Brown Jesus says Happy Easter

Good writing is hard to come by, so what we do with recruits at my workplace is to teach them to write well.

Being a former journalist and being one who writes moderately well, the task fell on Unspun to conduct the class.

Being a firm believer that writing is a reflection of your mental processes, I’ve always started the course with Critical Thinking 101 and the first slide in this presentation asks the participants to tell me which of the two images is a more accurate depiction of Christ.


To Unspun the comparion is a no brainer. Jesus was a Jew and a middle easterner, a native of Galilee.

People like that, as in the BBC reconstruction from a skull found there during the period of Jesus, tended to look like the chap on the right. He may not looked exactly like the man portrayed but for sure he would have been swarthy and would NIT look like an Anglo-Saxon savior right out of the paintings of Byzantine artists.

Inevitably, however, there would be one or two – sometimes more – participants in the class who said that Jesus would have looked like the person on the left. The reason? That’s the image of Jesus they’ve seen growing up and the image that adorns the churches they go to.

Which was perfect for us to begin our discourse on critical thinking, the importance of not accepting anything at face value and why we need to ask questions more.

Inevitably too, someone would raise the argument that too much critical thinking is bad for us because it makes us cynical. We should just accept things based on faith.

The answer is that too much of anything is not good for anyone. At any rate critical thinking, if practiced skillfully leads one not to cynicism but to skepticism, which is not a bad thing.

In this world, if we question more without becoming cynical (which Oscar Wilde defines as “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”) we’d be enjoying oour lives more, not less; and socially and politically we would be ensuring that much of the ugliness and hate in this world we see today would be minimized.

Happy Easter everyone.



Indonesian kids don’t know how stupid they are. Really?

Has the ever fascinating Elizabeth Pisani bitten more than she can chew in her latest posting in Portrait Indonesia

In a provocative headline she posits that Indonesian kids don’t know how stupid they are and the supporters and detractors are piling up in the comments section.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Pisani’s analysis of the PISA tests, the picture that emerges is rather dismal for Indonesia: Indonesian kids are doing very badly in simple maths and science questions but they are blissfully unaware of how the education system is failing them.

So, are Indonesian kids getting stupider, so stupid that they don’t even know that they are getting stupid?


Indonesian kids don’t know how stupid they are

Spotted on a classroom wall in South Sulawesi

Spotted on a classroom wall in South Sulawesi

Four cars have different engine capacites:

Alpha: 1.79
Bolte: 1.796
Castel: 1.82
Dezal: 1.783

Which of the cars has the smallest engine capacity?

It’s not a trick question. But over 75 percent of 15 year-old school children in Indonesia do not have the mathematical skills to answer it correctly.

Every three years, Indonesia’s education system goes through the ritual humiliation of the PISA tests, comparing the performance of 15 year-olds in 65 countries in reading, maths and science. Indonesia has more teachers per student than most much richer countries, and an amendment to the constitution guarantees that 20 percent of the national budget is spent on education. And yet the 2012 PISA results, released this week, show that Indonesia ranked at the bottom of the heap in maths and science, and did only marginally better in reading.

For the rest of the article read here.

Raise heckles, not eyebrows at new school curriculum

It isn’t eyebrows but heckles that Indonesia’s new education curriculum should raise.

What sort of reasoning goes behind an education philosophy that requires a 10th grade student to learn to be disciplined like an electron, “which always moves within its orbit.” Quacks talking about quarks.

And there’s more shit-for-brains reasoning: Students, proclaim the new curriculum should  learn how to behave in a heterogeneous society after studying linear and non-linear equations.

The mind boggles at how presumably educated people can come up with such pseudo-science recommendations with which to shape our children’s minds. But we have them by the spadeful in the Education Ministry and endorsed by the Education Minister Muhamad Nuh.

How can we rid ourselves of such imbeciles in such positions of responsibility and power?

