The key word is holistic

THE Education Ministry will carry out a holistic study before making a decision on whether to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate, said its minister Maszlee Malik recently. This column lauded the statement by underscoring that the operational word is “holistic” which is to be understood within the Malaysian context. Otherwise it can mean many things to many people including those who are not “holistic” in their understanding of what education is all about and have the tendency to hijack the discussion politically to serve their self-interest. One former politician is already attempting to do this. The minister is against such a move and deserves to be supported.

To be sure, all types of qualification or certification are outcomes of one or many education systems. The “holistic-ness” in terms of policy decisions must be made within such a context if it is to be “educationally” meaningful. That is to say it is not about any one part of the system, especially the certification as an endpoint per se, but what goes into it. This takes us back to the heart of the issue, the Falsafah Pendidikan Negara (FPN, 1988) since three decades ago that spells out clearly in its very first sentence what “holistic” means – suatu usaha berterusan ke arah memperkembangkan lagi potensi individu secara menyeluruh dan bersepadu …”.

Key words that framed any policy decisions must take cognizance of the three elements of being continuous (lifelong), complete (life-wide) and convergence (life-worthy) respectively, reflective of the outcome that shapes a successful Malaysian education. And this is to be embodied “holistically” too in the individual/learner as a person who is balanced and in harmony (insan yang seimbang dan harmonis) in four main dimensions: intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically. I am convinced that we cannot be more “holistic” than this especially when it is mirrored by Unesco’s four pillars of learning unveiled almost 10 years later in 1996.

The truth of the matter is that the education system itself ought to be “seimbang dan harmonis” before we can hope to see Malaysians embracing the same regardless of certification that is granted by whatever name or institution. After all what is in a name (sometimes exorbitantly branded) if it shies away from our national aspiration in violation of the FPN, later FPK (Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan, 1996). And by extension globally against the Unesco pillars of learning as well as the sustainable development goals.

To be blunt, any policy decision made with no regard to this is necessarily “flawed” and must be challenged. This has been the crux of the issue where no politician dares to venture for fear of political suicide. Never mind if it is a social time bomb. So unless such a “legacy” is dismantled head on (60 years have passed as the minister said) then there is every chance that we will prolong a “failed” system to hopelessly power the “new” Malaysia. Not just in letter but more so in spirit, namely, nurturing “new” Malaysian mindsets that are balanced and in harmony. We can do away with the need for other confusing notions like “moderates” or “wassatiyyah” or groupings who promote their own leanings when the education system is well rooted in values that are functionally “balanced and harmonious”.

That the issue keeps recurring is enough to show that the FPK has been sidelined for far too long if not ignored. What else to embrace it as a philosophy to live by and proudly shaping the aspiration of Malaysia as prominently engraved in the national emblem – “Bersekutu bertambah mutu” – (remember?) at once rendering the 1Malaysia slogan redundant and politically divisive (ironically) from its inception.

In other words, nothing can be construed as “holistic” without first debunking the “old” strategy of divide and rule that is in-built in the education system(s), policy and structures. As previously noted (MyView, June 27) we cannot just reject race-based politics to be fashionable without first rejecting race-based education systems. Figuratively, the latter is the viper pit that feeds into the former.

To top this, the fact that the system is archaic has been well argued. Again it is impossible to be “holistic” as defined by FPN/FPK/Unesco when each component of the overarching system is not “holistically” linked educationally speaking, reinforced by the race-based multi-streamed system. Therein is the characteristic siloed, first industrial revolution model ingrained with assembly-like exploitative norms, which are not conducive for the 21st century collaborative learning environment to blossom.

In a nutshell, the UEC issue is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to resetting the education system in a “holistic” way as advocated by the education minister.

It is time to take this discourse forward with a “new” frame of mind based on our philosophy to nurture generations of “new” Malaysians. Otherwise we will slide back to the “old” ways sooner than we thought.

With some four decades of experience in education the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Time for an education reset

IN the Sesi Khas in Jakarta, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad used the word “usang” (archaic) to describe our education system. This columnist cannot agree more, when it used “weird” (My View, Jan 17) to sum up the situation.

In the Jakarta session at least two things long considered as “sacred cows” were boldly questioned by the audience. One is the issue of multi-streamed education system and the other on values. Both are intimately linked in defining what education in Malaysia is all about. When the two elements are not well aligned with each other in the context of the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan (FPK,1996), it gives rise to the notion of education without soul. Namely, education that is not inspired by values stipulated in FPK as a truly unified and consolidated national framework of education. After all, “education” (pendidikan) is about nurturing better Malaysian’s first as citizens in all its human dimensions including the IQ, EQ, PQ and SQ in a balanced way. Short of this, education is anything but “education”, and this is a point of prevailing contention that must be dealt with in order to move forward as a nation for all Malaysians.

