Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Quest for 9As in the SPM

In the 2011secondary school examination to obtain the SPM certificate ( equivalent to the 'A' level certificate of education) more than 403 students out of more than 468,808who sat for the examination in Malaysia obtained 9As and 9,239 obtained dintinctios ie. a combination of A+, A and A-.Everyone was jubilant over the results, seeing how bright the scoolchildren are nowadays. In the days when the secondary school examination was based on questions set by  the University of Cambridge in London and the papers were examined by the same educational authority, to get 2 or 3 A was already a monumental task. All that we aimed at was to get a Grade 1 which required less than 21 points. An aggregate of less than 21 for 9 subjects meant that you must have at least one A2 and 6 C3 to get a grade 1 ( A gives 1 or 2 points, C gives you 5-3 points,a D gives you 6 points and an F 8 points.)

Grade 1 was the pride then, Grade 2 was acceptable for University entrance while Grade 3 only qualified you for a clerical and equivalent third division jobs -the higher ones being the executive ( division 2 )and administrative grade (division 1). Division 1 jobs were for the university graduates with Honours and a job in the Malaysian Civil Service (MCS) at that time started with a basic salary of RM568 pm reaching a maximum of RM1254. The first big jump to a Superscale H post gave you a basic salary oh RM 1254. That wasvthe deal then.

Now students aspire for 9As in the SPM with an A+ at that. And they are getting them by the bucketful. A nephew of mind cried his heart out for getting just 6As and 2Bs. When I told him that he has an Uncle who had only one lousy A in his SPM ( then known as Senior Cambridge) but succeeded in pursuing his studies up to a Ph.D level, the nephew just winced and said, " That was in in the 1960s, Uncle. Now you might not even get a chance to go for further studies on a government scholarship."

Is that so, now? I am talking about pursuing  further studies with a government scholarship, not on daddy's payrole. Of course students don't have to do a two-year stint in HSC or Higher School Certificate studies now before you get to the University to start your degree work. you can straightaway go to College for a two-year diploma studies then proceed to do your degree work - in two years. How fast? Such that when they come out with a degree, they look like  College kids.

Thousands of them are coming out of the local and foreign universities now, since we already have 20 public and 39 private iniversities tlocally. The starting salary for bachelor's degree holder with  Honours is now above RM2000 already in the goverment whereas the corporate sector might offer above RM4000 pm to a professionally qualifieded Honours graduate. That's more than doubke what they used to earn on joining the service or a company in the 60s or even 70s.  
Meawhile jobs in the clerical and blue collar group remain for those who could not do further studies up to the degree level. No students would want to be in this group if they could avoid it and that's the main reason everyone is chasing the illusive 9As. But they forget that a student with less-than-9A and even with just a few As and strong Credits ( i believe) could also proceed to the universities. There are many channels open to them they could proceed to do their HSC ( higher school cert) and get their STPM. They could enter College for a diploma then proceed to do a degree. They could also start to work and pursue an off-campus study prigram leading to a degree. In fact they can go beyond a bachelor's degree trough the off- campus study prgram. To get a PhD.

So, for those SPM holders with less thsn 9As, do not fret. Let the 9As students bask in their success for it's only the beginning of the climb in academic attainment. Let the media, the education ministry , the school teachers and the public shower the 9As students with congratulations. You have a lot of chances to redeem yourself at a higher level of learning where real intelligence is tested and not just you capacity to memorize and regurgitate answers to SPM examination questions. Undeniably, some of the 9As students are really very bright. But yet experience shows that some fail to maintain their brilliance at a higher level. The fact shows that some students with less than 9As hsve attianed greater succes in higher degrees and in  their prifessional life compared to  the flash-in-the-pan SPM 9A achievers.

So do not fret if you failed to get 9As. The battle has just begun. Show your intellectual prowess at a higher level of education. Meanwhile, congratulations to you too for passing the first hurdle successfully. There are many more hurdles where you can prove your worth.    

Monday, March 19, 2012

House Maids - how much should they be paid?

The problem of getting housemaids in Malaysia seems to have become a national issue. Since the maids mostly come from different countries- Malaysian girls and women do not seem to be interested at all in the job anymore - it has also become a regional problem involving countries from where the maids are recruited. Currently, the country most affected is Indonesia.

