Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Kill Shot ...by Vince Flynn

The reading bug hasn't quite left yet. This is another book that sits on the New York Bestseller's List. Into the world of spies, of men turned into killing machines, treachery and loyalty in ine breath and patriotism it brought me. It's a book filled with action, to the very end.

The main character, Mitch Rapp is trained to kill with extreme efficiency. And he is very good at what he does, so good that the CIA lets him operate on his own, without a supporting team, which is supposed to be against protocol anf caused quite a few envious undercurrents. He is sent out into the field and is ruthlessly efficient at what he does. He has a list of scumbags which he is supposed to delete from life. A trail of bodies is left all over Europe, terrorists whose deaths would not really be missed, striking fear in those on the other side.

In a supposedly routine mission in France, something goes wrong. Unexpected assassins showed up at his kill zone and 9 bodies are left behind, one of them, his target - the Libyan Oil Minister which he disposed. Mitch barely gets away with is life. He is shot at the shoulder. And so began his quest to find out the people who put the price on his head.

The novel is a page turner all the way to the end. The plot is simple enough to follow. One can more or less tell the good guys from bad. There is a little love interest in the midst as well. Unknown too him, by being too good at what he does is also an occupational hazard. The narcissistic CIA guy behind his problem is also a traitor. Even within a same spy agency, its heads have different ideas about doing business and they can be corrupted, by money as well as power. The web of entanglement goes high up into the corridors of 2 other foreign spy agencies.

Good triumph in the end, however, after more lives were laid to waste. Good guys live and bad guys die. Funny too how such books can make one root for killers. I guess deep down in most of us, we basically don't really mind the bad guys being nicked from the face for this world. Managed to squeak this in at number 6 for the year before the month comes to an end.

Also, I read up a little bit more on the author and novel after I finished the book. Yay! There are other Mitch Rapp novels. So if I want to get a dose of this kind of action, there are a few more books like this out there.

 

Monday, February 27, 2012

And the Idiot is....?

More than 20 years ago, I did my teaching practical in a well-known school in Seremban, SMK Chan Wa. I only attended one meeting during my teaching practical and the meeting lasted only 15 minutes. I was told by the teachers that's how long their meetings usually lasted. Apparently, the Principal felt that short briefings would suffice. He must have felt his teachers were intelligent enough and also trusted them. Short meetings are a rarity these days. We have such phrases... pegang mike, syok sendiri.

These days I think, we have way too many meetings and long ones too. And they are an insult to our intelligence. Matters which can be addressed in minutes take hours. A lot of immaterial ramblings take place. Just do some simple Math and the hours which are wasted are quite staggering. Add that to the added unquantifiable factors such as stress, physical tiredness, frustrations, indignance, etc, etc... we would have lost out not only the hours but a lot of goodwill.

Next the teachers' timetables. In the old days, the Senior Assistant 1 would be the one responsible in arranging the timetable. These days many pass that responsibility to an IT literate teacher. After more than 10 years of extensive IT usage in schools, we still have many unteachable administrators who claim to be IT incapacitated but competent enough to FaceBook or use a smart phone. I think if they feel they are dinosaurs in this age of computers, they should be made extinct in admin. As a result of their unteachability, timetables these days also imply our idiocy. In some schools, teachers teach non-stop for 2 1/2 hours. Teaching is not like any office job where you can at least go on. Productivity falls over time without breaks. Usually, after 80 minutes one would be bushed and would require a breather... So to be in classes for such a long stretch would burn a teacher...

Computer softwares do the timetable. With such softwares it's only a matter of keying in the data and timetables would be generated. Of course, there are certain parameters which the operator should key in as well. There seems to be a lot of feigned or real ignorance in this process, though. I always believe that computers can't be idiots. It is whatever that is churned out that reflects the idiocy of the operator.
Recently, I was given a timetable with 4 periods in one stretch! Earlier, a friend had complained on her FB her 2 hour plus marathon classes for a few days a week. In my case, after some teachers complained it was rectified the next day. An oversight, yet again a reflection of the apathy and also of abuse in blocking specific blocks of time for the operators of the software. It is often not uncommon to find the timetable teacher and those close to him with very agreeable timetables.

To ensure that the timetables generated are good, the final process would involve one of the administrators checking it. The fact that such timetables where 2 or 3 classes are stuck together like Siamese twins is also an indicator that many of our administrators are inept or just plain lazy. I think it is safe to assume that signatures are penned without so much of a glance at the timetables. Frustration levels build up, teachers get worn out.... we have very few leaders who will go out into the trenches with us these days.

Distribution of classes should also be 'fair'. But what constitutes fair? When I was a student, good classes usually get the 'good' teachers. Face it, there are good apples and bad apples. These days, good and bad apples are all considered good apples. Anyway, the system is rife with abuses now. Picture the monkey tree... any monkey above will continue to give shit to the monkeys below. The crap unloading is basically like a train out of control these days... made worse by our very own apartheid-like policies. Double standards can never be good for a society in the long run. And the rot in our education system is a result of such double standards.

Last year was a year of 1Malaysia Netbook. Free computers for those with household income of less thn 3K. There were mutterings among students. Apparently teachers' children in my work place were also given. And one of those teachers had recently been given a promotion too. I wonder if indeed it's true her kid had received the Netbook, does it mean that somebody falsified information when filling in the forms? Cos it is unlikely that her household income is less than the stipulated minimum. And the fact that the admin close their eyes to it. For not having integrity, you get rewarded too! How's that?

My generation is a generation grown up on "Gua tolong lu, lu tolong gua.' And if anyone dares confront them, they'd do a 'Jessie Ooi aka Ms Tow Truck' on you and throw you a how-dare-you and then go on a rant about their rights and privileges which they claim is enshrined in the Constitution.... which if true means that we have a Constitution that promotes keadilan with caveats.... only if it suits them. This is what happens when we put people with questionable level of integrity and and a check and balance mechanism that is skewed. One only has to look at what one political party goons behave to see how the politicians in power reek everything that is questionable.

Basically, ours is a system that has been built on skewed moral values coated by this veneer of religion.... to the point that the judicial dares not cite a shoe throwing imam for contempt. LOL! It was only made public after uproars in the media that the judicial lodged a police report over the incident. But I am sure the are juicy stories behind this lack of action.... could be a case of conscience being pricked since this imam is one frustrated fler for some reasons....

So, who are the idiots? Looks like it's us who choose to remain silent or continue to stand by and watch it all unfold....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks ...by Rebecca Skloot

Now this is one interesting book! And it's non-fiction. The oldest human cell line and immortality for the unsuspecting woman whose cells have lived on way after her mortal body has returned to the earth. A cell line is basically a line created from one set of cells. They grow it in the labs. Before this particulr cell line it had not been possible to culture human cells in the lab.

