Archive for February, 2012



Augmenting English


language learning


TO expose schoolchildren to English in more spontaneous ways, it is necessary to create an environment where they can pick up the language through communicative activities that appeal to the young. This will augment the formal classroom learning where the oft-lamented problems are inadequate exposure time and poor teaching skills.

For the more affluent children and better schools the exposure to good English is not an issue. The English language proficiency and teaching skills of teachers are not in question. These children can also afford extra tuition after school hours and their homes have ample materials to encourage them to read, write and speak in English. Family and peer interaction in English is good. All this will augment the classroom English Language Teaching and Learning (ELT) creating the “total immersion” environment necessary for successful language acquisition.

There are many individuals and groups who are doing work on the ground to supplement the work done by schools, the NST reading programme being a long-standing one. What better way to motivate schoolchildren than through interactive paired and group work where they get immediate feedback.

The Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE) has come up with the English Language Integration Camp to expose selected Year Five students to English through fun activities during the weekend. For just three hours on either Saturday or Sunday, the underprivileged students from the national and national type primary schools are given exposure to English under the guidance of a graduate facilitator who will conduct these interactive and communicative sessions.

Besides helping to supplement the English language curriculum and syllabus painstakingly prepared by the Education Ministry and translated into lesson plans and classroom activities by the teachers, the weekend camps will assist parents in providing the extra immersion time in English which some can ill afford. It will provide the perfect opportunity for bonding among the students from different schools and ethnic backgrounds which will directly or indirectly foster national integration among young Malaysians.

PCORE are delighted that the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development in particular the LPPKN, are in full support of our proposal and applaud their officers for being receptive to new ideas.

We wonder why the ministry that is directly responsible for language education has not been forthcoming after our letters of application were sent to the minister and director general of education.

Datin Halimah Mohd Said
Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason




Legally right but


morally wrong


LATELY I’ve been intrigued by the question of what is legally right and what is morally wrong. Having been caught in numerous arguments with and by laymen and experts, I’ve come to the conclusion that both notions are complex; each is a quagmire of conventions and wordplay. You can argue till the cows come home and your point is still not driven home.

People are very much governed by their personal and socio-cultural world views and assumptions, professionals being further influenced by what is generally acceptable in their work circles. To deviate from the norm would invite disapproval and sometimes derision especially from your superiors. Those who dare to swim against the current create ripples and sometimes risk getting drowned by the waves. Most people tend to go with the flow.

Take the case of abortion. While many religions look upon it as a sin, in some countries where the people are adherents of a religion such as Roman Catholicism which originally forbade it, the lawmakers have succeeded in instituting abortion as the individual’s right. In the oft-quoted example of a rape victim who is pregnant, it can be legally argued that the right to an abortion is lawful because the element of sexual abuse, which in itself is criminal transcends the immorality of terminating the life of the unborn foetus.

There are cases of women becoming pregnant as a result of being raped or an abusive relationship. In desperation some of them resort to abandoning their newborn babies in toilets and drains. Lest baby-dumping becomes a serious problem in Malaysia, argumentations for the legalisation of abortion in special cases should be allowed and may eventually give more power to the courts to determine the legality of what is considered morally wrong.

Legal argumentations seem to appease troubled citizens more than moral ones these days. In a world where secular, universal values are becoming more entrenched, morality concerns are expressed mainly by the orthodox and conservative among the adherents of many religions and faiths. For the more secular, especially among the young, the general view is that morality is the prerogative of the individual.

Homosexuality,which is considered a sin in most religions and is a crime under the laws on bestiality and abnormal sex in some penal codes, has become an acceptable expression of the individual’s right to express his or her sexual orientation.

More and more morality is being touted as a subjective and personal matter. The individual reserves the right to determine what’s moral and immoral subject to civil laws. The legality or illegality of the deed is all-important.

A stark outcome of this modern thinking is that in day-to-day living and dealings, morality issues are not given their rightful place and spaces in societal development. In the bid to build up a blooming economy and achieve great financial successes, the national development schemes and their relative discourses veer into money talk.

Do we blame the people then for getting into immorality skirmishes such as bribery and corruption, cheating, misappropriation of public funds or criminal breach of trust when they are led to think they are exercising ingenuity and innovation in their undertakings?

When the nation’s political and community leaders are not prepared to take a stand on morality to outrightly condemn such deeds, the people will continue to think they are the country’s norms. When there is perceived ambivalence in the attitudes of the nation’s role models and spokespersons on the question of immorality, the message that the rakyat get is that it’s acceptable and so it’s business as usual.

I’m amazed that even among people of great integrity, private investments that bring good returns for the business are considered above board and legal even if the rakyat’s money is being held in trust for a national project. In other words, they think it’s all right to use public money to procure a temporary investment for the good of the company even if it has nothing to do with the terms of the loan agreement.

