Monday, July 30, 2007

RM1.1 billion for motivational courses for students?

I think there must be a typo in this Star report. "The Government has allocated RM1.1bil for motivational courses for students in all parliamentary constituencies in the country, Deputy Information Min-ister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi."

This is almost equivalent to the RM1.2billion in the 9MP allocated for the training of PhDs for lecturers in our public universities. This works out to almost RM5 million per parliamentary constituency. But even if this was a typo, I don't think the Ministry of Information should have anything to do with organizing motivational speaking courses for students at any level (primary, secondary or tertiary). This is clearly out of the purview of this Ministry.

I would have suspicions even if it was the Ministry of Education or the MOHE who were responsible for organizing these courses.

Firstly, these courses are notoriously difficult to define. How does one define what a motivational course is? What kind of curriculum does this entail? What kind of 'practical' training does a student have to go through?

Secondly, these courses are difficult to teach. I'm sure that the MOE don't train their teachers to conduct 'motivational' courses. I'm also quite sure that the Ministry of Information doesn't have a staple of full time employees who are 'qualified' to teach motivational courses. There's a reason why people such as Anthony Robbins command such a high premium - it's because there are few people of his 'stature' in the motivational speaking world.

Thirdly, the results or effectiveness of these courses are notoriously difficult to measure. Unlike other subjects which can be more objectively tested, how does one test one's knowledge of self-motivation methods, for example?

The allocation for such large sums of money (if indeed the amount report was NOT a typo) only opens more doors for the possibility of patronage and misallocation of resources i.e. bribery and corruption.

Personally speaking, I'm quite agnostic in regards to the effectiveness of 'motivational' courses and / or speakers. I think that most of these large group sessions involving 'star' motivational speakers such as Anthony Robbins probably gives those who attend a short term 'boost' to their motivational levels which runs out sooner rather than later. (I also think that it's a tremendous waste of money)

I'm more critical of the techniques used by groups such as Asiaworks which specializes in large group awareness training (LGAT) that seem cult-like in nature. I'm sure that an announcement of this nature would catch the ears of such organizations, which would love to be awarded these contracts.

If individuals and private organizations / corporations want to organize motivational courses for their employees or for themselves, I have no problems with that. What I have a problem with is the expenditure of tax payers money on an educational 'venture' which has little to do with the purposes of education itself.

Call for Interview & Survey Participants!

Just a note from a student seeking assistance from female students in Computer Science and IT to help complete a survey. ;)

Hi, my name is Jinny and I'm currently doing my postgraduate diploma studies with the School of Arts and Sciences in Monash University. I'm doing a research on Malaysian female students in Computer Science and IT Education and I'd like to have a little chat with you about your experiences studying CS/IT! I am conducting a survey and interviews to gather some data for my research on the approaches, experiences and motivations of a female student in CS/IT. These interviews are very integral to my qualitative researching.

What are the benefits of participating in the interview and survey?
Your participation in this research project would greatly contribute to building research in the area of gender, technology and education in a Malaysian context, and hopefully will lay the path to making the Computer Science and IT study experience more enjoyable, rewarding, attractive and friendly to female students! :)

I'm conducting interviews for my research, and if you are:
- Female,
- Malaysian,
- Is a student or a graduate of Computer Science or Information Technology in a private or foreign University,

I'd love to talk to you and hear about your experiences, preferably through face-to-face interviews. If you would like to share your experience with me, drop me an email @ sjwon1@student.monash.edu by 12 August, 2007.

I'm also conducting a survey, it would be really helpful if you could participate in the survey too :) If you are:
- Female,
- Malaysian, and
- Is currently studying Computer Science or Information Technology in a private or foreign University, do head over to http://yoyo.monash.edu.my/assistsurvey/ to complete the survey!

Please do consider making yourself available for the interview or take part in the survey - thank you!

If you have any questions regarding the interview or survey, don't hesitate to ask me directly @ sjwon1@student.monash.edu

Friday, July 27, 2007

UUM dress code: response from a reader

I got this response from our of our readers in response to Tony's post on the UUM dress code. While his reply is not strictly education related, I thought that his remarks about the Outward Bound School (OBS) deserved to be heard given that many of young people attend OBS. (I was one of those and I found that the OBS camp was a good place to mix around with other kids from all races and backgrounds)

Dear Kian Ming,

I read you most recent blog on the UUM dress code issue. I cannot agree more with the fact that the Talibanisation of the nation is coming through fast and furious.

Your blog reminded me of a recent first hand experience I had with dress code. I was signed up for an outdoor course in our very own Outward Bound School (OBS) in Lumut about 2 months ago. One day we were told by the Malay instructor that we were to show up in our "wet wear" for a kayaking event. So what in the world would you think " wet wear" is?

I trooped out in a a swimming trunk with a T shirt over. Wet wear enough right? Apparently not. I was rebuked and rudely told off by the instructor. "Mana seluar kamu? Pergi tukar sekarang juga!"

When I asked him what was the reason why what I was wearing wasn't considered wet wear (obviously this person hasn't seen the Olympics swimming event" on TV, probably too engrossed with the jungle in OBS). He again told me off "Jangan cakap banyak, kamu tukar saja, kalau tidak, kamu jangan pergi".

On any normal day, had it happened in Singapore or anywhere outside Malaysia, I would have lodged a police report or gone to the press with my sorry. But sadly I knew then that it was a futile effort, least not in my beloved Malaysia. Like I said, I knew there and then that the Talibanisation of Malaysia is now almost complete. There's no point fighting a lost cause. Malaysia must surely be an Islamic state. Secular? Sure, if only in our dreams.

Ironically I was looking at some old pictures that OBS had displayed. Circa 1970s. The participants then went for their kayaking event decked in only swimming trunks, exposing their brown tan bodies for all to see. No complaints then, even though I believe by then Islam was already in Malaysia for more than 500 years.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Academics against Akujanji

A Malaysiakini report yesterday highlighted the campaign by academics in Malaysia against the Akujanji pledge. Not only does it call for Akujanji to be abolished with immediate effect but it also calls for Dr. Azly Rahman, Dr. Mutiara Muhamed and other academics who have been dismissed because of their opposition to Akujanji to be reinstated. This campaign is being headed by Dr. Syed Husin Ali and Dr. Lim Teck Ghee.

Tony has blogged passionately about this issue here, here, here and here.

I've been a little more agnostic about 'Akujanji' believing that it is possible aka NUS to create a public university where academic freedom is not exactly free flowing but I think that Tony is probably right in saying that Akujanji needs to be revoked as part of a larger, comprehensive move to create more dynamic and open minded universities in Malaysia.

I would certainly prefer to work in a university, especially in my field, where Akujanji does not exist and I would think most other academics would as well. I certainly support the petition circulated by Dr. Syed Husin Ali and Dr. Lim though I don't see how Ong Kian Ming, a PhD candidate at Duke University, would add value to the cause. (Dr. Lim sent me the petition but I forgot to reply to him. Apologies, Dr. Lim)

The actual petition circulated by Dr. Syed Husin Ali and Dr. Lim reads as follows:

Petition for Revocation of University Akujanji

We, the undersigned - former university staff members, present university staff members (who cannot include their names here for fear of victimization by the authorities) and civil society organizations - call on the Government to revoke the imposition of the Akujanji pledge with immediate effect.

