Blog | Tamil School

When Umapagan Ampikaipakan first spoke about an episode on Tamil education I listened with trepidation. Will this episode be a long 20 minute rant about all the things gone wrong, all that is inadequate and all the unsatisfactory outcomes from the 523 Tamil schools in this country.

The state of Tamil schools in Malaysia, really was there any hope? But I listened as he started to build a case… “But Nova, you see it provides more than just an education”. But what else can we expect from these schools? My views and perceptions of Tamil schools were always in the realm of pessimism. Not because I did not believe in vernacular education, rather I always found myself asking how can these underfunded, poorly supported, often forgotten schools provide an education to more than 100 000 Tamil school children in the country.

But as I started reading and meeting those involved in the running of these schools, I started discovering a salient point; Tamil schools as Uma puts it provides pastoral care. Care no other education system can afford in terms of time and attention.

Attention especially for those coming from difficult economic and social conditions. Pn Kanagi, the Senior Assistant from the SRJK (T) Seaport said to us “In Tamil schools teachers are like mothers”. A product of the public school system myself I never saw any of my teachers fill that role. It wasn’t possible, classes were bigger and even if you were a kid coming from a hard place it was difficult for teachers to step in and intervene.

But there was also another point that popped up as we spoke to teachers and read recent reports. Enrolment was on the rise and more professionals were sending their kids to Tamil schools. This truly surprised me. And so we agreed Uma should do a piece on Tamil schools.

I must say Uma himself has a deep rooted connection with Tamil schools, his family has been involved in developing and improving Tamil schools for three generations. Naturally, his conviction in the ecosystem of the Tamil school is profound. He does not discount the problems faced by these schools and yes, there are plenty and all well documented. But just for once, for a short 20 min moment on radio, he bites the bullet and takes a stand to capture the little known stories about these schools and why we need Tamil schools.

Listen to the podcast.



Blog | Rivers

So when my colleagues started talking to me about the next Hear and Now… in Malaysia episode about our rivers in KL. I started thinking about my escapades along the rivers in Kuala Kubu Bahru, Sungai Pisang, Ulu Yam and all these other wonderful retreats close to Kuala Lumpur. But I also started thinking what’s there to talk about? Our rivers in the city are filthy, can it ever be anything else but gigantic monsoon drains?

Then I heard Kam Raslan narrate a story about a flood in Kuala Kubu Bahru caused by a man named Sir Cecil Ranking and of Yap Ah Loy and crocodiles at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers. The kind of stories, legends and metaphors we should keep sharing and telling our kids so that we will not be a nation of people who take our rivers for granted.

KL was created and built around the river. It was prosperous because the Klang and Gombak rivers allowed our city founders and merchants to move goods, tins and life stock. Yet today we often refer and treat our rivers like monsoon drains. Because we often see neighbourhood drains as dumping sites, it has also become the way in which we treat our rivers. The rubbish and state of the Klang and Gombak rivers that flow through Kuala Lumpur are a perfect indication of that behaviour. Maybe the first thing we need to do is stop calling our rivers flowing in our backyards and cities monsoon drains. On a daily basis in our homes we must make sure our rubbish does not end up in our rivers. Throw rubbish and household waste in our bins, not drains! – I can see a public campaign shaping up just with that notion.

This episode reminds us about how rivers bring life to our city. And in effort to find out more about whether or not we can restore and revive our rivers again, Kam Raslan speaks to anglers who are dreaming of the day they could fish in the city again, the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) and DBKL who have a gargantuan task ahead of them not only from an infrastructure and enforcement point of view but also in public awareness and education. And a surprising discovery of hope through a pioneer private initiated river vitalisation project carried out by Guinness Anchor Berhad together with the Global Environment Centre and communities living around the Sungai Way, in Petaling Jaya. And so this is one of those topics we should never stop talking and thinking about for the simple reason; rivers bring life.

Listen to the podcast. 



