You do need to have the ability to spot turning points in any project of your endeavour. In my case I spotted the turning point to make little bulbs out of my daffodils/narcissus in test tubes. And my PhD supervisors made sure I scaled the most important turning point – the completion of my PhD thesis on schedule!
About 35 years ago, having cracked how I could make a lot of daffodil shoots in test tubes (that’s another story!), I was faced with a great hurdle that for the life of me I had no idea how to tackle. How could I turn these shoot clumps into little bulbs for planting in the field? After all, my PhD’s goal was to produce a complete protocol from multiplying massive number of daffodils/narcissus shoot clumps in test-tubes and getting these growing ‘normally’ in the field. Based on literature reviews, I knew that plating shoot clumps had been successfully done by other researchers. But this had two major disadvantages:
There would be a danger of these shoot clumps not acclimatizing well when planted out in the glass house. 25 – 30% casualties would be “normal”.
These shoot clumps were behaving like young narcissus seedlings and would need up to five years to grow to flowering stage.
My late supervisor, Dr. Barbara M.R. Harvey suggested I should look at other plant models in tissue culture for inspirations. The light-bulb moment came when I had a chat with Dr. Nikki Evans on how she got her potato shoots in test-tubes to form small tubers. Evans used high sugar content in her culture medium and I went along this line. A few months later, I was elated to see little bulbs (which I termed ‘bulbils”) formed in my test-tubes given high dose of sucrose in their culture media. That was the turning point of my PhD and 6 months later I submitted my thesis…and the rest as they say “was history”!
For this part of my work I am indebted to Dr. Evans for her generosity in sharing her ideas.
I owed it to my two supervisors, Dr. Barbara Harvey and Dr. Christopher Selby for putting their feet down shortly after I had completed the “bulbils” experiment by stopping me from doing any more work in the lab (they literally banished me from my lab!) and by pushing me to write my doctorate thesis which I completed about 6 months later! This was the most important turning point! My research project goals were attained, but my doctoral studies goal was still not reached. I had to write, submit and defend my thesis (successfully) to earn my PhD!
A few months after that (in December 1990), I was conferred the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by my alma mater, the Queen’s University of Belfast. Shortly after, I left Belfast to take up a post-doctoral research officer post at the National University of Singapore.
It was around late 1991 that I received the great news from Dr. Harvey, she wrote in an email: “Chow, some of the “bulbils” that you had planted out in mid 1990 are flowering!”
This was exciting news indeed because:
it proofed that my bulbils, after going through the “stressful” process of my protocol were not any different from those multiplied conventionally;
of more significance is the fact that this meant my protocol had cut the “shoot clumps/seedlings to flowering bulb stage”by at least 3 – 4 years!
I wished I had the chance and resources to carry on with this work to collect more data on this observation but disappointingly this was not the case.
In research work, you do need to have a keen eye to spot trends & changes but what you need most is the guidance of experienced researchers. I was lucky to have both! The keen eye helped me to spot the resemblance between the potato tuberization process and the bulb formation of narcissus/daffodils. The guidance of my supervisors ensured that I scaled the last but most crucial turning point of my PhD journey. They put a stop to my laboratory work and made sure that I stuck to the PhD research schedule (and more importantly, my scholarship tenure) to compose and submit my PhD thesis way before the last of my scholarship cheques was issued!
If you are interested, a brief introduction to a paper published by my supervisors and I have just been written & published in Kudos by me.
Someone who obviously never taught a single class commented that “teaching online is easy”. How wrong this person is? Check out my sharing!
It is definitely not a piece of cake to teach online! I know. This is because I had taught for over thirty months online.
I was (until the end of July 2022) engaged as a full time teaching staff of Zhaoqing University, Guangdong Province, China (ZQU). I came home for a short winter break in January 2020, well “Mr. COVID-19” messed up a lot of lives and things, including my return from Malaysia to teach in China! In this rather long post I try to share my own experiences and learning in conducting delivery of classes online (and supervision of students’ graduation thesis work remotely in Part 2).
With the new semester fast approaching, in late January 2020 I received instructions from the International Office of ZQU to NOT return to campus. I guess we were luckier than most as I was able to cancel my wife’s and my AirAsia tickets on time to get a refund. By late February 2020, all my Taiwanese colleagues who had gone home (Taiwan) for the winter break and yours truly were getting anxious. One of our China colleagues, Mr. Yan Dan Feng was even stuck at his home town near Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. We all really did pray from his (and his family’s) safety!
Finally, in early March 2020, with students and many staff not being allowed to return to the campus the leadership of ZQU finally received the green light from the power that be to allow all classes of the new semester (Spring 2020) to be delivered online. The scrambles for gears and internet bandwidth began at every academic’s and student’s household.
A shaky start to my online teaching class 我的在线教学课程的一个不稳定的开始
It happened that both Mr. Yan Dan Feng and I were assigned to teach the same course (管理学概论 – Introduction to Management Science) to two different classes. To make life easier for both of us, Mr. Yan and I had decided to merge the two classes (luckily the two classes’ respective timetables did not clash). I would be doing the lecturing while Mr. Yan would be working behind the “scene” to trouble shoot and observe students’ performance. Prior to this, with the help of the class leaders (yes we did have class monitors班长; class learning committee members学委; and class discipline committee members纪委) we had sorted out the online chat groups for classes in the platforms described below. So communicating with our students was more or less settled, so we thought!
Locations of lecturers —- one in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia; one in his hometown close to Wuhan in China. 讲师所在地点： 一位老师在马来西亚雪兰莪州梳邦再也，一位在靠近中国武汉的家乡。
Locations of students —- in their respective homes, scattered throughout Guangdong Province. Some would be in cities or towns with good internet connections while a good number would be at their home villages remotely located (internet connection and bandwidth were issues). 学生所在地： 在各自的家里，分散在广东省各地。一些人住在有良好网络连接的城镇，而很多人则住在偏远的家乡。（互联网连接和带宽可能具有问题）。
Online teaching platforms —- DingTalk (for live broadcast), Rain Classroom (a PowerPoint add-on from Qinghua University, as the in-class interaction engine), and QQ Group Chat (as the backup live broadcast platform). While WeChat remained the only direct link between the class leaders and the lecturers (we did not want the rest of the students onto this WeChat group to complicate matters), the rest of the class had to communicate with the teaching staff using DingTalk (backed up by QQ Group Chat). We did have another option: Tencent Meeting (腾讯会议) but this platform was a bit more complicated for me to use. So we ruled it out. 在线教学平台：钉钉（直播）、雨课堂（清华大学PowerPoint插件，作为课堂互动引擎）和QQ群聊（作为备用直播平台）。虽然微信仍然是班长/学委和老师之间唯一的直接联系方式（我们不想让其他学生加入这个微信群，让事情变得复杂），但班上其他人必须使用钉钉（QQ群聊为备用平台）与教师交流。我们确实有另一个选择，腾讯会议，但是当时我们觉得该平台的操作是有点复杂。所以腾讯会议被排除了。
The first class was chaotic to say the least. The first 30 minutes of class was “eventless”. We started a few minutes late as my teaching partner and I had to do a headcount of the number of students who signed in on our two classes. Luckily DingTalk allowed the “merging” of the two class groups into one for direct broadcast of my lecture. Hence we saved a lot of work in this merging so that my teaching partner could “supervise” the students and monitor them while I concentrated on the delivery.
Then our trouble started: some of the students reported that they were unable to get a good connection to DingTalk and on my end, with my own monitoring, I was informed by DingTalk that the connection I had was shaky. Thus collectively, Mr. Yan and I (with the help of the leaders of the two classes) had to inform our lot to “switch to QQ Chat Group”.
