Excellence comes from competition and meritocracy

The posting of my statement yesterday on vernacular schools has attracted many comments and insightful discussion. I would urge those who miss reading that post to read the comments , looking at the topic from different angles, from the Non-Malay Malaysian Viewpoints ,  Malay Malaysian viewpoints, to  Malaysian Malaysian viewpoints.

I would like to highlight one of the comments, by a reader called JC. His views should be read and re read since he points out the gist of the matters, why parents opt for one stream and not the others.

This is JC’s comment:

I think it all boils down to the quality of those schools. I think it does not matter if its a vernacular school or national school, if its a sh** school(pardon my french) even if its vernacular, you will find that sooner or later the school will die a natural death. Mukhriz should concentrate on the quality of those school instead of again using the education as a springboard for his ambitions. This is so disgusting, look at the state of our government schools right now.. i should know, i have a sister who just finished form 5. By the way I am chinese who goes to a christian brothers school. In those days these are really good schools, with people fighting to get themselves enroll in them plus every year you would hear so and so getting themselves admitted into the oxbrige unis in the UK. In my opinion its the excellence of the schools which we should concentrate on. Just my 2 cents

I think JC has hit the nail on its head.

Just like in a free market, it is good to have different streams for competition.

Competition will result in  excellence.

Look at the sixties and early seventies, we had English stream, vernacular streams, national school stream. Many parents sent their children to English streams, because students from such schools were deemed to be better equipped for tertiary education as well as employment. In Penang, Penang Free School and st Xaviers were very popular.

Chinese school students, because of their handicapped in English, faced problems when studying overseas, and many opted to go Taiwan. But still many sent their children to Chinese schools, partly because of strong cultural sentiments then, and partly because students, despite the not so good standard of English, had good knowledge of Mathematics , science and commerce, and had no problems getting employment in the business sector.

Certain Chinese schools, like my alma mater Chung Ling High School of Penang, had a high standard of English. Its students sat for the Cambridge School Certificate Exam, equivalent to O level, and many of them obtained 8 As (maximum  no of As then) including yours truly .Its students had no problems competing and studying overseas. As a result, entrance into Chung Ling was very competitive.

In those days, because of the competition, the general standard among all the streams were much higher  compared to today. Even National Schools’ graduates commanded much better knowledge than their counterparts today. Theirs Bs or even Cs, perhaps, were better than the As now.

We should also ask ourselves why nowadays, there are tens of thousands of Non-Chinese Malaysians studying in Chinese vernacular schools. I think it boils down to excellence again.

 It is true that excellence creates demand. And this excellence can only comes from fair competition and true meritocracy.

So the presence of more streams would logically promote better competition, and what the national schools need to do is to discard many of the ‘tidak apa’ attitude of the teachers, and work hard to turn them into schools of excellence , in order to attract students from all races to enter such schools.

The question Mukhriz raised is,  however, whether closing vernacular schools will bring unity.

Frankly, I do not think so. You can have one stream , and that one stream, because of lack of competition, will result in more mediocre students being produced which in turn will lead to next generations of more mediocre teachers. It will  become a spiral, leading the country into a path of mediocrity.

Polarisation can only be done with when there is a perceived equal treatment of all people.

No amount of national service camps, or putting students in same college rooms are going to reverse this trend without doing away with the perceived unequal treatment of the people.


To go one step deeper, why is the National schools not as good as the Chinese vernacular schools? It is part of the syndrome of mediocrity affecting the whole civil service because of over protection.

As a parent, we know that if a child is over protected and not allowed to grow up in a competitive environment, the child would become a ‘softy’, not able to withstand pressure and stress. This has been mentioned in one of my earlier posts on “the curse of the third generation”.

So in order to bring back excellence to the whole service as well as our national schools, we should bring back meritocracy and certain amount of competition. This will, in the long run, prepare our people, all ethnic groups included, for stiff competition from the outside world.

The alternative is,  of course,  our competitive level may drop to as low as our football team, currently ?160 in the world.


69 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Balan
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 11:28:40

    We have to also look at it from another perspective. Having Malays, Chinese and Indian teachers and administrators together in one school will also spur competition and as a bonus, strengtened unity, don’t you think so.

    If Singaporeans and


  2. Balan
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 11:37:51

    If Singaporeans can go to the same school, why can’t we?


  3. Dr Hsu
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 11:44:04

    yes Balan, good point. i presume what you have in mind is that we recruit more teachers from various races, and make teaching profession a more multiracial one.

    This should be applied to the civil sevice too.

    In fact, even vernacular schools can have multiracial teachers as more ad more Malay and Indian Malaysians are well versed in Mandarin, and in return, National Schools must have more teachig staff that are Chinese and Indian malaysians.


  4. A true Malaysian
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 12:05:29


    Malaysia is really in need to go back to ‘fair play’ and true ‘meritocracy’ in order to have a single school system.

    If not, single school system should not be there, let vernacular and national schools compete with each other, at least competition still in existence. If national school still cannot discard with its ‘tidak apa’ attitude, we may see less demand for enrolment with national school.

    Perhaps, when come to that stage, vernacular school becomes the ‘single school’ system for all Malaysians?


  5. Taikohtai
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 13:58:59

    I suppose the apple doesn’t fall far from the parent tree:
    Interesting letter to TDM and UMNO from a Singaporean Malay Doctor:



  6. nick
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 15:52:08

    I always like to illustrate ‘competition’ and ‘metritocracy’ looking at the English Premier League. The EPL is undoubtedly the best league in the world. When the 4 big clubs play, most things stops. I was in Bali for a holiday and Manu was playing AC Milan in the home leg at Old Trafford. My driver putu told me that no one can sleep in their homes and most of his neighbors were also shouting and grunting. The match was at ~ 3.30 am. Somehow when you can import in the best players, there are no place for shriekers and novices. The very best rises to the top. Look at CR, I mean Cristiano Ronaldo. To be the best week in week out, he just have to train harder and longer than most. With all that he was quoted today as saying ““Of course I can improve — there are many things I still need to learn. You can never let yourself think you know everything.” What a competitive guy. My type of hero. Now let’s look at M’sian Football scene. The league has just banned all foreign players. So the result is mediocity will rule again. I can’t figure this out. What got into the administrator’s head? In our local schools, our exams standards are dropping so that more students can pass and score A’s. I am sorry to say, the wake-up call for most of these students is when they switched to a reputable twinning college or go overseas for University studies.


  7. klm
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 16:34:50

    The Malaysia education system (with all its ills) is
    well discussed in an article in Wikipedia. This article is a collaborative effort of Malaysians.


    We are arguing the same things discussed in this article.


  8. veonszu
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 17:20:06

    Three Cs: Choice, Competition and Commitment to quality of education are keys to the success of our education system.

    Provided Bahasa Malaysia & Malaysian History be made compulsory to all school, the parents must be given the choice to choose which school to send their children to. Even Madrasah can produce excellent leaders, just look at how these Madrasah excelled in the early years of the last century in producing so many Malay scholars and leaders.

    Bring back English Schools, if need be. Strengthen National school at all costs. Assist the Tamil School by all means. Support Chinese School with due recognition. Let them compete against each other to produce better, more critical and open- minded students for our nation to tap on their potentials.

    Ultimately, it is the commitment to Quality of education that matters.


  9. Richard Loh
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 17:31:26

    The right approach to teaching and education itself must not be compromised by any other factors, such as political, racial divide or external interference.

    The people managing the educational system must be fully qualified and non political and have the freedom to decide what is the best education for our children.

    The situation now in our education system is full of political influences and I am not sure how qualify is our minister of education to run this ministry.

    Vernacular schools maybe in a little way that cause part of the disunity but there are bigger factors that cause the disunity by politicians and their parties which they do not like to admit.


  10. pilocarpine
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 18:25:24

    JC’s comment a great read.
    i’m also from christian brothers school, in actual fact, it is called missionary school, with a mission to provide good education to those deprived of them and to propagate religion in good faith.

    i guess M&M belief in having different types of school will cause disunity is not 100% false.

    just think of it. a group of friends, some talking mandarin while some of them did not know a thing what they are talking about.

    and not rarely, some of them may be talking badly about others in front of those people in mandarin, of which was noticed by one of my chinese-educated malay colleague.

    this will raise suspicion if you don’t really know what these ‘malaysians’ are talking about.

    however, M&M have a wrong plan for that. instead of closing down, the chinese and tamil schools, he should encourage language classes of chinese and tamil in all schools.

