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.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Learn more about the US university system and application process

My friends and I are running a series of workshops in several cities from this month through August on the US university system and its application process. There'll be one-day sessions in Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Penang and the Klang Valley, and a longer two-day workshop only in the Klang Valley in August.

The info sessions will give you an idea of what the US university system is like, and an overview of how to apply. They're FREE. The workshop will explain in depth how to apply, and since it lasts over two days, we'll cover a lot more material. There's more information on dates and venue at the website.

If you're a Malaysian thinking about university, or know someone who is, I can guarantee you this will be useful (it's something most of us wish we had when we were in your shoes). At the least, it'll help you learn about your options (including financial support -- the US is pretty amazing as far as scholarships go).

Even if you're not thinking about the US, it's worth attending. The UK and Australia are the default and often expensive options for most Malaysians considering a foreign university, but hardly anyone thinks about the US. There's no good reason for this to be the case. Hell, if you can get in, a lot of universities will throw money at you to convince you to attend.

All of us running the workshops are either students or alumni; no university or for-profit group is funding our activities. It's a great chance to learn about an underappreciated overseas opportunity.

Space is limited, so sign up soon! You can register on the website.