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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, April 18, 2021

Keep Residential Schools For The Poor

 Keep Residential Schools For The Poor

M. Bakri Musa



I was visiting my old village a few years ago and was discussing with the local teachers the sorry state of Malaysian education, in particular rural schools. One of them took that as my blaming the teachers.


            “How can we be inspired?” she protested. She went on to relate that while in the past there were more than a few bright kids in her class to create some sparks, today those few would have gone into the many residential schools.


Now that Malaysian schools have reopened, that teacher’s lament and perceptive observation came to me as I read the many congratulatory remarks in social media made by and for proud parents whose children had been selected into these residential schools.


There is merit in having these magnet schools. Farmers give special care and attention to their promising saplings; ranchers their prized heifers and young bulls. They are the future; they will increase the quality of the farm or ranch. Likewise with a nation.


Singapore’s Raffles Junior College and South Korea’s Daewon and Minjok are now “feeder schools” for the Ivy League. When those students graduate and return, they would uplift the nation. To prepare for those elite universities, these students sit for international matriculating examinations like the British GCE “A” Level, American Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), and the International Baccalaureate (IB). They prepare for them early, upon entering high school and thus have at least four years of preparation.


Some Malaysian residential schools too prepare their students for IB and GCE A level, but only after they have sat for their local Sijil Persekutuan Malaysia at Year 11. Thus they have a truncated preparation of at most only two years.


Meanwhile India opted for a different strategy. She targeted not the school level but undergraduate, as with her Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) with its 23 campuses. Those students then would strive to enter elite graduate programs in the West for their MBAs and PhDs. Many leading American scholars, professionals, and executives of Indian origin trace their academic roots to IIT.


Malaysia also has comparable targeting with her five “research” universities. Unlike India, Malaysia does not have much to show for her effort. It would have been far more effective and cheaper if those “top” five universities were to improve their undergraduate programs a la IIT. Instead they are on a futile chase for “global ranking” and produce gluts of PhDs with their half-baked “research” published in predatory journals.


It takes considerable time, money, and effort just to take part in those surveys. Accept the fact Malaysian universities will never make to the top within the next few decades. Focus on achievable goals, as with increasing the employability of your graduates by making them bilingual.


The criteria for success with the IIT-like approach could also be readily measured, as with how many of the graduates get accepted to elite universities. Another would be whether their programs are recognized internationally. University of Malaya’s medical degree was once accepted by the British Medical Council, thus paving the way for its graduates to take further training in Britain. Not now.


Malaysia sends her educators to and hires consultants from such countries as Finland but fails to learn the most elementary lesson. That is, successful schools, whether in Malaysia, Finland, or America, are where there is a commonality of purpose and effort among teachers, parents, and community. As for curriculum, Finnish and German high school graduates are fluently bilingual, the second language being English. That is worthy of emulation.


If successful Malays do not send their children to residential schools, they would by default support local schools. Their children’s success would depend on it. Further, as their children would be among the bright ones, they would add much-needed sparks to the class and inspire their classmates as well as the teachers.


Beyond that, these residential schools could then provide more opportunities for others less fortunate to have the same superior opportunities that you once had. Besides, your children would have far better living conditions at home than they could ever hope to have even at Malay College. Imagine, their own room, broadband access, and definitely much better food! As for intellectual stimulation, you could provide that far better than those teachers. Last and most important, your children would absorb your values.


Imagine the multiplier effect on Malays if all residential schools were limited to the poor or those who would be the first in their family to go to university. There must be some pride among successful Malays not to let their children be the ward of the state. In essence that is what their children would be if they were to attend these residential schools.


            I am appalled that Malay leaders like Mahathir would on one hand chastise Malays for being too dependent on the state while at the same time send their children to these residential schools. They have no shame. Worse, their children too are now sending their children to these schools. When will they learn the lesson that they are preaching?



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