Monday, May 19, 2008

JPA scholarships not a right

It is not often that I would agree with the JPA in regard to its policies. But I have to agree with the recent statement by PSD Director-General Tan Sri Ismail Adam in a recent Star report. According to the DG, JPA scholarships are a privilege rather than a right and more and more competition should be expected as more and more students are taking 12 or more SPM subjects.

According to the figures given by the JPA, the number of overseas scholarships offered by the JPA has increased from 748 in 2000 to an estimated 2000 in 2008. The overall number of JPA scholarships have also increased from 4511 in 2000 to 12,000 in 2008 (including local scholarships).

I have already expressed my view that the overseas JPA scholarships give us too poor a return on investment. 2000 JPA overseas scholarships at a conservative 200,000RM a scholarship will cost us 400RM million per year. And I would guess that less than 5% of these students come back to work for the government proper (not including Petronas and the other GLCs).

In contrast, you could fund 5 local scholarships for every one overseas scholarship and these students are much more likely to stay and work in Malaysia compared to those with overseas scholarships.

I think there should be a scaling back of expectations which says that if you score 10A1s or more for your SPM, you should be guaranteed an overseas scholarship to do whatever course you want to do. It doesn't make financial sense. From a comparative perspective, it is also unprecedented. No where else in a developing country would you expect this kind of guarantee. Even in Singapore, there is no guarantee that if you score 4As and above in your A levels, you must be given an overseas scholarship by the Singapore government.

There are ample local scholarships which a student with good results can apply to including the JPA local scholarships which it guarantees will be given to students with 9As or more for their SPM as well as private colleges.

This is not to say that the process of awarding the JPA scholarships cannot be improved. While I don't agree with MIC secretary-general Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam, who is also the Human Resources Minister, that students scoring 10A1s or more in their SPM should be given a JPA overseas scholarship, I do agree with him that the process should be made more transparent including releasing information in regard to the quality of the students who receive these scholarships (as well as how many of them return back to Malaysia to work and where they work). This way, JPA can clear at least some doubts about how the scholarships are awarded. (BTW, I don't think that all JPA scholars score 13A1s and above as asserted by the JPA Director)

Some of our readers have brought up the issue of grade inflation and students being pressured to take additional SPM subjects. I think this issue should be examined as well including putting an upper limit as to how many SPM subjects a student can take.

In the meantime, we should try to contain our expectations about getting these scholarships just because we managed to score 10A1s or more in our SPM.


Shawn Tan said...

I've written down some of my thoughts on this matter here.

Essentially, I suggested scrapping the whole post-SPM scholarship. Instead, make it something to be awarded after a student gains entry into a university. This will save JPA some time, money and headache.

changyang1230 said...

Setting the ceiling for the number of subject one is allowed to take in SPM is not as effective as making it harder to score A1s in all subjects. If you enforce the limit to, say, 12 subjects without making it harder to score A1s, all you get is more and more 12A1 scorers, and people will still complain "HEYYY that that guy get 12A1 and get JPA, I also get 12A1, why I don't get wan?"

People take more and more subjects today not because it's fun; but because it is now perceived that doing so is a good investment - when a reasonably okay student takes up, say, an extra of two or three subjects, with reasonable amount of cramming and hard work he or she can expect to get at least two additional A1s out of these subjects.

And this will then hugely increase the chance of getting JPA. Getting 10A1 is now a "bad" result - if you can take four more subjects and get, say, 13A1 and 1A2, it will sound much better when you appeal through MCA.

Imagine the reaction to the appeal when it comes out on Sinchew Jitpoh:

13A1, 1A2: "WOWW *swoon* a genius is wasted, JPA is so unfair!! [insert racism comment here]"

10A1: "Cheh, 10A1 only larr, my neighbour's mediocre kid also can get larr..."

I say, make A1 harder to get (instead of setting ridiculously low A1 scores, as I understand through anecdotes), and you will put a stop to the obnoxious "number race" among our SPM candidates. It doesn't make any sense - you don't see people thronging to take up 5 subjects in STPM or 8 subjects in A-Levels, do you? Yes it's possible to do so in these exams; but it's just not done by many because it's reasonably challenging to score As, and hence taking up more subject is no longer perceived as a "good investment".

This is all Economics 101 in the education context. But I guess everyone here could guess why we don't see it happen at the moment.

Kian Ming said...

Good point Chang Yang. Stop the grade inflation and make SPM harder.

John Lee said...

A huge problem as I see it is that the SPM and basically most of our public exams only reward those who are willing to work and have the financial resources to work with. Anyone who can afford to buy the workbooks, revision books and whatever nonsense books on the market, and go through them, regardless of his/her intellectual ability, can basically score an A, or at least assure themselves of a B. All you need to do is know how to read and slog.

I'm not saying our exams are inordinately easy, because they aren't. But if you're willing to work like crazy, you significantly increase your chances of scoring straight As, because there's no real intellectual ability necessary to do well in our exams. When it's more important to memorise the exam format and the kinds of questions likely to come out, any old dolt can score straight As, with just a bit of luck and a lot of work. There's no real winnowing of the wheat from the chaff, so JPA and other scholarship granting bodies have to do it themselves with methods that are probably inferior to a properly set exam paper.

