Archive for category Bakri Musa

The Havoc Education Reform Inflicts: Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (Part 3 of 5)

by M. Bakri Musa

Third of Five Parts: Quality, Efficiency, Efficacy, And Trimming of Fat

[Part One discusses the Blueprint’s failure to recognize the diversity within our school system, and with that the need for specific solutions targeted to particular groups. Part Two discusses the particular challenge of having competent teachers especially in science, English, and mathematics, a critical problem not adequately addressed by the Blueprint. In this third part I discuss the inextricable link between quality, efficiency, and efficacy, points not fully appreciated in the Blueprint.]

The one diagram in the Blueprint that best captures what’s wrong with the Malaysian education system is Exhibit 6-4, the ministry’s organizational staff structure. The diagram is described as rectangular; it’s more fat Grecian column. Incidentally, that diagram is the best graphic representation of data in the entire document; it captures and demonstrates well two salient points. One, there are as many Indians as there are chiefs in the organization, and two, the overwhelming burden of administrative staff at all levels.

“Malaysia arguably has one of the largest central (federal) administrations in the world, relative to the number of schools,” says the Blueprint, quoting a UNESCO report.

We do not need those highly-paid international consultants to remind us of the bloat. The gleaming tower that is the Ministry of Higher Education in Putrajaya is emblematic of that. It reveals the government’s perverted priorities. That edifice shames that of the Department of Education of the US, or any First World country.

By any measure, relative to the economy, population, or total budget, Malaysia funds its education system generously, much more so than countries like Finland and South Korea. Yet our students and schools lag far behind. The answer lies in Exhibit 6-4. The bulk of the resources expended do not end up in the classrooms. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Havoc Education Reform Inflicts: Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (Part 2)

by M. Bakri Musa

Second of Five Parts: Quality Schools Begin With Quality Teachers

[In Part One, I discussed the Blueprint’s failure to recognize the diversity within our school system and the need to have different solutions for different constituents. In this Part Two, I discuss the particular challenge of having competent teachers especially in science, English, and mathematics that is not adequately addressed in the report.]

In the 1950s, the headmaster of my Tuanku Muhammad School, Kuala Pilah, lived in a palatial bungalow up on the hill, next to the residence of the District Officer. Two decades later, his successor was renting a modest house from my father, a retired Malay primary school teacher. As for that hilltop house, it is now occupied by a civil servant.

In the 1960s when the Minister of Education visited Malay College he was noticeably deferential to its headmaster. Today, the threat of a visit by a lowly ministry functionary would throw the headmaster and his senior staff into a tizzy.

Those are the realities of the teaching profession in Malaysia today. The folks that produced Education Blueprint 2013-2025 see the world of Malaysian teachers differently. They brag about having 38 applicants for every teaching slot, way over the eight in Finland, acknowledged as having the best schools and teachers.

What gives? Just a few lines away and easily missed by careless readers, the Blueprint reveals that over a third of those applicants lacked even the minimal (and very low) current qualifications. Imagine! The perception students have of the teaching profession is this: If you are not qualified for anything else, apply to be a teacher. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Havoc Education Reform Inflicts: Education Blueprint 2013-2025

by Bakri Musa
17th September 2012

First of Five Parts: Education Blueprint – Transparent, But Not Bold Or Comprehensive

Education reform is inflicted upon Malaysians with the regularity of the monsoon. Like the storm, the havoc these “reforms” create lingers long after they have passed through.

In this five-part commentary I will critique the latest reform effort contained in Preliminary Report: Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 released on September 11, 2012. The first three essays will address the Blueprint’s findings and recommendations; the fourth, its omissions, and the last, the flaws in the process with this particular reform effort.

The Blueprint clearly identifies the main problems and challenges at both the system and individual levels, but fails to analyze why or how they came about and why they have been let to fester. Consequently the recommendations are based more on conjecture rather than solid data; more towards generalities and the stating of goals rather than on specifics and how to achieve those goals. On the positive side, the goals and milestones (at least some of them) are clearly stated in quantifiable terms, so we would know whether they have been achieved going forward.