    BM will always be our national language. major criteria to pass. major criteria to admit into higher level of learning center. It will prevent BM dying of a natural language death due to global language monopoly of English and Chinese, while keeping our malaysian competitiveness as we are more proficient in multiple language.

    A malaysian, be it Malay or Indian or Chinese will face no problem going to India, China or Indonesia for job offers or business opportunities.At times, knowing to speak other language other than English can bring one closer to your clients.

    Well, this is my 3 cents.

    I always wanted to learn Tamil.


  11. daffodils
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 22:06:33

    It has been reported that students on government scholarship blundered in international exams and some taking longer than usual to finish their degrees. All these on taxpayer’s money! This shows a lack of accountability which is so unlike across the Causeway where a scholar who fails to perform will have his or her scholarship withdrawn.

    The public is imbued with a false sense that our students have performed well. And when such a large number score A’s without knowing the true value, scholarships are unfairly awarded while the truly deserving ones are denied. This brings the public exams to ridicule and suspect when students are deluded into thinking that they measure up. This is unlike the days of the 70’s when public exams were administered by the exam syndicate of the University of Cambridge. I remembered then that only a handful would score As in Additional Mathematics because of the high standards set by Cambridge. We never had the luxury of tuition, seminars or what have you nowadays and yet we turned out fine. The will to do our best is internalized within us.

    If everything is handed out on a platter how one can then acquire true worth of character in an adverse environment? Mental toughness is acquired in a competitive environment. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity because standards are never set. What a sham! A sham when grades are inflated for low scores to create the impression that our education system has achieved world standard.

    Parents send their children to vernacular schools because the teaching of pupils own language is administered half-heartedly in national schools. Parents send their children to vernacular school to acquire a skill in another language. If vernacular school is responsible for disunity because of polarisation then residential schools should be opened up to all races regardless of quotas. We would then have a healthy mix of different ethnicities studying alongside each other under one roof.


  12. irika
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 23:48:27

    Even if with only 1 type of school, but 2 types of Pre U, NEP, ketuanan, one race GLC/govt employees, bumi/nonbumi on housing, scholarship, U entrance quota, 1 race VC for govt U, Mara colleges (1 race) etc, racial polarization will be the same, Muk the idiot !
    Everybody knows “Excellence comes from competition and meritocracy”, but they (UMNO) will never do it for Malaysia !
    If they (UMNO) want to compare Spore schools, then just follow Spore in all respects/policies ! then surely Msia will be more prosperous than Spore.


  13. romerz
    Dec 04, 2008 @ 03:15:41

    Dr Hsu,

    The key word is meritocracy. Competition brings out the best in everyone. Without competition, one is beguiled into thinking that they are the best around hence no need for further improvement.

    Case in point with my blog. Because I want to make my blog relevant towards nation-building, I’m constantly challenged to read and learn as much as I can so as to be able to hold my own when debating issues.

    Because of this, I’ve been able to expand my knowledge by leaps and bounds and consider myself a better person for it.

    Congratulations on getting the education bureau. Education is the key to a better future for Malaysia. Not so much what language you are educated in but the ability to think critically.

    See you on Sunday. I can assure you that Jay will prove to be highly entertaining and if nothing else, you will leave with an idea of how the Lib Dems work in UK.

    By the way, I didn’t mention to you that he was part of a team that fought the extradition order of the MY government on Hishamuddin Rais from Europe some years back. Anyway, I’ll leave it to him to tell the story if he wants to.

    Ps. Let me know what time you’ll get to Penang and maybe we can do lunch before going to the venue at 1pm.


  14. Dr Hsu
    Dec 04, 2008 @ 09:16:08

    romerz, i probably will reach there around 12noon, driving up in the morning.will contact u if i reached around that time, but if i am late , i will probably see u at the venue.

    When I was asked to head the education bureau, I informed the leaders that I was not the right person as my knowledge on education was only patchy. I need to read and read , ponder and ponder, and surf the internet and the library for a crash course on the history, struggles etc. on education, not only malaysian, but other nations as well.

    But I take it as a challenge. As I have said, a tiny ant like myself cannot do the job. We need everyone to chip in ideas and views on education.

    It is also a diffficult field, as it is almost impossible tog et UMNo to change. Whatever proposal we may draft hopefully can serve as an useful input to whoever is in charge in future.

    What irika said is very true. Even if you have one stream but 2 systems of getting into the universities, how do you promote unity? How not to have polarisation?

    Malaysia will go backward without the practice of meritocracy.

    There are so much of issues at hand, but what some UNMO leaders worry about is how to get a place in the MT.

    Economy, loss of excellence, corruptions, increasing crime rate are just some of the urgent problems facing the country, and yet we are still fighting over who should be Supreme over the others.


  15. klm
    Dec 04, 2008 @ 10:36:22

    Dear Dr Hsu. I do not see any possible solution to the education system in the short and medium term. The reason – education is a very emotional subject in Malaysia. The emotions are multi faceted making it difficult to come to a consensus.

    With the NEP, Malay Ketuanan, etc, there is no trust between the Malay and Chinese and Indians on this topic. Raise a question on vernacular schools you have protests from all round.

    With no consensus possible, the solution is status quo as what Najib has done. It also mean freezing events in time warp.

    The practical short and medium term solution – have parallel education system. In other words status quo – like now.

    I think the best way forward is to make the non-government education system work better than the government national type school. If we bring our thinking and effort and pressue on the government , this can be made to work well.

    Instead of constant bickering, i suggest more effort in this direction.


  16. AY
    Dec 04, 2008 @ 16:09:23

    What if for the sake of national unity, the government and the Malay rakyats in consensus willing to give up their rights and privileges?

    In another words, they realise the significance and foundation of nation unity starts from education. They want the future generation advancement based on meritocracy thus the emphasis on fair competition – where no more quotas and preferential treatment in local universities, MARA, scholarships etc. Would the non-Malays prepare to forgo the vernacular system (of course by preserving their mother tongue as a subject – as what Mukhriz said)?


  17. A true Malaysian
    Dec 04, 2008 @ 18:16:16


    Based on my gut feeling, the answer to your question is a big ‘YES’. I am in favour of this.

    Of course, in the journey to achieve the ideal situation of what you described, we would expect to see objections here and there from Malay and non-Malay extremists.

    But, most importantly now is :-

    (1) to start with right footing in National Schools, to discard ‘tidak apa’ attitude, preferential treatment to Malay students & religious elements,

    (2)higher quality in teachers, syllabus, marking for As,

    (3)serious efforts in teaching of mother tongue and English,

    (4)fair competition among students,

    so to attract students of all races especially the non-Malays to enroll with National Schools. Then, it may comes to a time where vernacular schools will die of natural death, and a single school system will emerge naturally.

    The emergent of single school system is not an easy task anyway, as it involves constitutional rights as enshrined in the Constitution.


  18. klm
    Dec 05, 2008 @ 06:58:59

    1. Let us look at the education of our children without the emotions of pride, race and political divisions. Underlying all these noise, there are practical matters that need to be addressed. Education is not one problem. It is many problems. Race and political divisions make it worse but unfortunately, these issues take precedence before everything.

    2. Let us be honest. Our children are not all equal endowed. So i will categorised them as:

    1. Brilliant
    2. Smart
    3. Average
    4. Below average

    As a parent, we must ensure all of these children have a place under the sun.

    3. Children that are brilliant academically are above the meritocracy discussion.
    In today’s open world, they are sought by all countries. In many countries there are special facility to fund their education.

    In the case of Malaysia, if the government is unwilling to provide the facility, other countries will be more than willing – e.g. Singapore. Singapore is cherry picking the cream of the non-malay from Malaysia.

    The brilliants will shine in any education system, whether it is national school or vernacular school.

    Once identified, there are many opportunities for the brilliants to go on to university level education.
    Even with the problems in Malaysia, there are sufficient opportunities even for non-malay.

    Harvard University has two category of students
    – the very rich student
    – the very brilliant studentt

    Harvard University do not turn away the brilliants even if they cannot effort the fees.

    3. The issue of meritocracy involved the smart and average. These are crowded fields.
    There are many but there are only limited opportunities. NEP distort the picture. With affirmative action, some of the average students are move into the sector smart students. In the process, the standard is lowered.

    The education policy is geared to address the average. The focus of the system is mass education. The goal is literacy of the population.
    This is the foremost goal of developing countries.
    Are we still not a developing country?

    In the process, all government schools are converted into mass production facility – cookies cutters. The result is highly predictable. Average create mediocre and a downward spiral.