This requirement of loyalty to the Government – found only in a few repressive university systems in the world – has stifled academic freedom in our country to an unprecedented extent. It has also inculcated a culture of fear, passivity and uncritical thinking in the campuses which is antithetical to the development of our universities and to the quality of teaching and scholarship.

Government leaders, including the Prime Minister, have called on the universities to take up the challenge of upgrading their standards and producing quality teaching and research that will help the nation meet the goals of 2020, including the goals of a matured, liberal, scientific and progressive society. The Aku Janji stands as a major obstacle in the way of our universities rising to this challenge.

In this regard we also call on the Government to reinstate Dr. Azly Rahman, Dr.Mutiara Mohamad and other academicians who have been dismissed as a result of their opposition to the Akujanji. Similarly, others who have suffered in their career development due to the Akujanji should have their cases reviewed and should be provided with justice and redress. These are our academic prisoners of conscience who have been unjustly victimized and whose continued exclusion is a black mark against academia and our democratic system and values.

Our concern is not the first voiced on this issue - academic staff associations and numerous other concerned individuals and organizations have during the past three years spoken out and asked for the abolition of the pledge which is also against the fundamental rights of freedom of association and expression. We hope with this petition that we will be the last to take up this issue.

We feel that this is an urgent matter not simply of academic interest and concern but of national importance too and call on the Government to respond in a fair and enlightened manner and to place the interests of the universities and nation ahead of partisan political ones. The revocation of the pledge is a vital step in ensuring that fundamental rights of freedom of association and expression are not further eroded and that our academicians can play their rightful role in helping our nation advance.


I just want to make three observations in regards to the signatories of this petition

Firstly, most of the signatories are social scientists (especially political scientists) or academics from the humanities. I recognize many of the names on the list (and indeed, know some of them) who are social scientists including - Dr. Collin Abraham, Dr. Azmi Sharom, Dr. Sharon Bong, Dr. Cheah Boon Kheng, Dr. Stephen Chee, Dr. Farish Noor, Dr. Terence Gomez, Dr. Khoo Boo Teik, Dr. Khoo Kay Jin, Dr. Patricia Martinez, Dr. Maznah Mohamad, Dr. Lim Teck Ghee, Dr. Francis Loh, Dr Mavis Puthucheary, Dr. Ramasamy, Dr. Johan Saravanamuttu, Dr. Shirley Lim, Dr. Syed Husin Ali, Dr. Toh Kin Woon, Wong Chin Huat and Dr. Diana Wong.

If the momentum from 'within' to abolish Akujanji is to continue, there needs to be more support for its abolishment across the academic fields including the engineering and science faculties. If not, the impression that this movement is only support by trouble making social scientists and those from the humanities will only be reinforced.

Secondly, as noted by the Malaysiakini report, out of the 40 academics who signed on to this petition, 29 are retired. Obviously, one needs to ask why there are not more signatories among active academics. Is it out of fear that reprisals might be carried out against them similar to those carried out against Dr. Azly Rahman and Dr. Mutiara Muhamed? This is not out of the question. To overcome this fear, there must be a concerted gathering of support among active academics so if a large enough number of them do sign this petition, it is not possible to carry out reprisals against all of them. In other words, achieve some sort of 'critical mass'.

Easier said than done but perhaps one can start by asking academics from the engineering and science faculties whether Akujanji has hurt them in any way (recruitment, funding, research proposals) or why they might feel that Akujanji might be needed (or no need for it to be abolished). From here, one can hopefully move forward to achieve the 'critical mass' necessary for such a movement to be taken seriously.

Thirdly, even among those signatories who are not retired (the 11 brave souls), I know of only 2 who are relatively young in regards to their academic careers. (Apologies for Azmi and Terence) The two are Dr. Sharon Bong and Wong Chin Huat, who are both teaching at Monash Sunway now, a private university. This of course calls into question the level of support for such a movement against Akujanji among the younger academics in our public universities. I'm quite sure that the 'pressure' which can be exerted on them would be higher compared to the more established i.e. older academics.

Of course I could be making too much out of this. Perhaps the petition didn't circulate to the younger academics because Dr. Lim and Dr. Syed Husin Ali didn't know enough of them (the same argument can be made in regards to the lack of outreach to the scientists and engineers). The level of support against Akujanji could be as great if not more so among the younger, perhaps more idealistic, academics in our public universities.

I do hope that Akujanji can be abolished as part of a comprehensive move to change the mindset and structure of our public universities. But like all things in Malaysia, change for the better tends to happen slowly and incrementally, if at all. I wish Dr. Lim and Dr. Syed Husin Ali all the best in this endeavor.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

DECC Call For Assistance

Below is a message from Tee Sui Seng, recently gradauted from Cambridge University, who has offered to assist with DECC. Thanks a million, Sui Seng. ;)

The Descartes Education Counselling Centre (DECC) is a non-profit organisation which hopes to act as a port-of-call to ease some of the problems regarding opportunities for furthering education. Previous activities have included helping students in the application process to top universities such as Ivy League, Liberal Arts Colleges and Oxbridge in England and also providing guidance for career and employment opportunities

We are now looking for a more permanent establishment to provide for continuing service to students. This inaugural DECC Committee will oversee the setting up of the DECC as a permanent feature in the Malaysian educational landscape and will be heavily involved in determining the long-term role of the DECC.

Positions include:
  1. Director – to determine the direction of the organisation and to ensure the smooth operations of all projects

  2. Publicity manager – to ensure the objectives and activities of the DECC are made known to the target audience

  3. Web development manager – to set up and maintain the DECC website

  4. Educational Co-ordinator – to liase between students and regional co-ordinators to ensure efficient response of enquiries

  5. Regional Co-ordinators – divided by regions, including local, Asia-Pacific, UK, US and Europe, to have knowledge on opportunities for tertiary education in the regions

  6. Graduate Co-ordinators – in charge of enquiries regarding graduate education opportunities and employment
Do note that the positions do not require more than a couple of hours of work a week, and will mostly involve pushing e-mails. This is a great opportunity to contribute to improving the situation in Malaysia in a pro-active, hands-on manner, while building a network of acquaintances with similar visions and aspirations.

Just drop an e-mail to teesuiseng(at)gmail(dot)com, with a short description of your background and how you think you can contribute to the DECC; either by filling one of the positions above or any other way. Any enquiries or suggestions are also welcome and we hope to hear from you soon!

More disciplinary issues

Following on our posts on the student slapping incident here and here, the Star reported two incidents - that a student slapping headmaster in KK had been suspended for 2 months (with full pay) for slapping some 20 students for not handing in their civics homework and that a warden in a school in Sibu forced some students to stand in a fish pond for 30 minutes for clogging up the toilets with their sanitary pads.

I found this old report in the Straits Times Singapore on corporal punishment and I thought that it brings up some good points.