I learned a lot reading this one. Tremendous fun too. HeLa cells made it possible to propagate the polio virus, which made the development of its vaccine possible. Like many in my generation, I got my polio shots. Now I learn that I should be grateful to her cell line. It also was responsible for the discovery of the role telomerase in the degradation of cells and the discovery of HPV vaccines. Many have won Nobel Prizes and other research awards on account of this cell line. But it's prevalence and virility have also caused contamination of cultures running up millions in losses.

And where did the cells come from? From Henrietta Lacks, died at 31, mother of 5, in Baltimore, Maryland, against the the backdrop of racial America. She was black, obviously. Before she died of cervical cancer, doctors At John Hopkins managed to get a sample of her cancer cells. It's also a story of human ingenuity too, where pioneers like Dr. George Gey built their own labs, as in literally with their own hands and spent their own money building them. Hers were the first human cells which could grow in cultures - it achieved immortality in the labs. So Henrietta's renegade cells lived on even long after those of her generation with normal cells expired. This is an interesting site about her and her famous cell line.

There was one chapter in the book where Rebecca (the author) brought Deborah and Zakariyya (Henrietta's children who were still babies when she died) to John Hopkins to see their mother's cells. When Dr. Christoph Lengauer invited them to look at the cells under the microscope, Zakariyya asked this question, "If those our mother's cells," he said, "how come they ain't black even though she was black?" And the doctor replied that cells don't have colour under the microscope. They're clear till we put color on them with a dye.

That's what racism is all about. We colour people with our colours. Except that in life, those colours are represented by everything created in our minds. But under the different colour skin that each of us have are the same things and those things will all meet the same end once the telomerase lines run out.
The writer brings us into and through the lives of Henrietta's family. She also brings the reader into a world where human tissues, antibodies, actually just about everything related to us has price tags - opportunities translated to not just cures but also dollars and cents. And it's also a book which touches, even though subtly, that the poor, the underprivileged usually turns to faith because there is nothing else they can turn to. It also highlights the ignorant practices - marriage within the same family and the promiscuity of that generation. Henrietta married her first cousin and he was a womanizer who brought back syphilis and gonorrhea to her. Her children have hearing problems and one was committed to an asylum where she died.

Reading about this makes biology come to life. And it's a pity that such books will not make it to the reading list of many of our children because of the lack of their English. Such books inspire and spark imaginations. If it's firing up the young minds to take up the Sciences, then we should put books such as this on the must read book list for them, not some books that require little or no imagination like the ones you find in the literature list in our secondary schools now.

Definitely a good read. I was glued. Finished it in one and a half day... number 5 for the year! Actually, reading is about the only thing that I can do when I have to sit with my gal while she does her school work... school tests are coming soon, hence the reading frenzy too. 8) Cos that's all I can do in between explanations...

Friday, February 24, 2012

Iceberg ...by Clive Cussler

A novel can help us de-stress. Pick up a book where the good guys win in the end will put you in a better mood. And that's what I did. In the Dirk Pitt series, you have a all-round hero; suave, intelligent, brave, quick and seemingly invincible.

A yacht is spotted frozen on an iceberg and that sends Dirk onto another swashbuckling adventure, and there was one scene where he actually went swashbuckling; with dressed up pirates and their cutlasses. From an iceberg in the frigid Atlantic north to an island of geysers and aurora borealis, Iceland and even Disneyland, the good guys went on a chase to right a wrong. This novel brings us into a world of conspiracy and manouverings; where the wealthy think they own the world. They justify their ruthlessness by making the excuse that it's a necessary sacrifice for the greater good of mankind. Come to think of it, this actually is what we see and experience in real life too. Everything can be turned into an excuse.

Reading is fun cos the author gets to dictate the story line and you get to choose what type of story you want to read. Anyway, in this kind of novel, everything that is birthed in evil, the sins of the past eventually catches up. Good guys triumph in the end. Now wouldn't it be nice to see our cows unscandalised, our health taken care properly and how environment freed from the scourge of rare earth byproducts? Or that the denuded forests become forests again so that her natives can have their homes restored, or the so many leakages plugged so that our cost of living does not keep spiraling upwards. If only life is as simple to dictate like a novel.... But this is the real world. In the real world, bad guys do get away. They also become larger than life... on this earth. They wield influence with impunity. They grab, take, plunder, seize and do anything they fancy because they can, and they know it. Empires rise... and they fall. One way or the other, the fall usually has something to do with greed.

Anyway, the book is a good way to escape momentarily into a world good triumph over evil in the end, where the good rises from a great deal of bruising to deal the final blow to an evil plot. The world is safe once more. 8) The hero is magnanimous in the end. Good guy with a great heart. And oh ya! He gets to go back into the arms a great gal too. LOL! Book 4 but though the heart was momentarily lifted, the eyes took a 'beating' from staring too long at the screen. Still, I'd say this is an enjoyable read...

 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Amazing New Age Media

I think most of the young people won't think twice about googling for info. 7 or 8 years ago Google became a verb and the rest is the present. Need to find a recipe? Google it! Want to find out more about a disease? Yup! Google it! I even use Google to learn Mandarin. Need to find out the meaning of a word, phrase... Yup again! Google translate it! That's just the learning and knowing part! You can locate and pinpoint as well. But of course, all this can be quite scary. Between Google and Apple, they own almost everything else that makes this possible.

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What I find even more amazing is the way things can go viral in a short time. The digital media has a tendency to keep things alive in a WYS format. You get to see things in ways not imagined before. CSL vs LGE debate... Never before has a debate gone so viral and with a constant barrage of commentaries, pictures and videos to add. And because of these viral ability, one ambitious-trying-to-please her political master probably never imagined finding fame in such a short time. Ms Tow Truck! LOL! I keep think of Mater in Cars! 10 years ago, only those in the hall would have seen her performance. Today, everyone who wants to see needs only a few clicks, at will. Amazing!

And the influx of news... Amazing speed they are delivered too. 1Care? It would have been bulldozed through successfully before this age of New Media. Then Bayan Mutiara land deal. Who could have imagined that the CM's office would castigate his accusers so quickly.