    Mass education is still very much an entrenched culture in the Ministry of Education. Our education ministers are running on auto pilot. So we will not see changes.

    Is Malaysia the only country with this problem of deterioration of its education system. No. Even the United States is having this problem. Hence, one of campaign promise of Barack Obama is to revamp the education system. And for many many decades, United States have parallel education system. One for mass education – public school and one for better quality education – private school (and cost more).

    Obama went to a private school (on a scholarship). Bill Gates went to
    a private school (father paid).

    It is difficult to balance the need of the smart, the
    average and the below average. Mass education and quality education are not the same. Perhaps, a better solution is to streamline the parallel systems we have and formalise the arrangement

    4. In order to have a place under the sun for all, what can we do for the not so smart and below average. Unbridled meritocracy will put these people in disadvantage.

    May people point to Singapore meritocracy. But how many people talk about the dark side of this policy. Believe me. It is not pleasant.

    5. It will be a more healthy debate on education, if we take away the rhetorics, negativity and anger.
    Only then can we come a consensus on how to solve the problems.


  19. A true Malaysian
    Dec 05, 2008 @ 11:46:06


    You have a very good insight in this education matter. Perhaps you are in this field?

    As you said, the ‘brilliant’ one will survive in any education system and they can take care themselves better by virtue of that. Important thing is not to cause these ‘brilliant’ brains drained out from Malaysia as what we see now.

    I believe an education system is to nurture more people to be of the ‘smart’ and ‘average’ ones for a country to be or become a ‘developing’ then ‘developed’. The ‘brilliant’ ones are by nature ‘gifted’ and only need some polishing on them. On this level of ‘brilliant & smart’, meritocracy is important here, or else, a country will loose these ‘talents’.

    On the level of ‘average & below average’, meritocracy is still important, but to a lesser extent than the level of ‘brialliant & smart’. Affirmative actions on ‘need basis’ are important to help them to be independent and of value to the economy. Again, this must be through education.

    I realise the not so pleasant side of meritocracy, that is why as Dr. Hsu commented before, there should be ‘need base’ policies to help out the lesser competitive ones or else there will be social problems. Unpleasant side of meritocracy should not be the excuse for not practising meritocracy.


  20. klm
    Dec 05, 2008 @ 14:59:22

    True Malaysian

    No. I am not in the education field. My expertise is in technology and management. Because of this background, I tend to see things in terms of systems and processes. My perspective come from the agony of putting 3 children through university. Just like many of you.

    I am hoping that through this discussion, we can figure ways to make the systems work for the betterment of all.

    Through the good office of our Dr. Hsu, hopefully some of the ideas can be filtered into policies.

    Let me touch on the brain drain issue. My perspective:

    1. The brilliant and smart can go anywhere. Seriously, for a developing country it is difficult to keep them in the country. However to do that we need to have:

    a. An open environment for them to study the subject they are passionate about. Else they feel stifled. This is very important in today’s internet world.

    b. Access to good university level education with respected professors

    c. Exciting and challenging environment in the field they specialise

    d. work with peers and superiors with abilities they respect

    e. feel wanted and respected for their contributions

    f. opportunities to excel and contribute

    Like you say meritocracy play a role and create the open environment that allow people to strive to achieve their maximum potential.

    In spite of these things, some number will still leave this country. It is simply not challenging enough – to use the cliche. But they will leave for different reasons and can still contribute to the country.

    In this way, we can have a dynamic and vibrant higher education system in this country.

    On another note, i do not mean we should not have meritocracy. I am just pointing out pure meritocracy is not good. It is brutal capitalism at work.

    Finally, i think if we carry on this discussion this way, we may be able to give our good doc ideas.


  21. A true Malaysian
    Dec 05, 2008 @ 15:53:29


    True enough, hopefully our discussion here will help our good doctor to do his job better.

    To me, Malaysian politicians, especially from the ones we know (not so pleasant to name here), are the main culprit in the problems that Malaysia is facing now. Practically, every problem here is turned into racial issue, instead of looking at the ‘problem per se’. This, I personally think, is the reason why our Dr. Hsu here reluctant to play a more significant role in Malaysian politics (as he himself does not regard himself as a ‘politician’).

    Just wonder why we perceive politician as someone who is crook enough to be in the political arena instead of someone of Dr. Hsu’s stature. Sad isn’t it? Should we tell our children that politicians are all ‘crook’? We really need to change this perception of ours by encouraging more ‘straight-forward’ people joining politics. If not, the future of Malaysia will not look good in the long run.

    I really hope ‘politicians from the one we know’ realise this fact, and change for the better and make the political arena as a ‘clean’ one. We want to see politician, be it from BN or PR, are all clean one so to encourage more clean fellows joining politics.

    Another one area I wish to share is that the idea of ‘win-win’ situation has in a way dwindle the spirit of competition. If everyone want to win, why should there be competition in the first place?

    This kind of ‘win-win’ mentality has resulted in the As scored by present day students having no quality at all. At the end of the day, all lose out.

    Malaysian need to have the mentality of competing at level field, fight it out, even if we lose, we can still hold our heads high. We can work hard enough to compete again, and win ultimately.


  22. soohuey
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 02:35:16


    In terms of fostering unity, I was wondering what everyone’s views are on the role of extra-curricular activities.

    IMO, even if we have students of different races in the same class taught by teachers of different races, they actually need to be interacting with each other and working together to foster good will and genuine bond based on mutual interests. In a classroom setting while lessons are being taught, there isn’t that much opportunity for interaction. Then usually outside of the classroom, students of different races generally tend to segregate anyway even if they go to the same school/class.

    Hence, I would like to propose that common goals and/or interests that come in the form of extra-curricular activities may be able to play a significant role. Although academic group work will also get students to work together, these are generally considered tasks that will be assessed and therefore not as fun as working together on something of mutual interest; eg. scouting, ping pong club, societies.

    Even for students in vernacular schools with a majority race, clubs/societies also give them further opportunity to interact with other schools including national schools with more equal race distribution.

    I feel strongly that students of my generation and others after me are too focused on their studies which involve mainly rote learning and are insufficiently diverse. Hence, I’m a strong advocate for extra-curricular activities as avenues for expansion of skills/knowledge beyond our school syllabus as well as character development. While our school system has failed, I am hopeful that extra-curricular activities will empower students to themselves explore, as well as give students of different races more chance to work together, develop friendships and learn from each other.

    Would like to hear other people’s thoughts about this.

    Dr Hsu, on this point, I would like to invite you to read the latest post in my blog – The Reality in Schools.


  23. soohuey
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 03:19:55

    BTW, I’ve had a thought in my head for awhile now… It is unrelated to unity, but since we’re kinda discussing education, I would like to take this chance to share it.

    I was trying to work out how best to introduce quality education including active discussions and “thinking outside the box” in Malaysian classrooms as quickly as possible. I don’t think the majority in the current teaching workforce can live up to the task in the immediate future. Yet we can’t wait for better teachers to be trained because we’ll just continue to produce lackluster students who’ll feed into the downward spiral.

    So, what do people think about encouraging university lecturers or tutors to spend one day a week teaching in secondary schools? Their role would be to further enrich the students’ understanding of specific subjects and encourage stimulating discussions. Perhaps these academics (who SHOULD BE experts in their fields) could be given benefits for contributing their time. Different schools/classes/students may get different academics (and related field of study), so it won’t be standardised for all students, but it’ll still help create “liberal minds” if each class gets access to stimulating discussions even in only one subject.

    One day, I thought of sending my ideas to Dato Seri Hishammudin. (A common citizen like me can contribute too maybe?) So I went to the Education Ministry website to see if there was a way I could communicate my ideas to someone who would care in the Ministry. While I was there, I learnt that anyone who already has a university degree can only teach in primary schools! (Correct me if I’m wrong.) The only way to teach in secondary schools is to undergo 4yrs of teacher training, so another 4yrs of study even if you’re already an expert in your field?! That is silly and discouraging of good candidates considering becoming teachers after they’ve already completed their tertiary education. I’ve got a few Aussie friends who decided to become teachers after they finished uni and only needed to take a 1yr Diploma in Education. Since I know them personally, I’m sure they’ll be good teachers, but if they were in Malaysia I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be in training for another 4yrs! I considered teaching myself, but no way would I go back into the system for 4yrs… Our system seems set up to DIScourage.


  24. A true Malaysian
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 09:14:51

    I republished over here what I commented in soohuey’s blog :-

    Soo Huey,

    Apparently, you, your sister and brother are the type of ‘brilliant’ and ‘thinking’ type of students that mentioned in Dr. Hsu’s Forum. I enjoyed reading your article but was disappointed that the Star decided not to publish it for others to read.

