Be consistent please!

Written by Mabel | Letters to the Editor | Friday, February 27th, 2009
Received 1 Comment » | View blog reactions

Sometime in the 80s, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Muhammed, then-Minister of Education made a decision to switch the medium of instruction in Malaysian schools from English to Malay. This was one of the few policies he changed – among others include introducing a new examination system, board and so forth.

Fast forward to the new millennium. In 2003, the Ministry of Education announced that Math and Science would be taught in English to ensure that Malaysians would not be “left behind” in a world that was becoming borderless.

Now, the latest story is that the Government wants to switch back to Malay for a number of reasons that I wouldn’t even comment on lest I risk sounding…”insulting”. State assemblyman Dr Khalil Idham Lim Abdullah yesterday had this to say about why we should make the switch AGAIN.

“The teachers themselves have a poor command of English. How do we expect them to teach their students?” he asked in his speech after a briefing on the subject at the state PAS headquarters in Jalan Air Kuning on Tuesday.

Some teachers, he said, “have simply gone crazy” because of this, likening the matter to the blind leading the blind. He claimed the minimum passing mark for both subjects were lowered to ensure that only a rosy picture was painted of the move.

His remark drew the attention of a reader who had much to say about it but at least the man was more polite than I was.

I doubt this will see print but I’m still happy I got it out of my system…

In reference to the issue of the possible switch from Malay to English for Maths & Science as well as this article “Teachers going mad teaching subjects in English, claims rep” published today, I would like to share my thoughts on this matter. I must first apologise for a long letter but I feel too passionate to just say a few words.

For me, the problem is not so much what language these subjects should be taught in but that the Ministry sticks to their decision once it is made. Changing every so often is not advisable and in fact, does more harm than good to our children and future generation. We have seen what these changes have done to the teaching staff who started off learning the subject in Malay only to end up teaching it in English. Remember the 80s when we switched from English to Malay? Well, we are reaping the results now.

This is a generation that grew up learning everything entirely in Malay, like myself and sadly, a generation that has gone through an education system that places emphasis in a local, regional language rather than an internationally used language. Please allow me to share an interesting story that I was privy to when discussing this decision with my husband’s uncle who works with the French Education Ministry.

Being a former colony of France, Algeria started off their education system entirely in French which is normal after 130 years of colonization. There are widely available materials in French and so the students did just fine. Then one day, the government decided to switched to Arabic and immediately, there was a decrease in the scores, especially in the field of maths and science. One of the reasons was because there were limited materials in Arabic for science and maths and the available materials were outdated in some aspects. Also the teachers were not all that proficient in Arabic compared to French. Does their situation sound familiar?

A remark my uncle-in-law made in reference to all this switching to and fro was this – “a country that keeps changing the language of its education’s medium of instruction is one that will never move forward”.

Each decision we made as a society and nation has an impact on our young people and ultimately our future as a nation. We don’t need studies and surveys to tell us that young Malaysians are no longer proficient in English as compared to our neighbour, Singapore. When Lee Kuen Yew made the decision to stick to a former colony’s language (English) as a medium of instruction, it was because he had the foresight to see that he needed a pool of labour that could communicate efficiently and effectively with foreign investors. Hence why he made sure that English for the medium of instruction AND stuck to it. As a result, people overseas automatically assume that if you can speak English and you’re from South East Asia, you must be Singaporean. Everywhere I go be it Asia or Europe or Australiasia, people especially Europeans and Americans are surprised that I speak English well, especially more so when they discover that I am a Malaysian.

To be frank, Malay is a language that is little known outside of the country, let alone the region, and only spoken by 26 plus million people. There is minimal worldwide exposure and precious little reference materials. You cannot compare this with another Asian language like Mandarin when the language is spoken by 1.3 billion people, and enjoys worldwide exposure because of migration, media exposure and cultural movements. Even then, you find many Chinese nationals going for English language classes. Why? Because the Chinese government sees the importance of being multilingual and not just being able to speak but being fluent in an international language like English.

Look at it this way – if a foreigner were to come to Malaysia, they can get away with speaking just English when buying things or ordering food. However if you go to overseas countries, can you get away with speaking just Malay? I doubt it.