Straits Times, Singapore, 6 October 2003
Abdullah supports using cane in school
But the DPM also cautions against abuse should the Education Ministry expand caning powers to control unruly students

By Reme Ahmad
in Kuala Lumpur

SPARE the rod and spoil the child? Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would seem to agree.

He has concurred with an Education Ministry's proposal to expand the power of caning students to all teachers, instead of just the disciplinary masters and principals.

This followed shocking cases of fighting among students, and reports quoting a ministry official saying that 76,300 students had disciplinary problems, including gangsterism, last year.

But Datuk Seri Abdullah said care must be taken to avoid abuse, and he suggested more discussions between parents and schools before implementing the move in the classroom or during school assemblies.

'I personally would not stop the ministry from implementing caning in schools as long as it is not excessive,' he said.

'We know that children normally fear caning, either in school or at home.

'I agree with caning but there is concern that if all teachers are given the power, there will be excessive caning,' he said in Ipoh on Saturday, in response to questions from reporters.

Yesterday, Datuk Seri Abdullah added that he wants teachers to be trained as counsellors to help troubled students.

The ministry had in 1997 ruled that only principals and discipline masters could use the rod.

But its director-general, Datuk Abdul Rafie Mahat, said recently that all teachers should be allowed to discipline those in their classes. It proposed giving canes to all teachers, amid reports of ill discipline and fighting among groups of students.

A student nearly lost his wrist just two weeks ago after being slashed in a fight between two groups of 22 students in Perak.

This was just days after 12 students ganged up to beat a schoolmate at a matriculation hostel in Malacca.

These two incidents were widely reported in the media and raised alarm bells among educators, parents and government officials.

Malaysian officials, however, were quick to point out that the 76,300 problematic students were less than 1.2 per cent of the total student population of seven million nationwide. Many felt the cane should be used sparingly.

National Unity and Community Development Minister Siti Zaharah Sulaiman said yesterday that children should be caned only in serious cases.

Punishment is a last resort, added a columnist in Mingguan Malaysia newspaper.

Perak's education director, Datuk Adnan Ibrahim, said teachers would use the cane sparingly because they 'fear parents making police reports and the issue being brought to courts and causing problems'.


If this report is still relevant, then public caning in schools is still allowed. What is unclear is what the guidelines are in regards to carrying out this type of corporal punishment.

I've said this before and I'll say it again here. I think there is a place for public caning in our schools but it should be carried out in a way which follows procedure strictly e.g. there should be strict guidelines in regards to the types of offenses that qualify for public caning such as the destruction of school property, public fighting, gross disrespect shown towards teachers or headmasters and so on. I think that slapping students have no place in a classroom since it can be meted out in a way which can be irrational and prone to sudden impulses.

In regards to the other minor offenses such as failure to hand in homework, it's much harder to 'legislate' for such punishment and I think we should leave it up to the wisdom of the teachers and headmasters of the individual schools.

Monday, July 23, 2007

"On The Other Side of the Fence"

I was interviewed by Mark Disney, fellow alumnus and a local publisher specialising in Education periodicals in Malaysia.

In the 3rd issue of "Prospect Malaysia, Malaysia's Premier Higher Education Magazine", he was kind enough to solicit my views on Malaysia's education system. And guess what, he juxtaposed it against another fellow alumnus, the more famous one, Khairy Jamaluddin - captioning the story "Young Turks on Education - UMNO's Khairy Jamaluddin and DAP's Tony Pua Square Off". (Note: It was a tame affair, for its 2 separate interviews ;))

Well, Mark was kind enough to submit my interview story to Malaysiakini as well, so you can read it here. It doesn't contain anything new which I have not said on this blog (and I think after more than 700 posts, we have said a lot!). But if you are looking for a concise version of my views, it's a good start. ;)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Dress Code Controversy

Latest Update: The Dress Code decree by UUM has been retracted. See Sinchew (headlines today) or Oriental Daily for more reports.

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Ah, this must be one of the favourite issue for our Malaysian leaders. If only they have the same amount of passion when it comes to raising academic standards at our local schools and institutions of higher learning. I've written on the tudung controversy at Universiti Islam Antarabangsa previously, and now Universiti Utara Malaysia faces a similar controversy.


I cannot for the life of me figure out what is wrong with the prohibited dress code illustrated on the right above. Can you?

I don't have to say much about the above issue for Clare Ng of UUM had plenty to rant about it here on her excellent blog.
As I’ve ranted and criticised in countless posts before, this university is seriously crappy. Everything here is ridiculous including the rules and regulations especially their emphasis on dress code for their student.

Almost all the non-Muslim female students here wear similar attire to attend lectures, enter the library, see the doctor, dealing with official matter, etc (Yes, it is a MUST!).
She's funny too.
They had the nerve to come up with something this shitty without even conducting a proper survey around the campus. Where to get attire like the fourth girl on the left nowadays? So out-dated fashion where to get?

This is my final year here and I do not want to create any trouble for myself but this kind of ridiculous rules and regulations are getting on my nerves. Why do they have to come up with all these nonsense when they have a lot of other more important issues to skirt?
From the "approved" dress codes above, it appears that for non-Muslims, you are either expected to be suited up entirely, or you'll have to be in baju kurung.

I went to one of the top schools in the UK. Most of the time, I'm in track tops, track pants (badly torn by the final year) and worse, flip-flops. I attend lectures in old t-shirts and torn jeans. And I certainly wasn't the worst dressed nor was I not the norm. I can only speculate that with the decline in the quality of university administrators over the past decades, the focus on form now overwhelms the attention which should be paid to substance.

If anyone out there still insist that there isn't a religious and cultural assimilation (as opposed to integration) agenda and process happening in our country's schools and institutions of higher learning, he or she must be living in a totally different world.

Read also Enki's account of the same issue.

Oh, did you know that students are also "strongly encouraged" to open accounts with Bank Islam? Check out Clare's post here:
As I went about the campus attending lectures and going to the library, I noticed a lot of juniors as well as some seniors from my batch are wearing our Bank Islam ATM card around their necks! Well, the ATM card doubles as our metric card a.k.a. our identity card in the university. From what I heard from the juniors, memos had been passed that students MUST wear the ATM card around their necks like a dog tag! Failing to do so will cause us to become RM50 poorer! WTH!!!
They are absolutely out of their minds.

Footnote: This dress code issue is also reported in Oriental Daily today. However, I'm unable to find the same story online.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

MOSTI Minister on sabattical in the US

Got this notification from a friend. For those of you who are scientists and / or engineers in the US, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and are interested to meet with him and his staff (yes, this is JJ, the same minister that was blogged about here and here), he will be in the US from July 23rd to August 1st in the following cities: Boston, NY, Chicago, Washington DC, SF and LA. For more details, please email: sharizad@akademisains.gov.my or call 603-26949898(ext.123). He's on part of a 'Brain Gain' trip to recruit scientists and researchers to go back to Malaysia.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The question of discipline

Politics aside, I think the recent 'teacher slapping' incident and the Deputy Minister's reaction to it which Tony has blogged about, highlights an important issue in Malaysian schools especially at the secondary level - which is the issue of discipline.

