Sunday, February 9, 2020

A global fallacy: Blaming on China's eating culture for the new coronavirus

In the midst of the spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), Asians, no matter in what region (in Asia or in predominantly non-Asian communities), are now being stereotyped as bat-eaters, even when not all Asian communities have the habit of eating bats. It has spiked a global anger toward Asians for the spread of the virus which stem from health concerns and have resulted in xenophobic and prejudicial tendencies coming from non-Asian (by region or ethnicity) communities.

As for  among the Asian non-bat eating communities, such as the community that I myself belong to, we've not been exempted from committing this prejudice. We too tend to blame on their eating culture and put our ethnocentric standards on what they should and shouldn't eat. This indicates a similar line of logic that all non-bat eating communities have which is 'The Chinese from China tend to eat whatever they like, so that's why they're  prone to being exposed to such an outbreak.' This line of logic is problematic because 1) it does not address the real cause of the outbreak (false cause fallacy)  and 2) it reinforces harmful stereotypes even among the Chinese (and Asians in general) outside of China who do not eat bats.

The direct cause of the outbreak is due to human activities whereby humans and other animals are going further into bat's territories which encourages contact between us and the bats which results in the virus transmissions. This is largely due to urbanization and modern agricultural practices [1]. Other than that, the evolution of the coronavirus also plays a significant role [2] which means that already available vaccines for previous forms of coronaviruses (SARS and MERS) will not work on this new one. China's poor food safety standards is also a factor [3] whereby food scandals often happens, unlicensed markets that sell wildlife, and undertrained basic hygiene techniques among the workers [4]. 

If we still insist on blaming the Chinese culture's eating habits for the spread of the virus, let's think about it, based on our own ethnocentric standard of eating practices, the chickens that we rear and eat are also prone to zoonotic (animal to human infection) diseases such as the H5N1 bird flu but we don't hear a serious outbreak about it because a vaccine for it is already available, but it is also due to the fact that human to human infection of the disease is less likely to happen [5]. Here is another issue to think about. The Indonesians in Northern Sulawesi have bats as one of their local delicacies [6] but we don't hear a coronavirus outbreak coming from their region. By attempting an educated guess, the bats in that region are most likely to be of a different species (the Sulawesi harpy fruit bat) and would have not yet been carrying the virus. So, does blaming a particular culture's eating practices is enough to conclude the direct cause of the new coronavirus? The situation in Northern Sulawesi already falsifies that.

In conclusion, the problem is not the eating culture, but poor food safety standards, no vaccine is yet available, evolution of coronavirus, and human activities which encourages bats and other animals to come in contact with each other.

References:

[1]  Cui, J., Li, F., & Shi, Z.-L. (2018). Origin and evolution of pathogenic coronaviruses. Nature Reviews Microbiology. doi:10.1038/s41579-018-0118-9

[2] Xu, X., Chen, P., Wang, J., Feng, J., Zhou, H., Li, X., Zhong, W., and Hao, P. (2020). Evolution of the novel coronavirus from the ongoing Wuhanoutbreak and modeling of its spike protein for risk of human transmission. Sci China Life Sci 63,https://doi.org/10.1007/s11427-020-1637

[3]  https://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/16/world/china-food-safety/index.html

[4] https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/01/27/dont-blame-bat-soup-for-the-wuhan-virus/

[5] https://www.who.int/influenza/human_animal_interface/avian_influenza/h5n1_research/faqs/en/

[6] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-05/coronavirus-scare-prompts-call-to-pause-bat-meat-consumption/11924514

Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 Malaysian education issues: A recap

I know that there have been many changes and issues in the Malaysian education field this year. But I'm going to review those that have been sensationalized and have become the topic of discussion among the public (drawing my observation from twitter) and politicians. 

1. Jawi issue

This is the most sensationalized and controversial topic since August and as we are approaching 2020, the discussion surrounding this topic hasn't stopped. It's all due to fears of Islamisation as propagated by Dong Zong as well their supporters. I think it's all a misunderstanding and baseless fear that a script associated with Islam will immediately convert someone into Islam. Imagine if the script for Malay had not been romanized and it would still be written in Jawi today, every Malaysian would be writing and reading in that script. Even the Malay language Bible would be written in Jawi. The Kadazandusun language  would also be written in Jawi (IF romanization of Malay hadn't occured) because the language itself does not have its own script. 