So we continued on QQ Group Chat direct broadcast (it was more like video group chat). The thing was, on QQ unlike DingTalk, I could not mute the microphones of the students. Despite Mr. Yan’s urging at the “back” of the online class for everyone to “mute your mic”, during the 90 minutes class, we had many instances of interfering sounds: door slamming, people talking, traffic noise. It was to be expected as our students were all stuck at home, some would have to share facilities with siblings etc. Compound this issue with the fact that not all students were having access to stable and good internet connections and most had to use their mobile phones to attend classes.
Nevertheless, we were still able to carry on with our class. Then our next major trouble started!
One of the female students decided to read her Chinese literature lesson out loud in my online class. Reading out loud is one way of learning Chinese literature but one would be well advised to do it when one is in solitude! So we had 80 students in the online class, 79 of whom was tuned in to my class with one blabbing away and “fighting” with me for the attention of her course mates! Despite my repeated requests to my students to “check your mic and mute your mic NOW“, the blabbing female student was not listening and she continued! It took the combined efforts of Mr. Yan and our class leaders a good 15 minutes to locate this “blabbing” person! So my “reserve” platform was not a viable alternative after all!
At that time (March 2020) Rain Classroom did not have a working live broadcast function, and I should have used Tencent Meeting (腾讯会议) as the backup. Lesson learned!
In addition, March 2020 was the time when all educational institutions in China (from primary all the way to tertiary institutions) were teaching their students online. Bandwidth and other internet resources were stretched to the limits. Hiccups were to be expected. But true to the efficiency in which China technology companies were operating, most obliged to contribute during the nation’s critical needs and solved most technical glitches effectively. Hence within a few days most of these hiccups were more or less ironed out.
August 2020 – the return of staff & students on campus, but NOT ME! 2020年8月-教职员工和学生重返校园，但不包括我!
It was August 2020. All my Taiwanese colleagues received the order to return campus (subject to quarantine measures — this was a nightmare for many at the start, being “caged up” for weeks etc.). By then, my Zhaoqing City resident permit had expired. I needed a special letter of invitation from the provincial authority to get an entry visa. That took over 10 weeks to obtain. When this letter finally arrived, my rush to the Kuala Lumpur China Embassy’s visa centre proved to be fruitless – the nice manager at the visa centre advised us that the China authority were closing the boarder and even if we could get our visa, there were few flights (that cost at least ¥9,000 or around MYR5,625, but mostly in the ¥35,000 range for chartered flights) available. So I had to break the bad news to my colleague at the International Office of ZQU taking care of my case, Ms Zeng. All her great efforts in rushing around and chasing the special invitation letter for me was wasted!
I was fortunate to have very accommodating and kind leaders at my School of Life Sciences. The leadership took up my case to the power that be at ZQU and convinced them to grant me the privilege of being the only academic staff (one out of 2000) to be allowed to continue to teach online. Of course there were many rules /arrangements that I had to adhere to. Some of these were:
All my online classes must be delivered at the assigned classroom on campus and students must attend in person (that is, students must gather at the assigned time and venue as per ‘normal’ classes) 我所有的在线课程都必须在校园内教务处指定的教室授课，学生必须亲身到课室上课（也就是说，我的学生必须按照“正常”课程在指定的时间和地点上课）。
My School must arrange for another staff to be in attendance who would supervise my students during class (监督老师）. I was delegated the task of find volunteers to fill up this role. Luckily the four Taiwanese colleagues at my School volunteered to help out and they enlisted other staff to back them up too. 我院必须安排另一位教学人员来监督我的学生上课（监督老师）。我被委托寻找志愿者来执行这个责任。幸运的是，我院的四位台湾同事自愿帮忙，他们还代我招募了其他教学人员来支持他们。
I must provide an online delivery plan to my School for endorsement and to seek final approval from the Academic Affairs Office (教务处). 本人必须向我院提交网上授课计划，以供教务处审核。
At the end of the semester, I must submit a report on each of the classes I taught online to the Academic Affairs Office via my School. 在学期末，我必须通过我院向教务处提交一份关于我所教的每门课的报告。
For practical/laboratory classes, I must find a suitably qualified colleague to run these classes on my behalf. 对于实践/实验课，我必须找到一个合适及合格的同事来代替我来运行这些课程。
For any classes with final examinations, the students must sit for the examination physically and thus I must find a colleague to grade the examination scripts on my behalf. 对于有期末考试的班级，学生必须参加纸质考试，因此我必须找一个同事代替我评分试卷。
I fully agreed and endorsed the Academic Affairs Office’s views on the conduct of my online classes. My students’ learning experience must not differ too much from “truly” face-to-face delivered classes. In shorts, they must not be disadvantaged on my account.
With the mandate from my School and ZQU, I then set about re-adapting my lectures to ensure that I had a fair chance of fulfilling (surpassing) the basic requirements laid down for me to deliver my classes online.
Adapting face-to-face presentation for online classes 调整面对面演示为在线课程
One major flaw of online delivery compared to face-to-face classes is the lack of a “feedback” from your students. If you cannot “see” and “hear” them, it is very hard to gauge your students’ engagement and attentiveness. The presence of my colleague as class supervisor (监督老师）would just ensure that there were discipline in the class. I would need to find ways to engage my students. If not it would be easier for them just to watch a pre-recorded video of my lectures!
The inventors of Rain Classroom from Tsinghua University must have heard the collective prayers of many teaching staff like yours truly. They invented an add-on to foster in-class engagement for presentation slides that can also be adapted for online delivered classes. This add-on, Rain Classroom was easily installed (on PowerPoint as well as WPS) and more importantly was very user-friendly.
I therefore set out to add at least four but mostly 5 – 6 in-class quiz questions in every lecture. I made all these quiz questions carry marks towards the “class participation and usual grade” (班上互动和平时成绩）segment of the final result. To excite the students a bit more I even, for some of my classes, put up “hong bao – 红包” – a small red-packet of e-money for the top scorers for every session. Rain Classroom would generate these data at the end of each class with a chart showing who were the top three scorers of a session. I would post this data to our DingTalk chat group at the end of each lecture.
This “leaderboard” gave an element of competition and thus help to gamify my lectures a little. The most important thing was, with these set up, I ensured some sort of engagement from my students. In addition, these in-class quiz question and the scoring also helped in making sure students were learning progressively and we were not relying on one final examination to verify the learning attained by students (a practice that I, as an educator would try to avoid if possible). Rain Classroom also has a very effective way to log in students’ activity. Hence I would require all students to log into system using a link that I would provide at the start of each class. If you are not signed in, you will be considered as “absent”. Of course in a few odd cases (students forgot to bring their mobile phone to class; mobile phone missing / damaged) I would take note of the class leader’s verification and marked this lot as “present”. However, this lot would not be able to take part in the in-class quiz (and was destined to lose the marks for these too).
The “randomness” in the appearance of the in-class quiz questions also served one good purpose: students would have to pay attention as they would not be forewarned when my question would spring up. As the duration for answering these questions was 2 -3 minutes on average, looking up the answers on the internet would not be facilitated. With these in-class quizzes I achieved one thing that mattered most – keeping students on their toes, well most of the times!
So within a couple of lessons all my students taking my classes online learned the drill 所以在几节课之内，所有上我网课的学生都学会了以下几点 : –>
Charge up your mobile before class; 上课前给手机充好电；
Make sure you have your mobile phone with you when attending my class; 上课的时候一定要带着手机；
Log into Rain Classroom before the start of each class; 在每节课开始前登录雨课堂；
Pay attention as the in-class quiz question could come out at any moment! 上课时必须注意，课堂提问随时都有可能出现！
Although we only needed the class leader to log into DingTalk on the classroom PC to ensure that my live broadcast was projected to the large screen for everyone’s viewing, other students could also log into DingTalk during class to communicate with me (and the rest of the people who had signed in) .
One of the best features of DingTalk is its ability to record and archive all online classes (if one chooses to do so). I would not mind letting my students re-watch the recorded broadcast as some of the points I raised might need a student to look at it a few times to grasp. The recorded classes would also ensure that students who took leave had a chance to learn what they missed out (of course they would not score marks on the in-class quiz). So at the end of each lecture, I would publish my recorded lecture and post the relevant link to the class’s DingTalk group.
