Second of Three Parts: Molding Our Students

A Modest Proposal for the Champions of Ketuanan Melayu
by M. Bakri Musa

[In Part One I suggested that our current obsession with the presumed deficiencies of our race and our undisguised resentment over the successes of others are but expressions of frus (frustration) and fury for our own lack of competitiveness and productivity. We should focus instead on remedying both, and begin with our young, especially those promising ones at our SBPs.]

It may seem obvious but needs to be stated explicitly: We must prepare these students for top universities the moment they step foot at a SBP. That’s how they do it elsewhere. American students aspiring to top universities begin their preparation upon entering high school, or even earlier. The courses they take, their extra-curricular programs as well as their summer activities are all geared towards this central mission.

My grandchildren who are in an American school in Singapore have assigned reading lists for the summer, and they are still in primary school! Likewise, SBP students must have mandatory reading lists and writing assignments during their long holidays. The purpose is two-fold. One is to prevent attrition of knowledge and study skills during the long hiatus, and the other, to inculcate the habit of reading and writing. It impresses upon them that those skills are not just for examinations.

Once when I took my family on an overseas trip, my son’s teacher asked him to keep a journal to be shared with his class while my daughter was assigned to study a Malay folk tale. In high school my son was invited to spend his summer break at Ames Research Center.

I speak with some experience. When my daughter entered Harvard Law School over 15 years ago, she was the first Malaysian to enroll there. There has not been another since. One of my sons works for an agency that prepares students for selective universities.

We should prepare all SBP students for recognized matriculation examinations like IB, American AP, or British “A” level, and start them from day one. Consequently it would serve no purpose for them to sit for SRP and SPM. Those tests have little predictive value anyway; their philosophy and assumptions are also very different.

Since these students have limited English proficiency coming as they are from the national stream, why not have their first year at SBP be full English-immersion akin to the Special Malay or “Remove” Classes of yore? Better yet, make all SBPs English-medium. That however, is no panacea. MARA already has a few English-medium SBPs but their students’ achievements remain disappointing. We need to do more.

I envisage admitting the students in the middle of their Form II instead of Form I, as at present, based on their SRP scores as well as their Form I and first term of Form II performances. By the time they sit for their IB or “A” level five years later, their cohorts in the regular school would be in the middle of their Upper Six.

Their college counseling should start right away, as with preparing for their PSAT and SAT. There must be adequate resources and personnel to guide these students in their college choices, but more on that later.

Daewon’s and Minjuk’s excellent results were skewed because their students were children of diplomats, expatriates, and others who had been educated in the West. The South Korean government has since changed the rule to make those schools liberalize their admissions. For SBPs I suggest that they reserve half their slots for those who would be the first in their family to enter university and those from the kampongs.

No matter how stringent the selection process, inevitably there will a few who would not thrive in the residential school environment. While every attempt should be made to help them, but if they do not measure up, then they should be returned to regular schools. They are not failures rather they are better suited for day school.

Three features of the Korean schools are worth emulating. First is the mentoring system where first-year students are paired with a senior. Second, those students are constantly exposed to successful role models, fellow Koreans as well as non-Koreans who are graduates of top universities. Those students get first-hand perspectives beyond what could be gleaned from the college brochures. Likewise, our SBPs should invite Malaysians who are graduates of top universities to give talks to and inspire these students.

The third striking feature is that the students’ time is structured during their entire waking hours. They are always involved in something, if not with their classes and class assignments then debates, sports, music, and a myriad of extra-curricular activities. When students are occupied, they are less likely to get into trouble.

MCKK obtained excellent results during the time of Principal Howell when he instituted daily afternoon “preps” in addition to the evening ones. When you have high expectations and demand more from your students, they respond.

The converse is even more consequential. If you have low expectations or reward those who do not strive, as with sending them to third-rate universities abroad, then you are imparting the wrong message. That would be akin to membajakan (adding fertilizer) lallang. Even without the extra help, those weeds would snuff out the lengkuas. In a rentier economy, we are busy fertilizing our lallang.

MARA is membajakan lallang by sending hundreds of its students to third-rate universities abroad. The money could be better spent to strengthen its matriculation programs and SBPs at home. MARA should adopt tougher standards and send only those who have been accepted to top universities. Currently it sends students abroad even for sixth form. It is cheaper and far more effective to prepare those students in Malaysia. MARA’s current policy only perpetuates this culture of mediocrity.

Next Week: Last of Three Parts: Leveraging Residential Schools

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Monday, 29 September 2014 - 9:12 am

    I tried to get my young kids to read and had some success when they were much younger but as they grew older, when reading material really get interesting, they are swarmed by school work, state-sponsored programming and internet that they basically are philistine. Almost all of them would have no interest real material unless its fun or they impressed by potential of rich rewards..

    • #2 by cemerlang on Monday, 29 September 2014 - 10:54 pm

      Fun is in the nature of most young people. Fun as in games, physical activity and all that. Reading a book is boringly serious. That is why the education system wants fun to be incorporated. And this “fun” earns them points. “Fun” as in co-curriculum activities. Probably the big people themselves are bored with serious studies. How do you apply fun to learning so that they have the best of both worlds; fun and knowledge.

  2. #3 by Justice Ipsofacto on Monday, 29 September 2014 - 9:18 am

    Mould. Mould. Mould.
    Eh apa u buat?
    Ah jangan bising.
    Ku sibuk moulding.
    Moulding benda apa tu?
    Mana mata kau.
    Tengoklah sendiri.
    Ni semua patung lumpur.
    Patung pendek tapi berbadan besar.
    “Stubby” cakap orang barat.

    U see M.Bakri, if umno is left to do the moulding the malay race would surely turn stubby and short.

  3. #4 by tmc on Monday, 29 September 2014 - 12:15 pm

    Fully agree with Bakri. Our children must be challenged when young, their minds are like sponges. Unfortunately our Education Ministry/Minister has undergone so many changes there is no continuity or long term improvement in the system. It then falls to the teachers to get the students to memorize, throw them ridiculous loads of homework with the hope that at least some will get through. Those who fail end up despairing and envious, ripe for the extremists and fanatics who show them a shortcut to paradise.

    • #5 by cemerlang on Monday, 29 September 2014 - 11:00 pm

      Nobody wants to be known as a failure. Not the student. Not the teacher. Nobody wants to be blacklisted in the ministry. Therefore you must pass by hook or by crook. 100 % passes proves that you are an excellent teacher deserving to be promoted. Not all people who fail become extremists. If failure is shame enough, being an extremist will be eternally shameful. You do not mix with a failure but you will definitely run away from an extremist. Unless you think like him.

  4. #6 by boh-liao on Monday, 29 September 2014 - 5:00 pm

    Here, students NO need 2 study hard – just study smart, wait 4 leaked public exam Q on sale, then can score many As lah
    Sure every year Q leaked, it’s only a matter of whether some1 raised d alarm
    What abt internal exams held at Pusat Asasi n Matrikulasi centres? Can trust 1 meh? Banyak CGPA 4 students, all geniuses

    • #7 by cemerlang on Monday, 29 September 2014 - 11:04 pm

      The leaking syndrome is because of everybody’s fault. Everyone wants to be someone great. But if you do not have that capacity to be great, you will do anything to make sure you get to that level of greatness. Just because you pass with all A+ does not mean you know what to do with life, with your situation , how to solve problems with wisdom. Clever in academics is not the same as clever in life like you know what to do in life, how to live your life. It is just like a university student who thinks that he can take over the world.

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