Thursday, December 09, 2010

Otak Otak: placing students in high-quality internships

I can tell you from personal experience that getting a good internship in Malaysia is hard. There is no easy way to discern the good from the bad, and very few companies even have actual internship programmes. Those few that do tend to offer mixed results, with interns often feeling they are an afterthought and an adjunct to the organisation's work. (When I talk with friends who intern at local banks, they often have more stories to tell about running the photocopiers and buying kuih than they do about actual finance-related work.)

Of course, where there's a problem, there's an opportunity. Some friends have set up Otak Otak, a project to match qualified interns with good companies, and provide structure to the internship programmes. They are currently looking for companies interested in hiring competent interns for a month or two, as well as interested students looking for internship opportunities in Malaysia. The website is; more details after the jump.

Otak-Otak : An Elite Internship Program for Future Malaysian Leaders

What is it : Otak-Otak is a highly selective leadership program for interns to be held during the June - July 2011 period. We are looking to accept 50 top students and place them in leading organisations across 4 sectors in Malaysia - the corporate sector, small businesses, goverment, and the non profit realm. All interns will have access to events most evenings after work (networking, site visits, training from corporates), and also share common accomodation - with regular sharing and development sessions planned.

Why it's important : This is a unique oppurtunity for students to participate in a highly selective program of its kind and share experiences with other students who are going through the same program. It will be the first year (of many to come) for a very innovative program that will allow young Malaysians to work at top companies across KL and at the same time be part of a larger group.

How to Apply : Application details and more program information can be found at

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Studying the brain drain

With the announcement of a Talent Corporation to bring home Malaysians who've gone overseas, this research — Plugging the Brain Drain — seems relevant. The findings are quite accessible to the layperson, but if you have a little statistical background, you'll definitely get a chance to grapple with some of the most extensive publicly-available analysis of our brain drain (that I know of, at any rate).

It has its flaws, especially with regard to data collection (full disclosure: Kian Ming and I helped the author with some of the statistical analysis), but it is of course only an initial foray into studying the reasons behind why Malaysians leave — or come home. If you have any comments, do post them here or contact the author, Evelyn Wong, directly. Also do share if you know of any similar studies, or scholars working on this topic!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Vacation Research Programme for Form 5 Students

We were recently alerted to the existence of a programme called The Vacation Research Programme. All Form 5 students are eligible to apply; those accepted will be placed with medical researchers at various institutions in the country. This looks like an interesting research opportunity for interested secondary school students. The website is

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Taking False Pride: Are these accomplishments Malaysian?

Eds.: The following is written by Tee Sui Seng, a Cantabrigian.

The news that a Malaysian has been recognized as the top law student at the University of Cambridge initially filled me with much joy and pride and I wasted no time in letting my friends from all over the world know that we Malaysians are more than able to hold our own academically amongst the best brains in the world.However, this feeling of pride gradually gave way to a more sobering disappointment and eventually, even a little embarrassment as the facts of the story slowly sunk in.

It did not take long to find out that the young man in question has spent his pre-university days in neighbouring Singapore, taking his A-levels on a scholarship there. This then led to the discovery that our dear neighbours very quickly realised his talents and wasted no time in offering him a scholarship to the University of Cambridge. It then came as no surprise why further down the article, it was then stated that our prodigious young talent will be joining the Singapore legal service.

This disappointment was poignant, but however, upon further reflection, should have been expected. The local media can never be accused of lacking patriotism. The newspapers have always been very quick to seize upon stories of successful Malaysians all over the world and credit must definitely be given to them for sourcing them out. Unfortunately, these reporters may have sometimes been a little over-zealous by stretching the Malaysian connection a little too far. A recent example that comes to mind would be the appointment of the Malaysian-born Penny Wong as finance minister in Australia. I dare not assume to know how much the minister would take pride in her Malaysian connection, but I am assuming that becoming a minister of a nation state would definitely require taking up citizenship of that country. It then follows that since Malaysia does not allow dual-citizenships, the good minister's Malaysian connections would be distant at best.

