Knowledge based society?

Past few days, the CHinese media has highlighted the case of many straight As students who were unable to get any JPA (PSD) scholarship.

This gives me a feeling of deja vu. Year in and year out, this happened. The only things that changed are the names and faces of the top scholars.

What are the criteria in giving out these scholarship? If it is based on meritocracy, then the very top students should be able to get it. If scholaship is not awarded according to meritocracy, then wehave little hope of achieving excellence.

Study Loans can be given according to economic backgrounds, but scholarship should be awarded based on merits, if we want our students to strive for excellence.

This brings to my mind what my eldest daughter told me…Out of the more than 10 JPA scholars in her batch , only one graduated with her with the medical degree from AUckland. The rest were all repeating one year or another. So much for being “Scholars”.

A few days ago, I attended a workshop on knowledge society.

In my mind, without a good education system, we would not be able to turn our society to a knowledge based society. Without meritocracy, our system can never produce people that can strive for excellence.

We may have individual cases which may achieve certain amount of excellence, but we will never be able to produce a general standard high enough to ensure Malaysia’s competitiveness in knowledge. ANd knowledge will be the key for prosperity and success in future.

I was told some of the teachers in primary schools give out answers together with the questions to the students. So students do not have to use their brains and can just copy the answers and achieve a high grade.

We are still producing university students who memorise everything that the lecturers  teach them, without resorting to reference books or doing their own readings on the topics taught.

Knowledge has advanced so fast and is increasing at an exponential rate that no one can memorise everything. It is just impossible. What is important is to teach these students to be innovative, to think on their own. They must bbe taught how to source for infomation , how to solve problems, rather than just spoonfeeding them with facts .

Just an example. In medical education, there is a new thinking that a new approach should be adopted, since medical knowledge increases at exponential rate, and what you learn today may be outdated when you go out to work. The new shift is to make medicine a graduate course, meaning that those who wish to study medicine must have a basic degree first.

This is already being done in US and Canada. But lately, certain Australian universities are changing to this(eg Universities of Queensland and Sydney). Even the renown Melbourne University may be changing to this.

This is because it is more important to train a person to be an all rounder first before embarking on a course of intensive and very specialised training. SO that this person can know later in life where to source for information, and understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of things in society, other than just medical problems, since the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of things in society can sometimes tell us the background of a medical or health problem.

While the thinking in developed countries is shifting to make students more innovative and be able to stand on their own, our system has remained archaic.

There is only one basic solution to our  educational problems. Decouple politics from education.

Let education be run by educationists. Let there be meritocracy. Give extra classes and extra input to weaker students by all means, but when it comes to examination, there should only be one standard, and when it comes to award of scholarship, it should be  based on merits.

Only then, everyone irrespective of origin will strive hard . Only then can we produce a general standard of graduates high enough to ensure Malaysia’s survival in this globalised world. Only then can we have a truly knowledge based soceity.

35 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. KL
    May 19, 2009 @ 16:11:59

    Some so-called Pro-Unity Bloggers are proposing Satu Sekolah Untuk Semua. Any hidden agenda ?
    Absolutely concur with Dr that we should concentrate more on knowledge rather than race, religion and politic !


  2. Dr Hsu
    May 19, 2009 @ 16:34:27

    When someone proposed 1Malaysia concept without defining this term, it would lead to different people interpreting this differently.

    Now, what is to stop some high ranking civil servants from saying that 1Malaysia means 1Sekolah? or 1Aliran?

    Those officers who are given power to implement may interpret this according to their agenda and we can see more polarisation in the end instead of nation becoming one.

    If anyone wants the country to be one, it must be based ‘unity from diversity’, “fair and equal” concept that is the ideology that I am pursuing.


  3. Rhan
    May 19, 2009 @ 16:52:36

    Hsu, I am confused all these while toward scholarship and study loan. I always thought scholarship is given to the poor and study loan is given to the excellent? If meritocracy is the base for every decision, would not the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?

    I am not talking about race or JPA modus operandi, hmmm…maybe from a socialist point of view.


  4. clearwater
    May 19, 2009 @ 18:03:08

    It is JPA scholarship time again. Year after year, the same thing repeats; noises are made, soothing words are said, nothing much changes and the cycle repeats. We are aware meritocracy is only lip service in the award of scholarships. Selection criteria are somewhat vague and decisions are opaque. Names of all successful applicants are never made public. Why not? Who decides some deserving student’s future? As a taxpayer, I would like to know who gets ‘1scholarship’ each year funded by public money and whether they are that deserving. In my days, a true scholar is always at the top 2% of his class and never repeats. Only poor students repeat.


