Friday, December 21, 2007

Malaysian Students in the US

The US based Institute of International Education (IIE) recently published a report on foreign students in the US. I thought that a few of the findings from that report is worth noting, some of which are relevant to Malaysia.

The top 25 'sending' countries, from the IIE website, is as follows:

Rank Country Total Under Graduate
1 India 83,833 15% 71%
2 China 67,723 15% 71%
3 Korea 62,392 45% 38%
4 Japan 35,282 63% 20%
5 Taiwan 29,094 26% 58%
6 Canada 28,280 48% 44%
7 Mexico 13,826 58% 31%
8 Turkey 11,506 29% 57%
9 Thailand 8,886 26% 58%
10 Germany 8,656 37% 43%
11 United Kingdom 8,438 52% 31%
12 Saudi Arabia 7,886 43% 16%
13 Nepal 7,754 67% 26%
14 Hong Kong 7,722 67% 21%
15 Indonesia 7,338 63% 23%
16 Brazil 7,126 49% 37%
17 Colombia 6,750 45% 41%
18 France 6,704 33% 43%
19 Kenya 6,349 64% 27%
20 Vietnam 6,036 68% 22%
21 Malaysia 5,281 63% 24%
22 Nigeria 5,943 60% 31%
23 Pakistan 5,401 52% 37%
24 Russia 4,751 40% 49%
25 Venezuela 4,523 60% 26%

Some observations:

(i) Firstly, it is not surprising that the largest number of students come from India and China. What is not shown here is that the number of students from Indian have almost tripled and those from China have almost doubled since 1995. There was a small drop in the number of China students post 9-11 but have already exceeded the pre-9-11 levels in the last couple of years.

(ii) Secondly, there is no strict correlation between the level of development of a country and the breakdown between undergrads and postgrads from that country. For example, Japan sends more undergrads than grads to the US as does the UK as well as Turkey and Thailand. India and China sends a lot of grad students than undergrads even though they are developing countries but many other developing countries send more undergrads than grads, Malaysia being one of them.

(iii) Thirdly, not shown here, is the fact that the number of students from South East Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand) have decreased drastically since the Asian currently crisis. The number of students from these countries have roughly halved since the Asian crisis as students have presumably flocked to less expensive options like going to Australia and for many Malaysians, choosing to to 2+1 or 3+0 programs (many of which send students to the UK and Australia). There is one exception which is Vietnam where the number of students going to the US has more than tripled since 1998/1999.

What we can glean from this information which might be useful for Malaysian policymakers?

(i) Firstly, I can't help but notice, especially after my time here in the US, that the many graduate students from China and India will form the backbone of research efforts only only here in the US but also in their respective countries as these researchers return home or form collaborations which researchers in their respective home countries. Malaysia cannot compete in absolute terms but what it can try to do is to target some of the researchers who might not be able to find attractive enough jobs in the US to do research or to teach in Malaysia. Now, I know that many of you are going to say that we end up recruiting 'rejects' but I would probably prefer to hire a so called 'reject' with a US based PhD compared to someone who doesn't have a PhD, as is the case with many of the lecturers in Malaysia. You can be sure that Singapore, either NUS or NTU or SMU or some of the biotech firms, are reaching out to many of the researchers, who might for whatever reason, not want to remain in the US after they complete their PhDs. (Fulbrighters like myself for example who have to leave the US after we obtain our degrees)

(ii) Secondly, the statistics show that there are approximately 1300 Malaysians who are doing some sort of graduate degree here in the US. Many of these are doing their MBAs and other Masters programs but there is also a significant number who are doing their PhDs. Why not try to recruit some of these students to go back home to Malaysia? As I understand, there is some effort being undertaken by the MOHE to interview Malaysian graduate students, mostly in the West Coast. I think this is a good start but I think the the universities should be given more autonomy and incentives to have recruiting efforts themselves. It would be difficult for a MOHE bureaucrat to recruit a biochemistry PhD especially if the PhD holder is interested in the research environment of the specific field in specific Malaysian universities.

Recently, I discovered that many Taiwanese academics who studied in the US (for their PhDs) actually returned to Taiwan to teach in the public universities. As a result, many Taiwan universities have excellent political science departments (my field) with many academics who publish prolifically. I would not be surprised if such is the case for many other departments in Taiwanese universities as well. If Taiwan seem to be able to attract back many of its native sons and daughters, perhaps Malaysia can learn from their example.

