Let’s do our part to help build Malaysia

Getting Education Up and Roaring

Eucation understandably is a touchy topic for many. We reminisce about better standards of the good old days and compare it with the state of public schools as we see them today.
Getting education up and roaring is challenging but not impossible. Out of 10,000 schools in the country, 128 are labelled high-performing. These are schools with excellent academic achievement, national and international awards, linked with other learning institutions and run by highly capable personalities.
They are not only located in affluent city centres, some are nestled deep in rural communities. So it begs the question: How did these schools make the cut?
To answer that, let me tell you what did not secure the success of all these 128 high-performing schools:
1. It is not about the facilities because these 128 schools have similar facilities as all the other normal schools. As much as computers, digital whiteboards and specialised buildings can make a difference, they are not the reason why the 128 schools produce quality of education compared to the rest. To repeat: All these top schools have similar if not less facilities then regular schools but they are still able to perform exceptionally well
2. It is not about the curriculum. The national curriculum is the piñata everyone wants to hit at. These high-performing schools follow the same curriculum but their students are able to produce stellar results
3. It is not about paying teachers more. Public school teachers are paid the same across the board. Yet teachers from high-performing schools are exemplary in their dedication to do more for the students.
I have been exposed to schools that bucked the trend and soared as champions. I am always eager to hear their story with the hope we can use their methodology as a template for the nation.
I want to train the spotlight on three schools that have inspired this article.
Sri KDU in Damansara is a private school that follows the national curriculum. The principal, Datin Chan is determined to make Sri KDU the country’s best. In the PISA 2012 assessment of schools from 65 countries, Sri KDU scored the highest among the 164 participating schools in Malaysia. Their scores for maths, science and reading were comparable to the national scores of Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea.
What is their secret? I spent half a day with Datin Chan and poured through their teaching manuals and processes. One key initiative stood out. The school is focussed on getting teachers aligned to high demands on quality.
At the end of every school year, all teachers are required to return for 14 days during the holidays to prepare for the new year.
They are expected to religiously follow the curriculum and stick to a proven teaching methodology. Every day they send an email or message to parents outlining lessons and homework. Every day the students must complete their homework.
Another excellent example is Sekolah Rendah Ulu Lubai in the interiors of Sarawak. Infecting parents and teachers with a fervour to transform the school, principal Jaul anak Buyau directed the school out of the doldrums to become one of the top performing primary schools in the country despite odds like barebones infrastructure. Clearly this rural school is not dependent on high-tech facilities to dictate the quality of student outcomes.
Last week I visited SK Taman Megah (SKTM) in Petaling Jaya. Led by the passionate principal, Ms Khoo, I was treated to student performances of choral speaking, Ramayana musical, story-telling and Malay dances.
If I could pin down one differentiating takeaway from SKTM, it is Ms Khoo’s determination to include parents.
For every parent who has a complaint, she listens to find a resolution but in doing so, draws them in to be part of the solution. Whether it is dealing with water shortages or power trips, their complaints were turned into opportunities for collaboration.
Parents also pushed for a structured performing arts programme and volunteer to coach music, dance, poetry and art. When teachers were out to attend training sessions, the mothers and fathers help out in class. The PTA is energised and empowered to make sure no stones are left unturned if it meant the student benefits.
So in a nutshell, these four constellations must come together in alignment to make any school great:
• Principal. Ms Khoo cannot imagine doing anything else than what she is doing right now – serving at the school. It all boils down to the leader’s personal commitment to make changes and take responsibility
• Teachers. There’s no compromise in delivering in the classroom and teachers must be in full compliance in executing the curriculum
• Parents. The development of the child is not solely the responsibility of teachers. When I was a student my father was principal and teacher of our village school. He taught me in class and when I got home, he continued to teach
• Student. Nothing happens if the student does not want to study. It is important that the principal, teachers and parents focus on the child. At the centre of the constellation, the student is the hero in this story
A school’s transformation starts with the principal but doesn’t end with her. Once the principal ignites the momentum and it is then carried through by teachers, parents and students, that school is destined for greatness.
If I had my way, I would like to run a pilot by getting the best principal and subject teachers in the highest performing school and place them in the lowest one for say, a period of six months. I am willing to bet there will be significant increase in student performance.
People’s lives can be transformed and it begins in the school. There are no shortcuts, and everyone has a part to play.