Much of what we see and experience in the world today point in the same direction, namely the failure to “balance” education in the environment that is increasingly “dehumanising” (read: mechanistic and technocentric). Schools and universities are likened to factories that churn out “unthinking” products; no different from the produce delivered through assembly lines. And this is expected because schools were modelled on the paradigm of the first (archaic) industrial revolution some 300 years ago in provincial Europe. Nothing much has changed despite the phenomenal technical advancements.

In essence, it is still an assembly line model even though it has undergone so much automation and sophistication in terms of efficiency in a robot-like fashion (read: dehumanised). It only belabours the point that education is becoming more mechanistic with lesser human interactions as technology “takes over” the process of education. In fact education is gradually being reduced as training and skill development intended for the “market” as its endpoint is mostly for the purposes of “employability”. Total human dimensions as being “holistic” and balanced beings are compromised unintentionally or otherwise. Should we be surprised then if white-collar crime is on the rise where the so-called “educated professionals” get immersed in unethical activities in the most blatant way? More than this, an entire government could be infested with similar activities as it welcomes even more technologies in education (think 4IR, TVET) without embracing the education values with the same rigour and commitment.

In this respect Mahathir is spot on when he advocated the Look East Policy for values in education. Japan, despite being among the most technologically advanced countries, is looking to the future not through the lens of technology per se, but rather from a societal (read human) perspective. They term it as Society 5.0, an initiative that is driven by the business and industrial community in figuring out what education for the future is all about for the Japanese. In other words, while technology is a necessary tool for the delivery of today’s needs, it is insufficient to nurture the set of human values aimed at the future needs of humanity as a whole.

One value that comes to fore time and again is trust, let alone ethics. It is not only confined to human-human interactions but is also associated closely with technology and the natural environment. Research shows that as the use of technology increases so too must the level of trust on the part of users. This is because advanced technology can take on a life of its own and often remains barely supervised as it becomes more and more autonomous (even predaceous). Without the corresponding level of trust and integrity the outcome can be very risky and manipulative to say the least.

Just think of what happened to facebook (FB) recently involving more than 85 million innocent users worldwide. Allegedly FB exposed the data of its users to one researcher linked with a controversial political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA). Eventually, CA was forced to shut down, highlighting the overarching concern of how much users can trust FB with their data. So much so that loopholes were being exploited not only against those who used the technology (trustingly) but “all their friends – without them knowing.” Of late, the Norwegian Consumer Council brought to light other tech giants “nudging” users through “dark patterns” to share personal data, as reported in a newly released study.

The message therefore is very clear as to what and where the relevance of “values” are in the context of technology what more for the purposes of education. As it is, technology is already linked to so much “deceit” among students ranging from copyright abuses to rampant cheating. It is truly a wake-up call in warning us how vulnerable education could be when technology is poorly conceived and misunderstood under the superficial guise of 21st century learning without the essentials of values to stand on.

Add to this, trust-building has equally suffered in a multi-streamed education system especially when it is race-based. The state of trust-deficit cannot be more apparent as time goes by. In fact, it is most ironic to deplore race-based politics but at the same time favours it when it comes to education (as a lifeline to racial politicking).

Even then the reality is disastrous as shown by the bickering and finger pointing among members of a race-based political coalition when it lost the privilege to govern recently. It only goes to demonstrate how shallow the level of trust and ethics has been despite sharing the same coalition for more than 60 years. So what can we expect of school-going children in a multi-streamed school system modelled on the (archaic) architecture of divide-and-rule?

The time has come to pluck up similar courage for change as we did in electing a “new” government for a “new” Malaysia. To be sure, in order to sustain the hard-earned change, the education system must be reset anew.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments:
letters@thesundaily.com

Charity without publicity, please

WITHOUT a shadow of a doubt, Malaysians are warm-hearted and charitable. These are not mere words of self-adulation but it has been proven umpteen times. From mishaps to disasters, local or foreign – help will flow almost instantly. Mercy and Makna are testimonies to these.

This is also where Malaysians are colour blind and their humane side seems to overwhelm everything else. This in a way is payback because, globally by far, we are the most fortunate people who are “protected” from all manner of calamities, especially the “natural” ones.

If there is any, it is often self-inflicted due to greed and irresponsibility on our part. At times “justified” under the banner of “development” and “progress”. Unfortunately, there are many examples of these. And it does not seem to stop, fired by some ludicrous foreign investment that is causing a “derailment” (no pun intended) not seen before. This form of “generosity” is not acceptable as said repeatedly by several parties including Jack Ma.

Another obvious downside is when the act of humility when giving charity or alms assumes a form of arrogance such that it overshadows the former. It takes away the deeper meaning of what being charitable is all about and substitutes it with superficiality of handing out stuff devoid of any value attached to it.