(iii)Lastly, I don't think we should be too concerned that the number of Malaysian students going to the US is decreasing (from a high over well over 10,000 students to just over 5,000 not. At one point in time, Malaysia was probably a top 5 'sending' country to the US, especially in the mid 1990s when the economy was booming and the exchange rate was 2.5RM to 1USD). I've said this before and I'll say this again - that it's probably more economical for the Malaysian government to send sponsored students to Australia and perhaps the UK compared to the US where it's more expensive and where it takes a longer time to finish a PhD.

I also don't think that it's a problem if more Malaysian students are choosing 2+1 programs which let them go to the UK or Australia since many of the 2+1 programs do not involve the top tier universities. In other words, it doesn't really matter whether you go to the University of Queensland (Australia), Sheffied University (UK) or the University of Western Michigan (US). It's probably more important, through initiatives like the US education fair, to emphasize quality over quantity i.e. getting into good liberal arts programs which have good financial aid policies.

Don't get me wrong, the US is still a great place to study. But I think where the US education system has an edge is in the liberal arts colleges (no other equivalent in the UK or Australia) and in the top tier colleges (both state and private). And if you can get into a sponsored PhD program here in the US, I would also encourage you to come here. All or any of the top 100 research universities (state or private) in the US are great research institutes. The challenge is to get into such a program.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Changing Cardiff

Saw this excellent interview with Prof Sir Brian Smith, former VC of Cardiff University, in the education section of the Star last Sunday (Dec 16, 2007). One of our readers caught this interview as well. I'll reproduce it in full (for posterity, when the link expires) and then add some of my thoughts at the end.


Prof Sir Brian Smith shares his strategies for restoring Cardiff University’s reputation as a research university.

FOR someone who does not like administration, it is ironic that Cardiff University (Cardiff) international ambassador and former vice-chancellor Prof Sir Brian Smith ended up heavily involved in research management.

He was first landed with it back when he was a Physical Chemistry lecturer at Oxford University.

“Every time people asked me to do an administrative job, I'd say: 'No, no, I'm doing my research'.

“So, in the end, they just said everybody has to do his, or her, bit.”

And that was how he was appointed to the university’s General Board – the body responsible for academic planning and development as well as finance and appointments.

“Then, to my surprise, I was elected chairman of the board, and that was how my administrative career started,” he shared, during a recent interview at the British Council.

Prof Smith headed the board for two years, from 1985 to 1987.

Later, he served as Master of St Catherine's College.

He was also the founding director of Isis Innovation, Oxford's intellectual property arm.

The experience gained from holding these two positions stood him in good stead when he was appointed vice-chancellor of Cardiff in 2001.

PROF SMITH: My theories worked because the people at Cardiff were ready for change and ready to change dramatically.

Strong leadership

At that time, Cardiff was a university in trouble. Due to government cutbacks in the late 1980s, the university had reached a stage when it was essentially bankrupt and on the verge of closing.

It eventually had to merge with the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, previously a polytechnic, and obtain a government loan to pull it through that rough patch.

“My predecessor, Sir Aubrey Dickinson, had five years to get the finances and the merger sorted out – a very difficult and technical job,” shared Prof Smith.

Once its financial standing was stabilised, then came the question of how to improve the university's research capabilities.

Said Prof Smith: “Cardiff offered a fantastic opportunity.

“Here was a university that had been through very difficult times; it was the perfect opportunity to try out my theories.

“And they worked because the people at Cardiff were ready for change and ready to change dramatically.”

The main problem faced by the university at that time was that it had not yet re-established itself as a research university.

According to Prof Smith, there are a number of factors involved in the move to regain a university's research strength.

“A very big factor is research staff.

“Because British universities have a great deal of autonomy and flexibility, we were able to go out and recruit.”

And that was how Prof Sir Martin Evans, one of this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine recipients, came to join the university.

“He came to a department that was not strong but actually managed to increase its number of publications in top journals 11-fold,” said Prof Smith.

Prof Evans, he added, was a stimulating presence as he could motivate not only the new people but also those people who had been there all the while.

“Although a lot of the publications were from new staff, half came from people who were already there.

“They became much more active and proactive under him.

“It is very much a leadership issue, I think. Star scientists and academics can transform the culture around them,” explained Prof Smith.

Shared vision

Asked how he managed to attract top people like Prof Evans to join him at Cardiff, Prof Smith said he believed what counted was not just a lucrative contract but the whole package.

