• Tan Sri Muhyiddin needs to explain why a contract worth RM23m to retrain PE teachers was given to an UMNO leader via direct negotiation

    Media statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, 18th January 2013

    Our education minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was awarded an Honorary Doctorate on the 17th of January by the United States Sports Academy (USSA), which is based in Daphne, Alabama, for his efforts “to enhance physical education to help in the building of a nation” through the creation of the “One Student – One Sport” initiative.

    For a 6 month period starting from June 2012, USSA trainers were in Malaysia to provide retraining for PE teachers and training for other teachers interested in PE through an “International Diploma in Physical Education and Scholastic Sports (IDPESS)” program. This pilot program to retrain 1000 teachers cost the Malaysian government RM22.9m and the contract was awarded to a Syarikat KH Sports World Sdn Bhd (who is the authorized agent in Malaysia for USSA) via a direct negotiation.

    According to KH Sports World website (http://www.kh-ussa.com/management-team/), its chairwoman is Hisham Suhaili Othman whose list of titles includes “Naib Ketua Puteri UMNO, Negeri Kedah”, “Ketua Puteri UMNO, Bahagian Langkawi”, “Ahli Jawatankuasa Perhubungan UMNO, Negeri Kedah”, “Bendehari Biro Sukan & Kecergasan Puteri UMNO, Malaysia” and “Ahli Lembaga Pelawat Hospital Langkawi”.

    While the intention of providing retraining to PE teachers, especially those without the proper qualifications, may be a good one, we question why this contract was given, via direct negotiation, to a company which was founded in 2008 “to venture into the sports equipment and product market” in Malaysia.

    We also call into question the decision to appoint a US based college whose method of teaching is almost exclusively via distance and online learning . Such a college would certainly not have sufficient teaching faculty and resources to deliver face to face teaching programs, especially for the 1000 teachers who were supposed to enrol in this program. For comparison, the estimated current number of students at USSA is less than 600!

    We also call into question the high cost of this program. RM22.9m for 1000 students translates into RM22,900 for every “diploma” earned. This is more than 4 times what it costs to obtain a “Diploma in Pengajian Sukan” from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), which costs about RM5709 for 6 semesters.

    The awarding of this contract is yet another example of the BN’s “Cakap Tak Serupa Bikin” where the Prime Minister preaches transparency on the one hand while members of his cabinet does the complete opposite by awarding contracts to cronies at vastly inflated prices. Is this the price the Malaysian taxpayer has to pay so that our Minister of Education can obtain an honorary doctorate? Did Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s honorary doctorate cost the Malaysian taxpayer RM23m?

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming, DAP Election Strategist

    This press statement was published by DAP Malaysia.

  • Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s shattering silence on the disastrous TIMSS 2011 results will soon earn him the ignominy of becoming the worst Education Minister ever

    Media statement by Tony Pua Kiam Wee and Dr Ong Kian Ming in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, 16th January 2013

    It has been 30 days since the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2011 was released which showed shockingly poor performance by Malaysian students.

    Malaysia’s ranking in Math fell from 10th in 2003 to 26th in 2011 while its ranking in Science fell by an ever greater margin, from 20th in 2003 to 32nd in 2011. However, the most damning outcome of the test is that Malaysia has suffered the biggest drop in test scores among all countries for both Mathematics and Science between 1999 and 2011.

    The number of students who scored “Below Low” for Mathematics increased from only 7% in 1999 to an incredible 35% in 2011. For Science, the percentage rocketed up from 13 to 38. If the students who scored “Low” were taken into consideration, 64% and 66% of Malaysian students scored “Low” and “Below Low” in Mathematics and Science respectively.

    If there ever was a yardstick of a non-physical national disaster, this is it. At least two generations of young Malaysians will fail to achieve their potentials as a result of rapidly declining education standards.

    However, despite the scale of the crisis, the Minister of Education has to date, has remained stoically silent on the entire issue, as if it will blow away just as long as he does not comment on it.