New national school curriculum raises eyebrows | The Jakarta Post

Hans Nicholas Jong, Mon, February 18 2013,

The government has long attempted to incorporate character building in the nation’s education system, but teachers never thought that they would ever be asked to tell students that they would have to learn about discipline from the behavior of electrons — until they saw the new national curriculum.

The Indonesian Teachers Unions Federation (FSGI) has expressed its confusion over the new national curriculum in which the Education and Culture Ministry officials appear to be ridiculously trying to shoehorn civic and religious education into subjects such as chemistry and biology.

“The new curriculum states that a 10th grade student must learn to be disciplined like an electron, which always moves within its orbit,” FSGI secretary-general Retno Listyati told The Jakarta Post on Saturday. “How can my students behave like electrons?”

The teachers were also astounded to learn that they would also be required to use math to instill tolerance in students. “The students are expected to learn how to behave in a heterogeneous society after studying linear and non-linear equations,” she said. “How is that even possible?”

In response to the criticism, Deputy Education and Culture Minister Musliar Kaslim said the new curriculum was simpler and therefore more superior to the current curriculum. “We have integrated and simplified elementary-level subjects. They have been condensed into two books,” he said in a phone interview.

“We have improved what needed to be improved and got rid of heavy material that was burdensome to the students.”

With its thematic and integrated approach, the deputy minister claimed the country’s new curriculum was even better than that of international schools. “Their curriculum is only integrated, while ours is integrated as well as thematic. We apply a holistic approach that unifies diverse subject matters with a central theme.”

Teachers, he said, might initially find it difficult to teach multiple subjects in one class sitting.“If you think about it, then it might seem weird,” he said, adding that once the teachers understood the new curriculum, they would adapt to it.

The ministry, he said, had planned to train highly skilled and qualified teachers to ease them into the new curriculum so they could pass on the skills to other teachers. “We have submitted the list of teachers to the regional administrations,” he said.

“The regional administrations will then review the list and decide on whether the teachers on the list were qualified or not.” The ministry is expected to complete the training, with each session lasting one week, within one month, he said, adding that the training will commence in April.

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And the cycle of violence in the schools goes round and round…

School violence has been around in Jakarta for the better part of at least the past 25 years. Each time there is an intensifying of violence, the Government and others make the appropriate concerned voices and vow to put it to an end.

Then the problem ebbs from the headlines and everyone forgets about it…until the next spate of violence. This is a big pity because the ways of combating the violence have been discovered and even applied to at least one school. The solution is there but it’s all forgotten.

Unspun, wrote about it in this posting in 2006, about an article I wrote when I was still a journalist in 1997. But what do you do with a government with no political will to do the right thing and to make things right?

Government takes on brawling students | The Jakarta Post.

Iman Mahditama and Multa Fidrus

Potrait of grief: Endang Puji holds a picture of her slain son, Alawy Yusianto Putra, during his burial procession at the Poncol public cemetery in Tangerang, Banten, on Tuesday. Alawy was allegedly killed by a student of SMA 70 state high school in South Jakarta while he was having lunch nearby. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

Portrait of grief: Endang Puji holds a picture of her slain son, Alawy Yusianto Putra, during his burial procession at the Poncol public cemetery in Tangerang, Banten, on Tuesday. Alawy was allegedly killed by a student of SMA 70 state high school in South Jakarta while he was having lunch nearby. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

The death of 15-year-old Alawy Yusianto Putra, victim of the everlasting enmity between two  neighboring schools, not only brought tears to the eyes of many, but also brings hope for an end to fatal student brawls, as the government took matters into its hands.

Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh said on Tuesday that Alawy would be the last victim of student brawls throughout the country and that the government would take all necessary measures to prevent further clashes.