“I don't think it's entirely about money. I feel that Prof Evans was equally attracted by the opportunity to unify the entire biology department and direct its vision,” he observed.

To encourage productivity, Prof Smith switched the promotion system from a quota-based system (where the total number of professorial positions in a faculty were pre-determined) to a performance-based one.

He even offered an attractive retirement package to faculty members who were not producing much research.

However, in order for universities to be able to do that, Prof Smith said they need autonomy.

“The university has to be free to offer different contracts (to academics and scientists).

“And within the university, a lot of power needs to be devolved to the young people.

“It's all about having decisions taken at the lowest level practicable.

“That’s a major change,” he said.

Another important move Prof Smith instituted was to eliminate as much of the bureaucracy and structures as possible in the university.

Faculties were removed and the research and academic units dealt directly with the central administration.

“I can't describe how much paperwork that saved,” said Prof Smith, adding that the rules and regulations were also much simplified by that move.

He added that it was absolutely important that all the people in the university have a “very clear and single-minded vision”.

“Everybody (in the university) must know what the aim and mission is.

“They must also feel, in their own different ways, able to contribute to that,” he said.

Changes must also be instituted quickly, he added.

“I had about two years to make substantial changes before our first research assessment exercise (RAE).

“I think if you take a long time instituting change, things lose their momentum.

“You have to make changes when people feel the need for change.”

Due in large part to these strategies, Cardiff has risen from a ranking of 241 in the THES-QS World University Rankings in 2005 to 99 this year.

Prof Smith, however, also pointed out that saying something and doing it are quite different.

Citing autonomy as an example, he said: “Governments are very reluctant to give too much power to universities.

“University managers are also reluctant to surrender power in turn.

“The desire to hold on to power is something we have to struggle with both inside and outside universities.”

Some of the no-brainers in regards to how they apply to the Malaysian context. While it is a no-brainer to change to a performance based scheme which gives incentives for researchers to publish, giving autonomy to universities to 'reward' good researchers is easier said than done in the Malaysian context. Since all university lecturers and professors are civil servants, they are on a centrally fixed pay scale. There is less room to negotiate for pay increases or higher salaries, especially to attract outstanding talent to come to our public universities. UM, for example, cannot offer higher pay to attract outstanding talent from let's say NUS.

Similarly, it makes sense, financially at least, to reduce the levels of bureaucracy but this might run into the problem of individual departments wanting to maintain their own autonomy as well as their administrative staff. Hence, university autonomy for Prof Smith also comes with individual university centralization, from a bureaucratic standpoint at least.

Finally, he talks about how a university needs autonomy from other sources of powers including the government. Again, I think that long term, a university cannot be too closely tied to the government (because of government interference) but in the case of Malaysia, it looks like, at least in the short to medium term, the government, through the MOHE is driving changes in our public universities. While this might be a short term measure (without which our public universities might continue to languish in mediocrity), it is not a long term solution. Ultimately, our public universities need to be weaned off government interference and also government support.

I was a little disappointed that he didn't talk about funding since Cardiff is one of the universities which benefit financially from obtaining more and more foreign students (including Malaysian students), an option which is not immediately open to our public universities.

The changes proposed here are no brainers - performance, incentives, leadership and autonomy - most, if not all, of which are currently needed in large doses in our public universities.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

De-Cristianising Mission Schools? (II)

Here are some follow up reports on the blog post with regards to calls by Members of Parliament to remove all traces of non-Muslim symbolises and influence our national schools.

Parliamentary Opposition leader, Sdr Lim Kit Siang has received reports of such actions in the following schools, and is awaiting reports of more. He has also called for the Minister of Education, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein to respond as to whether such actions are encouraged by the Ministry, tacitly or otherwise.
  • St. David High School, Bukit Baru, Melaka, the cross had been replaced by a crown.
  • Convent Girls School in Muar, Cross was replaced with a cresent moon on badge.
  • Methodist Boys Secondary School, Kuala Lumpur
Here's also the full text from the Parliament Hansard of the speech made by the two honourable members of parliament from Parit Sulong and Sri Gading, both of which are adjacent to my hometown. Sigh.
Tuan Syed Hood bin Syed Edros [Parit Sulong]: …Tuan Yang di-Pertua, saya ingin menyentuh satu perkara tentang Kementerian Pelajaran iaitu sekolah-sekolah mubaligh seperti Convent, La Salle, Methodist dan sebagainya. Saya difahamkan Lembaga Pengarah di sekolah-sekolah ini
sebahagiannya ditadbir dari gereja-gereja di luar negara seperti di Vatican City. Saya juga difahamkan permohonan untuk membina surau di sebahagian sekolah-sekolah ini terpaksa mendapat kebenaran daripada Lembaga Pengarah yang mana Lembaga Pengarah ini sebahagiannya ditadbir oleh gereja.

