September 29, 2014
A Modest Proposal for the Champions of Ketuanan Melayu
Part 2: Molding our Students
by Dr. M.Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California
[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.
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 (The Malay College Kuala Kangsar) 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.