Patriotism is a virtue if we know what to be thankful and grateful for. The accident of being born in a certain nation state is not reason enough to imbue one with a sense of pride for being a citizen - this pride needs to come from appreciating one's achievements in the context of the opportunities that are endowed with being part of that nation. If the achievements of an individual cannot be attributed to the opportunities gained by being part of the nation state, we must then be very careful in sharing the accolades that were showered upon an individual who happens to share our citizenship.

Upon further reflection, the news article was about the achievements of a young man, who did exceedingly well in Law at the University of Cambridge, who clearly impressed his very experienced tutors there and who has also shown tremendous humility when talking about his achievements. It is only mere coincidence that this young man is also Malaysian. When we as a country has shown little effort or foresight to acknowledge or reward his talents before these accolades, we should not be too quick to claim collective pride over his praise.

All is not lost - at the very least, we are heartened by the fact that the country has no lack of talented citizens, although the sceptical among us would very quickly question how long we can retain them. Much has been said about the brain drain from all layers of the society including those in power, so the severity of the problem is nothing new. Now let's hope the next news story would be how we are successful in luring these minds back onto our shores. In the mean time, it would probably be wise to be a little less excited the next time a Malaysian connection arises in the news. We can only share praise if we have invested in it, lest we be too distracted in cheering our neighbours on to mourn our own loss.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Research/Interview Request


My name is I Lin Sin and I'm a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. I've just arrived in Malaysia for fieldwork. Over the next few months, I will be looking for and chatting with various individuals to inform my study on the link between a UK degree and the occupational and status advancement of young adult Malaysians. If your profile meets the following characteristics, I would like to invite you to take part in my research:

* Malaysian, aged 18-30 years
* Student studying in Malaysia for a UK degree(via offshore or transnational modes of study, e.g. 3+0 programmes, etc.)


* Recent graduate (2-5 years after graduation)
* Studied for a UK degree(in the UK or/and in Malaysia)
* Currently working in Malaysia
* Malaysian, aged up to 30 years

The research will take the form of a face-to-face, casual and private conversation with me. Simple and straightforward questions will be asked. Key themes will include the advantages and disadvantages of having a UK education, strategies to obtain a job and feelings and aspirations in relation to the transition from studies to work.

The interview conversation will take about an hour and will be conducted in a suitably quiet location (usually in cafes and college/campus grounds) in PJ or KL, central to the participant and me as the researcher. There is a slight possibility that I'll extend my fieldwork site to Penang, but this will come at a later stage. The interview will be recorded in audio to allow a detailed examination of data. No one other than myself will have access to the recording and the participant's identity will be kept strictly anonymous. My study is subject to the university's ethical guidelines and hence, the participant can be assured that I will take the necessary measures to conduct my research responsibly.

The findings of the research will contribute to my PhD thesis and will be shared in various forms such as published journal articles and presentation in seminars and conferences. Very little is known about this topic, so your participation will be very useful in guiding understanding on the study and work experiences of young Malaysians. This is an excellent opportunity for those interested in learning more about the nature and dynamics of an academic social research.

I look forward to chatting with you and learning about your experiences. I can be contacted at:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Scrapping UPSR & PMR: MoE Roundtable

Educationists and parents want UPSR, PMR to stay
UPDATED @ 03:21:48 PM 27-07-2010By Boo Su-Lyn July 27, 2010

PUTRAJAYA, July 27 — Political parties and educationists want the UPSR and PMR public examinations retained, an Education Ministry dialogue was told today.

Representatives from political parties like DAP and MIC and non-governmental organisations such as the Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) and the United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) said that today’s meeting of about 40 representatives saw a chorus of reservation against abolishing the two public examinations.

“Majority do not agree to abolish both,” said Dong Zong representative Dr Lai Hoi Chaw today.

“Majority also thought this exam system has to be modified,” he added, saying that creative content should be increased in the examination system.

Lai, the deputy director of the Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary School Unified Examination Committee under Dong Zong, said that Dong Zong rejected the UPSR move until the government proposed a detailed alternative student assessment system.