Unlike some of my fellow educators, I have no issue for my students having a copy of my PowerPoint presentation used in class. Rain Classroom has a function that I could “enable” to ensure that my students could review the lecture presentation slides. This feature coupled with the recorded class lecture would help student in their revision immensely (how I wish I had these during my student days!). These same features also enabled students who were unable to attend my class, to view the re-play along with the presentation slides so as to catch up with the course.
Tools and Gears for online delivery of classes 在线授课的工具和设备
I knew back in May 2020 that the most important gear that I had to procure was a semi-professional microphone. The interferences picked up by the cheap old mic were just too much to bear. But at the height of the Movement Control Order in Malaysia (where there was almost a blanket restriction on movement of people nationwide for weeks), getting geared up even with online purchasing was a bit challenging. But I did mange to get a reasonably good microphone that has done a good job in filtering out background noises.
早在2020年5月，我就知道我要买的最重要的设备是一个半专业性的麦克风。廉价的旧麦克风所带来的干扰实在太大了。但当时马来西亚是处于“行动管制令 – Movement Control Order” (几周来几乎对全国范围内的人员流动实行了全面性的限制)，即便是在网上购物，也是相当困难的。但在“行动管制令”放宽后我确实得到了一个相当好的麦克风，它在滤除背景噪音方面做得很好。
The camera that came with the laptop was another issue. It was not versatile enough to give a good view of me for my lectures. Luckily my son’s ‘hand-me-down” Logitech webcam came in handy.
As I had to “see” and ‘hear” what my students were seeing and hearing at their classroom in China, I knew that I would have to set up another DingTalk account on my old laptop. I would run DingTalk simultaneously but to avoid the “echo and feedback” effects I had to use a headphone to listen to my own live broadcast. The time lag was around 10 seconds for my live broadcast to reach my students in China. This served me fine in my monitoring of my own online classes in a “live” manner.
For communication with the class monitor (班长） and/or class learning committee representative （学委), I would have a direct chat line opened with one of these class leaders so that they would be able to alert me of any issues while the live broadcast was going on. Thus I would have to monitor WeChat too during class.
As all the classroom’s computer, projector and sound systems were kept in lock and key, to make life easier for my class leaders, I had, at the start of each semester, sent out an “SOS” message to all my teaching colleagues, alerting them of the locations of my classes. I sought out their help to, if they were having classes nearby, unlock these teaching gears for my class leader(s) for them to set up the PC, projector and sound systems before the start of each class. The “show” would commence as soon as I receive a “all ok” signal (in this case just a “2”) from one of the students.
Needless to say, not every class could proceed smoothly, technology and people had a way in messing up plans. One of my classes was late in the evening, and in one of the sessions my class monitor could not find a staff member to unlock the teaching gears (and that was the day when the “supervising staff” was not at the class early). It took my “SOS” call to my School’s academic administrative colleague to send someone to the rescue! There were also times when either the PC or the projector (or the sound system) or the internet access was not behaving properly. But credits to my different class leaders in different classes, they somehow managed to get these systems working again in good time.
So in every live broadcast lecture I would be: 所以在每一次直播讲座中，我都会：
Hooking up the PowerPoint software with Rain Classroom to ensure that the class interaction will be presented and students’ responses were captured (and graded). 将PowerPoint软件与雨课堂连接，以确保课堂上的互动将被呈现，学生的反应将被捕获（并进行评分）。
Looking at my PowerPoint presentation, which was often set to “presenter mode”. 在另一个视频看我的PowerPoint演示文稿，它经常被设置为“演示者模式”。
Ensuring that the PowerPoint presentation screen was captured by DingTalk so that it could be projected in my classroom in China. 确保PowerPoint演示的屏幕被钉钉捕获，这样它就可以在中国我学生所在的课堂上投影。
Checking and ensuring that my sound and video streams were reaching my classroom in China on my “old” laptop. 在我的“旧”笔记本电脑上检查并确保我的声音和视频流能到达我在中国的课室 【监控我学生所看到-听到的视频】。
Communicating via WeChat on my mobile phone with my class leader, he/she would use this channel to alert me privately of any issues during class. 在我的手机上通过微信与我的班长/学委沟通，要是有需要，他/她会用这个渠道私下提醒我在课堂上的任何问题。
Looking at the Rain Classroom screen to monitor the signing in of my students to ensure everyone who was supposed to attend had signed in (because if they were not signed in to Rain Classroom, they could not participate in any of the in-class quiz questions, and so would score no marks for this class!) 查看雨课堂的屏幕来监控我的学生的签到情况，以确保每位应该参与的同学都签到了（因为如果他们没有登录雨课堂，他们就不能参与任何课堂测试问题，所以得不到这堂课测试的分！）
Periodically checking DingTalk’s group messaging section to monitor messages sent to me in-class by my students (and to respond accordingly). 不时检查班钉钉群群聊部分，以监控我的学生在课堂上发送给我的信息（并相应地回应）。
So there you are, I had to monitor at least six different screens for sound and video! Most were things that a person delivering face-to-face lectures would not have to worry about! All these constant (and at times simultaneous) monitoring and keeping alert were very taxing on my energy to say the least.
On top of that, I had to be aware of my own internet connection and bandwidth (and power supply) which to the credit of these utility suppliers in Malaysia, I did not face any cut in services during any of my classes over the 30 months period. I did had a couple of incidences when my “better half” accidentally dropped a metal mug cover and the lid to a cooking pot very near the closed door of the room where I had my live broadcast. My students nevertheless did not complain, a consolation perhaps?
Even before the online teaching stint, I had already put almost all of my assignments and coursework on the “online submission” mode. This was because I had a fall while pushing my electric bicycle up a ramp on campus on April 25, 2019, this had resulted in a broken right wrist and I could not even hold up a single piece of paper for days.
At that time my application of online submission initially was a bit crude (students emailed their lab reports shot on mobile cameras to me for grading). But I soon learned, to my great advantage later on, to use wen-juan-wang问卷网 （an online survey platform that could handle marking/collecting/compilation of data/upload of documents etc.) coupled with QQ documents to lay out readings and other assignment content/questions to run my online assessment system rather efficiently and effectively.
Students could attempt quizzes online that would often be graded by the system immediately so that they could re-attempt (I usually set a maximum of 3 attempts) to improve their grades. For some assignments, students would upload their papers onto the platform where I would download these papers, grade them (with comments) and return these papers to students (via a selection of online storage platforms in China such as Tencent Drive, Baidu Cloud, Aliyun Drive) with my feedback, comments and manual grading. For group assignments, I would just post the graded papers on DingTalk chat group for students to download.
The beauty of online submission /online quizzes is that there would be a paper trail. The lecturer could easily assign deadlines and for quizzes the number of attempts as well as the duration of each attempt could be customized. I even set up a link for students to make use of Wen-Juan-Wang’s feature of letting students check the status of their own submissions (thereby nullify the work needed on my part to respond to such requests!).
With the online submission framework, I was able to monitor the status of submission as the deadline came closer to remind and “chase” those who were still lagging behind. Putting this status up in DingTalk chat group had one great advantage: I could use peer pressure to “force” the “usual suspects” (yes, in each class there would be at least one such individual) to comply. As almost everything of this framework was “transparent”, I minimized the chances of students giving lame excuses for their not submitting their work on time. Unlike hardcopies of assignment papers, I always had a copy of each students graded work. This made reviewing of students’ performance for the end-of-semester final grading a lot more efficient.
The video above was captured by my kind colleague, Associate Professor Xing Zhi-Hang (郉志航副教授）when he was supervising my “Professional English” class. Apart from the fact that my physical self was not at the podium, everything else “looked” and “sounded” not much different from a truly Face-to-Face class. Personally I only realized this fact after Dr. Xing sent me this clip. I knew then at least in this aspect, my students were not disadvantaged much!
