Playing it Fair; JPA Scholarship.

“A total of 559 candidates obtained the A+ and 10,803 scored straight A’s in the subjects they sat for in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination in 2011, Education Ministry director-general Datuk Seri Abdul Ghafar Mahmud said.”

Statistics on SPM results have never been disappointing, in fact, it may be the only showing some positive signs in our plummeting national arena, be it in politics, economics issues. The reality is more students are getting straight A’s year after year, and perhaps the staggering number of students being exceptional may be the reason why Muhyiddin suddenly came out with the theory of our education system being better than of the US and UK.

Ah, how wonderful seeing parents being so happy over their children’s results.

“Of course I do, my son has never scored an A in Additional Mathematics, Physics, and Chemisty and praise to Lord, he nailed a straight A’s!”

What a happy ending, and I bet everyone is expecting our education excellence tale to continue being so. Hold on, our beloved Prime Minister just reversed his policy of giving JPA scholarships not only to 9A+ students, but also to those getting 8A+. How generous!

Malaysians, for the sake of our country, wake up please!

Isn’t it alarming that our education statistics are showing rapid rise and nothing else for the past 10 years? In the past, there seemed to be more recognition to high-scorers than how it is now. However, a trend of skepticism is that scholarship interviewers and employees began to question the credibility of these exceptional students, as how their SPM qualifications say it.

What exactly does this rise in numbers entail?

Are our students getting smarter, thanks to their dedicated teachers and students’ undivided attention in class?

Or are they simply more prepared due to the many generic practice questions available in bookstores and tuition centers?

And are there possibilities of the system being more lenient compared to years ago?

These are the issues that must be taken account especially in gauging excellence, for public money being invested for these apparent exceptional students is just mind-blowing.

Yes, these students do work hard and it’s timely for us to reward them with scholarships to ensure continuity of success as they are our human capitals in building a modern Malaysia. There’s no denial to that and I’m not being unpragmatic as it sounds, but the issue here involves billions of public money outflow, therefore it’s also fair to evaluate if every SPM high scorer should be rewarded solely on the basis of SPM results.

Let’s take the year 2007 as for example, 1800 students were being sent overseas to complete their tertiary education. Averaging RM 500,000 per person, that’s almost RM 900 million for that batch alone. Say if the trend continues as of 2012, isn’t that a whooping RM 3.5 billion? The public has the right to question the justification of spending so much especially when majority of these students are not even enrolled in the world’s Top 20 universities.

Throughout the years, they’ve been cases of JPA scholars (the so-called SPM high scorers) flunking their preparatory examinations i.e A-Levels, Canadian Pre-U, South Australian Matriculation, and it’s a strong indication of the policy being ineffective to gauge the expected excellence, simply because SPM achievements doesn’t necessarily equate to world-standard educational requirements.

Isn’t it contradictory of the policy that our best students aren’t being exceptional to be the best among the best? In fact, it’s  prevalent that privately-funded students have better admission rate to Ivy and Oxbridge (as to name a few).

So look who’s having the last laugh now.

In the UK and US, there are certain universities of large Malaysian admission annually to an extent that they’re only mingling among themselves. Don’t be surprised therefore to meet Malaysian graduates from such tertiary institutions who can’t even speak proper English! Does it mean that JPA has already set its expectations low that ‘unqualified’ or averagely-fared Malaysians will always be bound to a particular university, as long as it’s overseas?

Not so long ago, the Government initiated a new policy for JPA scholarships to be awarded only to exceptional students upon acceptance to top universities. Years have passed since the announcement, and the time is ripe to re-define the definition of ‘top university’. Singapore for instance, will only sponsor crème de la crème to top institutions while retaining the rest locally.

Possible changes:

  • Reserving scholarship spots for top scorers at university-entry level
  • Small bursaries for SPM-level students for pre-university courses
  • The pre-university courses would include STPM, matriculation and A-levels

Other issues mooted:

  • Due to O-level results being a poor indicator of A-level performance, it is not an excellent idea to award the scholarships to SPM level students.
  • Key to the policy change is to award scholarships to students with very good results and a place at top universities.
  • Process of awarding the scholarships must also be “fair and balanced” in order to make sure that all communities in Malaysia reap the benefit from it.

Source: JPA

JPA’s over-emphasis on overseas education is among the factors that cause our local institutions to plummet in rankings due to the lack of quality human capital. Lackluster of quality is what making the atmosphere less competitive, hence the lack of initiatives to reach a better standard. Look no further, speaking English itself is already a bane, what more a continuous independent research and development progress.

How saddening, though, that the trickle-down effects are bastardizing our own efforts to improve local institutions.

Whatever happens to reviving the glory days of University Malaya when the Government themselves are letting this exodus of our brightest, while the less undeserving ones grapple for locally available spots?

Whoever rules the Government in future times, JPA overseas scholarship policy must be revised imminently.Straight A’s in SPM alone don’t equate to the excellence deserving of golden (yes, it’s that expensive) opportunities abroad. Overseas institutions too, aren’t defined as ‘exceptional’ just because it’s located in the US or UK where institutions like Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford are at. More importantly, a more refined approach will ensure meritocracy at its best, while improving the standard of our local institutions with the billions saved and a better pool of students to choose from.


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