Friday, May 22, 2009


MCA President Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat recently announced that the government would review the selection criteria for Public Services Department (PSD) scholarships. He revealed in The Star news report that PSD scholarship recipients were selected based on four criteria: merit (20%), race (60%), Sabah and Sarawak citizens (10%), and students from underprivileged groups (10%).

Is that supposed to explain why every year without fail we hear about top SPM scorers with a long string of A’s not making the scholarship cut? What constitutes merit, and why only 20% for merit? What does it say about a government that does not place a premium on meritocracy? What is the racial breakdown for the 60% under ‘race’? Why is there a criterion based on domicile? How does the PSD define ‘underprivileged’?

Hoping to find some answers, I checked out the PSD website and found that for the Foreign Degree Programme, the criteria for selection are Academic excellence (70%), Interview (10%),
Socio-economic background of parents (10%), Co-curriculum (10%).

Now I'm even more confused. Further browsing led me to a list of questions posted by The Star on 15 May 2008. One example:

The Star: Can we get some statistics on who were awarded JPA (PSD) scholarships in the previous years to show that the selection process is fair? Or can we get some comments from your boss on this issue?

PSD: The question is not clear and we are not sure what information is being sought.

I almost fell off my chair when I read that answer! And to have it posted online for all the world to see!

Instead of shedding some light, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the Education Minister chose to sidestep the issue. According to The New Straits Times report he said his ministry "felt strongly that the number of subjects should be streamlined to resolve the perennial problem". Hello, am I missing something here? Is he implying that top students who scored more than 14 A’s may have been passed over for scholarships because some of the subjects they took were either easy to score, or were of less importance? Isn’t that an insult to the students, and also to the Curriculum Department of his ministry?

The minister acknowledged the grouses, and said the matter would be discussed at the (cabinet) meeting. A study would also be carried out. Those are the government's stock answers to every problem in our country. I will not be holding my breath to know the outcome. In the meantime, scores of bright students are left out in the cold. They have to rely on their own resourcefulness to get financial aid or give up their academic dreams altogether.

KWOK Ting Choong, 17, of Penang Free School, scored 14 1As. The irony is many top students who failed to secure PSD scholarships were offered ASEAN scholarships by the Singapore government well-known for their stringent selection procedures. (Photo: The Star)

As a retired teacher with 35 years in the profession, I know that this problem does exist, and keeps intensifying each year as more and more students score straight A's in the SPM. As a single mother supporting two teenage children on a teacher's pay of RM1200 back in the 1980s, I know what it is like to have your academically-gifted children rejected for a PSD scholarship.

This issue has been highlighted in the media for the past few weeks, but the PSD has yet to make any statements to clear the air. Why the silence??

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