“We do not agree to abolish UPSR immediately until we know more about the alternative formula,” Lai said, adding that the group would also decide on the matter of PMR when an alternative assessment system was proposed.

Lai also demanded for the school-based assessment proposal by Malaysia Examination Board director Datuk Dr Salbiah Ismail at the discussion today to be made public.

Salbiah’s proposal included creating an internal school assessment system and a guided methodology on how to conduct assessments up to the Form 5 SPM level, as well as implementing “psychometric tests” on students’ emotions and character, said DAP national publicity secretary Tony Pua.

Pua said Salbiah’s proposal showed that the Education Ministry seemed to have decided to scrap the two public examinations even before talks were completed.

Education Director-General Tan Sri Alimuddin Mohd Dom said last week that a report on the roundtable discussions would be submitted to the Education Minister by the end of August.

The ministry’s first official roundtable discussion took place on July 19, and was attended by over 120 educators, district education officers and teachers’ unions representatives.

The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP), the Sarawak Teachers’ Union, the West Malaysia Malay Teachers’ Union, and education academics reportedly favoured replacing the two public examinations with school-based assessments.

However, PAGE chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said that her organisation favoured retaining the two public examinations because a school-based assessment system was open to abuse.

“If we were to rely on school-based assessment, it is subject to manipulation, leaks, favouritism. A national assessment is independent,” said Azimah.

“Most (in the discussion) were in favour of keeping both (examinations), but with the adjustments of making it better,” added Azimah, pointing out that the focus of the current examination system on rote should be replaced with more open-ended questions.

Academic Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Abdul Rahman Arshad also called for the rigid examination system to be revised instead of abolishing UPSR and PMR.

“We must change the nature of the exam. You don’t demolish everything,” said the University-College Sedaya International chancellor.

“A good number are for adjustments to be made,” added Abdul Rahman.

MIC representative Tan Sri Professor T. Marimuthu said that his party was against scrapping the UPSR and PMR examinations, citing concerns of a school-based assessment system that is open to abuse.

“We are concerned about teacher load and teacher bias in a school-based assessment,” said the MIC education committee chairman.

Marimuthu added that the MIC wanted UPSR especially to be retained and for the government to address the pressure faced by UPSR students.

“Any change must be based on informed research. I am not sure what research has been done on this,” said Marimuthu, adding that majority in the discussion wanted to retain the two public examinations.

The DAP is also against scrapping the UPSR and PMR examinations and claimed yesterday that students performed better when subjected to public examinations as shown by international research.

“If the government is insistent in proceeding, as it appears to be, to scrap the exams, do a pilot project first,” said Pua, adding that the government should compare those who took public examinations and those who did not after several years.

“The consequence of scrapping exams for the whole country at one go is a highly risky move. We call for the (Education) Ministry not to repeat the mistake of PPSMI,” said Pua, pointing out that Putrajaya had proceeded with implementing the policy of teaching science and mathematics in English despite public reservation but was forced to abolish it a few years later.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Academic Studies Support Retaining Examinations

The call by Ministry of Education to abolish UPSR and PMR examinations must not be based on proper quantitative and qualitative studies and not based on unsubstantiated fads or whims of the day

The Ministry of Education is currently studying seriously on the proposal to abolish UPSR and PMR examinations in order to improve the standards of education and to create more “thinking” students rather than those relying purely on 'regurgitation' to pass examinations.

The response from the public and interested parties to date has been generally in favour of such abolition, with some expressing reservation.

I'll like to call upon the Ministry of Education to conduct a more scientific or quantitative study determine the effects of examinations on a student and his or her achievements before taking the hasty and drastic measure of abolishing examinations only to suffer irreversible damage to the quality of our education subsequently.

There are a lot of studies conducted by academics at top universities around the world on the impact of “central exams” and their effects on the educational achievements of the students. Most of these studies however almost always concludes that central examinations have substantial positive impact on the students. The following findings by eminent academics are as follow:

1. “How Central Exams Affect Educational Achievement: International Evidence from TIMSS and TIMSS-Repeat” by Ludger Woessmann (2002) of John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

The data used in the paper are sourced from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS; 1994-1995) and the TIMSS-Repeat (1998-1999) covering 40 nations. They include performance data in both math and science for about 450,000 students, as well as background data on families, school resources and institutional setting for individual students, teachers and schools.