    I strongly agree with you that our school system should make our schools, national and vernacular, interesting, instead of emphasising in text-box type of study. Most importantly, is to cultivate ‘thinking’ students to make the whole environment lively and vibrant.

    But, the create this type of environment, our friends here need to discard their ‘Supremacy’ mentality. They cannot just reign ‘Supremacy’ over the other if they cannot think ‘out of the box’ themselves. At the end, Malaysian can only be ‘Jaguh Kampung’ and not able to compete with the rest of the world when studying in foreign universities.

    Once again, I enjoy your writing very much, keep writing, and also encourage your other friends to blog. You youngsters are the future of our country.

    December 08, 2008 8:13 PM


  25. klm
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 12:01:57

    Because of this discussion going on in Dr Hsu’s blog, I did some reading and talking to friends. The question was did the national examination system use a different method of scoring.

    It seem the scoring system is the same method employed worldwide.

    My guess, correct me if I am wrong, is that once the average marks started to slip:

    1. the government, instead of fixing the real problem – which is declining standards and poorly prepared students, it started to meddle with the scores.

    Apparently, examiners were instructed to adjust the median scores – as the average scores dropped. As a result more student passes and more As.

    2. I think that with the messing of the data, it will be difficult to diagnose, the real problem. Hence, we enter the vicious cycle. And enter into a formalised mediocre society.

    The way forward is to stop this meddling. Call a spade a spade. If a student failed the exam. he failed – dont care if he is chinese, indian or malay.

    Are we really willing to accept this!


  26. klm
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 14:35:09

    Spoke to a German friend over lunch. He said in Germany, there are private and public schools. But all students sit for public exam. Results are announced in 3 weeks. He said he does not trust the public exam results in Malaysia – it takes 3 months to release the results. It means many processing of results. In Germany, there is no adjustment of results. when you fail the mark, you fail. That’s it.


  27. A true Malaysian
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 15:10:03


    Many years ago, we see only certain people get straight As and the As are all of ‘quality’.

    Nowadays, we see all kind of people scoring straight As and these As quality are ‘in doubt’.

    To me, these are resulting from ‘kiasu’ mentality of certain people as before that, only certain people got straight As. But, this ‘kiasu’ mentality is different from that of Singaporean. Instead of working in substance to improve themselves, they choose the easy way out by lowering average marks (& maybe standard?) to make people look ‘good’, win-win scenario, and supremacy of one people over the other.

    The end results, as we can see, unemployable graduates who scored straight As, ‘jaguh kampung’, ‘tidak apa’ attitude. This, I only mention about ‘graduates’, how about those ‘drop-outs’? These kind of problems become ‘inherent’ in the system and have chain effects to other part of our lives.

    To arrest such problems, there is no other way but to start ‘meritocracy’ from our education system, as this is the first system that expose our offspring to the real world.

    The choice is ours, whether to have things that ‘look nice’ or ‘having substance’, or in Malay ‘tin kosong’ or ‘berisi’.

    You may have good intention to help your own people, but at the end, you spoil them instead. This is why we can see more and more youngsters realised themselves as ‘victim’ rather then ‘product’ of the system. This will be more apparent in the next General Election.

    I do not want to mention any race that involve in this as it is not fair to apply ‘blanket’ rule over here. Just ask ourselves honestly is there any truth in what I commented, as only you yourselves can improve yourselves.


  28. klm
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 17:05:34

    True Malaysian

    The As are not in doubt. The many students with many As are good student. Maybe they should not have these many As. But when the bar is lowered, the Bs and B+ become A. Not their fault.

    The doubt we have is with the Bs and Cs. With the lowered standards and with the special programs,
    weak students are now pushed through diplomas and degrees (talk of degree mills). Here the problem start – graduates with no employable skills.


  29. klm
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 23:46:53

    How young can people be to start planning to migrate?

    I head a story today that surprises me. There is this young man just finishing his PMR and planning his future. He is going to skip SPM after PMR and be attending South Australia Matriculation. The plan is to study in Australia and get a PR there. (Seem Australia give PR to foreign graduate of Australian U)

    Also, a friend of mine is putting his son to do O level, after PMR. Bypassing Malaysian Us

    The brain drain is now starting very young.

    Competition for talent is increasing. German friend told me that the German Govt is now offering PR to foreign graduates of German universities.

    US Business is complaining that US govt is stupid not to offer Green Card foreign PHD graduates after graduation. Foreigners now account for 50% of PHD graduates.

    Malaysia is stupid not to make its talents welcome in their home country. No wonder the age of people planning migration is getting younger.


  30. soohuey
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 00:08:14

    All I can say from a scientist’s perspective is that there is too much politics and not enough genuine support. Unless Malaysia picks up its act, it will never be a strength in biotechnology and will never recruit top scientists. Going back to Malaysia after a PhD has been described as committing career suicide.


  31. soohuey
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 00:10:04

    A True Malaysian, thank you for republishing your comment from my blog here. 

    Few comments/suggestions to above discussions organized according to topic.


    1. With mass education being the aim to our education system, it is difficult to improve standards and enforce meritocracy because it would disadvantage students especially in remote communities who may not have access to quality education and exposure, as well as increase dropout/failure rates of below average students.

    2. However, in the first place, we are NOT achieving mass education. Most schools in Malaysia still segregate students into classes based on academic performance. Then the reality is that teachers will happily teach good classes and having decided that students in poor performing classes aren’t worth teaching, they only do a bare minimum to keep the class occupied. This is not mass education, so if the education ministry thinks that their system is aimed at this, they need to look more closely at the reality in schools.

    3. Suggestions:

    a) Pay teachers based on genuine meritocracy, as well as increase pay of teachers willing to go to remote/rural communities and under-performing schools. This should hopefully encourage better teachers into schools where they are needed most; thereby reducing the disparity between quality of education in different schools/communities.

    b) Options to address mass education so that we can enforce meritocracy without leaving anyone behind and every school graduate is armed with some level of skills so going to school hasn’t just been a waste of time:
    – Emphasize on the need to genuinely help poor-performing classes;
    – Provide a slightly different curriculum for poor-performing students to help them keep up/learn (similar to the Netherlands);
    – Provide further infrastructure for these students (different schools, specialized teachers, funding for extra lessons?);
    – Provide more options for those less academically inclined (eg. More technical schools for different trades and levels of qualification).


  32. soohuey
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 00:11:29


    1. Moderation of results is used in many countries, including in universities. It is not uncommon.

    2. Moderation of results is to some extent necessary because questions set in each year is different and proper moderation will allow for standardization between years.

    3. Problem is with the way students are taught (see below), not with results moderation. I can’t see us doing away with moderation of results, but we must also address the quality of the education system.

    4. Moderation is a problem when different races are moderated differently (eg. If 50% of a race must pass, but if the average score for each race is different, then each race will have a different passing mark) (Hope I’ve explained this clearly, I’ll elaborate if needed).


  33. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 00:13:34

    Dear soohuey. Someone mentioned today, that there are so many unemployable graduates and the only job they can do is to be a politician.


  34. soohuey
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 00:18:20


    1. To give credit where deserved, Malaysian students are actually quite knowledgeable compared to their Australian and American counterparts. (Not sure of other countries since no experience there). Due to emphasis on rote learning, our students “know” a lot of information.

    2. However, our culture has been that most of our students only know information that is within their school textbooks. There isn’t enough done to stimulate interest in learning and exploring beyond the classroom and beyond what is necessary to pass exams. Most youths around my generation and younger have very limited knowledge outside of what they learnt in schools; this limits their ability to understand some issues and can appear naïve overseas despite having good grades. Ideally, a good student should have basic knowledge on a variety of issues and ability for critical analysis, therefore able to carry discussions on a variety of issues despite limited knowledge.

    3. Although Malaysian students entering university are armed with a lot of information, the problem is that they haven’t been trained on how to use them. Students know, but can’t think! Discussions are NOT encouraged in schools; significantly because many teachers aren’t comfortable with their own knowledge to be able to hold stimulating discussions. Questions in exams are relatively straightforward, even in the sciences, so students really only need to memorise their books without necessarily fully understanding them.

    4. Therefore, these students struggle when they enter a system that requires them to not just repeat information from books, but to understand, synthesize and apply them.

    5. I’ve taught two 3rd yr university (Australia) laboratory classes and supervised two research students (one from Indonesia, one from Vietnam), and from my observation, the above problem is a global trend in students, just more marked in Malaysia due to rote learning in our education system.