In the 2021 spring semester (Mar – Jul 2021) I was assigned to teach “Biostatistics 生物统计学” along with Professor Su Jun-Kui (苏俊魁教授）who taught his class in the Face-to-Face mode. As the subject had a compulsory final examination element and the two classes were to take the same paper, it gave a very good opportunity for me to compare if the teaching-learning processes of the online class differed much from the Face-to-Face version. In our case, the composition of students of the two classes were very similar. They signed up based on the time table slots available (as such the academic background of the students for both classes were very similar and “semi-randomly” assigned). In late July 2021 I was very happy to learn from Professor Su that the final results of both his and my students were very similar (my students’ examination scripts were graded by Associate Professor Hung Shuo-Ting 洪硕廷副教授 ) . This showed that my students, despite having me as a lecturer (I was not that good in biostatistics and had to rely on and learn a lot from Professor Su during the course of my delivery，to whom I am greatly indebted) who delivered my classes online, did not appear to be disadvantaged at all!
I did a quick compilation of data about my three and a half year of serving as an Associate Professor at ZQU 我做了一个关于我在肇庆学院担任副教授三年半数据的快速汇编：
The number of different classes taught = 24 [6 were Face-to-Face; 18 were online] 所教的不同班级的数量=24班 【6班是面对面；18班是在线]
The total number of students taught = 1066 [of these 786 were different individuals] 所教学生总数=1066人【其中786人是不同的个体】
The number of students taught online = 813 [of these 556 were different individuals] 在线教学的学生人数=813【其中556人是不同的个体]
The teaching evaluation exercises towards the end of each semester was taken very seriously at ZQU. While I was never the “top teacher”, nevertheless I was never in “danger” of being the lowest scorer. If you could read Chinese, you would notice that the bulk of my students in the July 2022 session who responded were giving my online teaching positive reviews. That was the most satisfying outcome for an academic, I could not have asked for more! I guess those students who like to learn would have found my online classes beneficial while those on the “muddle along” (得过且过）mode would have been very intimidated by my online delivery style.
In Part 2, “Remote supervision of students’ thesis work – a tall order” I will share my experience in remotely supervising students on their graduation thesis. Stay tuned! 在第二部分，“远程监控学生的论文工作-一个很高的要求”，我将分享我的远程指导学生的毕业论文的经验。请继续关注！
[caption id="attachment_4136" align="aligncenter" width="1017"] “The Boss” mug that served 25 years[/caption]
A simple mug that had seen usaged for 25 years helps to tell a story about time management and prioritizing.
This mug has a long history! It was a gift from one of my colleagues (Johnson Mathew Joseph) when he was one of my team members when we were academic staff of the now defunct Sepang Institute of Technology (SIT).
It was around 1997. JMJ and I learned a lot from an incident on prioritizing and time management. A director of Lion’s Group (the then owner of SIT) summoned us to see him for a project at his office at the heart of Kuala Lumpur (near Bangkok Bank). We had to travel all the way from Klang town (back then with many construction works going on, Klang-KL would take at least 90 mins to drive). As parking would be expensive and difficult to find, I managed to book a college’s car for JMJ to drive and pick me up in USJ-Subang Jaya on the way (I would drive my old car home first and wait for the pick-up).
Then JMJ arranged to pick up another staff (who hitched a ride with us, she wasn’t connected with our project). That person was late, very late by all account! Unfortunately, JMJ had decided to wait for her and as a consequence we were late in arriving for our meeting by an hour. Naturally I bored the brunt of the wrath of this director as I was the Head of the School of Sciences and JMJ’s manager. That taught us both 3 great lessons:
1. Prioritizing is a core skill…. we should have ditched the hitchhiker!
2. Time management is crucial for survival in the corporate world…. I should have “ditched” JMJ and travelled to KL by taxi! However, IMHO that director could have asked us to meet him at a more mutually convenient location.
3. As a leader, I had to be accountable for my team members’ action, but after learning the lessons we should forgive but NOT forget (in case we commit the same errors again!)
The mug was used for about 25 years and it served its last day yesterday when a bit of the top rim chipped off. JMJ and I both appreciated the joke (“The Boss”) when he gave it to me as a “peace offering”. I am glad to see JMJ doing well in his entrepreneurial endeavours and wish him great successes!
They say “change is the norm” and it is true. Apart from death and taxes, nothing in life is certain. It is more so during this pandemic era. This blog’s main author, Dr. Chow has taken up an appointment as a full time teaching staff at a government university in Guangdong Province, China since late February 2019. Hence the prolonged absence of new articles. Dr. Chow plans to write about his life as an academic of a public Chinese institution of higher learning, his observations of life in his new home, Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, teaching and learning and other musings. As his academic duties take precedence, Dr. Chow’s contributions to this blog will inevitably be more sporadic than before.
The famous 仙女湖 – fairy’s lake at Zhaoqing City
Among the topics that Dr. Chow is preparing to write are:
It’s normal living without physical cash in China!
It is the opinion of this author, a twenty three years resident of USJ that Majlis Perbandaran Subang Jaya (MPSJ) should seriously consider making all T-junctions at this township “complete stops” at the traffic lights. This may not solve the traffic congestion issue, especially at key areas of bottlenecks, it will certainly make it safer and perhaps even easier for road users turning into Persiaran Kewajipan in order to reach exits along these T-junctions.
There are five main junctions along the USJ stretch of Persiaran Kewajipan which at most times are pretty busy. However, only two of these which are cross junctions have complete stop for all lanes when the traffic lights turn red. These are at the Persiaran Kewajipan- Persiaran Subang Permai junction (near Da Men Mall) and Persiaran Kewajipan-Jalan Damai / Jalan USJ 18/8 junctions.
For some reasons that this author could not comprehend, three major T-junctions along the USJ side of Persiaran Kewajipan do not have complete stops for all lanes on Persiaran Kewajipan when the traffic lights on either direction on this major road turn red.
No total stop at the Persiaran Kewajipan-Persiaran Perpaduan junction (near Taipan LRT station)
Traffic on Persiaran Kewajipan travelling towards USJ 21 direction (blue arrow) need not stop at the Persiaran Perpaduan junction. This makes it very dangerous and difficult for Persiaran Perpaduan traffic (red arrow) turning right at this junction as they have to filter into the main flow on Persiaran Kewajipan, often making it very dangerous for the road users who want to turn into USJ Police station or even further down to filter to the left to get into Persiaran Mulia. This junction is perhaps the second most congested at peak hours in USJ (after the Kewajipan-Subang Permai junction). The present arrangement makes it very taxing on all road users converging at this junction.
No total stop at the Pesiaran Kewajipan-Persiaran Mulia junction (near Al-Falah mosque)
The next T-junction along Persiaran Kewajipan is the Kewajipan-Mulia junction opposite the Al-Falah moque.
At this T-junction, traffic on Persiaran Kewajipan heading towards Summit USJ direction (blue arrow) is not obliged to stop. This makes it very dangerous for traffic on Persiaran Mulia (red arrow) on green from the traffic lights to turn into Persiaran Kewajipan. This is most difficult for traffic intending to filter into the junction near the back entrance of Al-Falah mosque as well as for those wishing to turn into USJ 9 Business centre at Jalan USJ 9/5J further along Persiaran Kewajipan.
No total stop at the Persiaran Kewajipan-Persiaran Tujuan junction
The last T-junction along Persiaran Kewajipan is when Persiaran Tujuan (the other major road of the township) meets Persiaran Kewajipan (at the intersection of USJ 9, USJ 13 and USJ 14).
In this case traffic turning right at on green light (red arrow) will have to merge with non-stopping Persiaran Kewajipan traffic (blue arrow) coming from Summit /Da Men direction. Thus the right turning traffic has to squeeze over a relatively short distance from the right hand most lane to the extreme left if they intend to enter the USJ 14 via Jalan Mulia which is pretty busy especially in the evening during durian seasons as there are a few established stalls along this road.