  5. khensthoth
    May 19, 2009 @ 18:35:08

    Dear Doctor,

    Time and time again, I wonder your purpose in Gerakan. I am sure one will say politics is not the only way to contribute to our society. However, in many cases, your opinion has been so contradictory to many of the Barisan Nasional leaders that I truly wonder why you have not consider switching party.

    I am sure you are able to make a better and more significant contribution, and your knowledge and insights better utilised, if you were in a coalition which does not base most of its policy and agenda on race.


  6. Disgusted
    May 19, 2009 @ 18:45:27


    I think “Straight Talk” blog by Khoo Kay Peng wrote a pretty sensible and good commentary on this.

    There had been always “bad” policies and aggravated by civil servants (groomed, brainwashed and mis-educated during Dr M’s rein) doing much disservice to the nation through racist lens (and discriminative implementation).

    Not surprising, even if “Lajib” wants change, it’s difficult, tainted by mindsets in the top civil service.

    A system not based on meritocracy and mercy (smart and poor students) will produce a sub-standard nation (and mindsets) already entrenched here with inferior and falling standards in all fields. It’s already happening in the so-called professional fields. Teachers, doctors etc.

    Like the Chinese says, “e tai pu root e tai”, “one generation worse off than the previous one.”

    The “BN politicians” (leadership ranks) especially in AMNO is an excellent example of this malaise.



  7. A true Malaysian
    May 20, 2009 @ 09:44:21

    This kind of problem will be there if the ‘root cause’ is not getting rid of.

    Everyone knows the ‘root cause’, even those in BN know that.


  8. A true Malaysian
    May 20, 2009 @ 09:54:42

    “Everyone knows the ‘root cause’, even those in BN know that.”

    But, the question is, why are those in BN still prefer to be part of BN? Everyone of us also knows the answer. The answer is consider as ‘2nd tier root cause’.

    So, get rid of ‘root cause’ will also get rid of this ‘2nd tier root cause’. People say, 1 stone kills 2 birds.


  9. Dr Hsu
    May 20, 2009 @ 10:58:17


    In Chinese, scholarship means “JiangXuJing”” meaning ” finaicial aid given to reward someone or to encourage someone based on merits’.

    Strictly speaking , as in the old days , scholarship should be given to the best students regardless of their finacial status , as a reward for their excellent results.

    Whereas, for those students who are also good but not good enough to get scholarship, bursaries and study loans are given to enable them to study, if financially they are unable to foot the study costs.

    According to Princeton U wordnet: Schoalrship is defined as financial aid given to a student based on academic merits. Note the word “academic”, it does not refer to “co-curricular’ .

    This is because when you reward excellence, you get more excellence… And that is the basis of meritocracy.


  10. Taikohtai
    May 20, 2009 @ 11:13:55


    As far as I know, a basic degree is necessary before one can study medicine in the University of QLD. Its no automatic entry as graduates must also attain good scores in stringent assessments (something called GAMSET or UMEQ) plus interviews.
    As a result, QLD lose out many top students each year to our southern states whereby they can gain direct access to the Medical faculties. I suppose there are many pros and cons to this system but one thing for sure, the Australian standard of health is still one of the best in the world.


  11. Dr Hsu
    May 20, 2009 @ 11:22:33

    According to Malaysian Insider today( )

    PR asks that all top scorers be given scholarship. It also asks that allocation for scholarship be increased from 700 million to 1 billion.

    I support this move. And my article above gives the reason why we must have meritocracy in order to move towards a knowledge society.


  12. A true Malaysian
    May 20, 2009 @ 11:57:55

    Just look and ask around ourselves, how many of our own, friends’ and relatives’ children are studying in overseas? I can safely say above 90% of these families, especially from middle class English speaking ones, have most of their children now studying in overseas. You add up these money spend, plus those with scholarships, it is a big chunk of our income and saving.

    The question is, would Malaysia benefit from these spending? My answer to this is a big NO simply because the absence of meritocracy in the Malaysian system, and of course, working environment in places like Australia and NZ are much much conducive and competitive. Even Singapore makes it a practice to scout our talents before they even graduated.

    At the end, who lose out after spending so much money? We have zero or negative returns from our investments, our countries are getting benefits from what we spent.