I am saying all this NOT because I am unpatriotic. On the contrary, I am saying this because I love this country too much to put up with such fickle-mindedness being displayed by our policy makers!!! This is the reality of the world that we live in. We either move with the times or we get left behind. Also, patriotism cannot be measured in what language you learn in or speak in. It is an emotional state which only you can know. Other people have little right to say that you are unpatriotic just because you speak a non-national language fluently.

Take the French. Many people say that the French are proud people because they only speak French BUT lets ruminate a little about this – while it’s true that in France, everything is in French, French children HAVE to learn at least two languages in school (Spanish, German, Italian or English). At work, French companies look for people who are bilingual or multilingual. When it comes to interacting with non-French people, French people don’t mind speaking in another language – if the need arises. I know of so many French (hubby’s friends, relatives, their friends and relatives) who speak beautiful English (if not sometimes broken) to me without me even asking. It is not because they are unpatriotic but because it is practical. Even the French themselves struggle with French grammar and vocabulary because it’s hard (trust me, I know what I’m saying) so you can’t say that it’s because they speak in other languages or learn other languages. The language itself IS hard and takes a lifetime of learning to perfect.

BUT at least their medium of instruction is consistent – French in schools throughout their schooling years and so forth. None of this “I don’t like French so lets teach everything in English” one day and the opposite another day. Really, what is the use of learning just ONE language so well when you can’t even use it outside of Malaysia or Indonesia? Also, if “old” countries like France, China, Japan, Britain and so forth have been sticking to one language of medium of instruction for centuries, don’t you think that there must be something right about what they are doing?

So please, don’t be fickle-minded. It’s not just policy that you’re playing with. It’s the future and the lives of our children that you risk.

Mabel TEOH
Neuchatel, Switzerland

UPDATE: With regards to the situation in Algeria, the current update is that Algerian schools are now introducing French into the school curriculum around the time children start learning Arabic. Also, please refer to these reports for an insight into the relationship between the language of instruction and quality of education.

Need to change attitudes towards breastfeeding

Written by Mabel | Letters to the Editor | Thursday, February 5th, 2009
Received 4 Comments » | View blog reactions

On a whim, I thought I would send off this letter. I felt really disgusted with the experiences these ladies had to go through just to care for their babies. What’s worse is that Malaysian female politicians could care less about important matters like this. Instead, they choose to concentrate on…well, I have no idea because it doesn’t seem like any of them care enough about women and family matters to even say something about it!

I would have written more but I figured that this was enough…

Dear Editor,

I thought I would share some experiences and thoughts that I was privy to when discussing about the experiences of breastfeeding working mothers. These ladies are heeding the advice of doctors and of the government by breastfeeding their babies. To them, every drop of breastmilk is precious and important for the health and well-being of their children. However, many of them, though supported by doctors and the government, are not supported by parts of society, namely companies and businesses as well as members of the public.

One lady mentioned that she was told off by the management of her company for wanting to express breastmilk. Their words were that they did not pay her to express breastmilk at the office. Other ladies were told that they would be disturbing their colleagues. Another was told that the company policy did not allow for breaks for breastfeeding because it was unproductive. I find the attitude taken by these companies to be shameful, to say the least!

These are unfounded excuses and I ought to know because I have worked with colleagues who express breastmilk at the office for over a year. I even sat next to one! She would express breastmilk under her table, away from prying eyes for 10 to 15 minutes and at four hour intervals, which amounts up to three times maximum through her working hours. Those of us who sat around her or next to her had no idea that she was expressing milk. In fact, there was an incident where one of us thought she had gone to the toilet when a voice called out from under her table stating that she was there doing what we all knew she was doing. Our male colleagues have no problem with this. In fact, they were supportive of her wanting to breastfeed her baby despite working full-time.

When a breastfeeding mother travels out of the comfort of her home to a shopping mall (for example), there are little to no public amenities catering to breastfeeding. So some women resort to having to breastfeed in public in front of people. Now, there is nothing wrong with suckling a hungry baby but unfortunately, the Malaysian public stare at these women and some even berate these ladies for their actions. A lot of breastfeeding mothers I know remark that they feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public because people stare and talk.

