On Thursday last week, the FBI released a film entitled The Company Man: Protecting America’s Secrets, which targets economic espionage. The 35-minute film features two Chinese economic spies who try to bribe a US employee with money, attempting to acquire insulation technology from the latter’s company. The two were later prosecuted and caught in the net of justice. According to media reports, the video has already been shown nearly 1,300 times at US enterprises.
An FBI official publicly voiced that “China is the most dominant threat we face from economic espionage … The Chinese government plays a significant role.”
The official also declared that economic espionage has caused losses of hundreds billions of dollars annually to the US economy.
How much is “hundreds of billions of dollars?” Say $300 billion, about 2 percent of US annual GDP.
Since the FBI believes that there has been a 53 percent surge in economic espionage in the US, and 95 percent of US companies suspect that China is the main culprit, does it infer that China has stolen 2 percent of US GDP?
Some people may ponder that given the Cold War is over, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were eradicated and the war on terror is seemingly not that urgent for the moment, and in light of US federal budget constraints, the FBI needs to find new strategic reasons for more funds. Therefore, the “position” of “Chinese economic spies” has been greatly elevated.
What the FBI has done is bound to injure Sino-US relations. But it is US society that will suffer the most. Many Americans will hence think that their economy is fine, their companies have no problems at all and the only issue is the threat from Chinese economic espionage.
It looks to them like Chinese intelligence services and civilian business spies are much more powerful than the FBI, CIA and other non-governmental intelligence forces combined. China is not capable in every category except for spy technology. This is the logic of the FBI.
If we take a good look at China’s overall development in this changing world, you will see that one-third of global new technical patents are now created by Chinese companies every year. Innovation has also become China’s national slogan. China will eventually be able to challenge the West’s dominance in high technology.
China is well aware that it should learn from the West, especially the US, in terms of technology. But this is not stealing.
US universities are also attracting students from all over the world, yet this brings more benefits than losses to the nation due to the dissemination of knowledge.
Someone who always claims that his house was robbed and feels free to suspect his friend or neighbor is the thief is very annoying, and that is what the US is doing right now. The whole world knows that US intelligent agencies are the most notorious regarding this issue.
We hope that the often-silent Chinese intelligence services could expose some hard evidence of espionage by US spies, and make a spy movie featuring US espionage, providing it with a mirror to look at itself.- Global Times
THERE’s been so much dramatic news these days – from Greece’s miseries to Iran, China from blowhard Donald Trump – that the shocking story of how America’s National Security Agency has been spying on German and French leadership has gone almost unnoticed.
Last year, it was revealed that the NSA had intercepted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone. She is supposed to be one of Washington’s most important allies and the key power in Europe. There was quiet outrage in always subservient Germany, but no serious punitive action.
Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, was also bugged by American intelligence. Her predecessor, Luiz Lula da Silva, was also apparently bugged.
This year, came revelations that NSA and perhaps CIA had tapped the phones of France’s president, Francois Hollande, and his two predecessors, Nicholas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. Hollande ate humble pie and could only summon some faint peeps of protest to Washington. Luckily for the US, Charles de Gaulle was not around. After the US tried to strong-arm France, “le Grand Charles” kicked the US and Nato out of France.
Last week, WikiLeaks revealed that the NSA had bugged the phone of Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, for over a decade. Imagine the uproar and cries “the Gestapo is back” if it were revealed that German intelligence had bugged the phones of President Barack Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry.
A lot of Germans were really angry that their nation was being treated by the Americans as a northern banana republic. Many recalled that in the bad old days of East Germany its intelligence agency, Stasi, monitored everyone’s communications under the direct supervision of KGB big brother at Moscow Centre.
The National Security Agency and CIA claim their electronic spying is only aimed at thwarting attacks by anti-American groups (aka “terrorism”). This claim, as shown by recent events, is untrue. One supposes the rational must be a twist on the old adage “keep your enemies close, but your friends even closer”.
Ironically, the political leaders listed above – save perhaps Brazil’s da Silva – are all notably pro-American and responsive to Washington’s demands.
Why would the US risk alienating and humiliating some of its closet allies?
One suspects the reason is sheer arrogance … and because US intelligence could do it. But must US intelligence really know what Mr Merkel is making Mrs Merkel for dinner?