“We are sorry that violence is still rampant at schools. We are determined to make this case the very last of these brawls ever, and to transform these two schools into harmonious, top-quality neighborhood schools,” Nuh told a press conference with Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo and the principals and the two school committee heads of SMA 6 and SMA 70 state high schools in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta.

read more here

Guidelines to identify gay and lesbian symptoms published | Free MalaysiaKini

The Malaysian Education Ministry has outdone itself in wisdom and concern to protect the young, nubile minds in Malaysia. It has endorsed guidelines to let parents know if their children are not going to grow up straight.

The come in the form of four symptoms that parents should be on the lookout for as their children grow into adults.

V Neck? Check. Sleeveless? Check. Buffed? Check. He’s probably gay

Those who have muscular sons who like to wear V neck, sleeveless shirts should be getting worried, according to the guidelines because their son would have one of the symptoms of being – horror of horrors – gay!

What they have not said in the guidelines if they should be banned from watching the Rambo movies because, well, Sylvester Stallone is buffed and he wears tight, V neck and sleeveless T shirts when he’s toting an RPG (no doubt a phallic symbol indicating that he may have deviant tendencies of explosive proportions).

For this public service to homophobic parents the Malaysian Education Ministry earn’s Unspun’s coveted shit-for-brains tag.

Guidelines to identify gay and lesbian symptoms published | Free MalaysiaKini.

The Education Ministry had endorsed “guidelines” to help parents to identify gay and lesbian “symptoms” in their children so they can take early corrective measurements.

The guidelines list four symptoms each of gays and lesbians:

Symptoms of gays:

Have a muscular body and like to show their body by wearing V-neck and sleeveless clothes;

Prefer tight and light-coloured clothes;

Attracted to men; and

Like to bring big handbags, similar to those used by women, when hanging out.

Symptoms of lesbians:

Attracted to women;

Besides their female companions, they will distance themselves from other women;

Like to hang out, have meals and sleep in the company of women; and

Have no affection for men.

“Once the children have these symptoms, immediate attention should be given,” the guidelines warn.

According to Sin Chew Daily, the guidelines published by Yayasan Guru Malaysia Bhd and Putrajaya Consultative Council of Parents and Teachers Associations, and endorsed by the Education Ministry, were launched during a seminar in Penang yesterday.

The seminar on “Parenting in addressing the issue of LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders)” was organised by Yayasan Guru Malaysia Bhd and officiated by Deputy Education Minister Mohd Puad Zarkashi (right).

Penang is the fourth state to hold such a seminar, after Selangor, the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and Perak, and yesterday’s seminar in Penang was the 10th in the country.

Puad is quoted by Sinar Harian today as saying that the exposure of symptoms of gays and lesbians was the best approach to address the spread of such unhealthy phenomenon among students.

“Youths are easily influenced by websites and blogs relating to LGBT groups. This can also spread among their friends. We are worried that this happens during schooling time,” Puad told some 1,500 teachers and parents.

The guidelines were distributed to all those who attended the seminar.

In an immediate response, Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin sent out this tweet message: “I wear fitted, v-neck t-shirts. I’m okay.”

Getting social in Central Asia

Let me start this blogpost with a confession: when i was first invited to be a trainer at the Tech Forum Central Asia in Almaty, I had to Google the place up.

I had never heard of it before and when I discovered that it was the old capital of Khazakstan, thought that I at least knew something of the country, but for all the wrong reasons, as it was confined only to Borat, him of the repulsive Slingshot costume.


The other facet of the trip was also as monumentally confounding to me – I was to join a group of technologists to help train the youth in Central Asia about social media and its uses. What did I – who grew up with a typewriter in my first job – know about technology to teach the digitally savvy youth of today?

But not being one to pass up a challenge and a hint of adventure (think Mongols, think Silk Road, think of vast plains and the Soviet system) I signed up and that was how I found myself in Almaty last Friday and Saturday (June 15 and 16).


The Tech Forum Central Asia was the first of its kind to gather youth form Central Asia to discuss how they can use social media to benefit their societies. It was organized by the Civil Alliance and sponsored by the US Embassy in Kazakhstan as well as several corporations such as Chevron.