This study showed that “students in countries with central exit-exam systems perform 35 to 47 percent of an international standard deviation in test scores better in their middle-school years in both mathematics and science than students in countries without central exams.”

2. “The Effect Of Central Exit Examinations On Student Achievement: Quasi-Experimental Evidence From TIMSS Germany” by Hendrik Jürges & Kerstin Schneider & Felix Büchel, 2003.

This paper makes use of the regional variation in schooling legislation within the German secondary education system to estimate the effect of central exit examinations on student performance. The study concluded that “students in federal states with central exit examinations clearly outperform students in other federal states” although they did qualify that part of the difference could be attributable to other factors.

3. “Are National Exit Examinations Important for Educational Efficiency?” by John H. Bishop (1999), Cornell University

Students in countries with national exit exams exams tend to outperform students in other countries in science, math, reading, and geography, when national economic development levels are accounted for.

A study of the elimination of the Swedish exit examination system in the 1970s, in combination with changes in the way university applicants were selected, also “appears to have led to a decline in the number of upper secondary school students taking rigorous courses in mathematics and science.”

This study covered extensively data sourced from (i) TIMSS, (ii) the reading literacy of 14 year olds in the International Association of the Evaluation of Educational Achievement's (IEA) Reading Study, Science, (iii) math and geography scores of 13 year olds on the International Assessment of Educational Progress (IAEP) for 16 nations and (iv) Science and math scores of 13 year olds in nine Canadian provinces.

4. “The Effect of National Standard and Curriculum-Based Exams on Achievement” by John H. Bishop (1997)

In this study, Bishop concluded that “our review of the evidence suggests that the claims of the advocates of standards and examination based reform of American secondary education my be right. The countries and Canadian provinces with such system outperform other countries at comparable levels of development.

This study also looked at the (i) TIMSS data, (ii) the International Assessment of Educational Progress 1991 covering 15 nations including England, Switzerland, Taiwan and Korea and (iii) the Canada IAEP 1990-91 with data from more than 1,400 schools.

Studies which provides contrary conclusions are few and far in between and often focuses on the negative impact of excessive stress on a student while accepting that a moderate amount of stress for the students is beneficial in terms of student achievement.

Given the above studies, I'll like to reiterate my earlier assertion that it is the nature of examinations and teaching methods which will determine the quality of student achievements and not the fact as to whether examinations are abolished.

Even if the UPSR and PMR is abolished, but the nature of the Form 5 SPM examination as well as the teaching methods and quality remains unchanged, then the student output from our education system will remain little changed from what it is today. In fact, the removal of examinations may disincentivise students, particularly from the lower income groups as well as from families with lower educational qualifications to fare worse than before due to the lack of uniform achievement standards.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Colour of Scholarships – By Azira Aziz

Ed.: The following is an article we received written by a former student of law at Universiti Teknologi Mara.

When Najib proposed to open scholarship opportunities to all top scorers, particularly 9A’s and above, I saluted the move and thought nothing more of the matter. A politician buckling to popular tit-bits is nothing new and at least he’s heading in the right direction.

However, it irked me as the usual Malay-rights groups, the Perkasa-led Malay Consultative Council (MPM) responded to it with “constructive” criticisms, claiming that it should instead reflect 67% of the Malay community in Malaysia.

My response to this is this: firstly, Professor Datuk Dr Kamarudin Kachar, not all 67% are Malaysian Malays. Some of them are actually assimilated Indonesians whose parents holds red MyKads.

Many Malaysians are denied opportunities on the fallacy that they are of the wrong ethnicity and that they are less likely to be “loyal” to Malaysia. Instead, as long as you are a “Malay,” “imported” or not, you are entitled to a scholarship, and admittance to heavily subsidised boarding schools.