Jadi amat memalukanlah, bagi diri saya, tentang pentadbiran sekolah-sekolah ini yang masih lagi dikawal oleh pihak gereja. Begitu juga saya difahamkan tentang iklim sekolah-sekolah tersebut, banyak ibu bapa Islam menghantar anak-anak mereka ke sana, mereka kompelin sebab ada kalanya sekolah dimulakan dengan lagu-lagu gereja. Ini saya tidak tahu benar atau tidak, tetapi ia apa yang saya dapat daripada ibu bapa sendiri tetapi yang jelas di sekolah-sekolah ini terpampang simbol-simbol agama. Saya rasa kecewa di dalam negara Islam, Malaysia ini, kalau saya pergi ke sekolah convent, ada terpampang patung St. Mary di depandepan sekolah convent...

Datuk Haji Mohamad bin Haji Aziz [Sri Gading]: [Bangun]

Tuan Syed Hood bin Syed Edros [Parit Sulong]: Silakan Yang Berhormat bagi Sri Gading.

Timbalan Yang di-Pertua [Datuk Dr. Yusof bin Yacob]: Ya, Yang Berhormat bagi Sri Gading.

Datuk Haji Mohamad bin Haji Aziz [Sri Gading]: Bagi saya sudah tidak terkejut, Yang Berhormat bagi Parit Sulong, cerita ini... [Disampuk] Bukan soal biasa. Soalnya kenapa boleh berlaku seperti ini? Satu. Hari Raya yang lepas, saya diberitahu oleh seorang bapa, waktu Aidilfitri disambut, sekolah jenis-jenis ini tidak ditutup. Terima kasih.

Tuan Syed Hood bin Syed Edros [Parit Sulong]: Bukan sahaja patung, tetapi Ahli-ahli Yang Berhormat pergilah, tengoklah salib Kristian diletakkan di depan-depan sekolah. Saya tidak faham Kementerian Pelajaran, adakah pegawai-pegawai tidak nampak atau memang dasar kita
membenarkan perkara ini. Walau bagaimanapun, saya sebagai orang yang bertanggungjawab kepada diri saya, agama, bangsa dan tanah air ini, saya menyatakan pendirian saya bahawa patung-patung ini hendaklah dirobohkan, salib-salib ini hendaklah dimusnahkan dan pengaruhpengaruh gereja di sekolah-sekolah ini hendaklah dihentikan. Begitu juga dana yang dikumpulkan di sekolah-sekolah ini. Adakah kita mendapat laporan? Kalau boleh kementerian mendedahkan dana sekolah-sekolah ini. Saya
difahamkan ada sekolah-sekolah ini juga ditaja oleh pihak-pihak gereja. Dana-dananya datang daripada gereja-gereja dan adakah pihak kementerian pantau sumber-sumbernya? Adakah audit-audit dilaksanakan?

As some readers have suggested in the comments, the MPs should possibly call for the Government to stop sending scholars to foreign schools, particular those like Oxford and Cambridge as practically all of their colleges have a chapel within its compounds.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

De-Cristianising Mission Schools?

Here's just some excerpts from a blog post by a self-confessed drama queen currently studying at one of our local "mission" schools i.e., a "Sekolah Kebangsaan Convent" over recent comments by a few honourable Members of Parliament on such schools. The rather over-the-top post has been circulated widely over the Internet and has received the attention of our Parliamentary Opposition leader, Sdr Lim Kit Siang. ;-)
Apparently in the Parliament, some exceedingly brilliant gentleman, the representative of Parit Sulong (where?) have nothing to do with his time and nothing to do in his community that he had to point out that mission schools in Malaysia, such as Convent, La Salle and Methodist have crosses and statues representing the Christian faith in them. These crosses and statues must be demolished.

Also he pointed out that these schools have strong Christian influences and apparently sing "church songs" during school assembly.(FYI: Those are hymns, not songs). And shock and horror!!- apparently Malay-Muslim parents send their children to these school as well!! What is the world coming to?!!