    The irony of it all is that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has flown to the United States to receive an honorary doctorate from “United States Sports Academy” on the 17th of January for his ‘Satu Murid, Satu Sukan’ initiative to ‘enhance physical education to help in the building of a nation’. While Tan Sri Muyhiddin is being ‘honoured’ with a doctorate for this supposed ‘achievements’ in developing sports in schools, our students continue to be ‘dishonoured’ by a Minister of Education who has failed them miserably in the academic arena.

    Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s only “achievement” to date has been the controversial decisions to enforce “History” as a compulsory examination subject for SPM level to “inculcate nationalism and patriotism” and to scrap national examinations at PMR and UPSR levels. The preliminary education blueprint which has been launch to date fails to aggressively address the drastic decline in our standards. Neither of these will serve to improve the standards of education in Malaysia, while it may arguably make our students worse off than their current deteriorating predicament.

    Tan Sri Muhyiddin must immediately take the position to recognise the complete failings of our national education system and announce the willingness to leave no stone unturned and slaughter the sacred cows of our education system to put an immediate halt to the decline to ensure that our young Malaysians today will remain competitive globally tomorrow.

    Tony Pua Kiam Wee, DAP National Publicity Secretary & MP for Petaling Jaya Utara
    Dr Ong Kian Ming, DAP Election Strategist

    This press statement was published by DAP Malaysia.

  • Is the Ministry of Education handing out ‘A’s for examinations to meet the Government’s KPI?

    Media statement by Tony Pua Kiam Wee and Dr Ong Kian Ming in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, 9th January 2013

    We would like to congratulate all of the PMR students who successfully passed their PMR exams especially the 30,474 students who successfully scored straight As. We applaud their efforts in putting in the hard work necessary to achieve these results which were announced two weeks ago on 18th December 2012.

    Based on the results released by the Ministry of Education, 28.8% achieved an ‘A’ in Mathematics while 23.7% did the same for Science. On the surface, Malaysians should be extremely proud that approximately a quarter of all our 15 year olds are able to achieve top results for the two key subjects.

    However, when we compare the PMR results with the recently released Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011 report, we find that only 2% of Malaysians managed “Advanced” scores in Mathematics, while another 10% achieved “High” scores.

    Similarly for Science, only 1% and 10% of Malaysian 15 year olds managed to achieve “Advanced” and “High” scores respectively.

    What worries Malaysians is the fact that compared to 1999 when 36% of our 15 year olds scored an “Advanced” or “High” scores in 1999, only a miserable 12% did so in 2012. For Science, this % has decreased from 24% in 1999 to 11% in 2011. (The breakdown is shown in the Table 1 below.)

    The question to ask then is are our examination standards set so low that 28.8% of our students will score an ‘A’ in Mathematics even though by international standards, they are far from it?

    While the above may be worrying, what is shocking is the performance of Malaysian students at the bottom. While the PMR examinations showed nearly 90% passing rates for students in Mathematics and Science, the TIMSS study exposed the fraud in our examinations.

    The number of students who scored “Below Low” for Mathematics increased from only 7% in 1999 to an incredible 35% in 2011. For Science, the percentage rocketed up from 13 to 38. If the students who scored “Low” were taken into consideration, 64% and 66% of Malaysian students scored “Low” and “Below Low” in Mathematics and Science respectively.

    The performance of the educational achievements of our students is unacceptable. The Ministry of Education and the Government has failed our young Malaysians. In the pursuit of quantitative Key Performance Indicators such as the number of “A”s or the percentage pass rate, the Ministry of Education has severely simplified our education syllabus as well as dumbed down our examinations at the expense of our students.

    We call upon the Minister of Education Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to explain how our education and examination standards have declined so drastically over the past decade. He must also thoroughly review our examination system and our education syllabus to increase the standards of education for our young. We are also extremely concerned about the complete lack of urgency over our underperformance, as well as the lack of substantive measures in the preliminary Education Blueprint which has been launched at the end of last year.

