Being an armchair critic of the order of things in the country is easy. Becoming an active part of the solution? It takes courage and a lot of sacrifice. Dr Ko Chung Sen was leading a good life as a professional when the country’s situation took a turn for the worse. His conscience tugged and he decided to do something about it. In this edition he tells us about his journey from being a surgeon to becoming a Yang Berhormat. Report by T.K Tan.
Name : Ko Chung Sen
Age : 46 years
Position : Member of Parliament for Kampar
Profession : Cardiac surgeon
Tell us something about yourself
I am actually from Kuala Lumpur. I completed my medical studies overseas in Ireland and practised as a doctor and ventured into the specialist line in the 1990s. In 2001 I returned to Malaysia to serve as a cardiac surgeon.
I am an avid jogger. I have been participating in short distance marathons in Ipoh in the last few years, emerging fifth and fourth placed in the Ipoh Star Walk contest in the last two years.
I am a little unusual from the other professionals as I have five children and an MP job to juggle. Most people I talked to are usually quite amazed by my large family size. Well, I liked children myself.
What was your motivation for joining politics?
My interest in politics was piqued as a result of social media. The continuous exposes of the government’s corruption, cronyism and abuse of power turned me off. Malaysia has not been progressing as fast, whether economically or financially when compared to other countries such as Taiwan, South Korea or Singapore. Malaysia is blessed with much natural resources yet we are underachieving our potential.
Then the Perak illegal power grab incident in 2009 upset and disgusted me and it also opened my eyes as well. I realised that not all people in politics can be trusted, whether they are from DAP or not.
I had previously knew Dr Lee Boon Chye (MP for the Gopeng parliamentary seat) and Dr Mah Hang Soon (MCA exco for Perak) who were both serving in the same hospital as me. I was already being courted by both to join PKR and MCA respectively before 2008, but I wasn’t ready yet.
After 2008 I saw how Dr Lee managed to handle his practice and yet was also serving as an opposition MP and realised that one could be a doctor and politician at the same time.
I joined DAP in 2009 at the invitation from the Perak DAP leadership. Perak DAP was looking to recruit a high profile candidate to take on a popular incumbent in the Kampar parliamentary seat. As I was well known amongst my patients in Kampar, that was how my name came up for the candidate selection.
Why did you consider DAP as your political platform?
I see DAP as a party that has always held on to its principles and fought for justice and fairness. I was also from Kepong, a DAP stronghold in my growing up years. My family would support Dr Tan Seng Giaw fervently and I took up after this family trait. I could identify with DAP’s ideology of social democracy, justice and fairness for all.
As for role models in DAP, the struggle that Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh and Lim Guan Eng had put in inspired me. I particularly looked up to Guan Eng, seeing how he had to endure imprisonment for defending the innocent. Now that he is the Chief Minister for Penang, he has performed well in transforming Penang into the model state for Malaysia and shows that DAP can deliver.
How would describe your life as an elected representative now?
I have had to make much sacrifice in juggling the roles of the cardiac surgeon, MP and a father. The toughest part for me was having to forgo my time with my children like going for the movies, shopping and other family activities together. Sometimes the roles did overwhelm me. Thank goodness my assistants have been handling the tasks in my area well.
My children missed me a lot. One of my children wrote me a letter asking why was I always missing from home and also frequently going to Kuala Lumpur for meetings. He asked when I would be able to see them again. It was very heartbreaking for me as I couldn’t explain them as they are still young and unable to comprehend it fully. I try to do my best and take it day by day.
On the plus side I have lost weight since becoming an MP and haven’t gotten it back yet (laughs)!
Could you share about your experience in serving the Kampar area?
I am fortunate that I have the help of two DAP ADUNs in my area in serving and dealing with the constituents in the local matters. We are able to handle most of the constituents’ complains and have received good cooperation from the local council as well.
Occasionally there are residents who want things to be resolved instantly even though the issues have been unresolved due to structural issues handicapping it. Then there were also residents who demanded that we repair their houses’ roofs and pay their electricity and water bills. Well, this is the culture that has been fostered by the BN for so many years. For some of them you are only a good YB if you did those things for them.
Then there was an instance I had to deal with a resident who actually threatened to shoot me because I couldn’t resolve an issue for him as it was out of my jurisdiction. Thank God after investigations and counselling for the person and several rounds of hard work and sincere effort in helping him, he became friendly with me. These are some of the hazards of working as an elected representative in Malaysia (laughs)!
Passionate about education
He takes issue with the way the government has been changing major education policies every few years. “They seem to whimsically change the policies to suit themselves. It’s conveying the message of arrogance; a policy change can be issued and when the problems arise they think they can fix it just like that.”
Ko believes that a major flaw on the government’s part is it wants to impose a one-size-fit-all education system. “That system would have imposed the same standard for the well-off student in Kuala Lumpur and also for the student in rural Sarawak who doesn’t even have access to electricity or water in his school. The students have a totally different cultural and linguistic background and abilities and access to resources.”
He believes that the education system should allow the students to learn at their own pace. “Everyone has different learning abilities and even in a class room a teacher has to adjust his teaching to suit the individual students.”
“From my perspective, countries that do well in the primary education or university rankings have systems that encourage the students to learn at the own pace while the teachers are there to supervise their learning.”
That mean the states should be given the autonomy to decide for themselves the type of education system most suitable and adjust whenever necessary for themselves. “The examination standards are there to grade the students and reveal the implementation, infrastructural and capabilities flaws in any state in educating its people.”
English medium schools
“From the 1970 to 1982 when the English mediums schools were still in existence, it was the country’s model education system. Malaysia’s command of English then was the toast of the region.”
“We respect and emphasise on the importance of the Bahasa Malaysia as the national language, that it not be replaced and should be mastered by every Malaysian.”
However he believes that the English medium schools would serve as a good platform for students who don’t have access to English language learning materials to improve their command of English. “It should be an option available amongst one of the many language stream schools choice to choose from.”
With the English medium schools the country will be better prepared to face the challenges of globalisation.
Can the English medium schools serve as a venue to bring the various races back together? “It is one of the conducive venues to do so.”
“The current trend of the various ethnic groups’ parents sending their children to their own vernacular language school is not healthy in integrating the races. With the English medium schools it doesn’t have the racial distinction of vernacular schools while being able fostering the mastering of an important language.”
“The government’s steps to improve the English language mastery through the Teaching of English in maths and science (PPSMI) and Strengthening the English language (MBI) have clearly failed, what with the level of resistance shown the parents. It’s time to reconsider the English medium school option.”
Take out the politics
Ko says that ultimately the biggest culprit is the political agenda of the powers to be. He believes that students are influenced by the expectations set on them.
“If the education policy-setters believe such and such an ethnic group can only perform to this level, then the students would actually reached that level and no more or even regressed. By setting realistic world standards they would know where they stand and work to improve harder towards it.”
He cites that subjects such as maths, sciences and English examinations should be marked to and modelled after a world and independent standards such as the IGSE for the English tests.
“We should not fear these world standard assessments as it can help to uncover where we need to improve on. Hypothetically speaking if a group is not getting the As and distinctions in that particular subject then it means we should channel more resources and efforts to help these groups to improve. We could reward the teachers accordingly for their efforts, too.” -The Rocket