Archive for May, 2012



Start with schools

SYABAS to Halimah Mohd Said for her thoughtful op piece, “Your faith, my iman” (This N That, May 28), on the need to build bridges to enhance interfaith tolerance and dialogue.

It is commendable that civil society organisations such as PCORE and OFA are doing something, unlike other organisations that have steered clear of a difficult area.

Civil society impact on problems in our society would be greater if efforts were directed at the major stake players that stand in the way or divide the nation on racial and religious issues.

The most important agent in moulding attitudes and shaping minds – apart from the family – is the educational system.

For too long, our schoolchildren have been exposed to educational syllabi and materials that have provided narrow and bigoted perspectives on nation building and history.

Changing the mindset of our political leaders and policymakers so they can make the changes to the educational system necessary to foster better rounded students equipped with liberal and progressive knowledge is a major challenge.

It is a challenge that requires many more hands and minds on board. Perhaps PCORE and the OFAS can help lead the charge by providing inputs – for a start – to the Ministry of Education’s National Education Review exercise.

Dr Lim Teck Ghee
Kuala Lumpur



Your faith, my iman

INDEED, it matters that apart from internalising the teachings and traditions of our own religion and practising them, Malaysians must make every effort to understand the faiths and beliefs of other groups. In order to reach out to one another and nurture harmonious relationships, there must be a conscious effort to know about the spiritual values of other communities.

A key finding in the CIRINI Resolutions and Recommendations of the Intercultural Dialogue held recently is that while “harmony” and “relationships” are ranked among the most important cultural dimensions in Malaysian society, participants agree that misconceptions about inter-religious matters stand in the way of greater understanding among the people. Learning about the religious sensitivities of every community is, therefore, the first step in accepting their differences.

While there is consensus that all religions propagate common values such as “faith in God”, “honesty”, “trustworthiness” and “respect for others” among their adherents, the finding is that there are still large gaps in people’s inter-religious and inter-cultural knowledge.

Even within the same community there is some confusion between religion and culture, between what is seen as a religious practice and what is practised as a cultural tradition.

For instance, even among the Malay Muslims the line between what is acceptable in Islamic teaching and what is practised in Malay culture is sometimes blurred as it is between the rituals of Hinduism and popular Indian cultural practices, and between Chinese customs and Taoist rites. A more serious knowledge gap is in not knowing the difference between the major faiths such as Buddhism, Taoism and the Ba’hai faith.

In a recent luncheon talk co-hosted by the Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason and the Old Frees Association on The Interfaith Challenge: Seeking A Common Ground, the guest speaker Datuk Anwar Fazal touched on similar issues.

While the world’s major religions and faiths intrinsically stand on common ground in upholding the universal values of love and compassion; justice and mercy; kindness and gratitude; and goodness and godliness, their adherents and the societies they live in seem to be on shaky ground sometimes verging on disarray.

While Malaysians of different faiths profess and are united by their “Belief in God”, there seems to be a lack of cross-religious understanding. While there may be superficial knowledge of other religions such as where and how their adherents pray, it is apparent that there is a lack of “real” knowledge about the religion, culture, language and history of other communities.

In the Q&A session, the audience wanted to know how the interfaith challenge can be posed to the wider Malaysian society.

While they themselves represent a small cross section of urban civil society who are united by their common educational background and better exposure to inter-community relationships and networks, what about the masses who operate much within their own religious and cultural groups?

How can the search for a common ground be translated into meaningful activities on the ground? How can we reach out to the proverbial man in the street to make him more aware of the religious sensitivities of the people living in the other streets of his neighbourhood or place of work?

Several suggestions have come to the fore: public campaigns like “Smile or wave to your neighbours”; community prayers and vigils; street parties; public dialogues; and forums on interfaith and inter-cultural matters; small-group engagements on controversial issues; listing out the things you are grateful for; and listing out the kindnesses you can extend to others.

A major proposal is the publication of booklets on the religious sensitivities of each community to address areas which may not be discussed openly.

My own proposal is a public campaign to get every Malaysian to befriend at least 10 people from a different faith or religion, starting from students in schools and institutions of learning. Friendships nurtured early in life sustain us in our later years as is apparent in the camaraderie of the Old Frees, Georgian and convent alumni.

