Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Top Scorers Fail to Get Scholarships

The typical "top student" not getting government scholarships story is like a never ending, tiresome soap opera in Malaysia. Someone should perform a search on the Star archives and see how many of these stories have been published in the past 3 years alone.

So, it really surprises no one for this latest story published in the Star today:
Two months ago, Ng Ee Liang, Desmond Chee and Teoh Wan Ying were feeling on top of the world when they each scored 13 1As and were named Penang’s top SPM scorers. But all their dreams and hopes came crashing down on Monday after finding out that their applications for Public Services Department (PSD) scholarships had been rejected.
My wife, Ting Fong shared her experience with PSD this morning as we were reading the article. Unlike me, who didn't even get shortlisted for an interview, she was actually shortlisted after having achieved straight 'A's for her 'A'-Levels and had a letter of offer to read Jurisprudence (Law) at Oxford. The following is an reconstructed excerpt of her interview experience:
Interviewer: Oh, awak dulu belajar in Sekolah Menengah Tun Aminah (STA), Batu Pahat ke?

Ting Fong: Ya.

Interviewer: STA ada nickname yang agak terkenal kan? Tahu tak?

Ting Fong: Tak tentulah. Ada ke?

Interviewer: STA terkenal sebagai Sekolah Tahi Ayam...
Her conclusion from the interview exercise was a waste of time because the 3 interviewers were just not at all interested in the interview process, often asking and discussing largely irrelevant points/issues. And of course, after the interview, she had zero expectations on being successful in obtaining a scholarship from PSD.

I think we all need to do our little parts to improve the system over time. However, at the same time, we should all have the expectations that the current system is going to work against non-bumiputeras at this point of time. So, I'm actually a tad surprised that Ng was so dejected.
“People say boys don’t cry, but yesterday I cried my heart out”

In a system that is run by fallible humans, there are always going to be inherent biases and imperfections in any selection process - whether for jobs or scholarship interviews, whether in Malaysia or in Australia, or whether its due to race or wealth or even language accent. The ultimate determination of one's character, is the ability to work with the system at hand and grow stronger from the process.

So, for Ng and the other students who failed to obtain a scholarship from PSD - don't get too upset or bitter about it. Move on. The PSD is not the only scholarship board in Malaysia. There are a fair few scholarships available from various foundations and large MNCs. If you can't find them in Malaysia, our neighbours Singapore will welcome you with open arms (and they are looking for more doctors). Prove to yourselves that the excellent academic results are not your only talents, you will need just as much the "street smartness" which can take you places when combined with your excellent academic knowledge. Be resourceful! Whining and waiting for food to be served to your on a silver platter isn't going to get you anywhere, even with perfect SPM grades.

Like my wife, I managed to with some luck, secure for myself a place at Oxford University. As I was studying in Singapore then, I applied to many many organisations for a scholarship to pursue my studies there. I was not shortlisted for any interview in Singapore, largely due to my failure to achieve near perfect As for my 'A'-Levels (sigh). Fortunately for me, one of the foundations of a large MNC in Malaysia came to my "rescue", after I've already confirmed my place at National University of Singapore. There was no way my family could afford the fees at Oxford. With hindsight, not obtaining my scholarship in Singapore has been a real blessing in disguise. Not only would I not have "returned" to Malaysia otherwise, I would have been stuck in some stodgy Government-linked corporation (GLC) in Singapore, bonded for as long as 8 years. Breaking the bond midway may have meant being crucified by some of Singapore's top civil servants as well.

I'm not at any point of time saying that we should accept the current biases in our system. We should continue to press our government for a fairer education system which will enhance national integration and help our government achieve that objective over time. That's why I encouraged frightened Malaysian to return home. However, at the same time, it will be day-dreaming to think that the system will be changed overnight and foolish to not acknowledge the existing shortcomings and to work around it the best we can.

So Ng, Chee & Teoh and others in a similar predicament, go ahead and prove that you are better than the system. The rewards will then be sweeter, and you can only be a better person for your efforts. Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Ng, Chee & Teoh, I just want to say that now is the time for you to find other avenues better than the PSD scholarships. It is an opportunity gained not lost.

Old Man

Anonymous said...

For those who are interested to follow up on the one crucified by top singapore's civil servant:,4136,86038,00.html

Old Man

Anonymous said...

And the perils of blogging:

Old Man

Anonymous said...

Actually I was kinda surprised that they made such a big fuss about it because like what you said, we've had uncountable cases like these in the past few years. They should know that there is a probability that top scorers would be rejected for scholarships. In my opinion, they should've just applied their scholarships from numerous universities around the world, I mean if you can't get this one, I'm sure there will be one that would eventually accept you. So instead of crying over one rejected app, move on to the next.