2.These SKTM students have really good performing arts skills and managed to wow the crowd during the visit

These SKTM students have really good performing arts skills and managed to wow the crowd during the visit

Good times, good policies

In my travels, I meet with some of the world’s top economists, investment analysts, influential academicians, and movers and shakers in the business community. For example, last week, I spent a day with back-to-back meetings at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington to share Malaysia’s transformation story.

I shared the stage as a panellist with Professor Christian Ketels of Harvard University, and Professor Charles Sabel of Columbia University, who wrote a case study commissioned by the World Bank on Malaysia’s transformation programme. I stopped for a day to make similar presentations at Harvard University in Boston and also to the Fitch Rating agency in New York.

Some of these guys tell you things as they see them, and have very little patience for niceties. I listen intently to their assessments – both good and bad, and walk away learning from their experiences dealing with emerging markets battling similar trends as ours.

In a nutshell, they give Malaysia the thumbs-up for our rigour in tackling economic fundamentals and working out the structural kinks in implementing policies and initiatives.

But here’s the kicker. No matter how painful the going gets, they tell me in no uncertain terms, the Malaysian government must doggedly and responsibly continue its tough measures to ensure our economy grows faster than the rate of government expenditure. This simply means that over time, your income should grow at least as fast as or faster than your expenditure.

There’s a saying among economists that ‘good times make for bad policies and bad times make for good policies’. After 1997 several countries made the conscious decision to make ‘good policies in good times’. Malaysia was one of them. We started managing our budget carefully so that it was counter-cyclical, meaning we spent less and worked to reduce our deficit during the good years.

We have seen enough countries – at one time brimming with potential – cave in to political pressures, conflicting interests and factional bickering. Inevitably, they fail to enable, empower and then effectively regulate a vibrant market-based economy. Without a competitive edge, these countries sputter to a standstill with spiralling expenditure, contracting reserves and loss of revenue.

When you fail to strengthen your economic foundation, you are susceptible to domestic and global risks and shocks. When this happens, everyone suffers, especially the poor.

We see this repeatedly. A senior economist made the observation that Argentina, prior to the Second World War, was one of the richest countries in the world. He argued that blessed with rich resources, the country nevertheless failed, over time, to respond to changing times to transform its economy.

Another critic mentioned that Venezuela had one of the most successful petroleum companies in the world. Due to a shift in politics, it went down a populist path and squandered the capability and strength of its petroleum industry.

He went on to add that after the Second World War, Burma was seen to be the most promising South East Asian economy due to its teak, agriculture and high literacy rate. After the military took over the country, its economy quickly regressed to least developed status. Myanmar remains underdeveloped to this day.

When I sat in at Parliament to listen to the Budget 2015 speech by our Prime Minister, I was encouraged that we stuck to our mandate. There are four aspects that I like about the 2015 budget.

First, it continues to propel economic growth in line with our economic transformation programme.

Second, it is an inclusive budget, providing a lot of goodies for all different segments of the rakyat.

Third, it is a fiscally responsible budget, promising further cut in our fiscal deficit.

Fourth, it provides the right balance between what the Prime Minister calls the “capital economy” and the “people economy”.

Indeed, the government will continue its efforts to rationalise subsidies and will implement GST by April next year, even as these measures are not popular.

There is potential upside of RM22 billion from gradually reducing fuel subsidies to market price. Imagine just what good works we can do to improve the country’s public transportation, healthcare, education and welfare!

Rural Development NKRA under the GTP received RM3.7 billion development expenditure as we requested. These are not monies that go to Pemandu, but will be channelled to the various Ministries to roll out infrastructure projects in rural regions. I am aware that a few of our critics deliberately spin a false picture that these money are allocated to Pemandu. This is an absolute lie.