By forging good relationships among communities of people, there will be occasions for us to eat together, to communicate with one another and to share our thoughts and ideas about not only our joys and successes but more importantly, our fears and apprehensions.

Perhaps the daunting task of seeking a common ground lies not with the religious leaders who are committed to propagating their own faith and protecting their community of adherents, but with civil society.

While religious leaders may pay lip service to the idea of pushing for a movement of moderates, it is ordinary citizen groups such as PCORE and alumnis such as OFA who have a truly mixed membership that can come to the fore to initiate meaningful programmes and activities on the ground.

“Your Faith, My Iman” is a good slogan to begin with.



                                                                     PCORE & OFA

have great pleasure in inviting you to a





Seeking A Common Ground

Date: Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Time: 12.30pm


KL Golf & Country Club, Bukit Kiara


Tai Zee Kin 019 – 4456171 (PCORE)

        Kumeran Balachandran 012 – 3833627 (OFA) 




Right way



to right wrongs


CITIZEN demonstrations in the form of a public gathering of people in a rally or walking in a march are fast becoming synonymous with the democratic awakening in many countries, signifying the people’s fundamental right to freedom of assembly. They are regarded as a form of civil society activism where the masses are directly involved and the person in the street literally “walks the talk” in championing honourable causes such as fighting injustice and corruption, establishing equal rights or clean and fair elections.

In a public demonstration, protestation against societal wrongs – perceived or real – is collectively shared and the participants feel empowered by the group’s solidarity. They are seen to be proactively managing their own affairs instead of passively leaving them in the hands of the authorities. When tens of thousands of people gather to jointly express an opinion or make a stand, it is hard not to see it as a living example of participatory democracy and egalitarianism.

Done in a controlled and decorous manner such as in a sit-in demonstration, it can bring out the best intentions and the most reasonable voices to articulate them. The danger is that in a street march, the sea of people in the moving current spreading across the city has the potential to throw up the most belligerent among the multitudes who will, intentionally or otherwise, drown the most reasonable voices.

Some see public demonstrations as “consensus decision-making”, or “direct action” where citizens make their choices in a decentralised way, not through the apparatus of the government administration. Instead of going through the prescribed route of lodging a police report on corrupt practices, or writing a letter of complaint to the erring department or agency, or addressing the issue privately with the member of parliament or local council, they choose to give vent to their frustrations in a public outcry. The clarion call is the citizen’s prerogative to assemble to protest and protect his rights in a democracy, irrespective of status or background.

The urgent manner of the protest is designed to apply pressure and get the authorities to right the wrongs. The expected outcome of citizen demands made en masse is immediate response from the authorities – surely the ideals of participatory democracy in an ideal world!

The real world however is far from ideal. Real people are not always reasonable and fair especially when emotions are aroused. Much as we trumpet the virtues of equality and egalitarianism, humans are not equal in their physical and emotional attributes. The socio-cultural, economic and educational environments are not equal in turning out the most moderate and reasonable citizens, endowed with the best attributes for an ideal civil society.

Even the best security features and tested methods of crowd control such as water cannons and tear gas fail the police when they are dealing with the emotions of the masses. Instead of seeing this as a way of protecting citizen safety in an unruly mob situation, angry people see the police as abusing their authority. To them, this is not the most civilised manner of dealing with people who are your fellow citizens.

While remaining true to our ideals, duties and responsibilities especially at the national level, there must be a concerted move towards creating physically and psychologically safer spaces for freedom of expression and speech among the citizenry. There must be room for reasoned and reasonable citizen participation in order for egalitarian processes to be procedurally and substantively mature. The idea of the ends justifying the means is deeply problematic and should not be literally interpreted by civil society leaders including politicians. The statement that “You can’t create a just society through violence, or freedom through a tight revolutionary cadre … The means and ends have to be the same” must be seriously considered.

To me personally, it was sad to see the rakyat take to the streets to do what they thought was right viz to right the wrongs in the nation’s election processes and procedures. The Bersih 3.0 modus operandi of street demonstrations has created unprecedented unrest and dissension among Malaysians. But the organisers must realise the danger when people are unruly and confused.

