Saturday, March 13, 2010

Quantity vs Quality

I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint some of you—no, folks, this has nothing to do with sex.

My nephew went to Maktab Rendah Sains MARA, Kota Kinabalu when he was in Forms 1 and 2. But this year he has been relocated to KK High School. The former is a boarding school, of which parents are only allowed to come visit their children over the weekends or public holidays. The latter, on the other hand, is a typical school where children go for classes for about half a day only, except of course for extra-curricular activites after school hours.

The Maktab Rendah Sains MARA (MRSM) is found in almost all the states in Malaysia. According to this (Malay) Wikipedia, the philosophy of MRSM is:

"Berdasarkan kepada Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan, kami percaya bahawa pendidikan adalah suatu kewajipan dan komitmen yang berterusan, dinamik dan saintifik untuk mempertingkatkan kualiti dan kerbergunaan manusia kepada diri sendiri, masyarakat dan negara. Kami juga yakin bahawa sekolah yang berkualiti dan cemerlang, sentiasa peka dan komited kepada usaha-usaha meningkatkan kualiti, produktiviti, kecemerlangan, penyuburan, pengembangan potensi, kepimpinan dan kreativiti. Di samping itu, setiap pelajar adalah unik, istimewa dan berpotensi tinggi untuk terus maju dalam mencipta kecemerlangan."

For the benefit of the non-Malay-speaking readers, here is my own translation of the above:

In accordance with the National Education Philosophy, we believe that education is a continuous obligation and commitment, dynamic and scientific, to enhance the quality and usefulness in human resources for themselves, soceity and the nation. We are also confident that the school that has quality and excellence, is always sensitive and committed to endevours in improving quality, productivity, excellence, prosperity, potential growth, leadership and creativity. Apart from that, each student is unique, special and has high potential to continuously progress in inventing excellence.

Plenty of big catchy words in the above paragraph!

I recently had the opportunity to chit-chat with my brother about the MRSM (obviously this is referring to the one in Kinarut, which his son went to; and not the rest of the MRSMs in the other parts of Malaysia.)

Well, my brother had mostly good things to say about how the kids are made to obey a strict schedule of class attendance, revisions, extra-curricular activities etc. It sounds very much like these kids are being trained to enter the police force, except, of course, excluding that part about cowardly shooting and then blowing up innocent people with the C4 explosives.

Apparently, the MRSM is also far ahead of the typical school in terms of covering the syllabuses of our education system. An example quoted by my nephew was that what he's learning now in KK High School has been taught half a year ago when he was still in MRSM.

Just a bit about the eligibility for entrance into the MRSM. Firstly, of course, it's meant for the Bumiputera. Secondly, only the best of the best can enter. In other words that's like saying only the straight As Bumiputera kids can enter. Thirdly, priority is given to kids from poor background. It therefore should not come as a surprise that the MRSM very, very rarely doesn't achieve a 100% passing rate in the major exams; and those passes are also mostly very excellent passes—not merely mediocre marginal passes. On the surface of it, I must admit that I'm impressed with the MRSM. I think it has achieved most of those big catchy words in its philosophy above.

But most of my regular readers would know that I'm not overly concerned with excellent grades in exams. Most people would equate quality to excellence in examination results, but all too often those excellent results do not translate into quality human resources in the job market.

I asked my brother about his son's lifestyle in the campus. He gave quite a detailed outline of the time-tables for studies, revisions, group-discussion sessions, assignments upon assignments, extra-curricular activities. And the list goes on and on.

And yet my nephew was miserable staying at the campus. He had to share his room with a few others, and his stuff went missing all the time. Even lockers with locks were forced open. That is almost to be expected from living at the campus. Maybe one of these days the relevant school authorities would make an effort to look into this matter.

Now if by a stroke of miracle these kids grow up to be excellent employees because they've learned all that's required when they're in school—although I seriously doubt it—would they be of any use if they can't be trusted by their employers? Would they then just add to the quantity, but not the quality of the human resources?

Perhaps someone should amend the philosophy of MRSM a bit so that somewhere in between those big catchy words, an additional word, i.e. honesty, could find its rightful place.


Sarah Elizabeth said...

My husband is a product of MRSM PC.. All you say about it is very true..

My husband's experience was an excellent one though. He was the best of the best and rewarded greatly for it. It is how he came to be studying in America. He was the top of his class and given a scholarship to go overseas, all expenses paid.. He has nothing but good to say about MRSM..

But, with that said, I think you would really enjoy a blog I follow by M. Bakri Musa.. Check it out on my blogroll when you have time. He talks about MRSM and how it has unfairly focused on the top students instead of the HUGE middle students who are still very smart, but lose out because resources are geared towards the best.. Meaning more kids are losing, than winning, basically.

Anyways, excellent post by him and I do hope you check it out.. He gives some excellent solutions.. I would love to know your reaction to it.

Sarah Elizabeth said...

PS,, let me just add, there is theft in any school with a lot of kids, no matter where you go Cornelius.. It is unfortunate that your family member had to deal with that, but haven't we all at some point in our lives?

I don't think this is something so big that MRSM has to be criticized about teaching honesty.