Until WikiLeaks blew the whistle, some European leaders may have known they were being spied upon but chose to close their eyes and avoid making an issue. Raising a fuss would have forced them to take action against the mighty US.
Besides, British, Italian and French intelligence are widely believed to have bugged most communications since the 1950’s. But not, of course, the White House or Pentagon. The only nation believed to have gotten away with bugging the White House was Israel during the Clinton years. The Pentagon was bugged by a number of foreign nations, including Israel, China and Russia.
Humiliating Europe’s leaders in this fashion is a gift to the growing numbers of Europeans who believe their nations are being treated by the US as vassal states.
There is widespread belief in Western Europe that US strategic policy aims at preventing deeper integration of the EU and thwarting a common foreign policy or a powerful European military. Britain serves as a Trojan horse for America’s strategic interests in Europe.
Way back in the 1960’s, then German defence minister Franz Josef Strauss, an ardent proponent of a truly united Europe, thundered that Europeans would not play spearmen to America’s atomic knights. But, of course, that’s just what happened.
The US still runs and finances Nato in the same way the Soviet Union commanded the Warsaw Pact. Washington calls on Europe for troop contingents in its Middle East and south Asian colonial wars in the same way that the Persian Empire summoned its vassals to war.
Many Germans and French, both right and left, would like their leaders to react more forcefully to NSA’s ham-handed spying. However, Merkel and Hollande are both political jellyfish eager to evade any confrontation with Big Brother in Washington. Maybe he has too much dirt on them.
But a confrontation is inevitable one day if Europe is to regain its true independence that was lost after World War II.
By Eric S. Margolis who is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. Comments: email@example.com
AS Malaysia gears up to developed nation status by 2020, there is still much to do to get there.
One of the most direct ways to arrive at the vision is to ensure a sufficient and growing number of engineers.
Increase in the number of engineering students is paramount to meet the nation’s need for engineers who would implement and maintain the many economic development projects.
During his visit to the International Bureau of Education (IBE) in Geneva in April, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin spoke of the need for Malaysia to harness skills and knowledge in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Muhyiddin also pointed out that the countries which started on the same level as Malaysia had moved much further ahead, crediting it to their wisdom in making full use of STEM to boost their country’s fortunes.
As such, he emphasised the need for human capital development in STEM, which he considers vital in the national transformation process.
To achieve this, a strategy comprising a series of actionable plans must be able to support the production rates needed for generating skilled STEM human capital at two levels, namely secondary schools and tertiary institutions, to reach the target of 500,000 STEM graduates by 2020, according to Muhyiddin.
Although the solution is apparent, its execution remains challenging.
One of the factors hindering this step to greater national development is getting students to love science, or science classes. Science and mathematics as school subjects must be made interesting, easy to understand, as well as more hands-on and exploratory. This is in line with the Government’s aim for 60% science and technology-based education by 2020.
For the engineering profession, interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in school will result in more qualified students who are eligible to pursue engineering courses in universities.
Through the increase in engineering students, the nation’s need for engineers would be met. This would translate into greater implementation and maintenance of the country’s economic development projects.
The Institution of Engineers Malaysia (IEM) lauds the Government’s effort to promote interest among students to study science in schools.
Without the large number of science students, there will surely be a corresponding limitation in the ability of universities to produce the number of engineers needed.
As a national association with the nation’s interests at heart, IEM has been actively involved in conducting school career awareness talks, arranging competitions and exhibiting interesting projects on engineering to school children to promote interest in engineering. IEM has also set up IEM Student to encourage students to choose sections in various universities in Malaysia.
Engineering students are also encouraged to join IEM as Student Members which will enable them to access IEM resources and activities such as talks and networking. IEM is one of the supporting members (together with AAET, MiGHT, Utar and NSC) for the Kuala Lumpur Engineering Science Fair, an annual programme to promote interest in STEM among primary and secondary school pupils.
We believe that career prospects will be a major factor in the students’ decision in their studies and career options.
Prospects for engineers include top level positions, attractive remuneration as well as status recognition, which will be a great motivation for students to take up STEM Education and thus pursue a career in engineering.
Students must be made aware that job prospects for engineering graduates remain bright as Government allocation for infrastructure development has supported the demand for engineers.
National development towards an industrial nation has also spurred the demand for engineers.