It becomes more publicity-driven (aka CSR) putting the “giver” before the “needy” who are often caught in an awkward situation not of their making. Yet they are made to suffer the humiliation of being paraded around to receive some “aid” and “donation” just to survive. Worse when it takes place during the month of Ramadan or on other auspicious occasions where the emphasis is about brotherhood and kinship. Yet this is not to be when one is elevated over another publicly in an undignified fashion. This column has often spoken out about such (mis)treatment especially when the elderly were made to form a beeline for “handouts” from VIPs and elected representatives in full view of the media to be broadcast on prime time news. Some of them are parent-like to the “giver” and the question that comes to mind is: would we allow this if they were our parents? If not why do it to others? Why the double standards? It is unbecoming.

Likewise for the underaged and (pre)school children. In their case, they have to kiss the hands of the “giver” publicly in return. Not only is it awkward to kiss the hands of “strangers” to receive some brightly coloured envelope or goodies, more than that it is unhygienic.

Imagine if you are number 10 in a queue, you are not sure what bugs those before you have passed on to the hand that you are about to kiss. This is assuming the hand was hygienic (if not sanitised) to start with. So should this practice of kissing the hand in gratitude be encouraged? Would not a hearty terima kasih be good enough?

But this is not to say that kissing the hands of an elderly person and loved ones is not culturally relevant.

It has its place, often in the privacy of homes, a solemn occasion between close family members and friends. It is often done with decorum (adab) at times accompanied by tears to mark the intimacy involved.

Not like the “media” version where it is done mechanically, almost robot-like, with the “giver” grinning away. Over time it is being taken for granted as beholden to the “giver” (including the powers that be) when actually it is one’s entitlement as a citizen of the country. It becomes more absurd when the “gift” has nothing to do with the “giver” who acts as a mere convenient intermediary. In other words, the gratitude expressed is misplaced that could spin into an act of “bodek-ing” (brown-nosing) that the MACC chief was loud about (timely so) last week. The tie-up is rather subtle but some individuals seem to bend to exploit matters for their selfish purpose. Hence the phenomenon got amplified during elections and led to coining of the word “dedak”. It likened the recipients to mindless “creatures” hard-up for “freebies” dangled in front of them. A dehumanising thought indeed.

In a nutshell, what started as something noble and humble has been twisted to convey the opposite. That is to say the line between what is “truly charitable” and the contrast has been gradually blurred.

As a firm reminder let us revisit some conventional wisdom. From the Islamic tradition of the Prophet it relates to the moment when a person gives in charity and makes no mention of it, so that the other hand does not know about it at all.

This tradition resonates closely with what the Bible teaches: When you give, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing (Matthew 6:3). There must be more examples in the same light implying succinctly that the value of charity is not in the publicity it garners, but rather the humility of doing so to empathise in an accountable and discreet way.

Tabung Harapan Malaysia almost got it right when it only provides updates at 3pm daily without fanfare. It is only when this rule of thumb is exceeded that it invites allegations across the board including those impressionable youngsters who innocently fell into the trap as per the “old” ways.

Like the no-gift policy, it is time for a no-publicity policy when it comes to charity. Let us celebrate “humility” instead.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Tapping the Peranakan experience

WE lost a “true” Malaysian last week – Datuk Kenny Chan of Baba Nyonya fame. He was 68 when he passed away in Malacca. Better known as Bibik Kim Neo in TV1’s longest-running series, Chan captivated his audience with his skilful acting and wit. He brought much laughter to Malaysians. It is no wonder the series lasted from the late 1980s till the turn of the century with more than 500 episodes aired taking it into the Malaysian Book of Records. His co-actor Chee Hood Siong, who played Bibik Ah Chim, passed away in 2011.

Kenny had a passion for all things Peranakan that gave Baba Nyonya its character and huge popularity. He was also a chef promoting Peranakan cuisine at a Malacca restaurant named Big Nyonya. He seemingly inherited his cooking skills from his grandmother making Peranakan cuisine sought after among locals and foreigners. Reportedly he was also advising the Baba and Nyonya Association of Malaysia, and documenting the Peranakan community.

The term “Peranakan” denotes descendant in Bahasa Malaysia. The root word comes from the word “anak”, or child, referring to locally-born descendants. Colloquially “Baba” and “Nyonya” are used as honorifics. The former refers to the male gender and the latter, female.

Most Peranakan are said to have received an English education, and are fluent in the language. Many of them were appointed as community and civic leaders during the colonial period. Hence they were respected members of the society, yet the Baba Nyonya culture remains central to the community. It is considered distinctively unique to Malacca where the local Malay cultural nuances are fused naturally with that of the Chinese to take a life of its own. It is one of the finest examples of how Malaysia can evolve into a unified multi-cultural and multi-ethnic entity that survives until today.

