Taking a siesta to recharge

Dear readers,

I decided to take a short break from blogging, to recharge myself.

I shall be coming back to blogging in a week to 10 days time. To rest, to think, to research and ‘recuperate’ from ‘harping’ on too many issues.

In the meantime, pls read the 900 odd posts, most of them are still relevant and all represent my thoughts on cu issues and policies.

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Education is the key

Many of us have used Nokia handphones and even those who have never used Nokia before would have heard of the brand. It is one of the largest and most innovative companies in the world, and certainly one of the largest if not the largest handphone sellers.

Nokia is made in Finland, a small country in terms of population. It has a population of about 5.3 million, but is one of the highest income countries, and consistently within the top ten most competitive countries in te world. Size of population really does not matter. Besides Nokia, Finland also boosts of having 800 high tech companies, many times more advanced than our so-called Multimedia Super Corridor.

Finland is also rated to have the best education system in the  world.

Those who have read the many ranking lists that I have posted previously will have noticed that it is not only one of the most competitive , but one of the most innovative, in terms of patent filing and so on..

ANy wonder why they are so successful, when the country is rated to have the best education system.

This is what was reported in a website called “School Matters” run by an AMerican:

Education in Finland starts with preschool at age 6. The preschool emphasis is on fun and THE IMPORTANCE OF LEARNING. Preschool is followed by nine years of compulsory basic education. From 9th or 10th grade one can go to the Upper Secondary school (like senior high school) or a 3 -year vocational school, but the curriculum is so heavy in either of these that one can cross from one to the other, or finish one and then go to the other for emphasis on trade skills. Either branch can lead to a university for a masters or PhD degree or to a Polytechnic College that focuses on trade skills with the possibility of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

Although the great majority of Finns finish their education by age 25, later than most other nations, education is looked upon as a life-long process in any job. People are generally much more educated in any trade or professional jobs than they are in other countries. They do an excellent job in having the highest work force readiness of any nation.

……..Being a teacher in Finland, as in most industrialized countries, is the most highly respected position. Medical doctors come second. I do not think that this is a cultural difference. The education system is set up such that they earn people’s respect every day by the way they are centrally managed in the country to the highest standard in the world and by the level of authority that is given to the teachers. Teachers are also very well trained. Keeping both teacher competence and school quality the best is a national mandate in Finland.

ALso the Finns emphasised quality, class work , year long monitoring rather than sitting for National exams and equality in classrooms . This is from another article:

The Finnish government keeps the pressure on students to a point that they complain of a lack of fun at school. At the same time, there are no nationwide exams or even final tests. There is continuous assessment — a mixture of monthly tests and teacher evaluations

The Finns make sure that all children get fed by providing free meals at school. They subsidize student travel, which they feel is a major part of the education process.

However badly behaved, no student fears expulsion. The emphasis is “getting to the bottom of” whatever behavior problems emerge.

Only 15 per cent of those who apply to be teachers are accepted, even though pay levels are about average for Europe. A master’s degree is required. (Not unrelated, for it’s size this country has one of the highest percentage of Ph.D.s in the world.) Teachers are regularly sent on courses during their long holidays to upgrade their knowledge and skills.

The Finns focus on students in need and reject a class-stratified educational system. They feel that equality in the classroom ends up being a plus and not a hindrance to overall progress.

Thus, the educational gap between the “haves” and the “have-not’s” shrinks, and the overall level of student and adult achievement in the country is raised.

Also note this:

Finland has a national education policy and national testing. Morals and ethics are in the curriculum. This is a big difference between their system and ours. The teachers make all decisions about how their class will be run, how the education material will be presented and what books are to be used. They keep up with the best worldwide. There are two official languages in Finland: Finnish and Swedish. People typically speak four languages in Finland. One is Finnish, then English, Swedish, and one of German, French or Russian at minimum.

Education is the key to innovative and knowledge based society which is the pre-requisite for a country to move up to be among the High Income Country.

Looking at ourselves, I can’t help but ask: If we want to be a HIgh Income country, as suggested by the PM, are we prepared to go the way of the Finns; go for quality teachers’ training (with meritocracy to select those who wish to become teachers), set aside quotas (except for the very poor and the disabled which should be helped), stress on quality rather than quantities, change the curriculum to produce thinking students, give students continuous monitoring and assessment , taking steps to help those who are weaker as revealed by these assessments.