I am not saying that despite Malaysian-born students of Indonesian parentage are intelligent enough, they do not deserve scholarships by virtue of their parents being immigrants. Quite the contrary, hard work and diligence should always be rewarded. I know some of these kids – they’ve studied hard and they should be awarded where deserved. I am simply pointing out how our education system discriminates Malaysians.

I think it ridiculous that descendants of immigrants are awarded privileges denied to generations born and raised Malaysians by basis of race and religion. The argument that affirmative action policies are meant to help the Malays falls here. Right to education of citizens of Malaysia distributed on basis of race and religion is sanctioned by the State on no moral or ethical grounds, but on purely the in-group and out-group mentality.

Why develop descendants of immigrants while neglecting and disparaging our own purely because they are different from the acceptable “original” settlers of Malaya?

Secondly, many people view further education as the only way to break the cycle of poverty and as a means to social mobility. In short, education is the only way to help provide for your parents and your siblings.

It is the only way you can protect the rights of your family and your properties against bad people. It is that golden gateway to a better life. The cycle of poverty is not specifically restricted to the Malays in the rural areas.

There are the rural and urban poor, and despite the differences in skin colour, private religious beliefs, and dietary preferences, they are no less human than your average Muhammad. Everyone is the same; we worry about grades, food, shelter, girlfriend/boyfriend, parents, allowances, and etc.

It is our political parties that continuously indoctrinate us into thinking in terms of “Malay” and “non-Malay” as “human” and “less human,” or “us” and “them.” There is no reason whatsoever for racial quotas for scholarships to be sanctioned as we are all homo sapiens, humans who are essentially the same.

Thirdly, as I have observed before Malays as a community celebrates mediocrity. The concept of fear, self-guilt, insecurity and excessive emotional response is propagated through the most dangerous of tools: religion.

Even places of worship; such as the surau and mosques are not exempt from political intrigue. I am sick and tired of watching and listening to beautiful scriptures of the Holy Quran literally taken out of context and manipulated to suit the purposes of the elite, wealthy, and privileged to maintain their power base. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, the scripts are all written and approved by the state’s religious body, but it does make it more questionable, does it not?

It is no secret that as a collective, humans are fairly obtuse. The common sense of the pacifist few often escapes them, and therefore the masterful skill of the other few who promulgates hatred, suspicion, and utter ignorance carries more conviction as truth than the message of universal love and harmony.

How Malays love their drama enam petang. The ever present threat of imaginary enemies was created to divert blame and responsibility from themselves.

Fourthly, I do not see this as a point of conflict for anyone affected by the change of policies. The way I see it, the Malay boys and girls will instead be told that they actually deserve the grades that they acquired through their own sweat and midnight candle-burning, being told to have self-esteem and that they can do whatever they set their mind to, and being told that they do not need crutches at all to achieve their dreams and help their families.

The only people, who dramatise an otherwise positive move for all youths in this country alike, are people who feel threatened by the lack of dependence and growing confidence of the previously trodden majority, those who feels that to keep being relevant, they needed to bully and put others down in their places so that they could feel better about themselves.

Finally, I recommend several criteria as a basis of Federal Scholarships. Scholarships should only be dealt out to members of the lower-middle to poverty level students who exhibited excellent co-curicular achievements as well as reasonably good grades. A well-balanced individual is the best product that could be produced by only the best of institutions.

Students from these demographic tend to appreciate their education more, as well as the public knowledge of taxpayer monies well spent. Furthermore, the upper-middle class and above should be completely disqualified from eligibility to these scholarships, and should instead be encouraged to take up PTPTN or consider other financial options.

Most of them can afford private education, anyway. Another favourite suggestion by a friend of mine is to completely do away with overseas scholarships and force everyone to study in local universities.

This is due to the fact that once given an opportunity to go abroad, the precious few brainy ones upon considering the socio-political circumstances in Malaysia, choose not to return. Our education coffers shall also be saved, and can be channeled to improve dilapidated Tamil and Orang Asli primary or secondary schools or increase salaries of long-suffering teachers.