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It would have taken ages or perhaps never for news that the former Chief Justice is now into business and just landed the contract to build a highway. Being senior appointees in the corridors of power is very lucrative, apparently. Allegations after allegations have been thrown by sources from inside and outside the country. Our very own Cowgate and even Lynas... Once upon a time, the gateway to all these information was held by only ONE. These days, the Old Media is still controlled but again and again as it has been shown, the old media might find itself facing obscurity. Twitter, FaceBook, Google, YouTube, news aggregator... the list is unending. They give the reader an other side of the coin view. The study of mass media has indeed gotten blown way out of its original size. New Age Media!! I think it's kinda cool at the moment. It's like a second Age of / Renaissance. When Gutenberg invented the printing press, he enabled the folks back then to read the Bible for themselves. That sort of exposed the sham the clergy were and it freed the people from the shackles of those who used religion to enslave the majority. This New Age media is like that printing press... Now to see whether it will herald a new Age of Reformafion.

This New Media seems to be providing a level playing ground in a different way. It's providing fodder for social uprising in a manner which defies whatever that we've studied in history. It would be interesting to compare the Arab Spring of 2011 and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1905. The manner that information has been able to get to the people.... the manner how vivid graphics are shared worldwide.

New Media... I wonder too whether it could be used to bring about changes in many of our institutions which fallen to rot of mediocrity brought about by incompetence. My little mind has gone overdrive thinking about possibilities.... LOL!

 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sing You Home ...by Jodi Picoult

Been some time since my last Jodi Picoult. This is another book that made the bestsellers' list.

In the beginning of the novel, Zoe and Max are trying to have their own baby. They are unable to have kids even though they have been married 9 years. Both have fertility problems. So, 5 years into their marriage, they try IVF. And 5 years down the road, she's on the 5th cycle of treatment, after 2 miscarriages. Her clock is ticking. They are almost broke after so many tries. And then at 28 weeks, she lost the baby. Both are devastated. Something goes out.

Everything goes downhill after that. Zoe wants to try again. Max cannot go through it. They drift apart, or rather he runs away. He goes back to the bottle and files for a divorce. Then, Max finds religion. Zoe finds Vanessa. From straight to gay. Zoe 'marries' Vanessa and they want to have their own child. Zoe remembers that there are still 3 more frozen embryos. But to use it, she has to get Max to release them since they are his too. And that's when things got ugly. Max's church believes it's wrong because the pre-born children will be growing up in sin. A court case; digging up dark secrets, opening of closets long locked to be forgotten... and the dark and ugly of what all of us are capable of, especially under the guise of religion, how ugly religious people can be. The more you claim to be godly, the more of the a voice of moral authority you feel you are entitled to be.

Picked up the book because it's a Picoult book. But after a couple of pages, actually thought of not continuing because the story evolved around an issue which I'm uncomfortable with.... being gay. Being gay is an abberration from the norm and abomination in the eyes of faith. Yet as I read, I found it to be rather humbling too because often times we forget that gays are people too.

Being gay I guess finally also boils down to a need(s) being met; a soul mate, a friend. It's not just about a deviant sexual orientation. Deep down everyone is this need to be loved and accepted. Everyone of us wants someone with whom we can share our life, someone who knows what we like or will do, without being told or asked. One can easily identify with Zoe as she goes through the most difficult time of her life and finally finding that someone fills that need, just that it's Vanessa. It's easy to see why people make their choices...

As Max and Zoe go through their legal battle, Max's church throws their weight hehind him. And that's where the ugly appears. People hide behind institutionalised religion. People use institutionalise religion for legitimacy. And it's easy to see why people turn away from religion once you can think for yourself... . Faith which is supposed to be the face of compassion and love is often more judgmental and harsh in its persecution of the very peope they are supposed to engage and show love. We become the hypocrites instead of givers of compassion.

This is a book that made me think quite a bit more than usual. Putting ourselves in the opposite pair of shoes is not something many of us are willing to do. Many of us prefer to hide behind this veneer of religious laws so that we can dictate the kind if moral grounds that the rest should tread. And sometimes being gay is not just about having a deviant sexual orientation. It's also about gravitating towards other needs met... It's a product of love being a verb and not just a feeling. Today's world is also an increasingly lonely one despite having so much more....

Coming in at number 3... I thought the reading bug had been squashed by eyes that tire more easily these days and also other pressing demands. It's nice to know that a good book can still keep me riveted.

 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Interesting Insights... Jeremy Lin

I've been seeing lots of posts about him on FB and on so this morning, while waiting for my gal to get ready, I listened to this. From an upcoming Asian American basketball player....

It's not him being a devout Christian that caught my interest here. It's how the people in his life impacted him. First, his family; his brothers who loved basketball too and played with him. Next was his coach who took him under his wings, be his mentor and his best friend (an opportunity, he said, which his brothers never had) and for 6 years gave him that sort of attention, polishing, training which enabled him to hit a higher note with his game. And then a coach which Harvard hired, after his freshman year, a man which revamped the coaching system there, and it enabled their basketball team to start to shine.

This guy has the humility to understand that human might alone is not enough to make it all come together. There are things which are out of our hands... I tend to agree with him that it's an angle of divine intervention.

The touching of lives... I think that's what missing a lot these days. We lead such busy lives. We seem to interact more, but these interactions seem to have more of a pseudo feel than real. We have very little time to invest in relationships, making a difference, impacting... We are more taken up by projects of grander designs, nicer sounding names. Investing time as what the Jeremy's first coach did is a long arduous task, one that does not bring you an instant measure of success. If anything, it's a long suffering and often times, thankless task. These past few months, i've been reminded again and again, there is this need there, young lives basically in need of good role models. For people who are committed to taking real interests in these young people; lije the role models, mentors and coaches who helped shape Jeremy Lin into NBA material.

And we need good and committed people. At my work place, our administrators never fail to tell us all teachers are the same... I think that's just an excuse. Teacher A walks in the class and the students continue to make noise while she teaches. Then Teacher B walks into the same class - all is quiet. Are both same? So, if our education system is seen to be on a decline, or our graduates seem not to meet market needs, we've got to ask ourselves whether it is in part due to the decline of real commitment. These days, we harp so much on the outward that we fail to see that it's what we do and think in secret which affect how we turn out. One reason whwellie schools seemed better in the past is back then, we seemed more able to do things more right. We had not only good and capable role models but they seemed more committed to their job in a truer sense, not like the tunjuk-tayang that seems so biasa these days.

Anyway, I am yet again, reminded of the selfless role models who have made all the difference in my life.

I went on to watch a couple more of clips on YouTube of Jeremy Lin in action. He's good. First Asian American to make it into the big league. Watching him, one tends to feel that an American Chinese is more American than Chinese. Now wouldn't it be nice to see the same kind of ability to integrate as Malaysians regardless of race over here too? For that to happen, I guess our politicians need to have their brains 'washed' first, I guess. And I hope too Jeremy Lin will not let success eat into him... At a time when we are reminded of Whitney Houston, how fragile everything can be too.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Of Nurses, Pharmacists, Doctors... more NIE

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0ver 60 nursing schools! More than 10 000 nurses graduate each year when we need only around 10% of the number. Some colleges are into the business of training nurses because it's lucrative. Sign up for nursing, and the college takes care of everything, now that there is PTPN loans to dip into. And with so many nursing schools, it's hard imagine all of them being of the same quality. So, I guess it's quite clear why so many of them are not employable.

