Brain Drain and parental dilemma

I feel proud and was very moved by the headline news in Sin Chew today.

It is about my alma mater, Chung Ling High School of Penang.  One of its students graduated from Nanyang Technology University with top marks and was given an excellence award by the President of Singapore. The student nominated his High School Chinese Language teacher to go up the stage with him to receive the award.

I feel proud because once again, my alma mater has produced top students able to compete with the very best overseas.

I was moved because  this student has displayed his respect and gratitude towards those who have taught him. Without the teachers there would be no good students, so to speak. The Confucian philosophy is to place those who taught us at the same level as the parents.. In order of precedence, it is Heaven,  Earth, the King, the parents and the teachers.

What is so out of the box is that NTU has decided to let this teacher  nominate one top  student of her choice yearly from my alma mater  to study in NTU for the next 3 year, with a scholarship of S$5,000 a year  for her to dispense.

I am not surprised that this top student has  expressed his wish to work in Singapore, and thus it is another case of Brain drain. NTU in one stroke not only helps to secure the service of this top student for their country, and would be having another 3 top students from  my alma mater for the next 3 year running.

Not only is this top student given the recognition that he deserves, the recognition extends to my alma mater and its teachers.  Not by our own country, but jointly by the President and a top university of our neighbour. This recognition in fact makes all old boys of the school proud..

His case is just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of thousands  – if not millions –  of good students are now settling down overseas after they graduated there.

This is despite the delicious Malaysian  food, the easy going life style, the presence of family support back home. This is despite leaving their own aging parents in Malaysia. This is despite of having to face loneliness overseas.

Every parent who sent their children overseas knows that it is unlikely that they would return.  Every parent knows that by sending children overseas, he/she may not have anyone to look after him/her when  old.  But hundreds of thousands of parents are still tightening their belts to send their children overseas.


The answer is simple. The children would have a better chance to develop their potentials. The criteria for advancement of career overseas is very often based on merits, and though no one can deny that there are individual and personal prejudices, there is no systemic or institutional discrimination.

Malaysians, thanks to being subjected to working/competing on an uneven playing field back home, often excel themselves when competing overseas in fair competition. And they are rewarded and given recognition for being excellent.

There may be other factors such as better pay and so on, but those whom I have talked to, including my own children , often cite job satisfaction and recognition as the main reason for staying back.

My eldest son is a typical case. He graduated with M.D. from Canada, passed his USMLE with one of the highest score in history (over99%)  and was immediately taken in to do his residency in University of Michigan. After completing his 3 year residency in Internal Medicine and became a fully acknowledged specialist physician, he was again taken in by Johns Hopkins to do his nephrology training. Within 2 years , and 5 years after he graduated, he became a fully trained nephrologist from one of the most renowned centers. He is now working as a consultant in one of the centers in the States.  A private nephrologist  in Malaysia may earn more than him, dollar for dollar, but he is happy since he has job satisfaction and does not have to worry about  discrimination.

Had he been in Malaysia, he would not be what he is now.

It is difficult for we the parents to have our children separated so far from us. But like most other parents, we leave it to our children to do what they think is best for their lives. Fortunately, the world is getting smaller,. We can skype, we can sms and we can chat via internet virtually free. It is during festivals and at times when we are sick that we will miss each other even more.

To give them a chance to develop their potential, both children and parents would have to pay the price of separation. One the one hand , both children and parents would like to be near one another, on the other hand, the parents  want the best milieu for their children to advance. This is the parental dilemma that all of us have to face.

We hope that one day we will have better policies and that advancement in our own country would be more on merits than anything else. Then  future generations would not have to go through the painful process of separation, like many of us do.

Suggested reading: Racial politics and brain Drain


27 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. klm
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 13:54:31

    I am so touched by this story. I wish that top student good wishes. Just that simple act of recognising his high school teacher will encourage future top students to go to Singapore. The unusual step of NTU letting this teacher award a scholarship to a Chung Ling student will ensure a potential top brain catch for Singapore. I say Singapore is smart.


