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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, May 14, 2017

Make Malay College Exclusively IB


Make Malay College Exclusively International Baccalaureate
  1. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com
 
 
Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) is being yanked left and right as well as up and down by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and other agencies. Among others, the college is being directed to be Sekolah Kluster Kecemerlangan (Cluster of Excellence School), Sekolah Berprestasi Tinggi (High Prestige School), and School of Global Excellence. Even the government-linked conglomerate Khazanah is in the act, the college being its “Trust School,” whatever that means.
 
            Neither excellence nor anything of great value comes from those being told what to do. The college should chart its own course and then convince those in authority the merits of its ideas, not the other way around.
 
            MCKK’s governing board glitters with luminaries. Its chairman, the Sultan of Perak, is an Oxford graduate and a Harvard PhD. However, unless the board can demonstrate leadership with great ideas and their effective execution, then it is nothing more than a distracting window dressing.
 
            I suggest two possible futures for MCKK. One, become an exclusive International Baccalaureate (IB) school; two, collaborate with a degree-granting institution for an accelerated program where its students would complete their high school simultaneously with the first two years of university, and earn an Associate Degree.
 
            Since I left in 1962 as a Sixth Former, Malay College has been through only three major academic changes. One was its initiation of a science stream while I was there; two, elimination of Sixth Form together with switching into Malay in the late 1970s; and three, introducing IB’s Diploma Program (DP) in 2011, after over a decade in planning.
 
            The introduction of the pure science stream was the only unqualified success. That initiative also brought the Sixth Form science block. The consequences of that move are the many current and past STEM professors at local universities, as well as many of our leading scientists and specialists.
 
            That move grabbed the national headlines then, and rightly so. However, not to gloat but to put things in perspective, my Tuanku Muhammad School in Kuala Pilah started its pure science stream years earlier, sans any fanfare.
 
            That one positive change was soon undone with the switch in the language of instruction to Malay and the discontinuation of Sixth Form. Without Sixth Form, proud MCKK was emasculated to a glorified, expensive middle school. Concomitant with that was the de-emphasis on science. Today MCKK could not even meet the ministry’s minimal 60:40 goal of science to non-science students.
 
            As for the college’s IB, it is too soon to tell. This much we do know. It has to advertise to attract applicants, and the results of the first few years lag behind the region’s average. More telling, the program is not the first choice among the college’s own students. Very unusual! Nonetheless, last year the college expanded the IB to the Middle School Years (MSY).
 
            Time to reassess the college. That should begin with considering who its peers are or should be. They should not be the other local residential schools or the likes of SMK Ulu Kelantan, rather Singapore’s Raffles Institution, Britain’s Eton, America’s Groton, and South Korea’s Daewon. Daewon is a recent institution but already has a reputation as the leading feeder school for elite universities. As for local peers, I suggest KL’s International School and Penang’s Chung Ling.
 
            Making the college all IB should be next. Then its students would not have to sit for local examinations. That would be liberating, for them and their teachers. IB would become the college’s crown jewel academic offering, and not as at present, only an expensive ornamental add-on. Were MCKK to do that, it would become the biggest of such schools in the world. MCKK could start a trend in being truthful in posting IB results. Currently many schools with hybrid IB have artificially excellent results because they screened their students, allowing only their very best to sit for the test.
 
            IB’s DP is two years; the full MSY, five. You do not have to subscribe to the full MSY. I suggest only the last two. Students would enter a preliminary “prep” year of full English immersion, reminiscent of the old Special Malay and Remove Classes. They would then continue with years 4 and 5 of MSY before proceeding to DP, making their stay at Kuala Kangsar a total of five years, just as at present. The only difference is that these students would enter in midyear of their local Form II instead of at the beginning of Form I.
 
            That prep year is critical; IB is English-medium and emphasizes critical thinking, the polar opposite of our national curriculum which is in Malay and heavy on rote learning. Making MCKK exclusively IB would also eliminate the students’ current wasteful half-a-year hiatus following their SPM examination. Much attrition in learning and good study habits occurs during that long break.
 
            Changing the school year from January to July could pose problems with regards to inter-school sports and other competitions, as well as with families coping with different school holidays. However, with more schools now offering IB, they could form their own leagues. The second problem would entail major adjustments for families.
 
            The major cost for residential schools is for food and lodging. MCKK could double or even triple its current output without much additional costs by becoming exclusively IB. The small incremental increase in costs for the academic program could be more than recouped by charging fees on a sliding scale based on parental income.
 
            With the increasing popularity of IB, and with Western universities becoming exorbitant, I envisage a need soon for a local university to cater for these graduates. It would be great if MCKK were to be instrumental in initiating a new trend in tertiary education in the country and region.
 
            As for the second option of an accelerated high school-college program, Bard College has a very successful one with New York City’s schools. A high school in my area has one with a nearby college, focusing on STEM subjects and underrepresented minority students.
 
            It would be difficult for Malay College to start a comparable program in Kuala Kangsar seeing that there are no degree-granting institutions nearby. The plan would be feasible for residential schools in Klang Valley because of the numerous universities in the area. Penang’s Tri-Chung Ling High Schools leaders once contemplated having their own tertiary institution integrated with their school system based on similar rationale.
 
            MCKK started as a colonial institution to train children of the feudal elite for junior administrative positions. Only later did it become a school, and its admissions liberalized. It is time for another transformation.
 
            I look forward to reading headlines of the school’s Speech Day not on the many royal guests in attendance rather the headmaster announcing with unconcealed pride the list of elite universities his graduating students would be attending. That would mean more to and reflect better the college’s students, teachers, parents, and leaders than any award the sultan or ministry could bestow.

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