What has become a big issue is not only the question of how much household maids should be paid but also the emergence of cases where they have been mistreated and abused by their employers. On the other hand there are also cases of negligence or misconduct by the maids
leading to the death and injuries of children and babies under their care . Of course there are a few cases of attractive maids getting too much attention from their employers, causing wives to go on the warpath. But that is a different story and nothing in the world can stop it from happening as long as maids include young and beatiful damsels.

The first most important issue is the pay. How much are they ususally paid and how much should they be paid in accordance with the current market value of their services? Recent discussions between the Malaysian government and Indonesia had set the minimum payment at RM 700 -800 per month. But now Indonesia has insisted that the said amount should only be for one job. If the maids were also asked to undertake other jobs, they should be entitled to a payment for that job as well, the amount to be determined later. This has upset even the Prime Minister of Malaysia who had discussed the matter with the President of Indonesia to fix the current minimum payment.

Probably the issue of minimum payment for the maids has not been thoroughly examined. First off, we should recognize that household or. domestic assistance job can fall iunder many categories. There are those which involve more of cooking and taking charge of the kitchen. Others involve baby sitting and taking care of the children akin to wet nursing. It can also involve taking care of older people, doing
the washing, ironing clothes, making up the beds, doing some gardening work etc. The list of household works that need assistance if the wife is to have enough time for a career and taking care of a husband, is just inexhaustable.

Every nousehold certainly calls for a different mix of these job responsibilities and a different volume of work as a whole depending on the size amd the flair, capacity and interest of the wife or the mother in the household to undertake hosehold work herself. If the lady loves household work and has ample time for it, she will do all the major work leaving the maid to give assistance as required. On the other extreme she will ask the maid to do most of everything while she suprrvises and gives some assistance. Immediately we see that it's not fair to pay the maids under such different lady bosses the same amount per month.

The indonesian authorities had already classified the main duties which they cosider to belong to one job. That includes cooking, washing and ironing clothes plus taking a general care of the house. That is the core job. That seems fair enough but it leaves one very important function out and that is attending to babies and children. It is over this matter that a lot of trouble had emerged. Several acts of negligence and abuse had been uncovered some with fatal results.

It must be admitted tha looking after babies and children is a specialised job. One must be specially trained to become a wet nurse especially in the case of young maids who are not married and had no children of their own. Allowing them to look after the children could be courting a lot of trouble with dire consequences. In fact looking after the children is a mother's responsibility and a maid can only assist.
Looking after teenagers requires an even more refined training as a mistress or governess in the old English tradition. Nowadays you need a Councillor to do that. Even parents sometimes failed to undertake that responsibility effectively resulting in youths with psychological and docial problems.

Perhaps a special allowance for taking care of the kids and especially babies should be considered provided that the maid had received a certified training program for the job.. A maid doing this job will mostly have her hands full and performance in the core job will be affected. Hence any extra payment involved should be ofsetted by a deduction from the basic pay of RM700. The same goes for doing other jos like washing cars, painting the fence, gardening etc. Employers should come forward with a fair formula when an all-round maid is required and the terms must be agreed to by a maid before bing appointed. Perhaps this will resolve any fear that the maid will be underpaid or abused
There cannot be a single payment agreed to for all families because families differ in msmy ways.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Moday Blues, a post mortem.

Some people can't wait for Monday to get to work again. Or to go back to office and meet friends or someone special after a boring weekend. But for many...".Oh God. Monday again...I didn't even have time to rest." These people normally had a most crowded weekend which kept them on their feet. Usually married people with a heavy family responsibility. Two days at home playing 'mommy' could be agonizing.

But I've heard of single people from both sexes, groaning away at the return of Monday. That is because the weekend had been real hectic and they had could not take any rest at all.. Otherwise, it's because their work is real boring and to come back to it on Monday is like 'yuuuk'. Is it also because they always have too much to do and the work is really exhausting? I'm not sure because some people say "Work never kills, it's boredom that does." Like routine work that requires no brainwork but just motor reflexes. It can allow the brain to rust or become the 'devil's workshop.

