Malaysian royalty is surprisingly awesome.

This excerpt comes from Wikipedia but references a Bernama article, which doesn’t seem to be working at the moment:

On July 2008, Regent of Perak Raja Nazrin Shah said that getting a string of As is meaningless if students fail to understand, appreciate and practice good values, and describing that excellent results as mere pakaian luaran (external appearance), there would be uneven development of human capital if students failed to inculcate good morals. “This will lead to society and the country to suffer”. He also said that people with good moral values always hold firm to life principles especially in defending truth and justice. Students should be taught not to lie or rely on leaked examination papers just to obtain higher grades. He noted that while positions and posts could give one power, one would be judged by the people. “There are many people who obtained positions and posts but there are not many who die with a good name.”

I wish school administration officers had his common sense!

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Tony Pua (Malaysian edublogger) arrested, jailed

EDIT: Tony has been released and was able to appear in Parliament today.

Tony Pua, founder of one of the first Malaysian education blogs, Education in Malaysia, as well as a Member of Parliament, has been arrested and jailed following his involvement in an anti-ISA peaceful protest.

It’s not immediately clear whether the arrest was purely due to his involvement in the protest, or whether other factors – such as his blog or his involvement with the Opposition parties – also played a part. After major arrests on bloggers mainly for what they wrote, it’s not entirely surprising if they thought his blog was potentially dangerous.

This does not bode well for anyone. After RPK’s release and the ruling of his arrest as “unlawful”, I figured that it was safe to comment on the Government’s education and youth policies, and was about to analyse some laws related to education and young people. But if Tony Pua – who hasn’t even done anything remotely criminal, and indeed is part of the Government now – could get thrown in jail, what hope does a Lain-Lain (racial “other” or minority) permanent resident have?

Good luck Tony; hopefully justice will prevail and you’ll be free soon.

Interesting changes afoot

So it seems that there are quite a number of interesting changes to the Malaysian education system, following the Ministry of Education’s blueprint:

1. A holistic, less exam-oriented primary school curriculum. I like this idea. The early childhood years are highly formative and children should be given the opportunity to explore all facets of life and learning, instead of already being indoctrinated into exams (well, no one should be indoctrinated into anything period). I like the six focus areas – communication, spiritual values, humanitarianism, ICT & science literacy, physical health, and personal development. My only worry is that a certain type of moral value or belief will be pushed through this curriculum (as has happened in the past) – but if this goes well we would definitely have more well-rounded kids who are able to adapt to life’s challenges creatively.

2. Greater focus on vocational and technical education. Vocational education gets a bad rep in Malaysia – it’s usually seen as the pathway for those who failed. However, there is a lot of value in vocational education, and a lot of skills and knowledge required to survive – mathematics, science, logistics, logic, creativity, and so on. To make this successful, we need to increase awareness and respect for vocational education, and transform it from something undesirable to something worthy of exploration – like the apprenticeships system in Australia.

3. School-based examinations instead of central examinations. This could be interesting. On the one hand, this gives greater freedom and flexibility for schools to develop their own curriculum and testing methods, and experiment with alternative teaching styles. Alternative schools systems (like Waldorf and Sudbury Valley) will also be able to thrive as they don’t have to “teach to the test”. However, some schools may not be able to adjust, or end up pushing a very non-productive method of testing. The Ministry is considering looking at more semester-based assessment and reducing exams, which to me is a good idea – instead of putting all the pressure on one week’s worth of work, let people work at a more gradual pace and relax a bit.

4. Allowing schools to administer the International Baccalaureate exams instead of the SPM. Now this is a VERY interesting development. The IB tests, which are internationally recognised, and also of a higher level than SPM (I believe they are closer to STPM), demand a stronger grasp of knowledge but also a greater sense of creativity and critical thought. This is not an exam you can teach to. Schools that administer IB tests need to adjust their teaching styles to allow for fuller, more holistic learning. Hopefully this will become the impetus for schools to stop worrying about grades, and do what they’re there for – education.