As a Sarawakian, I am of course especially cognisant that development in Sabah and Sarawak remains a challenge. The RM3.7 billion for the rural development NKRA under the Federal Ministry of Rural Development is allocated for infrastructure projects – mostly in Sabah and Sarawak – for rural roads, electricity, water and low cost housing.

The people of Borneo can expect to enjoy benefits arising from the construction of 635km of rural roads, implementation of electricity connection for 15,000 houses, rural clean water supply to 15,000 houses and building and rehabilitating 9500 units of dilapidated houses.

Total development for the whole country in terms of rural areas will include economic development for orang asli communities, improving infrastructure and housing facilities and building more roads to increase accessibility to key economic centres.

There has been hue and cry over the issuance of BR1M with opponents denouncing it as mere hand-outs that do not solve the problem of poverty.

BRIM is not a mechanism to solve or resolve the problems of the poor. BR1M is meant to cushion the effects of a transforming economy that will challenge every nerve in its structure. BR1M recognises that a fast growing economy also means a fast changing economy. Fast changing economies can be stressful for some of those who have to adapt. BR1M is a means of easing the adaptation. Nothing more and nothing less.

With a Budget that looks out for the poor, and if we continue on this footing, I am hopeful that in one generation, we may be able to solve problems, encourage growth and enable our young to face the future with confidence.

If I have to pick any one ‘investment’ that is my favourite, it will be for rural development and the government’s gumption to stay the course on being fiscally responsible no matter how tough the going gets.

Taking The ‘Jam’ Out Of Kl

Every morning my wife drops me off at the train station. I grab a hot drink, find a seat and settle down for a good read. This was pretty much was my daily routine for four years in the mid-90s when I worked at the Shell office located near Waterloo station. I chose to live […]

Continue reading...

Happy Malaysia Day

Pipeline investments 2006-2013

In the cacophony assailing many parts of the world today, and where ills, tensions, warring and strife dictate much of daily life, we are living a life of plenty. Our political climate is stable. We are at full employment, and our poor have enough to eat. Our children go to school and our graduates have […]

Continue reading...

Aging with Dignity

Like death and taxes, getting old, ill and dependant is inevitable. It’s an easily dismissed subject when you are a strapping lad but with the passing years, the realities of illness and aging cripple some of us who are not prepared. In trying to understand how we as a nation can better deal with managing […]

Continue reading...

Business Transformation Plan 2 (BTP2)

In one of my recent public engagements, I replied to a question on the future of MAS. I made a comment that the answer is stated in the Business Transformation Plan 2 (BTP2) document that was published back in January 2008 by the MAS team then. Scenarios that were projected and shown on page 26 […]

Continue reading...

Bringing Life Back to our River

At the Puah Pond information centre

At an era of our history, the muddy confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers served mainly as a means of transport for the tin-mining industry. Its waters were so pristine people would throng to the river at Masjid Jamek to perform ablution before prayers. Over the years, with the steady erosion of the quality […]

Continue reading...

We Must Not Forget The Villages

At the commissioning of the irrigation system of NKEA Bario Paddy Project

A case of a village named Bario Villages all over the world, including in Malaysia undergo similar development cycles. Urbanisation and access to better education has led to many young people leaving the villages for life in towns. EPU’s latest data shows that more than 70% of Malaysians live in urban and semi urban areas […]

Continue reading...

Open For Business

Gone are the days where we lived in the comforts of our bordered geographies, choosing to buy and sell only when it serves our purpose. In today’s highly globalised world, we have no choice but to be more interconnected and interdependent if we want growth and economic resilience. Malaysia has an exceptional history in trade […]

Continue reading...

Corruption – taking the beast by its horns

Inadvertently when I attend social events, someone will highlight a personal encounter where they paid a bribe to solve a problem. “There you go, Idris, corruption is rampant in this country and the reason why we will fail to progress,” they tell me. When you have been victimised, it is easy to discount the government’s […]

Continue reading...