Blog | Will Our Tigers Roar Again?

Ours is a football loving nation. But after the golden age of local football in the 1970s and 1980s we’ve had very little to rejoice and plenty of disappointments. For a good 20 years the greatness of the Harimau Malaya did not exist in our psyche, locked away in a distant unfamiliar past. Lost to a generation of Malaysians who grew up with football in the 90s as the English Premier League filled our homes with heroes from a Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal… the list goes on, all but our local team.

The world of football represents a microcosm of Malaysia. Corruption and match fixing seeped into the world of football. Killing it, wiping out talent and turning away fans from the local league and the national team. But change is taking place.We decided to look into the world of local football because more than anything we believe just as Malaysia is going through change, the football team and league is also transforming. Fans and those on the pitch and in administrative roles will have a role to play in reviving local football.

Since the lead up to the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup (formerly known as the ‘Tiger Cup’) which our Harimau Malaya went on to win we’ve been paying more attention to our national team. They’ve been drawing in the crowd. It is a beautiful game that will bring down the divide and bring us together. Will our Harimau Malaya roar again? I think we will but we will have to stop looking back to our glorified past and start focusing on the future.


Nova Ceceliana Nelson

Listen to the podcast. 



Blog | Project Malaysia

It is that time of the year again, the season for commemorating our nation. Personally for me this time of the year now seems longer than usual. Growing up in school through the 80s and 90s it was only Merdeka Day. But I heard from speaking to people who were around to witness the formation of Malaysia that Malaysia Day was once celebrated in unison.

Today we start observing our history, nationhood, independence and what it means being Malaysian in August right up to Malaysia Day 16 September. I am not going to delve into whether or not we should celebrate Merdeka or September 16. Both to me mark the relevant historical significance and in many ways one led to the other.

When we embarked on a Malaysia Day episode we found ourselves most interested in the future. And so this week Hear and Now… in Malaysia journey into hearing out young voices. Do we have hope? What is driving the younger generation to embark on making a difference? Is being Malaysian relevant to them? Is there a need to constantly try and identify what it means to be Malaysian to them?

As one of them said in the episode:
“To be honest, I think that being Malaysian doesn’t matter to anybody at all, most youths, because people don’t feel the need to identify themselves as Malaysians in the first place. Everyone’s so disillusioned and everyone has lost hope in our country for most people that I’ve mixed around with, to be very honest. Only the top 10 percentile or 20 percentile of the people I know are actually doing something about it…”

Cynical I know but he was hopeful too and was very clear in articulating what we need as a nation:

“Even though I’ve said that most people don’t care, I believe we can ignite a spark in people’s hearts lah. I believe no one is that apathetic; no one is that cynical. Sometimes people just need to see something, to give them hope.

… to bring things back to what matters, which is the issues. And I think that’s really what we need at the moment in Malaysia – to bring a revolution of the mindset and not just a revolution by going to the streets.”

So we spoke to about 12 youths from 3 different groups: EPIC, Serambi and UndiMsia. And it was amazing to find one unifying sentiment from all interviewed. Thas is, in this journey of nation building, they want to build a home. They want to fix the structural problems of this home and most importantly the mindsets of people living in it.

It was also about a strong realization that things are only going to get more complex and challenging. The Malaysia we see, taste and hear today will be different 50 years from now. Are we ready for this? Well the youth we spoke to are certainly getting there much faster than many of us are…

Happy Malaysia Day everyone!


Nova Ceceliana Nelson

Listen to the podcast.  



Blog | Ageing Padi Farmer

I was going through the Agriculture section in the ETP looking for information on mushroom farming when I stumbled upon this fact:

“Malaysia is faced with an ageing farming community, where the average age of paddy farmers is above 60 years and 40 percent of fruit farmers are above 55 years of age.”

I was stumped. I never thought about it. Rice, a staple for my three meals was mostly grown by senior citizens. I never really thought about the socio-economic issues surrounding padi farming let alone the average age of a padi farmer.