Some people also hate the people they have to return to at work. No real friends but just inconsiderate colleagues and some self-centered competitors for career advancement. Even there can also be irksome bosses who like to see you become panicky or miserable. Yes, there are bosses who really like to boss around irrespective of whether you do good, honest work or not. Only the 'bottom banners' or 'apple polishers' will get a lot of praises and compliments. The self-confident, self-directed and knowledgeable workers will be called smart alecks and will be taunted to no end. They might also end up with almost all the heavy work to be done while the "favorites" can spend a lot of time on Facebook and video games, provided that they are ready to jump to attention when the boss calls (and start praising how smart he dressed up that day or how handsome he or she is.) That will of course make the victimized smart alecks, smart (and snarled) all the more.

Returning to work on Monday has been associated with the blues for a long, long time. Hence the term Monday Blues. But we know that there are times and people who can't want for Monday to come. What makes these people different? Are they workaholics and people with a penchant for work, highly motivated and those so-called go-getters? Interestingly they have not been studied by our psychologists in order to prescribe some cure against the Monday Blues and those afflicted by the disease. If they turned out to be psychos- workaholics is surely an euphemism - then at least we know that we should not allow ourselves, at least not all of us, to become so. Unless. of course, we all want to become a nation of workaholics. I'm sure there many proponents and supporters of this idea in our desire to become a nation of high productivity and high income. Who loves a lazy bum who hates Monday?

I wouldn't want to take side on this issue. We have those who hate Mondays and those who love them. That's what a democratic nation should have, people for and against any issue at all that you care to raise. For pensioners like me, Monday or Sunday are all the same. Except that you may have a lot of weddings on Saturday and Sunday, especially during school holidays. On weekdays we can always think of working in the "kebuns" or "gardening and cleaning up around the house". For those who love reading and writing there is, of course. no difference between weekdays and weekends. There is so much to read about and to write about. It's only when you try to write about something that you realize how much you DON'T KNOW about the subject. And the more you dig in into the literature about it, the more you realize how much more you have missed...

Well, Monday is always a day to start something new, whether you love Monday or otherwise. If you hate it you are one like many toehrs. If you love it, you could be a case for the psychologist to get to work on.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hail to the Public Service..

Today, 8th March, 2012, the Prime Minister announced government's decision on the revision of pay for the more than a million public servants in the country. The new system for pay revision (SBPA) as proposed by PSD was dropped and the old remuneration system (SSM) with appropriate amendments was retained. Undeniably this was as a result of Cuepec's intervention. A special Commission was to be set up tao continuously examine not only the remuneration system of the Public Service in view of the rising cost of living and the economic transformation of the nation in its quest to become a high-income nation, but also the role and functions of the public service.

Meanwhile an 9% - 13% rise in income ( higher for the lower income group and lower for the higher income earners) with considerable increases in various allowances were agreed to. So, there is an all round increase for everyone, although the proposed PREMIER SERVICE group did not get its way, much to the relief of those who would have been lumped under the PERFUNCTORY GROUP ( Kumpulan Pelaksana) under the PSD's proposal. Officers in the PREMIER SERVICE were supposed to get an income at par with their counterparts in the private sector to allow for outstanding executives in the private sector to be appointed as public officials.There was no provision, however, for public officials to cross over to the private sector. They were to go on contract, to be easily displaced if found wanting.

Obviously some deep thinking must be done about the public service in this age of high education and modern technology. Public officials especially at the senior levels should be computer literate and armed with 3G I phone or I pads in order to have critical information at their fingertips. Junior and middle level officers just carry out their duties according to the guidelines and regulations set by the agencies they serve. An application or a service is approved or rejected based on those rules and regulations
without much argument. But higher level officers must deal with borderline cases, with new situations not covered by the regulations and new sensitivities. They have a wider area off discretion to deal with. They need more information and opinions from their colleagues and superiors, Hence the need for a quick SMS or HP conference. That can only be done on the 3G equipment. Writing letters and memos or holding a meeting may take days or weeks.

How, therefore, can a senior officials handle his critical decision-making job without utilizing the new 3G equipment, which now is even moving towards a 4G technology? How can he or she get the views of colleagues and superiors quickly to make the right or "acceptable" decision? Do the senior officers make critical decision at all today, or just leave matters in the hands of their political bosses through minutes, memos and meetings? The common belief is that all important and even minor decisions are now left to the political bosses to make, and senior officials just become a channel for communicating the problem - a postman. Is that really true? If so then the authority of the senior civil servants should be reexamined and realigned with the modern politico-administrative arrangements in the governance of a nation.