  13. Nick
    May 20, 2009 @ 11:58:43

    The scholarship system needs to be fixed first.
    1) Enforce collection using the epf system and once and for all collect back every cent given out. Anyone not paying, charge them in court. No mercy. Those able to pay must pay back. Those unable to needs a review board to write off or reduce.
    2) Put all applicants into a merit exam. Based on the marks, give them a ranking score.
    3) Award additional marks based on curriculum achievements.
    4) No lobbying is allowed. No marks given for anyone from any station in life, any family connection. Disregard race, names, color, religion, sexuality, disability.
    5) All overseas scholarship to be given only to cream-de-la-cream (you know what I mean). To teh very brightest and best. make sure there is compulsory bond, not free!

    Having said all these I do not think this Government has the will to fix it because they themselves and their children and relatives are plundering and robbing from the poor of our society. This is the difference between M’sia and S’pore. There the Mandarins (civil servants/permanent secs) run the show, not the Ministers or politicians. Their system works whereas ours is tainted and corrupted.


  14. A true Malaysian
    May 20, 2009 @ 12:02:00


    other countries are getting benefits from what we spent.


  15. Dr Hsu
    May 20, 2009 @ 12:49:09

    A teacher told me that you dont have to list any name and race on the exam answer papers for the examiner/marker to know your race.

    Those who mark answer sheets would know from the style of the student that he is from a certain race.

    And if the marker is biased, he could be extra strict with those he is biased against and extra lenient with those he favours. This is from the mouth of a teacher who marks exam papers ..

    Similar things happen in civil service. Luckily not all are like this.

    How to change the midsets of these people are one of the great challenges the people face.

    Opening up the service to make it more multiracial is one solution. BUt after so many years, how many non Malays would join the civil service ? especially when the chances of promotion and job prospect depends a lot of your superior who may again be biased agianst you.

    Same as this scholarship thing. year in and year out, we talk of giving scholarship to the best. But still the very top cannot get scholarship. It has a lot to do with those doing the interview and those who sit behind their desks deciding who should get and who should not.

    This culture has become entrenched and why this culture has become entrenched has a lot to do with the race based politics of the country. Civil servants learn from their political bosses. When day in and day out, you emphasize quota , this is what you get..


  16. A true Malaysian
    May 20, 2009 @ 13:27:32

    Dr. Hsu,

    True enough what you mentioned. I predict if PR takes over federal government, they will face a lot of problems in implementing new policies that are based on merits simply because of civil servants trained during BN time. Changing the mindsets of this work force will be tough yet it is still needed or unavoidable. PR, if succeeded in taking over federal, will need at least 10 years to clear of this mess, that is if we are fortunate enough. All Malaysians with progressive mindset , especially those migrated or working in overseas, should come back and offer themselves to rebuild Malaysia. It will be like process of “re-engineering”.


  17. clearwater
    May 20, 2009 @ 14:57:05

    Dr Hsu,

    That is why transparency is so important. Those who make decisions must be able to defend them. Those who do wrong ( or right ) must be sought out for doing so. Those who take public money on scholarship must have their names published for all to see.


  18. klm
    May 20, 2009 @ 15:52:57

    Sigh!. I have 3 kids and paid for 5 degrees. Just imagine how much i had spent. The kids are not coming back. And they pay taxes elsewhere.

    ROI for Malaysia = negative.

    Malaysia is paying for other countries HR development who contributes to their tax base.

    This is a silly thing to do and we do it willingly.

    The NEP and biased scholarships award thing is actually doing harm to the country, Malay, Chinese, Indian alike. We lose the talents and we lose the tax base.

    This thing is a negative game and the govt is too stupid to see that.


  19. Dr Hsu
    May 20, 2009 @ 16:05:13




  20. A true Malaysian
    May 20, 2009 @ 16:36:21

    Dr. Hsu and klm,

    Umno knows it
    MCA knows it
    Gerakan knows it
    The rest of BN know it
    PR knows it, day in day out, shout about it, and
    The rest of the people knows it
    Negative ROI for Malaysia

    So, time to vote for the one who shout it loud
    Never mind about civil servant’s mindsets
    As they can be re-engineered
    If can’t, they can be replenished with new ones, and
    replaced systematically with a new progressive ones.

    I am sure many talents will be coming back to serve willingly, when PR rules, when meritocracy is in place, when system is right. After all, Malaysia is still where their roots is.

    By then, Malaysia ROI will be positive. This is the real KPI, not KTK’s one.

    I am looking forward to this, as I cannot afford overseas education. 😀


  21. Rhan
    May 20, 2009 @ 17:39:33


    If our society is similar to China in the 50s to 70s, scholarship should be merit base, otherwise I think we shall look into need base as well. Two sons of my previous boss, who is the director of more than twenty companies, do medical in UK on full scholarship, I feel something is not very right.

    Some people keep on asking why you are still with Gerakan, I believe part of the reason is that your stand is a bit on the right, unlike me, I am always with the left. My personal view only.