In this way, a number of similarities bring the nation closer together. Or at the least create awareness of what is shared, be it in terms of dress, food, song, language and etiquette. For example in terms of dress, the use of baju kebaya is common among the nyonyas, as much as adorning the batik sarung, as practised by the local Malay communities then and even now. As for food, sup itik (duck soup), buah keluak (black mangrove tree nuts), laksa and ayam Kapitan (Kapitan chicken) seem common, although the last two are more commonly found in Penang.

Dondang sayang is the genre often associated with entertainment of the Malacca Peranakan involving Malay poetic form known as pantun. The song is usually accompanied by music made up by a rebana (traditional Malay drum), biola (violin) and a gong. It has became part of the ensemble performing at informal social gatherings in their communities. And beyond.

In terms of language, while they assimilated well much of the Malay lingo and vocabulary, they stuck to their own ethnic dialects such as Hokkien or even some English (or other colonial) words, giving rise to “Baba speak” as it were. The fusion was welcomed as ways of widening Peranakan culture and appreciating the diversity of cultures among Malaysians. In particular by coping and ensuring minimal “negative” encounters for the Straits Chinese at one point in our history. It also helps explain why Peranakan are not seen elsewhere, except in Penang, another Straits Settlement with its own version of the Peranakan.

There are several variations such as the Peranakan Serani (referring mainly to the Eurasian mixed), Chitty (Indians) and Jawi (mixed Arab-Malay ancestry) – although they are relatively fewer in number. Overall, the Peranakan are an integral part of our cultural tapestry, a fitting reminder that the evolution to Bangsa and Budaya Malaysia is not only possible, but necessary. If only we learnt and emulated their subtle approach and lifestyle as we interacted with them. That this can happen to the extent it did within our local context proves that if there is political will, the reality could be here soon enough. Given the aura of the post-GE14 era where the desire to blur the existing “artificial” barriers of yesteryears is heightened particularly among the younger generation, mainstreaming the Peranakan experience can make a real difference. It must, however, transcend the museums and backwaters in making the Peranakan way our daily signpost to be studied and emulated.

The origins of Baba Nyonya can be traced to the 15th and 16th centuries when the Chinese emigrated from China to the British Straits Settlements of Malacca, Singapore, Penang and some parts of Indonesia.

The first permanent settlements in the Malay peninsula can be traced to the 13th century. Many were set up by those fleeing famine and poverty. Some Chinese married locals to blend harmoniously their distinct background, cultures and customs to give birth to the notable “Peranakan” entity (read Malaysian) with its distinctive characteristics as richly displayed by the Bibiks in their TV sequels.

Peranakan heritage has been firmly planted by the Bibiks in our minds and it is here to stay proudly enriching Malaysia as the unique home of Truly Asia and more.

May their memories live on to give even deeper meaning to our search for a “new” Malaysia.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

What gentlemen’s agreement?

IN “Malaysia to reap rich rewards” published in China Daily (Asia Weekly, May 28 – June 3) Malaysia was recognised as “an important country along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road” and an active participant in the endeavour.

The subtext read: China-led Belt and Road Initiative (CBRI) making key infrastructure projects a reality and helping to improve economic relations. The People’s Republic is reported to be our largest trading partner for nine consecutive years. The same issue also covered Singapore and Pakistan under the CBRI theme.

It was not surprising to read about mega-projects sponsored by China through its companies and banks under CBRI. For Malaysia, it includes the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), Exchange 106 (formerly TRX Tower) or the Malacca Gateway.

The major revelation: What has been uncovered so far post-GE categorically contradicts what is purported by the headline.

It is the opposite thanks to the astounding election result that cracked open several tightly held “secrets” of the former government. The notion of a “gentlemen’s agreement” is dubious.

The China Daily mentioned one “chairman of the Malaysian Chinese Association” (MCA) acting as “the special envoy” to China asserting that the CBRI could bring “endless” opportunities, and “especially for ethnic Chinese in the country”.

It highlighted that the MCA chairman is “a fourth-generation descendant of migrants from East China’s Fujian province” – fancy that China still regards Malaysians as “pendatang” who China wants to speak for (MyView, May 23).

The same person reportedly was the “sole representative” from Malaysia at the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference held in March. And during the conference he called on China to be more attentive to SMEs “run by local ethnic Chinese” through the CBRI.

In good faith, if there is any last hope to believe that the MCA is Malaysian first by any slim chance, the article written by a KL correspondent did an excellent job to demolish it once and for all.

Much like how the “association” was hammered during the election which on hindsight is not surprising. It clarifies much of what MCA is all about and why the president of the association took the trouble to erect an election billboard depicting him shaking hands with the president of China, despite infringing on the EC regulations. Implicitly it displayed a “chauvinistic” relationship to swing votes intentionally considering that Singapore was also painted in similar light.

