Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Scholarships for top scorers

Stretching to help fairly all who deserve

The government’s decision to spend RM1.24bil to award scholarships to 1,500 top SPM students may be laudable but spending such a hefty sum on a relatively small number of students to undertake their first degree programmes abroad is unwise. High performers must be rewarded appropriately but the money spent must be prudent to benefit as many as possible.

Why can’t our top scorers be sent to do their pre-university courses and basic degrees in local institutions? By sending the best to local universities, which cost much less, not only more students can be sponsored but at the same time also help improve the standards in our own local universities which is on the decline in recent years. How can we elevate our universities to the status of world renowned institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and many others, when we keep sending our best overseas? This would only boost the foreign universities at the expense of our own.

It must be borne in mind that high achieving students make up far less than 10% of students. The vast majority are average performers who should also be catered for adequately. There are also many who do badly or even fail their examinations and it is equally important to cater for the special needs of these category of students as well. Spending all we have on a few top students and neglecting the vast majority who obtain mediocre results will be detrimental to the nation. It will be this majority who are considered mediocre who will be form the bulk of the workforce in the future.

Selection of students for scholarships causes a lot of uproar every year. I admit there is no one ideal system that would satisfy all but whatever method is chosen must ensure that genuinely deserving students are not deprived of the opportunity to pursue their tertiary education. In this regards the selection process must be more transparent and open.

According to Deputy Prime Minister and Education MinisterTan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin the students for scholarships are selected under the excellent academic achievement category will be assessed according to academic performance (85%), co-curricular activities (10%) and Public Services Department interview (5%).This clearly indicates the over-emphasis on academic excellence over all others. Unfortunately important factors like financial affordability, extra-curricular excellence and the all important aptitude seem to carry little weight. Not all top scorers have the aptitude and not all with aptitude will be top scorers either.

Academic performance is of course a very important factor in selecting student for scholarship but it would be unfair to base the assessment on just a single public examination. It would be a better if it is based on continuous assessment throughout the year by the respective teachers who would know the students best.

In the past tremendous emphasis used to be placed on testimonials from teachers with regards to character, attitude, aptitude, behavior and academic performance of students. Students with excellent testimonials are given greater priority for scholarships and other awards. Students then strive very hard to excel in all areas, not just academic, so as to get a good testimonial on leaving school, knowing very well that only academic excellence with good testimonials from their teachers will take them far in their career and lives.

Unfortunately today testimonials are rarely sought as they have very limited value particularly for top scorers. All that matters is a string of A’s and nothing else. Students spend so much time and money to obtain those A’s often at the expense of all other equally useful activities that are essential to make one all rounder, being well equipped to handle the many problems they may encounter with maturity and wisdom.

It would a great injustice if a student from a humble background but with the right aptitude but with only above average results denied financial assistance thereby forcing him to abandon his career that he is passionate about. It would not only a setback for the individual but also a great disservice to the nation.

It is time for the government to seriously consider a fairer and more comprehensive method of awarding scholarships to our deserving students. These awards should be granted to all who are eligible based on overall merit without discrimination whatsoever in keeping with 1Malaysia policy. Unless we give every deserving Malaysian child the opportunity to pursue his ambitions and ideals, our nation will not be able to move forward in this highly competitive global world.

As responsible citizens the people too should dotheir part to ensure that as many Malaysians as possible will benefit from government aid to further their studies. With limited resources and a large number of deserving students, it would only be fair for those who can afford to be considerate to make way for the less fortunate who are genuinely in need of financial assistance without which they will have to forgo their dreams of a tertiary education for good.

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