Despite extensive public participation and the inclusion of many luminaries (including foreign ones) on the panel, the report has many glaring omissions. It fails to address the particular challenges facing Islamic and rural national schools. This is surprising considering that the constituents in both streams are Malays, a politically powerful group. Even more pertinent, those schools regularly perform at the bottom quartile; they drag down the whole system. Improving them would go a long way in enhancing the entire system. Yet another omission is the failure to analyze and thus learn from earlier reform efforts.

This Blueprint does not live up to Najib Razak’s assertion of being “bold, comprehensive and transparent.” Transparent perhaps, but not bold or comprehensive! That is not surprising as the panel is dominated by civil servants. They have been part of the problem for so long that it would be too much to expect them now to magically be part of the solution. Read the rest of this entry »

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Najib Razak as Property Developer and Investment Banker

By M. Bakri Musa | August 5th, 2012
www.bakrimusa.com

With great fanfare, Prime Minister Najib Razak recently announced the mega property development, The Tun Razak Exchange (TRX). The project would symbolize the nation’s aspiration to be “the leading global centre for international finance, trade and services.”

Najib wants that to be his legacy. Even if successful (and a very big if), it would simply be a physical monument, in the same manner that Petronas Towers is to Mahathir. The only thing Malaysian or Malay about that much-hyped tower is the land on which it is sited. Everything else – from the design, engineering and construction – was done by foreigners. The only work done by a Malaysian (or Malay) was the ribbon cutting at the glittering opening ceremony.

The legacy of Tun Razak the father is his imaginative rural development schemes, like the massive FELDA program that benefited millions of poor landless rural dwellers. The beneficiaries, let it be explicitly stated in case this fact is missed, are mostly if not exclusively Malays.
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The Impact of Growth in International Schools

by M. Bakri Musa

The government has gone beyond removing quotas, as with granting tax and other incentives, to encourage the growth of international schools. However, growth depends more on market forces, principally the demand which in turn is related to costs. Lower the cost and you expand the market. Reducing red tape, as with making it easy to get permits and secure visas, would lower costs far more effectively than any other move.

If there is a market and profit to be made, entrepreneurs will come in. That is the beauty and genius of the capitalist economy. I have no problem with education being “for profit”. That would be no different than the health and other sectors. Profit is just another measure of discipline, effectiveness, and productivity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Removing Quotas in International Schools A Positive Development

by M. Bakri Musa

In striking contrast to the horrendously expensive and unbelievably stupid idea of sending our teacher-trainees to Kirby, the Ministry of Education’s other decision to remove quotas on local enrollment in international schools is very much welcomed and definitely positive. The Minister confidently assured us that because of the small number of students involved, the move will not impact our national schools. I respectfully disagree; his confidence is misplaced and analysis flawed. On the contrary, this measure will have a tremendous impact on our national schools and ultimately the nation, for good or bad depending on how it is managed.

Consider the liberalization of higher education instituted in 1996. The rationale was to increase access and save foreign exchange by keeping at home those who would have gone abroad. It achieved both, the most successful of government initiatives. And it did not cost a sen except for the pay of government lawyers who drafted the enabling legislation.

The policy’s impact however, went far beyond. It permanently and profoundly altered the academic landscape of our public universities. Their current emphasis on the use of English for example, is the consequence of the impact of these private universities. Local employers (other than governmental agencies of course) made it clear that they prefer these graduates over those from public universities because of their demonstrably superior skills in English.