That of course isn't to say that other exams like the A Levels don't suffer from this. I am pretty sure, however, that they suffer from this problem to a lesser degree. Grade inflation is a global phenomenon, but a huge component of grade inflation in Malaysia is simply that every year more people know how to game the system, and have more basis for their gaming of the system: just know the past papers to a tee, and you can forget about actually understanding anything you "learn".

Anonymous said...

Ten years ago a student with 9A's could clinch a scholarship without much problem provided it is all A1's. The problem existing now is the quality of A's that leave much to be desired.

The examination board should raise the benchmark so that it won't be that easy to score A's. It is common knowledge that the marks for one to attain an A in Additional mathematics is rather low. It is not just for Mathematics alone. It is also the norm for many other subjects. Sounds preposterous to allow students to score A with marks below 70. Of course this is not true for the Chinese Language paper where one suspect that to score an A one has to attain a score much higher than 80.

Anyway I do not think it is fair to award scholarships to students with just SPM qualifications. It should be only when they have done well for their pre-U courses then it would be more appropriate to award them the prized scholarship.

This would force more students to study Form Six. It is freaking cheap to do form six now that exam fees are abolished. It seems to be the only pathway besides Matrikulasi to enter local universities for those who are financially deprived. Furthermore it is globally recognised. Many are not doing it because they think it is mentally challenging.

I know of students who have scores of A's in SPM but still find it difficult to ace in STPM. There speaks for the quality of A's in SPM for some, definitely not all.

What now with the norm of scoring tons of A's, one can now no longer distinguish between a good or just average A.

Scholarships to study abroad should be awarded to those who have done well in STPM and other preU programmes.

Unknown said...

JPa scholarships are a previledge ? But to who ? To bumiputras ?

Anonymous said...

What is the use if a student can score more than 12As and most of it are not relevant -- Islamic studies etc.

It is true that the grading for SPM has dropped over the years. Even in the primary school for the matter. A grade used to be scoring 90 and above while B grade is 80 -89. Nowadays, one can get an "A" grade by having a minimum 80/100.

Subjects like Maths and Languages should not be subjected to lowering of the percentage points. It is ridiculous to see someone having an overall of 12As and failed in Maths.

I would not even take on such person as a staff in my company if he or she can't even managed high school maths. No more playing favouritism with the grading system.

Let us call a spade a spade and not anything else. Let us be fair to all students regardless or race or creed when it comes to offering scholarships.

By the way, there are other means in getting scholarships and tuition grants. One should not resort in spinning the old tale of how they want to serve their country by becoming a doctor or lawyer or engineer.

Being a teacher and able to mold a young child's mind to be fair and forward-thinking is a greater contributor than any doctors around.

Anonymous said...

My dad always said, if you're good enough, the scholarships will come to you. Maybe that's what we should implement, instead of having people applying for scholarships, they should be chosen instead. 15000 applicants for 2500 spots? Ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

My comments refer to the factors on SPM getting easier every year.

1.The students' quality are dropping.This may be due to poor teaching staffs,maladministration of public schools,and poor parenting.

2.Ministry of Education cannot post bad results due to political reasons.Bad results will simply slap back to government.By covering up and self denial,everything will remain peaceful until it is too late.That's why there are cases where questions are leaked out before the exam-just to help the students and Ministry of Education.

3.The quality of teachers is also dropping.There is no statistical report on this but it can be explained qualitatively. Local universities (private and public) are focusing on 'manufacturing' employees and not producing leaders.Future leaders can only be trained up by current leaders. Academicians cannot produce leaders.Unfortunately,Malaysian universities have become a place to 'mould and tame' graduates.When these 'tamed' graduates become teachers and lecturers in schools,the long term effect is irreversible.What will happen when a blind leads a blind?Please read 'The Idea of A University' by John Henry Newman.

My next comment is on JPA scholarships.Anyone heard that JPA scholarships can be 'bought' if you pay 'undertable' to the person-in-charge?I experienced it before.Truthfully saying,using the 'backdoor' is much easier.I'm not encouraging anyone here but 'investing' RM 20000 for a RM 500000 scholarship is a very hot deal-which most normal human will take.

Anonymous said...

What is our standard? 3 years ago Nur Amali with 17 A1's was send to UK to try for a place in OxCam doing medicine. Where is she now?

Anonymous said...

I m a STPM grad.getting a JPA scholarship in 2000 with 10 A1 result is rather impossible at that moment.This is very unfair to other non-BUMI students. Yes, u can say i m a racist by quoting the statement. THis is a fact indeed. Some said they lowered the standard so that more MALAYs can get good result. As u can see, the best student is awarded to MALAY for the past few years. As compared to previous years, ther is no such phenomenon. As a matter of fact, non-BUMI students perform much better in their chosen career later on. THis is most apparent in University of Malaya (MBBS) medical programme. 30 % of malay failed the first year exam; only 5-7% of non-BUMIs failed theirs. However, the scariest thing is that this group of people can just pass their supplement examination with a mark of 40 ... IMAGINE that FUTURE DOCTORS of bright malaysians!!!!!