for the case of Zakir, who faces criminal charges of money laundering and instigating terrorism in India, non-Muslim Malaysians were dumbfounded by his hobnobbing with the Prime Minister, Education Minister Maszlee Malik and de facto Islamic Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa, especially when the preacher openly supported the previous administration during GE14.

The government’s earlier stance of refusing to deport the televangelist, who was given Malaysian permanent resident status by the previous government in 2015, was seen as a move to appease the Malay/Islamic vote bank.

But things have changed drastically for Zakir, who attracted a crowd of 70,000 and was treated like a VIP during a mammoth rally on Aug 3.

He is being investigated for intentional insults to provoke a breach of the peace by making disparaging remarks against Malaysian Indians and Chinese. He has also been effectively barred from speaking across the country.

On Sunday, Dr Mahathir said Zakir had “crossed the line” by delving into politics and stirring racial tension in the country.

Among other things, he was supposed to have said that Malaysian Indians were more loyal to the Narendra Modi government in India and described the Malaysian Chinese community as “old guests” who should go back to China before he is made to leave the country.

Claiming that his remarks were taken out of context, Zakir has filed legal action against Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran, Penang Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy, Bagan Dalam assemblyman Satees Muniandy, Klang MP Charles Santiago and former ambassador Datuk Dennis Ignatius.

Dr Mahathir’s assurance that the rule of law will be imposed on the preacher has somewhat allayed fears that the government would treat him with kid gloves to placate his supporters.

By M. Veera Pandiyan

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Race and religion overshadow merits of khat.

August 24th, 2019

The ‘solution’ to the khat controversy came a little too late as confidence in the Education Ministry and the Federal Government as a whole has eroded.

IF I ran a school for bright Malaysian kids, its curriculum would contain classes on khat. This calligraphic art form would come after an introduction to the Jawi script in a module about languages important to Malaysia and the world, including Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese dialects, Tamil, Latin and ancient Greek.My students would then appreciate many common etymologies of Malay and English words, and understand that knowledge has always been shared and developed by the world’s great civilisations.

For top students I might introduce Portuguese, Dutch and Japanese to enable them to better understand relevant periods of our history.

Finally, I would ensure that the children understand that many dialects and languages are spoken and written in our diverse country: from the ‘o’ vowel endings in Negri Sembilan to the ‘ng’ consonant endings in Terengganu, and the many dialects spoken by Bidayuh communities to the existence of the Portuguese creole of Kristang.

Alas, I do not run a school for bright Malaysian kids, and unfortunately, the merits of khat have now been obscured by polemics of race and religion, an all-too common recurring problem in our country.

Specifically, this episode was triggered by an attempt by the Education Ministry to progressively impose the teaching of khat from Year 4 to Year 6 in Bahasa Malaysia classes.

With proud defenders of race claiming that khat should – or should not – be equated with an ethno-nationalist agenda, and rapidly escalating rhetoric complete with accusations of racism, the compromise “solution” that was announced was to reduce the number of pages and turn it into an elective subject.And so, the ministry arrived at what, to me, should have been at the outset of this scheme: that if the Education Ministry thinks there is value in adding or amending something in the already-agreed curriculum, schools (and by that I mean in consultation with parents) should have a say in deciding whether and how to take it up.

I often rail against centralised decision-making in most areas of public policy, since our country was conceived as a federation. But overcentralisation and authoritarianism in education policy is particularly disastrous.

There are few things parents get as passionate about as the education of their children, and this passion is amplified in organisations that represent parents.

In an environment where schools are already hotbeds of racial sensitivities, it is obvious that any modification – however tiny – to any aspect of the curriculum or pedagogy will become politicised and polarising.One possible way out of this quagmire is to recognise a phenomenon that has been expanding for years, which is that where choices are available, parents actively use them.

This explains why there are Chinese vernacular schools that have a majority of Malay students, or why there has been a mushrooming of private educational providers. Leveraging on our federal framework is a natural step to expand these choices and make them available to more Malaysians.

Canada, Australia and Germany have done it, achieving better educational outcomes while maintaining national unity: why can’t we?

Unfortunately, the “solution” to the khat controversy was too little, too late.