    6. Insights from personal experience:

    I completed my entire BSc degree in Australia. In my 3rd year, we had twinning students who did their first 2yrs in Malaysia. Even amongst students who scored the same in exams in 1st & 2nd year, the difference between students taught in Malaysia compared to Australia was obvious during lab classes. Malaysian students did not have as good understanding of things, so when they had to work out experiments themselves, it had to be explained to them exactly what was going on as they could not synthesize information themselves to figure it out.

    I have a friend (straight A student in school) who did the same degree as me, but from USM. We got into talking about our field of work. She knew a lot more than me (she’s always been more studious, so not unexpected), but as we talked, I was surprised how little she actually understood! Her lack of understanding and gaps in information was mainly on practical application of knowledge. How can graduates from our local unis compete if their training is the same as in school… rote.

    I’m now working alongside a Chinese Malaysian who is in Australia with a scholarship from Malaysia. She did her undergrad and Masters at Universiti Malaya. I assumed she must be really smart! However, once again, during conversations it became obvious how much she knew vs understanding and ability to apply. I was particularly shocked when she made a statement during a conversation between two of us plus few other Aussies that reflected a very limited level of practical knowledge/skills. She is now struggling with her PhD and I think part of that is her dependence on guidance, which is unfortunate for someone who is supposed to be in the top echelon of graduates from our country. She is only one of many similar examples I have personally observed from Malaysia; unfortunately.

    6. Conclusion: Students need to be taught how to think! (Although that’ll mean many will wake up from their blissful ignorance of the state of our country and its governance.)


  35. soohuey
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 00:31:59

    Response to klm comment Dec 10, 12:13am.

    Politics doesn’t pay that much, does it? (well, it shouldn’t.) Surely unemployed fresh grads would be too young to earn anything in politics!

    My dad says I need to start earning money. Let me know if I can earn a living being a politician, and I might pass on my job offer in France! lol.

    Well, if unemployed graduates want to contribute their spare time to politics, not necessarily a bad thing… depending on their intention and ability.


  36. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 00:53:26

    Dear sooheuy. I like your insights and totally agree with you.

    To earn money as a politician in Malaysia means selling your soul.

    In the political party i dont want to mention, it means selling your soul to a senior member. In return, you get projects which you sell to other people. Or you use the position to lobby for other people.

    Like the US, decisions in Malaysia are influenced by lobbyists. Except in Malaysia, these people are not registered and not regulated.

    Think it is better you take the job in France.


  37. Dr Hsu
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 10:48:56

    This is my comment on Soo Huey’s blog. A blog with well written articles from a thinking person whom I suspect must be very young:

    Hi Soo Huey, thanks for sharing your experiece and perspective about Malaysian schools.

    We need to have an innovative society to catch up with the rest of the world and to give our people a more decent earning and living. i have often wondered why the average pay of Malaysian workers were so much lower than their counterparts in the West, despite working harder and longer hour.

    The key to catch up and perhaps to be ahead of them is to have an innovative society, with people given the potential to develop their innovative minds . We need thinking individuals.

    At the present moment, there is too much of spoon feeding and result-chasing.. This is part of the ‘kiasu’ syndrome. Singapore , too, faces this problem but they have true meritocracy to cover for them..So they may not have very innovative people, but at least they have knowledgeable people.

    My children all did well. I did not give them pressure. There were not that outstanding in primary schools( Not the top 3 stuff), but they blossomed in secondary schools and were straights As all the way . They were never forced to study., They were also actve in extracurricular activities and would be playing games, watching TVs, playing piano, etc while their friends were being sent to tuition classes .

    All work and no play makes “Jack” a dull boy… so the saying goes. It is true. As long as the child can get along with the class work and understand what the lesson is about, there is little benefit to push them through the tuition syndrome…It is more for soothing the parents’ conscience that they are doing their best for the children than to really help to develop the child into a thinking individual.

    Having said that, tuition has a place as a remedial class for those students whose teachers never teach.. And there are so many of these people now. I was told in certain schools, some of the teachers routinely give out questions together with answers to the students when asking them to do classwork, after just reading through the test without explaining. … How to get excellence from this ?

    LAst but not least, Soo Huey, congratulations on your well written articles, not just in the language you use, but more on your thinking mind and your perspective on things.. Keep it up.


  38. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 10:59:06

    I am side tracking by discussing the issue of innovative society. In the 21st century, innovation is link to engineering and technology. The key innovation areas are:

    1. Communications
    2. Semiconductor
    3. Software
    4. Biophysics (or biotech)
    5. Clean energy technology

    I came across some numbers in the Dec 1st Businessweek. I transcribed the numbers into the table below. The source is a survey of 26 Deloitte general partners. It give a general feeling the actions are in term of technology development. and innovation

    The US is by far way ahead in term of innovation.
    Not many countries are involved in all 5 categories mentioned. So your reader sooheuy should take the job offer in France. It one of the few countries you see actions in all areas of innovation.

    The question is why is the US rated so high in the innovation index? What is it that in their system, people, education etc that unleash the creativity.

    What can we learn to develop an innovative society? Sooheuy in his posting did gave some insight into the Malaysian problem. I have my observations on Malaysian attitudes why we have problem in the innovation area.

    Index is in %
    Total may not add up to 100

    Comms Semicon SW Biophysics Clean
    Brazil 4
    Britain 4 2 3 1
    Canada 1 2
    China 1 3 1 1
    Finland 6
    France 3 1 1 1 1
    Germany 1 1 1 3 1
    India 6 1
    Israel 4 2 1 1 1
    Japan 12 7 1 1 4
    S Korea 3 3
    Sweden 3
    Switzerland 2
    Taiwan 10
    USA 57 70 87 85 56


  39. A true Malaysian
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 11:00:02

    Soo Huey,

    Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts. Very good insight indeed.

    We really need teachers and lecturers that can stimulate “thinking” amongst students instead of just passing exam with flying colours.

    The whole political climate need to be changed before anything else change. This is necessary to stop brain drain, get rid of corruption, bring back meritocracy and attracts good people to service the country.


  40. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 12:03:18

    My apology. The table of data i put in is out of alignment. Dr. Hsu. Is there a way I can put in this table with proper alignment, if there are people interested.


  41. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 12:10:35

    It will take a very long time to stop the brain drain.
    As noted earlier, this migration idea is now starting at very young age. This is a worrying trend.

    The pull factor to migrate is strong and the push factor may even be stronger. So it is not a surprise we will loose sooheuy too. Malaysia do not deserve these good people.


  42. A true Malaysian
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 13:58:28


    I worry if the trend of ‘brain drain’ continues, Malaysia will soon be a ‘global village’ where Malaysian youngsters will come back once a year during their summer or winter holidays to look-see their parents, grand parents, relatives and friends.

    As time goes by, Malaysia will become another China or India for non-Malay Malaysians like what our forefathers did.

    Still, I hope the political climate of Malaysia will be changed very soon.

    There are very active discussions in other blogs that it is time Malaysia bring back English language into our education system again and these are very good signs that Malaysians, especially our Malay brothers, realise the important of English in this internet age.

    It is a fact that non-Malay Malaysians realise the important of English much earlier than our Malay brothers. That is why we can produce youngsters such as Soo Huey, who I believe gone through the Malay medium schools and yet so fluent in her English.

    The point here is that, proficiency in English does not make us less Malaysian and I hope majority of our Malay brothers realise this fact. Fluency in English will broaden our mindsets.


  43. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 14:39:48

    I have another story of potential talent snatching. My German friend has a Malaysian girlfriend. She is a lawyer in one of the local big bank. In her last visit to Germany, she got talking to a German Banker on Islamic Banking. This guy offered her a job on the spot as German Banks are very interested in Islamic Banking now.

    It is an example of Malaysian talent in demand outside the country. If the country is not keen on its talents, other people are.

    Do we have enough time to reverse this brain drain trend?


  44. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 15:50:00

    Talking of brain drain, I cannot help but paste a segment of Dr. Ms writing in his Chedet blog site.

    He is saying the same thing about brain drain.



    6. My friend had tried to bring in a foreign wood carver to Langkawi to start a new cottage industry. It seems that our immigration policy does not allow anyone above 50-years to come and work in Malaysia. What a pity. Our skilled engineers, pilots, architects etc can go out but skilled foreigners cannot come in. On the other hand unskilled labourers may come in legally or illegally.

