Sunday, August 13, 2006

Persistence Pays

You guys might remember Calvin Teng, the kid I blogged about back in May. Despite having received a confirmed placement in University of California, Berkeley to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering, our own Public Service Department (JPA) wasn't sufficiently impressed to grant him a scholarship.

Well, while I was of no help, we should all be happy to know that Calvin managed to secure for himself a scholarship from Astro to pursue his further studies at Berkeley. Congratulations!

A month or so back, when he called me to inform me that he has successfully secured the scholarship, which was practically his last standing option, I told him that he should write about his experiences and share it with others and that I would be happy to publish them here. Well, he did one better, he wrote on his experiences in 2 parts, Part I and Part II, and started his very own blog. :)

Go visit and learn about his inspiration, the challenges he faced and how he made the Astro scholarship his very own. I am certain that Calvin himself will serve as an inspiration to other Malaysian students as well.

Relevant to my earlier blog post, it is just absolutely incredulous how JPA reacted to his having already secured a place at the prestigious engineering university.
In my JPA interview, I mentioned that I got into Berkeley and they gave me that curt “don’t tell us where you want to go, we’ll decide where to send you” answer.
Gosh, what type of nincompoops do we have administering the scholarship department at JPA? We probably have people who can't spell A to Z (mis)administering and (mis)allocating the country's funds to the country's top talents.

I'll repeat my earlier questions to JPA:
Which is more important and which makes more sense for Malaysia?
  1. Award overseas undergraduate scholarships to post-SPM students who have yet to undergo pre-university programmes or examinations, and have not secured any placements in top universities overseas? This has often resulted in students being sponsored to study in 2nd or 3rd tier universities in Britain and the United States, as well as being sent to other 3rd world countries. OR

  2. Award overseas undergraduate scholarships only to students who have successfully completed pre-university programmes or examinations and have received conditional or unconditional acceptance into the top-rated and most selective universities in the world, such as University of California, Berkeley or Cambridge University, UK?
Anyway, it was great to see Calvin, through his own persistence and resourcefulness found his way to achieving his dreams. And I believe that Calvin will agree with me that he wouldn't consider himself a super-genius. You need to be smart, but not necessarily a genius to get into the top schools around the world. All it takes is a bit of courage, a bit of effort and persistence, and you'd be surprised where that can bring you.

Someone wrote a bit earlier on my post reminding readers about those interested in Oxbridge admissions that "If one really wants to apply for Oxford or Cambridge [or other similar top institutions], (s)he would have found out all the necessary bits and pieces long ago." I disagree. I believe that there are many qualified Malaysians who are capable of entering these top universities but have not entered largely because many did not even bother applying. It is necessary to encourage a greater number of applications and show that one doesn't have to be an Albert Einstein to qualify and secure for themselves a real world class education.


Anonymous said...

Well, good for Calvin then. True display of gumption and grit. I myself am in the same situation as he was - staring at an acceptance letter from Duke while wondering where to get the money from.

It is indeed ridiculous that JPA awards scholarships to post-SPM students instead of students who have already earned admission into the top unis. I wonder what their rationale is behind this policy? Why does JPA persist in adopting a policy that only results in students ending up in 2nd or 3rd tier unis while depriving many capable ppl of a chance at the top schs? Come on, when will they wake up? What is the purpose of sendng students abroad in the first place if all they do is end up somewhere inferior. They might as well not leave our shores if that's the case. What a gross and profligate waste of funds.

Of course, I wasn't even eligible to apply for the JPA scholarship in the first place because I never took the SPM. (Coincidentally, I graduated from Raffles Junior College in S'pore as well.) That in itself is another ludicrous and archaic rule. With or without the SPM, am I not still a M'sian? To think I actually refused to apply for S'porean scholarships as I did not want to lose my M'sian citizenship.

In any case, there's no way I'm going to pass up on my offer from Duke. I'll just work as much as possible to help pay part of the school fees.