Confidence in the ministry (and the Federal Government as a whole) has decreased, and the narrative of racial and religious disagreement has since been amplified following comments attributed to Dr Zakir Naik in which Malaysian Hindus, and then Malaysians of Chinese descent, were allegedly disparaged.Once a “threat” to one’s group has been identified, the emergence of another “threat” is likely to further fuel distrust.

The issuance – following a ban by police on him giving public speeches – of an apology quoting the Prophet Muhammad’s stance against racial discrimination is unlikely to convince many of his detractors. Thankfully, there is enlightened leadership in Malaysia that more accurately depicts the acceptance of Islam towards people of all races, from the multitude of non-governmental organisations gearing up to commemorate the attaining of Merdeka and the creation of Malaysia, to the Permaisuri of Johor’s memories of her Peranakan Chinese grandmother.

Go back enough generations, and most Malaysians will find “foreign” blood in their genes, but such genealogical knowledge should not be a prerequisite to achieving everyday colour-blind citizenship – where diversity is so normal that it is unremarkable, and where learning khat is as uncontroversial as learning Mandarin.

By Tunku Zain Al-Abidin
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Proud to be Anak Malaysia

August 24th, 2019

Let’s drown out the voices of extremism because it it time for all Malaysians to value and cherish the Jalur Gemilang.

SOMETIMES it’s the little gestures that mean the most.

The viral photograph of a soldier picking up a Malaysian flag that had fallen to the ground was praised and quickly shared by many. The picture was posted on Facebook by one Mjr Mohd Fitri Shuib, an army officer, who said the soldier’s act reflected the heart and spirit of every serving and retired military member.

“It’s not the flag that we worship but we understand the value and meaning of the Jalur Gemilang, ” he said in the posting.

Although the time and date of the photograph cannot be ascertained, the posting comes at a time when the country is on the verge of celebrating the National Day amid some controversial racial statements and incidents.

It is during the weeks in the run-up to Merdeka that our politicians start playing the same old broken record.

If feels like Groundhog Day, it’s not surprising. The familiar soundbites we are bound to hear would include the catchphrases “unity”, “diversity” and “tolerance”.

As our country turns 62, the average Malaysian has become immune to the same old refrains of the need to “pull together” for the sake of the nation. The truth is, our society is as fragmented and divided as at any time in our history.

The voices of extremism are growing increasingly louder in our beloved country. What happened to the peace-loving, multiracial nation that we are supposed to be? The amount of vitriol and hate spewed, especially on social media, is disgusting and alarming.

But even as there are voices that seek to amplify our differences, even if the race card is continuously played, and even as the rhetoric reaches incendiary levels, more often that not it is the ordinary Malaysians who bring us back from the edge. These people, who with their words and actions give us belief that there is hope that we can progress as one people and one nation.

One such person is of course the unnamed soldier whose simple gesture of picking up the Malaysian flag means so much more than any platitudes from politicians.

Another such initiative is from @twt_malaysia using the hashtag #MalaysiaUnites. This Twitter account has been curating feel-good tweets from various individuals who share stories, anecdotes, photos and videos about what brings us together.

Many of these stories involve the kindness of strangers, often from different races. Some of them are just shout-outs to multiracial family members. Many of these netizens share the heartwarming ways that the “muhibah” spirit is portrayed.

Since last week, when the hashtag was first used, hundreds of Malaysians have been sharing positive tales about their neighbours, about food from different races that they love, about their best friends – in fact just about anything Malaysian that has impacted their lives.

Some of the tweets that caught my eye are from Malaysians who are overseas. They talk about how much they miss home and how special it is to celebrate the National Day in a foreign country.

These tweets in turn have been retweeted thousands of times, reaching many more people and helping to counter so much of the negativity that we read on social media with huge doses of positivity.

The other initiative that has made a big impact is the #AnakAnak-Malaysia Walk on Aug 31 in Setia Alam. To be held for the fourth consecutive year, the walk is a collaboration between property developer Eco World Development Group Bhd and Star Media Group Bhd.

More than 7,000 people are expected to walk for unity to promote the spirit of patriotism, but more than that, it is heartening to read the stories of individuals and groups that have been taking part in this event since its inception.

This multiracial gathering brings together families, individuals, groups and corporates who come together for a 5km walk, sing patriotic songs and wave the flag.