How will a 3 page lesson on Jawi calligraphy in a Primary 4 Bahasa Melayu textbook will result in students converting to Islam? As an agent in the education system and as one of the policy implementers myself, this is my take on it. The ministry has issued a statement saying that it's not going to be tested [1]. If it's not going to be tested, then knowing how most teachers employ the 'teaching-to-the-test' method for the sake of efficiency, it is less likely that Jawi will create an impact among the students. The Jawi part would most likely to be taught for a brief moment and then it will be forgotten because it wouldn't be efficient to focus on something that's not going to be on the test or exam.. The purpose would most probably be to expose non-Malay students a part of the Malay heritage. It's just Jawi calligraphy and it's not a comprehensive lesson to master Jawi to the point that  the students would be able to write and read in it.

I do empathize with Dong Zong's concern however. Malaysia has been active in its Islamisation process through the education system since the 1980's. But I think that's because Malaysia has a reputation for being a dominant Muslim country (but not an Islamic country. Malaysia is not a theocracy.) and its purpose is to just instill Islamic values onto the majority who are Muslims. I think this resistance against Islamisation is a sentiment that many non-Muslims share probably because they're loyal belonging to a particular religion other than Islam or holding onto a different belief. On another note, Dong Zong's concern with Jawi as a form of Islamisation is a reaction that has emerged without knowing how the teaching of Jawi is actually going to be implemented. I think the whole Malaysia see Dong Zong as a laughing stock after it was announced that Jawi is only included in 3 pages. 

On the bright side, the issue got people learning about the history of Jawi and experts on it were willing to explain to the public.

2. Protests during a convocation ceremony

The UM graduate who protested against the Vice Chancellor of UM was acting upon his capacity as  a Malaysian citizen who is subjected under the Malaysian Constitution. The Constitution grants Malaysian citizens the right to freedom of speech. So, what he did was reasonable and within the law [2]. I'm aware that many perceive his actions as rude and disrespectful. However, based on his statement in this video (please watch the video to get a clear context of what I'm elaborating on here), he had gone through all the proper channels to express his dissatisfaction toward the Vice Chancellor but to no avail. I think he used the convocation ceremony as a platform because it was the last straw. Based on the principles of free speech, he did not violate his rights. Protesting during a convocation ceremony can be seen as rude and out of the norm in Malaysia, but it's a form of peaceful protest. It's time to challenge that norm.

As for the UMS graduate, he expressed his solidarity with the Palestinians by stating anti-Jewish sentiments and praising Hitler for his effort at exterminating the Jews back in World War 2 [3]. He protested against the Jews when what he should be protesting against was the Zionist movement. This is a result of not knowing world history when it should've been taught in the secondary school syllabus. Our school students are not being exposed about The Holocaust which is sad because it is the most important event in world history that could instill a sense of humanity by not perceiving other races as inferior.

What are the similarities between these two new graduates? They have performed a peaceful protest during a convocation ceremony. The differences is that the UM graduate expressed anti-racist sentiments and a call for fairness within an academic institution, while the UMS graduate expressed racist sentiments as a result of ignorance and misconception about The Holocaust. 

3. 2018 PISA result

The good news is that we've improved [4] but the bad news is that we are down below our neighbouring country, Singapore. Refer to the chart below:


Other than that, although we have improved, we have not reached the OECD average:

I have nothing much to say about our PISA 2019 results apart from we still need to find ways to improve our education system so that it meets the OECD average. My concern will be whether our ranking will improve in the next PISA or whether this is just a fluke. I'm aware that improvements in our education system is being made but I wonder if its effectiveness is really reflected in the latest PISA result.

These are the three main issues that I think highlight 2019's Malaysian education issues, at least from my point of view.

References:

[1] “Maszlee: Jawi for All Year 4 Pupils Decided in 2014, Will Not Be Tested or Assessed.” Borneo Post Online, 6 Aug. 2019, https://www.theborneopost.com/2019/08/06/maszlee-jawi-for-all-year-4-pupils-decided-in-2014-will-not-be-tested-or-assessed/.

[2] Malaysiakini. “Graduate's Action 'Reasonable and within Law' - Former UM Students.” Malaysiakini, Malaysiakini, 19 Oct. 2019, https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/496254.