The NST also has a report on a pilot project to test career aptitudes of primary school children. The idea is that they will be tested at Years 5 and 6 to see what career paths suits them. I really DON’T like this plan. The kids are 11 and 12 – they haven’t even completely developed their capabilities yet! How can you push them towards a certain future when they’ve hardly lived their lives? As it is, asking young people to decide their entire lives by 18 is too much – people change and new opportunities come up all the time.

Kids are overtested already. There’s no need to make them decide their future now. Give them some time to experiment and get to know what they like.

The Scholar Ship suspends operations

I am very sorry to hear that The Scholar Ship, a floating university that teaches undergraduate- and graduate-level subjects on a worldwide sea voyage, has shut down due to financial difficulties. I had been accepted into the program and would have travelled on it this year if I was allowed to by my university (international students in Australia are only allowed to go on exchange with their university’s partner institutions).

This reminds me of Up with People‘s shutdown in 2000, also following financial difficulties, and its rebirths in 2003 (as WorldSmart) and 2006 (back as Up with People, but with a more WorldSmart-esque structure) thanks largely in part to new leadership and the strong efforts of UWP’s alumni.

I am heartened to see both would-be students and alumni of the Scholar Ship coming together on Facebook and Ning to find solutions for reviving the program. Semester at Sea, another floating university, is also offering spaces to students that were accepted into The Scholar Ship but whose voyages were cancelled.

It disturbs me to hear that a major reason for The Scholar Ship’s financial troubles was the withdrawal of its biggest sponsor (and provider of the vessel) Royal Caribbean International. Apparently this took The Scholar Ship’s crew by surprise, and so far no explanation was given for their change of mind (they’re still promoting the program online). A program as beneficial as The Scholar Ship should not have to die due to the lack of one sponsor. However, this is a situation I’ve seen in quite a number of Australian non-profits, where one funding body makes the difference between staying up or shutting down.

How will The Scholar Ship fare in this turbulent time? With the current worldwide recessions, are other educational programs also at risk?

Malaysia fares well in UNESCO survey

According to UNESCO, Malaysia provides well for its students:

BANGKOK: The Malaysian education system has done well in terms of facilities provided to students and teachers’ salaries, according to a study carried out in 11 countries by Unesco’s Institute for Statistics. Malaysia scored a high percentage in the availability of electricity, blackboards, sufficient seating, library facilities and computers for students and administrators.

The report, released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation yesterday, showed that educational expenditure per primary school pupil was highest in Chile (US$2,120 or RM6,900), followed by Argentina (US$1,605), Malaysia (US$1,552), Brazil (US$1,159) and Uruguay (US$1,063).

In contrast, expenditure per primary school pupil was less than US$700 in India, Paraguay, Peru and the Philippines.

It’s good to know that Malaysian schools provide a lot for their students. However, I would like to know the following to make more sense of this report:

  • How well-maintained are the resources and facilities? Are students given recent and up-to-date resources, or are they still on highly outdated resources (such as computers running Windows 95)?
  • What percentage of that money is that compared to the rest of the National Budget? How does it compare to national living costs?
  • How effectively is that money utilized? Is the money well-spent?
  • Where in Malaysia, besides the completely rural areas, do you get 18 students for one teacher? Our classrooms were commonly filled with 30-40 people.
  • How effectively are the students learning? Do the resources actually contribute to student education? Are the teachers doing well?

EDIT: It seems that the priorities may be a little misplaced. From Nat Tan quoting Malaysiakini (emphasis Nat’s):

The government has spent a total of RM3.2 billion over the past five years to carry out the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English, Deputy Education Minister Razali Ismail told the Dewan Rakyat today.

Out of the amount, the government paid a whopping RM2.21 billion for the purchase of information and computer technology (ICT) equipments.

The rest of the expenditure went to the payment for educational incentives (RM638 million), teachers’ training (RM317 million) and ICT software (RM2.4 million).

WHOA! But what’s the point of all that money on technology if you don’t train teachers to use it? What about language training – apparently some teachers still revert to Bahasa Malaysia! What’s “educational incentives”? Why does hardware need to be that expensive? What about other non-computing learning tools, books, field trips?

Where’s all that money going through and where does it all come from?