As I read on about the ageing padi farmer I also found out that Australia has the highest average rice yield in the world at 8.2 metric tonnes per hectare, Malaysia has one of the lowest at only 3.7 Metric tonnes per hectre per season. We even fall behind Myanmar and Bangladesh – 4.0 and 3.9 metric tonnes respectively. Was this because of an ageing padi farming community?

What does it mean to the local padi industry if we have an ageing padi farming community. Surely an ageing farming population would mean reduced levels of energy, productivity and a natural anathema to the latest in mechanisation and technology. Would it also mean farming as a business may not be a priority? On a national level will this usher in potential food security issues, seeing that rice is a Malaysian staple and for now, Malaysia produces close to 70% of its rice.

But are padi farmers really a dying breed? Is there a generation of younger padi farmers and if so what are their lives like and why did they decide to farm? How can this country attract younger farmers so that there is a brighter future to our padi industry in Malaysia?

I went out to look for answers. I spoke to scientists from MARDI, padi farmers young and old to find out more about the issues of scale, yield and productivity in the industry, what it means to have an ageing padi farming community and whether or not there are younger farmers coming forth in the industry. These conversations were captured in the first Hear and Now…in Malaysia episode.


Nova Ceceliana Nelson

Listen to the podcast. 



Blog | The inspiration…

Sometime in February 2011, a watering hole somewhere in Sri Hartamas (the one with great mutton varuval), two fans of This American Life (TAL), Freakanomics Radio and those wonderful BBC Radio podcasts were discussing great stories and ideas hovering around in the expanding world of podcasts.

We loved these podcasts. Our listening habits were truly boundless, we tuned in to our favourite podcasts first thing in the morning, at the office as we cleared our mailbox, while we surfed the Internet, as I walked my dog, while I was doing household chores, when I was stuck in a jam or during long distance road trips.

It just felt like an awesome and smart way to optimise our time on earth, pairing up mundane tasks with our favourite podcast. Secretly we were just pleased we found a great way to make up for all the reading we just did not have time for.

Our favourite podcasts had such lovely nuggets of information, sound bites and stories. We never really listened to it purely for entertainment because we always walked away learning something new.  Even if it was a topic that did not particularly interest us at first, soon the sound bites and the host would tease our curiosity.

In about 20 minutes the podcast was over and the reward for listening was instantaneous. To shut that gab and listen for a change it made us more interesting and interested as individuals. We just had more to talk about outside the realm of the usual fracas in the local news.

As the conversation continued we drew closer to what would be our “A-HA” moment. Why were we so drawn to these podcasts? We found ourselves constantly looking for intelligent discourse, entertaining and meaningful sound bites one that was the opposite to the ocean of complaints, anger, threats and trivial nonsensical noise dominating the local online sphere.

But before the “A-Ha” moment came the rant. We began complaining about how the moderate voice seem to be drowned out, it was either you were for or against, policies and issues were constantly politicised, the propaganda was nauseating, the stories of Malaysians doing great things (whichever side they are from) always lost, people just seem to struggle to come together, to listen to all sides of a story, to have a decent conversation, to engage in intelligent discourse… yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah, dot dot dot…

A few drinks on and after we got the rant out of the way we thought “Hey why don’t we produce our own podcast, one filled with local content and topics?” We can feature various themes and hosts that would take listeners on a journey to meet new people and ideas on this journey we are on as Malaysians. We were encouraged by the fact that BFM was already podcasting a lot of their formatted radio content. It was a great start to local content and it was indicative of Malaysians hunger for what we would like to call intelligent discourse on everything and giving all sides of a story a voice.

We would try our best to always present all sides of a story, give people a chance to listen to different angles, ideas and thoughts, provide the listener with just enough fuel and information to continue the conversation and decide for themselves…

Nova C Nelson,
With some good company, moving beyond the rant to producing some great podcasts.