My impression of most Malaysian secondary school classrooms is not a good one - rowdy students who don't pay attention in class, teachers who are disinterested and unmotivated, vandalized toilets and chairs and tables - and this was from my days in La Salle PJ 20 years ago! (I have a confession to make - I was probably one of the students contributing to the general mayhem in school)

I don't think the situation in our classrooms have gotten any better. I still regularly go back to La Salle PJ when I'm back in Malaysia to play basketball. I still see young Form 1 and 2 kids who speak to one another in expletive filled language (especially the Chinese kids). The facilities in school (such as the basketball and tennis courts) are poorly maintained and / or broken. I can imagine that the level of learning in our classrooms has probably gotten worse. Perhaps some of our younger readers can confirm / clarify this point.

One of the consequences of failing discipline (as well as other factors such as perceived Islamization, quality of teaching, facilities etc...) is that many members of the middle classes have 'abandoned' these schools. I see more and more parents, especially non-Malay parents, sending their kids to private schools such as Sri Cempaka and Sri Inai. This trend will probably continue as more private secondary schools are established. Many smart Malays have already left the national school system at the secondary level - they are sent residential schools where the facilities, teachers and arguably discipline levels are better than the average national secondary school.

What I'm describing is perhaps more symptomatic of secondary schools in urban areas where certain factors work against secondary schools - the fact that many families are dual income families and many parents don't have the time to 'take care' of their children (esp. from a nurturing standpoint), the greater pervasiveness of gangs who can and will exploit many of these kids, the greater accessibility of 'distractions' such as internet cafes and shopping malls. I'd be interested to find out of schools in semi-rural or rural areas are any better.

I'm guessing that the situation in many semi-urban / semi-rural schools might be better because the communities are more close knit and there are fewer distractions in these places compared to big cities. For example, I visited a friend in Sekinchan last month while I was back home and found out that the only secondary school in the Sekinchan town area produced many JPA scholars as well as state and national level sportsmen and sportswomen. If one examines the ranks of the best performing schools a the PMR level, many schools in these semi-urban or even rural areas consistently top the charts!

Trying to bring back a sense of discipline and order to our secondary schools, in the urban areas especially, is no easy task. I think bringing back corporal punishment in the form of public caning should be considered. I know that many people think that this form of punishment is outdated but I think there's still a place for the cane as a form of punishment in our schools. I remember how much I was afraid of Cikgu Iskandar who would roam the corridors in school with a cane and was well-known for his penchant for caning students. Slapping a student probably goes too far, in my book, but I'm sure there's a way to ensure that the process of caning a student, in a public arena, to shame this student as well as to warn others can be done in a way which is acceptable to both parents and administrators.

Perhaps something can be said of a 'no tolerance' policy such that students who are caught vandalizing school property can be punished heavily so that a signal is sent out to the other students.

Or volunteer mentor programs can be established with trusted members of the community to befriend some of the more problematic students and help them along the way.

At the end of the day, those who suffer disproportionately from poor discipline in our secondary schools are students in the lower and lower middle classes. Those in the middle class who still send their kids to the national secondary schools can also afford to send their kids for after school tuition, a luxury that many of those in the lower and lower middle classes cannot afford. With a better learning environment, better motivated teachers and better facilities, perhaps some of these kids, who in 'normal' circumstances, would not have learned much in school and probably would not continue to receive education at the college / university level, could find a path towards higher education and a better life for themselves and their families.

Malaysian public universities to expand overseas?

Saw this interesting bit in the Star today. It was reported The Minister for Higher Education, Tok Pah, said that several public universities had been invited to set up branch campuses overseas but declined to name them. Hmmm, interesting. Thus far, only Malaysian private university have expanded its wings overseas namely LimKokWing and INTI college. What could be the rationale for Malaysian public universities to expand abroad? Which countries would they be expanding into? What impact would it have on the 'local branches' here in Malaysia? We'll be watching this issue very closely.

King's scholarships for postgrad studies

For those who are interested in pursuing further studies in science and technology, economics or law, check out the Yang DiPertuan Agong scholarships. It was reported in the Star today.
Or you can go directly to the JPA websites here and here and here. I scanned through the terms and they seems pretty generous. However, it was not stated whether the scholarship would last throughout one's Masters or PhD (especially important for a 5 year PhD in the US).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Discovering US Education 2007

I'm really sad that I can't attend this year's (July 22, 2007)Discover US Education Expo (I missed last year's by a few days) which will be held at Mid Valley from 10 to 6pm . I think the organizing committee has done a great job in putting this event together. You can read more about it at their website. I'll share my thoughts about the events below.

First of all, the organizing committee has managed to get a bunch of sponsors on board to defray the costs of the organizing the fair. These sponsors include the US Embassy, INTI, Taylors, HELP, Accenture, Citibank, WMU, Sunway College and so on (albeit at different 'levels' of sponsorship).

Secondly, they have a created a fun to read blog on some of their activities during the organization period. I especially liked the description of their school tours in Klang.

Thirdly, they've gotten together a good bunch of speakers for their seminars. The seminar speakers include both students as well as university administrators / academics including interviewers from MIT, Columbia and Princeton. I noticed a few familiar names in the line-up including Andrew Loh (Swarthmore) and Hwa Yang Jerng (Bates) who will be speaking on liberal arts education, Mr. Ong Jin Joo (Carnegie Mellon) and newly minted Dr. Ong Shien Jin (Harvard, MIT) who will be speaking on life experiences in the US.

I'm sure that it will be a fantastic expo and that the participants will come out with a better understanding of what an education in the US entails. I'd encourage all our readers to attend this expo, if not for yourself, then for your children or relatives or friends etc... Spread the word!

Personally speaking, I hope that this expo inspires more Malaysians to apply to the liberal arts colleges in the US, instead of the 'better known' universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton and so on. I think it's an experience which definitely more Malaysians benefit from.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bad Apples

Datuk Noh Omar achieved international notoriety and placed Malaysia on the world map for public ridicule in November 2005 when he lambasted unhappy foreigners who were unhappy with the treatment they received in Malaysia triggered by the nude-squat incident. “If the foreigners think we are cruel, ask them to go back to their own country...” he said. He was then the Deputy Internal Security Minister.

After being chided by the Prime Minister, he argued that his remark was misinterpreted by the media and provided instead a qualified apology, “I openly apologise if the meaning of my comments was received negatively.” This was despite the fact that his remark was clearly recorded and shown on television.

However, instead of getting dropped as a deputy minister in the February 2006 cabinet reshuffle, he was rotated to be a Deputy Minister of Education. Very quickly, in September that year, he was at the centre of controversy once again, when he admitted in Parliament that there was no allocation at all for building new Chinese or Tamil schools in the 9th Malaysia Plan, despite the Ministry being accorded a record RM33.4 billion budget.

On Thursday last week, Noh Omar once again displayed his true colours in full view of the media and the public. When Selangor DAP chairman, Ean Yong Hian Wah submitted a fairly innocuous memorandum to the Deputy Minister with regards to violent conduct by a teacher in a secondary school on behalf of the abused student's parents, Noh Omar appeared to lose control of his faculties.