Are we prepared to go the way of the Finns? I believe that if we want to reverse the declining standards in schools, we can do it. Just leave the politicians out of education, and stress meritocracy and quality instead of quantity. The solution is simple, but if we do not have the will,  it can be as difficult as scaling Mount Everest without oxygen…

A doctor too many !

In the eighties, most of the sales representatives from drug companies were not graduates – most of them who serviced my clinic studied till either Form 5 or Form 6.

Then in the early nineties, the profile of sales representatives, especially those from multinationals, changed. Majority of them were graduates, many of them local graduates from Science stream but a few were even from business stream.

Then came the 1997 financial crisis.  I remember that I was very surprised to read a card from a sales representative that stated his qualification as law graduate. On enquiring, he answered that there was simply too many law graduates, and many of them who had no  strings/connections had difficulty to do chambering with established law firms, and unfortunately he was one of them, and so while hunting for a place to do his chambering ( some sort of housemanship), he decided to work as a sales representative.

I remember at that time, I told the young man that the country was still short of doctors, and that doctors would have no problem finding a place to do housemanship in Malaysia. That was not many years ago.

Now, Malaysia is churning out doctors by the thousands. Not  joking, literally by the thousands. I have lost count how many medical schools are there. At least ten or more, someone told me .

With the country mass producing thousands of doctors each year, it will come a time when the Health service simply cannot accommodate all of them to do housemanship.

There will be a glut of doctors in the foreseeable future.. AUstralia, with about the same population, has fewer medical schools than Malaysia. But even so, they have a health care system which is way ahead of us..

To have a glut of doctors does not mean that healthcare standard will automatically goes up. On the contrary, a glut of doctors will mean fierce competition and undercutting..

Even at the moment, private hospitals which have mushroomed all over the places.. We are beginning to have  too many specialists , especially those in secondary care, like general surgeons and physicians.. Those in the tertiary care are not facing much problem now, but if there is a glut of doctors, they too will ultimately be affected.

Private hospitals are finding it difficult to compete. Many of them are now resorting to setting up primary care clinics (like GPs clinics except they are run by salaried doctors from these private hospitals) in many places. The primary function of these primary care clinics is not to treat , but to source patients for these private hospitals.

SInce many of the private hospitals are now listed entities, they are now answerable not just the patients, but to the shareholders as well. As a listed entity, the shareholders are not interested to see how many patients are cured , they are more concerned with yearly growth of profits, meaning that these hospitals will have to show higher profits year on year. ( I’ve repeatedly voiced out that hospitals should be not allowed to list, but who will bother to listen to a small voice?)

This year-on-year profit growth will have to come from either one of the 3 methods:

1. Increased number of inpatient .. But with private hospitals mushrooming faster than the growth of the number of people who can afford private healthcare, this is not happening. Hence, the setting up of primary care clinics to source for patients… With increased competition, the doctors that are employed to run these primary care clinics will be hard-pressed to refer cases to the ‘mother’ hospitals, and many cases that can actually be treated without hospitalisation will be refered for hospitalization. In other words, there are  over- referrals.. The unsuspecting patients are the ones that are being squeezed dried by this cut throat competition, which will be more and more intense.( As an example, a simple cyst removal which cost less than a hundred if done in a clinic will cause the same patient many hundreds if done in a hospital clinic.)

2. Since the number of patients are not increasing much, to get a higher growth and higher revenue means that the hospitals  have to raise their charges year on year. That is why health care is so much more expensive compared to before.

3. Cost cutting resulting in lowering of overhead. SO far this has not been happening, but with a glut of doctors and specialists, do not discount this possibility. With cost cutting, patients will not be getting value for money..

The government should realise that the days when there will be a glut of doctors are not far away. Instead of mass production of doctors, what should be emphasised should be the standard of these healthcare personnel .Those passing out from Universities must be able to diagnose common diseases. But from what we have seen, the standard of local housemen seems to have dropped , so much so that the government has no choice but to increase housemanship from one year to 2 years.

Doctors are tasked with saving lives. We need competent doctors. We do not need to mass produce doctors because we want to change the social fabric of the nation. We have to be colour blind when we choose to educate our doctors. Medical students should be chosen from those with compassion, with an aptitude for doctoring , and not by imposing certain quotas and trying to fill the quotas with second rated materials. Not all stones can be turned into jade..