Then his sidekick, an even more incredible genius of a man, the representative from Sri Gading (bitch, again - from where?) have to butt in and mentioned that apparently "a father have alerted him that these missionary schools are not close during Raya". Raya is Eid Mubarak; as in the main festival celebrated by Muslims. Bear in mind, Malaysia is an Islamic nation.

Not close during Raya? Right....

Ok listen up geniuses, I am a Malay woman. A Muslim-Malay woman and my parents sent me to be educated in SRK. Convent Klang and then, oh nooo they didn't stop there. They then sent me to my high school: SMK. Convent Klang. That's right bitch, I'm a Convent girl. A Muslim-Malay woman educated the Convent way.

When I went there, there was never a moment where we were made to sing...what did you called it again...right "church songs" during assembly. We did read prayers but it was the Islamic prayer that we read weekly at the assembly while the other students who weren't Muslims stood in silence of respect to it. Did they other students have parents alerting the Parliament members about how the have to stand in silence when the Muslims were saying their prayers? No. Perhaps its a little thing called religious sensitivity or maybe because they were shit scared of idiots like you who are in the Parliament talking about Islamic supremacy.

Also calling into the demolishing of the crosses and Christianity artifacts. Where I went to school, we no longer have a church in it. The church have been converted into the hall and where the altar where the people used to pray, a stage have built over it. There were no crosses at all though on the walls where they used to hang, one can see the outline of Jesus Christ. When the school was repainted, all that gone missing. So what is there to demolish? We do have a giant cross in front of the school but it never bothered us. It is a part of the British/Malaya heritage, it is a part of Malaysian history. Demolish that? Demolish a part of our country's history just because you are an uneducated prick that have no religious tolerance?


Religion is a set of beliefs. You choose what to believe. Just because you think your religion is better than other peoples' does not give you the right to condemn and push your religion onto them.

Last time I checked, we promote this country to the outside world as a country where people of different races live harmoniously and without conflict. Last time I checked, we are a country that is proud of our religious diversity and sensitivity. Last time I checked, this country wasn't run by a bunch of idiots with the Taliban-mentality.

Sdr Lim Kit Siang followed up in Parliament yesterdy by raising several supplementary questions to another genius, Datuk Noh Omar, the Deputy Education Minister, and as per usual, no satisfactory response obtained.
The loyalty of mission schools was questioned, with the baseless allegation that they refuse to observe Aidilfitri public holiday and close the schools. There was even the preposterous accusation that the mission schools were administered by churches outside the country, including the Vatican.

I asked Noh Omar whether he is aware that the extremist demands by the two BN MPs have created a furore, particularly on the Internet, and why the Education Ministry was condoning such extremism by its silence when such statement should be denounced without equivocation.

I also reminded the Deputy Education Minister that it is wrong and mischievous to assume that Muslims studying in mission schools are potential apostates, when mission schools had made great contributions in nation-building and produced many Malay leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the Education Minister himself, the Perak Raja Muda Raja Nazrain Shah and the Sultan of Selangor who had been products of mission schools.

There was no satisfactory reply from Noh Omar.
Will you be willing to bet your bottom dollar that we haven't heard the last of this issue and the highly intelligent Members of Parliament will continue to raise this issue to stir religious fanaticism leading one day, to the renaming of all national missionary schools from SK Convent Klang to SK Tan Sri Zakaria Mat Deros?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Residential Schools

Chok Suat Ling of the NST did a piece on residential schools in which I was quoted. I think that opening up the residential schools to all races is a good thing in theory but equally as important is the way in which students are taught in these residential schools - critical thinking, tolerance and respect for others, etc... In other words, the environment of teaching is as important as the mix of students who are being taught. I'll reproduce the article in full below for the benefit of our readers. I'll leave you with one last taught, inspired by a fantastic book I read as an impressionable young kid whilst in my first year in Singapore - Does familiarity breed contempt or understanding? (To Kill A Mockingbird)

Opinion: Unity may reside in boarding schools

Residential schools could play a valuable role in national integration if they were open to all Malaysians regardless of race, writes CHOK SUAT LING.
NURUL Nadia Mohd Izmir spent a large part of her growing years in Sekolah Seri Puteri, a prestigious all-girl residential school.

She recalls the close friendships forged with classmates with whom she not only studied but shared rooms, clothes, food, gossip and girl stuff. Nurul remains in touch with her classmates from SSP, as the school in Cyberjaya is popularly known, even though all have embarked on different pursuits. She herself is now pursuing her degree in Universiti Teknologi Mara.