Only Tujuan-Bakti T-junction is a no-total-stop on Persiaran Tujuan
If we take a look at the other major arterial road of USJ, Persiaran Tujuan, we will find that out of the 4 junctions (all being T-junctions), only the Persiaran Tujuan-Persiaran Bakti junction (at the intersection of USJ 9 / USJ 13 and USJ 11) is a not total stop junction.
Again for this Tujuan-Bakti junction, traffic from Persiaran Bakti will have to filter quickly into the extreme left lane if they are to turn left into Jalan Usaha to access USJ 17 & USJ 18 where this is a kind for shortcut for USJ resident to access the Elite highway. A complete stop for traffic on Persiaran Tujuan (heading towards Subang Jaya direction) at this T-junction will make it much safer for everyone crossing the Tujuan-Bakti T-junction.
Much safer if there is no not-stopping traffic at T-junctions
The other three T-junctions along Persiaran Tujuan in USJ, namely the Persiaran Tujuan-Persiaran Murni T-junction; the Persiaran Tujuan-Persiaran Perpaduan T-junction and the Persiaran Tujuan-Persiaran Setia T-junction all have complete stop (red icons) for traffic on Persiaran Tujuan when the traffic light is green for traffic at the respective corresponding T-junctions (blue arrows) . Aside from motocycles running through the red light, the flow of traffic filtering into Persiaran Tujuan at these three T-junctions are much smoother and safer.
Make all T-junctions “complete stops” at the traffic lights
It is the opinion of this author, a twenty three years resident of USJ that Majlis Perbandaran Subang Jaya (MPSJ) should seriously consider making all T-junctions at this township “complete stops” at the traffic lights. This may not solve the traffic congestion issue, especially at key areas of bottlenecks, it will certainly make it safer and perhaps even easier for road users turning into Persiaran Kewajipan in order to reach exits along these T-junctions.
This may sound old or stale, “they don’t make things last anymore” is the key theme of this article. It seems that durability of products is no longer a key consideration. Often an expensive piece of appliance is rendered worthless because of the lack of durability of its control system, often because it is very electronic-based. In some cases, the crucial electronic system though durable but the appliance is not functional because of the poor quality of the interface, i.e. the LED panel!
An airfyer that failed by its LED control
When I was working and living alone in Penang (Jan 2015 to late 2016) I bought a few electrical appliances to make my stay more pleasant. One of these was a Kqueen airfryer that I bought online (shipped from China). The decision to buy this was fully influenced by my wife’s (then) favourite kitchen gadget, a Philips airfryer. After I moved back to Subang Jaya, Selangor upon the completion of my stint helming a university college we decided to make the Kqueen airfryer as the main fryer reserving the Philips airfryer for bigger loads or cooking that required higher power.
Just over 2 years into its service, the LED panel of our KQueen airfyer just suddenly decided to go off completely. Without a control panel, and despite having all moving parts and heating parts fully functional, the KQueen airfyer was rendered utterly useless. Well RM450 (US$107) that this Kqueen airfryer only gave us utility for 2 years for RM225 (US$53.5) per year! The part that failed was the LED control panel. I often wonder why manufacturers often overlook the most important part of the design, if you can’t control the gadget it is as good as scrap. Why simple mechanical/electrical thermostat plus radial timer could not have been used instead. The over reliance on electronic control in household gadgets should be reviewed. This could have given a much longer lifespan to the gadget. This Kqueen airfyer was just sold as scrap, I guess it fetched around RM1.00 (US$0.24) today!
A malfunctioned shaver that came back to life!
I bought a Philips Aquatouch shaver just over three years ago. This was a shaver that can be used for wet shave, which means one can put on shaving foam and shaves with this shaver. But just about 8 months ago, after charging my Philips Aquatouch’s battery (well I charged it overnight and forgot to unplug it from the charger, but I think this shaver came with the ability to avoid overcharging), when I press the “start” button, it only worked for 2 seconds then stopped. I was having the impression that my RM275 (US$65.50) investment was heading to the scrap heap.
A search on the internet yielded a very informative Youtube video which showed two things: firstly, the shaver was indeed malfunctioned and, secondly that the repair process was more for those who are skilled in doing electronic repairs (which excluded my attempt!). Further, Philips authorized service centre has a price tag of RM20 (US$4.76) for inspection and RM60 (US$14.29) for repair workmanship where the cost of replacement parts would be extra. I was resigned to the fact that it would not be worthwhile to repair this shaver as the overall cost of inspection-workmanship-parts could be close to the price of a replacement shaver. I just left the shaver in the bedroom where the air-conditioning would often be switched on at night.
After about three months of lying idle, this shaver was picked up by me recently. The temptation to press the power/start button was too much and I did what I had been doing very often: to try to test if the shaver would run. And surprisingly, it stayed working for longer than 2 seconds. In fact it was working as well as before! The long period of lying in close to the path of the air conditioning’s air flow perhaps helped to dry the interior of the shaver out so that the electronics were no longer malfunctioning! I gained back the utility of my Philips Aquatouch shaver, but I refrained from putting it anyway near “aqua” , i.e. wet shaving and only used it as a “dry” shaver now. I wonder why the manufacturer did not pay enough attention to ensure that the “aqua” functioning of this gadget could stand the test of times! Perhaps this was a case of the gadget being designed to fail after 3 years of use?
Kanken: A backpack that lasted 31 years!
I bought a Kanken backpack in late 1985 after seeing this brand being so popular when my parents, my younger brother and I was on a holiday tour to the Nordic countries. The only thing that I dislike about this bag was the signature badge. It looked too childish for my taste and I foolishly removed it without knowing that it was a reflective badge that conferred safety. It was not cheap. I recalled paying something like £20 (US$28.8) in 1985 for this bag. Its exterior was splash-proof and this feature lasted for at least 20 years!
Of course there are plenty of imitation Kanken backpacks in the market that costs a fraction of this. But the quality differential is very easily detectable.
In late May 2017, after close to 32 years of utility, the straps of my classic Kanken backpack finally started to literally break apart. Reluctantly, I had to say “goodbye” to this trusted old workhouse that had accompanied me to the work in a summer camp in the USA in 1986; daily usage when I was working on my Master’s and PhD; my tours of the UK and Ireland and countless domestic holiday trips. Unlike my electrical items, at least the Kanken backpack were made (still being made) to last!
The 2019 version of a one-glance-see-all compact calendar, created by David Seah, but customized by the author for the state of Selangor, Malaysia is provided in this article. This compact calendar is easily customized to suite the user’s needs.
With the announcement of 2019 school calendar by the Ministry of Education in Malaysia recently, it is now possible for me to put together the 2019 edition of my compact calendar for 2019.
This calendar is based on the excellent work and idea of David Seah. It has been optimized for the state of Selangor, Malaysia. I have also added (shaded) school holidays (as I have done previously). If you live in other states in Malaysia and would like to modify this to suite your needs, the instructions for doing so are given on the first sheet. It is no rocket science as David Seah has made it very easy for us to optimize the Excel file.
You can download the Excel file here. I have also included a PDF version for those who do not need to optimze this compact calendar further. Enjoy and do your planning for 2019 more effectively!
This article lays down bare facts about Chinese primary (SJK(C)), secondary (SMJK) and independent Chinese schools in Malaysia. The differences between the UEC examinations & SJK(C) that’re wrongly lumped together are clearly explained. The author opined that the recognition of the UEC should be a separate issue which should not be confused with the Chinese Malaysian community’s wish for the government to increase the number of Chinese primary schools, especially in new urban areas.
The politicization of the recognition of Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) has caused a lot of confusion in Malaysia. Although a few prominent people including politicians and those from the Chinese educationists movement had tried to explain the issue and rationale etc., so far no one seems to have realized one glaring error. The convenient lumping of the UEC recognition issue with that of the establishment of 16 new Chinese primary schools (Chinese vernacular primary schools under the national education system, or SJK(C) as these are designated by the Ministry of Education), whether by intent or by accident is rather unfortunate. My key objective in writing this piece is to offer facts and figures to try to explain the two issues which, I have to stress again, are separate. I shall leave it to more learned colleagues to argue about the issue of recognition of the UEC!