Over 1000 pharmacists enter our job market annually it seems, recently it's reported. There so many of them now that the government has cut down their 3 years attachment to the government to just one year. And more will be graduating soon. 

Next on the list... Yup! The docs! We are going to have more doctors too, going by the way things are going. I look around and I know so many people whose children are studying medicine. These days, that's what parents gun for their children. As long as their grades are good, you can bet that medicine will be the course of choice. In Malaysia, have over 30 institutions offering medicine. Oh yes! We have over 30 medical schools! Word has it that they'll be in the surplus zone very soon too. We might soon be like the Philippines where their doctors leave in droves to seek greener pasture cos it's just hard to make a decent living. Doctors might not be getting permanent posting with the government hospitals once they complete their housemanship, for all you know. 

Now you see why 1Care has to be implemented? We have (or going to have) an oversupply of everything.... Tun Dr. M saw it fit to open the floodgates to easy medical degree so that the market will be flooded. It's now becoming a reality soon! There's going to be a lot of people clamouring for jobs in medical related fields. A big bunch of unhappy people who have spent so much time studying can be quite a headache. And their parents too because their children can't land a posting after all that money spent. And we can't have that, can we? There'll be a social uprising! Imagine the frustration....

It's a gold mine too if you can control it. Health is wealth, depends on which angle you are looking from; all angles being lucrative. in the hans of HMO -like set up, the one who controls that ends up with more of the goodies. With that many health professionals, zoning to ensure that everyone gets a piece if the pie becomes necessary because with so many health professionals of dubious quality, those not so good ones might find it hard to survive. And with zoning, comes fees for professional accreditation, blah, blah... At every corner there is an opportunity for those who hold the keys to more money. And finally, in order to keep the money in those pockets, someone has to pay. Unfortunately, that someone will be the common folks.... Dang!!!!!

Hence, it's important that we advice our children to pursue a career which they have passion for. Iteasterner when you enjoy what you do. Pay close attention to the newspapers. They tell us a lot of things but very often we have to learn to read between, under, above the lines. 8) But we need to find that MIA element, the elusive Thinking Skills.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine...

Be my Valentine. Valentine's Day roses and gifts, dinners and words professing love. Then on the end of the spectrum, cannot celebrate because it will meruntuhkan moral, Valentine's Day equals to maksiat, flowers costing a bomb, traffic jams, full house at restaurants..... Prior to every February 14, we read and hear the same things. And like so many things harped on too long, it's beginning to sound like a broken record.

After so many years, still the same song... We have politicians, religious figures all jumping in to prohibit, to play guardians of the morals, guardians of the faith. But we don't hear them showing the same fervor in fighting corruption, injustices, helping the poor. When it comes to morals, everywhere I am reminded how most take to moral policing like fish to water.... I supposed it makes feel empowered. Today I read the morality police went round arresting unmarried couples out on Valentine's Day date.

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My Valentine's Day was spent in the court, and tonight, I had a great night! Played 6 games and won every one of them, including the last one in which we were trailing 7 points to match point. I thought we were finally going to lose but we clawed back, got our deuce; and we went yo-yoing a couple of more deuces before finally winning. LOL! Clean streak! Am thankful for each time that I am still able to hold my racquet and play a couple of games.

I told Other Half, no more flowers. They are way too expensive. A bunch cost a whole lot more and I think it does not make economic sense to spend that kind of money. But a person should have a right to splurge if he wants to. It's his money and spending helps to spur the economy... 8)

When I was in school, Valentine's Day used to be fun. One might find a card or two.... or more in your school drawer, or book, just about anywhere. And only guys sent the cards, with clues but no identity, most of the time. The receiver is supposed to guess who her admirer(s) is(are). Girls get a lot of fun trying to guess each other's Valentines. Sometimes you might find a flower or two, or some small keepsake... in those days, with little money, even the card would be a major expenditure for many. 8) And that was that... innocent fun.  

Guess I am way past that hype that goes with Valentine's Day, and probably many people my age too. But that doesn't mean that we need to hentam Valentine's Day. There is nothing wrong in wanting to celebrate. It's the people who are the problem. And with or without Valentine's Day, maksiat happens every day too. No need for certain quarters to sit on their high horses and neigh the same thing. If you look at these people who sit high up there, much of what comes out of their mouth lacks a lot of compassion. 

Many centuries ago, the Church had the final say in people's lives too... and the religious authorities could even cook up something like indulgences for the atonement of wrongs. Being ignorant, the masses just went along.... There was also a form of moral policing going on to make sure that their power base remained. They too had creative ways to keep questioning limited... Off to the stake, thrown into the dungeon, etc, etc.  The nobility was in cahoot with the clergy. Mutualism. Symbiosis. When Henry VIII wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, which he couldn't since he was already married to Katherine. So, what did he do? He broke away from the Church... formed his own so that his legitimacy is ensured. That, I think was how the autonomous Church of England came about. 

This modus operandi is still in practice. In Arab Saudi you have Wahabism, closely linked to the Al-Saud family. And the recent journalist incident in which Malaysia deported him to what many say is a certain death.... moral policing is actually more about power, being in charge. Valentine's Day... the jumble of thoughts that come all muddled up.

Monday, February 13, 2012

NIE or Newspaper In Education

Newspapers are supposed to be a great tool for education simply because it is current. School textbooks are stuck at the time that they were printed. Materials in them become outdated very fast. Old issues are boring. For example, Students might be stuck reading about the 2004 Acheh tsunami instead of the 2011 Fukushima tsunami. But then again, our Malaysian textbooks were printed before the Acheh tsunami and there hasn't been any revision since then. If I am not mistaken, the chapter on environment is still on the Exxon Valdez oil spill.... I can't remember for sure cos I hardly use the textbooks these days. 

Newspapers also alllow students to keep up with the latest social trends, political changes and also what's new. The mind is constantly renewed.... A century ago, books were the main source of knowledge. These days knowledge gets repackaged again and again so much that what seems amazing today will be normal. Take the iPad for example... and in a couple of years, they're probably going to replace the paper textbooks that we are so familiar with now. Anyway, with textbooks going digital, keeping them current will not be an issue, going by how apps get updated all the time these days.