    7. The net result is that our brains are being drained out, no brains are coming in but the brainless may come in and even settle in our country. You can figure out the end results. I hope the Government realises this and maybe design a new immigration policy.


  45. Dr Hsu
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 16:50:59

    klm, sorry, i was not able to put the table in proper algnment , too.

    As regards brain drain, who would want to work in a place where they face certain amount of restrictions on realsing their full potentials?

    What Che det has mentioned as pasted by klm above has valid points too. Not only they do not care about brain drain, but they also do not want brain gain. In some countries like NZ, they too have brain drain as some of their younger people move to AUstralia , US etc, but they have brain gain to compensate for it.

    It is really pathetic


  46. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 17:44:25

    I can align the table but need to put in a character. Interestingly a small country like Israel has activities in all the areas. Taiwan is recognised only for semicon. China is not there yet with biotech. What about Singapore ?????

    It really boil down to brain power (lots of it) , and environment. (see dr hsu’s comment) Need we say more about brain gain.

    ————Comms-Semicon-SW- Biophysics-Clean
    Brazil———————————————– 4
    Britain ———4——— 2————— 3——- 1
    Canada ————————————1——- 2
    China———- 1———-3—– 1—————– 1
    Finland——— 6————————————-
    France ———3——— 1——1——– 1——- 1
    Germany—— 1——— 1—– 1——– 3——- 1
    India —————————–6——– 1——–
    Israel———- 4——— 2——1——– 1——- 1
    Japan——— 12——– 7—— 1——– 1——- 4
    S Korea——- 3——— 3————————–
    Sweden——- 3————————————-
    Switzerland ———————————2——-
    Taiwan ——————10—————————
    USA———– 57——- 70——- 87—— 85— 56


  47. soohuey
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 21:58:05

    Dr Hsu,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m 26 years old, so I think relatively young. Young enough to be about the age of your children?

    Have you thought through any concrete plans/ideas on how to encourage an innovative society in Malaysia yet? The thing about blogs is, there are often lots of complaining, but I would love to see feasible ideas being mapped out and discussed.

    Even in YB Lim Guan Eng’s “eight key measures to transform Penang from a sweat-shop to a smart-shop”, he simply states a one line “4. Encouraging creativity, innovation, research and development”. But how??

    You’ve made the analogy about being an ant moving a papaya. I wish Gerakan can gather an army of ants that can move a durian! In the meantime, would be interesting if one day you can post on how and where you would like to move the durian to, if possible.

    I’m quite looking forward to seeing what Zaid Ibrahim’s myFuture is all about, actually. Curious how he intends to go about it…


  48. soohuey
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 22:03:06

    Klm (re: comment Dec 10, 12:10pm),

    Although there is an urgent need to curb brain drain, I think we still have hope.

    1. I’ve spoken to quite a few Malaysians who say they don’t mind lower pay, it is more so the bureaucracy and politics that they can’t stand in Malaysia. (Many also cite the need to do paperwork in BM as a factor). If things were better, they would return and bring what they have learnt overseas with them.

    2. My friend’s father is a Malaysian who settled in Australia after university. She told me that when she was a kid, he wanted to move his family back to Malaysia. However, the bureaucracy made it too difficult to migrate his non-Malaysian wife and kids. The family still visits Malaysia often and it is obvious that even my friend who grew up in Australia feels a bond with Malaysia, but it is Malaysia who doesn’t want them.

    2. I know a Malaysian doctor practicing in Melbourne who left decades ago, but few years ago after her kids had completed school, she wanted to look into moving back to Malaysia. Her passport had expired and she had an old IC. When she contacted the Embassy, they were very rude and said she needed to go through a whole heap of red tape (I can’t remember the details), so eventually she gave up and decided she’ll just stay in Melbourne. If the Embassy was more helpful and made her feel wanted, we would have gained a good doctor. Her husband is also a highly respected academic who would greatly benefit the country.

    The silver lining in above examples is that the intention to return is still there, even years after one has left. If opportunities for advancement and due recognition are better in Malaysia, many Malaysians who have left would be willing to return.

    As for me… don’t worry, I’ll definitely return to Malaysia. I’m only going to Strasbourg, France because it is where the European Parliament, Court of Human Rights, International Institute of Human Rights, etc is located. It is an ideal place for me to learn about Euro history, culture and politics. I’ll be back in Malaysia eventually as long as it still wants me. 🙂


  49. soohuey
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 22:26:30

    A True Malaysian (re: comment Dec 10, 1:58pm),

    English is important, but I actually support BM being the medium of education. You can call me a strange character, I guess, but I’ve even intentionally set my Facebook and Windows Live accounts so the language is BM. This is to make sure I don’t forget BM and am still used to reading BM even though I’m in Australia.

    I’ve written rather extensively my thoughts on the teaching of English in our schools. Two articles were posted in the Star and also on my blog (see September). Below are excerpts from “A Bird in Hand is Worth Two in a Bush”.

    “…There are two other Malaysians in the institute where I work, as well as senior scientists from Albania, Argentina, Armenia, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iran, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Sweden. All of whom are successful despite schooling in their respective national language!”

    “…Don’t make the use of Bahasa Malaysia the scapegoat. It is important for Bahasa Malaysia to remain as the medium of instruction in schools for the sake of national identity, which is vital for genuine national unity.”

    The other article “A Critique on the Teaching of English in Malaysia” should be read in its entirety.
    In it I outline what I feel is the real reason for the decline in English and give suggestions to both government and how everyday people can also contribute.

    Too often we hear people bemoaning the state of things, but too seldom do they themselves act on it. Every criticism should be accompanied by practical suggestions/actions. In the article I stated, “In our dire state of affairs, the government can only do so much…Be proactive for the future of your children, for our nation. Do not just rely on the government. We can all do our bit!”

    I think many disagree with my strong view that BM should remain as our medium of education, so I’ll understand if you disagree… 😉


  50. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 22:30:52

    Dear Soohuey

    That is the point. You don’t feel your country want you. The older generation may feel an attachment. But the new generation will not. I know- because my children are living elsewhere.
    They have no desire to come back. Maybe to visit the old folks. But not to stay. I have many young relatives in Australia. They are not planning to come back any time soon.

    Dr. M’s writing says it clearly. He is much to be blame for this policy. But now he complained.

    I hope our good Dr. Hsu through his political role can make a little difference.

    Have good life in Strasbourg! Come back and visit.


  51. soohuey
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 22:36:24

    BTW, klm, in your comment 10:59am Dec 10, you referred to me as “his”. My name’s soohuey (note spelling) and I’m a girl!

    It’s not very important, but you’re not the 1st to assume I’m a guy, which I think is a little unfair for girls… 😉


  52. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 22:44:59

    Ooh sorry. Soohuey. My apology. It is hard to recognise gender on the Internet. But you have been wonderful.


  53. soohuey
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 23:00:11

    Not a problem, klm. Just small matter, bit weird for me, that’s all.

    Also, I’ll return to Malaysia, not just to visit. I’ve even set a deadline for myself – before I’m 35 years old. 🙂


  54. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 23:16:16

    Soohuey has raised a good question – how to create an innovative society. I have wanted to write about this for sometime. Since she raised the question – here goes my 2 sens worth.

    This is a question that have been discussed by the government of many countries. Definitely Malaysia, for sure. China had seminars on this subject. I have seen a paper by the Conservative Party in UK discussing this subject.

    This answer to this question is important because the well being and security of a country depend on getting the right answer.

    The innovation index table I posted earlier is an attempt to identify the innovative countries. The table represented the venture capitalists view. i.e. where people would bet money on.

    US Undersecretary for International Trade Christopher Paddila speaking on May 8 2008 in China listed some points why US is the most innovative countries. I summarised some of the important points :

    1. Open Society – welcome the world’s products, ideas, investment, and people

    2. constantly revitalized by streams of people who are eager to make a new life in a new world.
    Half of all Silicon Valley start-ups today have at least one founder who is either an immigrant or a first-generation American.

    3. political system built on the notion that all Americans have an equal opportunity to rise as far as their individual ability and drive will take them.

    4. aversion to the stifling hand of government regulation,

    5. respect for others’ ideas in the form of strong patents, copyrights, trademarks, and other intellectual property rights.

    6. strong education system that rewards independent thought and keeps us questioning, wondering, and always searching for ways to make things better.

    Malaysia has some of the characteristics mentioned above but is lacking in 2,3,4 and 6.
    Malaysia is attempting managed innovation (which is what UK is trying to do and maybe Singapore too )- an oxymoron, I think.