What is wrong with something that is natural, good AND promoted by the government? All of us have suckled from our mothers’ breasts before so why do we find it so offensive when a woman wants to suckle her baby? At least half the population has breasts and the other half has seen them, so why do we find it offensive when a woman bares part of her breast, and not even her entire breast, for her baby? In fact, some even cover up their chest while breastfeeding in public, yet people still find it offensive.

In Europe, NO ONE stares at a woman when she breastfeeds in public. Toilets in malls and public places are well equipped for breastfeeding mothers. Companies allow women to express breastmilk. Why? Because it is ridiculous to go against something that is sanctioned and promoted by the government to be good for children.

Apparently, this is not the case in Malaysia. Our government says one thing but businesses and the people do the opposite. Can our female politicians please do something about this considering that most of them are mothers as well?

Mabel TEOH
Neuchatel, Switzerland

UPDATE: This letter (edited of course) was published on Sunday, 8 February…a first for me (on Sunday) and my longest…so far. XD

Letter to the Editor, The Star, 08.02.2009

Spending holidays wisely…

Written by Mabel | Letters to the Editor | Friday, January 9th, 2009
Received 2 Comments » | View blog reactions

Reading Liong Kam Chong’s letter on school breaks the other day made me a little annoyed. He talks about how long school breaks can lead to disciplinary problems, substitution classes, the need for outside tuition and then ends up by saying that Malaysian children need more studying time!!! An excerpt from his letter reads

But, too many of these breaks will disrupt the study atmosphere and learning momentum in schools.

As it is, the school calendar already prescribes two major term breaks and two minor mid-term breaks.

If we are to add the two festive breaks mentioned above, we would have six school breaks in one school year for the normal, non-boarding schools in towns and in the suburbs. And this has not even taken into count other shorter breaks that the schools have during the school terms.

Saturday replacement classes are also a point of contention.

More often than not, schools use these Saturdays for educational activities rather than actual teaching and learning classes.

Even if normal lessons are scheduled, they are done in shortened periods or in reduced times. Saturdays are faithfully kept as half-days and this is particularly true for schools that need to replace both their morning and afternoon sessions on the same Saturday.

Moreover, teachers and students tend to switch-off mentally and physically on Saturdays. Consciously or unconsciously, we have been conditioned for a five-day working week.

Some school bus drivers are not running those days.

As such, Saturday schools always record a high absenteeism rate.

Another negative effect of official long breaks is that the not-so-disciplined students – and there are many of them – tend to take “unofficial” breaks.

If a public holiday falls on Thursday, these students will not go to school on Friday.

If the public holiday is on a Tuesday, they may not appear on Monday.

I believe this students’ behaviour and attitude have directly or indirectly contributed to the woes of disciplinary problems in schools.

Too many long school breaks may also force teachers to engage in a fast-track approach to finish their subject syllabus in time for examinations.

This is bad for the average students and may also explain partly the need for outside tuitions for many students.

It’s time that the Education Ministry and school authorities seriously rethink the need to have extended festive holidays for normal, non-residential schools in towns and in the suburbs.

Our children need more learning time in school!

I’m sorry, Liong, but I feel that the issue will not be solved by jailing children in schools – to be honest, when it comes to holidays, Malaysians don’t have it as bad as the Europeans. They get anywhere from a month to two months’ break during summer and then two to three weeks for Christmas & New Year. This excludes other public holidays and so forth. In total, that already has exceed the six weeks that Liong feels is too much.

Yet, do people here complain that the holidays are too long? No. In fact, people over here use the holiday period to do things together as a family. I remember Nil’s uncle who works with the Ministry of Education telling me that France is a social country, one that values the importance of spending time with family.

Personally, I feel that Malaysian children are already under too much pressure from the constant studying which can make A LOT resent the education process and hate learning. Learning is lifelong and can take place even during holidays. It’s just up to parents to figure out how to do all those things. It’s not very hard.

Instead of taking your child to the movies or the shopping mall, how about an educational trip to the musuem or science gallery?

Instead of taking pictures of a holiday, why not incorporate some cultural education in your trips around Malaysia, like visiting historical or cultural landmarks?

