Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Scholarship Woes

Once the results of the SPM and STPM results are out, a lot of parents anbd students would be busy applying for scholarships. The excellent students would be applying diligently and with new e-applications, it is even easier. Thus the top-scorers would apply irrespective they are from the well-to-do or poor families. This creats a lot of problems for the PSD (Public Services Dept) or JPA in giving out the scholarships to the REALLY DESERVING students. And this year only 1500 scholarsips were given and the applicants amount to mote than 10,000.

Applications have been scrutinized strictly, according to the PSD. Awards are given to students who in addtion to performing well academically, must be active in their co-curicular activities plus excellent MUET results and commendable national services records. Yet on the day of announcements, a lot of resentments and disappointments are highlighted, not only in the webs but also in mainstream newspapers. This has become an annual affair. The students who get the scholarships are very happy. Yet,some would sulk a bit, saying , "I intend to do medicine in UK but given to do medicine in UM." . There is another who complained, "How come I got the scolarship to do Economics in Australia; but my schoolmate who got a distinction less was given to read Economics in London School of Econmics?"

The sad tales of course would be those who are unsuccessful. They screamed in front of the press that they have strings of A's yet they were deprived of the awards. "I would be happy if given to read Economics in UM, no need to do in UK." says one. Another one said, "I 'm not even asking to do medicine , just Psychology." One active student cried out, " I am the school head-boy, got straight A's, represnted the state in the game I excelled and have done the national services too. Yet I am left out." Sad tales are indeed plentiful.

The sadder tales were told in front of the press with the help of the politicians. This group sounds more deserving for the awards. "I am from the poor family. My dad is no longer with us and my mum supports the family by doing odd jobs in a restaurant." one student appealed. Another one mentioned, " I have straight A's and my dad is jobless due to the economic down-turn, have another 5 family members studying and right now I'm doing part-time job to supplement daily basic needs." The politicians were quick to say that they would finds ways to help this group and ease the parents' burdens in seeing the students proceed their tertiary educations. The politicians were certainly smiling and were sure to made some political mileage.

The saddest tales came from the "really, really" needy students. They are poor, diligent and have produced excellent results. Some were given, and as usual some were left out in the award list. One went to the press, " I am born a handicap and I have never swayed from my intention to get a good tertiary education. So I study hard to get straight A's . I want to study Economics with the PSD scholarship but was deprived just because I was in the Science stream." Another one said, " I am already handicap physically, and my family is merely taking a wage to see us through the day to on the day to day basis. Yet I am deprived and what is the point of doing well in the exams?" This group of students always finally get the attention of the PSD people, who will react positively after reading the news. Sometimes, some kind philanthropic-minded businessmen would come to their rescue and promise to see that these group of students achieve the tertairy educations.

Until now, actually noboby know how the PSD give out the scholarship awards. The criteria stated by the PSD is unclear and subjective. The interpretation of the terms is vague and only known to the selection panel members , who are given only two weeks to screen through more than 10,000 applicants and come out with the 1,500 successful names. Anyone who is in the panel must have wished that they would not be selected to be in the committee again. They are not thanked, yet being bombarded left and right by parents, press , bloggers, handicap people, non-government organisations, tax-payers and even students. Yet thay cannot say out their views and points to the press, becaust what they have done, is classified confidential..

Probably, the PSD should come out with a clearer guidelines to the application for the scholarship awrads. They could have stated that for the SPM holders, the applicants must have at least taken 15 papers and strike a minimum 13 As. That would reduce to a mere few hundreds applicants and sure these genuine applicants would 100% get it and be happy. Or applicants must have done the national services, then this is to make sure that PSD scholars are not NS shrickers. Or co-curricular activists must be ACTIVE at state level. At least with strict, tall orders l;ike these , the PSD may have only 500 applicants next year and there is no need to give out any rejection letters. Maybe the PSD would have to appeal for more students to apply. But I would suggest then that the PSD may give every successful applicant a year supply of the official breakfast, tea-break and supper "Teh 'Boh' Tarik" drink in addition to the scholarship.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Teaching in English Again

Suddenly nowadays when one turns to read about educational issues, people start questioning the rationale of teaching Mathematics and Science in English again.