    Since, the US is so high in the innovation index, this may be a good point to start.

    I welcome any and all inputs.


  55. klm
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 23:22:41

    The challenge is how to make these 6 points work for Malaysia.


  56. A true Malaysian
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 23:55:31

    Soo Huey,

    I really admire your optimism. I hope those in power will read your writings.

    I am not at all against BM as the medium of instruction if English is also emphasized in our education system. As you can see, the standard of English language amongst Malaysian has declined tremendously. You are the odd one here.

    Perhaps you can write an article on how to have good command in English for the benefit of Malaysia.

    As you can see here, you can find my grammatical mistakes here and there as I am also a product of Malay mendium school. I found myself more of a ‘victim’ instead of ‘product’ here as at initial stage of my professional examinations, I faced a lot of hardship due to my weak command of English language then. That is the reason why I am supportive of using English language as the medium of instruction for our school. In such circumstance, BM can still be emphasized so to have national identity as what you commented.

    Good command in English does not make us less Malaysian. This is what I believe.

    Again, I admire you are so analytical at such a young age. You are just wonderful.


  57. klm
    Dec 11, 2008 @ 08:59:15

    Soo Huey

    I echo True Malaysian. You have a maturity, depth of thinking and the ability to express your thoughts clearly and fluently. for some one your age. Yiu have a rare asset which will make you successful in your endeavor.

    a. I should know, as I have a daughter slightly younger than you, a university graduate (not from malaysia) and now doing her Master. She write well. But she still sound immature at time.

    b. I have heard first hand anecdotes from interviews of local graduates. These stories will make your skin crawl.

    You have contributed to a more thoughtful and higher intellectual level of discussion with your participation.

    I hope our good Dr Hsu will give you a big THANK YOU.



  58. soohuey
    Dec 11, 2008 @ 11:46:26

    A True Malaysian and klm,

    Your words are very kind. I always feel strange commenting in blogs like this because I feel most of the people commenting have more “life experience” than me.

    I should really be the one to say Thank You for welcoming me and allowing me to express my views. Thank you for spending time to read and respond to my ramblings, without which we would not have an active discussion.

    Sorry, klm, I don’t have time to comment on promoting innovation, but perhaps some time next year I’ll find time to write a proper article outlining steps I think are necessary to encourage an innovative Malaysia.

    I’m leaving for holidays this Saturday, so I won’t be blogging and commenting for awhile. May the both of you, Dr Hsu and all other readers have a good holiday season and Happy New Year! 🙂

    Warm Regards,
    Soo Huey


  59. klm
    Dec 12, 2008 @ 09:40:22

    I like to give a perspective on knowledge and innovation.

    A friend, who at one time worked in Bell Lab in US (a prestigious research lab), describe the innovation process as :

    know what you know – know what you don’t know –
    know what is there know

    Soo Huey gave a perspective of the Malaysian student in her posting. Rote learning and memorising cram a lot of facts into one’s brain.
    Do student know what they know? It is obvious that not being able to apply the facts learned means no.

    Recently in the Parliament – MP for Pasir Salak (the famous Tajuddin Abdul Rahman) said this.

    “UNIVERSITY students are intellectually weak because they are lazy and not because they are spending time in politics …these undergraduates only read notes provided by lecturers or those obtained at tutorials.

    “They don’t go to the library and pursue additional knowledge to improve their minds”

    Of course the student unions disagreed.

    Because of the teaching system, our graduates are stuck in the first step of the innovation process. And interesting enough, because they don’t know the limitation of their knowledge they have an ego and arrogance. Typically the graduates of local universities have an attitude problem – being the best under the coconut shell, constant praises and adulation create inflated sense of importance.

    This is the first of the problem.


  60. klm
    Dec 13, 2008 @ 08:11:36

    To continue with the perspective on knowledge and innovation.

    This friend, who worked in Bell Lab, was asked by the head of Malaysia govt premier research orgnanisation to assess the head of the R&D, a PhD from an American Ivy league university.

    The complaint was that after spending hundred of of millions of ringgit, nice building and expensive equipment, there were no results.

    (Before anybody go off on a wild shooting spree, note that Singapore govt also faces the same problem – but for different reasons. But result is almost the same – nothing much. But this is a different story)

    So, he and a friend, a PhD who had also worked in Bell Lab, went to see this fella. They asked one question, which was:

    “What problems do you have in your mind that you are constantly searching for answers.

    This fella replied that he had no problems. He could always read the scientific journals to find out what were the research problems.

    Here is the head of R&D, and he had no pet problems he wanted answers. What more about the researchers under his wing.

    The moral of the story.

    This fella was smart and maybe brilliant even. So he was plugged from the education, sent to special schools, sent to top university and go through the process to get his Phd. But there is no curiosity, no passion, no obsession to search for answer.

    So, Malaysia will always be doing second hand research. Finding solution to pieces of problems from someone else idea. Where is the nobel prize, ground breaking research?. Where is the humanity saving research? Where is innovation?

    Malaysia may have the PhDs, but something else is missing.


  61. A true Malaysian
    Dec 15, 2008 @ 21:40:14

    Dr. Hsu and all, read the below article by one ‘Frankly Speaking’ in Malaysiakini. His points are those that we discussed so far. Very enlightening article.

    My take on vernacular schools
    Frankly Speaking | Dec 15, 08 6:14pm

    Much against my father’s wishes, my mother enrolled me in an English-medium school, the first in the family. Prior to this, my older brothers and sisters were enrolled in a Tamil-medium school.

    In addition to the additional one year “remove” to “catch-up” with the English-medium secondary school system, I saw how they (my brothers/sisters) faced difficulties in adapting to a totally different environment from their primary school days.

    All of them did not make beyond the then Senior Cambridge even though they did study hard but their primary years in a Tamil-medium school, as I realised then, had ill-prepared them for their secondary education.

    There are those who had come from similar backgrounds and have excelled in their academic pursuits, one such example that I know of being the late Datuk K Pathmanaban. Quite frankly, such seems to be the exception than the norm.

    From the foregoing, I was convinced that my children would and should not face the same predicament as my family members faced. However, it also became amply clear to me that the then standard of secondary education was no more and where Malay, as our official language, has replaced English as the medium of instruction.

    To my horror, those of whom I had come across during my personal and working life, having their education in a national school could hardly string a sentence in English correctly. This jolted me a bit as I have exposed my children from the day they started talking to both Malay and English.

    It was also my conviction then that notwithstanding this setback, I would still send my children to national schools, since we speak almost entirely in English at home and this would more than compensate any lack of the subject in their school.

    Despite my wife’s assertion, who is from a Chinese background, that I send them to a Chinese school, I explained to her that the years of education in national schools had given us the opportunity to mix with the different races and one outcome of that gift has been our different race/culture-based marriage.

    However, as we were contemplating registering my son in a national school that we started hearing of the gradual Islamisation in national schools. A friend of mine who was a member in the PTA (parent-teacher association) related to me as to how the headmaster of a school had quite often, in reply to his queries, mentioned that he had to refer to a particular ‘ustazah’, which had irritated my friend.

    So, I checked with some of my teacher friends, and while the above-quoted incident appeared to be an isolated one, nonetheless the Islamisation has indeed made an impact in national schools. Assemblies, for instance, were started with Islamic salutations, much to the disregard of the non-Muslim students. With a heavy heart, I finally agreed with my wife’s proposal to send all my children to a Chinese school.

    While I see the point that Professor Khoo Kay Kim made on this issue, quite apart from what Mukhriz Mahathir said, which almost anyone would agree was a politically motivated statement. I share the same concern with the learned professor that national integration is important but national schools must be made conducive, devoid of any religious connotations.

    After all, with Islamic schools around, anyone wishing to pursue Islamic-based education could go to these schools. A national school should be a place where children of all races/religions are able to learn and understand each other and our different faiths, as we did in our good old days where all of us learnt even in our primary schools about the major religions, without emphasis on any individual race or religion. The understanding, cooperation and tolerance among the products of such a system is even talked about these days.

    When our children pursued their secondary education in national schools, we had another problem. The standard was pathetic and I was concerned when my son, instead of “learning”, was memorising and was on an auto mode.

    If, again, learning Malay as our national language is important, how it would play out later was what we found out rather late, when the time came for university education. The love for the language which has been banged into our heads hardly mattered at that stage. What mattered was race. Never mind that one had done well in Bahasa Malaysia but at the end of the day it boils down to race.