Anonymous Dukie
(Kian Ming should know who I am though :)

Ahpiau Academic said...

Does anonymous Dukie know that Dukie sounds like Dookie which is a slang for excrement?

Just a thought.

black mojo said...

Frankly, I think it is time to stop giving scholarship at those graduates at SPM level!!! You are denying those STPM holders who are on the verge of entering universities
At most times at that age, most of the SPM holders dont even know what they are looking for. They just follow the ' lemming instinct'

At least by the time they reach STPM they are a bit more mature and can decide if they really wanted to be a doctor or engineer!

What do you expect at the level of SPM...most are still post puberty and are undergoing critical hormonal changes!

Anonymous said...

Apartheid against the minority not the majority

Vortex said...

Hey guys, I 100% agree with all of you on this! In fact, I just posted a message a few days ago on the "Excellent Grades, But Missed the Cut" post, stating that all fo us should stop placing so much emphasis and attention to people's SPM results. I mean, every other country in the world bases their tertiary scholarship awarding system on one's pre-uni results, ala A-Levels in the UK/SIngapore, the SAT in the USA, the HSC in Australia, etc. SPM results are in the same league as one's PMR/UPSR results, in that they don't assume a student's admission into the university/course of their choices.

I initially didn't know that the JPA-scholarship awarding selection process was based only on SPM results. I always thought that they offered 2 categories of scholarships, one for post-SPM students (and have always wondered how this works), and the other for post-STPM/Matriculation/A-Levels students. Guess I was wrong.

It is definitely illogical that students are being awarded scholarships by the JPA after their SPM, instead of their STPM/Matriculation.

Incidentally, I've read somewhere, from one of the student's classmate, that that 'wanton mee seller' wonderkid who scored 13A1's for his SPM and who wanted to do engineering at MIT did not performed as brilliantly in his JPA-affliated A-Levels. Fortunately, he still managed to gain admission into MIT. Guess his case has a little to do with what we're discussing here then.

Anonymous said...

"If one really wants to apply for Oxford or Cambridge [or other similar top institutions], (s)he would have found out all the necessary bits and pieces long ago." I disagree. I believe that there are many qualified Malaysians who are capable of entering these top universities but have not entered largely because many did not even bother applying.

It still does not change the fact that if one is interested in applying, one would have gotten the necessary info well in advance. Encouragement and self-initiative are two different things. Those who could not be bothered simply lack the drive and desire to get what they want. We can pump them with encouragement for all eternity but without their passion, everything amounts to nothing.

Calvin himself is a prime example. He dreamt of MIT, Stanford and Berkeley, so he took the effort to find out what was needed for the application. The SATs, TOEFL, essays, recommendations etc.

Anonymous said...

"In my JPA interview, I mentioned that I got into Berkeley and they gave me that curt “don’t tell us where you want to go, we’ll decide where to send you” answer."

The reason why JPA interviewer said that is because he/she is clueless about Berkeley. So there you have it, the clueless managing our smart next generation. No wonder we are going down the drain.


Anonymous said...

For future applicants for JPA scholarship, take this as a tip, i.e. do not inform the officers during the interview that you are already accepted by any prestige university ( they may turn around and think that the applicant is arrogant instead ). Normally JPA do not dictate which Uni one is suppposed to go, unless it is a twinning programme, other than this, merely the name of the country is stated. Successful appicant will then have to apply individually to any Universities in that particular country ( of course then depending on the pre-U results, the more prestigious the U the better. )

Anonymous said...

"Ignorance is always a source of pride for some"

says the great philosopher Confusing not Confucius

limkh said...

Congrats, Calvin!

Shame on you, JPA!!

Anonymous said...

Wanton mee seller wunderkind did not take A-Levels under JPA, but rather the American Degree Foundation Programme.

Vortex said...