But I like NIE because it's supposed to also teach critical thinking... Let's take a look one problem which should concern us - the drop in the number of students taking math and science. Apparently there has been a huge drop. A 29% decline is worrying. And that also means that we have fallen short, very short of the 60:40 ratio of students pursuing Science objective set in the 90s.  Anyway, this article indicates that the authorities are worried about this trend and rightly so too cos our future is tied to this. The whole article can be read here.

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Anyway, this would provide an interesting discussion too for our young minds. The MOE had almost 15 years (I think) to work on the 60:40 ratio. Yet it failed. The slide would not have been so sudden. It would have been sliding for the last few years, at the very least. Yet the slide was not checked. What are we paying all those technocrats for at the Ministry? What were the Ministers of Education doing? Were they merely occupying the chairs first while waiting for their time to come so that they can move up to be the Deputy PM and then the PM? If that is the case, then we'll never have politicians with our education best interests at heart. And perhaps too, we should start looking at countries like Finland who set education apart from politics.... Finland, in the recent years has been noticed because their education system is now considered one of the most successful in the world. And one of the things they did was to reduce the role of politicians and give more autonomy to professionals to run the system. Minus the meddling hands of the politicians, Finland has found herself surging to the top of th PISA list. In discussion this in class - it would be interesting to take note of issues like accountability, efficiency, ability, good governance.... LOL! Another article here...

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And so, like many of the instant solutions which do not solve the real problem, we see the Minister coming out  statements that show his Ministry to be on top of things. But if you look at them carefully, they are merely attempts to make himself look as if he is solving a problem.... a problem which actually is the doing (or undoing) of him and his predecessors. We should be giving them all F(s) for failing our children! Yet we vote them into office election after election. And here too... one can find plenty of fodder for a good discussion. 8)

We should do some real critical evaluation and ask ourselves why we are in this state now.... taking stock of issues like funding, quality of teachers, learning environment, teacher workload, quality of school heads and also implementors at the state and district levels. We should also start asking ourselves whether our racial policy also contributes to the state we're in. I am sure if we look long and hard, we will find many of those areas wanting.

Unfortunately, teaching creative and critical thinking is like scaling a mountain, in many schools today because the standard of English is really bad. Very little discussion can take place because students can't speak. You see, most are so used to being taught English in BM in primary school. I am sure my SRJK(C) students had their English lessons in Mandarin. Then when they come up to secondary school, many of the English teachers themselves don't speak good English too... I cringe very often, listening to English teachers talk. And I have also come across many English teachers who can't even form proper questions or write correct sentences. If today, the MOE were to just give out an O-Level English test to the English teachers, the results would be quite interesting....

Perhaps we could use the BM papers. But then again, reporting quality in BM papers is even worse. 

As the Minister of Educatian said, English was one of the reasons why the interest for Math and Science is on the decline... and why too 'he' changed the medium of instruction. Will the grades improve? I'm sure. This is after all the computer age... anything is possible. Will students be more interested to take up Math and Science? That I'm not sure.

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Then again, we aren't the only country dumbing down our kids..... 8) Perhaps we should be exploring on new concepts on governance.... LOL!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

1CARE, EPF, KFC...

There are so many things which boggle the mind. Each time I read about 1Care, I wonder whether there is any real care in it, cos it must take a fool not to see from the initial leaks of what was supposed to constitute our new health care scheme, that this an attempt to line some pockets with really thick wads of notes..... And the kind of 'denials' which came out in the mainstream papers, the 'assurances' from our politicians and attempts to pacify people by trying to backtrack something which has already almost arrived at the lawmakers' tables indicate that some people up there think that we are fools or they are now so emboldened that they feel it's their right to bulldoze through anything that they feel is important to them. 

Our health care works fine. Perhaps some tweaks might help; cut down free or almost free treatment for foreigners, cut down on leaks, increase efficiency, have open competition... It seems the government hospitals can only buy medicines from one company. In patronage Malaysia, you can bet your last ringgit that the owners would have some connection to the ruling party. If the Defense Ministry deals are anything to go by, one can safely assume that medicine too goes the same way... 45 billion ringgit will make some really well connected people filthy rich. Everything that can be milked is being milked....

EPF.... now this makes me really concerned cos my retirement fund is there too. This is our (the working class) fund, and not some fund to be used as loans for houses, even though it's supposed to be for the poor. I am already paying taxes. Cut down other excesses, trim the expenditures and I am sure there will be excess. That can be used to fund those loans for the poor to own those houses. Taking our hard earned savings is just not right. Don't get me wrong. I am not against helping the poor. But lately, I am beginning to feel the pinch of rising costs. And it worries me cos it seems like I am paying more and getting less for everything. Every cash cow that can be milked, someone is trying to milk.... 

This is an interesting read about what's happening in the Penang housing scene.... If it's going to be any thing like Singapore's HDB concept, then it's going to be really interesting to compare with the latest attempt at our EPF monies. It's not exactly low cost housing but supposed to be affordable housing.... On the same note, prices of property has been escalating. If the government is sincere about affordable housing, perhaps it should look into imposing higher tax for second or third properties, if they are not used by the owners. That would distribute the ownership to more people than see it accumulated by just a small group or people.

KFC... Whatever happened to 'the customer is right'? Customer may be rude but that doesn't give the staff the right to punch or kick. This is the second time our Malaysian KFC has come into the limelight.... and for the wrong reasons. Some people are just not cut out to be in the service industry, no matter how you train them. They are a product of a system gone wayward, where many values are skewed for race and religion. Now when you go senget (skewed) at the base, I don't think you can get it right in the later part. It's like having a preacher who is having an affair with a member of the congregation trying to preach condemnation of adultery over the pulpit. Tell me how many people will listen. These days at school, we have many religious teachers who sleep at work places, don't have good teaching practices... and lead very non exemplary lives. And then they lead whole schools for prayers.. Tell me, how do good values ever get passed down or caught.

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But in racial and (supposedly) religious Malaysia, any incident, any event.... race and religion are sure bound to be brought into the debates, so that the 'they' and 'us' becomes super distinct. It's much easier to stay in power if we divide and rule. The British learned that long ago. And their successors understood that very well. Unfortunately, critical thinking is long lost in our curriculum these days too. They are difficult to get caught. Anyway, KFC.... It has become halal chicken, babi name calling, Muslims vs non-Muslims, Malays vs non-Malays, politician jumping on the bandwagon for the free publicity....last I read, Perkasa has just jumped on. The list goes on. It wasn't too long ago that there was a call to boycott KFC since it is an American franchise. Those who 'shouted' those calls saw it fit then cos it suited their Palestinian agenda. There was the 'us vs them'....