    So, what Mukhriz says is nothing more than a cheap shot at his political ascension. We have this insidious feeling (I may be wrong) that we have been trapped into a situation where we will be unceremoniously cast out, based on race and not on the knowledge of BM or their educational merits. Perhaps, this could be one of the main reasons for our polarised society.

    Well, my children were lucky. In addition to their strong grasp of the national language, their knowledge of English, both written and spoken has been very good, and that they decided to pursue their educational interests elsewhere. As parents, we are happy that our keen sense in exposing my children to English has indeed given them a new lease of life.

    Today, they hardly use Malay in their workplace and being the lingua franca of the business world, English had served them well. Irrespective of whether a child is a Malay, Indian, Chinese or of any other race, it is important for them to learn English.

    As we learn Malay as our national language, we should not lose sight, with cheap publicity stunts, that the hallmark of a developed nation is how it aligns its commercial interests with that of the world. Isn’t the Chinese so enthusiastic in learning English. English-speaking India today has done well economically, topping the outsourced market and other pioneer pursuits.

    Maybe, the leader of a tiny country called Singapore had the wisdom of forsaking the language of the majority (Chinese) and had the foresight to press for the English language. The vernacular schools that insisted on continuing met with natural deaths in the following years.

    Was this not our own experience when many non-Malays preferred English education to their own mother tongue and vernacular schools were fast dwindling. Now, they seem to have got a new lease of life and their classrooms are brimming with numbers.

    Our deputy PM (Najib Razak) speaks impeccable English. The education minister (Hishammuddin Hussein) is no exception. It used to be joy hearing Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah speak in English. I used to be elated to hear our first PM (Tunku Abdul Rahman) speak, especially when he read the independence declaration in English. Has anyone heard Tengku Ahmad Rithaudeen speak in English (publicy) lately? The kind of ‘Queens’ English he used to speak had mesmerised me.

    Well, none of them became any lesser a Malay but why, in their selfishness, deemed it fit that they had availed themselves to that language that they could not see fit that the other citizens, too, should have that advantage?

    Those who can afford to send their children to international schools, like many of our leaders, have usually given up on national schools but for the vast majority, it is business as usual, oblivious to the changing world and the challenges that come with it.


  62. klm
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 08:16:12

    A true Malaysian. Thank You. This is a very well written and poignant piece. I sense the feeling of:

    1. Gradual islamisation and talibaning (if there is such a word) of national schools

    2. Poor quality teachers

    3. Race

    4. Neglect of political leaders

    These can only be changed by changing the govt.
    What else is there to say.

    Having said that, the best way in the meantime is to send the children to the chinese schools. However, we need to improve the way subjects are taught. DJZ is also an obstacle to progress.

    We also need to vigorously protest any deviations by heads of the national school. Call them to account. Don’t let them off the hook. If they move an inch out of guideline, slam them.

    This is where the BN component parties like MCA and Gerakan can play a useful rule.


  63. A true Malaysian
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 09:44:39


    Chinese school students can perform well academically. They can even recite the whole text book, but when you ask them what is the story all about, most of them can’t tell the main points.

    This is the weakness Chinese school need to improve on. But, having said this, not all Chinese students are like that. I am one of them.

    On Islamic connotation in National School, since MCA, Gerakan & MIC are part of the policies maker, they should carry the responsibility to correct this. There is no two ways about this.


  64. klm
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 11:02:04

    A true Malaysian. I fully agree with you.

    For Chinese schools, I believe DJZ is a major obstacle. They have their vested interests which are:

    (a) economic – some Chinese newspapers are behind the agitation. These will be out of business if there are no more customers. (b) power over the Chinese community.

    Memorising the text book is the old chinese imperial system of training scholars to administer the country. In ancient china, communication between the cities and the capital took weeks if not months. SO the emperor had to make sure his officials think in the same pattern. Everyone scholar memorised the same points and thought the same wayin . In this way if the emperor poke every scholar the same place, each one would react the same way. In modern term, it is called standardisation.

    Unfortunately this was carried into the Chinese education system.

    In this age, mass customisation is the norm.
    (This is a management concept and a hot topic in mid 90s.) Independent and creative thinking is a requirement for survival in this century.

    And I agree with you that MCA, Gerakan and MIC must make it their responsibility to correct the Islamisation of the national schools.

    And I have an evil thought that Samy Vellu and MIC was responsibility for the dysfucntion of the Indian Venacular school.

    Having said that, I like to point out that the Indian Vernacular is essentially tamil schools.
    One scholar had pointed out that the (plantation indian vernacular schools) were transplant of Tamil Naidu. The original purposes were

    (a) control of the indian plantation workers (b) socialising

    If I were him, I would continue with the objectives
    above. That way I would be able to control the indian votes. This is just a passing thought.

    Finally, the Chinese parents must be active in the PTAs. Most Chinese dont want to get involved. It is time to change.

    Now, we can ask our good doctor, what can Gerakan do. Since, he is now chair of the “education” bureau, i think he can make something happen. Like organising chinese parents to be active in PTAs. Like acting as channel of communications to the education ministry and the cabinet. Like making press statements on transgression sby school heads.

    At the very least, we can make sure we “chop” the fingers of school heads who transgressed.
    Slapping of the wrist will not do.


  65. klm
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 11:04:03

    Sorry, If I sound so blood thirsty. It is the subject of the discussion.


  66. klm
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 12:31:56

    While I am at it, I am going to provoke the Chinese educated commentators in this blog.

    I agree with the action of Qin Shi Huang who buried alive the 400 Confucian scholars. They were obstructing the changed he was making.

    I think he brought the most changes, not the least a single writing system. That is why we can have the Chinese education system. When the Confusionists came into power, they essentially froze the mental development of China till early twentieth century.

    That is why the Chinese education in Malaysia is in a time warp. We are still stuck at the British time.


  67. A true Malaysian
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 16:36:53

    Undeniably, DJZ has done a lot for Chinese education in Malaysia. Without them, I can’t imagine how our education will look like. At least, we still have a choice of Chinese primary education for our children.

    Once bitten, twice shy, people give an inch, you ask for one foot. This is what DJZ experienced with Umno, MCA and Gerakan. That is the reason why DJZ is always suspicious of these three parties here. Whatever good intention or proposal from the government to better our education system, DJZ is ‘suspicious’. Examples are like Sekolah Wawasan and teaching Maths & Science in English. I myself think that teaching Maths & Science in English is not necessary at primary school level, but at secondary & tertiary, YES.

    When Mahathir pushed through teaching these subjects in English, his intention was to raise up the general English standard among our students, not because of terminologies of the term used in English at tertiary level. In fact, if Mahathir can ‘bull-doze’ through English school as an alternative in our education system, that will be much much better.

    Having said this, DJZ has its flaws also in Chinese education system that they perceived which result in ‘overlook’ in the important of English in today’s world. DJZ should learn from Kevin Rudd, the Australian PM, who is English native speaker, yet can be so fluent in Mandarin with perfect Beijing tone that many in DJZ cannot compete. So, DJZ should look at a wider spectrum, think out of the box, to make Mandarin popular among non-Mandarin speaking natives.

    But, having put emphasis in Mandarin, DJZ should allow and promote usage of English in Chinese school system. This emphasis will attract more non-Chinese students enroll with the schools. If this can be done, we will see its popularity level will shoot up in no time. That applies to Chinese Independent Schools as well.

    If DJZ willing to do what I suggest, the difficulties that Chinese School will face are :-

    (1) the number of Chinese school , and

    (2) human resources

    to accommodate the increase demand due to increase in its popularity. But, this is beside the point and should not be the excuse for DJZ not to do what I suggested.

    Such difficulties will be overcome somehow, as Umno, MCA and Gerakan cannot deny popular demand from Malaysian of all races.

    As in Chinese saying, ‘boat will be straighten by itself when reach the bridge’. No harm trying, DJZ.


  68. A true Malaysian
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 16:42:17

    Having talk so much, Dr. Hsu, the easiest why is to get rid of the root cause.

    You get what I meant? Yes? No?

    Someone doesn’t want to be the grandmother here. I reluctantly accept this role, hahaha.


  69. klm
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 17:24:01

    A true Malaysian. Well said.

    Just for your info, Barack Obama’s nominee for the Treasury Secretary (minister of finance) speaks Japanese and Chinese.

    This guy grew up in Japan and studied Chinese in university.

    So with the PM fo Australia and now with Treasury Secretary in US, the Western world is changing.

    And here we are still stuck on whether to teach maths and science in English, Chinese, Malay or Indian. It is so petty.

    Like the Chinese like to say, how can we do big thing.


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