Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Get Tutored By Our Minister

From what I've seen of Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, for more affectionately known as Tok Pa, I like him and as mentioned in an earlier post, I was happy that Pak Lah appointed him as the Minister of Higher Education to replace the ineffective Datuk Shafie Salleh. And I've quite liked him ever since the days where he was the deputy finance minister under Dr M.

Of the many ministers in Pak Lah bloated cabinet, he has shown himself to be pretty much the most responsive to constructive criticism. Even our Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Sdr Lim Kit Siang has more than once, in recent months, taken his hats off to Tok Pa. In the short 5 months since Tok Pa became the Minister of Higher Education, he was commended by Sdr Lim when he made instant clarification to a blog statement by the latter. I've also blogged about it here.

Tok Pa quickly followed up with the statement with the release of the much awaited Zahid Higher Education Report, firstly in physical form and not long after that, a truncated version published on the Ministry website in PDF format. However, the last I checked, the full report is now available in PDF format in both English and Bahasa Malaysia on the website.

Most recently, Tok Pa was again commended for immediately requesting from Sdr Lim, the details of a top STPM student who was for some reason denied a place in the local public universities (read also my post on University Entrance: Something's Not Right...). While the outcome of the enquiry is still unknown, it certainly showed that Tok Pa (and his team) is definitely on the ball. Our local press of course, happily highlighted the case. You probably can't say that about most of our ministers.

What I was pleased to read in the Star recently, was also his personal interest in improving the education, and in particular, the standards of English language amongst rural folks in his constituency in Jeli. Not only does he spend his allowance as an MP on a tuition centre, together with his wife, they do some part time "teachings" over the weekends personally.
It was his concern for the pupils' lack of English proficiency in the 27 schools around Jeli, Kelantan, that led Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed to set up a tuition centre 10 years ago.

The tuition centre known as Darul Falah or House of Success, and located within the minister's residence originally catered to pupils in Year Six.

“In the first eight years, we helped pupils to prepare for their UPSR because we found they were doing quite well in most subjects except for English... But what the teacher found was that their foundation was so weak in English that it was better to accept them from the time they were in Year Five so there was more time to work on improving their grasp of the language,” says Mustapa...

The classes which are provided free of charge, are held on Friday and Saturday (the Kelantan weekend) in two sessions, morning and afternoon and pupils are provided with breakfast, lunch and tea.
While the skeptics among us will say the entire set up is a public relations exercise for a politician, I would argue that at the very least, the exercise has been executed well and has benefited thousands. That's much more than many others who could well have spent their MP's allowance on karaoke sessions to entertain their cronies and business associates. Or for that matter, those who take part in a PR exercise for a supposed grassroot event which never takes off beyond the launch day.

Hence, of the lot we have acting as our country's leaders, I'm glad to have Tok Pa as the Minister of Higher Education, even more so now than I was when he was appointed. While there's really plenty that needs to be done to our Higher Education system, and plenty of criticisms which we can all make here, at least we know that we have a Minister who is willing to put in at least a bit of effort to make things better.

Tok Pa, we are all hoping for better things to come! :)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Smart Schools Audit

Ever wondered whether the billions of ringgit gone to make students and teachers savvy in information and communication technology have been spent wisely? The Star has reported that the Government has appointed a group of auditors to find out.

Being from the IT industry myself and doing a fair bit of work for e-learning type solutions, I'm really curious to see the report when it sees the light of day. In the IT boom years, when the Smart Schools formed one of the key hyped-up flagships by the Multimedia Super Corridor, I remember reading lustily, the type of budgets and tenders which were out there for the development of Smart Schools back in 1997.

Back then, our current deputy prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak was the Minister of Education (while I was barely 27). Through one of our bumiputera partners, we managed to secure a presentation to him to present our "breakthrough" e-learning solution which fitted the bill for a low-cost, efficient and speedy nationwide implementation. Expectedly, the meeting didn't lead to anything tangible.

Looking back at all the tender documents for the Smart Schools project (I've kept every single one of it, even though I didn't participate in them), I will be surprised if even more than 70% of it has been successfully implemented. The vision was too big and the parties involved including all the big IT names such as IBM and Microsoft were just too eager to just sell their wares. The execution and co-ordination of the projects by the Ministry were so poor, that there were so many parallel similar pilot projects being implemented all over the place.

The circumstances was so confusing, it gave birth to unscrupulous parties creating non-existent smart school projects to cheat unsuspecting and hungry IT vendors who willingly paid upfront monies to secure these contracts. I know of a listed company who lost hundreds of thousands (or possibly millions of ringgit) for placing hardware orders for a ficticious nationwide giga-infrastructure wireless Wide Area Network project connecting "Islamic Smart Schools" from Kulim to Putrajaya. But that's a story for another time.

Anyway, back to the main topic, the Auditors would do well to compare what has been implemented today to what was envisioned in the "The Malaysian Smart School: A Conceptual Blueprint" prepared by the Ministry of Education some 10 years ago. In particular, I would be interested in the progress of Smart School Teaching-Learning Materials Project and the Smart School Assessment System.

The former is to create materials to be used in classes, which incorporates built-in assessment, promoting "learning in a manner that is best suited to the student's individual learning pace and style." The latter address the Smart School's "assessment packages and the Life-Time Database, which sall assess and record students' academic progress and performance."

But the way things turn out, it appears that our Smart Schools are nothing much beyond equipping the schools with expensive notebooks for teachers and multimedia projectors for classrooms. After all, our Minister of Education had previously redefined the Smart School concept as such, when challenged with an impossible task by the Prime Minister, as blogged here.

And when asked on the spend by the Ministry by the Star, the Minister again focused his replies on supplies of hardware equipment.
He said that under the programme, laptops and LCD projectors are sent to teachers and trained by his ministry to use them ...his ministry supplied the computers and built the necessary computer labs for schools while the Energy, Water and Communications ministry took charge of the networking.

“All this will be accounted for, including how many notebooks have been supplied to teachers, how many teachers had undergone computer courses and how many more teachers needed to be sent for such training.”
So, we'll see. I'll definitely be interested in reading the final audited report, on whether the qualitative and teaching aspects of the Smart School projects will be audited, or will it just be an accounting exercise of determining the number of teachers who possess notebooks.

10 Years To Build A School

I may not have the experience in construction, but if given the responsibility, I'm pretty sure I won't need 10 years to complete the building of a secondary school. But that is exactly what happened to a school in Rawang whereby it has not been completed after 10 years!

The Minister of Education, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said that
"I am disgusted with the numerous excuses given by the contractor." He said the contractor had been sacked and a new one would be appointed to revive the project.

"If all goes well, we hope to have the school ready by the end of the year."
It's interesting that in Malaysia, it takes 10 long years for our civil service to get "disgusted" with shoddy work from their contractors. To be fair to the Minister, he was only given the Education portfolio 4 years ago (still a long time, though).

The interesting question then is, how much have been paid to the contractor, and is the guilty party being sued for liquidated damages?

The Minister loudly proclaimed "[t]his sort of thing will not happen under the Ninth Malaysia Plan". We all hope so too. However, when there has been no apparent action taken on the guilty parties, the likelihood of such occurrences will remain high.

To make sure that the 9th Malaysia Plan education projects are completed on a timely basis, it is critical for the Ministry to set performance targets for contractors - such as a fixed term, say 2 years, to complete building a school and a maximum extension of 1 year, after which the contract may be automatically terminated and compensation sought.

Datuk Seri, is there political will to do so?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Meet Up (Update)

Hi guys,

Much apologies in the delay in setting this up. After taking into consideration a whole lot of suggestions from you guys, Kian Ming and I have decided on the following venue and details:

Date: 30th June 2006 (Friday)
Time: 9.30pm
Venue: Nasi Kandar Kayu (Upstairs)

It's located next to Chow Yang hawker centre in SS2, Petaling Jaya. Those who are not familiar and require a map or directions, let me know. I'll send you one.

For those interested in the World Cup after that, Germany plays Argentina at 11pm :-) It's time to send the Argies packing.

For those who still want to join us, you are most welcome to do so. For logistical purposes (such as what colour dress you should be wearing :-)), send me a mail to let me know. There are probably about 10+ of us meeting up, so it'll be good :-)

Ciao! :-)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Managed Meritocracy: More Than It Meets The Eye

We all know about the "meritocracy" issue relating to entry into our local public university and colleges. Our civil servants at the Ministry of Higher Education insists that the "managed meritocracy" system we have at the moment is one that is fair and transparent.

However, we (and that probably includes the officials themselves) all know that we are only kidding ourselves if an 'A' in the matriculation entry system is completely equivalent to an 'A' from the STPM examinations. As highlighted by an insider within the University Malaya Medical faculty in an email to Sdr Lim Kit Siang, the students who fail in the university examinations at the faculty comprised entirely of matriculation students.

But I'm writing here not to debate further about the above issue - I really don't think there's much left to say, which won't be just a regurgitation of common knowledge. Instead, I'm interested in highlighting potentially blatant and opaque unmeritocratic practices, even within the "managed meritocracy" framework we have today. That means that assuming we accept the Ministry's premise that both university entrance systems are completely equivalent, I believe that unmeritocratic practices are still pretty much entrenched in the system.

Based on what I've read and discovered over the past few days, there were persistent questions as to why a candidate with results such of 3A and 1B for STPM is unable to gain entry into courses of his or her choice, especially since he or she avoided the wildly popular choices such as medicine? I blogged about this issue here.

As expected the above candidate wasn't an exception in the system. The New Straits Times reported that
...1,796 applicants are particularly upset. They did not get seats as they had earlier refused the option of any other subject, other than the eight they had picked in the application form.

They are particularly irked as they had good results, with most scoring a CGPA of 3.6 or 3.7.
Hence, there are clearly many students with very good results who have not been able to secure any seats in our local public universities. Note however, that some of these students may have indicated that they were only interested in medicine, and nothing else.

On top of that, we read that CYP, in a letter published in the Star that he was rejected for a place to study Mechanical Engineering despite having a perfect CGPA of 4.0, and participated in the National Service programme which contributed additional co-curricular points. He was instead offered his 4th choice of Environmental Engineering.

The above cases only leads me to one conclusion - while students are offered places at our universities "meritocratically", placements at the various faculties and universities appear to be conducted in an opaque fashion with mysterious criteria.

How can a student with near perfect university entrance scores be denied a place in say mechanical engineering at presumably Universiti Malaya (UM) unless the Ministry can substantiate that all the students accepted for mechanical engineering at UM and other universities of CYP's choice, had equivalent or better scores?

This leads to the next question for our Minister of Higher Education - if not by university entrance scores which comprised of a candidates CGPA for his examinations (90%) and his or her co-curricular activities (10%), what other criteria were used to determine which faculty or course a candidate is offered?

In seeking greater clarification on the supposed meritocratic system of course and faculty placement, the Ministry of Higher Education should publish statistics of the highest and lowest university entrance scores accepted for individual courses by university. This way, if the candidate with the lowest entrance score accepted for Mechanical Engineering at UM is say, 75, then it is proof that even our "managed meritocracy" system cannot be taken at face value.

And if indeed our "managed meritocracy" is a bit of a farce, the Ministry of Higher Education should come clean with the exact criteria used to determine faculty and course placements - are we looking at some "innocent" but sophisticated random calculator or some classified and sinister social engineering programme?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

University Entrance: Something's Not Right...

I've only just written briefly on the university entrance statistics yesterday. My impression of this year's intake scenario is that the Ministry of Higher Education has taken some effort (at the very least from the public relations perspective) to minimise as far as possible the negative press which afflicts the ministry annually for the past few years. And I actually thought that they are moving somewhat in the right direction, albeit not at a speed I would have preferred.

However, certain reports I've read in the last two days may be seeding the clouds of doubt - that something is really wrong with the system. And I'm not just talking about the issues which have beend debated to death such as the "managed meritocracy" system we have.

I'm shocked to find out from Sdr Lim Kit Siang's blog post that a student who appears to be reasonably active in extra-curricular activities, who did very commendably with his SPM and STPM examinations (9A1s and 3As respectively) did not manage to secure a single spot in any of our public universities in any course! And he didn't even attempt to apply to the disproportionately popular medicine and pharmacy courses.

Contrary to what many commented as a "bumiputra vs non-bumiputra" issue on Sdr Lim's blog, I'm of the opinion that this travesty of academic justice has nothing to do with the "managed meritocracy" system we have which tends to favour matriculation students. The simple reason is that I've seen many many candidates with results poorer (of all races) who have been accepted into our local public universities, even the better ones such as Universiti Malaya (UM) or Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).

I can only imagine that the student's failure to obtain a place in the local public universities has all to do with the failure of the Bahagian Pengurusan Kemasukan Pelajaran (BPKP), or formerly known as the Unit Pusat Universiti (UPU) in its admission processes. How else could someone with examination results such as above fail to secure any places in the local universities? In addition, I can only assume that the above candidate isn't the only candidate with such a predicament.

Not being a product of the local university system, I'm personally not familiar with the BPKP application and selection process. Maybe someone with in depth knowledge or experience with the existing system may share some ideas here as to how something like this can happen.

In the mean time, if the student (or anyone else in the same predicament) ever reads this blog, I can only advise him or her not to give up hope, and don't be swayed by the "many people" who claimed that the E-Rayuan process is futile. If you don't try, then you'd never be successful.

And for those who are not already aware, you can submit your appeal on your application here before 30th June. Good luck! :)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

40,000 New Undergraduates

Well, the results which many STPM and matriculation students have been waiting for are out today. For those interested, they can visit the Ministry of Higher Education website to check on their personal details.

Would we get the usual annual charade of candidates with super grades missing out on choice courses? I'm certain there will be - it'll just be a question of whether the qualms are deserving or underserving parties. We'll wait in anticipation as the media, I'm sure will pounce on any perceived injustice to make headline news, as well as the countless letter which will hit the mailroom. In addition, the unhealthy annual practice of political parties submitting appeals on behalf of students have already started (and Kian Ming wrote about SUPP submitting appeals on behalf of rejected Sarawak candidates for scholarships here).

In the meantime, here are some published statistics (figures in brackets are for 2005/6 intake):
Total Public University Intake: 40,016 (39,976)

Racial Distribution:
  • Bumiputeras - 62.36% (62.4%)
  • Chinese - 31.53% (32.0%)
  • Indians - 6.11% (5.6%)
It appears that the slight increase in university places benefited the Indian community the most, with the slight increase in allocation from 5.6% to 6.1%.

The number of students accepted into the respective courses are:
  • Medicine: 925 (910)
  • Dentistry: 205
  • Pharmacy: 285
  • Electronic Engineering: 1,538
  • Mechanical Engineering: 1,194
  • Chemical Engineering: 943
  • Accounting: 1,086
  • Economics: 1,055
  • Law: 277
For the racial breakdown of students gaining entry into the above courses, have a look at the table below, courtesy of The Star.

The key subjective element in this year's entry has to be the fact that co-curricular activities contributing up to 10% of a candidates overall score. It will be interesting to see if this has created any potential controversies, which I blogged about earlier.

And beyond the "managed meritocracy" issue which is bound to arise, and which has been debated to death, one of the larger picture is the fact that are we accepting too many undergraduates? The 40,000 new undergraduates have yet to take into consideration and additional 20,000 or so students enrolling into the private institutions of higher learning.

As questioned by the first director of then Institut Teknologi Mara (now Universiti Teknologi Mara, or UiTM), Tan Sri Arshad Ayub, was frank at a public lecture recently:
"We are so concerned with expanding enrolment at our institutions of higher learning that we fail to ask whether some of these students are ready to pursue degrees.

"Shouldn’t they be pursuing diplomas instead? I think a quarter or even half of the existing number of students pursuing degrees should be doing diplomas. Perhaps, this is why we now have a problem of unemployable graduates."
I can only concur wholeheartedly.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Long Break

Before yesterday's post, I probably had my longest break from blogging since I started here more than a year ago April. One whole week went by without me publishing a word on this blog - wow. :)

Quite a few readers wrote to me to comment on how I manage to somehow find time to blog so regular despite keeping a taxing day job and spending time with family. Well, there you go, sometimes, you just can't :) I spent Monday to Thursday in Macau and China, came back on the red eye flight (2.45am, thanks to AirAsia), caught up with the week's work, spent time with the little girl (and of course, the mum :)) and not to forget taking a peek at the World Cup games whenever I can (England sucks!). :)

But I'm back and hopefully I won't be travelling far in the next two weeks and I get to catch up on my posts. So now, I blog during half-time and in-between games :)

Anyways, some of you guys have been asking for further information our "meet up". Yes, it's on. And I think I have so far positive response from some 10 or so of you. I'd suggest we meet up on the Friday, 30th June evening but I'll update you guys (probably in the next 2 days) on the final venue once I get to catch up with Kian Ming, who's back in town.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Soft Skills

I've just completed a round of interviews over 2 weeks for the position of web application developers. There were some 200 applications and less than 20 were shortlisted. Taking away those who rejected interview appointments for one reason or another, I met up with some 12 candidates and have already made offers to 4 of them, with another 2 on a "keep-in-view" mode.

Hence it was sort of interesting when the Minister of Higher Education announced that public universities will be conducting "soft skills" modules for all undergraduates by the next in take.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed said he was taking into consideration complaints from employers that graduates lacked soft skills.

“We take these views seriously, which is why we are introducing this new module for the new 2006/07 intake... My mission is to ensure our graduates have the necessary skills.”
So how much did "soft skills" affect my decision making process? Before I go into that, do note that my criteria may differ from that of other employers, and it may vary slight depending on the position being offer.

"Soft skills" often relates to the abilities such as communication, team work and leadership skills. What I would typically include as part of the soft skills package include good manners as well as a positive and pleasant disposition. Soft skills are important to be eventually recruited by the employer.

When I first shortlisted my web application developer candidates for interview (using, the first criteria will have to be "intelligence". Unfortunately, the closest proxy to a measure of intelligence will have to be the university attended, the grades achieved for tertiary and secondary education. Those from top universities and consistently achieving top grades go straight automatically into the "shortlist" folder. Those with second-class lower type degrees as well as weak universities are automatically placed in the "reject" folders. This probably resulted in some 7-8 candidates in the shortlist folder, another 30 or so in the "to-be-reviewed" category, while the rest of the 150 candidates or so in the reject bin.

I'll then sift through the candidates in the "to-be-reviewed" further category in greater detail by reading their resumes, identifying leadership qualities from school activities, their personal write ups as well as their replies to a short essay question posed in the application. From there another 10 or so candidates are shortlisted and the rest placed in the "bin".

Finally the candidates are called for an interview in which I attempt to "extract" the candidates "soft skills" capabilities through both casual chat as well as more in-depth discussion on "technical" matter such as knowledge in object-oriented programming. The technical discussion is probably less to discover the candidates technical abilities (which I regard as given based on their academic performance), but their ability to relate these technical issues coherently in a verbal manner.

So, from the above, soft skills are only important to the extent that they help you differentiate yourself from other outstanding candidates (of which there are many). Soft skills on their own do not usually get you shortlisted for interviews for analytical and skills-based positions.

Hence as much as its correct for the Minister, Tok Pa, to emphasise on the need to strengthen undergraduates soft skills, it is their academic capabilities i.e., their critical thinking, analytical skills and knowledge acquired which are the key determinant of employment. This is the key aspects which are lacking in many of our undergraduates which results in a disproportionate number of unemployed undergraduates.

In addition, it is my opinion that "soft skills" can't really be taught as a course on its own. One picks up leadership qualities through participation in co-curricular activities both in and out of school. Similarly, one strengthens his or her communication skills through interaction with teachers and schoolmates from primary to tertiary institutions. "Soft skills" cannot be taught as a subject in a semester, much less as an examinable subject.

Instead, if the Ministry is indeed serious about strengthening the "soft skills" of the general undergraduate population, it is important to create a more conducive environment at our universities. It is a common criticism that our institutions of higher learning are overly paternalistic in nature, from the vague and draconian Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) to overzealous controls imposed by the student affairs departments. These measures literally encourage our undergraduates to remain well within their turtle shells.

Friday, June 16, 2006

PSD Scholarships: East Malaysia Angle

This is not so much a posting of opinion rather than a call for discussion and information. Tony has blogged about the plight of PSD scholarship applicants rejects here. I want to discuss the scholarship issue from a different perspective - from an East Malaysia angle. This was sparked off by a recent report in the Star, which highlighted the plight of Cornelius Ng, 17, who obtained 11 1As and two 2As in last year’s SPM examination and was also chief prefect at SMK Sungai Maong as well as a librarian. SMK Sungai Maong is a school in Kuching, Sarawak.

My perception has been that it is traditionally easier for Chinese in Sarawak and Sabah to obtain government scholarships because the racial quota in East Malaysia is seen as more 'fluid' or 'less rigid'. Furthermore, my impression is that, results like that of Cornelius, which might not necessarily stand out in Peninsular Malaysia, would be seen as pretty outstanding in the context of East Malaysia for two reasons: (i) the number of Chinese top scorers are lower compared to East Malaysia because of the smaller number of Chinese and (ii) the % of Chinese who score straight A1s is also lower because of lower levels of competition.

But apparently, this is not the case as Cornelius is only one of 138 Sarawakians (presumably all Chinese) who asked the youth section of the SUPP to appeal on their behalf (Apparently, all 138 appeals were unsuccesful).

The political situation in East Malaysia, especially Sarawak, is certainly a little bit different compared to the Peninsular. For example, there are Chinese mayors in major Sarawak cities (Sibu, Kuching) and there is also a Chinese Deputy Chief Minister (George Chan, SUPP), both unprecedented in the context of Peninsular Malaysia. But does this kind of exception extend to the scholarship arena, which is seeen as much more of being under federal jurisdiction?

My sense is that there is a difference but I'm not sure of where the lines are drawn. I stand to be corrected, especially in the light of the situation with Cornelius and many others like him.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

New UM VC: Initial Priorities

A postgraduate enrollment of 50% by 2015. International post-graduate students increase of 10% per annum. Those were two of the priorities outlined by the new UM VC as reported by the Star.

The same article also reported that out of an estimated enrolment of 32,000 students, currently has 8,000 postgraduate students, of which 13% is made up of international students from 65 countries. So this means that, holding enrollment steady, the number of postgraduate students will have to increase by 8,000 to 16,000(more, if total enrolment increases, which it should). A 10 percent per annum increase in international students might sound like a lot but it's only about 80 students per annum, which over 10 years, works out to about 800 students and will increase the % of international students to 20% of the postgraduate population.

The ratio of postgraduate to undergraduate degrees makes sense for a research university. Here at Duke, we have roughly 8,000 undergrads and 8,000 graduate students / post docs. I'm not sure about the ratios at other universities but I'm guessing that most of the private universities in the top 50 US News and World Report ranking would have similar ratios. Obviously, you'd have a larger proportion of undergrads in state schools such as UCal Berkeley or UMichigan Ann Arbor.

The more relevant question is whether UM has the capacity to absorb such as change. I've blogged about the quality versus quantity debate here. The point which bears repeating here is that UM probably does not have the faculty (both quality as well as quantity) to absorb such as large increase in the number of postgraduate students.

Here is where the lack of a PhD experience on the part of the new VC might prove consequential. While having a PhD should not be a prerequisite to holding the VC position, it certainly is advantageous when a university is trying to expand its postgraduate numbers in such large numbers so quickly. You cannot emphatise to the same level with a fellow academic if you have not been in a situation where you've had to struggle to obtain resources to fund your projects. You cannot fully anticipate and understand the need for resources like books, journals, databases and online resources if you've not had to do extensive research yourself.

Of course, you can surround yourself with able and capable people who do have this kind of experience and can, therefore, advise you on such matters. And I hope this is what the new VC will do. Because she is going to need all the administrative and technical know how to obtain funding from different sources to train more PhDs to teach in UM and to attract talent to come teach and conduct research in UM.

It is still early days but we should all pay close attention to see if indeed, the lack of a PhD experience, is consequential for this VC in achieving some of her initial priorities.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Go North or South East, Young Man!

For those who are not world cup crazy, here's some scholarship news. Two very different destinations, both East of Malaysia, both offering scholarships at the graduate level, something near and dear to me.

First up, Japan. Thanks to Adriene for the heads up. Adriene is currently in Tokyo doing her Masters under the Monbukagakusho Postgraduate Scholarship 2006 by Embassy of Japan.

Asia Japan Alumni (ASJA) International with the collaboration of Japan Graduates’ Association of Malaysia (JAGAM) will be providing scholarships to eligible applicants for Master or Ph.D courses for the April 2007 enrolment under the ASJA Scholarship Program For Post Graduates Studies In Japan. More details can be found here.

Second destination, NZ. The New Zealand International Doctoral Research Scholarships (NZIDRS) is now open to applicants from around the world until July 17. A total of 40 scholarships will be made available to students undertaking a PhD research programme at any of the eight New Zealand universities next year. The selection criteria for award of the scholarships is academic merit. More details can be found here.

There are many Malaysians who want to do a Masters or PhD overseas especially those who have not had the opportunity to study overseas at the undergrad level. Since not everyone who applies for scholarships such as the Chevening (UK) or the Fulbright (US) actually receives them, it's great that there are other opportunities available in other countries. I'd encourage all who have an inkling to get a graduate degree to apply and give it a shot!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Vice-Chancellor Search Committee: Stillborn?

When the new vice-chancellor of of Universiti Malaya (UM) gets appointed, the media was populated with speculations and news reports. The mechanism for appointment gets scrutinised and the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) had to keep on its toes to ensure acceptable improvements were made in the vice-chancellor appointment and selection process. However, when the new vice-chancellor for International Islamic University (IIU), Datuk Dr Syed Arabi Idid got appointed recently, there was barely a whimper in the media. I only found out from the Star in a section about what other vernacular papers were reporting.

The question wasn't so much the fact that the new appointment wasn't given prominent treatment by the press, but the uncertainty as to whether the recent ad hoc reforms made during the appointment of Datuk Rafiah Salim as the vice-chancellor of UM was continued.

Before his appointment replacing outgoing Tan Sri Prof Dr Mohd Kamal Hassan whose contract ended in April, Datuk Dr Syed Arabi Idid was the Dean of Research at IIU. The question then is, whether this is another case of "in-breeding" as per previous vice-chancellor selection process.

The Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohamad had earlier promised that the search and evaluation committee structure will persist for all subsequent vice-chancellor appointments for our local public universities. He had explained that since there were “always hearing complaints about the appointment of vice-chancellors. A permanent body is the best way to solve the problem.”

I was also most impressed with the recommendations made by the Zahid Higher Education Report with regards to the appointment and selection of vice-chancellors. While the Report has certain blatant weaknesses which I've yet to blog about, this was an aspect of the report which made absolutely sensible and necessary recommendations.
24. The Committee recommends that the appointment of Vice Chancellors for post-graduate and undergraduate universities be carried out through advertising openly in order to obtain the best candidates. Vice Chancellors should be appointed on two-year terms and be given competitive salaries, with the proviso that their services can be renewed, extended or terminated at any time.
On top of that, the Report even recommended that the contracted vice-chancellors be assessed strictly for performance:
21. The Committee recommends that an obligatory condition for the recruitment of leaders at all levels in IHE is outstanding achievement, which is reviewed and evaluated annually based on Key Performance Indicators (KPI).

25. The Committee recommends the creation of Key Performance Indicators as the instrument to gauge the performance of Vice Chancellors. This evaluation procedure should be included in their service contract.
The recommendations above appears to have been lifted directly out of my personal recommendations made in the post here. Unfortunately, I can't claim credit for them as the report was obviously written before I penned my personal thoughts, although it was published only subsequently. The key however, is the fact that the recommendations were clearly universal in their support, be it by senior academics or by silly armchair critics like myself.

Hence it is extremely important to hear from MOHE on whether the same evaluation committee which was used to select the vice-chancellor of UM was also utlised for the recent appointment at IIU. Was there consistency in MOHE's policies, many which has been recently positive, or have things reverted to “normal” once the spotlight on the ministry's policies has dimmed?

In addition, given that the Zahid Higher Education report has been submitted to MOHE for nearly a year now, shouldn't MOHE be making its stand known with regards to its official position on the report – the recommendations which will be supported and implemented, as well as those which are to be rejected?

Is MOHE for instance, supportive of the recommendations 21, 24 and 25 above with regards to the search and evaluation of new vice-chancellors as well as the monitoring of their performance? If yes, what is the expected time frame which we will see the reforms implemented?

We'd like to hear from you, Tok Pa. Tell us that the reforms on our higher education system are taking place in a steady and certain pace.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Education Ministry's Big Plans

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein stated that an ambitious and mammoth Education Blueprint "is a step away from being unveiled".

The objective of the Blueprint is to meet the goals highlighted in the 9th Malaysia Plan - rejuvenate national schools, reduce the knowledge gap between rural and urban areas, strengthen the quality of the curriculum and uplift the teaching profession. On top of that the Ministry wants to ensure that "there are no more dropouts, students who cannot read, write or count, and those who have no information technology and communication (ICT) skills."

Amongst the action items the plan intends to implement?
Beat bureaucracy, lead well and stamp out time-wasting projects.
Apparently, the actions have already started.
In a short time the task force had already improved the flow of grants to schools with the ministry’s finance division making direct payments to many schools by way of electronic transfers. This eliminate the process where the money is channelled to the state education departments, district offices and state accounting offices before it reaches the schools.
It is a small step in the right direction, and we certainly hope to see more. Lets hope the Minister of Education is up to the task.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Meet Up?

Hey guys (and gals) :) Kian Ming is back in town soon for his summer break, and he has suggested that we could possibly host a simple get-together with interested readers of our vibrant little blog. We could meet face-to-face, stick faces to familiar names, have our teh tarik, chat about silly things we write on our blog, talk anything education (or not).

We are looking at the evening of Friday 30th June, or possibly the next day on Saturday 1st July. Depending on the number of people who intends to turn up, we will probably pick a nice mamak stall somewhere around Kuala Lumpur.

To get a better gauge of the number of people interested, especially to determine the location and date, please do send me an email, with your preferences if any. Come nearer that date, I'll put up the full details of the meet like the time, venue and etc.

Looking forward to meeting up with you guys then!

More New University Colleges?

In the same report which I cited for my post yesterday on "More 'New' Unviersities", it was mentioned that Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohammed was formally receiving applications from 3 existing colleges to be qualified at "University Colleges" (UCs). The colleges who made the applications are Taylors College, Inti College and Cosmopoint Institute of Information Technology.

For those who are not familiar with the concept of "university colleges", you may look up an earlier blog post of mine. Essentially, the existing colleges are allowed only to offer qualifications up to advanced diploma levels. Most colleges which are offering degree programmes today are doing so through twinning programmes or special tie-ups with foreign universities. This is an "expensive" exercise for the local colleges because they will be required to share the degree fees with their foreign partners. However, when these colleges are "upgraded" to university colleges, then they have the license to print their very own degree papers.

The applications (and likely approvals) for Taylor's and Inti College are unsurprising given Taylor's reputation in pre-university education as well as the sheer size of Inti. After all, many colleges of less established reputations have had their status upgraded previously, such as Binary and Twintech University College. As of today, there are already 11 university colleges which were upgraded all within the last 5 years.

However, Cosmopoint's potential elevation to a University College will definitely raise a couple of eyebrows. The institution which prides itself as the "[p]ioneer in the production of three CD-ROM Titles: 'Windows to Malaysia', 'Mahathir, CEO Malaysia Inc.' and 'Windows to Malaysia, 2000' on its website doesn't have the rosiest of reputations in the market for information technology graduates. The website further proudly proclaimed that its academic staff are "[a]t least degree holders from Malaysian, Australian, New Zealand, UK and US universities."

Cosmopoint currently offers diploma, advanced diploma, graduate diploma and certificate courses only, without degree programmes. For that matter, Cosmopoint is even in the market promoting programmes such as "From kids to whiz kid School Holiday IT Program for standard 6 to form 4 students". Isn't the institute taking too big a step to become a university college straight away and offering its very own Cosmopoint degrees?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More "New" Universities

Looks like we'll officially have 17 public universities in Malaysia soon, an increase of 6 from the current 11, and excluding the planned university in Kelantan. They are not in actual terms "new" universities, but soon-to-be-former "university colleges".

As reported by the Star, the Government has agreed in principle to drop the word “college” from the country’s six public university colleges.
In April, public university colleges had asked for the word “college” to be dropped from their names because of perceptions that they were inferior to universities. The six university colleges are Kolej Universiti Kejuruteraan dan Teknologi, Kolej Universiti Kejuruteraan Utara Malaysia, Kolej Universiti Sains dan Teknologi Malaysia, Kolej Universiti Islam Malaysia, Kolej Universiti Teknikal Kebangsaan Malaysia and Kolej Universiti Teknologi Tun Hussein Onn.
Our Minister of Higher Education even argued that "[t]here is no difference between a public university or a public university college."
"In fact, both establishments are of the same standard. When students apply for entry, they use the same qualifications, be it STPM or matriculation results," he added.
In a separate report, the rectors of the various university colleges echoed the Minister's statements.
Kolej Universiti Sains dan Teknologi Malaysia (Kustem) rector Prof Datuk Dr Sulaiman Md Yassin said the move would help shed the notion that public university colleges were inferior.

“The change will boost the institutions’ image and help people realise that these public university colleges are no different from public universities,” he said.
Err... with all due respect to the Tok Pa, the standards of our universities are not determined by the fact that STPM or matriculation qualifications are used by all students for entry into our local public universities and university colleges. The standards are determined by the results attained by the students accepted into these institutions. All things equal, if a student with the grades of D,E,E can be accepted into one of the university colleges but rejected by the universities, then the former may be regarded as inferior, despite measuring the students on the same STPM qualifications!

There is clearly an over-emphasis of form over substance here, in the assumption that by dropping the "college" from the institution's name, it would "help shed the notion that public university colleges were inferior". Some top institutions in the world name themselves a "School" and I'll enrol into them without batting an eyelid. It's really not the name that counts. It's going to be the substantive quality of the institution that matters.

Soon every polytechnic in the country will be upgraded to university status as it would "help shed the notion that public [polytechnics] were inferior". And for that matter, maybe community colleges should be upgraded at some stage too after that.

If you ask me, I say, drop the "university" from the "university college" to better reflect the actual circumstances until such a time whereby they are able to prove the academic research and teaching quality becoming of a full-fledge university. And it'll save the average standards of our public universities from falling further.

Universiti Teknologi Mara – World Class?

When I study issues or events to write about, I try to look for the bloggability factor. I can only say that when I saw and read the advertisement placed by Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in the New Straits Times (NST) yesterday, it will be an absolute travesty if I don't stick my nosey-self into it.

But before I get into the full swing of things, let me just clarify that I have absolutely nothing against UiTM students (although they rarely end up on my shortlist of candidates for interviews). I am certain that there are exceptional UiTM students out there who have achieved great success with the careers. I'm also not disputing the fact that UiTM is providing greater opportunities for many bumiputera students to obtain their degrees. UiTM makes access to tertiary education, which may otherwise have not been possible, easily available for some of them. The argument is much like some of the critical comments I received for an earlier post on Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), which argued that I shouldn't criticise UTAR because it enables access by Chinese students squeezed out of our public universities.

My post here isn't about the role of UiTM. My beef is with the fact that UiTM has the cheek to spend some RM50,000 to put up 2 pages worth of full-colour advertisement to declare itself a “world-class university”. More money was likely to have been burnt on advertisements in the Malay newspapers as well.

After Datuk Kapten Professor Dr Hashim Yaakob's disastrous attempts at boosting his own ratings with self-congratulatory newspaper advertisements, billboards, banners and more advertisements on Universiti Malaya (UM), the vice-chancellor of UiTM, Dato' Seri Prof Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah has obviously not learnt the lesson of his peer who got the sack. I wonder if the term of Dato' Seri Prof Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah is up for renewal, hence the apparent pressure to “impress”?

Dato' Seri Professor Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah

A visit to the UiTM website today will also see it framed by its lofty slogan “Gloabl Aspiration... A World-Class University” on every page.

Back to the 2-page advertisement – I will not be able to write a complete deconstruction of it (or it'll take me another 3 hours to complete this post, and it'll probably bore you to death) but to focus on some of the ridiculous which “justified” UiTM's world class status.

For those who have not seen the advertisement, it was entitled “Evolution of A World-Class University: Driving National Development through 13 Dimensions of Excellence”. The remainder of the ad extolled on “these 13 dimensions that UiTM's status as a world-class university is clearly evident”.

Research & Publications
In terms of innovations, UiTM won the highest number of medals (18 in total) amongst the Malaysian universities at the prestigious Geneva Inventor's Award in 2005. While in publications, the University published a total of 68 titles placing UiTM as the university with the highest number of academic publications among universities who are members Majlis Penerbitan Ilmiah Malaysia.
Regular readers will know the type of contempt I hold for the “prestigious” Geneva Inventor's “Award”, which is essentially tokens of appreciation from the trade show organisers to generous paying participants from 3rd world countries to the event like Malaysia and Iran.

As for the number of titles published? I'm certain that Kian Ming will agree that 68 publications for a university the “size” of UiTM is worse than mediocre and that doesn't even take into consideration the quality of the journals and publications.

Intake Based on Meritocracy

This has to be the biggest joke of the advertisement.
Though large in capacity UiTM is stringent on the criteria of student intake, adhering strictly to the requirements of Admission Unit (UPU) of the Ministry of Higher Education which is strongly based on meritocracy.
Does the vice-chancellor of UiTM need a gentle reminder on the definition of meritocracy – which will probably only serve to highlight UiTM is one of the least meritocratic public universities in Malaysia. UiTM was afterall born out of the Government's extensive affirmative action policy for the bumiputeras. Do we need to also remind the vice-chancellor that his former boss once screamed at the top of his lungs that “no non-bumiputera students shall ever set foot in UiTM”?

International Standards
UiTM is the first institution of higher learning in the world to receive the prestigious ISO 9001:2000 award in the scope of corporate management for all its management services and the scope of teaching and learning in all its 24 faculties and 12 branch campuses all over Malaysia... This certification signifies that UiTM meets the highest world standards in terms of quality for its corporate teaching and learning practices, placing UiTM as an outstanding example of world-class standards.
Do you know why UiTM is the first “world-class” institution of higher learning to receive the ISO certification – a process which costs hundreds of thousands of ringgit? It's because the certification has almost no relevance whatsoever to the actually quality of academic teaching and research at the university. Hence, no university worth its salt will believe that an ISO certification is a requirement, much less a certification worth shouting about.

For example, almost no IT company will attempt a painful ISO certification process, except for reasons of misleading naïve clients. The certification process only reviews the documentation and file management process, and does nothing to evaluate the quality of a company's products or software codes. In fact, most of the time, these assessors know nothing about writing software!

The above are just 3 of the "dimensions" highlighted in the advertisement. The rest of the reasons provided are either riddled with unsubstantiated claims or irrelevant facts and figures – UiTM has “the highest number of students with 100,000 to date... Only the best governance and a good solid system, will an institution be able to manage such a large organisation”. (!!?)

What's more, UiTM claims to have a “World-Class Alumni” and listed more than 15 “illustrious personalities” who are managing directors or CEOs or chairmen of Malaysian listed companies. Err... wait, are these Malaysian companies “world-class” companies with sprawling empires all over the world? Or are they our very own jaguh kampungs?

And what's almost laughable, “UiTM's graduates are accepted at the world level because of their ability to communicate in English and their good communication skills”. No statistics are of course given, as to the number of graduates UiTM contributes to the unemployed pool on a yearly basis, despite claims of “Graduate Marketability”.

Finally, in Malaysia, you can never complete your attempts at self-congratulatory messages without dragging our Prime Ministers into the picture (literally). While UM plastered its 1-page congratulatory advertisement with our Prime Minister's mugshot, UiTM went one better, by plastering its 2-page advertisement with both our Prime and Deputy Prime Minister's mugshots. See another brown-nosing attempt by the vice-chancellor here.

So what should actually qualify as markers that one has turned into a world class institution? Pretty simple really, and of course, blatantly ignored by UiTM's vice-chancellor:
  • How many of UiTM's academics publish research in internationally recognised journals in recent years?

  • What percentage of UiTM academics are PhD holders? Has there been any collaborations done in recent years with the top 20 or 30 universities in the world?

  • Are UiTM graduates in demand by some of the largest multinational companies locally and overseas?

  • How selective is UiTM or how high (or low) are the entry criteria into UiTM set?

  • Where did UiTM rank in some of the often cited global university ranking tables such as the one compiled by Shanghai JiaoTung University or The Times Higher Education Supplement?
The above are just some very very simple questions which will clearly establish if UiTM is any where near “world-class” standards. As far as I'm concerned, it's not even anywhere near the top of the class for Malaysian universities – definitely far from my favourites when recruiting local graduates.

When will Malaysian vice-chancellors learn that becoming “world-class” is a lot more than just putting up an advertisement with some half-baked arguments and statistics to justify being “world-class”? The only consolation in the advertisement is that at the very least, the English is good (while the one by UM was atrocious).

I think the time has come for our new Minister of Higher Education, Tok Pa to review Dato' Seri Prof Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah's contract to see if it really justifies an extension (or a termination).

p.s., I'll try to put up a scan of the advertisement tomorrow some time

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Are language requirements necessary for certain jobs?

Imagine this job advertisement: Computer programmer required for a mid-sized software engineering company. No knowledge of any software language necessary. Or how about this advertisement: Accountant required for a public listed company. No accountancy qualifications (ACCA, LICT, etc...) required. Available to start immediately. Is something wrong with these advertisements?

I exaggerate of course. But perhaps this is not too far from what our DPM seems to be implying when it he "urged the private sector to be open in accepting and training local graduates without including certain requirements and looking at their background.'

“I have checked some advertisements, where the criteria for potential employees includes being proficient in Mandarin,” he said when winding up the debate on the Ninth Malaysia Plan at Dewan Negara yesterday.

Let's break down the possible scenarios and try to analyze the situation logically, instead of jumping to unnecessary conclusions.

There might be a few reasons why being proficient in Mandarin is necessary or at least highly recommended for certain jobs.

Firstly, there is a category of jobs where knowing Mandarin is a 'technical' requirement. Translation jobs, for example, would fall into this category. Customer service agents or call centers jobs that cater exclusively to Chinese speaking customers would be other examples.

Presumably, our DPM is not referring to this category of jobs when he is objecting towards Mandarin proficiency as a job requirement.

Secondly, there is a category of jobs where knowing Mandarin, while highly advantageous, would probably not be strictly necessary for a job. There is some element of subjectivity in this category. For example, tour and travel companies such as Reliance which has a large Chinese client base could strictly take non-Mandarin speakers as tour guides, especially for travel to non-Mandarin speaking countries. But in practice, these travel / tour guides are usually required to offer 'commentary' in both Mandarin and English. A tour guide who can only speak English but not Mandarin is at a disadvantage compared to one who is fluent in both Mandarin and English.

Other examples include sales jobs which require a lot of interaction with Chinese speaking customers. I guessing that if you are an agent for a company which sells bicycle parts, you'd be selling to a largely Chinese speaking client base. Indeed, one can argue that proficiency in dialects such as Hokkien and Teochew might be more important than Mandarin in reaching out to this customer base. Strictly speaking, you might not need Mandarin or Chinese dialects to communicate with this customer base. You can probably get by with BM or the 'pasar' version of BM. But if your competitor hires someone who is proficient in Mandarin and in some of the dialects, who do you think is going to win the business of this customer base?

On the most part, employers are not stupid people. They are motivated by making profits. If they want to hire people who are proficient in Mandarin, there is usually a good economic rationale for doing so.

There is of course, a third possibility, whereby employers ARE discriminating when they list Mandarin speaking as a requirement. This might be a largely Chinese company which feels that a non-Chinese or even a non-Chinese speaker would not 'fit in' within the culture and environment of this company. Listing Mandarin speaking as a requirement thus acts as a 'signal' to potential employees as to the kind of company this is. It could also be the case that the employer has discriminatory tendencies and the Mandarin speaking requirement is an outward expression of this tendency.

How will making Mandarin proficiency an optional one, as suggested by Minister of Human Resources, Fong Chan Onn, affect hiring practices?

Unless this is backed up by legislation, my guess is that it wouldn't change anything. For the second category of jobs, where Mandarin speaking is highly advantageous though not necessary from a 'technical' standpoint, employers would still choose to hire those who are proficient in Mandarin even if the advertisement requirements doesn't list it as such.

For the third category of jobs, employers with discrimnatory tendencies will make it clear to non-Mandarin speakers that he or she will not 'fit in' with the rest of the company. Or they could simply choose not to call applicants who cannot speak Mandarin for an interview.

Just to make this clear, it is not racial discrimination here at work. Chinese Malaysians who do not speak Mandarin would also be put at a disadvantage. I speak Mandarin at home with my parents, I love Stephon Chow movies and can understand his jokes, I could probably get by in China bargaining for fake hand bags or DVDs. But I probably cannot translate English into Chinese and vice versa well enough to be a tour guide or speak Mandarin or dialects well enough to make friends with bicycle shop owners and sell them bicycle spare parts.

Short of legislation, we should not expect employers to change their stand, especially in the 2nd category of jobs. And legislation would probably make employers in the 3rd category more resentful than they already are.

We understand the political rationale underlying the DPM's objections.

But we also have to understand the reality of the global economy. Mandarin proficiency is going to be more important over time, not less, both locally and internationally. The number of Chinese tourists going abroad and coming to Malaysia means that knowledge of Mandarin will be at a premium especially in the service industry catering to these tourists. Multinational ompanies at especially interested in hiring Malaysians to work in major cities in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China because of their proficiency in Mandarin and English. My sister, who studied in Kuen Cheng from Std. 1 to Form 5 and also is very proficient in English, currently works in Shanghai and can arguably get any job in her field (CRM) in Greater China because of her language proficiencies as well as her technical abilities.

Many non-Chinese Malaysians are already aware of this. Hence, the increase in the number of non-Chinese students enrolled in Chinese primary schools. I myself am trying to brush up my written and spoken Mandarin. I want to be able to read the bible in Chinese, read Chinese newspapers and Chinese websites, watch the many interesting current affairs programs on the Pheonix channel and last but not least, to learn how to sing more Emil Chou and Jackie Cheung songs (or at least sing along with others).

Instead of looking at Mandarin requirements as a threat, we should look at this as an opportunity and embrace it, instead of running away from it or shutting it down.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Southeast Asian Studies scholarship

A friend in Cornell told me about this opportunity and I thought I'd plug it here. The name of the scholarship is the Luisa Mallari Fellowships for M.A./Ph.D. Research in Southeast Asian Studies and it is open to all students currently enrolled in social science or humanities graduate programs in a
Southeast Asian university. The catch here is that this scholarship encourages scholars to do comparative studies i.e. looking at more than one SEA country.

This scholarship also funds comparative research projects which a scholar might want to look at. For example, if one is interested in the phenomenon of ethnic voting i.e. voting for one's own ethnic party in Indonesia and Malaysia, one can apply for funding to this scholarship.

The full details can be found here. I'd apply for it if I fit the criterion.

Actually, if one looks hard enough, there are many scholarship opportunities out there. As I've said in past postings, too many scholars are dependent on funding opportunities within the system (be it internal university funding or IRPA funding) so much so that they feel that their hands are tied if these sources of funding fall through. Many lecturers are also far too dependent on government / university funding for their PhD studies and often let these private opportunities slip by.

So, if anyone out there fits the bill for this scholarship and is interested in comparative studies in the Southeast Asian context, I'd encourage you to apply!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Teachers Hold The Key

The New Sunday Times two weeks back carried an interview with Tan Sri Dr Abdul Rahman Arshad, a former education director-general. Tan Sri Dr Abdul Rahman Arshad is now the Chancellor for University College Sedaya International (UCSI). It was a fairly long interview which covered a few key issues in Malaysia's education sector, but one thing struck a major chord – teachers hold the key to our children's future.
His logic for placing the teaching profession above all others is simple. "How can the mediocre (teachers) produce the best (students)?"
Hence Abdul Rahman advocates a radical reform such that the teaching profession should be recognised as a separate and distinct profession from other civil servants. And one can achieve that "[b]y selecting only the best and paying them well... Make it so difficult yet attractive for one to enter the profession". I've written on “Quality Teachers” before and I completely agree with the statement.

Abdul Rahman also rightly argued that reform is required because the nature and role of modern day teachers have changed significantly, and particularly in recent years.
Modern-day teachers, Abdul Rahman stresses, can no longer be reservoirs of knowledge in the mould of their predecessors because of the information age in which individuals, children in particular, absorb knowledge in leaps and bounds. Hence, the need for a "new orientation of the mind" among teachers...
He also correctly noted that other successful countries “have invested enormously in attracting highly qualified candidates to join their teaching workforce which is responsible for nurturing their human capital.”

So, are our authorities listening? As written before, our retired civil servants seem to have found a voice in recent years, frequently advocating policy changes and reforms which are reasoned and pragmatic. And that's good, because the authorities are more likely to listen to them than the noisy bloggers like us :).

The reaction to date though, seems to be a tad mixed. Our Minister of Education had earlier talked about converting teacher training institutes into degree awarding colleges, which in my opinion is purely cosmetic in nature. However, on the same day the interview was published, our Minister of Education, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein announced that it will be more difficult to become a teacher from next year.
In an effort to upgrade the profession, the enrolment criteria for teaching courses in colleges and universities will be made more stringent... "We want teachers who are really committed."
Our Prime Minister who shared the stage with the Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Husein, commented that the teaching profession should be a profession of choice.
"If it is not your main career choice, then you won't be teaching sincerely or with passion. Hence, your teaching methods will not be of quality."
Hence from next year, teachers graduating from teacher training colleges would not be guaranteed jobs by the Government. Our Minister of Education claims that he will “not compromise” on this issue. Or will it be “same old, same old”?

As highlighted by Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Arshad, he has been “down the road before, Malaysia's education challenges are tough and constant policy pronouncements are easier made than delivered.” We need to be bold, we need to be brave. The authorities need to have the resolve to withstand short term pain and implement the policies they have advocated to benefit Malaysia in the medium long term.

Journalism Scholar

For those of you who has a knack for writing (and thinking) and who don't want the standard fair in medicine, engineering, accountancy or law, you now have someone to look up to. :)

Congratulations to Emily Tan Yean Jia when she became the only Malaysian to be awarded the international scholarship for the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Journalism programme. The Star has the report here. She has been offered a full scholarship totalling €42,000 (RM193,800), including €13,500 (RM62,300) for her tuition fees. Emily graduated with first-class honours in the Bachelor of Communication (Hons) Journalism from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) last August.

The scholarships are offered to European and non-European graduate students who obtained a first-class degree awarded by a higher education institution anywhere in the world. The courses will include Reporting Global Change and International Developments in Journalism and Media as well as War and Conflict, Business and Finance and Media Systems and Journalism and Public Spheres in a Comparative Perspective. She will be completing the course in Denmark and the Netherlands for the first year and either in the United Kingdom or Germany during her second year.

Emily was also the journalist who covered Suzanne Lee and her adventurous international exploits (blogged here and here). She has even kindly left a comment on the Supergirl post. Or read her blog. Little did I know that Emily is a 24-year old herself :).

So Emily, let's hope more Malaysians get to follow your footsteps. Good luck and have fun in Europe!