Students, and parents too, must realise that a career in engineering is not only limited to the five traditional branches of engineering, namely Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Electronic and Chemical Engineering. Through the years, engineering has expanded into many new disciplines such as Aeronautical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Maritime Engineering, Mining Engineering, Oil and Gas Engineering, among many others, which would be exciting career options for students.
The Government being the largest employer should provide equal opportunity and create a structured pathway for all science-based professionals, in particular engineers, to take up high positions in the civil service.
Recognition of the contribution of engineering success and seeing it as a pathway to top positions in the civil service will be a great motivator for students to pursue STEM education in Malaysia.
AFTER a week in the Silicon Valley, California last month, I came to the conclusion that I am a dinosaur. The speed of change from technology has been so fast and so profound that we are lost in transition, translation and transformation.
The digital revolution is already upon us, but the baby boomer generation, to which I belong, is having difficulty understanding this because we still upload (read) on paper, whereas the millenials (those born between 1980 and 2000) upload information mostly on mobile phones, video and communicate through social media.
Demographics say a lot. At the turn of the 21st century, the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) were half the work force, but today in the United States, millenials and Gen X (born 1965-1979) are roughly one-third each. The baby boomers may own most of the retirement funds and wealth, but the new wealth is being created rapidly by the younger generations.
A simple set of statistics says it all. The Forbes top five US companies by revenue are Walmart, Exxon, Chevron, Berkshire Hathaway and Apple. Walmart employs over 2.1 million people, with revenue just under US$485bil, but profits of US$16bil with market capitalisation of US$265bil. Apple, with only 80,000 employees, had double Walmart profits of US$39bil and a market capitalisation of US$725bil, larger than Walmart and Exxon put together. Twitter, with only 3,638 employees or less than 0.2% of Walmart workforce, is valued at 9.2% of Walmart. Facebook, with only 9,200 employees but 1.44 billion users, is valued at 86% of Walmart.
In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that Silicon Valley is booming in terms of wealth creation, California would be suffering from the economic effects of the worst drought in years. But at US$2.3 trillion, California is growing at 2.8% per annum, faster than US real gross domestic product growth of 2.2% in 2014. The Western Pacific states of Oregon and Washington are growing faster at 3.6% and 3% respectively, thanks to growing trade and services from the boom in technology.
Two things that stand out in the Digital Disruption – speed and scale. The speed and scale of the digital transformation is so fast and so wide and deep that we are all having problems valuing what it means – which is why we have a tech bubble in the making.
It is quite normal for us to accept that the Silicon Valley is the world leader in digital change, but what was eye-opening as I dug into the data is that the next waves are already happening in China and India. This has mind-boggling implications on a geo-political basis, especially for smaller economies, such as Malaysia, Hong Kong or Thailand.
What struck me from delving into the pattern of growth in the Internet Revolution is the speed and scale of change in China and India. Who would have expected even five years ago that four out of the top 15 global public Internet companies, ranked by market capitalisation would be Chinese (Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com) with a combined value of US$542bil or 22.4% of the total market valuation of US$2.4 trillion of these 15 companies as of May, 2105.
Scale and speed
The reason for this valuation is scale and speed of the Chinese transformation, already overtaking the world leader, the United States. The rate of Internet penetration is over 80% for the United States, only 40+% in China and 20+% in India. But China already has more Internet users (618 million), double the US population and its growth in smartphones is double (21%) that of the United States (9%).
Although incomes in China and India are far lower than the United States, Chinese and Indian millenials (for that matter, millenials in all emerging markets) are beginning to spend more time on their smartphones than the advanced countries.
There are two implications from this broad trend, which the Chinese Internet platforms like Alibaba and Tencent are beginning to exploit.
The first is the ease and convenience of buying, selling and paying using the smartphone – an all service tool. Partly because of regulation, the US leaders such as eBay, Amazon and Facebook are still in their core areas of strength, but Alibaba and WeChat (part of Tencent) have developed eco-systems that are simultaneously social networks, chatrooms, trading and investing platforms combined.
When I lost my Blackberry, MacBook and camera recently in Latin America, I was staggered that using WeChat on iPhone, I could go on video and instant chat with friends across half the world for free. My only constraint was the battery on my iPhone and that I had not set up to get funds transfer in case of need.