EducateDeviate now part of 9rules

9Rules

I’m proud to announce that EducateDeviate has been accepted into the latest round of 9rules, a well-known and well-respected blog network that features content from all areas and aspects of life.

I’m particularly stoked about being in 9rules as it’s highly sought after and it has strong community aspects. I’m interested in meeting up with other 9rules bloggers, particularly education bloggers, and see how we can work together to develop greater content. I’m also interested in getting assistance in developing EducateDeviate further, from just being a blog to being a full-fledged resource centre.

Another homeschooling/alternative education blog, Just Enough, was also accepted into this round of 9rules. I found her through looking at the accepted websites list and it’s great to have more blogs like ours around – they’re hard to find as it is! The Education community on 9rules is rather sparse at the moment, but hopefully myself and Just Enough will be able to fill it out a bit.

Huzzah! Thank you Scriv, Mike, and Tyme!

School uniforms encourage rape, apparently.

From Marina Mahathir’s blog:

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian group condemned the uniform worn by girls at government schools, saying it encouraged rape and pre-marital sex.

“The white blouse is too transparent for girls and it becomes a source of attraction,” National Islamic Students Association of Malaysia vice-president Munirah Bahari said in a statement.

“It becomes a distraction to men, who are drawn to it, whether or not they like looking at it,” she said, calling for a review of uniform policy so that it did not violate Islamic ideals.

ARGH!

Rape is NOT about clothing! It’s not about transparent cloth! It’s about power and taking advantage of vulnerability!

There’s so many things that could be fixed with the education system and all you can think about is a non-issue?!

I don’t believe it’s Islamic to go off on petty things. If you’re seriously concerned about rape, don’t blame the victim, and don’t go pinning it on irrelevant things. Work on things like safety education, respect, and self-care. Get people to realize that rape is wrong.

School uniforms have nothing to do with it, so stop wasting time.

HOPE: Higher Opportunities for Private Education

Just read on Education in Malaysia about the HOPE Program, where students who weren’t able to obtain places in public universities in Malaysia will be able to apply for a subsidised spot in a network of nine private universities – APIIT, LimKokWing, Segi, Life, Stamford, Putra, Inti, Mantissa, and Nilai.

The HOPE Network will also provide more funding options, such as PTPTN, to assure that students will be able to afford their education.

I like this idea. There are many reasons students get left out from being in public universities (for example, my sister was a top scorer and was very high-achieving anyway, but she couldn’t get into any public uni because she was Lain-Lain and didn’t figure into the quota system) and the cost of private universities can be rather prohibitive. This program offers a happy medium – more options for education at an affordable price.

Of course, potential students must be prepared to do their research on the universities in the network to make sure that they offer what the students need, and that the course is up to par. It can be tempting to take a place because it’s there, after facing rejection, but you still need to be careful – and besides, there’s opportunities everywhere.

Any comments from those about to take up the Program? What do you feel about it?

The Oncologist Fallacy (or Why University Rankings are Unreliable)

This is an argument that I often receive when debating the merit of applying to a university solely based on their prestige or ranking. Ming, sorry, I don’t mean to pick on you, but you’ve articulated the argument very well.

If getting treatment from the best oncologist in the world is within the means for a cancer patient, chances are she will do so.

Besides the obvious, that education is nothing like medicine, there are a few reasons why statements like that don’t stand when it comes to choosing a university, or choosing your educational direction in general.

1. You don’t go to see an oncologist if you’re having problems with your foot, or if you’re feeling fine. Similarly, not every university is suited for everyone. Harvard is often the standard for “top university”, but you wouldn’t be happy at Harvard if you prefer smaller classrooms and you’re very artistic and rather hippie-ish. As far as I know, Harvard doesn’t have a great creative arts/creative industries faculty. To use a statement now stressed by many college counselors and university faculty everywhere, university is a MATCH, not a TROPHY. You should be aiming for the school that best matches your needs, ideals, and personality – even if it turns out to be an obscure school in the middle of nowhere.

