Where’s my water? Water rationing and water shortages in Selangor

Update (Jun 28, 2012): This blog entry was published today in the New Straits Times newspaper.

There may be talks about water rationing soon in this country, but for my family and I, our neighborhood in Selangor has already been experiencing water rationing as early as February this year. The water to our home would often be turned off in the mornings and would remain as such until after midnight. We would sometimes experience water rationing as long as 12 to 15 hours in a day.

Recent hot, dry weather in Selangor means precious water like this is either being rationed or coming out of the taps in low pressure (photo from www.visiting-singapore.com)

Our situation has now worsened during this current prolonged dry and hot weather. Whenever water to our home is finally turned on, the water that comes out of our taps has such a low pressure that the water is unable to feed into our washing machine.

Most Malaysians are naïve about the scarcity and value of water. For some people, politics have taken priority over science—such as in the case for Selangor’s water.

As long as it is cheap or free. An example where politics, not science, dictates a policy (photo from teresakok.com)

Although Earth comprises 70% water, only 0.6% of our planet’s water is directly usable to us. Malaysia may have abundant annual rainfall of between 2,000 to 3,000 mm, but our rainfall is not uniform throughout the year. There would be months of dry weather. The largest consumer of water worldwide is the agriculture sector that consumes 85% of total water in the world. Malaysia, for example, uses 1.7 million liters of water per second to grow crops!

Selangor specifically uses 0.13 million liters of water per second to grow crops. This amount of water is equivalent to 20% or one-fifth of Selangor’s rainfall. Moreover, this amount of water does not include the amount of water required in the processing and other downstream activities of agriculture raw products. To produce 1 kg of oil palm bunch in Malaysia, for example, requires 500 liters of water. And to extract and process the oil from the oil palm bunches would require an additional 4,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of palm oil. Consequently, a lion share of Selangor’s rainfall goes into farming and the agriculture industry, with the leftovers for other economic sectors and domestic users.

Perhaps Malaysians and our authorities should look at our neighbor, Singapore, which is regarded by some as the world leader in urban water management.

Singapore has become an example to the world on urban water management (photo from www.downtoearth.org.in)

In 2009, Malaysians consumed more than 300 liters of water per capita per day, which is more than double from that recommended by U.N. (140-150 liters per capita per day). Our daily water consumption rises at a rate of about 8 liters per capita every year. At this rate, Malaysia would have nearly no water reserves left by 2025. In contrast, Singaporeans’ daily water consumption reduces by about 1.3 liters per capita every year to reach 155 liters per capita per day in 2010. Furthermore, Singapore aims to reduce their daily water consumption further to 140 liters per capita by 2030.

Unlike Malaysians who treat water as a low-value commodity, Singaporeans view water as their nation’s lifeblood: a precious resource to be cleaned, harvested, and recycled. Water runoff from about two-thirds of Singapore’s land area is funneled into water supply systems. Changi airport, for example, have facilities to harvest rainwater and collect runoff. Marina Barrage further collects water runoff from a land area nearly the size of Malaysia’s Tioman Island.

Singapore also boasts of having the lowest water leakages in the world. On average, the world loses 25 to 40% of water through leakages within the water distribution network. Malaysia, for instance, loses 36% of her water through leakages. Singapore, on the other hand, loses only 5%.

Where the Selangor government indirectly encourages water wastage by giving its citizens free water (up to 20 cubic meters), Singapore has taken the message to save water to the nation’s youngsters. Messages to promote the saving and protection of water and rivers are taken to schools and teenagers in Singapore through mascots and lifestyle eco-magazines.

Selangor’s free water sends out a wrong and dangerous message that water is abundant and of little value (photo from thestar.com.my)

Singapore has unwittingly become an example for Malaysia and the world on wise water management. In an aspiration to become totally self-sufficient in freshwater by 2060, Singapore has taken a series of motivated moves to wisely treat and manage its freshwater. The biggest slap for Malaysia would be when Malaysia experiences frequent and prolonged dry taps, but Singapore, in contrast, finally achieves its ambition of water self reliance. Perhaps then Malaysians would wake up when Singapore bids us farewell by saying, “So long, and thanks for all the water.

Additional reading

“Water, water everywhere”  by Fred Pearce. New Scientist.  Nov. 2010


Tanarata International School (TiS) – A school in an oil palm plantation

Update (Dec. 14, 2012): Read my review of this school after one school term.

International schools in Malaysia are expected to grow, so says M. Bakri Musa in his article “The impact of growth in international schools” (The Malaysian Insider, June 4, 2012). The Malaysian government has lifted the quota on the number of local students who can study in international schools, as well as granting tax and other incentives to promote the growth of these schools. Some private schools like Sri Sempurna School and some Beaconhouse school outlets are starting to offer international programmes. The reversion from English to Malay language as the medium of instruction in schools would further promote the growth of international schools — and the increase abandonment of national schools in Malaysia.

Finding the right school for our children can be a daunting and stressful challenge to us parents (photo from ordinarypoet.blogspot.com)

The major selling point of international schools, M. Bakri Musa writes, is not that they are “international”. But it is rather that these schools offer English as a medium of instruction and they follow a Western curriculum. Chinese and Indonesian International Schools, in contrast, would see no rush of registration — with quota or no.

