Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Malaysia's English Proficiency Needs Fixing

A follow-up to my post today. Deputy Education Minister P Kamalanathan should take note of his big boss’s remarks made on December 09, 2014 when Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin himself acknowledged that Malaysian students are still struggling to communicate in English – even upon graduating from universities.
If you can recall, last year, the Wall Street Journal highlighted the poor English skills amongst our graduates by quoting a 2011 study by the Malaysian Employers Federation, which found that 60 percent of companies surveyed stated that the main reason applicants failed their interviews was due to their low command of English.
The same news article went on to cite the results of the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) for March and July last year, which saw only two out of around 100,000 candidates scoring band 6 or “very good.” While 10,000 candidates scored “good” (band 5) or “competent” (band 4), the other 90,000 candidates received bands ranging from 1 to 3, representing “modest,” “limited” and “extremely limited.”
If 90 percent of our pre-university students cannot score better than “modest” in their MUET, how is it even possible that our command of English could be said to be the best in Asia?
If our English is so damn good, why do we spend so much to fix it?
Muhyiddin already knows how “good” our English is and that explains why the government is working hard to stem the deteriorating standard of English in the country. It is for this very reason that the Education ministry has embarked on a series of costly initiatives to improve the teaching of English, such as the Upholding Bahasa Malaysia and Strengthening English (MBMMBI) programme, the Native English-speaking Mentor Programme (PPJBI or Program Penutur Jati Bahasa Inggeris) and the English Language Proficiency Teaching (ProELT) program. All these programs have cost the government more than a billion ringgit over the last five years.
If our level of English is indeed the “best in Asia,” then why do all the facts, including the government’s own actions, say otherwise? Instead of making empty boasts based on a questionable source, our education ministers should concentrate on improving our quality of education. And maybe they should go back to school and learn to be a little smarter – if it is at all possible.
BTW, Kamalanathan should know that Idris is sending 23,000 English language teachers back to school – to undergo training to improve their proficiency in the language. (The Sun, Malaysia, January 28, 2015, p 01).
Another reminder poster of the Taman Indrahana 30th Anniversary Dinner event:

Malaysia's English is No. 1 in Asia

Deputy Education Minister P Kamalanathan (left) decided to follow in his boss’s footsteps. He boasted that Malaysia’s command of English is the best in Asia.

He didn’t believe in just ejecting hot air – he wanted to show proof that he knew what he was talking about. (Actually, he is not very much different from Second Education Minister Idris Jusoh you may wish to be reminded of his amazing stupidity by re-reading my post at this blog link
And so Kamalanathan cited the English Proficiency Index developed by Sweden-based EF Education First. Then he made another boast – we even outranked Singapore.
Of course, by now, Malaysians know that this sort of pronouncement is nothing more than hokum – although government ministers, given their low level of intelligence, might be able to easily convince themselves otherwise. (I am making a bold assumption here that Malaysian ministers actually have intelligence, even if it is miniscule).
According to the deputy minister, EF Education First is a research website that focuses on the usage of English in the business community among 65 countries in which English is not a native language. The point that he neglected to mention was that the so-called study drew its conclusions from data collected via English tests available for free over the Internet.
Didn’t he know that not everything on the Web is to be believed? Maybe he was so desperate that he was wont to accept just about anything.
Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari (left) had cast aspersions on the study’s findings because as he said, respondents were self-selected and therefore they could not be representative of each country’s population. In contrast, proper survey methodology requires unbiased sampling that selects a subset of individuals from within a statistical population according to estimate characteristics of the whole population – he had patiently explained
In the case of EF Education First’s English Proficiency Index, the sample was neither representative nor randomly selected. Instead, participants voluntarily chose to take part, hence greatly increasing the margin of error and the probability of an unrepresentative sample. This survey could not, therefore, be considered scientific or a statistically valid evaluation, he concluded.
There will always be fools out there who will dispute the above explanations simply because Zairil is a DAP Member of Parliament.

Therefore, I consulted Sunway University’s subject matter expert and this was his email reply yesterday:
“Probability sampling requires a proper sampling frame and during the sampling process it means that every unit of analysis (the respondents in the population) has an equal chance of being sampled. Self-selected samples do not reflect this randomness nor equality in probability and is skewed to biasness based on convenience. It depends on whether the study was meant to be generalised or taken as a case study. If it was the former, then the methodology is flawed and does not match the intention. Thus in matters of population and national statistics, one needs to be attuned to sensitivity for accuracy and precision when reporting numbers and not merely just follow blindly”.
This person is Dr Derek Ong (left) and he is very well-qualified. He's a Chartered statistician (CStats) and Chartered scientist (CSci) with the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), UK; Senior Associate Fellow, Academy of World Business, Marketing and Management Development (AWBMMD); Fellow Member, Higher Academic Association (HEA), UK; Fellow Member, World Academy of Researchers, Educators and Scholars in Business, Social Sciences, Humanities and Education (WARES); Fellow Member, Academy of World Finance, Banking, Management and Information Technology (AWFBMAIT); and Member, Malaysian Economic Association (MEA).
Anybody still intend to challenge the above?
In truth, every Malaysian (except our Ministers) knows our level of English proficiency is poor. Extremely poor. Wait – the word doesn’t even begin to describe the actual situation. Maybe I should use the word “impoverished”.
If we know this, how then could we be the best in Asia? This confounding claim went against all evidence, anecdotal or otherwise.
In the 2008 novel Duma Key – didn’t Stephen King write: “We fool ourselves so much we could do it for a living”? Isn’t that true of BN politicians? Isn’t that why they become politicians in the first place?
Anyway, with the likes of Kamalanathan, I don’t have to try to make a fool of him – God had already beaten me to it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Indonesians in Palmerah Get High