  2. KK
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 14:11:19

    Most probably one million Malaysians/Ex-Malaysians are contributing to Singapore’s economy and development and many of them are highly qualified and trained workforce.
    And Malaysia is having millions of unskilled foreign workers legal and illegal included to working in the country.
    Little wonder in the 60s , 1 S$ was equivalent to 1 RM, today the exchange rate is 1 S$ to 2.45 RM .


  3. Richard Loh
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 14:46:47

    Congratulation CLHS (PG) I am sure there are many other same cases from other schools. Because of politics and the greed to remain in power, Malaysia’s education is subjected to this kind of political torture. The whole education system needs to be revamped and it cannot do so because of political interference and surely will turn for the worst.


  4. petestop
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 17:03:12

    In Malaysia we only attract the low-end workers, illegal or otherwise, not so much due to the attractive package on offer, but rather due to the lax in enforcement.

    In Singapore they go all out to attract our high-end workers and top students, all of whom have been nurtured at early stage locally.

    So, you say, who will untung in the long run ?

    No brainer question, right. But I doubt that the BeEnd govt will get it, for them it is all about race and religion, and nothing else.

    The PM can’t even convince his deputy of 1Malaysia, who is 1Malay first, Malaysian second.


  5. A true Malaysian
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 17:07:22

    Off topic guys.

    I like Zaid Ibrahim with this kind of thinking….worth reading especially the Malays / Muslims.,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=277&cntnt01origid=15&cntnt01returnid=80


  6. Aming
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 00:35:56


    I quote you:

    “It is difficult for we the parents to have our children separated so far from us. But like most other parents, we leave it to our children to do what they think is best for their lives. Fortunately, the world is getting smaller,. We can skype, we can sms and we can chat via internet virtually free. It is during festivals and at times when we are sick that we will miss each other even more.

    To give them a chance to develop their potential, both children and parents would have to pay the price of separation. One the one hand , both children and parents would like to be near one another, on the other hand, the parents want the best milieu for their children to advance. This is the parental dilemma that all of us have to face”

    You have taken words from my heart and mouth. My son was a graduate of NUS and he is now working in an international bank based in Singapore. The job-satisfaction that he enjoys there (besides the very generous financial rewards) minus the blatant discrimination that he need not suffer as I personally did in this boleh land, makes it impossible for my son to return until perhaps there is a drastic social and political rebirth in malaysia, otherwise until he retires in about a quarter of a century later.
    Meanwhile I and my wife have to suffer the agony of separation with my child, but the saving grace is that we know he is safe there (from the perils of mat rempit), and that we can drive down there to see him once every 2 months.


  7. BeWildered
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 04:02:27

    Good stories. Almost one in three Malaysian Chinese family has one happy story about one or more of their children excel in foreign countries in one field or another. Being far apart is not a problem these days. We have skype, facetime and so on.
    May daughter says she is unlikely return to Malaysia, she has many countries to go other than USA, any of these provide much better opportunities than one can find in Malaysia. She said every one has one life to live and she wants to have meaningful and productive life and should not let social factors getting in the way of it. And she is well connected through the web to all her ex Malaysian classmates in other countries and they have joined efforts through the web on projects they do for their high school in Malaysia such as Ex Student Web zone only for ex student of their mother school to help ex student to locate one another and also help them to get connected. These are all spare time works to pay tribute to their mother school.
    Malaysia really has nothing to offer to attract these talents back. Malaysia does not have the political social infrastructure to support the needs of these talents. It is not about money but a high quality professional environment which drives the growth of technology, economy, innovation for new inventions and excellent protection of intellectual property.
    Malaysia has been losing top talents since 40 years ago. But do not worry, Malaysia also import foreign nationals and different kind of ‘talents’.
    Malaysia is sliding steadily behind all its South East Asia neighbors, including Indonesia in recent years.
    But do not blame the Malaysian politicians, they are just happen to be the ones elected by the Malaysian voters. If they do a lousy jobs, it is the fault of the voters, not the politicians.
    You get what you vote for !!!!
    Malaysian voters are cheap voters, that is the problem. The vote for short term gains, and individual own gains. They need to vote for the bigger agenda of the country.


  8. Phua Kai Lit
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 08:21:55

    Dear Dr Hsu

    Your story (about your son finding success outside Malaysia) is a common one
    amongst all Malaysian families of Chinese descent.

