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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Syabas To Our Heroes Fahmi And Zunar!

 Syabas To Our Heroes Fahmi And Zunar!

M. Bakri Musa



Will Rogers once quipped that everything is changing now, what with comedians taken seriously and politicians a joke, when it used to be vice versa.


In Malaysia things go further, much further. Her politicians, besides being a silly joke, are also senile clowns while her cartoonists, virile heroes at their prime. Star cartoonists Fahmi Reza and Zulkiflee Anwar Haque (Zunar), strike fear at the highest levels. In May 2018 CNN described both as “The two cartoonists who helped take down a Malaysian Prime Minister.” 


            After the Prime Minister, who’s next?


Fahmi and Zunar have been widely lauded by their international peers. Fahmi won the “Most Outstanding Human Rights Film” at the 2007 Freedom Film Fes. His rendition of a red thick-lips Najib as a grotesque clown was the iconic campaign banner during the 2018 General Elections. In 2015 Zunar received the coveted International Press Freedom Award. In 2011 he received the Robert Russel Courage in Political Cartooning Award and again in 2020.


As for being honored by their local peers, they have none. They have no peers among locals.


Fahmi’s doodling rattled even the palace. His latest was not a sketch but a playlist on Spotify with the label “Deng Ki Ke?” (Are you jealous?) splashed over the portrait of the Queen in her regal yellow. There are titillating subtitles but we need not go over them. That playlist of songs each with the word “jealous” in the lyrics did not amused the Queen such that she deactivated her Instagram.


Spotify too was spooked. Undeterred and ever resourceful, Fahmi uploaded his playlist on Apple Music. Having listened to the free preview, I must compliment him for his selection of songs! For that he was detained by the police for – what else in Malaysia? – allegedly insulting those in power, the Queen in this instance.


The Queen later reinstated her Instagram but with her earlier posting of “Dengki Ke?” deleted.


What was there to be jealous of the Queen? Her wealth? More than a few local tycoons could outmatch her on that front. Her looks? Well, let’s not go there.


That jealousy referred to in her earlier Instagram had nothing to do with either wealth or beauty, rather over the much sought-after biological Covid-19 vaccine. On their recent trip to Saudi Arabia, the royal couple secured (outside regular channels) 2,000 doses of the vaccine.


When someone queried whether palace chefs had been vaccinated, she responded with her now infamous Instagram posting, “Dengki Ke?” From there, the ever perceptive and sharply piercing Fahmi struck, and it went viral. Her royal attempt at being “hip” in social media backfired in the worst possible way.


Malay sultans and their families not following the rules are not a novelty. Their securing those vaccines outside of regular channels would not even raise a yawn in feudal Malaysia. So why the fuss this time? No one begrudges the King and Queen, as well as palace personnel, getting top priority. They should, both as a show of confidence for the vaccine as well as for their position. No need for the haughtiness, much less the secrecy and super-sensitivity. The government could have made special provisions for them and do so openly. That would also be the right thing to do.


The unneeded secrecy that is problematic. What other secret deals were cooked up with the Arabs? With Najib’s 1MDB trials now meandering through the courts, citizens cannot be blamed for speculating.


I salute Fahmi’s artistic genius and undaunted bravery. What saddens me are his detractors, especially the few prominent Malays. They caricature him as a stooge for the Chinese, DAP to be specific. That says more of Fahmi’s Malay critics than of him. In effect they are repeating the old Mahathirian refrain:  There are no brave, smart, or creative Malays. When they seem to be one, they are but puppets of the Chinese. What a sad commentary, on them!


Zunar famously said that even his pen has a stand. Malaysians too must take a stand on this Fahmi versus stupid Malaysian officialdom. When leaders breach their oath of office and abrogate their responsibilities, citizens must act to show their disapproval, and do so in no uncertain terms. Malaysians have had enough with their leaders getting away with impunity, be they politicians looting the public purse in broad daylight or religious leaders groping school girls and taking free junkets abroad.


To Fahmi and Zunar, continue on your brave crusades. We cheer you on! Thanks to his lawyer Nadarajan, Fahmi is now released. As for Zunar, visit his website (zunar.my), buy his books, and be his patrons. His latest collection, Caca Marba, promises to be another sizzler.



Sunday, April 18, 2021

Keep Residential Schools For The Poor

 Keep Residential Schools For The Poor

M. Bakri Musa



I was visiting my old village a few years ago and was discussing with the local teachers the sorry state of Malaysian education, in particular rural schools. One of them took that as my blaming the teachers.