There were initial attempts at imputing ugly racial motives to this preferential treatment of private university graduates as most of them were non-Malays. That worked, but only temporarily. Ultimately the horrible truth was exposed. That realization was the impetus to the current greater use of English in public universities, with their erstwhile nationalistic Vice-Chancellors now fully embracing the move. They had to; the pathetic sight of their unemployed graduates was a constant and painful reminder. Read the rest of this entry »

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Resurrecting Kirby Is Fiscally Irresponsible

By M. Bakri Musa

It is incomprehensible that with the Ministry of Education still in the midst of its review of our schools, the Minister and his Deputy saw fit to announce two decisions that could potentially have a profound impact on the system. The first, announced by the Minister, would resurrect the old Kirby/Brinsford Lodge program of the 1950s, and the second, announced by his Deputy, would remove the current quotas on local enrollment in international schools.

Before analyzing the two decisions, it is worth pondering as to why they were made before the completion of this “exhaustive review.” A cynical interpretation would be that the current “review” is nothing more than a charade rather than a serious deliberative process. If that were to be so, then it would be a terrible insult to those distinguished Malaysians who have been co-opted or have volunteered to serve on the panel. On a moral level, it would also be an unconscionable fraud perpetrated upon citizens, especially parents who have been banking on the review to improve our schools.
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BERSIH 3.0 Broke Many Glasses (Including A Few Glass Ceilings)

by Bakri Musa

First of Two Parts: Seeing The Bright Side
(Next Week: Part Two: Lessons To Be Learned)

In the aftermath of the largest public demonstrations against the Barisan government, the officials’ obsession now turns to the exercise of apportioning blame and the associated inflicting of vengeance. Both are raw human reactions, but hardly enlightening, sophisticated, or even fruitful. Besides, there is plenty of blame to go around. I prefer to look at the bright side and on the lessons that can be learned.

BERSIH 3.0 clearly demonstrates that Malaysians no longer fear the state. In that regard we are a quantum leap ahead of the Egyptians under Mubarak, the Iraqis under Saddam, or the Chinese under Mao (or even today). When citizens are no longer afraid of the state, many wonderful things would follow. BERSIH is also the first successful multiracial mass movement in Malaysia. In a nation obsessed with and where every facet is defined by race, that is an achievement worthy of note. Another significant milestone, again not widely acknowledged, is that the movement is led by a woman who is neither Malay nor a Muslim. Ambiga Sreenevasan broke not one but three Malaysian glass ceilings!

On a sour note, BERSIH 3.0 revealed that Barisan leaders (and a few from the opposition) have yet to learn and accept the fundamental premise that dissent is an integral part of the democratic process, and expressing it through peaceful assembly a basic human right. At a more mundane level though no less important, the authorities’ performance in BERSIH 3.0 also exposed their woeful incompetence and negligence in basic crowd control. Read the rest of this entry »

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Reforming Education: Futility of the Exercise

by Bakri Musa
Last of Six Parts

Earlier I reviewed the challenges faced by three groups of students who happen to be mostly if not exclusively Malays: kampong students, those in residential schools, and those in academic limbo following their Form Five.

There is another group, this time also exclusively Malays, being poorly served by our system of education: students in Islamic schools. These schools see their mission as primarily producing ulamas and religious functionaries; they are more seminaries, with indoctrination masquerading as education. They are more like Pakistan’s madrasahs and Indonesia’s pesantrens.

I would prefer that they be more like America’s faith-based schools which regularly outperform public ones. They are also cheaper and produce their share of America’s future scientists, engineers and executives. Religion is only one subject in these schools, not the all-consuming curriculum. Thus they attract many non-Christians. Contrast that to Islamic schools in Malaysia.

If Malaysia were to serve the aforementioned four groups of students well, that would go a long way in ameliorating the “Malay problem.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Reforming Education: Post-Form Five Options

by M. Bakri Musa
(Fifth of Six Parts)

In the previous four essays I reviewed the particular challenges facing students in rural and residential schools. This essay delves into the six-month period in which our university-bound and other students find themselves in academic limbo following their Sijil Persekutuan Malaysia (SPM) examination.