    I keep pushing for Pakatan Rakyat leaders (if they come to power at the federal level) to seriously consider recognising dual citizenship and/or letting ex-Malaysians gain Malaysian permanent resident status or regain their citizenship easily.

    As for Malaysian-Singapore relations, perhaps an economic union like the EU model?


  9. Eric
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 10:08:38


    Fully agreed with your view. The pain of separation with children is rewarded when we see them living up their potential without limitation of the so called “social justice” or “institutional discrimination”. I have just sent away my children abroad and eventually our family will be joining them soon. Unlikely to have a u turn, just have to bid goodbye and move on!


  10. Taikohtai
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 11:33:41

    While Malaysian parents long for their kids who have ventured abroad, migrant families also face quite similar circumstances. Our sons and daughters tend to move out much earlier to other cities and countries too. In fact, parents in most Western countries often resign themselves to the fact that the old folks home is where they are eventually headed, especially when they become incapable of looking after themselves. No maids here but paid professionals in better facilities and environment and one big happy UNESCO.


  11. monsterball
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 12:53:09

    I am fortunate that with my limited education…I can put out comments that University students can understand.
    Madam Ooi was a simple school teacher…does not watch TV and an computer illiterate.
    Yet today…sh is dubbed the Malaysian.. Lady Of Liberty.
    Holding up a stock of one flower.walking at BERSIH 2 ….her actions makes young Malaysians admire her and have serious thoughts to come out to vote.
    She is a Lady of Conscience for the young voters….and was just a simple school teacher…no degree at all.
    In short…with the UMNO B controls and applying double standards in Education…young Malaysians seem to understand their responsibilities to country and people.
    This is a CLEAN good sign that our DIRTY government …simply hates.


  12. Dr Hsu
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 12:57:08

    I suppose this is a world wide phenomenon. Even UK is ranked among the top 10 along with Malaysia in the 10 most Brain-drained category..

    At least you all have very good retirement home.. well run by professionals. Here, as you mention, most old folks depend on foreign maids to look after them.

    That is why it is very important for old people to continue to be active . In Japan, there have gym-like public facilities for old people to exercise and strengthen their muscles.. Walking is good for circulation , but a certain mount of weight exercises will make sure that our body core muscles remain strong, and thus the old people remain more ambulant. Here in Malaysia, we have private gyms but to join is very expensive.


  13. Phua Kai Lit
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 14:26:54

    Dear Dr Hsu

    I think it is “England” and not “UK”.
    I find this a bit surprising as one would expect a lot of people wanting to enter England to work rather than emigrate.

    Could it be due to internal “emigration” from England to other parts of the UK such as Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland? Or because of migration to other component nations of the European Union for work (including short-term work)? EU citizens are free to work in the other EU states.


  14. monsterball
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 19:14:44

    A see a lot of old folks like me….. eat eat eat and grow fat.
    Life is not worth living .if you cannot enjoy eating.
    Malaysians old folks by far and large are not health conscience….as one who can eat well is blessed with what life is all about.
    Nowadays..there are so many herbs … help you burn off the unwanted fats…while sleeping!!
    So old folks eat and sleep…get up…go to the toilets and let go.
    But if one like Mahathir….he eat like a normal old man…he is dead.
    Europeans life style….not suitable for Asians.
    Asians are mostly Buddhists and Hindus…and these people….love to smile and enjoy life…not keep exercising how to prolong life.
    Vast majority Asians… believe … is your Destiny…then Luck…third is how you conduct your lifestyle…forth..always have a generous heart to help others…and last…Education.
    Therefore a less educated man like me….plenty smart…correct Doc Hsu?….HAHAHAHAHAHAHA