And suddenly, some people say KFC halal chicken is supposed to be nice... Why even talk about halal chicken? Gosh! As for KFC guy calling the 'complaining' customer babi, many of my Malay students call each other babi.... much to my chagrin and not theirs. So, for all those politicians trying to jump onto this bandwagon for some cheapskate publicity, shame on them. Every issue can be manipulated.... We should be wiser by now after having wool pulled over our eyes so many times. If we are not, then we the rakyat must be really stupid. The said KFC outlet in the video gone viral over YouTube basically implies this: Its manager is incompetent. Its staff are not professional. Period! The potential customers should be able to make their own judgements from the videos themselves.

Why can't we just see that all these dubious schemes, shameful 'gangster' behavious are indicators of something gone wrong within our system, that many of us are unable to be critical of ourselves to weed out the negative? Instead we cling on to It's you vs me, they vs us.... All of us have been taken for suckers cos while we have been busy slugging it out under this veneer of calm and false unity that we portray to the rest of the world, a small group has been enriching themselves with glee. Else, how can a dentist who led a state own a house which most of us can only fantasize about in our daydreams like Mat Jenin or how a lawyer could turn a loan to develop the cattle industry end up with so many posh condos in the most expensive neighborhood in our neighbour down south. You've got to wonder who is dumber. Us who voted these people into power or these people who think that they can abuse their positions because they are fighting for the rights of their race. Race is merely a tool.. and we're merely fools.

So 1Care actually sounds like caring about what goes into the pockets, EPF is also how I can continue to keep that money flowing while using other people's money to fund projects which will dupe people into thinking that good has been done and finally KFC which is now synonymous to fighting  chickens, of Kungfu chicks instead of waking us up to the distorted reality that has been impressed upon us through years of divide and rule....  Go figure out what each of us should do........

Saturday, February 11, 2012

iPad for Dad

I just got my 70+ year-old dad a 3G enabled iPad. I was hesitant at first because bro had actually got him a computer earlier and after a couple of months he found it daunting. And being from the thrifty older generation where they had to work really hard to earn the $$$, a couple of months on mobile broadband  when he had the computer put him on a warpath with the broadband vendors. And that computer sat there, collecting dust after that.

Anyway, after seeing that he was spending most of his time at home sleeping, I finally took the plunge and got him the whole nine yards... Ipad with broadband subscription included. It's much easier for them to use when they cannot see the cost of subscription. Anyway, the misunderstanding about the broadband cost stemmed more from his ignorance of how they charge more than anything. 

And this is my observation after almost a month. iPads are good for the older generation grown on typewriters, simply because it's uncomplicated. Problem? There's only one button to press and it takes you home. But still there are many stories I could tell you of the problems I had with Dad during the occasional times when problems came up.

Dad likes to read news.... and the first thing I did after getting the iPad was to set it up with all the popular news aggregators, feeds. I went for the popular ones - Flipboard and Zite. Plus I downloaded whatever news app that I thought might contain the news he would like to read. I had shown him Twitter on my own iPad and he liked being able to read the different news from there. So, I set up an account for him. He keeps confusing Twitter with FaceBook. Because he has some medical problems, I made sure I subscribed to sections on health, fitness, diets, nutrition on Zite so that he can be reminded to take the necessary care via being reminded through reading.

I also put a Bible App in... It reads the Bible aloud in Mandarin. Older people usually complain of eye problem. Being able to listen instead of reading is a good substitute. For good measure, I put in a Radio app too. He has found the Radio app entertaining, he said. He listened through the Book of Matthew in the first month.

A 3G enabled iPad means I can set up Skype too. I talk more to my parents now and I can see them. Mom has more aversion to picking up something new but for the past weeks, Dad has been able to bring the iPad to her and I can see her and talk to her while she potters around or does her routine exercises. Again for good measure, I installed Viber too since Skype sometimes goes off... Viber is actually for the smart phone but it gets the job done too on the iPad. 

I am not around to teach Dad expand his iPad know-how. But what I have found a challenge out of this situation is it has forced me to think of ways to start a long distant teaching thing. And I started using pictures! Those with experience teaching older people will probably understand how challenging it can be to teach them new tricks where techie stuff is concerned. One must remember that it is hard for the elderly to embrace technology. It is difficult for them to remember what does what and goes where. I have been using Skype with Dad for a month, and each time I tell him to switch on the video, he tells me that there are no 'buttons' for him to touch. It also requires a great amount of patience. 

I capture screens on the iPad and using apps like Skitch, I would circle/highlight the areas he need to touch and fill in. Written instructions are also written or typed beside the highlighted or circled areas. Then I would send the series of pictures in sequence over Message or Viber. For someone who is not tech phobic, it would be a piece of cake. But believe me, even with all the instructions laid down in pictures, Dad still found it difficult. Yet, he has said that the iPad has been a wonderful tool because he is able to read so many things. He was telling me that he wants to learn how to put in his comments on the some of the issues that he has been reading. LOL!

I put in a Chinese Chess app too but so far he has not taken a bite on that yet. But for those who like Sudoku, word games or just enjoy some moments of fiddling around, I think there is great potential there too. 

I am convinced that the iPad is a great tool for the elderly. The simplicity of a closed system made many of the tasks which seemed impossible on the computer available to them... all just a touch or two away.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Litigators ...by John Grisham

If only life can run its course like a novel. Grisham's books are mostly the legal type... lawyers, courts, lawsuits. The kind of stuff that makes Law and Order a hit back in those days when most who watched it wanted to be a lawyer or have something to do with that field.

Anyway, this is a 2011 book, written at a time many young lawyers graduate from law schools in America only to find that law might not be such a lucrative field after all. These are days are surpluses.... supply is outstripping plum law positions. Tuition fees are soaring. It now can cost a small fortune to study at top law schools. Graduates are saddled with a huge study loan debt.... In Malaysia we are slowly coming to that too. Back to the book.

A young Harvard lawyer cracks up after 5 years at a huge and well-known law firm. He walks away from a 300K a-year salary. On the day ge cracks, he spends the day drinking away and then stumbles into a small law firm, with 2 lawyers, legal clerk and a dog. The senior partner is unhappily married, a former cop. He's in his 60s. The junior partner, fortyish, is sleazy enough to do what it takes to get a case or a settlement. The reader is brought into a world where lawyers are like hustlers. There are many hilarious situations.

The case that makes the book is a drug related one, not of the drug cartel type but more of pharmaceutical. Mass tort law, suing big companies for releasing drugs not exhaustively tested, is the name of the game. Anyway, I think lawyers and big companies; they are the same. Both are like packs of vultures - go where the money is. Big law suits are still about the percentage lawyers get. One case and that's the break a struggling lawyer needs. A struggling lawyer is not necessarily old. These days, some struggle way on. Pharmaceutical companies are also about money. Testing done in third world countries where lives are inconsequential and less important because ignorance reigns.... and lousy leaders. Data collected, approval and sale of drugs, everything can be arranged, doctored.... It boils down to the money.