            “How can we be inspired?” she protested. She went on to relate that while in the past there were more than a few bright kids in her class to create some sparks, today those few would have gone into the many residential schools.


Now that Malaysian schools have reopened, that teacher’s lament and perceptive observation came to me as I read the many congratulatory remarks in social media made by and for proud parents whose children had been selected into these residential schools.


There is merit in having these magnet schools. Farmers give special care and attention to their promising saplings; ranchers their prized heifers and young bulls. They are the future; they will increase the quality of the farm or ranch. Likewise with a nation.


Singapore’s Raffles Junior College and South Korea’s Daewon and Minjok are now “feeder schools” for the Ivy League. When those students graduate and return, they would uplift the nation. To prepare for those elite universities, these students sit for international matriculating examinations like the British GCE “A” Level, American Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), and the International Baccalaureate (IB). They prepare for them early, upon entering high school and thus have at least four years of preparation.


Some Malaysian residential schools too prepare their students for IB and GCE A level, but only after they have sat for their local Sijil Persekutuan Malaysia at Year 11. Thus they have a truncated preparation of at most only two years.


Meanwhile India opted for a different strategy. She targeted not the school level but undergraduate, as with her Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) with its 23 campuses. Those students then would strive to enter elite graduate programs in the West for their MBAs and PhDs. Many leading American scholars, professionals, and executives of Indian origin trace their academic roots to IIT.


Malaysia also has comparable targeting with her five “research” universities. Unlike India, Malaysia does not have much to show for her effort. It would have been far more effective and cheaper if those “top” five universities were to improve their undergraduate programs a la IIT. Instead they are on a futile chase for “global ranking” and produce gluts of PhDs with their half-baked “research” published in predatory journals.


It takes considerable time, money, and effort just to take part in those surveys. Accept the fact Malaysian universities will never make to the top within the next few decades. Focus on achievable goals, as with increasing the employability of your graduates by making them bilingual.


The criteria for success with the IIT-like approach could also be readily measured, as with how many of the graduates get accepted to elite universities. Another would be whether their programs are recognized internationally. University of Malaya’s medical degree was once accepted by the British Medical Council, thus paving the way for its graduates to take further training in Britain. Not now.


Malaysia sends her educators to and hires consultants from such countries as Finland but fails to learn the most elementary lesson. That is, successful schools, whether in Malaysia, Finland, or America, are where there is a commonality of purpose and effort among teachers, parents, and community. As for curriculum, Finnish and German high school graduates are fluently bilingual, the second language being English. That is worthy of emulation.


If successful Malays do not send their children to residential schools, they would by default support local schools. Their children’s success would depend on it. Further, as their children would be among the bright ones, they would add much-needed sparks to the class and inspire their classmates as well as the teachers.


Beyond that, these residential schools could then provide more opportunities for others less fortunate to have the same superior opportunities that you once had. Besides, your children would have far better living conditions at home than they could ever hope to have even at Malay College. Imagine, their own room, broadband access, and definitely much better food! As for intellectual stimulation, you could provide that far better than those teachers. Last and most important, your children would absorb your values.


Imagine the multiplier effect on Malays if all residential schools were limited to the poor or those who would be the first in their family to go to university. There must be some pride among successful Malays not to let their children be the ward of the state. In essence that is what their children would be if they were to attend these residential schools.


            I am appalled that Malay leaders like Mahathir would on one hand chastise Malays for being too dependent on the state while at the same time send their children to these residential schools. They have no shame. Worse, their children too are now sending their children to these schools. When will they learn the lesson that they are preaching?


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Ramadan Is More Than Just Fasting

 Ramadan Is More Than Just Fasting


M. Bakri Musa

In the documentary film “American Ramadan,” a Christian minister related his experience in Malaysia during that holy month. He was at the airport at dusk to retrieve his luggage, but every worker was rivetted on the clock, awaiting the breaking of fast. He did not know then the significance of the month and thus could not comprehend their obsession with time. An older clerk however came over to help him while the others were busy eating.

That older clerk best demonstrates the true meaning and spirit of Ramadan. It is more than just fasting; it is about being generous to others, including a total stranger. The clerk could just as easily join his co-workers in eating or have the counter closed.

Ramadan As Allah’s Special Blessing

Tradition has it that during Ramadan the doors to Hell are closed while the gates to Heaven are wide open, a reflection of Allah’s generosity. The best way for us to show our respect for Ramadan, and thus for Allah, is to reciprocate His generosity by being generous to our fellow humans and His other creations.