In another article, a prominent Singaporean said to hail from Guangdong province attested that CBRI will bring “great business opportunities and a sense of pride to all Chinese in Singapore”.

Hence, in a stroke whatever sinister impression there is on CBRI as a “debt-trap diplomacy” (putting at risk our sovereignty, one way or another) quickly gained credibility, making nonsense of the rhetoric and denials from the locals supposedly representing the Chinese “migrants”.

Juxtapose this alongside Tun Mahathir’s observations about the ECRL (during an interview with a business tabloid), the sinister elements stand out like a sore thumb.

More specifically, to quote the prime minister on the RM55 billion project: “The contractor must be from China and the lending is from China. And the money is not supposed to come here but (kept in China) to pay the contractor in China” although the work is in Malaysia.

Normally, he argued, the loan would have been drawn down in Malaysia since the project is here. Worse, payments are made not on the basis of work done but according to a pre-determined timetable, and the contract has no GST making all these a “strange” one – unheard of despite his vast leadership experience.

Such strangeness invariably invites even more suspicion as to how naive (desperate?) Malaysia’s “ex-leaders” were. It fuels speculation of under-the-table negotiations with hidden terms attached to the GST-free projects.

This is in contrast to local charitable organisations like Makna and Mercy that are burdened with GST despite repeated appeals for exemption.

How Malaysia will “reap rich rewards” is baffling especially when it looks like it is China that stands to gain much more by design. It is obviously lopsided going against “ancient” Chinese practices that hinge on fairness and justice.

More so when some sources said that the ECRL can be built at an even lower cost if not for the overinflated contract signed in 2016 by the Economic Planning Unit through direct negotiations with China Communications Construction Co (CCCC). Even the entity (Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd) set up to spearhead the project was formed only a month after the award to CCCC.

Unlike other countries ranging from Mexico to Hungary, and even neighbouring Indonesia and Myanmar, similar railway projects awarded to Chinese state-owned companies allegedly have yet to take off. Otherwise, “stalled” due to the demands for increased transparency and fear of the country being saddled with unserviceable debt.

That such “anxiety” is globally more the rule than exception should have alerted us as to the huge risk associated with it and lurking behind is a divide-and-rule strategy to hoodwink the host country as in the classic case of Sri Lanka.

This cannot be more real as it stands today, as more scandals are being uncovered.

The latest is a whooping RM9.4 billion scam hidden in a “red file” where 88% of fees paid for only 13% work done to lay a petroleum and gas pipeline covering some 700km.

With all these emerging out of the woodwork the CBRI is beginning to sound like a sugar-coated “scam”.

Let us be reminded that when President Xi issued a warning not to make China swallow what is not good for them, a question is raised why is Malaysia treated differently? No doubt it violates emperor Han’s “yuefa sanzhang” (gentlemen’s agreement).

With some four decades of experience in education locally and internationally, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Beware of ‘chameleons’

I RECALL reading a book on business that encourages board members to be “chameleons” referring to the reptile of the Old World that changes its skin colour to suit the environment. Although this is regarded as positive in the context of “natural protection” by using the mechanism of camouflage, in the governance sense it may not be so. Indeed it could be the opposite.

While most people are familiar with “charismatic” leaders, few are aware of the “chameleon” type. The former are endowed with various traits involving the persona (public face), so central that such leaders exert widespread influence through the principle that they believe in and upholding them uncompromisingly. So much so the followers are attracted to the persona and begin to emulate them. Leaders like Mandela, Gandhi and Castro are still universal icons including to impressionable young people. In parts this is because most charismatic leaders went through gruelling experiences in advocating their worldview displaying strict discipline in a principled way. In contrast, to those in power such personalities are perceived as “threats” that must be neutralised before the charismatic impact becomes overwhelming. The GE14 demonstrated this in an absurd way.

Like charisma, most of us do have the tendency to be “chameleons” in terms of our social behaviour. But this is not considered detrimental compared to those who are dubbed “chameleon leaders” because they are unprincipled and indisciplined. In fact, they tend to “play it safe” to protect themselves and their positions by “adopting” or “adjusting” to the situation and/or environment that they are thrown into. Chameleon leaders often behave “erratically” and “inconsistently” leaving hints of a “weak” if not “spineless” persona, to be exploited. They do not walk the talk – saying one thing and doing another depending primarily on what they could benefit from most, and often betray the “trust” of many.

Examples could be cited from the GE-related activities creating unfavourable or negative consequences. Cases allegedly involved corporate leaders who “buckled” when pressured for support against their principle sparking anger all round from those who felt cheated by such “spineless” submission. As this came to light after the election, it would be interesting to speculate what would be the case if the result was the reverse. Will they opt to remain “buckled” while keeping the “truth” under the lid as part of the camouflage (read business strategy)? There will be no public apology to continue propping the regime, justifying it as a “heroic” act to serve the people’s interest by saving jobs. In short, we will never know the difference, the “sly” and all. A superb “chameleon” act indeed.