It was apparently a feat to gather the participants from all the “-stan” counties – Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgistan, Pakistan and, of course, Kazakhstan – because the governments in some of these countries are suspicious and fear the combination of youth and the internet. Although some delegates had a hard time of getting a passage out of the country they all managed to come to the forum.

The result is a very eclectic and spirited Tech Forum Central Asia where the curiousity and passion of Central Asian youth came into contact with the more exposed and savvy use of social media of the trainers who came from Britain, the US, Pakistan, India and Indonesia – represented by the very talented Hanny Kusumawati and myself.

The format of the forum was based in the Tech Camps run by the US State Department, where participants were first exposed to a speed geeking session – think speed dating but for geeks. Essentially, the trainers have five minutes to share a story or a case history, where social media has been used to great effect on behalf of an organization, to a small grpup pf participants. St the end pf 5minutes a whistle is blown and the trainers tell the story Again to them. They are allowed to ask questions.

I shared the story of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, a NGO that works to release captured Bornean orangutan into their natural habitats and how its foray into social media allowed it to be more searchable on the Net. It also allowed the BOS to become the primary source of information on the state of orangutan capture, treatment and release after a SCTV documentary put the topic on the national news agenda.

The participants were then given free reign to join groups for discussions ranging from crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to mapping, the use of video on the Net, gender issues and Net strategy. There were several discussions sessions, each one designed to sharpen their focus on their areas of concern, culminating in problem solving sessions.

Some of the problems they raised gave us a glimpse of issues important to the youth of Central Asia, namely women’s rights in male dominated societies, how to raise funds for causes, racism against Asiatic-looking central Asians in Russia and other Caucasian-dominated countries and how to help the disabled more.

What surprised Unspun was the extent of English being used in what was once a Russian-dominated region. What delighted Unspun was the warmth and curiousity of the delegates and the many volunteer helpers and translators that made the TFCA a success, at least as the begining of a discourse among the caring young Central Asians who want to do something for their societies and see the internet as a potential tool for making their missions easier and more effective.

MIXed blessings

This too shall pass, is the refrain that comes to mind when Unspun first heard that his workplace, Maverick, has won Mix Magazine’s PR Agency of the Year 2011 Award. The award ceremony will take place at Nikko Hotel this Thursday (June 23).

In addition three of Maverick’s clients, in which we played a supporting role in their PR efforts, also won awards. They are: AXIS (Silver award) for its Menang Bareng Campaign under the Marketing PR category;  the US Embassy in Jakarta (Silver Award) for berbagi Indonesia, a campaign to welcome President Obama; and, perhaps ironically, the embattled Mandala Airlines (Gold Award) for its Issues Management as it sought to restructure the airline.

The latest edition of MIX magazine

Being recognized is a pleasant, event flattering experience, but Unspun’s attitude to awards has always had a flaw: Unspun tends to look gift horses in the mouth, such as here.

Did we and our clients deserve to win all those awards? Most probably yes. But did we win it through a stringent and robust process of selection with stringent criteria that cuts to the heart of what PR consultancies offer? Not really.

While Mix is to be commended for taking the effort to write about and recognizing good work done in the PR industry, it has still some way to go to show that it fully understands the PR industry and what constitutes excellence in this profession.

Yet for all its foibles Mix’s PR Awards is a good start though and whether we like it or not, its the only show in town. So it deserves all the support the PR industry can give it.

It is perhaps for this reason that the informal grouping of PR professions who have organized ourselves as the Indonesian PR Practitioners Group are thinking of working with the magazine to come up with an even more rigorous selection process next year that would help boost the status of the profession.

Some of the ideas Unspun’s heard expressed include shifting the emphasis for the PR Agency of the Year Award from media relations  to a balance between strategic capability and arms-and-legs work; tightening the format of submissions so that all entrants have to comply or be penalized; clearer definitions and articulation of categories.