[3] Inus, Kristy. “Graduate's 'Nazi Salute' Convocation Picture Goes Viral.” The Star Online, 26 Nov. 2019, https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/11/26/graduate039s-039nazi-salute039-convocation-picture-goes-viral.

[4] Kannan, Hashini Kavishtri. “Malaysia's PISA Ranking Improves [NSTTV].” NST Online, 3 Dec. 2019, https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2019/12/544448/malaysias-pisa-ranking-improves-nsttv.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

2019 reading routine

Compared to 2017 and 2018, if I look at my list of books (physical or e-book), the numbers have decreased. I think I've only read 30 plus books this year. However, I prefer quality over quantity. Apart from physical or digital books, I also read articles and research papers from academic journals. I've never counted how many but I read quite many in order to write a sound argument for the articles I've written for this blog. I think I do not limit to my type of reading materials. It would be better if I expand the source of reading materials for me to refine my way of thinking. The same issues are more current when they are being addressed in journal articles than in books. 

My reading theme for this year is mostly to understand the fundamental concept of politics. I've picked up a few books that I've read that had served as an introduction to the field. Coming from an education background, I had problems understanding books that discusses politics as it was a foreign concept and field altogether even though I was already reading about the topic a few years back which means my fundamental understanding of it was not as strong. Towards the end of the year, I found myself able to analyze local and internal political affairs just by applying the fundamental framework that I had read from the introductory books on politics. I am able to get into conversations about politics and express an informed opinion on them. 

Apart from reading, I've also started to write articles by using an academic approach even though I'm not in academia. My arguments should be backed up with facts and current research. This also helped me to refine my way of thinking about current issues. 

2020 is going to be the year where I plan to start learning about the basic about economics because I'm aware that I am quite illiterate when it comes to economics. Apart from that, 2020 will also be the  year where I focus on my thesis. Now, how do I balance my time with thesis writing and reading up on economics as well as work?  I think it just takes discipline. Last time I was able to just balance between reading and working. Now I have to add in thesis writing to my schedule. We'll see how 2020 goes for me. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Student mental health: Solely a school counsellor's job or every teacher's concern?

Most of the time, we tend to resort to the school counsellor whenever we notice a problem in students' behavior. However, I would like to contend that teachers (class teachers or subject teachers) should also possess a skill that could aid in students' mental health especially in the area of providing emotional support.

One of the main contestations for this would be is that although teachers have the realization that it is part of their fundamental role as teachers, some have expressed that those who are not school counsellors are not trained to address student mental health problems and it is not within a teacher's area of expertise. This is in accordance with a study done by Mazzer and Rickwood (2015). This is also evident with the opinions of the teachers around me. However, teachers are being placed in a position where they are able to recognize issues concerning students' social and emotional well-being and can play a valued role in the help-seeking process. It would be an advantage for us to have the required skills ourselves and not solely relying on the school counsellors for such problems.

Adolescents are at a vunerable stage for experiencing mental health difficulties but many of these difficulties are only being dealt with using disciplinary policies, intead of perceiving it as symptoms of underlying emotional issues (Whitley, 2010). What I observe is that only those with disciplinary problems such as those who skip school or getting into fights with other students are the ones who get sent to the school counsellors. Some teachers are not aware that what they did could have stemmed from their own emotional problems. We tend to go for the punitive approach instead of investigating further into the area of their emotions. This is where emotional support should come in. Emotional support here doesn't mean being lenient with them or enabling harmful thoughts or behavior to perpetuate. This just means we encourage them to express how they feel and their problems which then should be followed by advice that could reshape the way they view the situation that have caused their emotional issues. 

A study by Suldo, Friedrich, and White (2009) clarified that emotional suppport is the type of teacher support that is most related to students' life satisfaction. This would mean that the mental health of the students are well maintained when teachers provide emotional support for the students and not by only relying on the school counsellor to address problems that are related with emotional issues. Other than school satisfaction, other factors can be improved such as their academic competence and social skills. 