Thus one fatal characteristic of “chameleon” leadership is not just not walking the talk, but like the real creature effectively camouflaging it with unsuspecting “lies” and “dishonesty”. According to the book referred to at the start, this is not unexpected in businesses where the CEOs are wired to survive by forsaking values and ethics to “change colour” when convenient. It is textbook strategy in the ruthless world of profits before people. It reaffirms the business cliché: there is no such thing as a free-lunch. Not to a chameleon anyway.

In the world of politics, bolstered by the media-biased companies, “frog” is the favourite metaphor. “Frog” is more direct to illustrate how people “leap” from one organisation to another to survive. “Frog” also gives the notion that news items can “jump” from “fake” to “true” and vice-versa, thanks to media spin doctors. The consideration is less of principles and beliefs but more of self-preservation and political expediency where the “chameleon” characteristics subtly play a vital role. Due to this damaging impact, it is not surprising that of late organisations are more reluctant to accept the “frogs” as bona fide members.

Of particular relevance were statements on “collective responsibility” by leaders from the main party in the losing coalition. Namely, the blame should not be pinned on any person especially the (ex) leader but everyone in the leadership team. While this is laudable, the reality is that the leaders have yet to resign as part of “collective responsibility” following in the footsteps of the party leader. Adding insult to injury was when one of the officials confided to a foreign correspondent of how he failed to bell the cat! Especially after seeing how his colleagues were cut down in attempting to do so. Playing the “chameleon” game was then the option resulting in the tragedy for the party. Again if there was no change in government we would never know of such hypocrisy.

Unfortunately events of this nature are making inroads in the academic world as it is increasingly being pushed into politics (think Majlis Professor Negara, initially set up to be an impartial think-tank) as well as businesses at the expense of the academic (human) governance versus corporate (economic) governance. In other words, the “chameleon” habits are beginning to take root in the academe and insidiously colouring “knowledge”.

In summary, unless we are more critical of “dishonest” behaviour and tendencies, not only will the organisation suffer, eventually society as a whole can be wrecked by “chameleon” leaders who are essentially self-centred and selfish.

Just as the chameleons belong to the Old World, chameleon leaders have no place in the “new” world that we are shaping for beloved Malaysia! So be aware.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Welcoming the Ramadan Cabinet

WE ARE thankful that a fresh Cabinet has been sworn in and has met to usher in a “new” government of Malaysia – one of “hope”. It looks like the flame of Rabu (Ramai akan balik undi) has been realised and translated into a movement of “Rakyat asas benteng utuh”, given the renewed commitment to (re)do the right things; and slowly but surely, restore our pride and dignity.

This was readily sensed during the swearing-in on May 21 with the many firsts that crowned it. Not only in terms of age, gender, mix and “attitudes” but also in terms of “teamwork” that started from scratch before the coming together as an alliance built on “hope” and aptly named Pakatan Harapan.

Most tried to pooh-pooh this effort and pitted one party against the other using the messages and politics of hate, but the rakyat had enough of it. And the rest is history.

So we have an elderly statesman leading the Cabinet and for the second time around as the country’s prime minister, despite the many efforts to run him down unfairly based on the “age” factor forgetting that “age” is just a number, and can differ vastly from the intellectual version. What else wisdom and experience that accompany age but are often dismissed.

In this case, wisdom and experience were decisive factors in a victory so overwhelming, pushing back what a well-oiled juggernaut could do. This is certainly a first in our history under the stewardship of a 93-year-old prime minister who made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest to be elected to office. The record is unlikely to be broken any time soon if at all.

Next is the first female deputy prime minister at a time when the issue of gender imbalance and representation is high on the global agenda.

For the first time too, there are three women in the Cabinet. Should the deputy prime minister decide to decouple her portfolio on women’s affairs – another woman can easily step in.

Three is also the number of medically qualified ministers in the Cabinet. They are the prime minister, his deputy, and the health minister (who specialises in toxicology – a useful trade to detox the “virulent” politics of hate) – another first.

The Cabinet also has the first ever “Sikh” represented by the communication and multimedia minister and; the first elected “academic” as the education minister.

The closest to this previously was a former vice-chancellor who was made a senator before being appointed to office (and then opted not to stand for election at the end of his term).

This time also saw a rare case of a federal minister doubling as mentri besar.

All these firsts, go to show the “creative” and “courageous” spirit of the new government against the “old” practices of choosing those who were proven less capable (at times corrupt) as ministers ignoring good governance. In other words, issues of ethical standing were not taken seriously leading to the demise of the old regime.