In reviewing the recent SPM results, Education Minister Muhyiddin did not once pause to ponder what those nearly half a million 17-year-old Malaysians were doing since they sat for their test last November. These are the youngsters infesting our shopping malls, roaring around on their motorcycles, or otherwise getting into mischief. For over six months they are unable to plan for their future. They cannot even enjoy their break as their future is uncertain. The government’s myriad post-SPM programs like Sixth Form, matrikulasi, polytechnic institutes, and teachers’ colleges depend on the SPM scores, and therefore do not begin until the middle of the year.

This long period of uncertainty and inactivity during a critical period in a teenager’s development is unhealthy. The expression “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop” is never more true than for teenagers. Even if they could ward off the devil’s machination, with the long hiatus would come considerable attrition of knowledge and good study habits. This is particularly critical for those aspiring to go to good universities. Read the rest of this entry »

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Reforming Education: Part 4 of 6: Enhancing Residential Schools

By M. Bakri Musa

Fourth of Six Parts

My first three essays dealt with the challenges facing kampong schools and how we could leverage technology to alleviate those problems. I discussed enhancing the educational opportunities through improving the schools, recruiting superior teachers, and enriching the curriculum. Failure to do so would doom these unfortunate students to perpetual mediocrity and poverty, with dire consequences for them as well as the rest of Malaysia. This essay explores ways of maximizing the potential of residential schools. Again here as with kampong schools, we are dealing primarily with Malay students.

Our residential schools get the top students, have the best teachers, and consume more than their fair share of resources. Yet their aggregate performance has been underwhelming. When I visit top American campuses, the Malaysians I meet there are from other than our supposedly elite residential schools. That is the most telling indicator.

Malaysia’s oldest residential school, Malay College Kuala Kangsar, only recently (June 2011) started a matriculation program, the International Baccalaureate. Despite the luminaries on its board and the institution’s special status, it took a full decade to implement the program. Imagine the glacial pace at lesser institutions!
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Reforming Education. Part Three: Fixing Kampong Schools

By M. Bakri Musa

Third of Six Parts: Extending the School Day and Year

In the first essay I suggested enhancing the English fluency of kampong students through increasing the number of hours devoted to the subject and the number of subjects taught in that language, introducing English immersion classes, and even bringing back the colonial-era English schools. The second essay dealt with recruiting teachers, as with those retired ones trained under the old all-English system, native English-speaking spouses of Malaysians and expatriates, and recruiting from abroad. This essay focuses on kampong schools.

Finland demonstrates the crucial importance of having professional, well-trained teachers. That is only one part of the solution. Provide these teachers with superior school facilities, as those Finns are doing, and only then can we expect miracles from our students. Today we provide kampong pupils with neither, and we expect miracles from them. When they do not deliver, as you would expect, they would be blamed and left to shoulder the presumed deficiencies of our race and culture.

What a terrible burden we impose upon our fragile young!
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Reforming Education Part Two: Fixing Kampong Schools

M. Bakri Musa
Second of Six Parts: The Challenge of Providing Teachers

In Part One I discussed measures to increase the English fluency of kampong pupils, key to enhancing their employability and self-confidence. These include increasing the hours for English instruction, introducing immersion classes as with our earlier Special Malay and Remove Classes, and even bringing back colonial-era English schools to the kampongs. This section focuses on the special challenges of attracting teachers, specifically to teach English, and on improving kampong schools.

Attracting Teachers

Malaysia has a deep reservoir of English-speaking teachers trained under the old all-English system. They are now all retired, but given sufficient incentives they could be readily enticed to teach in our rural schools. Right now there are only half-hearted attempts at attracting them, with the efforts left to local headmasters. These headmasters, brought up under the existing system, are only too aware of their own limitations in English. They are not about to be welcoming of or risk having their own inadequacies exposed by these hitherto senior English-fluent teachers; hence the failure of the current policy.
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Reforming Education: Fixing Kampong Schools

M. Bakri Musa

(First of Six Parts)

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Muhyiddin Yassin promised to release his “thorough review” of our schools by yearend. I hope that he, his officials, and the slew of expensive consultants he hired will pay attention to the unique challenges facing three particular groups of students: those in our kampong schools, residential schools, and those university-bound with their post-Form Five dilemma.