  22. Disgusted
    May 20, 2009 @ 18:23:17

    How do you expect the ruling leaders in this country to cultivate and nurture a “knowledge-based” society when majority of them simply lack common sense.

    Examine their public statements on various issues and policies. Look at the Toyol virus and those behaving like bacteria.

    Look at the selection outcome of PSD scholarships. Look at some UMNO leaders now talking about too much politiking when UMNO was the root cause of the Perak coup. The disgusting list goes on and on.

    Elastic Commission talks about Penanti bringing about a new election culture when itself is ignorant of electoral reforms and responsible for the unlevel playing field. The police arresting “men and women” in black at candle vigil.

    So, do you think the BN stooges in the power corridor and machinery is ready for a knowledge-based society?

    How to have knowledge when they are bankrupt of wisdom. Some simply term it as stupidity. That’s an understatement too to describe them.

    Without a meritocracy system, you get stupidity for generations to come at Putrajaya.



  23. Rhan
    May 20, 2009 @ 18:29:34

    I notice China is actually base on meritocracy system while USA is base on how to make the voters happy system.

    I could be wrong.


  24. A true Malaysian
    May 20, 2009 @ 18:45:41

    Umno knows it
    MCA knows it
    Gerakan knows it
    The rest of BN know it
    Yet, year in year out they allow it
    For how long rakyat allow it?
    This is the time we stop it
    Yet some of the commentators allow it
    Should we call them stupid?
    Who else is stupid?
    You and I who are cleverer, know it.
    But not these stupids


  25. klm
    May 20, 2009 @ 19:50:58

    Rhan. USA practiced merit based, need base, reward base and political based. But they mainly look for talent and it depended on the funds available.

    The really talented students are given full scholarship irregardless of family’s income. The daughter of a friend was offered scholarships by 5 different ivy league universities based on her own merit irregardless of family background. (She is Chinese but born in US. Father was from Malacca – a PhD.

    My youngest daughter was automatically given a partial scholarship when she was accepted for her undergraduate study. This was based on her pre-u results. She continued to receive this as long as she maintained a certain GPA. (This was due to the university having some funds for international students).

    The main thing is to encourage and develop the talented in any field of study in every possible way.


  26. klm
    May 20, 2009 @ 21:30:36

    Dr. Hsu

    Knowledge Society refers to any society where knowledge is the primary production resource instead of capital and labour. That is, we earn our living using what we know rather than making stuff or growing stuff.

    Hence in the Knowledge Society, Malaysia will be selling services. And to be able to sell services to the world, our knowledge workers must be world class standard. Else, who want to use them.

    Some questions need to be answered to see if we are ready.

    (a) What can Malaysian knowledge workers do that other countries will pay us for services.

    (b) What level of standard of work can Malaysian knowledge workers do that other countries are willing to use them

    (c) Are Malaysian knowledge workers up to the standards that are globally accepted.

    (d) Are the skills and knowledge of Malaysian knowledge workers of the level accepted by the countries using the services.

    I think the answers to some of these questions can help drive the actions to make Malaysia a knowledge society. Otherwise, it is a pipe dream.


  27. klm
    May 20, 2009 @ 22:11:26

    Further to my comments on May 20, 2009
    at 7:50 pm.

    Universities in the US compete for star students – one way is offer full scholarship, excellent faculty and lab facilities etc. Star students bring prestige to the university and the faculty. It also help to attract other fee paying students.

    In Malaysia, I sense the opposite is happening. A star student will show how low standard the faculty is. Maybe that is why the university try not to have the stars. This is my perception. Correct me if I am wrong.


  28. daffodils
    May 20, 2009 @ 23:04:58

    Come to think of it, it is like singing the same old song, a perennial problem whereby SPM hopefuls vie for scholarships only to have their dreams dashed when told of their unsuccessful application.

    I know of a student in the same dilemma whose application for JPA, Bank Negara and Petronas were turned down. This same student went on to do his STPM became one of the top students in the country for STPM and is now a second year medical student in the medical faculty of NUS. Places to do medicine in NUS are extremely competitive and limited for international applicants.

    My own son was also rejected by JPA, Bank Negara and Petronas. He did very well in his Alevels and was lately offered his first choice to do Accountancy in Nanyang Technological University and also first choice to do Business in NUS. Both are competitive courses in these two universities and places are reserved mostly for Singaporeans. My son is very gifted in Mathematics and have won awards in Mathematics competition.