UEC and SJK(C): are they different?
For starter, Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (C) as the name in Malay indicated, is referring to “national type primary schools”. In essence, SJK(C)s are part and parcel of the national education system of Malaysia and are one type of many types of national schools under the purview of the Ministry of Education (MoE). It is worth stressing that SJK(C)s are primary schools catering for children aged 7 to 12. Many of these were established during the British colonial era but all had been incorporated into the national education system by virtue of the Education Act 1961. Students of SJK(C)s take national examination at the Standard 6, just like their counterparts in SJK(T) (Tamil primary schools, where Tamil is the main medium of instruction) and Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) (where Malay is the main medium of instruction). Hence for all intent and purposes, Year 6 students of all national schools will take the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR – Primary School Evaluation Test). Their progression to the national secondary schools system will be dependent on their performance at UPSR. Thus all three types of national primary schools (SK, SJK(C), SJK(T)) use the same curriculum but differ only in the medium of instruction, with the SJKs giving heavy emphasis on the national language even though the main medium of instruction is Chinese or Tamil.
UEC or Sijil Perperiksaan Bersepadu in Malay was set up by the Dong Jiao Zhong (an umbrella body of the Chinese educationist movement in Malaysia) in 1975 as a unified examination system for all the Independent Chinese Secondary Schools (ICS) in Malaysia. The UEC caters to ICS students at three levels, Junior Middle (UEC-JML) (equivalent to the Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 – PT3 examination taken by Form 3 students of the national secondary school system) , Vocational (UEC-V) and Senior Middle (UEC-SML) (pre-university level, equivalent to the MOE’s Matriculation level). Thus UEC examinations are meant for students of the 61 ICS at high school levels. These ICSs draw the bulk of their students from the SJK(C), but the UEC examination system does not have any direct or indirect impact on the teaching, learning, operation or even funding of the SJK(C)s. No SJK(C) student (unless he or she is a genius) will be able to take any of the UEC examination!
In contrast to 61 ICSs, there are 2,411 national secondary schools, of which there are 11 different types. One of these types are the Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan (SMJK), or Natonal Type Secondary School in English. There are 81 SMJK which are no different from other national secondary schools except that Chinese language is offered to all students (and is a compulsory subject). Many of these SMJKs were once Chinese high schools during the colonial era but with the Education Act 1961, the Board of Governors of these schools had pragmatically chosen to join the national school system and receive partial funding from the government.
More on SJK(C)
Most of the 1298 SJK(C)s could trace their origins in early 1900s to 1950s when the bulk of the migration from China into Malaya (and Northern Borneo) took place under the British colonial rule. My late father, a Malayan-born Chinese was one of those young teachers who took up the challenge to establish a new Chinese primary school in Cameron Highlands during the early 1950s.
Before the enactment of Education Act 1961, all these Chinese primary schools were funded entirely by the Chinese community. Even today, the bulk of the 1298 SJK(C) are only receiving partial funding from the government. Nevertheless, all SJK(C) are operated directly by the Ministry of Education which appoints (and pays the salaries of) all the academic and support staff. The Board of Governors of partially funded SJK(C) usually owns the land where the school is located and provides for the maintenance of the school’s facilities, staff’s and students’ welfare etc.
Essentially, since the early 1960s, SJK(C)s and SJK(T)s have been an integral part of Malaysia’s national primary education system. Collectively, as shown in Table 1 (the data for this table were obtained from the Ministry of Education’s publication), they constitute 23.43% of all schools in the national system and educate around 22.78% of all primary school students. They also use the same curriculum as the SK schools with the only exception of having Chinese Mandarin or Tamil as the medium of instructions. For more information of how this author debunks the lies about SJK(C) told by those with dubious intention, please read my article entitles How do you debunk myths about Chinese primary schools in Malaysia?
A figure of around 100,000 non-Chinese Malaysians children are reported to be studying in the SJK(C)s. It is expected that this 19% figure of non-Chinese Malaysian enrollments will continue to grow in the future. The fact that the current Minister of Education, Maszlee Malik sends his children to a SJK(C) is a testament to the benefits of the teaching philosophy of SJK(C)s which, aside from the use of Chinese Mandarin as a core medium of instruction, is the only other difference in characteristics of SJK(C) schools compared to SK schools.
A yardstick measurement of adequacy of schools for the population of Malaysia can easily be made by comparing the % of national enrollment with the % of schools. Ideally these two figures should be very close. For the SK schools, there are a difference of 0.86% which is not a big difference. Yet if we multiply this differential with the number of SK schools, we know that there is still a need to have at least another 50 schools. Likewise the differential between enrollment % and % of schools for the SJK(C)s is around 3.04%, if we multiply this figure with the total number of SJK(C)s, we can estimate that there is a shortage of close to 40 schools. In reality the issue of the need for more SJK(C)s is further complicated by the fact that there are still many SJK(C)s in the rural areas with very small enrollment. At the same time, SJK(C)s in established townships and many urban areas are bursting at their seams with class sizes of 50 plus students. And in newer townships, there are usually a big demand for SJK(C)s but often with the nearest school located many kilometers away. Hence the issue of “10 + 6” SJK(C)s came forth. 6 of these are SJK(C)s with low enrollment in rural areas that are to be relocated to population centres in urban areas with known demand for SJK(C)s. 10 of these are new SJK(C)s promised by the Najib administration just before the 14th General Election (GE14).
What’re the differences between ICSs and national type secondary Chinese schools?
An excellent article in Malay Mail (published on July 03, 2017) provided a very detailed but clear explanation on the differences between SJK(C), SMJK and ICS schools. Hence this will not be the focus of this article, but a brief review of their key similarities and differences is appropriate.
Both SMJKs and ICSs traditionally rely on the SJK(C) to provide them with new students. Thus a look at the pathways taken by SJK(C) students completing Year 6 will tell us the relative popularity of the two (as discussed in the section below).
While SMJKs, like most of the SJK(C)s are partially funded by the government, ICSs do not receive any operational budget from the government, except for occasional lump sum provisions provided by state governments (of the Pakatan Harapan controlled states prior to GE14) and notable grants provided by the Najib adminstration during the GE14 campaign. ICSs thus have to charge school fees (usually RM200 to 300 per month) and SMJK (and SK) on the other hand are providing free education to students. When I was attached to a Chinese community funded university-college whose board of directors are common with an ICS, I was given to understand that the board of directors had to subsidise to the tune of RM1,500 per student per year. Thus fund raising activities are common for all ICSs where the key source of funding is donation from the Chinese Malaysian community.
Aside from offering the three UEC examinations, many ICSs are also preparing their students to take the iGCSE examination from the UK. This alone makes many ICSs very affordable alternatives to international schools. This perhaps is evident from Table 2 where we can see a huge drop of UEC-SML takers as student progressed from senior middle two (equivalent to Form 5 at SMK). iGCSE is an entry qualification accepted by most private colleges for pre-university or diploma studies.
In contrast, SMJK and SMK only use national curriculum as prescribed by the MOE and their students will take the PT3 (at Form 3) and SPM national examinations (at Form 5) accordingly. Academically, SMJKs differ from SMKs only in the former having an added subject of Chinese in its regular timetable.
Majority of SJK(C)s students go on to SMK or SMJK schools!
An important fact that has somehow not been mentioned by many commentators of Chinese education in Malaysia is that the majority of the SJK(C) students will continue their secondary education at SMKs or SMJKs. The enrollment figures of all categories of national secondary schools and the Independent Chinese Schools are shown in Table 2.