We have parents who are unhappy that teachers can't teach the subjects in English. Then we have students trying hard to cope the lessons in English or maybe Manglish. There we have teachers who say that they have been studying all the while in the national language and now unfair having to teach in international language. And then we have newspaper editiors receiving voluminous discussions on using the glocal language in teaching.

I just have a nice cup of "Teh Boh Limau" with a good friend of mine, Peng Yu. He simply enjoys this issue, which he says that is not an issue at all but something to reminisce.

Peng Yu laughs as he tells his experience when he was a student and continued his profession in teaching after he graduated. "I was lucky as my parents sent me to English school in the primary and secondary level. But, unfortunately, we didn't speak any English at all either in school or at home. We communicate in the lingua franca of the comunity , ie, Hokkien. We speak to friends, relatives, parents and even with the Malays. The Malays could even speak and curse in Hokkien better than us. At that time , we only follow the lessons in English and one subject in Bahasa Kebangsaan, a very low level of Bahasa Malaysia. But these languages were limited to in the classroom only. Given the slightest opportunity, we would converse, discuss, quarrel, swear and even complain in Hokkien. "

"We have very few opportunities to speak in English. There were even very few books available in English in school then. Although I would admit, I began reading some Enid Blyton's story-books in the secondary school, the compulsory Tom Brown's Schooldays literature text and some enlightening National Geographic, Reader Digest and TIME magazines. Hokkien is still the everyday's communication tool. Our Bahasa was so terribly lousy (manyak terok) and I could only think of the Dewan Masharakat as it was spelt those day and Mastika as the reading materials available. The BM teachers we had weren't even graduates, but merely 'guru lepasan maktab harian'. Their command in Bahasa wasn't any better too, except their phonetics . Those days many 'pengarah pelajaran' were once 'guru lepasan maktab harian'" recalls Peng Yu.

"Mind you, my school was not the best, but certainly the second best. We have form six science classes. At that time there were only one school having both streams in form six, and another girl secondary school having the privilege of having form six in the Arts stream. Still Hokkien was the lingua franca of the day. The English we were studying is an equivalent to the English 1119 then to become Communicative English 322 a couple of years later. And the Bahasa Kebangsaan were upgraded into Bahasa Malaysia and now back to Bahasa Kebangsaan with no loss of standard ."

"We managed to finish the schooldays and with the required 'O' and 'A' to proceed to read in the university. Then, we realized the change in education policy; we have to study many subjects in Bahasa Malaysia in the varsity. But the Science and Maths were still in English, but the exam questions were set in both languages. We could answer in either one. At that time, the die-hard nationalists wanted every subject to be taught only in Bahasa Malaysia at every level of education. That's where the problems arose and now have to be faced squarely ." Peng Yu says.

"We were spending more time translating notes from English books to Bahasa; instead of learning concepts in the varsity. Even the lecturers were confused with our answers given in Bahasa and at the same time they confused us with their Bahasa in dispensing knowledge to us. The worst there was no subject taught in Hokkien or else sure graduated with first class hononours." Peng Yu quips.

"So I see why the language transformation of teaching in Maths and Science should raise so many questions. I think the teachers would take that as an interesting challenge and make some laughters heartily with Manglish. The students should be blessed that they are now international students learning certain sunjects in international language. In addition, the parents should be smiling as they are paying international studies for their kids at local fees. See it is a win-win situation for everybody." Peng Yu reasons.

"Maybe, the good government may allow some schools to teach Science and Maths in French or in German, considering that they excel in bio-pharmacuetical and Engineering studies. Don't be surprised as there are already some residential schools having French, Japanese and German language being taught as a school subject. Like that Malaysia schools will be at PAR level with international standard and vision 2020 would be a success. But I am still asking when can I teach Science and Maths in Hokkien which is still the lingua franca in my local area?" says Peng Yu after a sip of the "Teh Boh limau".