It is a huge group of kids. Shit happens. Chinese, Indian, Malay, White, Whatever.. Shit happens.

Cornelius said...


I will check out what this M. Bakri Musa has to say about MRSM. But it's past 11pm now, and I really ought to go to bed as I'm waking up at 4am for my long run tomorrow morning.

Just to respond to your comment about theft in school.

Yes, Sarah, theft happens in any school, and I did not suggest that it doesn't. If I am aware of it happening in another school, MRSM or not, I will criticize that school in the same way.

I made it a point to say that this particular post is for the MRSM attended by my nephew, but not those in the other parts of Malaysia. It just so happened that this particular MRSM has this problem and from what I was told, nothing is being done about it.

It is a huge group of kids as you said, and yes, shit happens. So what is this school gonna do about it? If we claim to produce the best, then that's what we should do. If there is theft in our midst, then we should go all out to combat it. We can't just ignore the problem and fall back on, "Well, it happens everywhere!"

Cornelius said...

Ah! Sarah, I've glanced through Bakri's articles a bit. He has quite a lot to say about the education system in Malaysia. And you are right, he gives excellent solutions too!

I think the problem now is not on what needs to be done. I'm inclined to believe that most, if not all, of Bakri's ideas have been formulated ages ago. However, the problem is in the enforcement and implementation.

I like these paragraphs from one of his articles:

"The third level of award is study loan. It would be tenable only to the same caliber institutions as the grants. Like grants, parents too would be assessed a similar percentage of their taxable income, but unlike grants the students would have to repay the loans less their parents’ contributions. The advantage of loans over grants is that students would be free to choose their own field of study. These loans would have to be repaid in the traditional way, monthly following the student’s graduation, with a defined interest rate and amortization period.

Alternatively the loan could also be repaid based on the graduate’s monthly income for a defined period. I propose 10 percent for a period twice that of his study loan duration. In this way if the candidate chooses a highly lucrative job, the government could conceivably make a tidy profit on its investments. The student would choose the repayment option at the time the loan is being given."

Looks like a brilliant idea to me - at least on paper. The truth is that the majority of those who get the study loans are the Bumiputeras. And in this country, the Bumiputeras are only trained to receive, not so much to give. They enjoy the benefits of the study loans, some of them screwed up and wasted on those loans, and some of them took full advantage of the opportunities. But whether or not they become successful eventually, not very many of them would pay back the loans. Even if they landed big-paying jobs, they still won't pay. It's not in their nature to give, you see. Even big time politicians who've become successful from these study loans did not pay. But yes, it's a brilliant idea if the repayment part could be enforced.

Sarah Elizabeth said...

In your opinion, do you think the Bumiputera have become a "culture of welfare" because they have become so used to being given to by the gov't?

I have been reading a lot about these advantages 'on paper' that are meant to be given to the bumiputera as a sort of affirmative action, but how the implementation is so haphazard and flawed that it doesn't really end up benefiting anyone.. It sounds to me like most bumi's never even see any of those supposed advantages, save for the top, already privileged, few..

Do you see the problem with loan repayment as a poverty issue, or this notion of a culture of welfare? Meaning the culture has changed due to handouts by the government, making the social fabric change and the attitude towards money...

As for Musa's blog posts, yes, I do think those solutions are awesome in theory, but now can anyone actually have the guts to rework the whole system? He lives in California and works there as a doctor, it's too bad he's not back in Malaysia advocating for these solutions..

Cornelius said...


In my opinion, the "culture of welfare" thing is at least a significant factor in the attitude of the Bumiputera.

It was announced in a recent report that the unpaid study loans came up to a whopping RM400M, an amount which would have given the opportunities to many other Bumiputera to further their studies. So actually by the selfish attitude Bumiputera who've already enjoyed the benefits of the study loans, they are actually depriving their fellow Bumiputera from higher education.

However, I think there is a second contributing factor. Some people I have spoken to gave me an interesting reason why they're not paying their study loans - or at least try very hard not to pay or delay payments. They feel that those people holding high office are corrupted and continuously abusing taxpayers' money. Because of that, they feel a bit reluctant to pay their loans; they feel if anyone should pay, it's the VIPs that should pay first! Intersting, huh?

I'm inclined to agree with the view that many more Bumiputera who really deserve the assistance from the Government do not really get the help.

I doubt that Bakri would be able to do anything much even if he's here in Malaysia. In Malaysia if one speaks out too much, expecially if what he's saying can hurt people sitting in the high office, he will soon find himself in the freezer.

Sarah Elizabeth said...

Wow, that is a lot of unpaid loans.. So do all these people not paying their loans end up with horrible credit scores and ruined finances? Are people Blacklisted for not paying back a gov't loan?

Cornelius said...


Here's one of those reports I've managed to trace. As you can see, the answer to your question is YES, these people do get blacklisted. But of course that doesn't really do the trick, as these people can still enjoy a lot of things by using the names of their spouses.

However, I think that idea of barring them from travelling overseas is a good one. 4% had since started paying up, which I think is quite something. Now if they can make, say, 50% of those defaulters pay, that would be a major achievement.