I will cover these three issues in the order presented. I had earlier critiqued and put forth my recommendations on improving the whole system in my book, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia (2003).

There is no shortage of reviews, thorough and otherwise, of our education system. Unfortunately, just as the recommendations of one new policy were being implemented, there would follow, just as surely as a burp after a roti canai breakfast, a stunning reversal soon thereafter. Unlike a burp where only stale gas would be expelled, with a policy reversal the whole earlier content would be vomited out. It is enough to keep the heads of our pupils and teachers spinning, further distracting and confusing them. A prime example would be the language of instruction for science and mathematics.

In addition to the confusions and distractions from these frequent policy reversals, kampong pupils in particular are further burdened by a triad of formidable obstacles that have remained unresolved for decades despite the multitude of reforms. Incidentally as these pupils are Malays, they should be of particular concern to UMNO, Perkasa, and other champions of Ketuanan Melayu types. On a more general level, Malaysia cannot become developed if a major segment of its population – its rural youths – are deprived of quality education. That is quite apart from the racial implications.

It is pathetic if not reprehensible that after nearly three years as Minister of Education it is only now that Muhyiddin is aware of the glaring achievement gaps between rural and urban schools. He discovered this from perusing the results of the recently-released Sijil Persekutuan Malaysia (Form Five) examination. Muhyiddin’s ignorance is even more incomprehensible considering that he is the product of a rural school. That could only indicate sheer bumbling incompetence or gross dereliction of duty. Read the rest of this entry »

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Similar Scandals, Different Treatment

By M. Bakri Musa

To assert that the Malaysian mass media is nothing more than propaganda arm of the ruling Barisan coalition is no revelation. The personnel in the mainstream dailies, the national news agency Bernama, and the government broadcasting channel RTM are less journalists and editors, more political hacks and spinmeisters. They are, to borrow National Laureate Samad Ismail’s word, the carma (contraction for cari makan, seeking a livelihood) variety.

Less appreciated is the fact that they are hired hands not of the Barisan government but of whatever faction in it that is currently dominant, or trying to be so. Thus one can surmise the tensions and the dynamics of the current swing of the political pendulum within Barisan, specifically UMNO, from perusing the headlines. Perusing is exactly the right word, for there is nothing much worth reading in those dailies.

Consider the contrasting treatment in the mainstream media of the two currently unfolding financial scandals. The first is the National Feedlot Corporation mess (“cow-gate”) that is now ensnaring the husband and family of Women’s Minister Shahrizat Jalil; it had also led to her resignation from her cabinet post. The other is the nearly half-a-million ringgit engagement party for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s daughter and an equally expensive birthday bash for himself that he allegedly tried to on to Treasury, and thus the taxpayers.
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What Will People Say?

By M. Bakri Musa

When the late Tun Razak moved his family to Sri Taman, the Prime Minister’s official residence at that time, his children pleaded with him to have a swimming pool installed. The Tun, acutely aware of the costs to the public, would have none of it.

“What will people say?” he told his children.

Not that the Tun did not want to indulge his children or that he was being unduly stingy, rather he was conscious of the need to differentiate the personal from the official. Unlike many especially from the Third World, then as well as now, Tun Razak was the rare leader who did not consider the public treasury to be his. Even when there were grey areas, as with the swimming pool, he would err on the side of not burdening the public with the cost.

It could be argued that since Sri Taman was government property, expenditures on improving it as with building the pool should be borne by the public. However, as the pool would benefit essentially only the prime minister’s family and invited guests, he acted with an abundance of prudence and probity in refusing to have the pool installed.
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Keadilan’s (and Malaysia’s) Shining Stars

By M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

Great organizations have great leaders. Everyone recognizes that. Less appreciated is that to maintain its greatness an organization must actively nurture its next generation of leaders. Failure to do so would doom the organization.