But the author tries to balance things up a bit, injecting hope, that there are still those who hang on to principles. In a case of lead poisoning, accountability by admitting and compensating as should came from the the toy company. A kid falls seriously ill, irreversible damages done and dies in the end. But the company owned up, apologized and compensated without much question. But underlying all that admission is still money rules. A toy company with a public case of poisoning due to their products cannot hope to survive long.

In the meantime, the young Harvard trained lawyer who walked away from his world of corporate law finds meaning in his life. The book ends with a fairy tale ending for him - kids, a new successful law firm, family and career seemingly in good balance. In a novel, that can be dictated... would be nice if we have that amount  of control over our own lives too.

Finished this 2 days ago after that particularly long read on Einstein. Didn't take much time, this one. Book 2. This year if I can do 12, it'd be quite an achievement. These days, the books that I am reading sway more to the textbook kind.... Not that I am complaining but trying to learn a new language in between is rather taxing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

And We Call It Prihatin

The rights to an education.. everyone should be given his right to an education. Education is supposed to be the the ticket to a better life... I could go on and on about the virtues of education. But these days, I think a big part of our education is a sham. Education is big time business now. Just look at the number of medical schools in Malaysia and you'll see what I mean. For a country of 28 million, we have more than 30 medical schools! Word has it that there will be a surplus of docs in another 2-3 years, one reason why the authorities need to push for the 1Care. The papers in the last few days have highlighted the excess nurses that we seem to be facing. And an article somewhere indicated one of the reasons why there are so many nurses is  training nurses is a lucrative business. Profit margin is very good.  It's still the Ringgit and Sen that dictate. Never mind that we'll get a surplus.... 

It's February now. It's a also a month where we get lots of problem-stragglers back into our classes. They are problem stragglers cos they are usually students who have been expelled due to absenteeism. We call them the Kes Ponteng. And now they are slowly straggling back, because they don't know what to do and the Education Department doesn't know what to else do with them too. The law enshrines their right to an education till the age of 17. So that's what they'll 'get'... stay in school till then and perhaps hope for a miracle in their results. And then perhaps after that miracle, continue their education at the numerous skill centres which will not only give them a place but also an allowance! Such is the generosity of our system now... training lots of 'skilled' (on paper) workers but somehow still not able to tweak them into industry standard. And guess what, when they are rejected because they lack attitude and skills, they turn around and expect that the society picks up their tabs......

In some rare cases, you see great genuine remorse. But most of the time, (even in the few genuine cases) the tasks ahead are simply too much for them to handle and they slide back into their old self after a while. What do you expect of brains which have been laid to rust for a year or more? They aren't going to start being able to comprehend or cope. And I have not even started talking about ability to sit still or just stay awake in class. These kids have great propensity to sleep in class... In fact, they spend a lot of time sleeping. I guess for some, if grades are awarded for sleeping, they'd score A with very little effort. And I was told that where I work ranks somewhere in the middle of the national list of ranking. As much as we make excuses for our universities not making into the world ranking, we rank our schools too. LOL! Am trying imagine the situation in the lower half of the ranking. 

I don't see much good for these kids to remain in school. They will spend the rest of their formative year(s), getting lazier and bolder in antagonizing the school. This is where they learn that being lazy pays, and that the system will pick up the tab, the society owes them a living, etc, etc... Lots of negative behaviour are caught here. They are going to enter the society feeling laziness or the lack if discipline as biasa. There are always second chances... Squander one and the next one will be made available.

This is also the month where we see some students go off... in recent years, less of such students are getting places in technical/vocational schools. Technically there is no vocational schools now as our PM during his tenure as the Education Minister did not see it fit to keep them. So they got converted to technical schools. It used to be 20-30 students will get selected for vocational schools. These days, most can't qualify for technical schools cos their grades are really bad. But I guess one can argue that normal day schools offer one vocational subject now.... Catering, Landscaping, Domestic Wiring and others. But frankly speaking, I would have my doubts about asking these students to cater for a function or do my wiring.

We keep taking the problem students back... We try to be prihatin. But in trying to be kind like this, I think we are doing a great disservice to them too. We imply to them that they need not be accountable. We complain that our social problems among the youths are on the rise. I wonder too whether people really take a good look and ask themselves whether what's being practiced at schools contributes too. The culture of kesian couple with this prihatin thing... if you are smart enough, you'll learn how to manipulate and twist them so that you get what you want. That, I think, for the teenage mind is something which comes very naturally. 

On another note, a student of mine has just gone off to MRSM.... residential schools for Bumiputeras. This student has what many will think as good results; a couple of A(s) and B(s). The thing is I have been teaching him for a month and found him to be wanting. I noticed him because his exercise books annoyed me to no end. I couldn't read a lot of what he was writing. He can't write legibly. He's always one of the students who would end up with 'extra attention'. Apparently, he can't even draw straight lines properly. To me, he seemed to be in a perpetual blur.... and he is deemed MRSM material, supposedly an institution of the higher echelon within our schooling system. Gosh! I didn't know that such is the bench mark of MRSMs. 

Anyway, to be prihatin.. sometimes I wonder whether too much kindness also kills. This coming from a year when the 4 out of the 5 language classes that I am given are classes known to be difficult to handle. It's tiring and is mentally draining. I highlighted that fact in a meeting to discuss class allocation last year and was told that it's because I seem capable of maintaining class discipline. But at that time, in order to appease the situation, an amendment (on paper) was made to make it more manageable. I should have known better. Words from forked tongues are purely for one purpose... lip service. Never mind the blatant abuse of positIon for personal gains that was verbalized. And these are the same mouths who preach a holier than thou attittude very often. 

So, this year, I am stuck with 4 classes stocked with not just incorrigible students pumped to the brim with raging hormones, but also those with learning problems, suspected Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, behavioral problems..... Perhaps I should take a cue from this living example that I have to see everyday, that maybe, just maybe I should also start screaming, yelling like a mad woman... Monkey see, monkey do!  LOL! 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Albert Einstein ...by Walter Isaacson

Because I enjoyed Walter Isaacson's book about Steve Jobs I decided to read his other works. He has 2 more other biographies; Ben Franklin and Einstein, and I thought the latter might be more interesting. But it turned out to be a rather slow read for me, cos there were so many descriptions and examples of his theories and how his mind worked in the book. Physic belongs to the realm of the geeky. And so for a non-geek like me, some effort is required to plough through many sections of the book. I almost wanted to stop reading but I am glad that I finished it cos it provided many insights to the life the one of the greats of modern times. 