The purity of the argument that it’s the people’s right to express their displeasure and demand a hearing from an elected government is tainted by the fact that in expressing your right to ruffle the establishment, you are stepping on the right of others who might choose a different way.

So my question is: Are street demos really the way to go in pursuit of a mature democracy?



Look education






squarely in the face



WHILE the ranking of a country’s systems or institutions by world bodies can be used as an indicator of comparative performance, it cannot be used as the ultimate measure of their achievements.

While commissioned surveys and studies provide quick statistical indicators, they are no less contrived in the respondents selected or the Yes/ No questionnaires devised. The criteria used are often skewed towards getting particular data from a sampling of the population.

Very often, they do not elicit a full or complete response from respondents who find the questions vague or ambiguous. The statistics derived are thus not always conclusive and, at best, provide a partial reading of the situation.

What must be considered as more relevant indicators are the articulations on the ground, that is the people’s reasoned expression of their concerns about the nation’s mechanisms such as its education system.

While much of the rakyat’s input will be anecdotal and personal, the sum total of their subjective experiences will give a more comprehensive picture than any survey or ranking can.

They would have identified the positive attributes to be maintained and consolidated. More importantly, they would have experienced the many loopholes and shortcomings. What better knowledge than first-hand experience?

A great part of any education review is feedback from specialists and education experts who should be equipped with a wide perspective of education philosophies and policies and their translation into the curriculums of schools and institutions of higher learning – not only of their own country but also successful systems established in other countries.

The review panel must therefore comprise the wisest and most informed group of individuals who will be able to manage, select and prioritise the enormous data in order to come up with a set of pragmatic and workable recommendations.

While the country’s education philosophy and its policies must be definitive at the macro level, its resources, including its human capital, must be operable at the day-to-day level.

It is in this spirit that we welcome the National Dialogue Townhall – a series of dialogues to be held throughout the country from April 29 with the general public as well as specific groups, such as students, teachers and community leaders.

A category that should be formally identified are education associations representing the different subject areas such as the Malay language, English language and history.

The Malaysian English Language Teaching Association, for instance, is a long-established organisation with a huge following among the country’s English school language teachers.

The Malaysian Association of Modern Languages has as its members language and linguistics experts, university lecturers and students who have on-going research programmes and activities on the ground. They must be invited to give useful and up-to-date input.

As stated by the chairman for the National Dialogue on Education, Tan Sri Wan Mohd Zahid Mohd Nordin, in the newspaper advertorial, the dialogues will focus on nine priority areas among which are teachers, school leaders, school quality, curriculum and evaluation, multilingual proficiency and the role of parents and the community.

The promised transformation of the education system is directly linked to the bigger mission of producing “holistic individuals with a mastery in several skills, namely leadership and communication” and “high quality students” who will contribute their expertise in making Malaysia a “high-income nation”.

It is hoped that outstanding business and corporate individuals such as Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Tan Sri Zarinah Anwar on the education review panel will be able to synergise their pragmatic concerns with the academic concerns expressed by the equally eminent vice chancellors and academicians in the group.

Through their goodwill and influence they must urge the greater collaboration and commitment of the private sector in contributing their resources in more formal and definitive ways. The Malaysian corporate world must rise above their token CSR handouts to adopt more substantive measures to turn around the country’s education system.

For instance, in the area of language teaching and learning which is the bane of the system but which forms the bedrock of the teaching and learning of all other academic subjects, there must be private sponsorship of language labs and language learning equipment like recorders and tapes.

While the former is expensive to have on a large scale, the latter are cheap and readily accessible to teachers and students.

I would like to urge multinational corporations producing audio-visual equipment and the numerous service providers like Celcom and Maxis to be truly innovative and come up with Malaysia’s own mobile, personal language labs and learning devices.

It will be part of their national service to come up with user-friendly equipment for nationwide distribution. Public universities can be mobilised to produce software in the form of high-quality language tapes and CDs.

It is this kind of clever thinking and wise decision-making that is required for education transformation, not more rhetoric please!

May 2012