Instead of sitting around watching TV in the evenings, why not buy some education games like Scrabble and such and play with your children?

Bonding time is also a time of education – children can learn a lot from their parents’ wisdom and experience of life. Being closer to one’s child allows for that to happen easier and easily. I firmly believe that until today, I learnt the most from my parents simply because I am close to them…

Anyway, here is a snapshot of my letter to the editor as a rebuttal to Liong’s (you can click on it for a bigger, readable version)…

Putting holidays to good use, The Star Newspaper, Malaysia dated 8 January 2009

Go to jail, Ahmad!

Written by Mabel | Letters to the Editor | Friday, September 5th, 2008
Received 3 Comments » | View blog reactions

Apparently, after living in Malaysia for the past seven generations, I’m still seen as a pendatang or immigrant.

UMNO Bukit Bendera division chief Datuk Ismail Ahmad was quoted by the media a few days ago to have called Malaysian Chinese population as pendatang (immigrants) and was also reported to have said that “as the Chinese were only immigrants it was impossible to achieve equal rights among races” during a ceramah in Permatang Pauh on Aug 25.

People have filed police reports against this man, demanded for public apologies but today, after days of keeping mum, he comes up with a refusal and worse, a lame justification for his shameful words.

“Why should I apologise? I didn’t do anything wrong. Those who do wrong should apologise but I haven’t done anything,” Ahmad said, when met outside his Bayan Baru office Thursday.

More here.

To be honest, an apology from a lowlife like him would be meaningless as it would be done not out of sincerity but force. If anything, what I want from this man is a jail term and a fine. We have put people in jail for less so why not for someone who spouts demeaning and seditious words?

Dear Editor,

Being abroad, news reaches me slightly late and thanks to a friend, I was informed of the recent misgivings of a Datuk Ahmad Ismail. I read your reports on the Bukit Bendera Umno division chief with much disgust and anger. No, I am not ashamed that a man like him spouts ignorance whenever he opens his mouth and why should I be when it is obvious that he has little idea of what made this country and him ultimately.

Studies worldwide have shown that countries and continents like the US, Australia and Europe were built on the backs of immigrants. Without these “strangers” or pendatangs, the local population and economy would have collapsed years ago. Also, antropological studies have shown that not only did the Chinese move to Malaysia, the population which makes up the Malays came from other places to reside in this country that we now call Malaysia. So this is really the case of the pot calling the kettle black. Make no mistake about it – unless Datuk Ahmad Ismail’s ancestors were Orang Asli, he is just another pendatang or immigrant like my ancestors (and myself).

I cannot believe that even after 50 over years of independence, people like him are still allowed to trawl and populate this country without a care in the world! Granted I may not have been in Switzerland for long, only six months but I have never EVER read of anyone telling a citizen who’s ancestors immigrated a long time ago that they do not deserve equal treatment because they were still being considered as immigrants despite the real fact that they hold a Swiss passport. In fact, even people like myself who are not citizens are warmly welcomed, not being told that we don’t deserve any equal rights.

During the Olympics ceremony in China, does the good Datuk think that the Chinese people in Malaysia were rooting for China? In fact, I got angry at people who think that I should. I should and have been rooting for Malaysia, a place my family has called home for the past seven generations!

I believe that the time for public apologies are long over – more often than not, these public apologies come out half-hearted at best and usually forced. Why demand a public apology from someone who absolutely isn’t repentful or doesn’t see the error of his ways? Why excuse such behaviour and apologize on his behalf? If we can come down hard on criminals, what makes the crime of racism any less of an offence that corrected only by an apology? Like murder, words, when uttered, will never and can never be taken back. I feel that we should punish people who make racist or sexist remarks with a fine. Too long have we taken these offences lightly, resulting in more and more cropping up every year with the perpetrators thinking “Aiya, why worry? I’ll just apologise and people will forget about it after a while.”

Sorry, Datuk but this Malaysian isn’t about to forget the travesty that you’ve just committed. Beyond an public apology, I demand that the authorities fine and jail him for his disgusting words!

Mabel TEOH

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Sincerely Yours™ is all about honesty and candid thoughts plus a dash of creativity here and there. Expect a little dash of humour and even craziness as the author takes you on a literary journey.

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