Others have suggested that the magazine perhaps start a directory of PR consultancies (another issue: should we call ourselves agencies or consultancies?) and only those who have registered and been vetted as PR firms, instead of Event Organizers or marketing/activation agencies, are allowed to vie for the awards; and greater transparency of how spokespersons and PR officers are judged for the awards.

One suggestion also involves getting the magazine to use Indonesian or, if it must use English, to use it properly; and to help the magazine’s journalists understand in-depth PR concepts, practice areas and issues.

These are some of the suggestions. Perhaps there are more constructive suggestions out there that the IPPG can bring to MIX when we meet them after the awards?







Indonesia not fussed bout science and maths in English

For many normal countries like Indonesia, getting instruction in English is something desirable and they move ahead, maybe slowly but surely,  in an increasingly globalized world. Countries like Malaysia seems bent on moving in the opposite direction. Malaysia Boleh!

Students being taught English in an open-space class in Aceh. The use of English as the language of instruction at national schools is limited to some 700 schools out of 5,000. (Antara Photo)

via the Jakarta Globe:

Ministry Turns a Deaf Ear to Critics Over Use of English in the Classroom

While the use of English as a language of instruction in schools has often sparked controversy, the government says it is unlikely to follow neighbor Malaysia and drop the use of English for math and science classes.

The Ministry of National Education’s director general of management for primary and secondary schools, Suyanto, told the Jakarta Globe the ministry would stick to its agenda of increasing the number of schools that use English for math and science lessons.

“No way will we drop it,” he said. “Students have a great capacity to learn, so we should encourage them.”

Last week, the Malaysian government announced that it would dump English as the language of instruction for math and science in schools. Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, as reported by Agence France-Presse, said his government was convinced that science and math needed to be taught in a language that would be easily understood by students.

Critics of Malaysia’s nation-wide policy of teaching these two subjects in English say that student performance has declined since the policy’s introduction in 2003, and that it is particularly unfair for children who are not proficient in the language.

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Another idiotic headline and buried story in the Post

Here we go again with idiotic, firm-grasp-of-the-obvious headlines in the Jakarta Post.In which exam are there not tears of joy, sadness greeting the results? So long as there are exams it has been such and it will continue to be such so long as there are are exams. And this as the page 1 lead.

That is not the story. The story, Unspun would think, is buried in the 12th paragraph: why were there seven schools in Alor Regency in which not even a single student passed the exam? Can some real grown-up journalists please direct the copywriters in the weekends?

clipped from
Tears of joy, sadness greet exam results
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Kupang

Tears of joy and sadness greeted Saturday’s announcement of final examination results for junior high school students across the country.

Those who could not hide their excitement took to the streets on motorcycles, while others sprayed colorful paint on each other’s uniforms.

“We’re doing this to show our excitement after finally passing the national examination test,” student Putu Wira of SMP Dharma Praja in Denpasar, Bali, told Antara.

At another high school in Denpasar, SMP Dwijendra students clad in traditional Balinese costumes gathered en masse to pray for good results.

  blog it

Republic of delusions

Information and Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil has a sensitivity beyond the ken of most politicians and a sensibility beyond the belief of most right thinking persons.

His latest effort as guardian of what the nation should or should not be told is to try to pull the plug over  a TV show satirizing politicians called Republic of Dreams (Republik Mimpi) . His reason: the show promotes “negative political education” to the people.

If negative political education is what he is up against then he would do well instead to moderate the words and behavior of Ministers (e.g. Aburizal “the-flood-victims-are-still-laughing”) and politicians (e.g. Yahya I-have-small-assets-that-are-videoed-by-a-dangdut-singer Zaini).

The Republik guys are not taking it laying down though. Effendi Gazali, the brains behind the show that is aired over Metro TV  told The Jakarta Post: “So what’s the fuss? Why doesn’t the Minister take care of television shows that promote violence and the supernatural, which are true purveyors of bad taste?”