    Table 1a: Malaysian Students Performance for Mathematics (TIMSS 1999 to 2011)

    Mathematics 1999 (%) 2003 (%) 2007 (%) 2011 (%)
    Advanced (625) 10 6 2 2
    High (550) 26 24 16 10
    Intermediate (475) 34 36 32 24
    Low (400) 23 27 32 29
    Below Low (<400) 7 7 18 35

    Table 1b: Malaysian Students Performance for Science (TIMSS 1999 to 2011)

    Science 1999 (%) 2003 (%) 2007 (%) 2011 (%)
    Advanced (625) 5 4 3 1
    High (550) 19 24 15 10
    Intermediate (475) 35 43 32 23
    Low (400) 28 24 30 28
    Below Low (<400) 13 5 20 38

    Tony Pua Kiam Wee, DAP National Publicity Secretary & MP for Petaling Jaya Utara
    Dr Ong Kian Ming, DAP Election Strategist

    This press statement was published by DAP Malaysia.

  • Allah row – what’s the name of the game?

    Christmas came early for me this year, a month and a half early. I received not one but two presents in November, courtesy of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM).

    At a dinner held on Nov 5 celebrating the 400th year of the translation of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia, I received a reprint of AC Ruyl’s BM translation of the gospel of Matthew as well a complete BM Bible translated by the BSM. AC Ruyl, a Dutch trader, had translated the gospel of Matthew into BM in 1612 and it was printed in 1629 in Holland.

    The complete BM Bible was first translated by BSM in 1996 with a revised edition in 2001. Both books are important in understanding the ‘Allah’ debate that was first sparked by DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng’s Christmas Day message to ask the federal government to allow Christians in Malaysia to use the word ‘Allah’ in their worship of their God and Creator.

    As a Christian, I’ve always wanted to have a copy of the Holy Bible in BM, to be able to read the Holy Scriptures in the national language. Unfortunately, tracking down a copy of such a bible in Petaling Jaya, a place with one of the highest concentration of Christians in peninsular Malaysia and also of Christian book shops, was challenging, to say the least.

    I finally managed to track down an Indonesian Bible or the Alkitab which was stashed in the storeroom of a Christian bookstore, after I surreptitiously whispered to the cashier that I was looking for such a Bible. I felt as if I was buying contraband cigarettes rather than the Holy Scriptures of my faith. This was in the early 2000s.

    Earlier this year, I went back to the same bookshop to ask for a copy of the Bible in BM because I knew that the BSM had produced a complete BM translation. While the Indonesian Alkitab was adequate, I knew that the Bible in BM would be a much more natural read given that we use slightly different words and sentence structures in BM as compared to Bahasa Indonesia (BI).

    Furthermore, it seemed strange to me that I should have to resort to reading the Holy Scriptures in another language when a translation in my own national language was available, or so I thought. Unfortunately, the cashier said that they do not sell Bibles in BM.

    So, you can imagine how pleased I was to receive a copy of the bible in BM, even one that had the stamp of the Home Affairs Ministry, complete with a serial number.

    There are at least three points to consider on the issue of whether Christians should be able to use the word Allah in our Holy Scriptures which are published in BM. And I pray that my fellow Malaysians who are Muslims and who would protest the usage of the word Allah by Christians to consider each these points.

    Firstly, Section 1 of Article 11 of the federal constitution states that ‘Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion’. Surely this right as enshrined in the constitution should include the right to determine the words which are used in one’s Holy Scriptures?

    Tuhan instead of Allah?

    Some have helpfully suggested that Christians use the word Tuhan instead of Allah in the BM Bible. Putting aside for the moment the practicality of such a suggestion (which I will explain later on), the crux of the matter here is the right of a religious group or body to independently decide on how their own Holy Scriptures is to be translated and the words which are to be used in this translation(s).

    To say that Christians should change the word Allah to Tuhan is to disrespect the rights of a religious group – Christians, in this case – to have autonomy and control over their own religious texts.

    It could easily lead to other slippery slope type arguments. For example, if the usage of the word Allah by Christians might offend or confuse Muslims and this word has to be changed, would other things in the Bible which may be offensive or confusing to Muslims – such as the many references to Jesus as God and Savior – also be required to be changed?

