Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A game of catch-up

USA Today reported last week that a research on American college students showed little improvements in their critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and writing skill, especially during their first two years of college. When I saw the headline I was shocked, and a bit reluctant to read the article further. Not that I fanatically idolize the American education system (which is currently seeing the rise of Asian students mastering it), but what I was mostly afraid of was to find my worst fear imprinted between the lines – that I am wasting my time here. Yet, somewhere at the back of my mind I know that could not be possible, for seven out of the top 10 universities in the world are in the United States. Some argue that that is based on the number and quality of post-graduate research these universities produced. So, if the professors are producing fine research, shouldn’t their undergraduate students highly benefit from encounters with these great academicians too?

Then, somewhere at the bottom of the page they discussed the research methodology which led to their conclusion. Apparently, sophomores do not learn much based on the fact that almost half of the students in the research reported enrolling in courses where they read less than 40 pages a week, and wrote less than 20 pages per semester. And my focused immediately shifted to beautiful Malaysia.

When I was INTI, I remember most lecturers giving out handouts and notes that we are supposed to study for exams. With these notes, according to them, we need not bother buying or reading the 500+ pages of a textbook – these teachers slaved for us to gather the most important information in order to help us ‘score’. With these notes, we are expected to answer 3-hour-long midterm and final exams. Essays are to be written in the exam hall (which is ridiculous, because how can you do anything BUT regurgitate in such short period?). Thus, if students in the US are learning so little, how much are Malaysian undergraduates learning each year? See, people back home like to complain that our exams are designed only for students to regurgitate information, which I do not disapprove of altogether. But if students are made to memorize something they won’t remember the next day, the least a teacher could do is to help them improve other skills that would be beneficial not only in the workplace, but also in their day-to-day life.

Maybe it’s just INTI, I’m not sure, I've only been to one higher learning institution in Malaysia. Probably other universities do make their students read a minimum of 40 pages per week, per subject - like we do here - and if so, that is awesome. But I honestly doubt it because of the many things I read concerning our graduates weak communication – English and Malay – skills. I’m not talking about a weak grasp on grammar and tatabahasa; I’m talking about the ability to structure their thoughts coherently, and be able to critically examine the work of others. If we were to take mini-steps to a better higher-education system, I say we work on that first.

I love Malaysia, and I have none but love and respect for my fellow students. I just feel that we've heard enough arguments from both sides that it is time we finally take some actions. You game?


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shine Bright

Time magazine reported on January 13th that the positions of the stars as conventionally accepted are actually incorrect, according to the Minnesota Planetarium Society.

Being one who has always been fascinated by this field of 'science', I can't help but to search for a compatibility measure based on this new finding.

I was, and still is an Aquarius, which is good news because I don't want to be any other but. Rassyid, however, was a Capricorn, but is now a Sagittarius! When he was a Capricorn, we are incompatible, according to 'the stars'. As a Sagittarius, it is a different story, and a much better description of our relationship.

"An easy, detached outlook brings these two together as romantic friends. There's so much to learn about and experience, and their life gets off to an adventurous start. A shared love of travel, exotic cuisines, and cutting edge culture keeps them on the go. Both get swept up in ideas and visions, and there's always more out there to ponder and discuss. They're free to venture out of bounds in conversation, because neither will judge. The sparks for this romance often begin in the mind, and from the mental rapport they create.

As a couple, they're social and throw great parties. They meld together two networks of people, enlarging their own sphere ever wider. Their compassion and sense of justice might lead them to fight for movements or causes. To be sure, they're up on the latest trends, often on a global scale. Their home decor could be an eclectic, but colorful collection of souvenirs from their travels. Both have eyes fixed on the horizon, and generally share an optimistic outlook. If they break up, there's a chance of remaining friends. And if they stay together, it'll no doubt be one exciting, soul-enriching tandem journey. "


Check out your new stars:

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16.
Feb. 16-March 11.
March 11-April 18.
April 18-May 13.
May 13-June 21.
June 21-July 20.
July 20-Aug. 10.
Aug. 10-Sept. 16.
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30.
Oct. 30-Nov. 23.
Scorpio: Nov. 23-29.
Nov. 29-Dec. 17.  (This is new — read all about the Ophiuchus way of life here)
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.


A pillow and a soft place

I’ve wanted to write on this topic for a while now, but haven’t had the chance to properly form the words in my head. Though not further ahead in the department of sufficient material for me to work on, I’ll try my best to ultimately convey the message.

Raihan made popular the sentence “Iman tak dapat diwarisi dari seorang ayah yang bertaqwa (piety can’t be inherited from a God-fearing father).” But my concern is precisely not that; it is the nature of the opposite: how come we seldom hear people stress about wickedness and ignorance not being laid on the table for inheritance either? Putting fear into someone is a method of conditioning, and so is motivation.

We see, and we hear, a lot of stories about pious parents that are tested by God with daughters and sons that are hard to be disciplined, much less respecting of elders. Although there are some religious arguments of kids being the mirror of their parents’ past, I’m not going to dwell into that. The truth holds that parents can mold their children only so much, and the rest is left in prayers to our Lord.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

by Robert Frost

But then, stories of children from ignorant parents are not as popularly – or ever – read in a forwarded email. Why? Are their stories less important? There are those out there who have ignorant parents, either by circumstances or choice, yet were led by the light of hidayah in their hearts in due course. How did that happen? The same entity that is feared by most parents to have a bad influence on their child could be at work here – friends. There is no telling how, and when, a person might diverge from his or her early experiences, but when it happens, there is no telling the direction in which the wind will blow.

Not a parent myself, I could not possibly comprehend the matter to make a personal comment. But what I have are cases that point to one so many directions that the only conclusion I can make is that piety at the end of the day is worthless if the underlying values of human relationships are not taught from an early age. Parents that only teach of the Day of Resurrection should not be too shocked to find their kids astray if at the same time they are taught to measure success by the number of zeros in their bank accounts. At the same time, non-observing parents that teach humility can unknowingly lead their child to the right people, thus the right path. Isn't life wonderful in all its unpredictability, as nobody is perfect except for Him.

To a specific friend who has an inkling as to where this post comes from, yes, I am so proud of you. In all your hardship and frustration, you find yourself among the lucky few who had God by their sides. I know you are scared, but don’t be, because I believe in you.