The second implication is that traditional service providers are way behind in this technology. My credit card companies are still on outdated phone-banking, which meant that in order to report lost cards, I was frantically trying to Press one, Press two and Press self-destruct! These companies are at least two generations behind in customer service technology.
My conclusion from this survey of the Internet Revolution is that the disruption from technology on conventional businesses is yet incomplete. In the 1990s, the Internet changed the music, photography, book sales and video rental business. Today, we book airline and hotel travel on the web.
But with the arrival of the iPad and iPhone, healthcare, finance, investing, education and social communications are being combined into one gadget (the mobile phone) to do what we have to.
This disruption is happening very fast in China and India, because these late-comers have no pre-conceived legacy ideas on what cannot be done with technology.
If China is currently going through its tech bubble, watch out for the next tech bubble in India.
Those who think only in terms of risks think that bubbles are to be feared. I have come to realise that the animal spirits in us change the game through excesses. But those who learn from their mistakes will create the new.
Watch this space in Asia.
Andrew Sheng comments on global trends from an Asian angle
The drugs you are taking may be fake
Counterfeit drugs are a booming criminal industry with serious consequences for public health.
Many of us have a strong faith in the power of modern medicine.
We go to the doctor or pharmacist, get the prescribed pills, take them religiously and expect to be cured of whatever ails us.
Oftentimes, this faith is justified, but in an age where fake products abound, have you ever wondered about the authenticity and quality of the drugs that you are ingesting?
According to a 2013 Emerging Markets Health Network report, 3-5% of all medicines being circulated in Malaysia were fakes.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam has also been reported as saying that the ministry had seized some 33,704 unregistered products worth RM43.22mil last year alone.
While this is not high compared to other middle- and low-income countries – for example, the International Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group in Indonesia estimates that about one-quarter of medicines on the Indonesian market are fake – it is certainly something to be worried about as it concerns our health.
University of Oxford’s Reader in Tropical Medicine, Prof Dr Paul Newton says that it is difficult to estimate the global size of the problem as there is not enough data.
According to him, there are very few studies, and very few of those are done in a scientifically-rigorous manner, adding that there are certainly hotspots of such problems around the world.
Pfizer Global Security director Mark Robinson shares that the pharmaceutical company sees the highest number of fake drug seizures in Asia, compared to the rest of the world.
But he adds: “That’s because we are targeting (illegal) labs, seizing the drugs before they reach the market.” He observes that in 60 countries around the world, patients went into a legitimate, licensed pharmacy and got counterfeit drugs.
In addition, he notes that the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that over half of those who buy drugs online from unverified websites receive counterfeit medicines.
Two types of fake
Fake drugs, also called poor quality drugs, can be divided into two types: counterfeit and substandard.
Prof Newton explains that counterfeit medicines are made by criminals with the intent to deceive patients and healthcare workers for monetary gain.
According to Robinson, these criminals include entrepreneurs, terrorist organisations, drug syndicates and weapons dealers.
They do it, he says, because it is profitable, because they are pretty sure they won’t get caught, and because even if they do get caught, the penalties are very low compared to the amount of money they can make.
The danger of these drugs is that they can vary from not having any active pharmaceutical ingredient to containing toxic materials. (See What’s in your fake drug)
Active pharmaceutical ingredients are the chemical compounds that treat the medical condition.
Unlike counterfeit drugs, substandard drugs are made by the original or licensed manufacturer, but do not conform to the proper standard of quality.
They are “medicines with mistakes”, says Prof Newton.
These medicines occur due to errors in the factories. Sometimes, they can be small errors, and sometimes, they can be large errors, like using the wrong active ingredient, he says.
He opines that this problem is more likely to occur in low-income countries where there is a lack of drug regulation and quality control measures.
However, as with counterfeit drugs, it is difficult to estimate the size of this problem due to the lack of data.
“Not many people are actually looking (for this problem), so we might have an unpleasant surprise,” he says, adding that in terms of public health, substandard medicines are as dangerous as counterfeit drugs.
He adds that some companies are very active in ensuring that their products are good, but, like any human activity, some cut corners and skip the quality control.
According to the WHO, only one-fifth of its member states have well-developed drug regulation; half have varying levels of regulation and enforcement; and the remaining 30% have either very limited or no drug regulation at all.
