This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on March 21 - 27, 2016.
The SPM results are out and as usual, the media’s focus is on the students who obtained straight As. This is rightly so as they deserve the limelight for all the discipline, hard work and effort put in.
My heartiest congratulations to the high achievers and all the brave students. It is not easy to outsmart the examiners!
On the other end of the spectrum, it can be crushingly painful for both the students and their parents if expectations were not met, and to consider the next step to take going forward. Statistics indicate that only one in four students proceed to this crucial next step while the rest need to secure a decent job, more often than not one requiring low skills and therefore low pay. According to official data, there are about 416,000 people in the unemployment line.
For some students, preparations-wise, it would have been consistent work throughout the two years of upper secondary. For most, however, preparations are just during the one year ahead of the major examination. For others, thorough preparations probably involve a shorter span as they recover from the shock of poor trial results — a by-product of self-inflicted indecision that comes back to haunt them.
While it seems premature, students have the option to decide well ahead whether they want to pursue higher education before or after the results are released. This highlights the importance of the trial results versus the ultimate scores. The outcome of the trials determines the forecast results that enable students to enrol in private higher education courses, on condition that the final results do not deviate too far from the forecast.
More crucial is that those with perfect forecast results will be the first choice for scholarships in the form of discounts on tuition fees or a full waiver. For them, it is better to be ahead of the queue for premier bursaries and offers. While the Ministry of Higher Education seemed to hesitate to allow this practice to continue — more to weed out incompetent institutions of higher learning — it appears to be business as usual.
The moment children enrol in school, parents begin to dream of their children clinching the elusive scholarships. Among the more prestigious are, of course, those that offer an all-expenses-paid overseas education with a secure job and future career advancement thereafter. These include the ones offered by Axiata, Khazanah Nasional, Sime Darby, Maybank, Securities Commission Malaysia, Bank Negara Malaysia, Shell, Petronas and Exxonmobil. In recent times, the more popular and abundant JPA and MARA scholarships have disappointingly been cut back, although they continue to be the first pick for students and thus have turned more competitive than ever.
All things being equal, the tipping point in clinching the elusive scholarship is the face-to-face interview with the candidate. The dreaded interview to secure the scholarship is highly likely to be in English, thus, proficiency in the language is crucial.
What a candidate should never do is to ask the interviewer if one may respond in a language other than English or worse, for the interview to not be conducted in English. He might as well kiss the scholarship goodbye. Responses to the questions must be precise, confident, opinionated and in depth. This is not about glorifying the English language but about achieving an effective return on investment in the long run.
As far as the MARA schools are concerned, the students should be at an advantage in the English language as these schools now offer, alongside the national curriculum, the IGCSE in order to create the desired immersion. In addition, all residential schools have now adopted the Dual Language Programme (DLP), although in varying degrees, thus enhancing proficiency in the English language, which will stand the students in good stead when applying for those lucrative scholarships.
We have to face the fact that learning English in school alone will not help students master the language adequately enough to be operationally proficient. We failed in the past and cannot afford to fail again.
If parents want their children to have a shot at the elusive scholarship, they should opt for DLP in schools. The two-pronged approach will put students in an environment where they may apply the English learnt in the classroom to other subjects, in this case, science, mathematics, ICT and design technology, and simultaneously acquire scientific knowledge in its lingua franca, which is English.
We should not believe it when told that we can excel by being monolingual, like the developed, non-English-speaking countries. The Chinese now have a national agenda to learn English, are extremely aggressive about it and are seeing tremendous success in it. The Germans are multilingual and Corporate Japan has admitted that with an ageing population and a shrinking birth rate, it has to venture beyond its shores and the best way to do so is to master the English language. South Korea will follow suit soon enough, and in a big way.
So, to all future college students, think this through, decide for yourself and move forward.
Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim is the chairman of Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia, which is an educational lobby group that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other educational stakeholders