Monday, February 06, 2006

Education Fair

Recently the newspapers have been bombarded with placements of advertisement by private colleges and universities. Each is claiming that they are providing the best fields of course available for the school-leavers, especially those finishing their recent SPM and STPM examinations.

The education providers also have some road-shows and participated in the rousing education fairs. One was held in PWTC, one more at the KLCC and another one to be held in Mid-Valley soon. Normally these fairs attract numerous people, not only the school-leavers, but also their parents.

The courses provided by the colleges are very broad nowadays. Although generally the colleges target the school-leavers, they do cater courses for adults. There are courses for working people who intend to pursue course for promotions or switch of careers. There are also courses for housewives such as baking cakes and floral decorations. There are language courses for people who want to speak additional languages. And there are even courses available for the pensioners.

School-leavers often go to the fair with their parents. Normally if they meet their friends there, they would go together and enquire courses they are interested. The parents, they claim, are behind time in the choice of course. The parents would be left looking for their own course instead. They can't go off as they have to show that they are interested in the welfare of studies of their beloved kids.

There would be many course-counsellors around in the fair. Unfortunately, many have little idea of counselling, and are only conversant with what they have pursued in the college before. They are left seeing stars if any question is asked beyond the course. The lecturers cum counsellors would be selling the courses they are teaching. This is understandable. Some counsellors are so DOGmatic with what they know, that any suggestions of other course would receive only negative views from them. And some don't even know the products the college are providing. They only explain selective courses to potential students. It is even a sadder case when parents inquire about grant, scholarships or loan available, most counsellors are lost for words.

In the fair, too, one can sense the status or flamboyance of some parents. Hear them speak, " ..must study in xxx college...must do this xxx course...got prospect-mah. Don't study in this UniKayu Mah...so lousy, must do 'A' level can go UK, do-lah Foundation ..can go Australia..That wan-hor Kolej Orang Miskin.. don't waste your time there. The most flamboyant one was heard saying, " aiyah here the colleges so lousy..can't find one good one..Next month I bring you go to London-lah.."

The traditional courses of Engineering, Medicine and Acccountancy are no longer the main theme of interest to the school-leavers. There are sizzling hot and exciting courses of mobile engineering, animic advertisement, multimedia technology, knowledge economics and even robotic automation. Soon, there will be courses on touch-up accounting, tissue replacing medicine, financial creation and possible vanishing economics.

At the end of the days, parents are happy to see their kids expressing interest to further their studies. They feel proud by telling relatives and friends that their kids are furthering their studies in prestigious colleges. Some start to frown after paying the registration and first tuition fees and regret saying that they should have send their kids to study STPM in gomen schools and save the high tuition fees. Some later say that their kids should apply to local public universities first before opting for the "glocal" like Monash in Sunway or Nottingham in Semenyih. Some got replies from their ex-teachers saying, "Why pay so high fees? Study UPM-lor, fees pun murah and sure get gomen scholarship."

Somehow, I would still go for a place where a "Boh Teh Tarik" is avilable. At least after hours of lectures and tutorials, nothing is more refreshing with a cup of tea. So says the British.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Jobless Graduates

While we are resting and having some nice chats on this relaxing festive moods, Ah Fong voiced out what he read over the internet news this morning, " Aiyoh.. still got 60,000 graduates jobless-lah after much efforts by the Government to provide induction courses for them; and also knocking the corporates' doors on their behalf. Very sad to hear this"

"Okay-what... I thought there was almost 80,000 half a year ago, at least 20,000 managed to get employment within that period. Why didn't the 60,000 graduates look for jobs themselves instead of voicing to the press to get attention.'beh piah seh-meh'?" said Ah Kow.

"Actually I remember when I graduated from the University that recently slided out of the 200 Top Universities List, I started out to work as a temporary teacher. Luckily I can speak some simple English properly. But then I have to leave my cosy West hometown which has perfect basic facilities to go to the FELDA scheme in Pahang. And get a STPM pay, ie RM585.00 per month then." I said.

"Wow, you go to work in the FELDA before? Not frightened, ah...?" Ah Fong asked.

"Ya-lah. I felt so proud to get a job then. When I went for the convocation then, still so many people have no job yet. I am one of the few lucky ones." I replied.