The late Tun Razak was acutely aware of this crucial aspect of leadership. In his frequent visits to the districts he was always on the look out for talent. On spotting one, he would bring that promising individual back to headquarters for what we would call today “fast tracking.” Likewise Jack Welch, the legendary chief executive of GE. Whenever he toured the various units, he would ask those divisional heads to name two or three of their promising underlings. He would then ask those managers what they were doing to nurture the talents they had under their wings.

As a corollary to my observation, you can tell much about the potential for future greatness of an organization by looking at its next tier of leaders. It is for this reason that I am bullish on the future of Keadilan. The party is blessed with an abundance of young talent.
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Raking in the Bounty of FELDA’s IPO

By M. Bakri Musa

In the run-up to the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of FELDA Global Ventures Holdings (FGH), there is little, in fact no discussion on how the exercise would benefit FELDA settlers. Surely that should be the foremost consideration. The only criterion upon which to judge the wisdom or success of any FELDA initiative, including this proposed IPO, would be to assess its impact on the settlers.

Instead the focus has been on bragging rights, as with trumpeting FGH to be the biggest IPO for the year, among the top 20 on the KLSE, and the world’s biggest plantation company. Such milestones are meaningful only if achieved as a consequence of the usual business activities and not through fancy paper-shuffling exercises. Apple recently surpassed Microsoft in market capitalization, but that was the consequence of Apple’s much superior products like iPads, iPods, and iPhones. Contrast that with earlier achievements of such now-defunct financial giants as AIG and Lehman Brothers that were based on fancy “financial engineering” instead of solid products and services.

Instead of delineating the potential benefits that would accrue on the settlers from this IPO, its proponents are content with dismissing the critics and imputing evil motives on their part. There are legitimate concerns that this exercise would prove to be nothing more than yet another fancy scheme for the politically powerful to cash out on a lucrative but under-priced government asset. We already have many ready examples of such greed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Grounding Those High-Flying Kampong Boys

By M. Bakri Musa

As I reflect on the many sordid scandals that have blighted Malaysia over the years, I am struck by one sobering observation. That is, the principal players are Malays like me, and of my vintage.

There are exceptions, of course. The mega-ringgit Port Klang Free Zone Development is one. Then there was the Malaysian Chinese Association’s Deposit Taking Cooperative debacle of the mid 1980s. So as not to slight the Indian community, there was the equally ugly affair of MAIKA, the investment arm of the Malaysian Indian Congress.

In East Malaysia there was the Chief Minister of Sabah, one Osu Bin Haji Sukam, who skipped on his multimillion-pound gambling debt incurred in a London casino. His Haji father would roll over in his grave on that one. On a far grander scale with respect to sheer avarice and outrageous obscenity would be the still-to-be-fully-accounted glutton of another chief minister, this one of Sarawak. Purists may argue that these two characters are not Melayu tulen (“pure” Malays), so I will not focus on them.
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Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #99

By M. Bakri Musa

Chapter 12: A Prescription For Malaysia

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

[Note: There was a typo in the previous installment. The date of the letter should be May 13, 2002.]

May 13, 2002

(Cont’d) Embracing Globalization

I totally disagree with your characterization of globalization as a vehicle for Western hegemony or that it would destroy our way of life. We are more likely to maintain and indeed enhance our culture and heritage if we are successful economically. If we were to be marginalized economically, our culture and language too would suffer the same fate. If we do not climb on the globalization train now we will be left far behind. Individually, we are more likely to be tolerant and altruistic when we are prosperous and affluent than if we are poor and struggling. This applies to government as well.

Yes, globalization carries its own risks and problems. There are many shoals and reefs in the ocean of globalization. The best way to handle that is to train our citizens to be better sailors and navigators, not to remain in port. To extend the maritime metaphor, yes there will be swells and storms out there; our crew must therefore be adept at trimming the sails and battening the hatches.
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