I think now that we have enough number of doctors , we should emphasize on quality instead.

We should not be in the business of producing doctors just for the sake of producing them, otherwise there will bound to be adverse consequences later on. Mind you, that day is pretty near..

mental duress

WHO defines ‘health’ as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

This means that even if a person if free from some physical diseases, he can still be unhealthy if his or her mental state is not at ease and in a state of well being.

An overworked person who is in mental exhaustion therefore cannot be qualified as healthy. Similarly, a person who is under mental duress, like in the case of a person under detention ( or just as a witness to a case) who is subjected  to prolonged hours of interrogation without rest,  should be  considered unhealthy.

It is against basic human right to question a person who is unhealthy.

In the field of occupational safety, a overworked person often is the cause of accidents because an overworked mind often cannot think properly and thus can cause important judgmental errors leading to accidents.

Similarly, a person deprived of sleep and proper rest cannot be depended on to think rationally and often judgmental errors and erratic recalls may result.

Sleep deprivation , as in the case of round the clock interrogation,  is a form of mental torture that can cause a disruption of mental well beings leading to confusion and disorientation.

Taking a statement from a confused and mentally tired person is  not only unfair but also  a grave miscarriage of justice if a person is coerced into saying something untrue under such a state of duress.

Hence,  a person under interrogation must be given enough rest to ensure that he or she has a clear understanding of the questions and that he or she would be able to think clearly to answer the questions.

Which is  why in most developed countries, there are certain procedures for interrogation and prolonged questioning that may case mental duress is not allowed . There are strict guidelines  since this is considered a matter of basic human rights.

Considering all these, I think the  recent High Court judgment that questioning of witnesses should be confined to office hours should be lauded and all enforcement agencies should adhere to the spirit of this judgment .

To solve a case, there is no substitute to pain staking but thorough investigations, including using modern technology, and not by taking the easy way out and try to force a suspect or witness to say something that under normal circumstances  he or she would not have done so.

Euphemism for the political novice

This post is written for the sake of the political novice who has just joined politics and may not know certain hidden meanings of phrases commonly used by top politicians. Please bookmark this page as it will be updated as and when new material surfaces. 

Hopefully with this guide, we shall groom a group of future politicians who will be  as savvy as the present batch and hopefully they will continue the great tradition of Malaysian politicians ..

 This is one of the few areas where Malaysia can probably be in the top five of the world and the top ranking should make all of us proud..

WHEN

  •  you want to chop someone — reshuffle
  •  you are forced to patch up with your enemy — unity plan.
  • Patch up with an enemy with great influence – Greater Unity plan.
  • talking about your enemy — he is still my friend
  •  you want to stab him at the back — he is still my friend but principle more important than friendship
  • you want to stay on despite vote of no confidence — still have unfinished work to do for community and country
  •  you renegade your earlier promise – circumstances have changed
  • you want to call an EGM to challenge the top — democracy at work
  • you want to stop the top  from calling an emergency since u have the support of the CC —  following the provision of the party Constitution
  • you want to reappoint an old and veteran member – we need experience
  • you want to promote a young supporter — party renewal process by  injecting new blood
  • getting your own son appointed as CC — meritocracy at work
  • your enemy appointing his son to the CC — nepotism
  • you want a position — not fighting for position (position is not important) but fighting for principle
  •  you want to stop someone taking your position — “just say aloud you want my position lah,  i will let you have it.”
  •  you overstay your welcome — community needs me
  •  a policy is announced — (even when you have not read about it) this is a people friendly policy
  • the same policy is being withdrawn — the government has people’s interest at heart.
  • to bodek you superior – he is a conscientious fellow
  • when you change side and want to abandon the same superior — he has no conscience
  • you wish to travel overseas on public money — to-learn-first-hand study tour for the benefit of the rakyat
  • you jump from one party to another — abandon the dark forces and join hands with the good
  • your enemy jumps from one party to another – he is a ‘frog’
  • lost in a party election – some dark forces sabotage me
  • win in a party election – democracy at work. or The better person wins
  • all seem lost and party positions are being withdrawn by top leader — cry aloud and use lots of tissues in front of the press

World Bank reports on Malaysia

Since 2006 , I have been harping about Malaysia losing the competitive edge and would soon be marginalised by others. Countries such as Taiwan, SOuth Korea have leaped past us, and while we are dawdling in the middle income band since the Asian Financial crisis.