For the record, I turned down scholarships because I genuinely believe that it should go to people who really need them. I find it unfair that students who can afford original Guess, DKNY and Chanel were also awarded scholarships when they obviously need it not.

My, what a long rant in reply to one man’s few sentences. Well, I have said my two cents. In conclusion, I truly believe on Federal Scholarships for those who deserve it by merit and based on their family’s financial background. Any thoughts, anyone?

In her own words – Azira Aziz is a mongrel Malaysian who hopes to have “Malay” and “non-Malay” relegated as a relic of the past sometime in the future. A graduate from UiTM, and is currently undergoing training to become a lawyer.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The State of Higher Education in Malaysia

Expensive race to higher education

By Ken Vin Lek
SPECIAL FOCUS KUALA LUMPUR: Higher education is a passport to a better life, but unfortunately many Malaysian students do not enjoy easy access to it. More often than not, it is a goal they seek but cannot attain. It has seemingly become a privilege and not a right.
If given a chance, many would want to enter and graduate from top-notch universities in the US and UK. But the reality is that the route to these prestigious institutions is out of reach and many are left stranded at home.
What future do they have in Malaysia? Access to higher education to local public institutions of higher education is limited. A quota system introduced under the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1970 and spiralling fees in private institutions have not helped matters.
There are currently 20 public universities and 627 higher education institutions (IPT), with Universiti Malaya being the oldest university in the country.
According to PJ Utara MP, Tony Pua, this was more than double in proportion to the population when compared to Singapore.
Under the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP), the government does not intend to establish any more new public universities, while the private sector will not be prevented from setting up private institutions of higher learning.
FMT takes an indepth look at the trend emerging in Malaysia’s higher education system.