Questions about schools are important for my wife and me now. Our only son, Zachary, is five years old this year, and we are looking for the right school for him. There are several factors for us to consider: the school’s environment and facilities, the distance we have to travel to send Zachary to that school, and, of course, the school fees.

We identified some schools to visit: none of them is public schools. Although my wife and I attended public schools, we know public schools, with all their infamous problems, are not right for Zachary. Our son would probably find public school too boring and stifling.

My wife and I visited several private schools: some of which impressed us, and some, not so much. For instance, we went to one international school that felt more like a Chinese school! During our walkabouts in that school, we failed to find a single child talking in English! That school was also too crowded. And in another school, the teacher who entertained us during our visit could barely speak in English! No wonder then those two schools were struck out our list pretty quickly.

At the end, we narrowed in on Tanarata International School (TiS) at Kajang. My wife and I were impressed with the school’s environment. The school is located in the midst of an oil palm plantation! Greenery was everywhere. This was very unlike other schools that had more concrete than greenery. The teachers at TiS spoke English brilliantly, so as the students. The school was also not crowded. In fact, it felt like it was a school holiday! The classroom size is small. Although the limit is 20 students per class, the classes we saw had fewer students than this limit.

Administration building of Tanarata International School (TiS)

Lots of greenery in Tanarata International School (TiS). The school is located in an oil palm plantation.

Fancy a dip under swaying palm trees? The swimming pool in Tanarata International School (TiS).

TiS is not perfect of course. For one, I am disappointed by their library. I doubt even 50 students can sit inside the library, and I think Zachary and I have more books than TiS’s library.

TiS has a website and a site on Facebook, but I was not depending on them for my reconnaissance work on TiS. I was more interested in frank and impartial feedback on TiS. I managed to find and contact one parent who has a child at TiS. Fortunately, this parent was also very willing to share her opinions with us on TiS. She spoke to my wife on the phone for about 20 minutes! She has nothing but praises for TiS. This was the deal clincher for my wife and me.

The school field of Tanarata International School (TiS). The field is surrounded by greenery.

A tennis court doubling up as a basketball court in Tanarata International School (TiS)

A treehouse in Tanarata International School (TiS)

So, yesterday on Thursday (Jun 14, 2012), we sent Zachary for his school entrance exam. Blimey, an exam just to determine if a child could enter Year 1. I think I must have been more nervous than Zachary. Like a trooper, Zachary was actually excited and looking forward to sitting the exam!

My wife and I had very little idea on what topics Zachary would be tested on except that they would be on English and Maths. My wife was in charge of English and me on Maths. My wife ensured he could remember and write his ABCs well. We also found several websites that have a list of words a Year 1 student should know. We printed out the list and made sure he could read and understand these words. To our delight, he could read 95% of these must-know words. I like to believe Zachary’s vocabulary is a product of the Read Aloud system which we have teaching Zachary since he was only a few months old.

On my part, I made sure he could count from 0 to 100. I also made sure Zachary could add and subtract numbers, as well as do simple math word problems such as “The tree has 11 apples. Four apples dropped from the tree. How many apples does the tree have?”

I taught Zachary how to read the time from a clock down to every 5 minutes (such as being able to tell time if the clock showed 11:35). Lastly, I taught him a little “algebra” such as solving: (10 + ? = 13) and (8 – ? = 5).

Zachary could do these math problems very well. But I was worried about cramming too much within a short period. I was afraid how well he could keep all that he has learned coherently in his mind. Would all come unfurling during the test? When I was Zachary’s age, I could not even add or subtract numbers, let alone do: (12 – ? = 7). In contrast, Zachary could add large numbers like: 389 + 458.

I am glad to report that Zachary took only 45 minutes to complete the two-hour exam. The better news is that the school later called us to say that Zachary has been accepted in TiS! Boy, it felt good. It was as if it was I who took the exam. But the best news is that the school further reported that Zachary had a perfect score for English and Maths! In other words, our boy wonder Zachary scored 100% in English and 100% in Maths. No wonder then the school was so quick to offer him a place (within a day)!

Classroom building of Tanarata International School (TiS)

The school canteen in Tanarata International School (TiS)

My wife and I know that sending Zachary to TiS does not mean the end of our part. Whichever school Zachary attends, we must be involved in his learning experience, to ensure he learns well and, most of all, enjoys learning. Finding the right school for Zachary is only the beginning. It is interesting to read in M. Bakri Musa’s article that research shows the most important factor in a successful child isn’t in the size of the classroom but the amount of parental involvement in the children’s education.

Homeschooling: Hacking Malaysia’s education system

The Malaysian education system is in dire straits for a long time, with little signs of improvement in the near future. Chong Wai Leng, book author of “Learning Beyond Schooling: Bringing Out Children’s True Potentials”, remarks that our school system has seen almost no improvement in the past three decades.

“Learning Beyond Schooling” by Chong Wai Leng (photo from kosmo.com.my)

Our education system is still talking in circles about the same problems and the lack of effective solutions even after three decades. New education policies are introduced, only to be rescinded years later. The latest example of such flip-flop policies is the reversion from English to Malay language as a medium of instruction in schools.