    Secondly, the proposal to replace the word Allah with Tuhan ignores the fact that Tuhan (or rather TUHAN) is already being used in the BM bible. Without going into literary semantics, I would merely state here that YWHW (or Yahweh) in the Old Testament in translated into TUHAN whereas the generic name of God – El / Elohim – is translated into Allah.

    In the various English translations, YWHW is translated as LORD (in capital letters) whereas El / Elohim is translated as God. In response to this, someone may again make the friendly suggestion that YWHW be translated into TUHAN while El / Elohim be translated into Tuhan (no caps) rather than Allah.

    Other than contradicting point one above, this suggestion ignores the over 300 times where YWHW is paired with El / Elohim (or LORD with God). If Allah is to be replaced with Tuhan, we would find Tuhan appearing twice in the same verse.

    For example, Exodus 29:46 would read: “Mereka akan tahu bahawa Akulah TUHAN, Tuhan (rather than Allah) mereka yang telah membawa mereka kelaur dari Mesir, supaya Aku dapat tingal bersama-sama mereka. Akulah TUHAN Tuhan mereka” (“They will know that I am the LORD, their Lord (rather than God), who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their Lord (rather than God))

    This relatively well known passage from Revelation 1:8 would read: “Akulah yang pertama dan yang terakhir”, firman Tuhan, Tuhan (rather than Allah) Yang Maha Kuasa, yang ada, yang sudah ada dan yang akan datang” (“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord Lord (rather than God), “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty”)

    One BN minister who is also a Christian went so far as to say that he is fine with using Yahweh in place of Allah. Perhaps this minister did not realide that Yahweh had already been translated into TUHAN in the BM bible and that referencing TUHAN Yahweh would not make much sense from a translation as well as a theological standpoint.

    I would recommend that those who suggest that Tuhan be used in place of Allah to read the BM Bible (if they can get a hold of a copy) to see if this ‘solution’ is actually workable in practice.

    No practical impact on Muslims

    The third and final point is that the usage of the word Allah by Christians (as well as the Sikh community) in Malaysia has absolutely no practical impact on 99.99 percent of the Muslim population in the country.

    Christians have been using Allah in Sabah and Sarawak for many years without ‘confusing’ or ‘misleading’ the Muslims in both states. Sabah and Sarawakians who worship in BM in churches in Peninsular Malaysia, including using Allah in worship and in the Alkitab, have similarly not offended the sensibilities of the Muslims in the peninsula.

    The notion that somehow the mere usage of the word Allah in the Alkitab can somehow confuse Muslims is as absurd as the supposed usage of solar-powered Bibles to ‘convert’ Muslims to Christianity (not to mention the fact that it is an insult to the intelligence and faith of the Muslim population in Malaysia).

    And it is very unlikely that we would find throngs of Muslims flocking to churches on any given Sunday in Malaysia and be offended by the usage of the word Allah during these services (especially given the limited number of church services in BM in peninsular Malaysia).

    In view of these three points raised, I hope that we can have a mature and sensible discussion over this matter rather than to resort to baseless accusations and impractical ‘suggestions’ that ignores due process. This would be one of my wishes for the New Year in 2013.

    ONG KIAN MING is writing this as a Malaysian Christian who is trying to read the Bible on a regular basis in English, Chinese and BM. The views and opinions expressed here do not represent the views of the political party to which he belongs.

    This opinion piece was  published by Malaysiakini.

  • Student ‘Protection Fees’ is another example of poor policy making and implementation by the federal government

    It was announced (here and here) on December 15, 2012, that the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) would start charging private universities, university colleges and foreign university branch campuses RM100,000 and private colleges RM10,000 in student ‘protection fees’. These fees are to be paid once every five years as part of the process of renewing their respective operating licenses and would commence in 2013. This proposal, announced by the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin, represents all that is wrong about the policy making process in the country. It uses a wrong approach to achieve a very specific policy goal, it was done without consultation with the stakeholders and, as usual, the implementation details for this proposal were left out.