2. There isn’t a single “best oncologist”; no one doctor holds the monopoly on quality. Just because XYZ Doctor managed to hold the top post, doesn’t mean all the other doctors below him are crap. Similarly, just because XYZ University did not rate very high on the rankings, does not mean they’re terrible and are not worth a look. There are many brilliant universities (and doctors) out there, particularly in regions like Western Europe, Scandinavia, Africa, South America, New Zealand/rest of Oceania, and other places that just don’t figure into traditional ranks. It is really stupid to think that only a handful of universities are able to provide a top-notch learning environment.

3. Best according to who? Rankings, despite looking objective, are actually rather subjective – it all depends on how the ranking body decides to calculate their criteria. How would you put into numbers something like “satisfaction of student body” or “best match for your needs”? The U.S. News, which is generally the “gold standard” for US university rankings, have come under fire for putting in false information for colleges that refuse to participate in the rankings. So are the rankings necessarily reliable? Not when you have a growing backlash of colleges against it. It’s not just America either; there has been criticism over the UK’s Times Higher Education List, as well as Canada’s Maclean’s list.

4. How honest is the oncologist? It’s not just the rankings body that messes up numbers; some universities are also cheating at the game. There is a major lack of transparency on both sides about how the numbers are calculated and calibrated. There is no way for us to know that the numbers are at all accurate or representative, so why rely on them as your main – or only – source of information. It would be far better to do more research on each university individually, getting information straight from the source, and making up your own minds based on your own needs.

5. Everything happens in context. You may have found the best oncologist, but what if they live too far away? Or they’re booked up for months? Or if they’re too expensive for your budget? Similarly, there are many other considerations to make when choosing a university. Where are they located – is it an atmosphere you enjoy, is the weather good, can you afford to live there? How about the student body – how homogenized (or not) are they? Is it small or big? Are the classes heavy on theory, or are they more practical? Does the school expect you to do an internship or semester abroad as part of the course? Does one course differ from another in style? There are many aspects that make up the learning process of a university, and are things that aren’t necessarily reflected well in rankings.

6. Can you afford it? Another argument that is usually made for going to a “top university” is that they supposedly give you a lot of funding, so you can afford to go. Never mind their extreme selectiveness; it is extremely difficult to get funding for studies, particularly if you’re an international student. In many countries, international students are expected to pay full-fee, and scholarships are highly limited. FAFSA, which is the US Government’s way of working out financial aid, is not applicable to international students. The world of financial aid is mysterious and complex, especially if you’re a “high-ranking” university – funding resources are limited and not all of them can afford to (or want to) support students that can’t pay full fee. Interestingly, there are a growing number of smaller-scale universities that are open and willing to give full financial support – they are often more attuned to student welfare (treating the students as individuals with needs and desires) and don’t have to deal with too much internal competition.

Looking for a good university or college? Don’t put too much stock on ratings. Do your own research, and you’re more likely to find the choice that’s best for you – and save a lot of money, time, effort, and heartache.

Relevant Reading:

Edublogger Tony Pua now Member of Parliament

Tony Pua, co-writer of top Malaysian education blog Education in Malaysia, won his seat in PJ Utara in Malaysia’s recent elections, and is now a Member of Parliament. He is one of a handful of Malaysian bloggers that are now officially involved in politics.

This will be interesting. I knew about Tony’s nomination, but I didn’t think he’d win mainly because he’s under DAP and the Opposition hardly wins in Malaysian elections. However, this year’s elections have been surprisingly good for the Opposition (now not Opposition? haha), and Tony’s one of the beneficiaries of that good fortune. Another factor against him was that he didn’t have any political experience – and who expects a blogger to get into Parliament? Now we have 2 in federal and 2 in state assembly! Crazy!

Tony and I have been acquainted due to our similar blogs, and we’re often crossposting from each other. We sometimes have diametrically opposing views on education (for example, Tony’s big on determining the value of universities by their rankings; I think rankings are bunk) but we still respect and quite like each other.

Hopefully Tony will be able to introduce some changes to the Malaysian education system, making it more open and varied and supportive of students. Will Tony be Minister of Education? I doubt it (wouldn’t all the Ministers have to be from BN since they are the majority?) but I’d definitely like to see it happen – at least he knows what he’s doing!