Effendi has a point, Sofyan Djalil should cultivate a thicker skin or get out of politics.

Nothing so gratifying…

…as when your efforts are being appreciated.

The gang at Maverick, the PR consultancy where Unspun works has for the past two year been putting their money where their mouths are in the field of Corporate Social Leadership.

Hang on, you say, shouldn’t it be Corporate Social Responsibility? Well, since the guys at Maverick are mavericks, they believe in questioning conventional wisdom. Doing that they hold that the “responsibility” in CSR is a bit of a bother since “responsibility” implies something you’re obliged to do, whether you believe in it or not. Many companies do not believe in their own CSR efforts so they often come across as hokey, even though they pile tons of money into it. Some mining companies come to mind.

Corporate Social Leadership, however, is different (credit to . It is using the assets you have as a company – such as your expertise, customer insight, ability to make decisions faster than government or civil society, money, location etc – to affect positive change in society. In Maverick, the guys have decided that their CSL program will be all about using the skills and knowledge of PR consultants to empower NGOs with media handling skills, i.e. how to talk to the media so that it is concise, short and memorable, what to say, what not to say etc etc.

They’ve been at it for two years and apart from adopting Mitra Netra last year, and Kelola for the Arts and Center for Better Education, for a 10-month course on how to do their own PR, have been media training about 15 other NGOs.

Today was very gratifying as one of the participants was so taken up with the training yesterday, he decided to show his appreciation by blogging about it in his organization’s blog Solidaritas Kebersamaan. Now if the Mavericks can only convince Corporate Indonesia to abandon their silly CSR initiatives and move into CSL instead…

The enigmatic National Disaster Management Board

Given the track record of how this government handles, some would say mishandles,  information during disasters and crises (such as the missing Adam Air Flight KI 574) the question that must be asked is:

Just what actually does the National Disaster Management Board do?

 The last time Unspun spoke to anyone senior on the board was just after the Government mishandled the communications in the aftermath of the Aceh Tsunami. It was at a panel discussion organized by the business magazine SWA and Unspun‘s alter ego was invited to provide some input about crisis management practices.

What emerged during the discussion was an expose of what a joke the board was. Some of the officials would only speak off record and the picture that emerged is that the board is severely underfunded to do the correct things. Education to children of what to do on receiving an earthquake warning, for instance, received some silly amount like Rp 500 million per year. And that is for a national awareness program.

It was a long time ago (in 2005) so Unspun does not remember the details but impressions carved indelibly into Unspun’s mind were that:

  • The board was politicised so decision making is a joke
  • There has been no drill on what to do during an emergency
  • Officials then were more interested in the projects coming up in Aceh rather than how to handle the immediate problems

Unspun is sure that things have improved at the board since then, although the board is still headed by the same person – Vice President Jusuf Kalla. Kalla is now facing the heat for the board’s perceived inadequacies in helping the relatives of the passengers of the missing Flight KI 574.

But really, what does the National Disaster Emergency Board do? Are they supposed to move in during aviation incidents? maritime incidents such as ferry sinkings? If so what is their mandate? What are they doing about KI 574 and the ferry victims and their families? Are they involved in coordinating the communications in such incidents? if so why the botch up?

Getting these questions answered will help get Indonesia to a higher level of competence in handling disasters and crisis-like situations. Not answering them will help ensure that Indonesia remains in a state of low capacity in handling such incidents.

So where are all the brave, fearless and smart journalists who work to get the information out so that we can all have a better society? The fact that Indonesia has such poor emergency and disaster handling capabilities is one thing that you can do something about?

Yet the mainstream media has so far failed to expose the weaknesses in a system that has caused unnecessary anguish to relatives of KI 574. It is time that the Tempos and Kompasses get off their high horse and do some honest investigative reporting.

Or must us in the blogosphere do your job for you?