"But why do you want to go there? You could have wait for a while and maybe get a better offer." said Ah Kow.

"I cannot afford to be choosy as I am not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But I gathered I began to learn a lot about the people who work in and with the FELDA. I found I can mix with them, began taking hot spicy food and drinking less cleaner water during the rainy season. And there are some sensitive issues which we could discuss face to face with some teachers, ustaz and Felda officers." I continued.

"You are not frightened they would scold you. Or worse they might harm you?" Ah Fong inquired.

"Sure got a bit-lah. But they are also reasonable people. They would get nothing out of you by scolding or harming you. They hope that they can project themselves well as required by the religion and maybe get us to be one of them. But don't add insult into any discussion. Then everything is fine. Learn to respect others and others will respect you." I said.

"So you are the only Chinese teaching in the Felda scheme?" Ah Fong asked.

"No-lah. There are a couple of them too. In fact, one of them was later promoted to be a Haedmaster in a secondary school in Kuantan. Another one left teaching to be an engineer in one of the MNC company in Penang, another one is running an insurance agency in KL. I think we improve our characters and strengthen them after some time in the FELDA. Maybe all new graduates should be send to the FELDA as part of characters build-up." I said.

"Why you said like that one?" Ah Fong said and clearly showed me that he is frightened if he were to work in Felda.

"Well many new graduate nowadays want to have a cosy nice air-cond office to work in. They cannot and would not want to work in conditions they PRESUMED to be bad. And the worse of all, they think that they are DAMN GOOD and KNOW ALL after their tertiary educations and can't stand to take a critic. They have become a pampered lot, and refusing to accept the fact that the economic situation has changed and want a high starting pay." That is a fact which I have said.

"You must have experienced with them before? Bad or good?" Ah Kow asked.

"Ah... that's for the next day." I said as I quickly sipped the warm "Teh Boh". Life is certainly good with a cuppa in this festive mood.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Curry Fish Head

We wanted something exotic for dinner today. So we decided for the curry fish head. As it was quite a hot evening, we decided to go to the nearest stall selling the exotic dish.

The stall was quite dark with only 4 florescent lamps lighting up the area of 20 feet by 60 feet. The ceiling is hardly 7 feet high, the air was stale as there was no fan at all and the mosquitoes were happy with our presence. The boss came and asked us to place our order.

Boss: Want to eat anything? ( in monotone)
Me : Curry Fush Head.
Boss: 1,2,3,4 people. A medium pot for you.
Me : Make for 2 persons will do. We want to order other side dishes.
Boss : Like that-ah. Hmm,,, made one pot Rm25.00 will do.
Me : What else do you have?
Boss : Chilli chicken. Spicy sour tofu, asam kembong fish..
Me : Wow.. all really exotic ones. Got any not so spicy dish ?
Boss : Just like this-lah.
Me : Like that. Cancel the curry fish head. We are leaving.

Then walked back and drove to another curry fish head stall 300 metres away. It had at least 20 florescent lights and many fans blowing to make the air fresher and the ceiling was at least 10 feet high. We hardly felt any mosquito buzzing.

Boss: Anything you want to try today? ( the tone was friendly)
Me : A small pot of curry fish head.
Boss : Okay. The Rm 15.00 pot will do okay?
Me : Okay-lah. Some want the "honey pork spare ribs".
Boss : Okay. The Rm10.00 plate will do okay?
Me : Good. ( Mental calculation here 2 dishes for Rm25.00, just now one dish want to cost Rm25.00.. damn worthwhile).
Boss : Any vegetables, fresh "kailan".
Me : Okay and Chinese tea.
Boss : Okay.

The dish were well-done as the curry was thick and the spicyness was manageable. The pork ribs were tasty and the vegetable was fresh. The bill came to Rm36.00 for four persons. We were full, satisfied and happy with the hearty meal. Only if there was a cup of "Teh Boh Ais " to take the heat of the exotic curry; that would make it PERFECT.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Ah Ong

"The economy now is very bad. It destroys me. It destroys my family." Ah Ong said that to me as he sobbed. That's the first time I saw him sobbing. I felt so useless unable to console a broken-down man.

