A Modest Proposal for the Champions of Ketuanan Melayu
Last of Three
Parts: Leveraging Residential Schools
[In Parts One and Two I suggested that we should focus on
enhancing Malay competitiveness and productivity instead of forever begrudging
the success of non-Malays or bemoaning the presumed deficiencies of our race
and culture. We should begin with our young, the best of them, those at our
residential schools. Have high expectations of them, put them through a
demanding program, and expose them to rigorous competition.]
The key to
any high performing school is the teachers. Both Korean schools (Daewon and
Minjuk mentioned earlier) actively sought graduates of top universities to be
on their staff. Such highly qualified teachers inspire their students. And when
it comes to writing letters of recommendations, those teachers carry much
weight, especially when students apply to their teacher’s alma mater.
You do not
need and it is impossible for all your teachers to have sterling credentials,
only that there should be a critical number of them to set the tone and change
the culture. Besides, there are many excellent teachers who are graduates of
at MCKK of yore, with Oxbridge and London University graduates on its staff. At
KYUEM, a local college prep school with exemplary record of student achievements,
most of its teachers are local but there are sufficient graduates of top
universities, including the headmaster, to set the pace and establish a high
level, it would be difficult for a local graduate to understand the intricacies
and nuances of applying to top foreign universities, or the challenges of
present pay scheme there is little hope to recruit such top graduates. This is
where the private sector could help by sponsoring highly educated foreign
teachers. Petronas sponsors Formula One and the KL Philharmonic. Why not
economics teachers for MCKK? Such “endowed” appointments are very common at
American schools and colleges. If MCKK were to charge wealthy parents it could
also hire its own foreign teachers.
You do not
have to pay as high a salary as in Singapore or South Korea as Malaysia has
much cheaper living expenses. Thailand has no difficulty getting excellent
expatriate teachers at US$30-40K per annum.
For every three
students we send abroad, we could recruit two American teachers and benefit many
more students at home. In terms of actual loss of foreign exchange, it is far cheaper
to recruit one American teacher than to send a student abroad as that teacher’s
salary would be spent locally with the attendant multiplier effect, while the
entire student’s scholarship money is expended abroad.
foreigners would not generate resentment from their local colleagues. Local
teachers at KYUEM are paid less than their expatriate colleagues yet they do
not resent the preferential treatment. Of course if you do get a Malaysian who
is a graduate of a top university and is an excellent teacher, then he or she
too should be paid as well as the foreigner. There should be differential pay
based on the quality of the teacher, not citizenship.
Apart from recruiting
from abroad, there are Malaysians who are graduates of top universities whom, given
the augmented pay, SBPs could employ as teachers, or at least tap as mentors.
Policy Makers and
Stable, competent, committed, and inspiring leadership;
those are the essential ingredients to a successful organization, more so a
school. The headship of SBP should be a terminal appointment. There should be
nothing else after that except retirement and glowing in the reflected glory of
your students’ success. The appointment should never be a stepping stone for someone
on his way to be Undersecretary for Procurement at the Ministry.
should also serve for a sufficient term. As Howell noted, “No headmaster can
leave his mark on a school and have a lasting influence on its development in
under five or six years.”
He or she
must also be a graduate of a respectable university, again to set the tone. He
need not have an advanced degree. Given the choice, all things being equal, I
prefer someone with a good bachelor’s degree over a candidate with a higher
degree but from a less stellar institution.
individuals, little is known about nurturing great institutions. One thing is
certain however. Like individuals, if institutions are held under tight control
and not given the freedom to grow, they will quickly become sclerotic and
unresponsive. The job of policymakers is to select capable individuals to helm these
schools. Once that is done, they should be given the leeway to carry out their
mission without micromanagement from the ministry.
This means SBPs
must have full autonomy–academic, administrative, and financial. They hire and fire the teachers. The ministry’s
lever should be at the macro level, as with selecting the board of governors
and through funding.
of success should only be this: number
of their students ending up at top universities. All other measures, except
where they contribute to this singular goal, are irrelevant. At Speech Day the
headmaster should be announcing which top universities his or her graduating
students would be attending, just like the graduation exercises at top American
The policy does
not end with these students being accepted to top colleges. They must also be
assured of a scholarship and then be given the freedom to choose whatever field
of study. If they are smart enough to be admitted to those top institutions, then
they are smart enough to plan their future wisely, certainly better than those folks
at JPA, MARA, or Khazanah.
It pains me
to see bright young Malays pursue a course of study for which they have minimal
passion because that is the scholarship they were being awarded, based on
supposed “national interest.”
for matriculation (sixth form) is misplaced. I would wait after the students have been accepted to a top university. That
would free them to choose whatever route (matrikulasi,
twinning programs, Sixth Form, IB, or A level) that best suits them. Meanwhile use
those funds to support IB and “A” level programs at SBPs to benefit many more
have graduated, do not tie their hands with rigid rules like having to return
immediately or work for a specific entity. Grant them some freedom. If they are
offered graduate work or a job abroad, let them. Do not stand in the way of
their pursuing their aspirations.
stipulation is that they should serve the nation in whatever capacity they see
fit for a specified period during the first decade after their graduation. Only
when they fail to do so would they have to reimburse their sponsor.
GLC and Private
Khazanah through its subsidiary already has a successful
model–KYUEM. It prepares students for “A” level. That is more productive in
developing quality human capital than the route Petronas and Tenaga chose in setting
up their own universities, which are nothing more that puffed-up technical
colleges. Khazanah is also involved in joint ventures with the government
through the “smart school” programs.
There are other
ways for private sector involvement. One is the current system of letting anyone
set up a private college and charge whatever the market will bear. That would
benefit only the few wealthy Malays.
alternate route would be for Khazanah to pursue its own path a la Singapore’s Raffles Education
Group. Freed from governmental strictures, Khazanah could lead the way with its
string of prep schools modeled after KYUEM. Without the residential component,
the cost would be considerably less. Then it could proceed to a university,
modeled not after local ones but the likes of the American University in Beirut
or the Aga Khan University in Pakistan.
as valid a sector for private investment as tourism or health. It is doubly profitable,
enhancing both human and financial capitals. It would certainly be more
productive than pouring money into a floundering airline.
It is time for
Malays to discard the old destructive narrative of the “lazy native” imposed
upon us by the colonialists and slavishly perpetuated by our intellectually-indolent
“nationalists.” When the colonialists concocted that narrative, they benefited
from it. It was their rationale for bringing in hordes of foreign indentured
labor. When our latter-day Hang Tuahs aped that, they only made a monkey out of
themselves. What benefit do they derive by denigrating our culture and nature?
We need a modern
relevant narrative, grounded in solid social science. Our problems stem from
our being not competitive and productive. Fix that and we solve our problem. Bend
our rebong now and a generation hence
our bamboo groves would be more to our liking. By then we could not care less
whether the likes of Perkasa’s Ibrahim Ali and Tun Mahathir would eat their
words. They and their myths would have long been forgotten.
As for me, Insha’ Allah (God willing) I look
forward to one day meeting many young Malays at San Francisco Airport on their
way to Stanford and Berkeley. That would be the sublime and truest expression
of Ketuanan Melayu.