In this case it is no longer a question of private morality as the whole nation’s image is at stake. The burning issue is that of public morality. In plotting a national identity index to identify attributes of the Malaysian national identity, are the people prepared to say YES to dishonesty,bribery or breach of trust when it brings in quick money?

Are Malaysians happy to be seen as a people who are ambivalent in their stand on morality, approving of immoral acts which are argued to be legally right by the attorney general and his fraternity?

Yes, I am referring to the cows and condos controversy. It is no longer a question of private rationality and reason. The issue is one of the public and national conscience.





AT THE recent Intercultural Dialogue, participants were asked to write down one thing about Malaysia that they are proud of, sorry about, and wish for. While the first two asked them to reflect on the past and present state of affairs, the third required them to project into the future.

The metaphor of a person’s life being a journey from the past to the present into the future is applicable to the life of a nation as it has a collective memory filled with successes and failures, and a future where dreams and wishes can become a reality.

The collective memory of a nation is the sum total of the private memories of its people informed by the events in their lives and the daily rituals, ceremonies, customs and traditions which bind them. Some of these become the stuff of written history which, it must be said, does not preclude the selections, perceptions and interpretations of historians and writers.

Narratives which are passed on orally or written down unofficially are stamped as unsubstantiated and unevidenced records, with a great many relegated to the status of folklore, myths and legends. However, it cannot be denied that they, too, have been interwoven into the national psyche and can be identified among the more substantive parameters or markers of the national identity. Folk heroes like Robin Hood and Hang Tuah have become embedded in the people’s collective memory for their bravado and heroic exploits, but more importantly for the values they upheld – loyalty, valour, love and honour. To debunk these cultural heroes would be to remove a slice of the people’s pride and what should be a part of our national identity.

Of course, they cannot be accorded the same stature as the nation’s modern icons who lived and live in times when their contributions can be recorded in print for posterity. Even then, not everything is fact. The noble deeds of Sybil Karthigesu in standing up to Japanese rule, which few today were witness to, are recorded in several reputable books and dramatically interpreted in a play. We should allow Sybil Karthigesu and Hang Tuah to rest in peace!

Malaysian history has recorded the path of successive government leaders in implementing an education system suited to the people’s needs or rather, an interpretation of what the people want. The people’s needs, however, are as diverse as their backgrounds and socio-cultural make-up. Still, it is incumbent upon the ruling government to revert to the country’s laws and statutes in formulating the nation’s development policies. The supreme law of the land is the Federal Constitution which an enlightened government can interpret in the best possible way for the people.

It was in this spirit that participants of the recent dialogue recorded their wish for a one-school system, for the English stream to be reinstated in the national school system and for all the vernacular languages to be made compulsory to make the Malaysian identity truly multilingual. If only all our wishes can come true!

I, too, tested my luck and declared that if I were the Education Minister I would implement a comprehensive bilingual policy. This is my ardent wish for Malaysia. This, I believe, will be a highly respected marker of the Malaysian identity as the nation takes its place as a global player.

We must unashamedly acknowledge the huge chunk of history when English was the medium of education and produced outstanding Malaysians who embodied the national identity at home and abroad. We might not like the fact that we were colonised by the British but we should at least admit that they educated us well and instilled in us some sound values.

I will go further and suggest that the present government should implement a comprehensive bilingual education policy. It should not be hesitant to call it the Bilingual Education Policy or Dasar Pendididikan Dwi Bahasa. This would be much easier to say than “Memartabatkan Bahasa Malaysia dan Memperkukuhkan Bahasa Inggeris”.

Surely, we are confident that the national language will continue to grow into a well-structured modern language with an impressive lexical repertoire of everyday as well as specialist vocabulary. This will ensure its use in the global arena when our leaders proudly use it in their international interactions. We will then develop a body of well-trained and articulate, bilingual interpreters to mediate these multinational discussions.

Undoubtedly there are many “sorries” too as we reflect upon our failures as a nation and as a people. To be identified as a nation of litterbugs and road killers is a horrendous thought. To be known as a nation of unethical and morally corrupted citizens is shameful indeed.

But it’s really up to the people to determine where we want to be.



National Identity PPt FINAL






Exploring the feasibility of establishing one.




What exactly is an index?

A measure or benchmark to define and gauge compliance with a set of principles or values.

What exactly is a National Identity Index?

A National Identity Index will measure compliance with a set of markers or parameters of national identity that are  agreed upon by the nation’s stakeholders i.e. the people

Many countries have defined for themselves an identity by which their citizens measure their feelings for their motherland or the nation they belong to. US/SINGAPORE/EU

The question is : Is it possible or feasible to get a single measure such as “60% love Malaysia” or “40% are proud of Malaysia” or “50% of Malaysians are patriotic”.