He verbally abused Ean Yong, crumpled the official memorandum and threw it away, before it was picked up by his officer. He accused Ean Yong and the DAP of interfering in a school disciplinary matter. Noh Omar even exclaimed at one stage that he will not handle any case referred via the party.

However, isn't it the responsibility of any political party, not just the opposition, to highlight the plight of the people, in this case a school which refused to take action against an abusive teacher to the relevant government officials? By refusing to accept the memorandum, Noh Omar has demonstrated his arrogance by prioritising politics over the concerns of the people.

Political parties and non-governmental organisations have regularly submitted memorandums of various issues to even the Prime Minister. These submissions are always met with decorum and respect even when opinions differ on the matters at hand.

Noh Omar's conduct is hence clearly unbecoming of a government official, much less that of a deputy minister. He was rude, crass and acted like a hooligan. The greatest irony is not lost on the people must be that he was given the responsibility to curb bullying and gangsterism in our schools!

It is high time for Pak Lah to clamp down on such un-ministerial behaviour not only be demoting Noh Omar come the next general elections, but to drop him as a candidate for UMNO altogether. Only then will Pak Lah demonstrate that the Government doesn't condone such actions and is serious about building a competent government with integrity and in touch with the people.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Experience at a woman's liberal arts college in the US

After Yaowen's sharing on his experience in a small liberal arts college in Ohio, I thought it was apt to post Hui Hsing's experience in a women's liberal arts college in New England. Smith is one of the seven sisters, a group of women's liberal arts colleges in the US. The others are Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Radcliffe College, Wellesley College, and Vassar College. Radcliffe has been merged with Harvard and Vassar is no longer a women's only college. Taken from Malaysiakini. If you haven't subscribed already, please do!

A different college experience
Su Hui Hsing | Jul 13, 07 4:28pm

WHEN my editor asked me to share my experiences of studying in the US, I had two options - the typical student life in a typical college in New England where alcohol, drugs, parties and sex rule the campus or the not-so-typical student life in a not-so-typical college.

I chose the latter.

New England conjures up an image of old elite institutions set in picturesque fall and gloomy winter. The colourful fall foliage on my campus could also be the postcard-perfect portrayal of a typical New England college - but underneath the fa├žade of the breathtaking spectacle, my school is far from being typical. Half the world's population is forbidden from attending this women's college.

Women replaced by Womyn

If you think a women's college is just a spin-off from your all-girl convent schools, you are wrong. I attended a convent school previously where before the Lord's Prayer, we recited the school pledge that reminded us to be demure daughters and sisters every day. It certainly felt like being trained to be good wives.

This was in no way the reality at the women's college I am attending. By the way, the reality at my college is not reality anywhere in this world.

Although the sight of elegant women taking brisk walks along the river or picnicking on the lawn would be lovely, they are already on the brink of extinction.

Now, we are indiscriminately labeled feminists - a.k.a. angry, men-hating women - just by the virtue of our enrolment at the school which graduated some of the most influential liberal feminists in the US like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.

Such a development baffled some alumnae who attended the school when it was exclusively for women in pastel-colored twinset cardigans and pearls and heels. However, tracing the history of the school, I found it not unnatural that the school took this course since its establishment more than a century ago.

The founding purpose of the college was to provide the best possible college education for women during a time when most leading universities only admitted men. The original idea may seem irrelevant today after all of these universities started admitting women in the 1970s but fundamentally, the school is still carrying the legacy of promoting the rights of the disadvantaged of all social classes, ethnicity, religions and sexual orientations.

A legacy of activists

To me, my school is not merely an educational institution, but also a counter-cultural entity that challenges social norms and accepts people whom the society might regard as 'different'. I just liked how the tolerant atmosphere encouraged us all to be ourselves.

Well, it is not that there are no restrictions to how we can be ourselves. The requirement is still to be politically correct and sensitive to others.

In 2003, in one of the most revolutionary changes in the school's history, the senate of Student Government Association and the student body voted for the replacement of the pronoun "she" in its constitution by gender-neutral language, such as "student" to acknowledge the transgender community on campus. After being brainwashed with political correctness, I got jitters when I hear my counterparts from other schools calling their first-year students "freshmen" as my school had long rejected the sexist term.

Gender-based activism may be the biggest thing on campus but students also feel they need to treat all the injustices in the world through a plethora of activism.

We did not run out to protest just because we did not want to stay in our classrooms. We did manage to get things changed. Among other consequences of our active lobbying, the school prohibited investment in companies (some of which were Malaysian) which supported the government of Sudan. Recently, I mourned the demise of my favourite drink, the ubiquitous Coca-Cola, when the college's president decided to ban the corporation from participating in a soft drink bidding process due to their unethical business practices in Colombia and India.

Other social and political action groups include the less popular campus Republicans who faced strong opposition when they wanted to bring in a 'radical conservative' to speak at the school, a support group for queer students of colour and an active student group part of an international coalition campaigning for Tibet's independence.

We just never seemed to be short of a cause to embrace - from the pettiest to the most serious. Somehow, the widespread activism on campus also suggested the creativity of my overly passionate fellow students who can effortlessly come up with one 'tree to hug' after another. Way before I arrived on campus, I knew I had to prepare myself for the most outlandish and unpredictable behaviours.

Not so unpredictable

I got a taste of the eccentricity on campus early into my arrival there. A particularly eye-opening yearly tradition was the convocation a day before the school year began, a campus-wide event attended by both the faculty and student body. Although houses had varying themes to dress up in, from super heroes to pirates, there seemed to be an implied underlying rule to what everyone's costume should be like - the most revealing to the point of nudity - probably to facilitate their after-parties, at which they would skinny-dip in the pond and river. Ultimately, Saran wrap and paint were the preferred materials for our costumes.

After a while, even the most outrageous became commonplace. Nothing was too deserving of a second look - nothing was unusual anymore - not the campus pagans who walked around with lanterns in their hands and chants on their lips, or the woman who wore a Halloween-costume-like cape every day who would take stops during her solitary stroll around campus to have monologues with squirrels. I was already numb.

Fall withers into winter

Yes, squirrels and chipmunks - I had a one-time fascination with them. I think it started when I walked past a tree and noticed the incredible congruence between the acorn in a squirrel's paws, the squirrel's body, the squirrel's tail and the opening of its nest.

In the first few weeks of school, I walked the school campus scrutinising every single tree to test my luck for another similar sighting. It did not happen again and before I knew it, the trees started shedding their leaves and turned bare overnight. And the leaves took the squirrels with them.

There was no white Christmas last year. Thanks to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and the snow that came late, almost every one became an environmentalist. The Birkenstock-wearing and granola-crunching hippies emerged, voluntarily distributing free energy-saving bulbs to save the polar bears 2000 miles away. That winter also saw the already deep hatred towards the delusional Bush administration, which refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, intensify. As a result, the campus Democrats gained a wider fan base and more support for Barack Obama's presidential nomination campaign.