Anon Aug 16, 12:15:40: Thanks for the correction. My bad. I just remembered reading that he didn't performed as brilliantly in his pre-u exams. Goes to show that one cannot use the SPM performance of a student to predict his pre-u performance or uni admission chances.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

In all fairness, JPA should only give conditional scholarship to post SPM students, the main condition must be another straight As in the pre-U exams, be it STPM A-levels, IB, SAM or ADP.
Just my 2 cents.........

Ex-Student said...

All this fuss over JPA for SPM/STPM but you should realise that this student in question actually got into UC Berkeley straight from SPM.

Anyway it was a terrific achievement for this student to have gotten both the university placement and the scholarship. On the other hand, this public bashing of the other student (wontonmee seller) smacks of envy and arrogance. Let's just consider his background compared to these other 'rich' students who are already geared towards going overseas (how else can someone think of sitting for SATs yet at the same time making those applications which actually are very costly both in term of time and money). SPM was just a means, and for this guy, probably the only ticket to a 'better' life than becoming another wontonmee seller. Compared to those who have already been given the green light pre-SPM to go overseas. Anyway his placement at MIT is just fantastic (by the way did not this other guy got rejected by MIT?) and let's hope both of them find their passion in life over there in the US. The non-bumis already have to scrape for the little dirt that is leftover, let's be proud of those who do manage to get out of the biased system.

vortex said...

To anon Aug 03:13:37PM

I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I was 'bashing' the wonton mee seller kid. I was most definitely not. In fact, I admire the guy's success in managing to do so stellar in his SPM, considering he also had to help his parents at the stall.

Instead, I was only highlighting his case to point out the fact that getting straight A's in one's SPM does not automatically mean that that student would also be guaranteed to obtain straight A's for his/her pre-u exams. And thus, it is of my opinion that the JPA and every other scholarship-awarding organisation should only award scholarships to students who do well in their pre-u exams. It's a no-brainer. If an exam performance/result must be picked as a determinant to decide which student should be awarded a scholarship, then there's absolutely no reason why the SPM should be picked over the STPM/pre-u exams, as the latter is the higher qualification, as well as being the determinant of one's uni admission chances.

Again, apologies if I had inadvertedly given the wrong impression that I was 'bashing' of the wonton mee seller kid's achievements. Definately not.

ps said...

I definitely agree that many, many 'Oxbridge material' students aren't applying to those universities.

However, it isn't just a matter of effort or interest. Three of my friends with excellent credentials aren't applying because the application fee itself is 30 pounds. While I have been enthusiastically urging them to apply, their decisions are understandable - even if they get in they won't have the money to go, so why bother?

Ever since these 10A1 kids were rejected from JPA, they haven't been able to face their futures with confidence. For some, the decision not to apply to Oxbridge - or even the UK in general- was made by their parents, not them. I have been encouraging them to apply for the Jardine scholarship, but to no avail.

I'm not pointing fingers here. It's just really sad that so many families' hopes hinge on this one scholarship and once rejection comes, all seems lost to them. In the case of my friend who wants to apply for an English degree at Cambridge, alternatives are almost non-existent - tell me, how many scholarship boards offer funding for the humanities?

ex-student said...

I agree somewhat with ps that 'it isn't just a matter of effort or interest'. The background of the student should also be considered. In fact, Oxford University has just announced that it will make changes to its admission system to attract more pupils from poorer/disadvantaged backgrounds. I have always believed that financial stability lends a large hand in building confidence in oneself - one cannot compare like-for-like the early achievements of someone young who gets to play with cars with another who can barely afford a bicycle. Affirmative actions are in principle very useful but unfortunately are not implemented correctly in Malaysia, i.e. the ridiculous thing about JPA is not the SPM/STPM issue but which race gets them. But I have always been impressed by those who make it via alternative routes, e.g. twinning programmes and I have come across students from these rather obscure universities who ended up with good jobs or PhDs. Once I was a visiting academic at a university in Canada and was pleasantly surprised to see good Malaysian graduates who remained and did well. Kudos to them.

identity_unknown007 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ex-student said...