Image credit:

The police in Palmerah, a sub-district of West Jakarta in Indonesia managed to give the entire neighborhood an overwhelmingly feel-good tingle – unintentionally, of course – when they burned 3.3 tons of confiscated marijuana. (It is often called ‘pot’, ‘grass’, or ‘weed’ and in Malaysia, we call it ‘ganja’).
The local residents got ‘high’ when the plume of smoke blew into their streets – and they didn’t even know it. The police had forgotten to mention to these folks that the smoke may affect them. I wish I was there!
Yesterday, the Dewan Rakyat Speaker rejected a motion by PKR lawmaker Sim Tze Tzin to sack the IGP – on grounds that Khalid Abu Bakar's actions were allocated to him under the laws to ensure the nation's security and public order.
A decision that was not unexpected.
On Monday, I was at Mercu UEM in KL Sentral to deliver an Advanced speech from the “Speeches by Management” manual. The speech about “Communicating Change” was described by fellow Toastmasters as interesting. Hmmm… Regrettably, we started seven minutes late. This KL Advanced Toastmasters meeting earned a 4 over 10 score.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Rafizi Ramli Plans Prison Break

Arrests under the Sedition Act continued without respite. Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli was one of them.

Rafizi Ramli: Barefoot and hand-cuffed. Image credit:

But the reason given for his arrest on Friday was bizarre. The IGP himself chose to explain that the former had issued a statement urging his PKR colleagues to mobilise members for Saturday’s #KitaLawan demonstration.
"PKR hopes that all Malaysians who love Malaysia would turn up to speak out for our rights and oppose the federal government's wicked ways”, Rafizi had said.
And that was only half of it. News portal Malaysiakini quoted Khalid Abu Bakar as saying Rafizi's directive could be interpreted as urging supporters to break Anwar Ibrahim out of prison!
This IGP is a joker the unfunny type. But I think Khalid  (left) is just being himself, i.e. very stupid. I have no doubt about it – in fact, I would rate a donkey ahead of him anytime.
Oops, I forgot to report the result of the Scottish Premiership game between Celtic and Dundee United on Saturday, March 21, 2015. The former soundly beat the latter 3-0. In the sixteenth minute, Gary Mackay-Steven scored against his old club and this was followed by John Guidetti (33) and Jason Denayer (45)  and thereby extending Celtic’s lead at the top to 5 points.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Stephen Fernando and I


Pics of Stephen Fernando and Victor Ong on March 14, 2015
I missed out on these two photos when I posted pics of the SMK Subang Utama YLP (March 13-15, 2015) that I had organized just two weeks ago. If you haven’t seen them, do check them out at these two links: and
The Youth Leadership Program is a community-based workshop where we as Toastmasters bring the Toastmasters experience to non-Toastmasters. It enables participants (usually young people between the ages of 14 and 17) to develop communication and leadership skills through practical experience. 
Stephen Fernando was one of the facilitators and mentors. Thanks again to Stephen and the others who came to help! The Toastmasters spirit is alive and well!
So it’s not just me then? 

#KitaLawan On the Streets Again

Image credit:‘silence-not-an-option’-despite-arrests-#kitalawan&Itemid=2

The Malaysian Insider pic by Afif Abd Halim, March 28, 2015


The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal

Picture by Saw Siow Feng

Another #KitaLawan demonstration was held yesterday evening in the capital city. An estimated one thousand strong crowd converged on the city center, demanding the release of jailed Anwar Ibrahim and chanting "Kita lawan" ("We fight") and "Reformasi".

Some protestors also carried placards that had cut-out drawings depicting 1MDB-linked Low Taek Jho, murdered Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu and Prime Minister Najib Razak's daughter, Nooryana Najwa. This was in spite of the stern warning by IGP Khalid Abu Bakar that those who dared participated in the protest would be summarily arrested.
Also yesterday, I was at Setia Avenue in Seksyen U13, Setia Alam to participate in the Area D2 International Speech contest.

My speech was a lot better than the one I delivered at club-level (i.e. Taman Indrahana). Still I only emerged first runner-up.

Anyway, that was good enough for me to progress to the Division-level Contest on April 11, 2015.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sack IGP

In Parliament on Wednesday, Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin (left) submitted a motion to sack the IGP Khalid Abu Bakar for misusing the Sedition Act against members of Parliament and the public by arbitrarily arresting Malaysians who had gathered peacefully to protest.
This is the second time in two days that a motion was submitted to Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia to censure Khalid.
On Monday, Sim’s Pakatan Rakyat colleagues lodged a complaint with Pandikar to refer Malaysia's top cop to the Rights and Privileges Committee over the "unlawful" arrest of Lembah Pantai MP, Nurul Izzah Anwar on March 16, 2015.
"The fact that two motions have been filed against the IGP showed the seriousness of this. As MPs, we cannot accept his conduct," Sim said, and expressed hope the motion would receive support from his BN counterparts which, to be honest, is unlikely.
Khalid has been repeatedly criticized by civil society leaders and the opposition for his "Twitter trigger-happy" habits through his Twitter account @KBAB51 to order investigations on individuals and to warn Malaysians against critical speech.
If he is not stopped, we can expect more arrests. And we may just become a police state.
On Thursday evening, I was in KL’s Bandar Baru Sri Petaling to attend the Satu Hati Toastmasters meeting. I delivered a speech from the Speeches by Management manual – this is part of the Advanced Communication Series, where a speaker gives briefings, gives productive feedback, motivates others, communicates change, and delivers bad news. I was voted Best Speaker.
Unfortunately, we started 14 minutes late but we still managed to finish on time. One speaker’s withdrawal helped. In fact, I was given a speaking slot precisely because another speaker withdrew.


Anyway, I would give this meeting a 4 over 10 score.