In the short period of time since its launch, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, proving that the majority of Malaysians subscribe to a culture of acceptance, harmony and peaceful co-existence.

Our 62nd Independence Day celebration is around the corner and now more than ever we need to unite in a show of patriotism.

This Merdeka, let us all fly the Malaysian flag. Mine currently hangs on my balcony.

It could be a little flag for your car, a stick-on, a large flag for your house or even your screensaver on your laptop. It does not matter which Jalur Gemilang you use: display it proudly.

By Brian Martin
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English proficiency crucial in nation building

August 22nd, 2019

KOTA KINABALU: The education system must ensure that students are equipped with necessary skills including communication and English language proficiency to join the workforce and develop the nation.

Minister of Education and Innovation Datuk Dr. Yusof Yacob said education is in the forefront of all business and technological advances, and that Malaysia cannot afford to lag behind other countries particularly in the South East Asia region.

He asserted that graduates can no longer wait for jobs to come but instead, create jobs themselves and turn it into industries.

The Malaysian Education Blueprint 2015-2025, he added, has mooted the idea of an Innovation Ecosystem as one of the platforms to enhance the competency of future workforce, which was also a means to boost graduates’ marketability.

He further pointed out that Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir had stressed on the importance of teaching and learning English, giving English Language Teaching (ELT) professionals a fit in producing marketable graduates.

“He (Mahathir) also mentioned that proficiency in English can help generate more employment opportunities. Hence, the ability to master English is part and parcel of producing competitive graduates and the role of the ELT professionals cannot be disputed.

“No matter how good and skilled a person is, ideas remain as ideas if not communicated and utilized.

“English may be the lingua franca, but it is not our mother tongue. Thus, ELT professionals play a vital role in equipping students with essential communication skills to meet the needs of the industry,” he said.

His speech was delivered by assistant minister Jenifer Lasimbang during the opening of the 6th Malaysian International Conference on Academic Strategies in English Language Teaching (My_CASELT), and 3rd Language Invention, Innovation and Design (LIID) Exposition here Wednesday.

Dr. Yusof noted that the new generation of students presents a bigger challenge to educators as access to technological advances have turned traditional classroom into a dull and uninspiring place.

As such, he said educators have to be innovative while ELTprofessionals need to require autonomy in determining ways to connect with the new breed of learners.

“The use of novel ideas and out-of-the-box techniques should be encouraged and facilitated so that academic activities are lively and productive at both mental and emotional levels.

“Accordingly, empowering ELT professionals to use their discretion should be part of our academic agenda,” he said. The two-day event organized by MARA University of Technology (UiTM) Sabah Academy of Language Studies saw more than 120 local and international researchers presenting their research and showcasing their inventions and designs in ELT.

Themed ‘Empowering ELT professionals in a Globalised Environment’ and ‘Empowering Practitioners’ Innovation in Language Teaching’, it was aimed at providing platform for leading ELT experts to discuss and show their research findings on ELT.

According to UiTM vice chancellor Emeritus Prof. Ir. Dr. Mohd Azraai Kassim, it was critical as language fluency and effective communication abilities would enable individuals reach out better to the world.

Stressing on the vitality of language practitioners to move in tandem with today’s development, he said it is crucial to ensure that graduates have relevant knowledge and skills to take on future job challenges.

He added that practitioners need to rethink strategically and use their credentials to offer new learning experience and industry-relevant skills.

“It is also necessary that a lot of effort is put into exploring innovative learning and teaching resources and partnering with other institutions to provide fresh insights that will be of use to not only the academics and students, but more so the communities we serve.

“We must ensure that any new pedagogical thinking is complemented by continuous and innovative curriculum design, training and re-skilling so that no segment of the academic workforce is left behind.

“Hence, in the quest to strengthen students’ commands of English, I believe academics need to keep up with the latest teaching approaches and techniques to cater to the current and future generation of digital natives,” he said. His speech was delivered by deputy vice chancellor Industry, Community, Alumni and Entrepreneurship Network UiTM Prof. Dato’ Dr. Rahmat Mohamad.