If we assume (from Table 1) that in 2017 there were around 85,462 SJK(C) Year 6 students entering secondary schools and (from Table 2) the total enrollment of SMJKs was 108,000, we can estimate that SMJK enrolled around 21,600 of SJK(C) students (or 25.27%) for Form 1. The ICSs collectively took in around 14,481 (or 16.94%) new students for Form 1 in 2017, thus we had around 49,381 students (or 57.78%) who opted for the SMKs.
Possible reasons for preference for SMJK over ICSs
The majority of parents of SJK(C)s students, including this author have been opting for the national secondary schools (either SMK or SMJK) perhaps for the following reasons:
The UEC examinations are not recognized in Malaysia. This means that UEC holders do not have any options to choose any of the state-funded tertiary options such as public universities, polytechnics and state vocational training institutions (unless they also hold appropriate SPM qualifications).
The proximity of SMKs / SMJKs to their homes which reduces the traveling time and cost for the students (and parents).
The medium of instructions for ICSs generally is Chinese Mandarin (although many do offer the English medium option). Parents of some SJK(C) students may worry about the ability of their children to cope with switching to Chinese Mandarin entirely as the students have been prepared by the SJK(C)s to enter SMK and SMJK with heavy emphasis on getting them a solid foundation in Bahasa Malaysia (Malay).
The national secondary school system is not perfect but it has been adequately producing SPM holders who can cope with college studies, even if the medium of instruction will likely to be English if they opt for private colleges after SPM.
ICSs students often will take SPM as well and many parents feel that this will pose an added burden on their children’s ability to cope with their studies.
The ICSs school fees, though is around RM300 per month, still pose a financial burden for lower income families.
Thus over 83% of all SJK(C) class of Year 6 would generally go on to national secondary schools. In fact (as shown in Table 2) the total number of ICSs is just 2.53% that of the national secondary schools. Collectively all the ICS’s student population amounts to only 2.46% 4% (a calculation error was detected & rectified) of the national secondary school system. In addition, I think the majority of parents of non-Chinese students of SJK(C)s will opt for SMK or SMJK when their offspring complete their primary schools.
There are no private Chinese primary schools per se in Malaysia. All SJK(C)s are part and parcel of the national primary school system.
SJK(C)s are not to be confused with ICSs which offer the Unified Examination Certificate (some opponents of the UEC could not even get this name correct!). SJK(C)s are primary schools whereas ICSs are secondary schools!
It can be said that ICSs which draw most of its new cohort of students from SJK(C)s will not survive without the SJK(C)S. However, the SJK(C)s can surely survive with or without the ICSs! This is because the majority of SJK(C)s students (over 83%) will go on to national secondary schools (either SMK or SMJK).
From the data and analysis presented, I hope my readers can see that Independent Chinese Schools cater to many different groups of students. The enrollment of ICSs collectively is less than 2.5% of the entire national secondary school population. The fact that ICSs prepare their academically capable students to take the SPM means that they are placing equal importance to the national language, granted not every student will be fully SPM-competent. The same can also be said about students from SMJKs or even SMKs!
With an enrollment of less than2.5% around 4.0% of the national secondary school system, to say that the ICSs pose a threat to national unity, we will need to reconcile the fact that there are over 100 international schools in Malaysia with a collective enrollment of around 62,000, and around 40,000 being Malaysians. None of these offer courses as close to the national curriculum as the ICSs but all having their students’ qualifications recognized by Malaysia.
To adequately prepare their students to take the SPM examination, it is not surprising that the UEC curriculum of the ICSs indeed covers sufficient similar grounds as that of the national secondary schools.
In addition, there are many unregulated iGCSE learning centres that function more or less like secondary schools. These also do not offer any courses akin to the national curriculum compared to the ICSs. Why are these centres and the 100 international schools do not “pose-a-threat-to-national-unity” but ICS’s UEC recognition do begs a clear answer from those who has come up with this line of argument.
Unifi broadband has been taking customers for granted. It charges higher fees & forces IPTV subscription upon subscribers. Maxis Fibre, riding on Unifi’s backbone for the “last mile” presents a better & cheaper alternative where internet speed of 30 Mbps is consistently provided.
After a lot of considerations and patience with TM’s Unifi broadband internet service, the last straw snapped. After yet another “throttling & upgrade” ploy where we experienced a typical slow down of internet speed follow by another call to “upgrade to 50 Megabits per second (from 30 Megabits per second) for RM10 extra”, we made up our minds to switch.
What was stopping the switch
Change of broadband provider necessitates a change in telephone number. But our landline only rings at most once a week! Hardly anyone will reach for any of us via our landline. We doubt most of our contacts even know our landline numbers! Thus the change of landline telephone number is no longer a consideration for us.
The fastest (and cheapest, bit by bit) provider, Time dotcom may come to our residential area. I had contacted Time a few times, they could not say if their service will ever reach my part of USJ (they are at USJ 9 business centre already). Thus we would have to rule out Time as a potential replacement for Unifi. This leaves just Maxis Fibre. And Maxis Fibre did not get a good review when it was launched.
What favoured the switch
Maxis Fibre has been giving a good promotion. For the same speed of 30 Megabits per second (Mbps), the price differential between Unifi and Maxis Fibre is RM40 per month.With a price guarantee of 24 months, compared to Unifi, we will be saving close to RM1,000.
Unifi which forces subscribers to pay a minimum of RM25 extra for HyppTV that is devoid of good channels and hence not viewed by most “forced subscribers”. Thus this not only adds extra to Unifi’s bill but the bad taste felt by subscribers for being taken for a ride (as opined by this author before) is the driver that pushes us to switch. Channels being taken out suddenly with no replacements are the norm.
Bouts of “throttling followed by offer to upgrade” became too frequent and this ploy got stale. We hardly get internet speed that is anywhere near the 30 Mbps that we have paid for.
The poor customer service of TM Unifi with no-follow up after complaints by subscribers like us is another push factor.
Anyone wishing to switch will need to do so soon. I was informed by the Maxis people that this promotion will end soon .
Maxis Fibre’s deal… any good?
We are getting the same package of 30 Mbps speed as our previous Unifi package. The internet speed tests have always turn in a good result which ranged from 20 Mbps to 32 Mbps (Downloading) and 7 Mbps to 31 Mbps (uploading). Maxis Fibre essentially is riding on Unifi’s backbone for the “last mile” to the customers. The difference… it could be that Maxis Fibre is not as congested as Unifi.
We do not have to be forced to pay for any IPTV that we do not need. This together with the higher price for the 30 Mbps deal of Unifi means we are paying RM40 less (if we put GST as “zero rated” for both players).
We are still getting a landline. And unlike Unifi’s phone service whose landline phone calls are free only for landline-to-landline calls, Maxis Fibre gives us free calls to all networks, including mobile phones numbers. Thus Maxis Fibre subscribers like us will not have to pay extra if we use the landline to call mobile phones.
In addition (though we have not yet found out how to activate this service), Maxis Fibre gives us free subscription to iflix video on demand service.
So far, the internet speed is good. The router that came with the package gives both a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz wifi channel. But for some reasons, devices like our security webcams that need to be logged into the network at all times have issues with this router. Luckily we have another router for these devices to logged on to and this solved the problem.
The new Skypark Link provides the missing link between Subang Airport and the network of public transport in the Klang Valley. The service should alleviate traffic congestion around the airport and reduce traffic jams on Subang Airport road, especially on peak hours. The pluses & minuses of the service are laid out in this article.
Subang Airport is popular but… mind the traffic jams!
Many people living in the western and northern parts of the Klang Valley, Subang Airport will be their first choice for taking domestic flights. This is because of the relative proximity of Subang Airport to most parts of the Klang Valley.
When I was working and living in Penang, managing a university college, I tried to spend some time with my family at least once every 4 – 6 weeks. Subang Airport which is only 13 km from my home in USJ was my favourite airport to commute between Penang and home.
However, Persiaran Lapangan Terbang Subang (Subang Airport Road) is notorious for traffic jams, especially during peak hours and whenever there is a heavy downpour.