Apart from the lack of competence and skills, the ultimate barrier for teachers to apply and provide emotional support and mental health promotion is that non-academic tasks are perceived as a tasks that require a lot of time and an inhibitory factor for teaching progress in class (Ekornes, 2016). This is the effect when the mandate of schools has traditionally focused on academic, rather than psychological outcomes for students. The solution for this is to provide mental health literacy for teachers which could be dealt with by providing training and a school-friendly approach to mental health literacy intervention which is tied into a large education and health system (Kutcher, Wei, and Hashish, 2016). This is an integrated model that promotes a horizontal and seamless pathway through mental healthcare for young people. 

Resorting to sending the students to the school counsellor when certain kinds of emotional issues can be dealt by the teachers themselves is a result of a school culture that only focuses on academic aspect and a system whereby teachers are not being trained for mental health literacy. With regards to the stigma on mental health, this would be further exacerbated when teachers are not integrated as the personels that should be aware of and spread mental health literacy. As for me personally, it is my personal belief that as a teacher, I should be able to provide and offer emotional support to my students and attend to them but within my professional boundaries. I will only send them to school cunsellors if the emotional problem is outside of my professional capacity.

References:

Ekornes, S. (2016). Teacher Stress Related to Student Mental Health Promotion: the Match Between Perceived Demands and Competence to Help Students with Mental Health Problems. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research61(3), 333–353. doi: 10.1080/00313831.2016.1147068

Kutcher, S., Wei, Y., & Hashish, M. (2016). Mental Health Literacy for Students and Teachers. Positive Mental Health, Fighting Stigma and Promoting Resiliency for Children and Adolescents, 161–172. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-804394-3.00008-5

Mazzer, K. R., & Rickwood, D. J. (2014). Teachers role breadth and perceived efficacy in supporting student mental health. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion8(1), 29–41. doi: 10.1080/1754730x.2014.978119

Suldo, S., Friedrich, A., White, T., Farmer, J., Minch, D., & Michalowski, J. (2009). teacher support and adolescents' subjective well-being: A Mixed-Methods Investigation. School Pschology Review38(1), 67–85.

Whitley, J. (2010). The Role of Educational Leaders in Supporting the Mental Health of All Students. Exceptionality Education International20(2), 55–69. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Role-of-Educational-Leaders-in-Supporting-the-Whitley/1261888db3b68a711d3e9dc0b791970667828b02

Ekornes, S. (2016). Teacher Stress Related to Student Mental Health Promotion: the Match Between Perceived Demands and Competence to Help Students with Mental Health Problems. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research61(3), 333–353. doi: 10.1080/00313831.2016.1147068
Kutcher, S., Wei, Y., & Hashish, M. (2016). Mental Health Literacy for Students and Teachers. Positive Mental Health, Fighting Stigma and Promoting Resiliency for Children and Adolescents, 161–172. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-804394-3.00008-5
Mazzer, K. R., & Rickwood, D. J. (2014). Teachers role breadth and perceived efficacy in supporting student mental health. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion8(1), 29–41. doi: 10.1080/1754730x.2014.978119
Suldo, S., Friedrich, A., White, T., Farmer, J., Minch, D., & Michalowski, J. (2009). teacher support and adolescents' subjective well-being: A Mixed-Methods Investigation. School Pschology Review38(1), 67–85.
Whitley, J. (2010). The Role of Educational Leaders in Supporting the Mental Health of All Students. Exceptionality Education International20(2), 55–69. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Role-of-Educational-Leaders-in-Supporting-the-Whitley/1261888db3b68a711d3e9dc0b791970667828b02
Ekornes, S. (2016). Teacher Stress Related to Student Mental Health Promotion: the Match Between Perceived Demands and Competence to Help Students with Mental Health Problems. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research61(3), 333–353. doi: 10.1080/00313831.2016.1147068
Kutcher, S., Wei, Y., & Hashish, M. (2016). Mental Health Literacy for Students and Teachers. Positive Mental Health, Fighting Stigma and Promoting Resiliency for Children and Adolescents, 161–172. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-804394-3.00008-5
Mazzer, K. R., & Rickwood, D. J. (2014). Teachers role breadth and perceived efficacy in supporting student mental health. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion8(1), 29–41. doi: 10.1080/1754730x.2014.978119
Suldo, S., Friedrich, A., White, T., Farmer, J., Minch, D., & Michalowski, J. (2009). teacher support and adolescents' subjective well-being: A Mixed-Methods Investigation. School Pschology Review38(1), 67–85.
Whitley, J. (2010). The Role of Educational Leaders in Supporting the Mental Health of All Students. Exceptionality Education International20(2), 55–69. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Role-of-Educational-Leaders-in-Supporting-the-Whitley/1261888db3b68a711d3e9dc0b791970667828b02
Ekornes, S. (2016). Teacher Stress Related to Student Mental Health Promotion: the Match Between Perceived Demands and Competence to Help Students with Mental Health Problems. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research61(3), 333–353. doi: 10.1080/00313831.2016.1147068
Kutcher, S., Wei, Y., & Hashish, M. (2016). Mental Health Literacy for Students and Teachers. Positive Mental Health, Fighting Stigma and Promoting Resiliency for Children and Adolescents, 161–172. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-804394-3.00008-5
Mazzer, K. R., & Rickwood, D. J. (2014). Teachers role breadth and perceived efficacy in supporting student mental health. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion8(1), 29–41. doi: 10.1080/1754730x.2014.978119
Suldo, S., Friedrich, A., White, T., Farmer, J., Minch, D., & Michalowski, J. (2009). teacher support and adolescents' subjective well-being: A Mixed-Methods Investigation. School Pschology Review38(1), 67–85.
Whitley, J. (2010). The Role of Educational Leaders in Supporting the Mental Health of All Students. Exceptionality Education International20(2), 55–69. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Role-of-Educational-Leaders-in-Supporting-the-Whitley/1261888db3b68a711d3e9dc0b791970667828b02