In Malaysia, Dr Subramaniam was reported as saying that online drug sales are a particularly hard area to enforce as the Customs Department does not screen packages valued below RM500, due to the very high number of such packages.
“We have asked the Customs Department to screen all packages, and they are trying to do it, but I think it is quite expensive to put such a system in place,” he said after opening the Access to Safe Medicines Training Conference organised by Mediharta Sdn Bhd in January.
Prof Newton was a speaker at the same conference, while Robinson was a speaker at the launch of Pfizer’s anti-counterfeit technology, Patient Authentication for Safety via SMS (PASS), in Malaysia.
According to Robinson, the top three drugs produced by Pfizer that are found to be counterfeited in Malaysia are erectile dysfunction drug, sildenafil; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to treat pain and inflammation, celecoxib; and hypertension drug, amlodipine.
He adds that it is not only branded drugs that are counterfeited, but also generic drugs that are no longer patented, like the NSAID mefenamic acid.
“People just want to use our good name (to sell fake drugs),” he says.
Prof Newton notes that antibiotics and cardiovascular drugs are also being increasingly counterfeited in South-East Asia.
He adds that it is not only drugs that are counterfeited, but also medical devices like cardiac stents, rapid diagnostic tests and insecticide-treated bed nets – a problem particularly rampant in Africa.
The effects of fake drugs can be felt both on the individual level, as well as on a wider scale. For the patient, taking counterfeit drugs can range from death to developing more serious health complications.
These health complications may be caused by the actual illness being untreated due to a lack of active ingredients in the counterfeit drug, or the drug containing either toxic ingredients or the wrong active ingredients.
The latter will also make it more complicated for doctors to treat the patients, as they might be confused by the incongruent symptoms.
Counterfeit or substandard drugs that contain less active ingredients than required can also cause drug resistance, particularly if they are antibiotics.
Prof Newton adds that consuming fake drugs also ends up incurring more expense on the patients’ part, as they don’t get better and keep on buying more medications.
Patients might also lose faith in the healthcare system, he says. “If you don’t trust the pharmaceutical companies or doctors, you won’t go back and might seek other alternatives.
He notes that fake drugs will also affect genuine pharmaceutical companies, as well as government healthcare systems and non-governmental organisations that inadvertently purchase these drugs.
Both Prof Newton and Robinson hope that governments around the world will take a stronger stance against counterfeit medicines, both in terms of enacting relevant legislation with much stronger penalties for those producing fake drugs, as well as in terms of enforcement.
Patients should also be more careful of what they consume.
For example, signs that a medicine could be fake include an excessively low price, flimsy or unprofessional packaging, and not requiring a doctor’s or pharmacist’s prescription for non-OTC (over the counter) drugs.
An example of the holographic security label for registered Malaysian drugs, which features the hibiscus symbol, serial number and the letters PBKD and DCA. All drug packaging must have this label. – Photo:
An example of the holographic security label for registered Malaysian drugs, which features the hibiscus symbol, serial number and the letters PBKD and DCA. All drug packaging must have this label. – Photo: Health Ministry
In Malaysia, registered drugs also have a holographic security sticker on their packaging.
The bleak and bright side of Malaysian Education
Malaysia may be getting dismal marks for education but there are dedicated people making a difference to improve scores.
IT’S probably the best definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The famous quote is often wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein but whoever said that, it makes sense, especially in the context of the Malaysian education system.
It’s madness to continue spending billions on education without seeing any improvements in quality.
The Education Ministry has been allocated RM56bil this year, RM1.4bil more than what it received last year.
Our expenditure on basic education is more than double that of other Asean countries and also South Korea and Japan.
Yet Malaysia remains stuck at the bottom third of the global schools league, as confirmed by the results from recent assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2012 study, based on test scores in mathematics and science among 15-year-olds in 76 countries, shows that Malaysia is languishing at 52nd, way below top-ranked Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
Our students were out-performed by Vietnam (12), Thailand (47), Kazakhstan and Iran (51). In Asean, Malaysia only ranked higher than Indonesia (69).
In March, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said he was shocked by Malaysia’s poor results in international education assessments and admitted that the standards were not good enough.
He said the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (Preschool to Secondary) and the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) were designed to improve the system, stressing that time was needed to see the changes.