It is in this context that the new Cabinet has a link to the blessed month of Ramadan. What is more given the ruthless realpolitik that coloured the political landscape in the last decade and changing the course of history post-GE14.

That the swearing-in and the inaugural Cabinet meeting took place during Ramadan directly plugged it into what the blessed month seeks to universally establish.

Foremost, it is about “cleansing” oneself from all the “impurities” of life covering thoughts, words and deeds. Much of these have been soiled by politics – in putting to use the art of manipulation and deceit where the end (power) justifies the means.

Hence, Ramadan stands for rigorous self-control through self-reflection around the clock overshadowing the urge to play to the gallery by being politically visible to remain “popular”.

What with the persuasion of social media to clamour as much “likes” as possible no matter how superficial it is. This pushes self-reflection to the back seat thanks to the “addictive” technology.

As such Ramadan calls for humility by immersing oneself in the “real” world of the deprived and destitute as another form of true self-reflection.

Here again, politics is deceiving when it equates to power and influence as a form of material wealth and comfort to be flaunted publicly as a mark of success.

The Malay(sian) proverb of “ikut rasmi padi, lagi berisi lagi tunduk” was regarded as an act of political suicide (for being less aggressive) and thus tossed out in the wind.

Even ancient wisdom (like “the taller the bamboo, the greater it bends”) merited no attention in the pursuit of gullible politics. In averting this, Ramadan seeks to bring to life the “primordial” values of being human – call it vital forces, or dharma or fitrah.

Each speaks of the “middle path” (not quite the same as “moderate”), of balance and harmony, of the link between all life forms as part of the cosmic network.

It celebrates diversity on the pedestal of patience and acceptance in attaining peace for all forever.

These are but some of what Ramadan calls for so that every Malaysian can benefit from and resonates well with the new worldview of new Malaysia.

It, therefore, could easily be embraced to bolster greater commitment in delivering the new vistas as the 100-day countdown begins and goes beyond the holy month via a Ramadan Cabinet.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

I am Malaysian

AS citizens of Malaysia we have all the reason to be proud of ourselves given what transpired post-GE14. It is perhaps not too early to claim some credit for ourselves. Even May 13 went by unnoticed. To the younger generation, it was just another day of no historic significance. For the older ones, it seemed to be overtaken by the “jaw-dropping” GE14 result which quickly “unified” Malaysia as a nation. It was almost spontaneous without manufactured slogans to make it happen. This must have come from our hearts that bind us for the love of our only country.

A clear indication of this came from a press conference where the new finance minister said: “I don’t consider myself as Chinese. I am Malaysian.” His reply was followed by loud applause. It was in response to a question from the press deliberately framed to project the “racial” dimension. Fortunately, this was wisely handled to drive the all-important “Malaysian” message home.

It was also timely considering a race-based coalition was “devastated” in the election. In particular, the Chinese-based component party that contested 39 parliamentary seats and 90 state seats could only secure one and two seats respectively, compared to winning 31 parliamentary seats in GE11.

To nail the coffin, its president lost the seat he held for many years and the party only had slim majorities in the few seats it won.

Interestingly enough members of the party preferred to be called “Malaysian Chinese” as reflected in the name of the association. Not even “Chinese Malaysians” – if at all ethnicity is considered relevant as in the case of African-American for US citizens of African descent (like Barack Obama). Otherwise they are happy to be just Americans. So why not just Malaysians for us?

This is what makes the statement “I am Malaysian” such a great departure, given that his party is now part of the new ruling coalition. It was a resounding “vote” for Bangsa Malaysia as per Challenge 1 of Wawasan 2020.

It is also imperative to send a clear and strong signal to some embassies and their governments that allegedly claimed to be “defenders” of overseas Chinese despite that the latter are now loyal citizens of another sovereign nation. This claim was heard not too long ago leading to a “diplomatic spat” because it was deemed as “interference” in the internal affairs of Malaysia.

This should not be allowed to happen again bearing in mind that investment and interest from China is pouring in to a tune that has caused unnecessary “anxiety” among most Malaysians. Add this to the insistence of playing a “defender’s” role, it raises more questions than answers that are bound to ruffle local sensitivities, scenarios and practices (think Africa).

As it stands, the first branch campus from China located near Nilai stood like a sore thumb with only Chinese and English words chiselled on its foundation stone with not a single word of Bahasa Malaysia. So too for many of that country’s factories in Malaysia. Similarly during official events involving top officials from both countries; the launch of the ECRL project is a notable example where our national language was not used. This would not happen in China. So why did it happen here?

The implication of such a move is a grave one. Not respecting our national language (what more not speaking it well) is tantamount to negating the existence of our nationality as Malaysians. And that is also the main reason why many still cling to their ethnicity rather than being full-blooded Malaysians. This is not limited to just uneducated elderly people (this is understandable) but surprisingly use of the language is also a problem for many corporate leaders who cannot string a single decent sentence in good BM. It is shameful. This means “I am Malaysian” is void to the extent that the previous prime minister had to address some of them in English or broken BM in their ethnic dialect after 60 years of Merdeka.

