September 2009 Archives

Plagiarism among Malaysian students

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plaâ‹…giaâ‹…rism

  [pley-juh-riz-uhm, -jee-uh-riz-] -noun
1. the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.
2. something used and represented in this manner.

The whole hoolabaloo over plagiarism currently in the Malaysian news is really nothing new, except for the fact that the ones caught plagiarizing now are the teachers not the students. Well, these teachers were once students themselves; if they plagiarised as students, and got away with it, why wouldn't they do it again as teachers?

Back in 2003, a bunch of Malaysian students were caught plagiarizing while studying for an Australian university. Way back in 1996-2000 when i was in university, it was no different. Without getting too specific, i would pin the rate of plagiarism in my graduating class at about 60%; 6 out of every 10 students would cheat on their assignments, lifting whole chapters, paragraphs and ideas out of textbooks or other sources and try to pass them off as their own. Back then, when the Internet was still relatively young, a favourite method was to sift through the stacks of local nearby universities and dig for old theses and copy those; the idea was that lecturers in your university couldn't possibly know what students in other universities had written. It was a disgusting practice.

But, you know what, i find it hard to fault them for what they did. Because, if they didn't do it, they would have failed.

The root cause of the problem is not that students were cheating, that's just a symptom. The reason for the cheating was because very few had a mastery of the English language to think and write well enough to pass without cheating.

It was so obvious. I had a chance to read a classmate's assignment on Chaucer one day. It was excellently written, superb analysis, "original" ideas, and in perfect Queen's English. Impeccable even. The flow of the writing, the seamless movement from one idea to another, the grammar, the diction - outstanding. She was given an "A" for her efforts. I knew there was no way she wrote this herself.

How do i know? Because in her daily conversation, she could hardly string two English sentences together (the same reason why she NEVER volunteered to speak in class); during group sessions, when i would force her to speak by asking her questions directly, her grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation were poor; if you asked her to repeat some of the ideas she wrote by speaking it out loud (this i did, during group sessions), her expression of the same ideas she wrote so eloquently would be garbled and strung together in a bastard child of English and Bahasa Malaysia. Outside of class, she spoke Bahasa Malaysia with the thickest East Coast accent you can imagine, never a word of English. It's impossible she wrote that paper, and most likely any other English paper for which she graded well. During graduation, she was one of the top students from my class.

She had to cheat, because her English wasn't good enough to pass otherwise. Why was her English so poor? Because our secondary school system does very little to make sure that students like her are prepared to face a university system where, to do well, you not only need to be able to speak English passably well, you really do need to be able to think in English too.

Have things changed much today? Yes, they have but for the worse. Back in the day, UIA was one of the few local institutions that used English as the medium of education. Today, nearly all the local universities do. But have the students changed? No, they probably haven't.

My nieces and nephews can hardly put together 3 words in English without fumbling. They hardly watch English cartoons, preferring the Malay-dubbed Japanese shows. They don't read English books (which is the fault of their parents, not the education system). In fact, they don't really read much at all.

In 10 years time, these same kids are expected to go to university, AND be able to write 500 page theses in English. If it wasn't so tragic, it would be hilarious. OF COURSE THEY HAVE TO CHEAT. It's either that, or flunk out.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education both need to shoulder some of the blame of plagiarists in the system. The root of the problem lies with them. If you don't want people to cheat, you're going to have to equip them with the skills that will allow them to succeed without cheating.

PhDs going to poor scholars nowadays?

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The recent case of UPM lecturers being caught plagiarising articles they found on the Internet for their book on effective resume writing.

This is one of those cases where i was hoping that the act of stealing was intentional for the purpose of self-reward. But it seems that the excuse given shows that they didn't even know it was theft.

"The junior author, who recently completed her PhD, said that since the source was from the Internet, she thought the information was in the public domain and as such did not cite the article," he said (Prof Dr Nik Mustapha).

This is the sort of scholarly rules that they teach 1st year matriculation students, and is continuously drummed into university students throughout their career as students. Most universities even have courses dedicated to the method and style of academic writing.

And, still, the mistake was made, apparently with the belief that it wasn't wrong? And the university awarded this person a doctorate? If she thought that this was ok, imagine all the papers she has written so far as part of her studies -- who is to say she did not apply the same ignorance there. Shameful.

The validity of T Sivanesan's testimony

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Malaysia was shocked with the testimony of T Sivanesan yesterday. He alleged that MACC officers tortured him during interrogation in 2008. He further claims that senior MACC officials are aware of this practice.

If true, the MACC loses all credibility, and its back to the drawing board for us Malaysian in search of an organization that will stamp out corruption in our country.

The relevance of his testimony was challenged yesterday by the lawyer representing the MACC, stating that what may have happened to T Sivanesan has nothing to do with the investigation of the death of Teoh Beng Hock.

What a silly man. By trying get the testimony expunged, it just makes the MACC look all the more guilty in the eyes of the common man (e.g. me).

Of course the testimony is relevant. If true, it indicates a pattern of behaviour stretching back at least a year; the MACC tortured Sivanesan, the same may have happened to Teoh Beng Hock possibly leading to his death. The testimony, if true, proves that the MACC officers who have given their testimony to date have committed perjury by claiming that witnesses are never tortured or put under duress.

