Archive for March, 2011

16
Mar
11

ENGLISH – AGAIN!

 

As an English language and linguistics teacher/ lecturer who taught in secondary schools for seven years and at the University of Malaya for twenty five years, I applaud University Malaya Vice-Chancellor Professor Dr Ghauth Jasmon’s call for a renewed vigour in the teaching and learning of English in the country’s oldest university.

Professor Ghauth is to be supported for his firm stand on the importance of English in the education of our future leaders who will stand at par with the nation’s and the world’s best in education, politics and  diplomacy, commerce and industry and the other socio-cultural advancements.

Having taught English as a second/ foreign language in the faculties of Arts, Science, Law, Dentistry and Engineering at UM, I can say without reservation that the students without a proficient command of English are at a complete disadvantage compared to those with a good grasp of English. Regardless of their subject specialisation(s), students are required to read and do reference work to augment their lectures. They have to communicate with confidence in tutorials and seminars and in their essays and examinations.

I observed Dentistry and Engineering students discussing their English references in study groups where those who lacked the English communication skills could not participate in the exchanges. Sadly, most of them were Malays who ostracised themselves from the excellence achieved by the non-Malay students.

There should be no doubt that a rigorous English Language programme that focuses on the reading and speaking skills will produce the language proficiency required in university graduates entering the job market.  Increasing the number of hours for English will create more opportunities to be exposed to and immersed in the reading comprehension skills. English language labs and tapes with good models of spoken and written English will provide the practice and drills necessary for fluency in speech and accuracy in grammar. These graduates will then be confident communicators in whatever profession they choose.

I don’t understand why the students of the Academy of Malay Studies would want to deny themselves the opportunity to do well with the knowledge gleaned from the numerous English sources.  I fail to see the logic of wanting to remain forever cocooned under their tempurung when the rest of the world is advancing by leaps and bounds. Why would they choose to remain behind?

The call for Professor Ghauth to apologise, no doubt instigated by the political chauvinists and bigots, is not only intellectually hollow but shows the lack of understanding on what it means to be a nation of well-educated citizens who can communicate well in the national language as well as the most advanced international language.

The argument that they are patriots promoting the national language is bunkum considering that many of them are not even using Bahasa Melayu with clarity and logic! English has a longer tradition of argumentation, rhetoric and discourse which we would all do well to develop.

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10
Mar
11

 

PUBLIC SPACE

 Like all developing modern cities KL’s demographics is dispersed, its current population of 1.8 million people diverse, both in their economic activities, socio-cultural backgrounds and interests, age and recreational needs. KL’s citizens are by no means homogenous, nor their needs similar across the public space provided by the city.

Public space refers to the “physical space” provided for the people’s ease of movement, working conditions, leisure and recreation which includes the systems and services in the city’s infrastructure such as

  • well-designed homes and offices
  • interconnectivity in the transportation system
  • effective communication systems
  • clean and green environment
  • easy and efficient service culture

A component of public space vital to people in general and city folk in particular is the “psychological space” or feeling that they are comfortable in their environment and are a part of the city’s life. This entails

  • well-being brought about by a safe and secure environment
  • opportunities for civic and socio-cultural involvement
  • freedom of self-expression and creativity
  • participation in the city’s growth and development

By 2020 the projected population of Greater KL covering 10 municipalities (KL, Putrajaya, Sepang, Klang, Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya, Subang Jaya, Ampang Jaya, Selayang, Kajang)  is 10 million people. The paradox is that as the city grows economically and infrastructurally, there will be incursions into the public space as the population increases and the people’s needs become more diverse.

There’s no doubt that a big part of the creation of a smart, liveable city lies in the nurturing of smart  citizens who, because they have to juggle the demands of work, family and their socio-cultural commitments, expect the best infrastructure and the most efficient avenues for their realisation.  Living in the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan makes it all the more urgent for people to have physical and psychological spaces to satisfy the oftentimes hectic living conditions that accompany rapid development. They must have enough room to unwind and de-stress in order to effectively contribute their energies and resources to the city’s success.

If there is one yardstick that distinguishes KLites from their compatriots in the other urban centres and rural areas, is their “urbaneness” or relative sophistication in discerning and demanding the most efficient modern lifestyle and its accessories. By 2020 the citizens of Greater Kuala Lumpur will be among the country’s top 30% in terms of education, economic status, communication, exposure and knowledge.