Making snowmen and skating on the frozen pond were perfect substitutes for the lack of retail therapy in the small town, where the retailers seemed to be only concerned with selling rainbow gear. But my verdict was winter was not exactly the friendliest season. The seemingly perpetual cold and darkness disrupted my pilgrimages to the Asian restaurants downtown for winter-day craving for tongue-burning and tear-inducing Korean kimchi jjigae or extra-spicy Thai green curry on a few occasions.

Estrogen overload

The school always boasts its unique residential culture in which the majority of the students live in on-campus houses (as opposed to dorms) - a practice to increase the camaraderie among students. The landscape of the campus would probably not be as scenic if not for the 36 houses of various sizes and architectures that are scattered all over campus.

My house was a nice 1911 brick and ivy-covered building conveniently located near the only academic buildings I could be bothered with. Its strategic location (and the absence of the opposite sex) meant that I could wake up just a few minutes before classes and put on an outerwear over my pajamas to rush to my first class.

Stories (both real and fabricated) about houses also made for good conversation topics during those all-nighter reading period of procrastination before final exams, when caffeine suddenly became free-flow and free snacks would mysteriously appear in every corner of the house.

In my first year, the upper class students in my house helped us unwind from pre- and post-exam stress by mesmerizing (or scaring) us newcomers with trivia like the staircase in a particular house which Margaret Mitchell used as an inspiration for the one in Tara in Gone with the Wind or the ghost of a heartbroken woman who was separated from her lover centuries ago, in another house.

Nevertheless, my closest witness to a paranormal phenomenon was when the ice machine in one dining hall dispensed ice by itself.

In "SUPER-SIZED" America, gatherings just got more meaningful where there was food. Every week, I looked forward to the Thursday candlelight dinner and Friday house tea that served the usual suspects - wine, cheese, cookies, chocolate and all the sinful indulgences. Dinner conversations took a few forms but the kind that dominated was the one where everyone went in a round robin sharing how they wanted to use their college education to change the world and make it a better place. (No, we don't talk about boys) Again, we are idealistic women living in our own bubble. Grow up and face the real world, you say?

And finally, I am here to gain knowledge

No, four years in college isn't enough for all the ideals we want to pursue. If my parents are reading this, they would probably be infuriated by how I have not talked about my studies.

Isn't it funny my academic life seems like an afterthought, like studying isn't the most important thing to do at college. This deliberate move on my part is actually to reiterate my point that the role of a student in America encompasses a plethora of duties.

Anyway, for the record, I go to a liberal arts college where people have an incomprehensible infatuation with all things artsy fartsy. Yeah right!

I am already tired of addressing people's misconceptions (and reservations) about attending a school like mine. They asked the questions "Why a college (as opposed to a university)?", "Can you get a bachelor's degree there?", "Huh? Why do you suddenly want to do arts?"

What exactly do I want to major in at my liberal arts college then? Hmm…Economics? Biochemistry? Mathematics? Art History? East Asian Studies? Engineering? I am not sure - not just yet, mind you. My school is too flexible.

Like any other Asian parents, my parents had wanted me to do a professional program - law, engineering, medicine - whatever it would take to give me a decent job in the future, and perhaps to give them a sense of gratification for having a 'successful' daughter. I should be prepared enough to enter the job market upon graduation, lest you think that with what I am doing now, I am just another prodigal daughter wasting her parents' money on an overpriced college education that gives her nothing.

Well, if you are still more concerned with the ends than the means, I am pretty sure I can get a job in the future - even beyond the journalism industry.

SU HUI HSING, now on a summer break from Smith College, Massachusetts, is on a two-month internship at Malaysiakini.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sachs finally coming to Malaysia?

Looks like the first Royal Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University is finally coming to Malaysia. His appointment was announced and made last November and was highlighted here in this blog. Since then, I've heard from a source that he's had a phone call with Tok Pah, Minister for Higher Education and now, he'll be coming in August of this year to deliver a keynote speech at the Faculty of Economics and Administration (FEA) at the UM.

A recent online search on Jeffrey Sachs and UM revealed this tentative program for a conference on poverty alleviation organized by the Faculty of Economics and Administration (where KS Jomo taught and were Terence Gomez taught before his secondment to the UN in Geneva).

According to this program, the conference entitled "Poverty Distribution Amidst Diversity: Options and Challenges for Development" will be held on Aug 13 and 14, 2007. Prof Sachs will give the keynote address and be a discussant on a higher powered panel which includes Tok Pah and Max Ongkili, Minister in the PM's office in charge of National Unity and Integration and Dr. Denison Jayasooria of the Yayasan Strategik Sosial (YSS).

I've said this before and I'll say it again - the appointment of Professor Sachs to this position is a waste of taxpayers funds and does not fulfill the objectives set out by the UM.

Prof Sachs, in his two year appointment will probably come to Malaysia once a year, given his many other commitments. While in Malaysia, he'll be asked to deliver a few keynote addresses, in the UM and in other settings, set up for him by the University or the MOHE. He won't be able to contribute any significant intellectual contribution to UM or Malaysia in terms of research or advising faculty or graduate students or teaching.

In contrast, Prof Joan Nelson, the third holder of the Pok Rafeah chair at IKMAS, UKM, was / is based in Malaysia for a length of time (9 months, if I'm not mistaken) and was an active contributor to the intellectual and research life at IKMAS in UKM. This is the model that UM should have used - appointing a researcher who had a genuine interest in Malaysia and who would be able to be based in Malaysia for some length of time to be part of the academic and intellectual community.

Furthermore, Professor Jeffrey "mention-his-name-to-any-economist-and-they-will-drop-when-they-hear-it" Sachs (quote is attributed to the current UM VC) doesn't even list his appointment as the Royal Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies in his most recent CV, thereby not fulfilling one of UM's objectives of appointing Jeffrey Sachs - which is to raise UM's profile internationally.

Too bad I can't be at the UM to take part in the above conference. It would have been interesting to ask Prof Sachs what he hopes to achieve in his two year appointment. And to ask the VC whether she thinks that appointing Prof Sachs was worth the cost.

Monday, July 09, 2007

New Segi College Campus in Kota Damansara

Check out the new site of Segi College in Kota Damansara on Kenny Sia's blog! Hopefully, the software (teachers, courses, etc...) is commensurate with the hardware!

More foreign undergrads at UM?

Have been so busy with work that I failed to notice this Star report which appeared earlier this week entitled "UM out to woo foreign students". I only took notice of it as I was reading a post from fellow blogger, Whatalulu.

Just a couple of quick notes on this.

