30 June 2010

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 June 23, 2010
Mere catchwords are just not enough

A slogan will remain just that if it is not translated into action.

WITH 1Malaysia the catchword these days, everyone is falling over themselves trying to insert the numeral “1” into their slogan or motto, as if they’d never seen it before. But we are after all a nation of small imaginations, so new catchy slogans are immediately catching.

(However, can someone shoot whoever invented that nonsensical greeting “Salam Satu Malaysia”? That, like the hand-on-the-heart bow of hotel doormen, should be relegated to the wastebin of artificial culture).

But we all know that for all the banners, ads and promos in the world, a slogan remains just that if it is not translated into action. I won’t repeat the many different ways in which the intention of 1Malaysia is undermined.

Suffice to say, that as long as there are people running things who at heart don’t believe in the concept, unity is not going to happen.

One of the most debated issues in our country is of course education. Much of our so-called disunity has been attributed to the fact that our kids now go to different schools.

Basically, the well-to-do go to private schools while everyone else goes to national schools. Kids are further separated into different schools by language, and into Islamic schools.

I agree that having our children in different schools may do plenty for a diverse educational landscape but does nothing for unity. Kids are growing up generally not meeting kids from either a different community or class.

National schools have become largely Malay, Chinese schools largely Chinese and Tamil schools for Indians. I say largely because there are small pockets of “nons” within these schools.

That is mainly the effect of standards. Most people have issues with the standard of education in national schools. So those who can afford it abandon them for the higher standards of expensive private schools. Some, including non-Chinese, go off to Chinese schools known for their discipline. At heart, parents want the best for their children and so will choose the best schools that they can afford. Parental choice must always be respected, though not all parents have the luxury of choice.

On the other hand, there are people who believe that kids must go to the same school and get the same education in order for there to be unity. On the face of it, there is some merit to that argument but it needs to go beyond the superficial.

Recently there was some talk about re-introducing Pupil’s Own Language to national schools. That’s great but why call it POL? Why not make all languages (including Arabic) available to any child who wants it?

If unity is postulated on having diverse communities in one school, we need to take a hard look at what is happening to the non-Malay kids who remain in national schools.

Parents often report that teachers separate kids according to race in many activities, even classes. This is not limited to religious and moral education classes.

In some schools, kids are segregated by race for every subject. One wonders where they get the teachers to teach two parallel programmes in one school.

More importantly, textbooks need to be reviewed for bias towards certain communities and gender.

Just like filmmaking rules laid down by the Censorship Board, school textbooks must always portray Malays as good while others can play all other roles. If we complain about Western media bias towards Muslims, forever portraying them as terrorists, then we can’t do the same for others in either our media or our schoolbooks.

In fact, such stereotypes in our schoolbooks are far more dangerous because children imbibe them at a young impressionable age.

Then there are teachers who will only provide extra classes for kids of a certain race, rather than all those who are floundering. Or segregate kids for sports according to their race. If only Malays can play football, Chinese play basketball and Indians hockey, what happens to the uniting power of sports?

If we are to institute a mantra in our schools, then it should be that diversity and respect are good things. Many people translate 1Malaysia at its most superficial; as long as three races (and nobody else) are represented, we are one. But the three can’t mix with one another. What is this but apartheid, the very antithesis of unity?

We need leadership that clearly says that there shall be no segregation by race or religion in our schools. School heads or teachers who do this must be reprimanded and punished.

But ultimately the best way to get everyone to go to the same school is to make the national schools the best, both academically and socially.

And maybe the slogan is better put as “We Are One” with the emphasis on “we”.

Funny that nobody mentions the mono-religious and mono-community Islamic schools in this context.

12 June 2010

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 June 9, 2010
Numbers can be so meaningless

Numbers give us information, but at the same time they can also mask issues. Seeing beyond the figures requires sharp analytical skills.

IN THESE days of KPIs, everyone has become “results-oriented”. But while “results” are being pulled in, we have to wonder what “results” we actually want and need.

Many of us who work in NGOs have found that the greatest frustration when we work with the Government is in the definition of “results”. For the Government, it is almost always about numbers. How many people underwent a programme, or attended a course or did this or that.

But often we find that numbers actually mean little. As an example, we are very proud of the fact that most of our people have access to schooling. We take that as proof that our citizens therefore have a high level of literacy.

But there are several problems with this simple conclusion. Firstly, is it true that every one of our citizens has access to schooling? And secondly, of the ones who do get to go to school (and manage to stay in school for 12 years), what sort of schooling are they getting? What exactly do we mean by literacy? Is it the ability to read a bus schedule or more than that?

In other words, while we may do well quantitatively, the real question is how are we doing qualitatively?

To be able to see how well anyone is doing in terms of quality requires analytical skills. This is often a capacity we find lacking among bureaucrats, and which causes not only frustration but also friction with NGOs working on many social issues.

We know that numbers are not everything, yet our counterparts in the Government are often reluctant to look beyond them.

For instance, it was no surprise to me that Zainah Anwar’s article (“Nothing divine in child marriage” – Sunday Star, June 6) picked up on a fact that bureaucrats don’t seem to have noticed, that there are a lot more child marriages, especially among girls, than we thought.

This came from a set of data meant only to register those who take HIV tests before marriage. But for those of us used to scrutinising data with a more sensitive eye, the ages of those getting married leapt out.

Similarly, when one reads newspaper reports about children being abused, what I have noticed most is how young the parents invariably are. This then begs the question: are these parents simply too young to cope with parenthood?

Which then leads to another question regarding why they married young. Was it because of an accidental pregnancy, due to lack of knowledge of the consequences of unprotected sex? Was it to legitimise sex? Once we embark on the trail of questions, we unearth a lot more information. And we need information to solve problems.

While numbers give us information, at the same time they can also mask issues. It takes a mind trained to be more curious to unearth these. And that is perhaps the problem; that among policy makers and decision makers, the training is lacking.

Training for analytical skills doesn’t have to be formal, although it helps. Sometimes it is just a matter of talking to people who have the skills. But that means accepting that there are people more knowledgeable than us, and being humble enough to ask them for it.

Recently, a very high-level civil servant bemoaned the fact that our diplomats are now too shy to socialise with people when they are on foreign posting. Thus they are unable to obtain information that would be beneficial to the country, rendering themselves useless.

I don’t think it is a problem that lies only with the Foreign Service but permeates many different ministries.

I have been on innumerable conferences abroad where I have found government delegations unwilling to use the opportunity to meet as many people as possible or sometimes to even attend sessions where they might gain new knowledge.

Occasionally, I have had to introduce high-ranking officials to their counterparts but rarely have I seen any productive interaction between them. Perhaps diplomatic niceties intrude but if one is always on the defensive, how does one have a meaningful conversation?

Indeed, two major problems beset many of our officials. One is the lack of capacity for analysing problems at any level of quality.

And second is the defensiveness manifested often by that great Malaysian particularism – “we are Malaysian, we are different”.

That shuts up all conversation. And, I might add, leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the other person.

It is not always the officers’ fault. When one is asked to always toe the line, or only promote ideologically driven policies, then why go the extra mile to find out more in case the facts negate the policies? Besides, that means more work.

But if we keep this up, be prepared to endlessly bemoan our social problems.