20 November 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday November 19, 2008
Open the minds of the young

For there to be an intellectual renaissance at university level, we must have students whose minds have been primed from young to be open to new ideas.

YEARS ago when my daughter was getting her UPSR results, I waited at home chewing my nails. She had refused to let me accompany her to school for the results so I had to wait, hardly able to breathe, at home.

Luckily she had a happy score to give me and we all celebrated afterwards.

As I scanned photos of anxious parents waiting, I recall that time and sympathise. No matter what anyone says about how standards are slipping, you still worry for your children and want them to successfully get over this hurdle.

It is only when you do not have children going through this process, that you begin to look at our exam-oriented education system with a more dispassionate eye.

We groan and moan about how our kids are only learning to pass exams and nothing else, yet every year we exult in the numbers of As our kids get.

Each exam cycle, we reinforce the importance of As even while we complain about how our children are automatons who are unable to think creatively or apply whatever they learnt.

The other week our Deputy Prime Minister called for “an intellectual renaissance to open up and liberate the minds of students”, stating that this should start in universities.

While I agree that we should certainly have such a renaissance, surely starting at university level is just way too late.

How do you undo twelve years of robotic learning and the total suppression of curiosity and enquiry?

For there to be an intellectual renaissance at university level, you must have students whose minds have been primed from young to be open to new ideas.

Yet in both primary and secondary school, children are generally not encouraged to ask too many questions or to use their own initiative to find answers that they need.

The sole purpose of school is to get through the syllabus and to be ready for exams. How do you have an intellectual renaissance (which means “rebirth”) when you have not given birth to it, nor nurtured it in the first place?

We complain about the quality of graduates that our universities are producing and how unemployable they are. But did this unemployability start in university or even sooner?

If you come to university without the necessary skills to cope with whatever “intellectual” acumen you are supposed to pick up there, can three years bring you up to speed?

Last August, I had the opportunity to visit a wonderful project called the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Set up to provide tertiary education to young women from poor families around Asia, the AUW aims to produce women leaders who will go back and become assets to their own countries.

New students do not go straight to university courses. Instead they begin at the Access Academy where they are taught four subjects; English, Mathematics, Computer skills and Critical Thinking.

When I met them, the first batch of students had been there only four months. But they spoke excellent English and were able to give highly sophisticated presentations using computer and video­making skills.

They could articulate what they wanted for their own futures. The Cambodian girls, for instance, were envisioning what they themselves might do for their country were they to take over the helms of government.

These girls came from even less-advantaged backgrounds than many of our own back home. Yet their confidence was impressive.

One student even wrote to me to correct something I had written afterwards. You just know that these girls are going to become something one day.

So why can’t we do the same thing? Why can’t we spend time and money to prepare our students for that intellectual “renaissance” by teaching them what they really need? Critical thinking particularly is something they could all use.

Of course for them to be able to use their skills effectively at university, you need university environments that are open, liberated and conducive to debate and discussion. Otherwise university is simply an extension of school. And we’ve seen what that produces.

As the AUW has shown, English is an important skill that every potential leader needs. I am heartened to see that most UPSR students answered their Maths and Science papers in English. Hopefully, that would discourage any move to reverse the policy.

Indeed it should be reason to extend the policy to include other subjects or at least to have innovative programmes to improve English proficiency.

All parents want their children to have a good education. I doubt any parent would be selfish enough to seriously disadvantage their child for merely political reasons.

If that happens, I fear the day when students graduating from a new university in Bangladesh would be more employable than any from ours.

05 November 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday November 5, 2008
Energised and empowered

Even if we don’t have all the religious knowledge, we still have a conscience. And it tells what is right and what is wrong.

EARLIER this year I attended a workshop by two female Indonesian Islamic scholars. It is rare that I would leave such a workshop feeling good but this one left me feeling energised and empowered.

These two women undoubtedly had all the religious educational credentials. They knew their Quran and hadiths thoroughly.

But what was different was that they were able to apply their knowledge to real-life situations and were able to see how misinterpretations can lead to injustices, the very opposite of what Islam intends.

In the course of the workshop, they were asked about the frequent criticism thrown at people like me who are critical of religious scholars who pronounce unjust edicts. Apparently, I am not allowed to criticize because I never studied at a religious institution, am female and don’t cover my head.

The two women scholars had a very simple answer to that: even if we don’t have all the knowledge, we still have a conscience. So if something feels wrong, it probably is.

We are all given a conscience which acts like an internal compass, which tells us what is right and what is wrong. Regardless of what religion we profess, our conscience tells us the same things. This is why nobody can say that killing is ever right, for instance.

Thus, when certain people claim that women hold a lesser position in the eyes of God, you know in your heart that that cannot be right.

Similarly, with other claims that just don’t sit right in your conscience, the ones that ensure that certain people are discriminated against, or are just unfair; you know that they cannot possibly be right in a religion that places justice and equality front and centre.

Of late, there have been several religious issues that have been greeted with howls of protest by people of conscience. Yet there are others who say that such pronouncements must never be questioned because ‘highly intelligent and expert’ people make them.

How one knows this is questionable, since the process of passing fatwas is hardly transparent.

When questioned why there are no fatwas on corruption and other contemporary blights on society, the response is that these things are in the Quran and ‘everyone’ already knows they are haram. If that were so, then why is it that corruption is so rampant?

I accept that fatwas are to clarify things that are unclear. But that unclear nature means that it is open to interpretation that, in turn, is subject to human fallibility.

Contemporary issues that did not exist in the time of Prophet Mohamed are not mentioned in the Quran. Therefore, modern religious scholars have to transpose Quranic guidance onto these issues, a process that is fraught with danger, not least because contemporary issues are often complicated and require sophisticated research.

You have to wonder about priorities, however. What endangers a society more; corrupt citizens and leaders or yoga practitioners and females who dress in a masculine fashion?

Yet there are so many of us who are unwilling to trust our own conscience and would prefer to trust the robed and the turbaned to make rulings on things which we should be able to judge on our own.

We do have choices, and we make our choices by listening to our conscience. Yet there are so many who say that we should not question any such rulings, even when our conscience tells us that they cannot be just.

We never seem to wonder why is it there are no positive fatwas at all, those that tell us that we can do something rather than forbidding us. It does not take much thought to simply forbid every contemporary challenge; it takes much more intelligence to encourage people to move forward and face them by themselves.

Sometimes it seems that we believe ourselves to be babies who constantly need our hands to be held so that we don’t fall. Yet it is when we fall that we learn how to stabilise ourselves and learn to walk properly.

At the moment, we can hardly breathe for fear of finding ourselves on the path to hell. What a great atmosphere to grow in.

If we need fatwas to clarify, then perhaps we should have the National Fatwa Council make a ruling on the following: And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice. (Surah An-Nisa 4:3)