Good luck Tony and all the best!

Nominees for Young Entrepreneur eBook are up!

Daniel and I have shortlisted the nominees of our Young Entrepreneur eBook project and they are now up for voting.

Click on this link to vote for your favourite young entrepreneur here now!

Malaysian can’t get Filipino stepson into school

From The Star:

I AM a Malaysian citizen who has taken a Filipino wife four years ago. Since then, I have also been raising her son from a previous liaison as my own. 

But my stepson, who is now seven-years-old, is unable to enrol in a government school to begin his Primary One education. The Education Ministry has denied him permission to study in a government school although the school in question had already accepted him in principle.  

The reason given for the rejection was because my wife was stated to be “single” in our marriage certificate and it is impossible, in the eyes of the ministry, that my wife could have kids before our marriage.

Ah, Government. You and your strange ways of determining citizenship and school eligibility. And you say you want to arrest parents who don’t send their children to school?

Gerald, I suggest homeschooling.

Edgeware’s Do Well Conference – 80% Discount – Two Spots Left!

If you’re a social entrepreneur, activist, thinker, idealist, young achiever, or anyone else in between, come by to Brisbane this weekend for Edgeware’s Do Well conference!

In Do Well, you will be able to:

  • Hear from other entrepreneurs on how they make their ventures work
  • Share your stories and ideas on your projects
  • Work together on practical hands-on workshops to boost creativity and energy
  • Share your expertise with eager learners
  • Network with people from varying industries
  • And much more!

Do Well will take place from Friday 22nd February to Sunday 24th February, at the Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre in New Farm.

Tickets usually go for $500, but as part of a special “Little Legends” offer (especially made for me!) you can gain entry for just $100 – an 80% discount! I have TWO spots left for this discount, so quickly drop me an email at tiara.shafiq@gmail.com for further instructions.

I’ll also be presenting on Saturday afternoon, so it’ll be great to see some of you there.

Thanks and be quick!

World Youth Congress 2008 – Need Help

I’ve been accepted as one of 600 delegates (out of 5000 applications) for the World Youth Congress 2008 in Quebec, Canada. Here’s my invitation letter (I edited out my address and passport number for privacy). I was selected in the Young Journalist category based on

To go to this congress, I need to get a plane ticket to Quebec, as well as CDN$300, which covers accommodation, living costs, the conference itself, etc. It’s actually a pretty good deal as far as conferences go – the UN Youth Assembly I went to last August cost me over $2000 just for the conference package (the airfare was about the same) and it wasn’t quite worth the money. I’ve also been in touch with some of the other delegates, and they’re pretty excited about going too. It would be a marvellous opportunity if I could go.

However, I am pretty busy trying to fundraise for the KaosPilots, and I don’t really want to spend more energy and time trying to add this into the mix. The KaosPilots are already a big load on my resources. My needs for the World Youth Congress are relatively smaller – a visa, CDN$300, a plane ticket. But they still cost more money than I have.

Can you help?

I’m not willing to collect donations this time – last time I tried this, I failed spectacularly. I did send what I collected to UNICEF Malaysia via Western Union, but I have no idea if they got it or not. However, if you can sponsor me a plane ticket to Quebec – whether through frequent flyer miles, actual purchase of the ticket, or some other means – I would be more than grateful. It’d also be great if you knew anyone working in the airline industry (or if you work in an airline!) that could help me.

Thanks!

AYA Dream Malaysia Awards 2007: Vote For Me!

I’ve just been shortlisted for the AYA Dream Malaysia Awards 2007 in the Most Outstanding Youth category. Check out my profile, which includes a short interview with myself and my mother. I thought they played up the depression/anxiety angle a bit too much, but oh well – it is about overcoming adversity, after all.

To vote, send AYA Y 14 as a text message to 36828. Each text message costs 80 sen and I think you can vote more than once.

The other people shortlisted are:

Hmm…looks like a lot of doctors!

Check out their profiles and if you like, vote for them too! You may even win tickets to the Awards Ceremony if you’re lucky!

Links in Post: