Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The NEP and Education

I'm not sure how many of you attended yesterday evening's forum on the New Economic Policy after reading the blog post here, but it was certainly a major crowd puller. The auditorium was packed to the brim and a separate projection was made of the forum outside of the auditorium with barely sufficient standing room (outside). See also Sun report on the forum. And given that we were clearly in the mood about discussing the merits of the New Economic Policy (NEP) - the forum ended only at midnight with the audience still lining up to speak - I thought I'll add my little two sen here, especially in relation to education in Malaysia.

Although much of the focus of yesterday's forum was on the financial perspective, the NEP is not just limited to the economic sphere in Malaysia. No discussion on the NEP will be complete unless one evaluates its impact in the country's education system. The NEP for the past 30 years have discriminated against non-bumiputeras in their access to education and particularly, quality education with the unreasonable quota system. I've written about these policies in various post over the past two years, and I thought it might be useful to coagulate some of these thoughts to debunk the perceived benefits which bumiputeras received from the implementation of the NEP.

Let's first take the matriculation colleges which provides easier access to universities for bumiputeras, and where non-bumiputera enrolment is limited to less than 10% of the total intake. Yes, it's unfair and discriminatory against non-bumiputeras. However, it can be argued that this NEP-inspired matriculation system does not benefit the bumiputeras. In fact, more likely than not, it even retards the bumiputeras ability from achieve their full potential!

The “watered-down” syllabus and the “easier” examination structure of the matriculation colleges fail to enable the bumiputera students to fully achieve their potential. As a result, many of these students fail to cope fully with the subsequent university education. It is hence not surprising that the top students of most local universities comprises largely of non-bumiputeras. The government has in fact, inadvertently, left the superior STPM education channel to the non-bumiputeras.

The ease at which many of the matriculation students are able to gain entry into the local universities will understandably inculcate a culture of complacency, as they do not need to work as hard in order to achieve their “dream” of entering university. This has resulted in longer negative effects post-graduation as they may be used to getting more with less.

And due to the nature of the matriculation colleges whereby the teaching staff are largely defined by their ethnic group rather than their teaching abilities, it is plausible that the standards of teaching may not be as good as some of the top national type schools. Hence the top Malay students are actually offered an inferior education stream.

Which brings us to the next example – the fact that non-bumiputera academics and academic wannabes at our local public universities have much fewer opportunities of sponsorship for postgraduate and doctoral studies at universities overseas compared to bumiputeras under the NEP-inspired education system.

Given that these sponsored non-bumiputera candidates will have to return to their respective Malaysian universities to contribute their knowledge, wisdom and expertise to the younger local Malaysians - who will include a large majority of bumiputera students, is the policy of disadvantaging non-bumiputeras here, a clear case of cutting of ones own nose to spite ones face?

By discouraging talented non-bumiputeras from pursuing further education at reputed institutions overseas, doesn't it then result in fewer qualified lecturers for the Malaysian public universities, which will then retard the local universities' abilities to provide quality education for our local undergraduates, who are largely (more than 65%) bumiputeras anyway?

What may be regarded as a discriminatory affirmative action policy to support the "weaker" majority ethnic group in the country is paradoxically and ironically, at the end of the day, resulting in the very objectives of the policy not being met. By denying the benefit to a few non-bumiputeras from further education, the higher education policy is in effect denying the delivery of better quality education to thousands of bumiputeras over the years. The impact cannot be insignificant.

Hence, clearly in the case of the Malaysian education system, all the money has gone into building sub-standard matriculation colleges producing substandard students for our local universities which in turn sponsors substandard academics for overseas postgraduate programmes. The ultimate losers in these NEP-inspired policies are not only the non-bumiputeras but most of all the bumiputeras themselves!

I thought it'd be useful to make reference to a lengthy quote made by Sdr Lim Kit Siang last night from an article by Tunku Abdul Aziz on "Be Race Blind for Educational Excellence".
In the last four years, I have delivered two speeches to undergraduates at Harvard University on corruption and ethics issues. There were large numbers of Chinese students from Singapore, Hong Kong, a sprinkling from Malaysia and even China. I did not see a single Malay.

In the United States, Mara and other government-sponsored students, nearly all Malays, could at best be placed in mediocre state universities which are less fussy about standards.

The Malays have somehow become the unintended victims of misguided Malay chauvinism disguised as nationalism, the handiwork of over-zealous politicians with a keen eye on popularity.
And even the key architect and "partner-in-crime" for our version of NEP-inspired "Malaysia Inc" in the 1980s and 1990s appears to have repented, short of seeking forgiveness for his misdeeds. ;p

Tun Daim Zainuddin, former finance minister argued as at the end of last year that the future transformation of the Malays hinges on education and not so much on accumulation of wealth. He said during his speech last September on “Issues Facing the Malays” that:
“The natural second phase to social and economic transformation of the Malays is only through education, not equity participation. You take care of education and they will have enough to participate in the capital market.

The NEP has always concentrated on equity participation of the Malays. The poor Malay's route to success will not be through having shares in the KLSE.”
I think it is time for the government to recognise this and the fact that the current high-level educational policies being pursued are retarding the process of becoming a fully developed nation. Government officials and UMNO politicians should not wait til post retirement like Tun Daim, before deciding that their entire career was built on fallacious grounds.


Anonymous said...

i'm a postgraduate student in a local university, and from my personal experience (through attending conferences and such) i came across many heads of departments overseas who are of malaysian origin. all of them that i came to know are chinese, but this could be due to my limited exposure.

a look at the organisational charts of the universities in singapore is good enough, without having to mention others in the US, UK and within Asia.

in fact we have not only lost our own malaysians, but also talented foreigners who had worked in malaysia but then chose to work in singapore because of meritocracy and went on to become successful people in their own fields (Vijay Singh the golfer for example).

so i truly agree that the current system of bumiputra favouring in the education system only leads to the production of substandard graduates, and hence the productivity of the country as put it bluntly, it is not disimilar to inbreeding, and we know the outcome of that.

however, to be fair i have also encountered brilliant bumiputera lecturers, researchers, heads in our local universities, so we shouldn't generalise and lump them all together in the same group.

like you, i believe in education for all malaysians, and we should bring the level of education enjoyed in the city to the outskirts, well if not for the 'leakages' it should be possible, but then that's another topic for another day.

Anonymous said...

The bane of education policy now and extended is the setting of the MATRICULATION SYSTEM and upsetting the STPM

Our future children be it Bumis or Non Bumis will curse us one day for this grave mistake . Blame it on politics as usual, and the mistakes of putting your " X' on the ballot paper

Anonymous said...

[off topic]
Dear Tony,

I enjoy reading your blog and have been following it for quite some time now. The issues highlighted are always relevant and of importance to the Malaysian education system.

I like to bring forward another topic that you could highlight in your future posts. I had the opportunity to befriend a TM scholar recently. After getting straight A1s for his SPM, he managed to secure a TM scholarship to further his studies in US. Based on his SAT exams, he was offered to study computer engineering at Brown University (an Ivy league uni, unlike some of his colleagues at preparation programme who could only manage to enter second tier unis). At Brown, he double majored in computer engineering and economics and graduated with a 3.7 CGPA. After 4 years, he was ready to come back to Malaysia and serve his 10-year bond with TM.

To his dismay, he was placed in a department not of his choice. In addition to this, he was placed on the same level as a diploma graduate. The slow management and bureaucracy at TM only adds to his frustration. He tried to escape from TM only to discover that if he wishes to do so, he has to pay back the full amount of scholarship (not surprising). His colleagues however (MARA scholars and JPA scholars, the second tier uni grads) were free to go.

The above example Tony is just an example of another form of 'brain drain'. Yes, my friend came back to Malaysia, however the knowledge and skills learnt when he was in US were unrecognized and more importantly unutilized. And his case was not an isolated one; several of his other friends who went to Brown and other top tier unis in the US i.e. Carnegie Mellon, UMichigan at Ann Arbor were facing the same dilemma as him. Upon hearing his story, I personally feel that this situation can also be considered part of the nation's 'brain drain' problem. We have talented and skillfull ppl here in Malaysia (although limited) but due to mismanagement, bad policies and other external problems, we failed to recognize the potential that these handful of ppl could do to the country.

Anonymous said...

Is there anyway we can access to the list f "brain drain" individuals? The list available at Star (Global Malaysians) is not extensive.

Sham, I will say that your exposure may be rather limited. No offend, ok. But i can understand why you draw such conclusion. It is a known fact that many of the brain drain are made up of non-bumi who has been marginalised in this country.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

I enjoy reading your blog and will continue to follow your blog. The issues highlighted indeed relevant and of great importance to the future of Malaysian.

I hope you could find out and write about the two institution that was consider top institution in the early years, the Penang Free School and the Raffles Institution of Singapore? How was it then and how are they doing now?

Kian Ming said...

Good summary Tony. I think it is absolutely crucial to highlight the fact that it is mostly the bumiputras in our country that lose out from the wrong interpretation and implementation of the NEP - inferior standards, complacency, inferior teachers etc... While non-bumiputras might complain and feel disgruntled, many of them still have 'outs' - going overseas to study and get a job, going to a private college etc... And from an economic / social perspective, it is mostly the bumiputras from the poorer segment of society which suffer disproportionately since they make up the bulk of the local university population. Class as well as race plays a role.

On the comment above, I think both myself and Tony would be a little biased since we were both from Raffles Institution. We're probably not familiar enough with Penang Free but I would hazard a guess that in terms of facilities (libraries, athletics etc...) as well as curriculum, RI has moved far ahead of Penang Free. I'm sure there are still excellent students at Free School but the system and infrastructure probably does not allow them to achieve their full potential.

Anonymous said...

There is a malay girl at Harvard. Nadia something.

Anonymous said...

Anon Thu Sep 28, 05:52:03 AM

So what about her?

Anonymous said...

Hi readers,

3 points

1. Matriculation College
It was posted that 'is plausible that the standards of teaching may not be as good as some of the top national type schools.'

I'm not sure what are the authorities to support the above statement BUT local universities eg. UM, IIU and UiTM also conducted the program. Thus the lecturers are qualified. Even Professor and PHD holders teaching.

2. Post Grad
It was posted 'Which brings us to the next example – the fact that non-bumiputera academics and academic wannabes at our local public universities have much fewer opportunities of sponsorship for postgraduate and doctoral studies at universities overseas compared to bumiputeras under the NEP-inspired education system.

What type of sponsorship? Are u referring only scholarship to overseas? Not all SLAB scholars for master's program were sent overseas. Depend on the area needed by the university. Or else they have to do it locally. There are some many grants, scholarship available locally. Can also be employed as a tutor, research assistant.

Later with a master degree, one may apply to become a lecturer. The opportunity for full sponsorship oversea education is there regardless u are bumi or otherwise.

The question is are they willing to join in as an academic staff with the salary not as competetive in other industries or other countries?

3. It was posted 'Hence, clearly in the case of the Malaysian education system, all the money has gone into building sub-standard matriculation colleges producing substandard students for our local universities which in turn sponsors substandard academics for overseas postgraduate programmes. The ultimate losers in these NEP-inspired policies are not only the non-bumiputeras but most of all the bumiputeras themselves!'

BUT what i see is that there are more bumi profesionals in various sectors.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kudai,

I don't agree with your statement in (3). It is incredibly difficult to recruit bumi's into my department. (We are a MNC that does world-class Si design; yes! in Malaysia!). They are either not-competitive (< 3.5 CGPA from local univ), or prefer to join GLCs as they feel that they have a better future there.

Perhaps there might be MORE professionals, but from my experience in engineering at least, it's really difficult to find qualified and high quality bumi professionals.

Anonymous said...

Pay the professional head hunters help you employ the best but you must be willing to attract & reward.

Anonymous said...

Dear Andrew,

Its ok to disagree. If you talk about 1st class honours graduate ( u are absolutely right ) esp. in engineering. Its not that easy to achieve. By the way only handful of students graduated 1st class honours in our local uni. It must be really hard for your company.

Again, what I'm referring here is not those bumi with 1st class honours but the general professionals at large. Nowadays we have more bumi accountants, doctors, lawyers, architechs, engineering and all of them are subjected to various professionals bodies that govern their professions.


Anonymous said...

Lim kit Siang just did not meet a malay. It would mean, there are not many malays in Harvard.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen and talk with the matriculation themselves?
Have you seen the syllabus of both matriculation and STPM?
Have you noticed the amount and quality of science taught to STPM and Matriculation students?
Have you asked University lecturers in various faculties who taught both STPM and Matriculation generated students?
Have you seen the distribution of results of Matriculation and STPM students entering the Faculties

After you have done that, then you are most welcomed to argue your point out here. As it is, comparing STPM with Matriculation is comparing between apples and oranges!
Please do your background research first...

Anonymous said...

Dear Ah Piau Son In Law,

I will be most welcome if u can enlighten us on questions that u raised. These are authorities that I'm asking before one posting statement condemning matriculation students. I am all for the betterment of our education BUT I need evidence. SO Ah Piau SIL please share what ever u know and tell us how bumiputera will not benefitted it at the end of the day. Tell me how. I might be ignorance but deffinately not arrogant


Kian Ming said...

Point of clarification. Lim Kit Siang was quoting Tunku Aziz of Transparency International who did not meet any Malays while he was there at Harvard. If Tunku Aziz had gone to Cambridge or Oxford, he would have met many Malays there (as well as Chinese and Indian Malaysians).

Malaysians do very poorly in terms of getting into the top schools in the US especially compared to Singaporeans.

Anonymous said...

The number of professionals means nothing - lower the standards, raise the pass rate and voila, lots more 'professionals'! Sadly, this also brings disrepute to the degree-awarding institutions and a distrust of their graduates.

As for the Penang Free School, I am sad to say that it is no longer the grand institution that it once was. I am an Old Free who left in 1998 - things were changing then, but in the short span of time since I left, the rate of change (for the worse) seems to have increased. This is what happens when you appoint principals who do not understand the school ethos, and who are more interested in furthering their own agenda as well as dabbling in social engineering (the last one was admitted by one principal himself!).

By the way - it is not 'Penang Free', but 'Free School' or 'PFS'. A flicker of pride still burns... but when will it be extinguished totally? Weep, weep poor country.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kudai,

Ah PIAU Son in Law said: “Have you seen the distribution of results of Matriculation and STPM students entering the Faculties”

Kudai said: “I am all for the betterment of our education BUT I need evidence.”

“Ah PIAU Son in Law” is right. I have seen an analysis of the relative performance of students from Matriculation and STPM for a whole faculty carried out by a Malay lecturer (Who else can have access to the data anyway?). The trend is very clear. Yes, the evidence is there.

Richard G.

kumaran said...

hi. can ut list me the achievement because of introduce new economoy policy on 1971 in our country by prime minister tun abdul razak....tq