The truth is, we don’t have the luxury of time and patience is wearing thin.
We inherited a solid education system after independence, just as Singapore did. But over the past three decades, successive ministers of education have made a mess of tinkering with the system, mostly for political motives.
Earlier this month, Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar suggested that Malaysia emulate Singapore’s education system with English as the sole medium of instruction.
Urging the people to be open-minded about the proposal, he said Singapore’s single-stream education system had not only helped to foster unity in the republic but also created a prosperous society.
It is still not too late to bring back the era of racial harmony and unity experienced by people of my generation, who are products of English schools during the 60s and 70s.
As the Johor Sultan has pointed out, there would always be a gap between the races in the country if our education system continues to be based on race and language, not to mention the increasing influence of religion.
But in spite of the weaknesses in the system, it is heartening to see committed parent-teacher associations and non-governmental organisations pushing fervently to get situations improved.
Last Saturday, I was at Sunway University where groups of eager teenagers were taking part in a Young Inventor Challenge, organised by the Association of Science, Technology and Innovation (ASTI), an NGO of volunteers who have been mentoring and encouraging students to excel in science.
ASTI is led by the unassuming Dr Mohamed Yunus Mohamed Yasin, who is credited with bringing about change in the attitude towards science and maths in Tamil schools across the country.
I wouldn’t have known about the quiet science revolution if not for blogger Syed Akbar Ali’s recent post about what Dr Yunus and his group of dedicated friends have been doing over the past 12 years.
As a result of participating in ASTI’s Science Fair for Young Children, Tamil schools are scoring top grades for science and maths in the UPSR.
Last year, SRJK (Tamil) Taman Tun Aminah, Johor Baru, emerged as the top school for the UPSR with 43 pupils scoring straight 7As while others scored 7Bs.
They are making headlines abroad too. In March, three students of SJK(T) Ramakrishna, Penang, beat 300 contestants from all over the world to win first prize at the 35th Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition.
Durgashini Srijayan, Kumurthashri Ponniah and Sugheson Ganeson won the gold medal under the Excellent Youth Science Creation category of the contest for their invention of an eco-friendly thermo container.
In October last year, SJK (T) Kulim’s R. Prevena, V Susheetha and former student R. Rasyikash won the Double Gold Award at the British Invention Show in London for their energy-saving drinks-dispensing machine.
Building on the successes of the science fairs, ASTI started the Young Inventors Challenge, which is open to all secondary schools, three years ago. From the initial 19, the number of schools has since increased to almost 200, including a team from Singapore.
ASTI also organises Creative and Critical Thinking Camps designed for primary schools up to tertiary level, and the ASTI Innovation Community Award to recognise the contributions of individuals or groups using science and technology for beneficial projects.
It also works with Germany’s Goethe Institute in organising the annual Science Film Fest to produce documentaries and teaching films about science.
And it has been doing all these with an annual budget of RM800,000, raised largely from well-wishers, including its 400 volunteers.
Dr Yunus’ philosophy is simple: “Stop complaining, get involved. As patriots, we can help the country do well too.”
By Veera Pandiyan
> Associate editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes William Butler Yeat’s definition of education: it is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.
Take OECD education report as a wake-up call
– The Star Says
ITS does not feel good to know that a new report by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development places us at 52nd among 76 countries in terms of our students’ grasp of basic skills.
Singapore takes the top spot, thus reinforcing the recent call by Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Sultan Iskandar that we emulate the island nation’s single-stream education system, which uses English as the medium of instruction.
He said having schools in only one stream would unite Malaysians and boost their competitiveness.
These developments tell us that our education system can be a lot better. Then again, we all know that.
The fact that Malaysia has two education blueprints – one focusing on preschool education and primary and secondary schools, and the other on higher education – shows that the Government is already taking steps to transform our education system.
The blueprints’ plans stretch until 2025, which means we should not hope for many overnight improvements.
Meanwhile, it is wise for us to keep enhancing our understanding of exactly how our shared prosperity is built on education.
New ideas and insights in this area are valuable because they help us to shape and refine policies and practices relating to the education system. At the very least, they encourage us to see things in a different light.
It is clichéd to say education is the cornerstone of development, but what if somebody comes up with projections of how much economies can benefit if school enrolment and education quality go up?