Its become clear now, regardless of what happens, what is decided by the inquest to be the truth or not in the days to come, the credibility of the MACC is finished. The stain of the alleged improprieties will never be washed away. What a disgusting end to a noble idea.

Domain name transfer in process

In the process of transferring the registrar for my domain name from Tucows to Namecheap, then upgrading my servers to something bigger and better. Expect some downtime in the next few days.

There is so much to complain about

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Unfortunate, but true. Muslims are like this. We complain about everything. From Hindu temples, to the secular government, to cartoons, to MLTR and Black Eyed Peas concerts. Everything.

A Muslim's Education of Comparative Religion

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Reading what our PM Najib had to say on the issue of Muslims to learn to be more tolerant of other religions, made me have several flashbacks on my own early education on the appreciation of religions besides Islam.

As a boy, just like many others around my age, living around my neighbourhood, my parents sent me to the nearby mosque to attend afternoon classes on fardhu ain and fardhu kifayah; basically, teachings compulsory on all Muslims (e.g. prayers) and teachings that were an obligation to learn and be aware of (e.g. how to prepare the recently deceased for funeral).

Young, impressionable minds, about 6-10 years of age. 20-30 of us in the class.

There was one particular lesson that i'm reminded of, the day we were thought about the haram and halal of food.

During question and answer time, i asked:

"I'm half-Chinese, what happens when i go to my grandmother's house for dinner?"

Ustaz answered, "Unless you bring your own pots and pans and food to cook, you can't eat there. Even if you did, there is always the feeling of was-was (caution), so i advise you not to eat anything served there, or in any other non-Muslim home."

In theory, this means, never having a meal at any non-Muslim home.

Chinese friend: "Hey, why don't you come over for dinner at my place sometime? We can discuss multi-cultural issues, and embraces each other's cultural diversity?"

Me: "Do you have "halal" pots and pans to cook with?"

Him: "No."

Me: "Sorry, can't come."

It's always interested me that while Islam professes religious tolerance and multi-culturalism, it does put up some pretty steep walls between "us" and "them".

  • It teaches us that if you're not a Muslim, you'll burn in Hell for Eternity. It's really painful down there, too bad if you're not a Muslim.
  • It teaches us that you can't "safely" have a meal in a friend's house if they aren't Muslims too. Why not go out to eat, you may ask. That's besides the point: the fact that the "halal" barrier exists, creates a wall between cultures.
  • It teaches us that certain people can't be trusted, no matter what. They-Are-The-Enemy. Hello, Mr Jew.

I don't understand why religions, Islam included, have to put up these walls between us. There is an US and there is a THEM. And, by the way, US is better than THEM; they are dirty, pig-eating swine; this is not an exaggeration -- this is how an ustaz in our national education system once described the Chinese to the class. While he may have been the exception (i sincerely hope he was), this is the impression that really exists and is perpetuated by educators who have access to our children who will be influenced, and therefore be equally distanced from the religious tolerance the PM is asking for.

The schools are the Key, Mr PM. Schools, the national education syllabus and the informal religious schooling network. Education is the key to changing the behaviour of Muslims for the tomorrow; the Muslims of today are doomed already. Don't make it an offering of lip service. Take out the Hate, the Us vs Them, and the I'm-Better-Than-You -- then perhaps you'll have a chance to make things better.

Insulting other religions is OK!

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The news today is that the Shah Alam municipal council has agreed and found another location for the Hindu temple to be built.

So what you're telling the protesters who are probably not going to get more than a slap on the wrist for their actions, ok we give in to your demands, you win. Protesters who deliberately stoked religious sentiment by using a severed cow head, sacred to Hindus, in their demonstration?

That's just great. Just brilliant.

Who am i to love?

Once you've written literally thousands of pages, its often surprising to go back and randomly pick one of those pages and read it again. Very often you find gems that you can't believe are your own words; its almost as though they were written by someone else.

I found i had this to say about "love", 5 years ago:

Of my evils, i have many and yet i find it amazing that those who love me accept me wholesale, and are always willing to burden themselves in my favour. Perhaps that is the most accurate description of love.
While i may never inspire another, i want to say that i inspire myself.

Recipe: Really Basic Homemade Bread

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bread1.jpg

Long weekends is all about having fun, and there are few things more fun than making a loaf of home-made bread! It allows me to relive my childhood, take out my frustrations and feed me all at the same time. I'll show you how.

Get the following ingredients ready.

  • 1 tbsp of active yeast (any good supermarket will have this)
  • 1.5 tbsp of vegetable oil (or melted butter for a tad bit extra richness)
  • 1/4 cup of milk (low fat will do as well)
  • 1.5 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 3-3.5 cups of flour (just regular milled flour will do, not the self-rising or ultrafine stuff)

the "cup" i used is roughly the size of an English teacup, about 160-200ml in size. No need to be too exact as far as the milk and sugar are concerned

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2009 is the previous archive.

March 2010 is the next archive.

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