Thursday, September 24, 2009

UiTM student on the BBC

I'm not asking this question rhetorically. Is it possible for a university that restricts its student to intake to members of one community be compatible with the ideals and even a definition of a university? Can such a university aspire to be a 'world-class' university? Will opening 10% of places in such a university to students of other races change the underlying structure and founding philosophy of such a university? In many ways, I don't blame this UiTM student leader featured in this BBC video for speaking his views. My sense is that he is a produce of the environment in which he is studying in (perhaps aided by his VC who is a regular BTN speaker). But it is a sad indictment on what some students in Malaysia think universities are for - an instrument of social policy rather than a place for expanding one's mind and learning new ideas.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Foreigners flocking to Asian universities?

HELP was one of the universities featured in this NY Times article.

Friday, September 18, 2009

HK PhD Fellowship Scheme

Those interested in doing a PhD in Hong Kong should check out this fellowship. Looks like a pretty attractive offer.

Monday, September 14, 2009

How much of the achievement gap is in our heads?

The overwhelming perception in Malaysia is that Chinese schools outperform national schools, and that Chinese students outperform others. This isn't something we (by which I mean Malaysians) like to talk about, but reading this report on a study of self-esteem and stereotyping in America, I couldn't help but think of the situation here.

Problematically, I think these perceptions of Chinese superiority have some basis. Maybe Petaling Jaya is an outlier, but amongst the primary schools, Chinese schools generally do better when going head to head with national schools. Over 90% of Chinese parents choose Chinese vernacular schools, and I think it's well-established by now that a lot of these parents do this purely because national schools aren't delivering the quality of education they want.

The issue of Chinese students is a trickier one, especially because I'm not sure what data is publicly available on this. The anecdotal evidence I have strongly suggests that the Chinese are disproportionally represented among top performing students.

It does not help public perception at all that our government tends to further this, with officials' not-so-subtle lamentations about how Malay students need more help to compete against their peers. This perception has been around since independence -- Tunku and Tun Dr Ismail both talked a lot about how the Malays would need help to compete against the Chinese academically and professionally. Tun Dr Mahathir took this rhetoric to another level, both in his statements and his policies.

But a lot of academic literature suggests that it is precisely these kinds of stereotypes which become self-fulfilling prophecies. Because we think the Chinese are more academically-inclined, Chinese students perform better. Because we think the Malays need help, they become demotivated in school.

Even if we aren't consciously aware of these effects, I wouldn't be surprised to find them here. Other studies which have attempted to account for stereotyping often find such unconscious effects. A common experiment is to make students read a passage about stereotyping (e.g. in the US one might ask a class to read about how East Asian men often outperform other demographics on mathematics tests), and then make them take a test where that stereotype applies. When the stereotype has been "primed," students from the underperforming groups (such as white males or women, in our example of supposed East Asian aptitude for maths) do poorer compared to a control group, where no stereotypes have been primed.

It would be interesting to see if we can carry out a counterpart to that American study here. The study I mentioned earlier showed that simply encouraging black students to think about themselves positively through a writing exercise slashed the white-black achievement gap by 40 per cent. A follow-up study two years later shows that the benefits remain.

Living in Malaysia, you can't help but be exposed to all sorts of stereotypes everyday. I think a lot of us are constantly primed for exposure to particular stereotypes, especially in urban areas. It would be interesting to study how much of this achievement gap we perceive between different demographics can be narrowed purely by accounting for and neutralising these stereotypes.