For this reason alone “I am Malaysian” is a vital force that must be seriously maximised to strongly mould it to create a sole identity for Bangsa Malaysia in shaping the “new” Malaysia. At once subordinating the ethnic tendencies, including state-based “bangsa” that some “clans” are dubiously popularising. If not this will only dilute or confuse the situation further, including the use of superfluous logos and taglines (think sehati sejiwa, 1Malaysia, etc) which are utterly superficial and a waste of resources as glaringly evident from the election result for the losing coalition.

Hence, it cannot be overemphasised that “I am Malaysian” was a key take home message when a “fresh” government was voted in decisively. It was done on the basis of “Harapan” and NOT based on political parties, what else racial and chauvinistic ones in whatever form. It is time to bury the latter once and for all as a form of toxic thinking. Yes, we are proudly Malaysians. Are you?

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

The pen is mightier …?

HOW is it that marking “X” against a symbol on a ballot led to an avalanche of change that transformed the political landscape of Malaysia? Is this what is meant by “the pen is mightier than the sword”?

As an educator, that this took place in a school where I chose to vote made it even more meaningful. Imagine if we can move the status quo each time we “jot” down our thoughts as matter of choice as part of education. Yet this seems to be the most difficult part of schooling (learning) often made worse by the challenge of “screen addiction” prevalent among students today. Why I am not sure but it must be related to what we take “education” to mean for us – individually and collectively. As for the former, it is about enhancing our self-awareness (know thy self), whereas the latter it is about embracing that collectively for humanity. The two need to connect immediately to give a deeper meaning so that it can be used to navigate our lives consistent with our surrounding including the natural world and other life forms. This takes more than isolated intellectual class-bound activities targeted for standardised assessments (be it PISA or TIMMS or the ranking games). Instead it should be at once spiritual, emotional as well as physical – all set in a balance harmoniously (sejahtera). After all this is what education truly is about – “learning how to live a life with dignity” rather than about “making a living without one” – the way it is generally phrased today.

In other words, education has lost its original purpose (“soul”) hoodwinked by the neoliberal slant as it creeps in insidiously thanks to “free market” forces. In essence, it defines what is educationally desirable or marketable and what is not. It aggressively skewed “education” at a tangent to the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan (1996). The “pen” so to speak is no longer as mighty, blunted by “false” targets set by the marketplace. Worse it distorts the falsafah and undermines it the moment we set foot onto the schoolyard.

The evidence was obvious at the school where I cast my vote. It is of “premier” status, in an upper middle class area with impressive facilities, structures and location. One cannot ask for more. It was well decorated with motivating words and phrases, the frequently asked questions on the Education Blueprint and, there was even the Rukun Negara (surprise! surprise!). There is even an inspiring mural entitled “MalaysiaKu”.

What is sorely missing, however, is the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan (FPK). It was no where to be seen whereas this is what schools are supposed to instil and live by – the very basis of nation-building and national aspirations as detailed by Wawasan 2020 (which was also absent). My suspicion is that a good majority are oblivious to what the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan is. So what?

Not much except that the FPK was ahead of its time by more than 30 years. It even preceded Unesco’s four Pillars of Learning by a decade. We had a gem in our hands but did not do much about it. Worse, we are not in tune with the depth of its meaning relative to the global agenda. So we keep on looking at what others have and try hard to emulate them disregarding our own context, values and of course FPK (and W2020) – even long after Unesco had released its own version that mirrors closely that of the FPK.

Succinctly, we missed an opportunity to give a whole generation an education far superior, intentionally or otherwise. And we are now paying a high price for it as the neoliberal agenda seeps in deeper and deeper – STEM and 4th Industrial Revolution (to name the two latest “dehumanising” craze) making our education system WEIRD. That is, westernised (neoliberal); economic-centric; industry-led; reputation-obsessed; last but not least, dehumanising (see MyView Jan 17).

We have lost the proverbial pen to the sword, and the onslaught is not difficult to see and experience. This must be urgently attended to at all cost.

When is this better to do if not during the auspicious day of Hari Guru. Aided by FPK, teachers are that reservoir where the “pen” derives its vital forces to be mightier than the sword. If by marking “X” against a symbol can cleanse an entire nation; why not its education system. Provided we are equally determined to put an “X” against the “real” meaning and purpose of education as inspired by the Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan to create an alliance of hope for a “new” Malaysia. Unless this is done in earnest it is inconceivable to chart a course based on an “archaic” 19th century worldview. The time to do so is now!

We wish all teachers Selamat Hari Guru 2018. Education can be the new fountainhead of hope for Malaysia.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com