March 23, 2017
By Salahuddin Hisham
THE SPM results are out and the annual rat race has begun.
Students with good results are rushing for placements, scholarships or to make the basic decision of choosing their courses. Most of the deadlines for university entrance and scholarships are this month-end, two weeks after the results are out.
Competition for a place and scholarship is intense. Apparently, only students with straight A+ need apply for scholarships to study abroad.
The media reported 8,647 students achieved straight As including A+, A and A- but the figure could possibly be more as there are other schools doing better than the best school – MRSM Tun Ghaffar Baba – that are not disclosed.
Chances of securing scholarships from top Government-linkedCompanies (GLCs) or major corporations or even Bumiputera Trust companies can be as low as below one per cent.
If that is not tough enough, the most meritorious students could be denied by certain odd socio-economic requirements and expectations by the respective organisation.
More confusing will be the choice of courses to take.
Malaysians are generally exposed to overseas education thus they aspire foreign education for their off springs. It further confuse the students on where to do their chosen courses – local or foreign education. Each country has a different philosophy of education and course offerings.
After facing all these and completing their education, the competition will then be for students to get jobs with good companies. Off late, graduates have to wait tables and drive Uber before landing a decent job like their compatriots in more developed countries.
All these problems are paltry to the bigger challenge faced by students with less than perfect As. When compared to a generation or two earlier, the results of students today are far better than past generations.
In the past during the New Economic Policy days, Bumiputera with second grade SPM/MCA results but with aggregates that met the minimum requirement could be offered to do A levels in the United Kingdom.
However, such students today could even be denied local university entrance and their parents may have to send them to lesser accredited colleges. They maybe envious and felt they deserve the same opportunity as the earlier generations but scarcity in economics is a reality.
As citizens and consumers of education, Malaysians need to ponder on what the prospect for those less than perfect students but far from being inferior academically.
Are these talents, especially those from families that cannot afford tertiary education, to be released early in the job market early in their lives?
With only an SPM, they could end up doing menial and blue collared work. School leavers of the past could be employed as clerks but today, even some Banks are taking in only contract clerks from among SPM leavers with those with certificate in clerical training, usually accounting.
No doubt there are private colleges for aspiring students to do part-time, it is quite a challenge and many of such students could not sustain. They falter along the way and it translates into wasted human resource and talent of the country.
As told by human resource managers, part of the reason SPM school leavers are not taken in as clerks directly is that they lack the ability to read, write and speak with confidence in Bahasa Malaysia and English.
Maybe this is a result of the examination oriented education system and too much hand holding for schools to achieve the quantitatively oriented KPI from SPM results.
Education is best left to the educationist and professionals in education to deal. Although every other Malaysian has a tertiary education, they are consumers in the educational sector and not experts.
So the educationists and administrators of the education system and institutions need be aware. If MCE/SPM school leavers in the past could fill-up and undertake such low end positions, why can’t today’s school leavers?
Many non-educationist observers feel that the Malaysian education is in need of a re-think. The education system need to undertake a philosophical change and see beyond access to education but the outcome of education.
Since the then Minister for Education, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had undertaken a major exercise and spent millions of ringgit to pay management consultants to come out with an Educational Blue Print, then some practical tweaking will do.
Improving on the suspicious leak in the Bestari.net contract and providing sufficient bytes for school use is only one.
Recently, the government seemed to be gloating about the improved rankings of our public universities. Though ranking is important indicator for the quality of Malaysian universities and job prospect of the graduates, the question on outcome is what our graduates and also school leavers can do.
In early February, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of Indonesia was reported calling on universities in his country to provide relevant knowledge to prepare students to meet the global demands of the day.
The fast moving world of today, open competition and Internet will pose challenge on the traditional markets and ways of doing things.
He said the Indonesian education system and infrastructure failed to produce qualified workers to fulfil the needs in society.
And he emphasised that the need to speed up the upgrading of skills was not only confined to universities but also the 82 percent from elementary school, junior high school, high school and vocational school.
There is something to be learned from Indonesia. Our schools and universities need to produce students with living skills and not merely academic excellence.
The pursuit for intellectualism and generating academic papers to be published in limited circulation academic journals should not be the emphasis of any education system. Only an infinitesimal number of university graduates advance their education to doctorate level and be professors.
The concern for the nearly 100 percent of the product of education system is skills, jobs and making a life for themselves. Thus Jokowi’s answer to competition of today is for Indonesia to emphasise on creating human resources that are smart, productive, and with character.
At the upper segment, there is the academic rat race but for the rest and majority, it is still basic skills and capability to make a living and excel in it.