These percentages could be calculated from the answers to a set of open-ended questions such as:

Why do you love your country?

What makes you proud to be a Malaysian?

When outsiders criticize your country what do you do?

which would produce an array of answers or perhaps more questions such as:

I love the choice of food but what is a truly Malaysian dish?

Do the people of different ethnicities really know and understand one another’s cultures? 

Can I be critical of my own country, yet love it and defend it to outsiders.



Let’s look at some key concepts and what they mean:


National Identity – person’s identity, sense of belonging, shared feelings

Patriotism – devotion to or love for one’s country

Nationalism – collective identity, single national culture

Again there are notions within the notion that needs to be defined and described further such as:

sense of belonging, devotion to one’s country, national culture





The notion of national pride may mean different things to different people. Those who say they are proud to be Malaysians will usually offer a reason why. They may like the nation’s

  • multicultural living
  • economic success
  • peace and security

I see the notion of sense of belonging as a feeling, one’s emotional response to the environment. In order to feel you belong, you must feel that you are liked and accepted for what you are and respected for what you stand for. You feel this in your heart. Can you benchmark this?

Being a citizen gives you the official external Malaysian identity (blue IC) but knowing or having the soul of a Malaysian is harder to achieve. And what we want to determine is “Can you measure it” ?





This leads to the question of whether one can list, define and describe a typology (list) of the attributes or markers of a Malaysian identity, or at least identify the parameters within which these attributes/ markers can be found. Having identified a marker such as “feeling of acceptance/respect” or “hospitable and sensible society”, how do you measure them? Would rating them on a scale of 1-10 produce an accurate index? Do you measure the individual’s national identity or that of his/her community?

To ensure the tool or index is reliable and gives accurate results all these questions and more must be answered. The definitions and descriptions of the attributes/ markers/ parameters themselves must be clear and unambiguous to both the researcher and the respondents who must be large enough and representative enough of their various communities.


In Shamsul AB His Observations, Analyses & Thoughts, Prof Shamsul Amri distinguishes between “authority – defined” social reality and the notions of a nation, nationhood and national identity. The pronouncements, rhetoric and discourse that we are used to reading and hearing are top-down. We are told this and that about our identity by government leaders, politicians and analysts  including the scholars and academicians.

Shamsul suggests that there must also be an “everyday-defined” social reality from the people’s perspective informed by the “moral concerns of real people” – which is what we are all trying to do today.

We are well aware of the official policies, rules and regulations and laws governing the formal identity markers such as citizenship, race and ethnicity, socio-cultural and political deliniations, economic and educational allocations. There are numerous official documents, discourse and political rhetoric for our reference.





We are all familiar with several huge efforts by the government to define a comprehensive national vision for Malaysia, the most well-formulated being VIVISION 2020 – introduced by Mahathir Mohamad during the tabling of the Sixth Malaysia Plan in 1991. The vision calls for the nation to achieve a self-sufficient industrialized nation status by the year 2020, covering all aspects of the nation’s life, from economic prosperity, social well-being, educational worldclass, political stability, as well as psychological balance. Spanning development plans over a period of 30 years, the Vision 2020 targets have 8 more years to be met.

Less popular is the notion of Bangsa Malaysia referring to an inclusive national identity for all inhabitants of Malaysia. Mahathir explained it as “people being able to identify themselves with the country, speak Bahasa Malaysia (the Malay language) and accept the Constitution.”[1].

Currently, the all-encompassing notion of ONE MALAYSIA overrides all others in representing the ideals of a nation, nationhood and national identity. Mooted and designed by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak on 16 September 2010 it has become the clarion call for the cabinet, government agencies, and civil servants to focus more concertedly on ethnic harmony, national unity, and efficient governance. It has been popularly picked up by everyone including the one-finger symbol/ wagger that goes with it!

The reference points for these successive albeit intertwined national philosophy/ ideal/ vision are consistently the principles of RUKUNEGARA and the supreme law of the FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.




Accompanying the official pronouncements are the authority-defined national symbols, ceremonies, customs that further enhance and illustrate the spirit of nationhood that Malaysia has determined for its people.

They are grand efforts to inform the rakyat about the roles of the country’s institutions and figureheads and to include the rakyat in the creation of a Malaysian nation.

While some of the more sceptical among us may consider slogans as irrelevant to the creation of a national identity, we cannot deny they stick in the mind and play like an auto-suggestion. In fact they act as a driving force and an inspiration to the majority.

In the commercial world they are looked upon as taglines  such as “Malaysia truly Asia” which are part of the tourism branding process. Can we do the same for national identity?