Firstly, I've said in earlier posts that I have no problems with the government trying to recruit more foreigners at the postgraduate level but I do have a problem with the recruitment of more foreign students at the undergraduate level, especially if these students are subsidized at the same rate as Malaysian students. Undergraduate spaces are already precious and cannot fulfill the demand of tax paying Malaysians. To bring in foreigners just for the purposes of increasing one's ranking (instead of taking other more substantive measures such as improving the quality of teaching and research) is pretty ludicrous. (Now, if it was for the purposes of increasing revenue for local universities so that they can improve the pay of lecturers and the universities' infrastructure, that would be another story)

Secondly, recruiting just 300 foreign students isn't exactly going to catapult UM into the category of LSE or UCal Berkeley or Melbourne in terms of the percentage of foreign students. You need a couple of thousand to make a decent dent in percentage terms. And if this is indeed the long term policy of UM and the MOHE, then see the first point above.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Tracking down JPA scholars

This post has been on my mind ever since I had this discussion with a friend in Malaysia last month. The issue at hand is how the government fails to capitalize on the talent and human resource of JPA scholars, who, either through incompetence, lack of enforcement or unwillingness on the part of government departments to recruit / hire JPA scholars, usually end up working overseas or in the private sector in Malaysia. And, as far as I know, there have not been any moves to arrest this trend.

JPA overseas scholarships, which are awarded to approximately 1500 students (in the last couple of years), are perhaps the most prestigious and competitive scholarship among those which are awarded by the JPA. We've discussed the issue of JPA scholarships a number of times in this blog, notably here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. (I may have missed a few more)

I just want to reiterate and highlight a few points arising from this conversation with my friend.

1) That the government / JPA fails to track down JPA scholars who fail to return to Malaysia after they have completed their studies overseas.

- This is costly to Malaysia since these scholars often don't pay back any of the scholarship funds expended by the JPA and also because these scholars don't return to 'contribute' their expertise and human resource to the country.
- This is perhaps the most serious 'waste' of valuable taxpayers money since these scholars are effectively contributing to the economies of the foreign countries they are working in.
- Now, I don't have a problem with Malaysians who want to or are working overseas but if they are JPA scholars and have received taxpayers' funds to study overseas, I think they have an obligation to either pay back their scholarships or return to work in Malaysia, whether it is in the private or the public sector.

2) That the government / JPA fails to find jobs for JPA scholars who have returned home to Malaysia.

- I've heard of and from many JPA scholars who 'report' to the JPA when they have finished their degrees and immediately starts working in the private sector because the JPA is known for taking their time to 'assign' jobs for these scholars. More often than not, the JPA comes back to the scholars and tell them that they have 'failed' to find suitable jobs for them in the government. If I'm not mistaken, there is a clause in the JPA agreement which says that the JPA scholar is released from his or her bond if a job in the government cannot be found for him or her within a year of this scholar 'reporting' to the JPA
- I suspect that this occurs for a few reasons.
Firstly, it could be due to the sheer incompetence of the JPA in finding jobs for these scholars. But I think that this is unlikely given that the JPA doesn't seem to have a problem in other administrative matters such as paying the fees for these scholars.
- Secondly, and perhaps more likely, I have a sneaking suspicion that the heads of many government departments don't want to 'hire' JPA scholars because of the potential of this scholar 'outshining' many others in these departments including the government heads.

3) That JPA scholars are release from their bonds if they find work in a GLC such as Petronas, Tenaga, Telekom etc...

- I'm not sure if this is the current JPA policy. While not being as bad as working overseas and not paying back one's bond, this does nothing to improve the culture and the efficiency of our public sector. Indeed, I know of not a few JPA scholars who have been 'sucked up' by Petronas because of the better pay and working conditions there and because Petronas is a GLC, they don't have to 'pay back' or serve their JPA bond.

4) That a large percentage of JPA scholars end up working in the private sector

- I was told by a friend that quite a few of his colleagues at Accenture were JPA scholars who didn't have to pay back their bond or work for the government because the JPA never 'got back to them'.
- While these JPA scholars are still contributing to the Malaysian economy both as taxpayers and as productive workers, it still does not negate the point that taxpayers' funds were used on their education.
- I was told that perhaps up to 90% of JPA scholars who return home to Malaysia end up working in the private sector.

Now I know that what I've said and what I'm going to say will offend many current and future JPA scholars but I think it needs to be said. It costs upwards of 500,000RM to educate a JPA scholar in England or in the US (less in continental Europe, Japan and Australia but still at least 300,000RM). As much as 100RM million a year is spend on JPA scholars. Hence, it is a TREMENDOUS waste of taxpayers' funds if JPA scholars are not made accountable for these scholarships.

To arrest this trend of disappearing JPA scholars, I recommend the following:

1) Implement a strict 'tracking' system for JPA scholars such that if they do not return to Malaysia after the completion of their studies, they would have to pay back their JPA scholarships in full and with interest. Scholars should be made to assign 'guarantors' so that if they do not return to Malaysia, their guarantors can be made to pay back the amount owed to the JPA.

- Of course, some flexibility can be introduced here e.g. installment schemes, postponement of coming back to Malaysia because of postgrad studies, writing off a certain portion of the loan if the student ends up working in a GLC etc...
- But the point remains that these students should not be left off 'scott-free'
- If the government is clamping down on PTPLN loan defaulters, why not clamp down on JPA scholars who don't return or don't end up working for the government?

2) Design a special position / training program in the civil service that allows the JPA scholars to be rotated among different departments before being assigned / given the choice of a department.

- Many MNCs such as Citibank and P&G have management trainee programs which rotates their better recruits among the different departments in these companies before they decide or are assigned a department. Why can't the Malaysian government do something similar?
- If it takes a larger salary to recruit and retrain these JPA scholars, then why not create a layer of 'management trainees' which can be paid at higher levels, at least initially, and then promoted faster so that their opportunities and pay can expand commensurately?

Note: Not all GLCs are as 'liberal' as the JPA. Some (like PNB) does track down its scholars and are very strict in enforcing repayment terms if their scholars don't fulfill the terms of their bonds.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The plight of Tamil schools

Hopefully, I'll be able to blog about the latest announcement by the Education Minister in regards to the progress the Ministry has made in fulfilling the objectives of the Education Blueprint (2006-2010) and the 9MP (especially after the full report is out on the Ministry's website). But for now, I'll focus on one element of that progress report which is to make Tamil schools all fully government supported.

According to a recent report in the Star (taken from Malaysian Nanban), " There are 524 Tamil schools in the country with about 150 of them in rural areas and estates, and being partly aided by the government." I'm not sure if this is saying that only 150 out of 524 Tamil schools are partly aided schools or that 150 Tamil schools that are in rural areas and estates are partly aided (there might be other Tamil schools in urban areas which are also partly aided).

As far as I know, partly aided schools (mostly SRJK(C) and SRJK(T)) are schools were the government / MOE pays the salaries of the teachers and staff but does not allocate money for improving or building new infrastructure in these schools e.g. computer labs, upgrading of facilities, new buildings etc... This means that the physical state of many of these partly aided schools, especially those in rural areas and the estates, is very poor.

My impression is that Tamil schools, on the whole, lack the community support which many of the Chinese schools have. Some of this can be explained by the income levels of the parents in the estates where many of these Tamil schools are located. There are other institutional explanations as well such as the better organized Chinese education movement and the larger numbers of Chinese who send their children to the Chinese primary schools.