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Need to tell our young Malaysia’s real history

August 22nd, 2019

AN inclusive history – a truthful, unbiased and balanced historical narrative that encompasses all the facets of Malaysia’s plural society, and inculcates a sense of belonging and identity among Malaysians – is long overdue. We need to construct and build an all-encompassing historical narrative that incorporates the roles and contributions of all communities and captures the full spectrum of the Malaysian past.

An inclusive historical narrative is a vital component in our quest to build “New Malaysia”. It would enable Malaysians, especially the younger generation, to understand the origin of the nation’s plural society.

Unfortunately, our current history textbooks since 1996 continue to be plagued with factual errors, half-truths and blatant disregard of the critical role played by the non-Malays in the development of our beloved nation. An excellent case in point is the current Form Three History textbook which was first published in 2018. It has numerous factual errors, half-truths and omissions of important historical facts but I will only highlight a few.

First, the British North Borneo Company was officially established in 1882 and not 1881.

Second, it was not only the British who were involved in commercial agriculture (as stated in the textbook) but also the Chinese who played a significant role in cultivating pepper, gambier, tapioca and sugar cane. The role of the Chinese in the development of commercial agriculture in British Malaya during the 19th and early 20th centuries is completely ignored.

When I shared this with a leading Malaysian historian, he could not stop laughing. Then he stated bluntly that this is the price the nation pays for mediocrity.

Over the last three decades, high positions in government have become virtually the preserve of Malays, and when did “holding government positions” qualify as an economic activity?

Fourth, the textbook makes no mention of the role of Yap Ah Loy in developing Kuala Lumpur.

Fifth and finally, the role of the Indians and Chinese in the economic development of British Malaya is not given due emphasis, unlike in earlier History textbooks.

The real historical truth, as reiterated by the late Kernial Singh Sandhu (an internationally renowned historian), is that modern Malaya is “mainly the joint creation of British, Chinese and Indian capital, enterprise and labour.”

To conclude, history is a scholarly pursuit and not one which is driven by a political or self-serving agenda. Our beloved nation is the result of the blood, sweat and tears of various ethnic groups working together harmoniously.

We must take pride in our multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural heritage which helps to inculcate a sense of belonging and patriotism among our young.

by Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi.

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Wildlife belongs to the wild, not homes

August 22nd, 2019

SEVERAL recent incidents highlighted a disturbing trend of individuals keeping wildlife as pets. The first incident covered in the media was about a sun bear kept in a private residence without a permit.

Within the same week, an endangered Brahminy kite was found in a cage in a private residence, where the protected bird had been illegally held captive for over a year. To the disappointment of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), the official custodian of our nation’s wildlife, Perhilitan, did not act on a resident’s complaint filed four times about the caged bird.

These cases are not uncommon.

People are motivated to own an exotic pet by a variety of psychological factors. These include prestige or the desire to be different, according to Dr Michael Gumert, a psychology professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

Obtaining exotic animals is easy and rarely results in penalties. The animals are removed from their habitat in the wild and kept in substandard conditions without proper care, and die or are abandoned. Selling protected wildlife in pet shops or on the Internet is one of the largest sources of criminal earnings, following arms smuggling and drug trafficking. Popular animals sought after are chinchillas, sugar gliders, iguanas, tortoises and turtles, various primates, iguanas and snakes.

SAM’s growing list of concerns about exotic wildlife include:

l The well-known risk of disease transmission to humans.

l Conservation problems in the native countries due to demand of endangered species that contributes to the threat of extinction.

l The ecological effects from released or escaped exotic animals can be serious for local wildlife.

l Lack of eductation among the public.

l Poor regulation of the trade.

SAM strongly opposes the keeping of exotic wildlife as pets and believes that all commercial trafficking in these animals should be prohibited; all pet shops in the country should be monitored. SAM is also calling for a ban on the sale of exotic animals in pet shops. SAM welcomes news of the proposed legislation to ban online advertisement of sales of endangered animals in the amendment to the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. High priority should be given to preventing this animal abuse and ensuring that species do not suffer at the hands of their captors. However, despite measures taken, the trade in captive wildlife will likely continue until people realise that wild animals are not something that can be confined or owned. Until then, the laws can help prevent these abuses and, hopefully, foster understanding that animals exist for their own sake, not merely to be possessed as “pets”.

By: Meenakshi Raman.

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