Like the residents of outstanding cities such as Zurich, Munich, Tokyo and Copenhagen, KLites will expect the best from the people who run the city’s municipalities. Smart citizens require smart city planners, administrators and managers to turn their city into one of the smartest and most liveable in the world.

And Kuala Lumpur has the potential to do this with the support of a far-sighted government, visionary municipalities, an innovative business community and a responsible and committed citizenry. The right type and level of synergy between these sectors will produce the vibrant city we can be truly proud of.

A big part of the liveability of Greater KL must surely lie in how we humanise the city, in how we fill the hardness of its metallic and concrete infrastructure and iconic towers with a human soul and how we camouflage it’s profit-driven business life with an aesthetic spirit.

In laying out the Greater KL master plan we hear of project after project for infrastructural and economic development but scant attention is given to citizen development. The focus seems to be on making the capital city an investment hub and a tourist destination to bring in the big money. We sometimes forget that the people who make the most regular contributions to the city’s coffers are its ordinary citizens and residents.

For a start let us be dead serious about creating 30% more open spaces, parks and green belts and lungs lined with trees and other flora. The natural forests must be left as they are but the cultivated parks must be more people – friendly and designed with bicycle tracks and sidewalks for the interconnectivity that KLites require to cycle and walk to their destinations. Jogging tracks and exercise equipment must be available for the health conscious, as must gazebos and benches for them to rest.

Perhaps in the development of Kampung Baru, Jalan Imbi, Menara Wawasan and the other commercial areas all of the 22 acres of Pudu Prison should be converted into one sprawling park. The beautification of this and the other derelict areas in strategic locations will ensconce the city’s green development once and for all, erasing the stigma associated with them.

At the residential level, residents associations must be gazetted into the municipality statute and given a formal status in the decision-making chains. This will create a direct channel for ordinary citizens to have their voices heard by the authorities – whether it is to lodge a complaint,   report a problem or make suggestions about the matters that affect their day-to-day lives.

With the support of the administrators, the business sector and the communication avenues, the residents associations must be empowered and motivated to organise campaigns and competitions to increase awareness about their civic responsibilities and more importantly to take responsibility for the care and protection of their public space.

As was successfully done by Singapore from 50 years ago there must be a series of month-long campaigns – anti-litter, going green, keep toilets clean, help the elderly, be courteous etc. Competitions to encourage housing areas to own every bit of physical space they have by planting plants and flowers in their own gardens or shared alleyways will inspire great creativity and novel ideas. Perhaps the next huge garden show that DBKL organises can have  as its theme “gardens in little spaces”.

Shared or collective space in residential areas can be designed more effectively with the collaboration of the city’s community of architects to create concepts such as an Open Air Library/ Learning Centre in abandoned buildings or town squares, where people can sit around and borrow a book or magazine to read during their lunch break or evening strolls. Through their residents association, interested groups should be able to apply for the use of government land or old demolished sites and create their own recreational space.

Add to this a stage or podium where budding writers and poets can have regular readings and discussions of their works. Expand this idea to neighbourhood art camps which can be expanded to cover bigger areas like Bangsar or Hartamas or Selayang or Ampang. If a  giant corporation such as Petronas initiates this as part of their CSR, and an extension of the Galeri Petronas initiative, think of the real involvement of citizens in art appreciation at the basic ground level.

I’m urging here for the nurturing of a more responsible and proactive citizenry in creating the recreational spaces relevant to their own needs. By being directly involved, they become more committed to the development of their residential areas and thus the greater city. The responsibility of maintaining these places then shifts from the authorities to the residents themselves.

On a larger scale, the authorities in collaboration with the relevant corporations can organise a city-wide competition for the most creative and meaningful use of open space for the community or residents. By organising competitions, the authorities provide the initiative and the motivation for the citizens to participate in changing the face of their city. The corollary to participation is the responsibility that goes with it. KL citizens will feel a sense of involvement in the city’s development – with this will come the civic consciousness of protecting and caring for their living environment.

Think of the creation of city-wide literary and art festivals with the  residents themselves contributing their talents to make KL the truly spirited city that foreign investors and tourists find pleasurable to live in or visit.

Think of Kuala Lumpur – the city with a soul.




March 2011
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