Ramadan is a season to be forgiving and to be forgiven. It distresses me that no Muslim nation, Malaysia included, have shown fit to grant their prisoners amnesty during Ramadan. Imagine the positive image of Islam if Muslim leaders were to be generous to their citizens, especially those prisoners of conscience.

Just as the day’s fasting heightens our sensitivity to the flavor of even the simplest food at dusk, likewise Allah heightens or enhances the spirituality and blessings of our regular ibadat (religious duties) when performed during Ramadan.

It is said that the virtue of praying on the “Night of Power” (one of the last ten nights of Ramadan) equals that of “a thousand months,” or that certain ibadat are worth “44 times more” if done during Ramadan. We should not be obsessed with the magnitude of the enhancements. Suffice to know that they are, and that should motivate us even more to perform them with even greater fervor and frequency during Ramadan. The prophet encouraged us to partake in community iftars (breaking of the fast) not only for the communal bonding but also to share with those less fortunate.

Fasting takes a toll on our body, but Allah in His Generosity does not require us to fast if that would impose an undue burden as when we are sick, traveling, or pregnant. Nonetheless those blessed with good health and where fasting would not pose an undue strain should still have to be prepared. We must maintain our regular physical exercises and health routines, with particular emphasis on our oral hygiene. Additionally, we should be clean, neatly attired, and keep ourselves well-trimmed. If we aspire to be spiritually clean, we must also be physically so.

Ramadan As “Time Out!”

Ramadan makes extra demands of us. At its elemental level Ramadan forces us to change our daily routine. For Muslims in the tropics where there are no distinct seasons to modulate their activities, this is useful. In temperate zones, the long cold winter nights are for rest and the long days of summer for work. Such a marked natural rhythm is absent in the tropics.

Ramadan also serves as a convenient time frame to anchor memories, as with “the last Ramadan of the Japanese Occupation,” or the “first” following the birth or death of a family member.

The altered routine forces one to pause and reflect, a “time out” of sorts, to step back off the conveyor belt of life. When I was a consultant to a lumber mill in Oregon, the manager took me on a tour of his facility so I could better appreciate the injuries of his workers. I saw huge logs being subjected to harsh debarking, repeatedly sawn through, and then bent and bounced about as they were mechanically sorted and graded. You could hardly hear one another with the noise and vibrations.

Then I was taken to the warehouse where the atmosphere was completely the opposite – eerily quiet, with stacks of cut lumber neatly piled up and left undisturbed. Even the workers whispered to each other, as if respecting the quiet time of the lumber. This was the curing room, with its light, temperature, and humidity controlled and kept constant.

After the logs had been through the stresses of the mill, the products needed time to recover before they would be subjected again to the stresses at the factory or construction sites. If they were not allowed to recover or be “cured,” they could break easily and the company’s brand name would suffer.

If inanimate objects like lumber needs “rest time” to recover from the hectic experience of the mill, imagine the need for such times for humans. Ramadan is that necessary “time out,” a season to pause and reflect.

Metabolic Consequences of Fasting

Obesity is the number one public health challenge in America today. Moderate caloric reduction significantly lengthens lifespans. With humans, obesity is a definite contributor to increased morbidity and shortened lifespan. Imagine if fasting were to be a habit! I routinely lose about five to ten pounds during Ramadan. That feels great! If nothing else, fasting is a respite for our digestive system that is incessantly stressed by our daily indulgences.

These benefits of Ramadan would be negated if we were to be a glutton after sunset. With the increasingly common practice of indulging with elaborate iftars at fancy hotels, many Muslims gain weight! Such extravagances are certainly not in the spirit of a season that calls for restraint and moderation.

At the House of Kedah restaurant in Vancouver, Canada, there was a sign at its buffet table, “There will be $5.00 charge, donated to charity, for unfinished plate.” What a wonderful idea! It prevents waste and discourages gluttony.

The caloric deprivation and mild dehydration of fasting affect brain function by heightening the neural connections in the areas concerned with emotions; hence the enhanced spirituality experienced by many when meditating during Ramadan.

When we are generous with ourselves, we would also be more likely to be generous to others. It is in this spirit that I wish my fellow Muslims, “Selamat Berpuasa!” (Best wishes with your fast!) and Ramadan Mubarak! (Joyous Ramadan!)

First posted in September 23, 2007.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Digital Education In Rural Education

 Digital Technology in Rural Education:  The Experience in Malaysia and Elsewhere.


M. Bakri Musa


Last of Four Parts

[Presented in part at a webinar sponsored by the Islamic Renaissance Front, Malaysia, Saturday January 31, 2021, together with fellow panelist Dato Dr. Madeline Berma, and Shamshir Alam moderating.]