As a university lecturer at a local university here, I have the opportunity to examine the final product of our national schools. My observations are grim. University students generally lack ambition and self-learning ability. In addition, their command of English ranges from poor to atrocious.

Local public universities, however, cannot stand faultless. In the past few years, local universities have shifted their focus from teaching excellence to research excellence. Anxieties over university rankings mean that university lecturers today are valued more for their contribution to research than to teaching. Lecturers’ time spent on students is sometimes seen as an obstacle to important research work.

Seeing the ominous condition of our education system have caused some parents to try homeschooling, where parents educate their children at home. I picked up the book “Learning Beyond Schooling” by Chong Wai Leng because I was curious about this alternative but very much low-key route to education.

Author Wai Leng complains about the state of our schools that resort too much on academic performance and less on character building that includes the ability to find answers and to learn independently. Where public schools fail because of ineffective, stopgap government policies, Chinese schools fail too because of their heavy-handed approach on academic achievement through rote-learning and excessive homework and pressure on students to succeed. Other school types such as religious schools and Tamil schools fail as well for several reasons such as lack of funding and political will. Private schools are not different, remarks Wai Leng. These schools may have impressive facilities and infrastructure, but they too face pressure to push their students to achieve academic success.

Homeschooling means freedom to cater to your children’s interests, strengths, and pace in learning (photo from thestar.com.my)

Learning, says Wai Leng, should be a culture that encourages curiosity and inquisitiveness in children. Such a culture is missing in today’s schools. Instead, children are told to sit still and be quiet in class, and learning success is only gauged via test scores. School has become a pressure cooker: too much homework, over reliance on examination success, and too much “head” knowledge and too little “heart” knowledge.

Wai Leng believes that children should have the skills to think creatively, analyze, and adapt to situations quickly. Children should also be given the freedom to create their future rather than having a herd mentality. Parents are the best educators for their children, says Wai Leng, because they understand their children the best: how their children learn, their weaknesses and strengths, and their interests. Wai Leng also believes that children should be given the freedom to learn what they want and how they want to learn. Children should not be made to feel helpless but instead taught to believe that they can make an impact on this world in their own way.

Homeschooling does not have to be fully indoors. Children can be brought outdoors to fortify and enhance the learning experience (photo from nst.com.my)

Although Wai Leng writes much to support homeschooling, she writes very little on how parents can prepare themselves to homeschool, the resources they would need, and problems they would face during homeschooling and the solutions they might find useful.

It is clear from the book, however, that homeschooling is not for everyone. Decision to homeschool our children requires a change in priorities and lifestyle. Not everyone would have the time or flexibility to change their life or work style to educate their children at home.

Wai Leng’s family: KV Soon with daughters Amrita (left) and Samanta in a homeschool session (photo from thenutgraph.com)

Convincing people about homeschooling would require more than reading just this book. There are plenty of resources out there, but it would require some effort to collect these information and to ponder about the benefits and drawbacks of homeschooling. Wai Leng has a site about homeschooling but that too, like her book, lacks depth in discussion about homeschooling.

Consequently, I found Wai Leng’s book frustrating. Her book contains many anecdotes or people’s testimonies supporting homeschooling. While I agree with the importance of these testimonies, I felt the book should have covered many more important details for parents to consider. Homeschooling is a big, life-changing decision for parents.

One of the important information lacking in Wai Leng’s book is: “What is the Malaysian government’s stance on homeschooling?” I managed to find a site that says that the government does have a provision for homeschooling provided the child either has learning difficulties or is extremely gifted to make the child unsuited for conventional schools. The parents can also homeschool if they are constantly traveling abroad. Nonetheless, homeschooling syllabus must also follow the national curriculum.

Most importantly, however, parents must seek written permission to homeschool their children from the government. But from my reading in local homeschooling sites, it appears that some (if not most) parents do not follow the law.

Another important information not covered in-depth in Wai Leng’s book is: “How long can we homeschool our children?” While it would be easy for most parents to teach the fundamentals, teaching more advanced topics like chemistry, biology, or calculus might be daunting and beyond the capabilities for some parents. Wai Leng’s book merely brushes off this question by saying that it is left to the children to seek out the information for themselves. Hmm….

Ultimately, the key message about homeschooling in Wai Leng’s book is freedom – freedom to hack or customize the school education system to suit our children the best. Homeschooling can be very structured (where parents purchase and follow overseas homeschooling curriculum) or unstructured. The decision of how to educate rests on the parents and children so that learning becomes a pleasant experience to both parents and children.

But as for my wife and I, homeschooling is not the right path for us and for Zachary, our only son.

Update (27 Sept. 2012): Read Chong Wai Leng’s (author of “Learning Beyond Schooling”) response to my comments about her book and homeschooling. Also read Homefrontier’s comments on this blog.

From these homeschoolers, I’ve been called a “socialist” (though I am unsure how that applies in this case), and I was even called “stuck within the system”. Wow, talk about being defensive…you might think I have just insulted their bible…