Although her formative years were spent in a school with an all-Malay student population, Nurul's large network of friends is multiracial. "I have many good Chinese and Indian friends too and I am as close to them as my SSP-mates. To me, everyone is the same irrespective of racial, cultural or religious background."

Nurul gives the lie to the perception that those not exposed to other races at a young age are likely to negatively stereotype people they have never known as individuals. And while some government and private boarding schools are open to all ethnic groups, most are not.
Sultan of Perak Sultan Azlan Shah recently observed that the country would benefit from residential schools reflecting a more "complete" composition of Malaysian society. He noted that it was untenable for multicultural Malaysia to segregate schoolchildren according to ethnicity or religion. "The education policy and the implementation of its agendas must make the fostering of religious and racial ties a priority," he said.

Professor Dr Rosnani Hash-im of International Islamic University Malaysia's Institute of Education agrees that schools comprising one ethnic group are not conducive to national integration in the long run.

"For these schools, civics and citizenship education, even if offered in the curriculum, are just academic subjects for examination rather than a practical exercise in deliberation and seeking consensus as a community of Malaysians. There is no opportunity to hear the views of the 'other'."

Rosnani stresses, however, that even if there is going to be open admission for non-Malays, the raison d'etre of residential schools - to help those from the lower socio-economic strata - should continue to be applied.

She points out that private independent Chinese secondary schools would also benefit from having a more ethnically diverse student population, sensitising them to the cultures, traditions and concerns of all Malaysians. National-type Chinese primary schools, however, already have a relatively high non-Chinese enrolment. Of the more than 640,000 students enrolled, almost one-tenth are non-Chinese.

Ong Kian Ming, who runs the education weblog, notes that it is not only important that children in residential schools interact with those of other races, but also how they are educated there.

He thinks it unfair to group all residential schools under one general banner. "The Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), for instance, although exclusively Malay, is also a place where students are taught to think critically and challenge themselves," he says.

"I have not met many MCKK students who are narrow-minded and cannot or do not want to interact with the other races. But then MCKK students come from middle- to upper-class Malay families in urban areas and go to top universities abroad, which provides them the opportunity to interact with other races."

Some argue that opening up residential schools to non-Malays would not work if the parents and students themselves are not interested. Mara junior science colleges (MRSM) set aside 10 per cent of places for non-Bumiputera students, but fewer than 100 non-Bumiputera students are enrolled in the more than 30 MRSM around the country.

"When the policy was introduced in 2002, the response was quite good but the numbers slowly dwindled," reports MCA education bureau chief Dr Wee Ka Siong. At first, non-Bumiputera students were placed in five colleges, but now they are spread among all 30, keeping their numbers in each college negligibly low.

"They are greatly outnumbered in these colleges," says Wee.

"Non-Bumiputera parents are not comfortable sending their children where they can feel like outsiders. For instance, during prayer times or when there are religious programmes, the non-Malay students will be left to their own devices."

Wee is sure that if the 10 per cent quota is removed, more non-Bumiputera students would enrol. "All residential schools should open their doors to non-Malays. We need to force students to mingle for the sake of unity. When they study and play together, meaningful friendships can be forged."

He admits it won't be easy. "There will inevitably be unhappiness. Even if it were made policy, the schools may not be receptive."

Ong suggests establishing new residential schools enrolling students of all races, along the lines of Kolej Yayasan UEM or KYUEM, but at secondary school level. KYUEM, owned by Yayasan UEM and part of the UEM Group, is a fully residential college modelled on top British boarding schools.

However, Jasmine Adaickalam, a service consultant with the MIC's Yayasan Strategik Sosial, cautions that it won't be enough to "just put everyone together and say 'this is it'".

"We should learn about diversity in a mutually appreciative environment. In India, where I am from, all students learn about Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. Only when we really know and understand each other's beliefs and value systems would we be able to appreciate one another."

Rosnani sees a single national school system as the best way to unity. "We need to develop a single system that caters for the needs of all ethnic groups - mother-tongue languages, traditions and cultures, and Arabic for Muslims," she says.

"I believe having a single school session which involves prolonging school hours and providing school lunch for needy students would help achieve this."

For Nurul, it is simpler. "Family upbringing is the most important thing," she says. "My parents lead by example. They have close friends of all races, and from childhood encouraged me to do the same."