(refer to the Singapore efforts)

 “Resilient & Pragmatic”, “Efficient & Ethical”







What are parameters and markers you may ask?

They can be seen as a set of measurable factors and can be identified within the boundary that you set e.g individual, ethnic community or nation as a whole

Slide 12 shows a collage of different foods and cooked dishes. So within the boundary of food you can determine a value for each type of food for the individual or group. For example you can measure on a scale of 1-10 the value of nasi lemak or yee sang or dhosai for the Individual, Family, Ethnic Community and Nation as a whole. And you can do the same for each of the more serious societal concerns identified in Slide 13.

So as a researcher if you have listed Equal Opportunities, Meritocracy, Human Rights and Freedom among the markers prioritised by Malaysians you can then proceed to measure the value of each of them for the different groups.

By measuring the value given by each ethnic and religious community, you can total them and average it for the nation. Thus for Equal Opportunity you might get the national rating of 7 and for Freedom, the national rating of 5 – which reveals 2 aspects of the Malaysian national identity and how the different communities measure up to them.

For example, the American rating for Freedom is the highest at 5. while Patriotism is given a mere 2. So what can you conclude about the American national identity?




In Malaysia our identities are very much shaped by the Socio-Cultural Markers identified in Slide 14. We can say that these markers are crucial to the bonding among different groups and communities and can be identified as the common goals of the nation in the pursuit of a national identity.

For instance, there is acceptance among Malaysians of the importance of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language and of English as the second language as we see in the continuous and oftentimes passionate national discourses in the papers, on TV, radio etc on this.

I would like to suggest that a top NI marker should be Bilingualism which I’m sure will receive a high rating across the communities. The supporters of English and Malay are almost equal – which would give the authorities a clear sign of the way to go and the people the motivation to benchmark themselves.

Of much current debate are questions about the nation’s history – what the subject of history entails, what it should comprise, that is what should go into the national school history syllabus and what constitute fact or mere myth and legend.

Sadly, some of our cultural heroes are being debunked as mere myths or legends, removing the dream and imagination that bonded us in the days of old.

Being part Melakan and having Chinese features I used to dream of the romance of Hang Li Po and Sultan Mahmud and that I might be a descendant. Now that Hang Li Po is virtually non-existent, my dreams can only be virtual – on FB or NINITALK perhaps. Or in a novel?



Again there must be a national consensus mediated by the experts and scholars on who/ what would qualify as fact or myth.

In the earlier segment Dr Asma asked you who you would name as your modern role models and icons.

If politics is harsh and doesn’t always give credit to the nation’s leaders when they are in office or still alive, history is kinder and retrospectively evaluates their contributions in comparison to their peers.

Poor P Ramlee’s real talents were realised only after he died in poverty. Now of course he is Malaysia’s hero of film and song.




Multiculturalism and multiple identities are not unique to Malaysia. There are many other societies where people of various ethnicities and religions live together in harmony  in a spirit of accommodation and acceptance.  Underlying this are the set of common societal values and universal human values which cut across all communities.

What is of utmost importance is that these values do not just remain at the level of lofty principles, official affirmations and public slogans. They must be  absorbed into the way of life of the people and manifested in their day-to- day behaviour.

Take the notion of “integrity” for instance. It looks simple but is actually quite complex in its permutations of meaning – honesty, trustworthiness, moral uprightness, ethical principles, responsible, steadfast. When talking to different groups of people it is important to explain in ways which are relevant in their lives.

e.g punctuality



What are the things that are important to a Malaysian no matter what community he comes from or what his background is?

What are the main characteristics of a Malaysian? Or what can you identify as the basic (positive) Malaysian national characteristics?

Hospitable, Sensible, Accomodating



Unfortunately Malaysians also manifest some undesirable characteristics in their behaviour, among which are the ones listed.

Let me just focus on two negative behaviourial traits  which have serious ramifications in society:

careless, un-civicminded – road accidents, littering and dirty toilets

Daily we read reports of horrendous road accidents, and see pictures of atrocious rubbish heaps and clogged drains – a shocking reflection of the “devil may care” and “don’t care” attitude of Malaysians towards people and their environment.

Do we want this to be picked up by a national identity index?




It’s really up to us ordinary citizens to determine the kind of Malaysian we are to one another and to the rest of the world.

Today is one instance where citizen efforts will override government pronouncements as we attempt to define for ourselves – from our knowledge and experience, from our own moral conscience  – the parameters of a national identity

Whether we want to measure or rate it is something to be seriously researched and considered.



Perhaps as an exercise we could start by listing the qualities/ attributes/ markers to look for in a community role model or a national icon that is a person that exhibits the best characteristics of a national identity.

Is it fair to use international benchmarks?




SLIDE 23, 24, 25

February 2012