Only 29% obtain higher education qualifications
According to a report published by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (Unesco) in 2005, only 29.9% of Malaysians obtained higher education qualifications.
In contrast, both Singapore and Thailand have a higher percentage of population with tertiary education qualifications at 46% and 41% respectively, while in South Korea a whopping 89% of its population boasts higher education qualifications -- three times the percentage of Malaysia.
Said Professor James Chin, head of Arts of Monash University Malaysia: “Malaysia can never be a developed country if the rate remains this low. On the one hand, we have the problem of quality; on the other, the problem of percentage.”
“Quality is obviously harder to improve, and we are nowhere near becoming a knowledge-based economy,” he added.
FMT did a study of the many publications of the Higher Education Ministry and came up with a startling fact: only one in 60 secondary school students in the 1960s had access to higher education, and this trend is still rising today.
Malaysia, however, has set a target: it wants to see 40% of the population in the 19-24 age group enjoy access to higher education by 2020.
Fahmi Reza, a Student Power activist, has over the years been vehemently advocating that higher education be made a right and not a privilege.
“Everyone in this country deserves to get access to higher education... we must realise that obtaining a degree gives an individual an edge over another person who probably had no access to higher education... this is blatantly unfair,” he said.
Going corporate
Under the 10MP, it appears that the government is moving towards corporatising public universities in Malaysia.
According to a report by the Higher Education Ministry, some 50% of public funds for higher education will be disbursed based on the needs of the government by 2015 and 25% of all public university places will be fee-paying seats.
Currently, the government subsidises all seats in public institutions of higher learning at the rate of 90%. Students only have to fork out a meagre fee for critical courses. The government sets aside as much as RM8.5 billion a year subsidising fees of these institutions.
A medical student, for example, only has to pay RM19,000 to complete the course, with the government subsidising RM181,000. An engineering student only has to pay RM10,760, with the government subsidising RM94,644.
When asked about the trend to make seats fee-paying ones, Chin said the government has no choice but to move towards this direction.
“This is a worldwide trend, especially in countries like the UK where the numbers of seats have been dropping and the US where higher education is viewed as a privilege and where one benefits substantially from having a degree.”
“The only problem is that if we take this route, there will be repercussions -- if one has to pay for a service, the quality has to be there and quality has always been a problem faced by IPTs in Malaysia,” Chin said.
According to a report released by the Ministry of Higher Education, between 2001 and 2010, 15% of the students who had access to higher education were enrolled in public institutions, while another 15% were studying in private ones.
It is predicted that by 2020 as many as 90% of higher education students will have to go through a private institution to obtain their degree.
But if the education system is moving towards a corporate, fee-paying culture, how many Malaysian families can afford to send their children to institutions of higher learning?
When FMT did a random survey of fees charged by universities, it was found that for an individual to pursue medicine at the International Medical University (IMU), he would need RM351,000 or RM5,850 a month to finance his studies, excluding the cost of living.
Considering that more than half of Malaysian households earn a monthly income of less than RM3,000 (according to the Department of Statistics), few students can afford to pay their way to a tertiary education without getting a scholarship or a bank loan.
Mushrooming of private institutions
Private universities did not come into existence in Malaysia until 1996. Prior to that, many Malaysians who could not obtain a place in local public institutions but who had the money, would pursue their tertiary studies overseas.
In the 1990s, only 7.2% of Malaysians at university age were enrolled in local tertiary institutions, compared with 35.8% in Argentina and 54.8% in South Korea.
Private institutions emerged because of the lack of places in public institutions. Moreover, Malaysians who pursued overseas studies had also caused a large outflow of currency.
According to a 1995 Unesco report, some 20% or 50,000 Malaysians were studying abroad and this cost the country about US$800 million a year in currency outflow, constituting nearly 12% of the country’s current deficit.
Given this scenario, the government enacted the Private Higher Educations Institutions Act in 1996, which gave birth to private institutions.
Since 1996, the number of private institutions had been mushrooming, starting with six universities in 1990 and growing to 69 in 2010.
Many government-linked companies and political parties saw the rapid growth of private educational bodies as an opportunity to make money.
Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (Unitar) owned by Umno was formed in 1998; Tunku Abdul Rahman College (KTAR), owned by MCA, was set up in 1969; Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology University (AIMST), owned by MIC, was launched in 2001, and Gerakan-owned Wawasan Open University was established in 2005.
Chin sees the growth of these institutions in a positive light. “Malaysia made the right decision. A lot of people back then could not get places, the majority of whom were non-Bumiputeras,” he said.
Pua also concurred, saying that the move (to set up private institutions) has benefited the non-Bumiputeras because it is cheaper now to pursue a degree locally.
“The problem, however, is quality. There is nothing wrong with setting up private institutions but there has to be quality. Don't just think of making money.
“If you read the advertisements published by these institutions, all of them boast they are quality institutions.”
Pua suggested that an independent organisation be formed to rank these universities so that the public will be well informed of their competency.
It is worth noting that private institutions have a significantly lower percentage of academic staff with PhD qualifications than those in public institutions and this could affect the quality of education delivered.
An unintended racial divide?
When FMT did a survey of the vast distinctions between public and private institutions, it was discovered that a significant racial divide existed in these institutions.
Currently, private institutions consist of 95% non-Bumiputera students while 70% of students in the public institutions are Bumiputeras.
Said Fahmi: “Surely, the government did not intend it to be that way but this is clearly the outcome of the NEP, which made it compulsory for 70% of seats in public universities to be allocated to Bumiputeras.”
He added that this is completely against Article 12 of the Federal Constitution which states, “Without prejudice, there shall be no discrimination against any citizen on the grounds only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in administration of any educational institution maintained by public authority, in particular admission of pupils.”
Chin, however, was of the view that the blatant implementation of such a ratio in public universities left non-Bumiputeras with no other choice but to head to private institutions to pursue tertiary education.
The biggest loser
The group worst affected in the race to tertiary education is the poorer sections of the ethnic minorities.
They are left behind by private institutions because they lack funds to finance themselves. They are left behind by public institutions due to the quota system. Their only hope is to obtain brilliant results so that they can secure a scholarship, lead a better life and get out of the poverty trap.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Perennial Scholarship Controversy

PSD scholarships – to scrap or not to scrap
SAT, 26 JUN 2010 06:11

By Ken Vin Lek

KUALA LUMPUR: Every year around the months of May and June, hundreds of “straight A” SPM students receive the news of not being offered the “illustrious” Public Service Department (PSD) scholarship.

