Monday, June 20, 2005

More Scholarship Tales (II)

Search hard enough and you are bound to find plenty of interesting scholarship application experience written on blogs today. Read an earlier story here and here. The ones that I like, and particularly the ones which our authorities could do well to learn from, are those who has expressed disappointment but are not bitter. These are the posts which offer their opinions in a more objective manner and not instead, a rhetorical rant.

I'd like to highlight that not all top scorers, yes, even those with straight 'A1's deserves or should qualify for scholarships (although most of them probably should). If the candidate has displayed unreasonable arrogance, or had no respect for elders or for that matter, demonstrated rascist opinions, he or she should not be awarded scholarships. This is the reason why I disagree with the calls made by the concerned public and politicians (here and here) to make scholarships automatic for all "Top X00" students.

Equally, those with slightly less than excellent academic grades (but still very good nevertheless, for e.g., 7 'A's) but have displayed outstanding leadership skills or sporting excellence in extra-curricular activities deserve scholarships as well. Hopefully, this will "appease" some of the opinions raised in the comments on my blog that I've been overly "academic". I'd also like to point that I did not score straight 'A's for my 'O' or 'A' Levels (although I shouldn't be proud of that!) :)

I would also agree with our Minister of Education as reported in the Star yesterday:

The objectives and criteria for awarding Public Services Department scholarships should be made public to avoid confusion and uncertainty among applicants in future, Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said.

... unless this was done, the department would be bombarded with queries from students who had not obtained scholarships despite achieving excellent results.

“This seems to be a seasonal problem. But we do not want to face this every year [hear! hear!]. We do not want to get a few hundred appeals every year from students who feel they did not get the scholarships they deserve,” he said.

But read also the typical quick draw "denial" syndrome in our Malaysian civil service. Deny first, worry later.

I'm also a little concerned that these students are provided scholarships at SPM level instead of STPM (or 'A' Levels). I believe that STPM will be a better gauge for a candidate's academic abilities and critical thinking qualities, compared to SPM. I'm also similarly concerned that students are "skipping" straight to universities in a rush, without having undergone the right foundations. The top American universities would require the candidates to possess outstanding Scholastic Aptitute Test (SAT) scores while the top British universities would still require strong 'A' Levels (or equivalent) grades. Our top students should all "aim" to qualify for these top universities instead of being in too much of a hurry to join a second-rate university, even with scholarships. But that's another set of issues for another post in the blog.

Dulcinea is a unique candidate who has attended the Public Service Department (PSD) interviews not once, but twice (from Singapore!). Read her complete blog post here. Thankfully, despite a short stint in Singapore, Dulcinea "returned" to Malaysia and is currently on a local private scholarship from Gamuda Berhad, currently obtaining her Software Engineering degree in Imperial College, London. Good for her! :)

I recall my own memorable experience with trying to obtain a PSD scholarship. I travelled all the way back from Singapore just to attend that brief interview, and I remember sitting outside the interview room with several of my Malay classmates, and a few of them had just finished their own interviews and of course I asked them how it was and whether they spoke in Malay or English. All of them told me that their interviews were held in English and were fairly friendly informal chats. So when it was my turn, I entered the room and greeted the two interviewers seated inside with a cheerful "Good Morning", which was quickly and curtly shot down with a response from the female interviewer saying "Could you please speak Malay. We see here that you didn't obtain an A1 in your Bahasa paper, so we want to hear you speak Malay to assess your level of Malay".

I sat there absolutely stunned and the rest of the interview went downhill from there, with no mention of my curricular activities what so ever, just the inane focus on my 'inability' to speak Malay. I obtained an A2 for crying out loud. It would require a miracle to not be able to speak good Malay and still attain a freaking A2. As far as I know, less than 10 people in my school got an A1. I know Malays who didn't even manage a B3, and it's their mother tongue for heavens sakes! So why should I be put to the test?

... my friends with perfect 9A1s were all receiving free tertiary education while my 9A1s and 2A2s (note, not a perfect score - thus not worthy of government funding) were thrown aside. Even though my father is a poor civil servant with a meagre civil servant salary. Even though my mother is a housewife. Even though I had a drawer-full of certificates and accolades from society positions to science competitions to journalism efforts to taekwon-do black belts ... I wasn't a worthy scholar in the eyes of the government. Luckily I was good enough for Singapore.

... in my JC [Junior College in Singapore], where my teachers didn't push me aside just
because I was clearly a minority, where they encouraged me to excel in both my outdoor activities as well as the oh-so-important A Levels. And even when I returned to appeal a second time after my A Level results and the PSD then told me that if I wanted to do medicine they'd give me a scholarship straight away (although they clearly overlooked the fact that I didn't take Chemistry or Biology for A Levels) and nothing else, I moved on and looked for other avenues.

And right now as a Gamuda scholar, I know that I am worth every bit the scholar I am, and that I'm not just a number to the PSD, I am a real person to my scholarship board. Because here at Gamuda I know I was given a fair interview, by an external panel made up of people who are qualified and experienced enough to assess interviewees and see through the fake covers our
result-driven education system has built upon us. Heck, Marina Mahathir was on the panel last year (which is not fair! I would have liked to meet her!).

PSD should learn from our Malaysian private sector who are sincere about awarding scholarships to our best and brightest, as highlighted by Dulcinea. The interview panel should be "made up of people who are qualified and experienced enough to assess interviewees" and not civil service administrators who asks stupid questions - a simple reform which will enhance our scholarship award system.

One of the other little issue raised in Dulcinea's experience is the pre-occupation with medical degrees, not just by the students in general but also by the authorities such as PSD. It has also been raised couple of times in comments on my earlier posts. My degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) must be regarded as a rojak course by these guys, for why would someone give a scholarship to somebody who wants to become a Philosopher, or worse, Politician! :) [Note to self: Another topic to blog about.]


hcfoo said...

I agree that being a top scorer in the country doesn't mean that it's an automatic pass to get a scholarship.

However, I think politicians should not question the credibility of PSD. In fact they shouldn't direct them to reconsider the applicants who failed to get their scholarships. Instead they should work together to ensure transparency in choosing the right student.

When the minister involved and giving special instruction to solve certain issues, this is going to create problems. Look at the Terence Gomez case. The credibility of UM is challenged when Dr. Shafie Salleh approved Gomez two years unpaid leave.

Hopefully our politicians are ethical enough and not to misuse their power for personal interest.

Fashionasia said...

hi Tony,

I was told that you can get funding to do a research paper if you can find a professor that have a research grant.
I sooo want to get a Masters but ya as always money is the key issue. Do you happen to know where i can find such a person that have research grant to spend?? or maybe where i can look for such a person?? Thanks!!