Educational achievement, during pre-Covid-19 days as well as today, is directly correlated with the development of a society, and is inversely related to the level of poverty. Whether this relationship is spurious, meaning not related to meaningful, could be debated; likewise in determining whether it is the cause or effect. It could very well be that rich countries have the resources to spend more on education. Meaning, the relationship is consequential not causal.


Nonetheless there are enough examples where wise investments in education would benefit society. In Europe, there were Finland and Ireland, and in Aisa, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea. The latest example is in Africa, Rwanda. Superior education relates to the quality of human capital I alluded to in the beginnning.


            According to economist Muhammad Abdul Khalid, 100 percent of children in the low-cost flats of Kuala Lumpur are in the poverty group; likewise those in rural areas. Poverty in Malaysia today is both an urban as well rural phenomenon.


            Professor Jomo stated that 90 percent of Malaysian children have no access to digital technology. Yayasan Hasanah put that figure as ony 37 percent. In America, it is about 15.


Jomo suggested bringing back the old educational television program of yore. As those villagers could receive those transmissions. I am supportive of this only as a short-gap measure. Television is the technology of the 1950s. The intellectual traffic there is not only one way, but the teachers do not get immediate or any feedback from the students. Poor Malaysian students, in rural as well as urban areas, must be given the same opportunities as those in developed countries.


It would be more appropriate to modify those television bandwith to accommodate Internet signals. That is not an engineering problem but one of legislations. Some poor African countries have done that.


            Bringing broadband access to rural areas whether through cables, satellites, or phone lines is again an engineering issue and after considering costs and local topography. The best choice for Kapit in Sarawak would not be so for Gua Musang in Ulu Kelantan. Likewise the choice for a longhouse in Kapit would not be suitable for a kampung in Kemaman or those highrise flats in Kuala lumpur.


            Whatever model we choose for a particular location, we must be prepared to study and monitor its effectiveness. The initial choice should be just the beginning of the effort. This is where Malaysia fails. We assumed that we have designed a perfect system and that it will work now and forever. Thus we do not study its limitations and acceptance. Even if it were to be successful, we stlill need to study it so we could improve on it and perhaps modify it for possible applications elsewhere.


            Consider what Sugaro Mitra did in India with his first “Hole in the Wall” experiment in 1999. From there he improved on it to develop his “Schools in the Cloud,” “Learning Hubs,” and “Granny in the Cloud.”


            Contrast that to the typical Malaysian experience. I once attended Friday prayers in a magnificent mosque in Kuala Lumpur that was just opened a few months earlier and with great fanfare. Yet there were already wires strung across the beautiful cavernous hall as the architect did not provide for enough outlets for the many television screens. Worse, there were numerous makeshift loudspeakers jury-rigg to the walls.


            In 2003 I visited a school in my old village where the teachers had each been given expensive Apple laptops. However when I asked them, they were all disappointed. They could use those computers only at school. When school was over the computers would be locked up in the headmaster’s office. Those teachers had barely enough time to teach their classes let alone learn new skills. The result? The cpmputers gathered dust in the cupboard.


            Contrast that with the experience in Uruguay. The schoolchildren there were each given those computers to take home. There they could teach their parents how to use them for their little “mom and pop” businesses. As a result computer literacy in the village soared.


            To conclude, my takeaway points are these.


First, all children rich and poor, rural and urban, must have broadband access for free. IT should be considered as a basic and integral part of education, as with desks, chairs, and blackboards, as well as electricity and potable water. With IT schools could become the villagers’ or community’s hub for broadband access. Choose one of the many proven models as OLPC or Learning Hubs and modify for local use.


            Second, because of the current limited access to broadband, e-learning should be confined to subjects that could not otherwise be taught, meaning STEM. Others like history, civic classes, and religious studies should be deferred.


            Third, use the old educational television only as a stopgap measure.


            Fourth, we must try the different models and study them so we could improve on them. Establish local champion leaders and give them the necessary training. Continue collecting data as to use, efficacy, and problems associated. 