Not only FDI has dwindled, private investments by Malaysians have been decreasing. IN the mean time, a lot of businessmen have invested overseas, and many professionals have migrated to other countries. Many of those educated overseas, including many Malay Scholars, have not returned even after completing their education overseas.

We have languished in the middle income group as we have not been able to be innovative and move up the technological ladder. Malaysians are contented with making money by using cheap labour from neighbouring countries.

It is like running a 400 metre race. Malaysia led the first 100 metres, but was levelled at the 200 hundred mark, and by the 300 hundred, most have gone past us, and before we reached the finishing line, we faltered and ran out of steam and dropped on the asphalt without finishing the race.

Many people have refuted my harping on this marginalisation, and some have labelled me as overtly pessimistic.

The recent report from World Bank on Malaysia confirms what I have been saying all along and in a way, I feel vindicated (but deep in my heart, I would rather be wrong than being vindicated since as a loyal Malaysian, i would like my country to be in the fore front of the world, be a world beater in our economy as well as other fields). There is nothing joyous about being proven right on my observations that the country is no longer competitive. It would be a herculean task to reverse from this slum, and it needs a steely determination to change course and be able to move on again.

I will paraphrase one paragraph of the report here:

 The overriding medium-term challenge is for the Malaysian economy to join the select group of high-income countries. Malaysia has experienced solid growth over the last decades, but has relied on an economic model predominantly based on capital accumulation, although private investment rates never recovered from their 20 percentage point fall after the Asian 1997/98 crisis and are now among the lowest in the region. For Malaysia to climb the next step up the income ladder, it needs to focus on improving the investment climate to raise investment rates and focus on productivity growth. Against this backdrop, the authorities are developing a ‘New Economic Model,’ which will be squarely centered on boosting productivity. Promising reforms have already been announced in the areas of services and foreign direct investment, which will help revitalize private investment.

 

For the whole executive summary, please read here. The full report can be viewed here.(82 pages)

 

Further readings:

Can we become a high income country?

Can Malaysia become a high income country? A macro view of jobs and labour

 

Malaysia , Namibia and Samoa

I asked a friend whether he has heard of Namibia. He answered:  an African nation in the southern part of Africa. I asked him what he knows about Namibia, and he answered that he did not know much except that might be a country that is backward, corrupt and with a not so good standard of living.

His answers represent the perception of  a lot of Malaysia about African nations in general.

Most of us would not want to visit that country as a tourist destination.

BUt that is the problems with we Malaysians. We thought we are the centre of the world and we thought that Malaysia is the best place in the world.

Let me tell you this. Malaysia and Namibia actually share the same spot in the corruption perception table 2009. Both countries are ranked 56, together with countries like Samoa and Latvia..These few countries share the same points, obtaining 4.5 out of 10 . It is equivalent to a person sitting for exam and obtaining only 45%, a mark which during our time is considered failure (60 is the passing mark).  Last year, we were placed 47 with a score of 5.1.

The top 5 countries d their scores are:

1. New Zealand   9.4

2. Denmark           9.3

3.  Singapore        9.2

      Sweden             9.2

5. Switzerland      9.0

Hong Kong is ranked NO. 12, and Taiwan is NO. 37. These 2 places were once among the  the most corrupted in the world, but has since moved on to the top ranks  of the least corrupted nations.

SO the myth that Asians are corrupted does not hold water. If Singapore, which has similar culture as Malaysia, can be one of the least corrupted countries, then we must ask ours selves, what went wrong ?

I have written many posts on the evils of corruptions, and lest I be labelled as ‘harping on issues’, i will not repeat all those again.

I think it is suffice for me to  mention that corruption is the mother of all evils, and no nation which is deemed corrupt can rise to the rank of developed countries. Selective prosecution of those deemed corrupted will not change the corrupt culture and as long as the corrupt culture is in place, Malaysia can say bye bye to our dream of becoming a first world country.

For the full table, please click here.

P.S. I was just thinking, at the rate we are sliding down the corruption slide, 9 positions in a year, very soon we will reach the bottom (last position is 180), something our football team has the ‘foresight’ of achieving long time back.

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