    The Malaysian government do not see it fit to award scholarship to outstanding students who have done well. As a mom I was disappointed but nonetheless things have turned out well. Since the Malaysian government does not recognise excellence, my son will go the same way as others who have seek green pastures in other countries. In short a case of brain drain.


  29. Rhan
    May 21, 2009 @ 09:08:10


    Hence we should agree that scholarship is not necessary to be solely on merit base right? I know most university and corporation will do the best do seek for best talent and this not happen in Malaysia due to our unique race base system. To continue criticise the privilege and uphold of meritocracy will never be a good solution in the short term, need base is a mild and better term / method to use. Look at the big picture.

    My last statement on USA practice makes the voters happy system is mainly refer to their politic. If merit is the criteria, Paul Krugman should handle the economies instead of the rightist under Bush.


  30. klm
    May 21, 2009 @ 10:04:23

    Rhan. On your last point. is Paul Krugman really the best person to handle the economy of the US? There are many talents in the US. Krigman is just one of them. His expertise is on global trade issues. Not the domestic issue. Beside, Wall Street always has its representative as the Treasury Secretary. Krugman is not Wall Street.

    This is my suspicion but it appeared that one key criteria of of the US cabinet is the ability to talk to the Congressional committees. If you have watched the telecasts of the congressional committees sessions, it is brutal and humbling.
    It take a special kind of people who are on top of their topics, carry themself well under pressure and cool calm demeanor so as not to say the wrong things.

    Put any of the Malaysian Ministers there and I bet you they will want to die. No bumbling fools will survive.


  31. Rhan
    May 21, 2009 @ 11:06:28

    Klm, no suspicious, it is a fact in the west. I paste below from BBC blog.


    I talk about Paul Krugman is to hint that under Bush, it is not about merit, you are either with me, or against me. But most of the time, American make use of their vote more wisely than we Malaysian.


  32. Rhan
    May 21, 2009 @ 11:07:44

    So, what was this country to make of a visiting climate change minister from Britain who was just 39 and who wasn’t even a scientist? This point clearly intrigued the audience listening to Ed Miliband on Monday morning at Peking University. After he delivered a speech on climate change, Mr Miliband was twice asked about the fact that he wasn’t a scientist or even an environmental expert – he studied politics, philosophy and economics at university. His answer to the students: “Your basic point about me – that I’m not a scientist – maybe that is one aspect of politics in Britain, which is that people get appointed to jobs where they don’t necessarily have expertise. But what do I hope to try and bring to this?… I hope that the skill politicians have – the only skill maybe – is the ability to try and persuade people.”


  33. klm
    May 21, 2009 @ 11:57:47

    Again on the scholarship issue. It is my opinion, the main objective of giving scholarships is to develop talents uncovered by the education system (or at least most of the time). Human talent is rare (inspite of the many A1s result in SPM).

    Using the example of my friend’s daughter. She had excellent high school result and she had excellent SAT result. And she was an active student. But that was not enough to get a scholarship. ( translates to mean many A1s do not necessarily mean you deserve a scholarship,which Malaysian believe). She was interested in medicine and she was interested in engineering, and she was not keen to practice as a doctor. What made this young lady unique was that she did a thesis on what she want to do and the kind of research she want to do combining both these fields. She demonstrated she can master the subjects and create new knowledge.
    So, after tabling her thesis, she was offered the scholarship on the spot. Each of the Ivy league university were trying to sell to her why she should study in there.

    I would argue the main intent of giving a scholarship is to develop the future. After all, this is the public’s money and there should be a return.

    After all the talents have been funded, then we can use the balance to provide needed assistance to the deserving – students who qualify for university education but do not have the means. This would do the most good.

    There is never enough money. Those students who are average or above average from family
    who can afford to pay should do so.

    In short, scholarships should be for the exceptional students and those who need help.
    Those in middle will probably have the tougher time. This is where study loans can help.

    This is just my opinion.


  34. vic71bc
    May 21, 2009 @ 19:40:41

    Hi everyone. After reading your various comments on this subject of JPA scholarships, need I say more? But there is one salient point missing.
    Here is an invigorating post by Helen Ang-
    “JPA scholarships: 1M’sia,double standards.”-


  35. pohwatchdog
    May 23, 2009 @ 16:39:55

    It is impossible to satisfy everyone. Too much A-s and too few scholarship. Time to revamp our education system. Do we emphasis on getting a’s only? Are we satisfy that all A-s students make a better decision making? Look at Singapore today, the A-s scholar they have have started have fail their job. Read the article by insight down south by Seah Chiang Nee in the star paper today. The A-s scholar
    didn’t share the same objectives with the people.

    Maybe it is time PR or BN leadership take note of it


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