  15. monsterball
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 19:38:19

    ah… but Doc may say….look at all the old folks in China exercising early in he morning… how health conscience Asians are.
    Just take a survey of 1.2 billion Chinese and tell me how many exercises like you see in Perking or Shanghai.
    Anyway…my point is not to discourage old folks not to take care of their health and have a long life.
    My point is….what is the use of a long Mahathir…filthy rich and yet cannot enjoy life?
    My point is…..every human being is born with a destiny.
    Just follow the 5 GOLDEN RULES…and everything will be OK…without exercising.
    If you want to go BEYOND the 5 golden rules… a monk or hermit…and they are known to have real long lives….without worries nor eating much.
    I wonder how many Malaysians think Mahathir is blessed with a long life.
    I say….that’s a LIVING DEAD punishment…..for reasons we all know so well..
    Educations is most important to have a good life….as much as one can afford or the brain can absorb.
    But from my experiences…it is all the well educated Malaysians working for the less educated bosses in companies.
    So good education…to be a doctor or lawyer….sort of guarantees you can be employed and have a decent living…fro day one…and others maybe brave enough to start their own clinics or law firms.
    However….come to making money…leave it to the poor Malaysian Chinese.
    They make more than most lawyers and doctors,,,,but Chinese by nature…love o these idiots go to Genting Highlands and come down….poor as a church mouse…start all over again.
    Mahathir’s son did that in a big way….lost RM1.2 billion and Mahathir took EPF money to save his son…with no fear.
    That is the greatest sin of Mahathir….that we saw the decline of his health and power.
    Every action has an equal reaction.
    And now Najib is feeling that too.


  16. monsterball
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 19:55:28

    Forget about this subject.
    Now PAS have exposed EC on 1600 phantom voters in Selangor alone and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
    And a “Minah” was given voting rights within 4 hours ..that EC now switched her back to no voting rights…saying it was a mistake.
    Najib tried hard to label BERISH 2 walk for clean election as nonsense and use police force will have it coming in a big way to expose the Govt. is cheating to win elections.
    I hope Doc.Hsu put out a post on current issues are more important for all Malaysians living here…fighting for their freedom.


  17. Kenny
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 21:00:10

  18. kak
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 21:30:35


    you can talk till the cows come home. this aint jive with Ketuanan Melayu.


  19. monsterball
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 21:33:17

    Kenny….why don’t you put out what it is all about..instead of using this blog to divert attentions to your blog?
    Although the articles you choose to paste or write maybe interesting…..nevertheless asking readers and visitors to go over to your blog and read diverting attentions from this blog to yours…and that is not right..


  20. Kenny
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 22:29:07

    monsterball, it is not my blog, it is Malaysia Chronicles which is a news portal and I am only a contributor. Pasting the whole article here which is out of topic will be disrespectful to Dr. Hsu and the readers here.


  21. monsterball
    Aug 04, 2011 @ 01:11:34

    OK Kenny….my fault…..sorry.


  22. monsterball
    Aug 04, 2011 @ 01:19:35

    Perhaps you should copy the headline and say…”you want to read the details..go to…..”….
    Concerning the Govt. …cheating Malaysians….. Lim Kit Siang will never fail to publish any such news in his blog.


  23. Kenny
    Aug 04, 2011 @ 08:50:25

    To come back to topic, I think England (or UK) should bot be on the list of 10 most brain drain countries. Even if the native English seek greener pasture there is still a nett gain of skilled people from other countries. Even for China there are skilled professionals going there to work. But for Malaysia we are replacing our skilled migrants with Indons, Bangla, Myanmar and Pakistani labourers.


  24. Dr Hsu
    Aug 04, 2011 @ 11:39:03

    on 13th July, I have posted a post “same name and old ic with 2 votes”, exposing someone who can vote twice…

    That is why we need a thorough revamp of the election commission..


  25. monsterball
    Aug 04, 2011 @ 15:14:07

    Doc…that we know and responded.
    It is the many latest exposed tricks now published in Malaysiakini that maybe your readers and visitors cannot get the details…that we must keep exposing…for that was EXACTLY what BERSIH 2 was walking for…besides others matters. ex army officer was ORDERED to take 900 voting slips….divide between two and fill in the slips. No need to explain who they need to mark “X” with.
    And another video showed PAS proved beyond any doubts…3 incidents…where a red IC was changed to blue IC within 2-3 hours….thus the 3 can now vote..while hundreds have to wait for decades to be considered Malaysian citizens living in Malaysia since childhood.
    Why some takes few hours and so many years more than 30 years?


    Aug 04, 2011 @ 15:32:10



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