Thousands of complaints are made by various parties, the issue becomes politicised and many people start crying out about the injustice and inequality existing in the system of allocating scholarships.

Recently, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announced that PSD scholarships would be phased out over time, and he was promptly supported by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Nazri Aziz, who said that the move is an effort to “reduce brain drain” and that the government “lacked capacity” to fund students.

FMT has made an indepth study into the arguments surrounding the PSD scholarship issue, and we leave it to the public to make up their mind on what’s right and what’s wrong.

Many parties have questioned the suitability of using the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) as a benchmark for PSD scholarships.

PJ Utara MP, Tony Pua, questioned the process of awarding scholarship at SPM level and instead suggested that students be picked based on their pre-university qualifications.

“The problem now is, we have too many top scorers for only 1,500 scholarships on offer. We should use pre-university qualifications as the benchmark as it is of a higher threshold and students would have then gained admission into top-class universities.”

“What we are doing now is, we are pre-determining whether one is suitable for courses like Medicine and Law based on the SPM results without the students receiving any offers from universities to pursue these subjects,” he added.

Pua also criticised Nazri for linking the phasing-out of scholarships to an effort to reduce the brain drain.

“It is nonsense to say that phasing out scholarships can actually reduce the brain drain. We all know foreign institutions are capable of developing talented leaders in their various fields,” he said.

For full article with in-depth analysis, click here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Scrapping UPSR & PMR A Good Move?

The Ministry of Education must not be hasty in scrapping all examinations which will create far reaching consequences for our human capital development

Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had announced that the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examinations may be abolished as “part of government efforts to restructure the learning system that as seen as too examination oriented and failed to provide a holistic education.”

I would like to express our thanks to the DPM for also stating that “the ministry would not act in haste and wanted the public to give feedback to help improve the public examination system.”

I would like to urge extreme caution from the Education Ministry on the potential move to scrap examination despite the noble objectives to “avoid producing machines” as explained by the Deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong.

I are in complete agreement that we should reform our education system to prevent it from “producing robots”. However, we need to first understand the cause of failure in our education system which isn't a result of having examinations per se.

Firstly, without first changing our teaching systems to encourage creativity, critical thinking and innovation, removing examinations will make little or no difference to the quality of education for our students. For example, if the quality and ability of the teachers remain unchanged, then quality of output will make little difference. Instead, because of the lack of a standardised assessment system, the outcome might actually deteriorate due to the lack of objective measures.

Secondly, the problem of studying for examinations and producing students who focus on memorising and regurgitating answers is in the nature of questions itself. Very simply, if the examination questions today are orientated towards memorised answers, then understandably, the students will be focused on memorising answers. However, if the questions are oriented towards challenging a students thinking skills, then certainly, the students will have little choice but to be more analytical.

For example, a question on history at PMR level may ask “What year did the Portugese conquer Melaka?”. In this case, the student has no choice but to memorise the year “1511”.

Alternatively, the question could ask “Why did Melaka lose to the Portugese?”. In this case, there's a greater element of subjectivity, but the students may still be able to a certain degree, memorise part of the answers.

However, if the question were to ask “Was it inevitable that Melaka would lose to the Portugese in 1511?”, then a student would have no choice but to evaluate the facts which he has in hand and provide measured answers as to whether the defeat was “inevitable”. Such questions would certainly encourage greater critical thinking for what we want isn't memorised facts but weighted opinions, for and against.

In addition, such subjective questions which demands critical thinking and analysis by the students will require equally trained teachers who understands the value of such analysis, with emphasis not just on whether the student got the facts right, but whether the student demonstrated their ability to think.

Therefore, we would like to emphasize to the Education Minister that the critical success factor to producing “thinking” students, as opposed to “regurgitating machines” likes with the teachers, the teaching system as well as the nature of examinations.

The proposal to scrap examinations is not the miracle cure to producing analytical students, and may actually produce negative and unintended outcomes on the average quality of Malaysian students.