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.




Thursday, September 12, 2019

Why is it so hard to practice free speech?



Last week I got into an online discourse with a random stranger on Twitter. My tweet was about free speech. I was criticising of how race, religion, and royalty are issues which are liable for punishment if they were being provoked by individuals. I contend that this is a violation of principles of free speech. As long as criticisms of those three do not involve threats or violence, it is still within the scope of free speech. As for the stranger, she was a proponent of getting the police involved which serves as a prevention of racial riots from happening. However, this approach in itself already criminalises free speech. Throughout the course of our exchanges of tweets, this question got me thinking - what makes an intellectual approach to criticisms and insults so hard to be practiced in our society? Why punitive approach is the easiest way to sweep sensitive issues under the rug?

The first reason is the lack of intellectual dispositions among the members of the society. As Syed Hussein Alatas had mentioned in his book 'Intellectuals in Developing Societies', the phenomena or characteristic that plagues our society is called 'bebalisme' or 'Oblovoism'. It simply means the dispostion to not be inquisitive of the situations that are happening around us. It is a disposition that is equal to that of a parasite that affects the educated and non-educated groups alike (Alatas, 2009). It does not discriminate and sometimes intellectuals and professionals fall victim to this type of disposition. To relate 'bebalisme' with how one potentially reacts to criticism of their race and religion, most people would react in a way that when any form of criticisms is directed toward at any race or religion, one would immediately be offended instead of using their intellectual caacity to think. Being offended would be an initial reaction but what follows would be to get the police involved and reporting certain statements to the authorities. If we have a habit of doing research or getting into a civil discourse regarding certain statements, then reporting to the police wouldn't be an option. The purpose of employing this apporach is not to be quiet when people insult our race or religion, but to offer a counter-arguement for the said insults and criticisms. This is how senstive issues such as these should be dealt with and it comes in the form of a dialectical process. 

This might be a cliche but always a valid reasoning for us to look into the reason why intellectual disposition isn't a dominant attribute of our society - education. Based on the previous education system, many of them are based on route learning and are exam oriented. It's based off on taking in whatever the teacher delivers to you. The generation that underwent teacher-centered lessons, prior to shifting to student-centered lessons, lacked the opportunity to apply critical thinking skills and engage in facilitated problem-based learning which was the process of justification and validity of arguments as opposed to just the given reason themselves (Kompa, 2012). Teacher-centred learning often times do not employ an approach whereby an open enquiry is inserted in any stage of the learning process. This does not prompt the students to think for themselves as the opportunity to do so is scarce. Other than that, based on the current system, there isn't a module in the school syllabus that addresses how the students should respond when sensitive topics casually get thrown at to the students. Teachers are also not allowed to ask sensitve questions in class because in our society,  it is an implicit social rule to respect other races and religions. While this is a noble cause, it does not prepare the students to face and respond intellectually to certain insults regarding race and relgion in the real world out there. 

The third reason is the inability to detach oneself from the insults and criticisms that is directed at their racial and religious identity. We grew up with the racial and religious group that we have been conditioned with since little. When someone insults us, it felt like our whole existence has been violated. This becomes all the more complex when the race and religious group that we've identified with has been criticised. According to Merer (2017), 'identification requires a feeling of attachment, it is instrinsically social.' Group-level emotions are stronger than individual emotions because on experienes it as objectively true. Therefore, group-level emotion would usually trigger one to be upset because our identity and emotions are intertwined with one another so it's difficult to divorce how we feel about what we identify with. Insults and criticisms are a form of negative evaluations and feelings of anger or resentment emerge upon the event where the racial or religious group has been criticised or insulted. This will mean that the group has been offended. 

The reasons above could be the factors that cause an intellectual approach to insults and criticisms to be challenging. There needs to be a way for us to gain intellectual disposition and not become overly emotional when people criticise the racial or religious group that we belong to. These are the criterias needed for the practice of free speech. 

References:

Alatas, S. H. (2009). Intelektual Masyarakat Membangun (2nd ed.). Kuala Lumpur,             Selangor: Dewan Bahasa Pustaka.

Kompa, J. (2014, February 20). Disadvantages of Teacher-Centered Learning.   Retrieved from https://joanakompa.com/2012/06/25/the-key-disadvantages-of-             teacher-centered-learning/

Mercer, J. (2014). Feeling like a state: social emotion and identity. International     Theory6(3), 515–535. doi: 10.1017/s1752971914000244