Friday, October 11, 2019

"Comedy is subjective.'" - Arthur Fleck, Joker (2019)

Forget about putting Arthur Fleck into the 'good' or 'evil' box. I personally think that this movie isn't about seeing what is good and what is evil. I also think that we have to throw out all morality out the window when analyzing this movie and sympathize with him. If we were to view it with our sense of morality and utopian ideal, of course the definite answer will be 'killing is not right even if you find it pleasurable and it meets your self-interest' or 'killing people who have caused your depression is not the answer'. It's a rule that is already set in stone. However, I don't think that is the point of the movie. Therefore, we have to view Arthur's actions like that of a psychiatrist who is willing to listen to a mentally ill patient's side of the story. After all, this movie is about him. The title of this post, which is also a quote directly taken from the movie, reflects the manner in which how we should analyze what Arthur is going through - which is by being subjective. 

There is a little detail in the movie that I find intriguing. The funny (pun intended) thing about society is that they tell us to smile often. Phrases that indicate 'smile always' is plastered throughout the movie but the irony is that mere written and verbal phrases do not seem to help. This is one of the little details that intrigued me in the movie. It is a form of toxic positivity. Of course smiling activates our happy hormones called endorphins, but external factors do not seem to support for such an action to be continued without effort. It will only result in a discontinuation of the feedback loop. Furthermore, the politicians are corrupt, the rich is exploiting and marginalizing the poor, the economy is breaking down, people are losing their jobs, etc. Being sandwiched among these types of world problems, is there still room for happiness and feeling content? Does smiling really help? Is that the only advice and support that a broken society has to offer? 

Negative thinking can lead to self-destruction. One of the ways to have a healthy mind is to remove all negative thoughts that have caused us to think of such thoughts. However, it is easier said than done. As for Arthur, he didn't remove the negativity in his mind, he removed all of the things that made him thought of the negativity by 'physically removing' those who have caused those negativity. Only after that did he finally find pleasure in his mind. The irony is, what he found pleasurable was pain for others. This is where his subjectivity about the situation lies. 

When there is nothing funny or pleasurable left to see, in desperation for laughter and humor, when only chaos and destruction are the only things that are at our vicinity, with the ability of our minds to interpret and perceive things however we want it, chaos can be seen as a comedy to someone. Hence, comedy is subjective.

In the end, Arthur Fleck finally became Happy (a nickname his mother gave him).

p/s: I do think that certain types of audience will have certain types of responses after watching this movie. Those without any knowledge of mental illness or mental health awareness will see this movie as Joker being crazy and not having the sense of control, while those with the knowledge of mental illness or mental health awareness will try to slowly understand where Joker is coming from. However, this movie just implies that as a society, sometimes being kind and empathetic is the least that we could offer to people with mental illness.