For my usual early morning flights to Penang, the same journey from USJ to Subang Airport would take only 15 minutes! Because of this, I would usually plan my journey to depart from Subang Airport as early in the morning as possible. Likewise, I usually would try to arrive at Subang Airport from Penang after 8:30 pm to avoid the peak hour’s crawl, especially around the Citta Mall area.
Once it took my wife over 2 hours to travel the 13 km from USJ to pick me up at Subang Airport during off-peak hour of around 8 pm. There were two accidents, one of each side of the road! The return journey was a little better, it took just over 90 minutes.
Enter Subang Skypark Link
When news of the test run of Subang Skypark Link broke, I was naturally delighted. Although I no longer work in Penang, the introduction of this service from KL Sentral to Subang Airport (Skypark Terminal) via Subang Jaya station is a great development. Subang Skypark Link has the potential to reduce traffic on the Subang Airport Road and allows air passengers a more dependable mode of transport to other parts of the Klang Valley.
The intermediate stop at Subang Jaya station is a great move as this station is the interchange for both the LRT and KTM Kommuter services. Thus passengers have a choice of connections from the Subang Skypark train where the LRT (Kelana Jaya Line) will link up with the Sri Petaling line at Putera Heights Station. For KTM Kommuter passengers, the train service to Port Klang is accessible via Subang Jaya station.
Test-riding Subang Skypark Link services
My wife and I decided to take advantage of the month-long free test-ride of Subang Skypark Link to check out the new rail service recently. We began our ride from Subang Jaya to Skypark Terminal. The KTM staff was polite and helpful. Of course KTM would not give us a free ride from Subang Jaya station to KL Sentral. There was already the LRT or Kommuter train that ply that route too (and we would have to pay!).
Here is my two cents’ worth on this service.
The confusing platform at Subang Jaya Station
At the Subang Jaya train station, the Skypark Link train shares the same platform with KTM Kommuter train. This is fine as this is common practice for KTM Kommuter services and with good announcement system and signages on train, commuters will be well informed. However in this case the KL Sentral bound Kommuter train was using the same platform as Skypark Link train but travel on the opposite direction! So shall we look left or right for our train?
The 3-coach Skypark Link trains look refurbished!
Skypark Link trains use a distinctive orange paint on its bodywork. This is good as it distinguishes the 3-coach trains from the normal Kommuter trains. However, looking at these Skypark Link trains from the outside, they look like refurbished rolling stocks where the top of the trains look dull giving the impression that these coaches have been lying around idle for a while!
However, once inside the coaches, the bench-type seats and railings are well designed, cleaned with the interior brightly lit.
The track from Subang Jaya station to Skypark Terminal actually first goes west, towards Batu Tiga station but veers to the right shortly after passing by Empire Shopping Mall (on the left) near Subang Racquet & Golf Centre. It traverses the Federal Highway and Persiaran Kerjaya via two “tunnels” . It then passes by two golf clubs on the right, with the Glenmarie industry area on its left. The track also rises above North Klang Valley Expressway (NKVE) and Subang Airport Road (near Ara Damansara Medical Centre). After that it follows the course of Sungai Damansara on its right before arriving at Skypark Terminal, just opposite Subang Airport. Although the brochure indicated that the journey from Subang Jaya station to Skypark Terminal would take 7 minutes, our test-ride took about thrice as long, at around 20 minutes (the return journey took around 15 minutes).
The new track is built from Skypark Terminal station to Subang Jaya station. From Subang Jaya station onward, it shares the same track as the existing KTM Kommuter line.
Nice Skypark Terminal station but….
The Skypark Terminal station is very nicely built. It is spacious and well lit.
But I wish there is more than just one escalator for each platform as many commuters will have baggage to carry and it is a pain to carry these while walking down the stairs. Of course there are the lifts for the disabled which is good.
The passageway leading to the exit is spacious. The Customer Service centre is located just at the exit.
Ticket machines are already installed. But on the day of our visit, none of these are operational. I think the ticket system will also accept Touch N Go cards.
Clear LED information boards are strategically located in several places, informing commuters of the train services. I hope the information on this line could be “live” and constantly updated as in the LRT system.
Skypark Terminal Station is located at the far end of the car park opposite Subang Airport terminal which means that commuters will have to use the single overhead bridge to cross Subang Airport Road.
Although the “direct route” from the entrance of Skypark Terminal Station to the overhead bridge to reach Subang Airport is around 300 m, if one is to use the covered walkway, the distance will be another 200m at least.
Hence there is no fully enclosed (and sheltered) walkway between Subang Airport and Skypark Terminal. And the walk from Skypark Terminal station to Subang Airport can be very taxing for those who are travelling with a lot of baggage.
The overhead bridge to cross Subang Airport Road is serviced by a lift which is a little bit on the small side, especially troublesome for those with large-sized luggage.
The overhead bridge is facilitated with ramps on both ends which means that commuters with bags or those on wheelchairs can roll up or down the staircase at both ends.
Once you have arrived at Subang Airport, you need to remember that the overhead bridge brings you to the first floor of the airport. Again, if you have a lot of baggage, you will need to navigate to the escalator to get down to the ground floor for check-in etc.
The Skypark Terminal Link provides a more reliable (compared to cars) for air passengers to get to / from Subang Airport.
The journey time (when fully operational) of less than half an hour from the heart of KL (KL Sentral) and 7 minutes from Subang Jaya station means the “last mile” for air travel using Subang Airport is that much more certain. This is provided KTM does not practice train cancellations, delay etc. that are the common grouses of commuters relying on KTM Kommuter services.
The link provides a much needed linkage between Subang Airport and KLIA / KLIA2 via the combination of ERL-Skypark Link. This will facilitate travellers that need to shuttle between the two airports to catch flights, especially domestic flights via Subang Airport.
Skypark Terminal station, aside from some minor quarks (lack of escalators for both “going up” and “going down”, is spacious, with good LED signages.
Skypark Link needs to share the rail track with KTM Kommuter from Subang Jaya Station towards KL Sentral (and vice versa). This means any delays due to congestion on this track will have an impact on the timing and reliability of the service.
The lack of a seamless linkage between the Skypark Terminal Station and Subang Airport present a challenge for travellers with young children and lots of baggage. The designated partially-covered walkway, requires users to go around the perimeter of the car park, adding considerable distance for travellers to walk. As this walkway only has a roof, travellers are exposed to the elements if there is a heavy rain.
The sharing of KTM Kommuter’s rail track from Subang Jaya Station towards KL Sentral means that Skypark Link’s train services will be subjected to the congestion experienced by KTM Kommuter users currently. Thus travellers using this service, compared to the ERL, will have to budget at least another 30 to 45 minutes extra time to use Skypark Link if they do not wish to run a risk of missing their flights at Subang Airport. A simple solution may be to just concentrate the Skypark Link trains to ply between Subang Jaya station and Subang Airport, where the track (aside from a small stretch between Subang Jaya and Batu Tiga station) is fully dedicated for the Skypark Link. This will inconvenient travellers who have to transfer either from KTM Kommuter or the LRT (coming from KL Sentral). However the LRT service is a lot more reliable. The journey via LRT from KL Sentral to Subang Jaya will take around 35 minutes which is not too long compared to having the risk of delays.
A good addition to public transport
Despite the shortcomings, I think the Skypark Link train services is a good addition to the Klang Valley’s public transport network. The interchange with other mode of public transport at KL Sentral and Subang Jaya stations provide more travel options to travellers compared to the current over reliance on road transport. It will be better if the reported service intervals of once every hour (from June 01, 2018) could be increase during peak hours for flights (such as early in the morning and from 6 pm to 8 pm).
At the time of writing this article, the fares for the two stages of Skypark Link services have not been announced. I would expect that a fare of RM10 or lower for the full KL Sentral to Skypark Terminal (Subang Airport) and RM3 or lower between Subang Jaya and Skypark Terminal will be fair and will attract good ridership.