'You are applying for sponsorhip, not the sponsor looking for people to be sponsored'. In the real world, and for the non-bumis in Malaysia, this is applicable. But the opposite applies for the bumis in Malaysia. The degree at which the balance is skewed is my main gripe.

Sarah said...

Reading all your comments, i was wondering whether you could help me with my predicament.

I actually got the JPA scholarship last year(after appealing) and I got medicine in new zealand.
As i was already doing my a level, my parents thought it'd be best to defer my scholarship and let JPA pay for degree later on.
During my a level, I applied to cambridge and actually got a place to read medicine in the university. We appealed to JPA to change the country of study and they rejected my application straight out.
My parents, still wanting me to go to cambridge, made me apply to the CCT(cambridge commonwealth trust), and we got quite a lot of financial aid. We got enough financial aid to make up for the difference in amount of money needed to fund me in new zealand and cambridge.

Happy, we sent in this fact to JPA, in May/June.We only got a reply 19 days ago saying that they've considered my case and will assist in sponsoring my studies in cambridge.

However, at this point, they havent given us the terms and conditions of the new agreement.

This morning, when we went to the office(since i received my firm offer yesterday, and needed to complete the financial agreement) we were given a shock.

JPA said they will only be paying for my tuition fees for my clinical years in cambridge!! For your information, this amount is approximately half of what was allocated for my studies in new zealand! Before this, they said that they'd pay whatever the CCT/my college isnt willing to fund. And now, theyve changed their mind

My parents and I have calculated roughly the amount needed to fund me in cambridge(after the help from the CCT and college) and it works out to be about RM800k whereas -according to the Jpa officer- the new zealand allocation is about RM900k

I am in quite a lurch, cause i have to send in the financial agreement by 11th september next month. There is no way my parents will be able to pay for my clinical years in cambridge as it is £30k++ per annum for tuition fees, college fees, and living expenses.

To say that I didnt get what i want because I'm a non-bumi isnt right, cause I am a Malay.

Hope you can give ur input on the matter

identity_unknown007 said...

Firstly, congratulation on getting an offer from Cambridge. But I don't really understand what you mean:

"JPA said they will only be paying for my tuition fees for my clinical years in cambridge!!"
"There is no way my parents will be able to pay for my clinical years in cambridge as it is £30k++ per annum for tuition fees, college fees, and living expenses."

Anyway, you're extremely lucky because JPA changed the destination that they'd fixed. Even if the cost is the same, they've already set the budget and allocation. Apart from the money factor, they also set like how many people going to so and so country. So, YOU ARE LUCKY. You know that your destination is to NZ, and yet you applied to Cambridge .. I don't know what drives you, but I've to say, bravo! You fight for what you want.

I can't comment much ..people might think that I'm adding oil to fire. Plus, it's upto JPA. We can't say anything. We've to obey our sponsor, and we've to respect our government. Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung.

My advice is, fight for it. Find the way. Get sponsor from other sources. Like how Calvin did. You definitely have to fight for it if you want to go Cambridge. Hidup mati susah senang ditentukan oleh Tuhan. Ditentukan oleh Allah Azzawajalla. Forgive me if wrongly typed. I'm not a muslim.

Anonymous said...

go to university of aberdeen.....cos on a clear day, if youre lucky, you might see the north pole!

Anonymous said...

I wish notify all of you that the guy who got into Cambridge and who also appeared in the star education pullout a few months ago will be going to Cambridge this fall, thanks to an aid from the CTF. His name is Aik Shen Wei.

He knew from the beginning that he would not be able to go overseas at all but regardless, he still applied to Cambridge and Cornell. Now this is the drive that real scholars should have. If one gives a truckload of reasons eg too expensive, why bother? etc, then one is not really a oxbridge material.

It is as simple as that. If you are intrested, if you are passionate, if you are desperate, if you are crazy about going to a top school. There won't be any reason to stop you from applying.