According to a report by MIED (Maju Institute for Education Development), dated from 2004, "There are 376(71.5%) out of 526 Tamil schools classified as partially aided schools." This may have changed over the past 3 years or so but the announcement by the Education Minister, Hishammudin Tun Hussein, to have all Tamil schools eventually moved to a fully aided status is certainly welcome news for the Indian community, especially those living in the estates.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

An Introduction to the Residential Liberal Arts College

The following article was written by Yap Yaowen, currently a sophmore at Kenyon College. You can access his personal blog here. Frankly, I think that more Malaysians should apply to and study in liberal arts colleges. It's a great place to find a great education and to expand your horizons.

An Introduction to the Residential Liberal Arts College

I dread it whenever someone asks me where I am studying in.

“Kenyon College? Why do you want to go to a college instead of a university?” people usually give me that concerned look, as if I am wasting four years of my time in a college. Many Malaysians fail to understand that the word “college” is used very much interchangeably with the word “university” in the United States, so much so that you can be in Princeton and still be going to a “college”.

In the US education system, colleges are broadly classified into two categories: a two-year college, or what normally known as a community college and a four-year college. Both big, research universities (i.e. Princeton, MIT and Stanford) and liberal arts colleges belong to the category of a four-year college. In this article, I will seek to explain what a liberal arts college is, what makes a liberal arts college distinctive and how to finance a liberal arts education.

A liberal arts college is primarily a college that focuses entirely (usually) on an undergraduate education. Most of them provide a high quality undergraduate experience. You may or may not hear of colleges like Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore and Wellesley. But you might want to know that these liberal arts colleges ranked side-by-side with top research universities like Yale, Princeton and MIT.

Distinctiveness of a liberal arts college

A difference between a liberal arts college and a research university is its size. A typical liberal arts college is small, with a school population ranging from 850 (Wabash) to 2700 (Wesleyan). This also translates into small classes. The average class size at Kenyon for instance is 14 and the faculty to student ratio is 9:1.

Another difference of a liberal arts college, as mentioned before, is the fact that the school devotes entirely of its resources on its undergraduates. You will be taught solely by professors, people who have earned a PhD and people who can probably inspire you and make you want to be like them. Teaching is central at liberal arts colleges and professors are rewarded based on their teaching ability as opposed to the number of research publications they churn out. They are also highly accessible and diligently keep to their office hours.

Liberal arts colleges also tend to be fully residential. Everyone lives on campus and eat at the dining hall. You will form close relationships with your friends as you meet them everyday in residential halls, classrooms, athletic center, dining hall, parties, at a lecture or a play etc. Being fully residential also means that learning can take place beyond the allocated classroom time. At Kenyon for instance, there are German, French, Japanese, Spanish, Chinese and Italian tables at the dining hall each week, giving students an opportunity to practice their newly acquired language skills.

The foremost distinction of a liberal arts college however, is the majors they offer. According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, liberal arts is defined as “The areas of learning that cultivate general intellectual ability rather than technical or professional skills. The term liberal arts is often used as a synonym for humanities, although the liberal arts also include the sciences. The word liberal comes from the Latin liberalis, meaning suitable for a free man, as opposed to a slave”. You probably wouldn’t find business or engineering in most liberal arts colleges (Note: there are always exceptions though. Smith and Swarthmore do offer engineering!). A liberal arts education does not equip you with vocational skills, but rather life, analytical and critical thinking skills. Simply put, a liberal arts education teaches you how to live your life to the fullest.

Financing a liberal arts education

Let’s face it, a liberal arts education isn’t going to be cheap with all the small classes, close faculty interaction and superb facilities one enjoys. The 2006-2007 cost of attendance (inclusive of tuition, room and board) at Kenyon amounts to USD 44390. But fortunately, liberal arts colleges also tend to be well endowed (i.e. RICH)! Most international students at Kenyon are on some sort of need-based financial aid which can go up to full cost of attendance. Many of the top liberal arts colleges are committed to the principle of diversity and ensuring that qualified students are granted access regardless of one’s financial circumstances.

Discover US Education Fair ‘07

At this upcoming Discover US education fair, a total of nine liberal arts colleges will be represented. Some are all male while some are all female. Some are located next to cornfields while some are closer to civilization. They are: Bates, Kenyon, Mount Holyoke, Oberlin, Smith, Swarthmore, Wabash, Wesleyan and Wellesley. So be sure to check us out!

Yaowen is a rising sophomore at Kenyon College, a four-year private liberal arts college in Gambier, Ohio. He loves the school and the cornfields surrounding it.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

KYUEM - An Interesting Model

KYUEM (Kolej Yayasan UEM) has been on my radar ever since I found out that Nik Nazmi, a close aide to an opposition leader in Malaysia, did his A levels in that school. The Star reported recently that 11 out of the 183 graduating class from KYUEM were accepted into Oxford or Cambridge (6% of all students). This prompted me to take a closer look at KYUEM's website.

This is how KYUEM is described in its website:

KYUEM, owned by Yayasan UEM and part of the UEM Group, is a fully-residential college that is modeled upon the top British boarding schools. It has a very active student life on campus and a caring pastoral care system, run by an internationally diverse staff of widely-experienced Malaysian, British and Indian teachers. Occupying a purpose-built site at Lembah Beringin, just 70km north of Kuala Lumpur, and enjoying easy access to the North-South Highway, the College offers tranquil surroundings in which able and highly-motivated students can study without distractions.

Given that many UEM executives probably studied in the UK (not Halim Saad, who is a graduate of Victoria in New Zealand), it is not surprising that KYUEM was modeled after a British boarding school system. (The other such school in Malaysian which I know if is Kolej Tuanku Ja’far which is located in Negeri Sembilan)

What I find interesting about KYUEM is that is it genuinely multi-racial. Nothing in its admissions pages states that there is a racial quota for entry into the school and from its alumni listing and past high achievers, one can immediately see that this school is well represented by all ethnic groups, at least in Peninsular Malaysia (perhaps lacking Sabahans and Sarawakians). Its seems to be a genuinely meritocratic place.

Its residential system also seems to be genuinely multi-racial (unlike the de factor segregated housing in our public universities) and encourages students of different races to engage with each other and to have activities with one another. It's probably easier in a school with 200 to 300 students compared to a public universities with 20,000 students.

While it is not cheap (a year's fees cost 60,000RM, close to what you'd pay for one year's university fees in the UK), its website indicates that most students obtain scholarships from major corporations (it doesn't say which corporations though).

The only thing I would slightly criticize KYUEM's website it that it doesn't provide any information on how one can obtain these scholarships to study in KYUEM. Perhaps this is only revealed after the students send in their applications and are accepted.

Kudos to UEM and the other backers of KYUEM in setting up KYUEM in the way that it was set up. It could have easily set up an exclusive boarding school to cater only to Bumiputeras in Malaysia (much like MCKK) but it chose to take a more progressive path and opened the doors of KYUEM to all, on a merit basis.

Hopefully, the experience of studying at KYUEM will produce future leaders who are as progressive in their thinking and in how they will lead their respective organizations be it corporations, educational institutions or political parties. (If Nik Nazmi is any indication, we need more Nik Nazmis in Malaysia!)

Update: Both Bakri Musa and Nik Nazmi have written about this topic.