In fact, the OECD has done just that in a report titled “Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain”. Published on Wednesday, it is the same report that has Malaysia in the bottom third of the class based on our teenagers’ mathematics and science scores in international tests.
Let us not get hung up on these rankings. The report is 116 pages long and has a lot more to offer than bragging rights and naming-and-shaming opportunities.
For instance, it makes abundantly clear that an underperforming education sector costs a country dearly. The OECD warns that poor education policies and practices will result in a loss of economic output amounting to a permanent state of economic recession.
The organisation also points out that high-income status does not automatically eliminate shortcomings in education.
It is also interesting that the OECD argues that when there is universal achievement of basic skills in a country, its economic growth will be more inclusive.
The report suggests that there is still much to learn about how we can strengthen our education policies. We should be open to fresh thinking and approaches.
At the same time, we must not waver from the commitment and noble intentions reflected in the blueprints.
India learns to ‘fail fast’ with startups
Families that expect children to have respectable jobs may be beginning to accept failure as the tech industry starts to come of age.
After ping pong tables, motivational posters and casual dress codes, India’s tech startups are following Silicon Valley’s lead and embracing the “fail fast” culture credited with fuelling creativity and success in the United States.
Taking failure as a norm is a major cultural shift in India, where high-achieving children are typically expected to take steady jobs at recognised firms. A failed venture hurts family status and even marriage prospects.
But that nascent acceptance, fuelled by returning engineers and billions of dollars in venture fund investment, is for many observers a sign that India’s US$150bil tech industry is coming of age, moving from a back-office powerhouse to a creative force.
“There is obviously increased acceptance,” said Raghunandan G, co-founder of TaxiForSure, which was sold to rival Ola this year. He is now investing in other early stage ventures.
“My co-founder Aprameya (Radhakrishna) used to have lines of prospective brides to meet … the moment we started our own company, all those prospective alliances disappeared. No one wanted their daughters to marry a startup guy.”
Srikanth Chunduri returned to India after studying at Duke University in the US, and is now working on his second venture. “I think what’s encouraging is that acceptance of failure is increasing despite the very deep-rooted Asian culture where failure is a big no,” he said.
IT’S OK TO FAIL
The shift has come about, executives say, as engineers began returning from Silicon Valley to cash in on India’s own boom, as hundreds of millions of Indians go online.
“Investors too want to find the next Flipkart, and most of them come from Silicon Valley backgrounds, so they bring that culture,” said Stewart Noakes, co-founder of TechHub, a global community and workspace for tech entrepreneurs. “That’s changing the Indian norms. It’s becoming ok to fail and try again.”
Big names like Flipkart can also mean the prospect of a lucrative exit for investors, covering a multitude of failures. To be sure, the pace of change is slow in altering a culture that has produced top software engineers for decades, but – as yet – no Google, Apple or Twitter.
Cheap engineering talent keeps startups afloat far longer than in Silicon Valley, where companies last less than two years on average. And the freedom to fail remains restricted to a small portion of India’s corporate fabric, booming tech cities like Bengaluru or Gurgaon outside New Delhi.
There is also still no revolving door with big corporates, whom one senior Bengaluru headhunter described as beating down salaries of executives who dared to risk – but then came back.
But big homegrown successes like e-tailers Flipkart and Snapdeal or mobile advertising firm InMobi, as well as the multi-billion dollar firms set up by former executives from the likes of Amazon.com, Microsoft and Google, have created role models, encouraging graduates to take risks.
“With success stories, people accept it as a legitimate exercise,” said Ryan Valles, former CEO of coupon site DealsandYou and a former executive at Accel Partners, now working on a new project.
Meanwhile, billions in investor funding have fed the sector. External cash – as opposed to more traditional bank loans tied to individuals, or family savings – makes a difference. Failing there can involve walking away Silicon Valley-style, not years of court proceedings in a country with no formal bankruptcy law.
There has also been, to date, no major collapse.
“What’s happening is healthy: people recognising that some things will fail, that it’s largely a failure-based industry, in the same way that movies, music or pharmaceuticals are,” said Shikhar Ghosh, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School.
An estimated 70-90% of start-ups fail.
But the biggest test may be the first bust after the boom.
“That will be the test: whether people come back into the market and how they treat the people who lost their money,” said Ghosh. – Reuters