Reading about Einstein is humbling. A great mind he was, yet he remained quite simple and humble to the end. At his wishes, his body was cremated (in the presence of his family members and close friends, numbering 12). It had already been scattered into the Delaware River by the time the official announcement was made. He could have had a glittering funeral. But he did not want a final resting place that will be turned into a subject of morbid veneration.

Some of his quotes and thoughts that I like. In them one finds many snippets of wisdom.

"The development of science and of creative activities of the spirit requires a freedom that consists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice. Nurturing that should the be the fundamental role of government."

"The value of college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think." (I think we've lost that plot here)

"During the war it (science) gave people the means to poison and mutilate one another, in peacetime it has made our lives hurried and uncertain. Instead of being a liberating force, it has enslaved men to machines by making them work long wearisome hours mostly without joy in their labor."

"Humans have within them a lust for hatred and destruction. Leaders can manipulate it to stir up militaristic passions."

"Use for yourself little, but give to others much."

"The touchstone of his science was his nonconformist belief. When he became an American citizen, the country's tolerance of free thought, free speech and nonconformist beliefs became the touchstone of his citizenship."

"After the second world war, he said that while the ownership of an atomic bomb gave America a sense of security, it was an imaginary one, and in that respect it was a great danger."

"And Math (which wasn't something he paid close attention to) - Math could be a tool for discovering - and not merely describing - nature's laws. Math was nature's play book.

Non-conformist - that's Einstein. And that was what made him a great physicist. His quote, “In teaching history there should be extensive discussion of personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgment.” Here, we teach too little of that in our curriculum. Our History is dissected and many parts removed for political ends. Names of roads are changed, contributions of figures past relegated to obscurity, old schools torn down and the list goes on. There seems to be a systematic effort to purge our history so that one race stands out. We can do a parallel comparison to Hitler's act of purging the German nation of the Jews for Aryan supremacy. Yet it was ironic that a Jew, (and a German) would be responsible for the theory that made the atomic bomb a reality. And the fact that, many of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project were Jews too.  Plus, that same country where many of the German Jews sought refuge would be a major partner in the coalition that brought Germany to her knees.

In his last days, even as he lay in his hospital bed, knowing that his end was imminent, he continued to work furiously with his equations. Reminds me of another Isaacson's book. Steve Jobs did the same too. These were remarkable men, and they continued doing what they loved to the end. I'd recommend it a read.

My first book for 2012. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Alternative Education

One of the things when we talk about with friends whenever we meet them these days is our children's education and I marvel at how brave some of our friends are at picking the road less taken, homeschooling.

In the last couple of months, I've taken many looks at alternative choices to public education. Being in the public school system for almost 4 decades, both as a student and teacher means I have been able to watch it evolve.... or deteriorate. I think it's easy for a kid to get lost in the labyrinth that we've created in the system; one that emphasizes too much on grades but seem incapable of truly inculcating good principles and values despite having Moral/Religious subjects in the timetable. I listened with fascination one day, as a colleague regaled on how she was able to get her students carry books... by rewarding them with packets of drinks each time when they carry her books! I don't know what to make of this... Some will say this is incentive. I wonder whether bribery qualifies too.. Simple goodness in life needs rewarding... Something is wrong.

The role of teachers... While there are still many teachers who are committed to their calling, the damage done to the status of teachers via the negative perception of the society and also the mismatched people taken into the profession due to certain policies have all contributed to what many see as a regression. Good teachers make a difference. Good and knowledgeable teachers not only make a difference but inspire as well. The latter is sadly missing these days. 

So do our children have a balanced childhood? School, co-curricular activities, tuitions, music lessons, etc.....  Parents have a role too. The general feel these days is most parents seem to be in a rush for their children to finish their education so that they can enter the job market. They have their reasons but I notice more are entering the job market younger... There is no doubt that more students are scoring strings of A(s). But there is also a consensus that our graduates don't quite seem to be meeting market requirements. Smarter yet none the wiser.

About half a year ago, after a 'bruising' conversation with a neighbour, I decided that I needed to be more in the know where my girl's learning is concerned. That was when I started picking up Mandarin so that I could teach her Science. It was also then I discovered that she had been taught to memorize answers or answer the structure questions in a certain way. There was little understanding. The joy of learning is dulled. And that realization has brought me into a journey of discovery of its own....

While shopping for books, I chanced upon some books following the Singapore curriculum. I got some Maths and English books. They had books dedicated to just solving problems which required thinking skills. I got those as well. And boy! Was I in for a surprise! Years ago, those problems would not have posed much problem to us. For English, she was able to cope.... barely. The surprise was in Math.... she could do none of the thinking skills questions and was struggling with other normal questions. In later weeks, I would try some of the questions on a 19 year old who had scored an A+ in Add Maths SPM... and she too could not solve some of them. Mind you, these are questions from Primary 4 book.

It was then it finally sank into us that our schools (if not all, then many) are not teaching our children to use their brains to think.  I downgraded the books one level... started from scratch. And so began our 'homeschooling' with her. Suffice to say there were many teary moments. To pry open a mind, I have discovered again and again is a difficult task. Everyday at work, I come face to face with tens of kids, especially boys who seemed to have switched their learning side of the brain off.... switching them on is a gargantuan task. Most of the time, they come on for a while only to stay off for an even longer time. You  see, the brain that has been at 'rest' too long finds it difficult to restart again... unless there is a cable (teacher/parent) to jump start it all the time. And that is a very tiring.

Robots are programmed to think along set pathways. The human brain is supposed to be able to analyze and come up with better solutions. That's what learning Science is supposed to do, train our minds to think and analyse. In our chase for A(s) we have also been dumbing down our kids. Everything is rushed... time becomes scarce. Time to play becomes a luxury.

I's hard to deny thar rot exist and is spreading. Hence, perhaps too why we are seeing more disillusioned parents turning to alternative systems. I see some of my Malay colleagues opting for private religious school because they feel it is better for their kids... less behavioral problems, some real religious grounding. We are not that brave yet as to take our remaining kid in the system out. But our own experience with our boy has also indicated that perhaps it might be necessary. Generally, these days, when we sit down with friends and talk about children, one thing that seems to be popping up is the bad influence from school. But perhaps too parents are not playing enough role.

Anyway, back to alternative education. Education has gone global. Unless one wants to work with the government (and that door is semi closed to non-Malays), public schooling doesn't seem to be doing very much good... Global instruction is available these days; and many are top notched too. We've not been very successful in inculcating a love for learning in our kids or independence required for lifelong learning.

Alternative education.... these days, mainstream seems to be fraught with more problems. Or perhaps this is a view from a 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the pasture'?

February is into its second day.....