    The purpose of this student ‘protection fee’ is to have a fund which can be used in the event that a private institution of higher learning closes down. This fund will be used to reimburse students in the event that the institution they are attending closes down suddenly. The affected students can then use this reimbursement to enroll and pay for school fees in another institution of higher learning, if they so choose. Not only does this proposed solution fall short in helping students stuck in such predicaments, it does nothing to tackle the root of the problem – which is the issuance of operating licenses to institutions without the necessary background run institutions of higher learning.

    Imagine if you are a student studying in College X. At the end of your 2nd year, the college announces that it will cease operations. Assuming that the protection fees is sufficient to reimburse this student for the fees incurred in Year 1 and 2, there is no compensation available for having to repeat Years 1 and 2 in another college / university. A much better solution, in my opinion, would be for the MOHE to ask the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) to work with the private colleges / universities to come up with a mechanism to allow students from discontinued institutions to transfer their credits to an existing college / university. This way, the students will be able to continue their education process without much disruption and hopefully, financial cost.

    Also imagine if a big university or university college with, let’s say 5000 students, announces that it will cease operations. With a conservative estimate that a student would have spent an average of 2 years and RM20,000, the compensation required would come up to RM100 million. With approximately 50 university and university colleges contributing RM100,000 and another 250 or so colleges contributing another RM10,000 each, this only comes up to about RM7.5 million for every five years, which is not even sufficient to compensate 500 students, what more 5000. (A full list of private institutions of higher learning can be accessed at http://www.mqa.gov.my/)

    Of course, the likelihood of a big private university failing is much lower than that of a small college having to close down. In fact, almost all of those students affected by this problem have been enrolled in small colleges. What this means is that this ‘protection fee’ is in fact, a subsidy from the big private universities / university colleges to provide an insurance policy for small colleges. This is not efficient nor is it fair to the larger institutions. What MOHE should instead do is to re-examine the basis on which it approves operating licenses for those organizations wanting to set up and run private higher education learning institutions. It should examine whether or not organizations which have been given these licenses actually have the experience and financial resources to run their programs and their institutions. MOHE should work with MQA, through site visits and audits, to identify those institutions which are running into financial and operational difficulties and then take the necessary actions against these institutions. Again, the focus should be on helping students in failed institutions to transition to other universities / colleges rather than to focus on reimbursement. If there are costs which need to be covered, MOHE should attempt to set up mechanisms and processes to recover these from the failed institutions in question rather than to rely on ‘protection fees’.

    The response of the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (MAPCU) Secretary General Dr Gan Eng Hong, indicates that this is a rehashed proposal that had been rejected by MAPCU in the past. What is more troubling is the fact that the MOHE failed to consult the stakeholders including the private colleges and universities as well as present and past students who are being or have been affected by this problem in order to find constructive and more effective solutions.

    Finally, the fact that there are no accompanying details to this proposal shows that the MOHE has not properly thought out the implementation of this proposal. For example, who will manage this fund? Will MOHE appoint external managers or will it manage the funds itself? Does it have the capacity to manage this fund? How will this fund be replenished if they are depleted as a result of a payout? Does this mean that all students, Malaysian and foreign, will receive an explicit guarantee from MOHE that they will get back all of their academic fees in the event that their university / college closes down?

    This is yet another example of poor policy and decision-making on the part of the federal government with ill-conceived policies that do not address the problems at hand and have poorly thought out implementation mechanisms. The Minister of Higher Education should immediately announce the suspension of this ‘protection fee’ in 2013. It should instead hold a dialogue with the stakeholders, especially with the private universities and colleges in order to identify more effective solutions to the problem of students being left in the lurch as a result of institutions of higher learning having to cease operations.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Elections Strategist, DAP
    (In the interest of full disclosure, Dr. Ong is also a faculty member at UCSI University which is also a member of MAPCU)

    This article was also published at Dr. Ong’s Facebook page.

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