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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

RMC's Wise Decision to Drop Lower Forms

RMC’s Wise Decision to Drop Lower Forms

(From the Sun Weekend edition, February 18, 2006)

The decision by the Ministry of Defense to eliminate Forms I-III and re-institute Sixth Form at the Royal Military College is wise. I hope this is just the beginning of the innovations, and that other residential schools would follow RMC’s lead.

By eliminating the lower forms, RMC would effectively double its output for the same resources. Besides, children at that age are too young and psychologically very vulnerable to be separated from the support and nurturing of their family. By bringing back Sixth Form, RMC would have its own matriculation program. This would be considerably cheaper and far more effective then the current matrikulasi.

As I wrote in my book, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia, our residential schools get the best students and teachers, and consume more than their fair share of resources. Despite that, their aggregate results are disappointing.

Visit any leading university, and the Malaysians there are more likely to come from other than our residential schools. Our elite too are shunning these schools, opting for private schools locally or even abroad. The Deputy Prime Minister sends his daughter abroad for her matriculation. The clamor for expanding international schools also reflects this sentiment.

MARA recently opened its residential schools to non-Bumiputras. That there are few takers indicates the low standing of these schools among non-Bumiputras. Consequently, the experiment to decrease the insularity and stiffen the competition fails miserably. These schools remain segregated racially, and their competitive spirit nonexistent.

The Ministry of Education tried to eliminate Form I at Malay College in 1971, but intense lobbying by its “old boys” scuttled the idea on grounds that it would weaken its “tradition.” I argue the opposite. Certain traditions, in particular the college’s celebration of mediocrity, need to be broken. Today, Malay College does not even prepare its students for matriculation; they have to go elsewhere. So much for hallowed tradition!

Eliminating the lower forms should be just the beginning for RMC; it should go further. Its curriculum must be revamped to emphasize English, mathematics, and the sciences. I suggest that RMC be English-medium.

RMC has a national responsibility to prepare those bright students under its tutelage for the best universities. Anything less is unacceptable. RMC must regain its earlier stature where its graduates ended up in such institutions as Oxford and West Point.

This means the students must sit for well recognized matriculation examinations. Today these are the International Baccalaureate (IB), America’s Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) and Advanced Placement (AP), and the British GCE-A level. IB and AP are especially highly regarded; IB in particular provides both depth and breadth.

Private institutions are already preparing their students for these examinations. These examinations are a novelty only to the bureaucrats, educators, and students of our government schools.

Residential schools are expensive. To defray the costs, I would charge tuition and boarding, subsidizing only the needy. Another way to reduce cost and at the same time expand capacity would be to make these schools not wholly residential. Those who live nearby could be day students.

To make these schools even more effective, they should admit students only from rural areas. These are the students who would benefit most from the superior facilities. There is little point in admitting those already attending superior schools.

I would grant these schools their autonomy, giving them an annual global budget based on enrolment and agreed-upon performance criteria. Let each school, guided by its Trustees, run its affairs, design the curriculum, and chart its course, including the freedom to hire and fire the staff. Such school-based management would result in the blossoming of innovations. Each school would be free to try new ideas, and the successful ones would then be shared and adopted by others.

The current system is too rigid and centralized. There is no room for local creativity and initiative. Every decision is made at the ministry, by personnel most remote from the problems and realities of the classroom. This cannot be good.

With these suggested changes, our residential schools would then aspire for greater heights and benchmark themselves against the Etons and Grotons of the world. Currently they compare themselves to the likes of SMK Ulu Kelantan, and then smugly pronounce themselves elite and successful.

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