            Fifth, DT is now an integral part of education at all levels. With that comes a fundamental change in the role of teachers and educators. They are now less the sage on the stage and more a guide at the side.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Harapan Dan Cabaran Teknoloji Digital Dalam Pembelajaran Talian

 Harapan Dan Cabaran Teknoloji Digital Dalam Pembelajaran Talian


M. Bakri Musa

[Persembahan saya di webinar anjuran Islamic Renaissance Front, Sabtu Januari 31, 2021 bersama dengan ahli panelis Dato Dr. Madeline Berma dan moderator Shamshir Alam]


Pilihan Sesuai Untuk Malaysia

 [Bahagain Terakhir  Dalam Empat)


Apa saja model yang di pileh untuk sesuata tempat atau sekolah, kita mesti kaji dengan teliti masaalah serta kebaikkan nya supaya kita boleh membaikki dan menambah kekurangan nya. Inilah kelemahan besar di Malaysia. Kita enggan mengkaji model kita. Kita bina dan lepas itu cabut dari kampung atau rumah panjang. Oleh sebab itu kita tidak dapat mempelajari dan membaikki kesilapan atau keburukan sesuatau model.


Bandingkan dengan pengalaman Sugaro Mitra di India. Dia sentiasa membuat kajian dengan experiment nya “Hole in the Wall” yang di mulakannya pada tahun 1999. Tidak hairan jika ia boleh membaikki modelnya yang berikut.


Bandingkan dengan keadaan di Malaysia. Mithalnya, berepa akitek melawat sekolah yang mereka reka dan bina dua atau lima tahun kemudian untuk mempelajari dan membaikki kekurangan rekaan mereka? Sebulan sudah digunakkan, merata wire elektrik yang bergantung sebab arkitek tidak mensediakan banyak outlet electric di dinding.


Pada tahun 2003 saya melihat sekolah dikampung saya yang mana guru nya di beri sebuah laptop Apple yang mahal. Tetapi bila saya tanya, mereka tidak puas hati. Mereka terpaksa belajar mengunakkan computer di waktu sekolah sahaja. Habis sekolah laptop itu di kunci dalam almari di pejabat gurubesar. Mereka tidak ada masa untuk belajar meggunakan computer dimasa sekolah terbuka. Akibatnya computer tinggal dalam almari saja.


Bandingkan pengalaman di Uruguay. Murid murid itu di beri dan mempunyai computer mereka dan boleh di bawa balik ke rumah dan digunakan untuk mengajar ibu bapa dalam perniagaan mereka. Dengan itu taraf pergunaan Internet di masyarakat itu meninggkat bukan sahaja diantara murid tetapi juga dengan ibu bapa mereka.


Banyak model yang sekarang sudah ada dan bolih kita contohi atau diikutsuaikan. Pertama OLPC. Tetapi disini kita mesti gunakkan laptop yang lebih moden dan mumpuyaii software yang standard supaya murid boleh mengunakkannya di luar sekolah seperti mengajar ibubapa supaya mereka boleh mengunakan dalam perniagaan mereka. Pak Din dengan warong goring pisangnya boleh mengunakan computer untuk menambah perniagaannya.


Antara model Mitra yang amat sesuai pada fikiran saya untuk rumah panjang di Kapit ialah “Hello Hub.”


Kesimpulan saya ialah:


Pertama, semua murid dan sekolah mesti menyediakan broadband access. Ini mestilah dianggap satu kemestian seperti juga electricity dan bekalan ayir bersih. Jika tiap tiap sekolah luar bandar ada akses broadband, sekolah itu boleh menjadi pusat untuk penduduk sekelilingnya melayari Internet. Mereka akan mengunakannya untuk perusahan mereka. Kita mesti mensifatkan akses broadband itu satu kemestian atau keperluan. Pileh saja satu model untuk satu sekolah atau kawansan dan kaji dengan teliti impaknya. Model OLPC, Hello Hub dna Granny in the Cloud dan sebagainya.


Kedua, pendidikan melalaui talian TD semasa Covid-19 mesti lah dihadkan kepada mata pelarajan yang tidak boleh di ajar secara lain. Maknanya, hadkan kepada STEM dan BI. Mata pelajaran lain seperti ugama dan sejarah diketipan untuk sementara waktu.


Ketiga, gunakan pendidikan melalui radio dan televisyen untuk sementarya sahaja.


Keempat, kita mest mencuba berbagai model dan belajar dengan teliti nya supaya kiata boleh membaikki dan memberi tambahan kepada model itu. Tiap tiap sekolah mesti mengadakan satu atau dua orang “champion leader” yang memainkan peranan yang penting. Latih serta beri mereka dana untuk mempelajari model lain. Kita mesti mengutip data supaya dapat mengubahsuai model kita dan membandingkan usaha kita dengan negara lain.


Kelima, gunakan TD di semua tingkat termasuk ke universiti. Di zaman sekarang peranan guru di semua tingkat sudah bertukar dari cara lama dimana mereka disifatkan sebagai pendita di pentas tetapi sekarang menjadi pemimpin di samping. Atau dalm BI, no longer a sage on the stage but a guide on the side.