It seemed like yesterday, when he showed me his newly-purchased home in Pandan Indah with a well-done appealing renovations. He has a beautiful wife and three lovely kids, a sign of a successful family man. Ah Ong would work whether it rained or shined. He would not hestitate to provide his services be it day or night. Life was good until he felt the strain last year. This year was a knock-out for him. There was no project for him at all and his savings soon dried up.

Yes the economy is not good at all. The fuel price is up. The rental is up. Postal rate is up. The price of basic food is up. Except the income of the normal working people. And these are the lucky ones. Many have faced either the VSS or retrenchment. Telekom and Pos Malysia were said to be distributing forms of VSS to their staff. What had happened so suddenly when things looked rosy last year.

Next year is DEFINITELY going to be worse as fuel prices will not be subsidised anymore. The temporary halt of increment in electricity tariff will be lifted too. Bank interset rate is bound to be up. Ah.... looking ahead, it is not going to be better than this year. This is the view of most people on the streeet, who are worried about their bread and butter. Who bother about those corporate guys in suits saying that, "Tomorrow will be better" beaming and smiling in front of the Business Times.

I could only advise Ah Ong to restart from scratch again and see where his strength lies. I told him to get small work here and there even if it means getting only hundred ringgits a month. He has to provide the basic meals for his family and forget about the big bucks first. Until then, there is no point sobbing and awaiting projects to be given. His kids came to me, still perplexed why their dad cried. I could only take their little hands and pat them. I put some little notes into their hands and bade good-night to Ah Ong and them.

As I came out of their house, I too dread thinking about my future. There is already some strong rumours that the company I am attached is going to ask us to take the VSS soon and no increment in the take-home pay. And some fringe benefits may be withdrawn. I had to stop by the mamak stall for a cup of the aromatic "Boh Teh Tarik" and forget the economy first.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Ah Chai

For almost two years I have not seen Ah Chai, although we communicate each other at twice a week either through phones or e-mails. He has cut his hair short, and a couple of side wrinkles around his eyes add some maturity to his otherwise youthful look. We had an afternoon "Boh Tea" at the cafetaria.

I got to know Ah Chai in 1996, when he returned from US with a MBA from the prestigious North Western University. He was with an insurance company , rose rapidly to a managerial post and then hopped to a KLSE listed company to be part of their corporate strategy team. He climbed the corporate ladder fast , picked up golf, rubbed shoulders with who's who then, and finally got a wife. I was happy for him and our business relationship prospered together.

As a yuppy who had a fine start at the right time when the econmy was booming, Ah Chai could get what he intended to. But the 1998 financial crisis started to be an obstacle to many companies and we heard so many went broke. Ah Chai managed to pull through but the endurance test was put to the furthest. Financial institutions no longer play the role of life guard and became very nervous. They would pull back any life-lines on any bad news or if any deviances from plans were detected.

The 2001 tech bust was just too much for Ah Chai, His company went into the PN 4 list. Ah Chai resigned and had to start from fresh again. He ventured into the business world.

Reality set in. The toughness in the world of business began to set into him. He told me that getting the MBA is really a "kacang" but to be in the business world is a different cup of tea. That's why business professors are not in the business world but talked a lot of it. He went into the auto industry and got back-up support from his golfer-friends in the insurance and the financial sectors. He tried hard and everyday he worked as if " there is no night."

Came the year 2004, a car accident, some bad debts could not be recovered, his loans piling up and finally a family break-down put him to ash. He has to start again and reset his priorities again.

Yesterday, he told me that he was still in the auto industry, this time supplying parts to the cars. He thanked me for standing with him even during his bleakest moment. Most of his friends have left him as in this world of reality, only winners have supporters. I could not help him much, I could only listen. provide my 2 sen worth of thoughts and encouragement. I want to see him recover from ash and would like to see him succeed again. We bade each other good-bye after the Boh tea was almost finished and cold. I wish he would succeed again and be as confident as the way he walked away from me.