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Of scholarships and not getting one. May 27, 2011

Posted by Siew in Education, Uncategorized.
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4 comments

Much has been said about the allocation of scholarships from the Public Services Department recently. Somehow, a media storm has emerged from the unfair allocation of such scholarships. It is a somewhat curious thing to note that the all the hoo-ha is only starting now when the skewed nature of the allocation has been clear as day for many, many years. Someone important must have gotten passed over.

But that is not really what I want to say. I have 4 points of contention.

1. Scholarships are not a divine right

I think a popular perception is that scholarships are the domain of the best and the brightest. I disagree. The point of Government scholarships is not to pay for the smartest kid’s education. It is to pay for the neediest kid’s education. If I look at the people who have grouses with the system, they are inevitably from the middle class with a decent income. The gripe is that my son/daughter scored perfect scores in the SPM and was a national junior something. He/she deserves to study medicine in Ireland. Their proof is that someone with an inferior record (inevitably, this example will be Bumiputera) managed to secure the place, and therefore, there is foulplay.

I do not deny that foul play very likely happened there. The lack of transparency at all levels of Government ensures that this will always be a problem. But I find this notion that a scholarship must be awarded purely based on merit to be a little arrogant and selfish.

We have to remember that these scholarships are awarded by the Public Service Department. Key words in that phrase being PUBLIC SERVICE. That means they serve the public, and while I am sure that a middle class family with a house in USJ and 2 cars can claim to be part of the public, they would do well to remember that we have a population of 27 million. Ultimately, the department’s job is to serve the greater good of the public, and I do believe that giving impoverished families a chance to get out of a cycle of continued poverty is a responsibility of the government.

2. Not getting a scholarship is not the end of the world

This is a point that I feel particularly strongly about. I was one of those passed over by the PSD. Thankfully, I wasn’t particularly bothered due to a complete lack of ambition. I went on to study at a local university, funded by my middle income parents. I could have gotten a student loan that charges a very low interest from PTPTN, but my parents were nice enough to foot the entire bill. I am now working as a professional, and supporting myself just fine. I contrast this with friends who have returned from overseas on PSD scholarships. They are doing the exact same thing as I am. If the whole point of a scholarship and an education is to raise your kid’s standard of living, then I really don’t see why the PSD scholarship is seen as the one and only ticket to a decent job.

The Government is not the only entity giving out scholarships. There are corporations out there that give out scholarships too. Funnily enough, most do not demand perfect results, only a reasonable level of character that would see a fresh graduate through the working world. I suppose it would fit that any kid that would kick up a ruckus and claim the end of the world just because life is unfair would end up failing a test of character.

3. The ‘deserving’ won’t be anywhere close to getting a scholarship if the rules of allocation were really applied.

If you look at the requirements for getting a scholarship, it is explicitly stated that people of a certain standard of living are not qualified. This is separation is normally done by checking monthly income, and as it stands, I do not know of a single person who has ever gotten a PSD scholarship who fits that criteria. Their parents’ combined income far surpasses the minimum income to qualify. It is a virtual certainty that those that are complaining of not getting a scholarship now are in the same boat. They are not impoverished, they are well off enough to have an internet connection. Sure, the system is broken.  None of the rules are really followed in the first place. The point is, we cannot pick and choose the rules we want to follow. We have to take them all, be they rules that dictate qualification based on grades or based on socio-economic backgrounds. Assuming that the Government cleans up its act and applies the rules as they should be applied, none of the people that are being denied now are going to get anything anyway.

Lets just assume, for the sake of pretending that its possible, that we revamped the entire PSD scholarship system and staffed it with fair personnel. What would you say is a fair income threshold before someone is disqualified? Lets give it a very generous RM3,000. That is far more money than any unskilled labourer will ever get in this country. (And those are the people whose kids that the money is for in the first place) Nobody who is now currently posting their frustrations on the internet now could possibly be earning less than that by the time their children are of university going age. So their application will get thrown out anyway. The reality is this: A middle income family cannot send 3 kids to study in the UK without making some very painful sacrifices. And yet, they want the best for their kids, and there is an avenue to get the taxpayers to pay for their education instead. Over time, the privilege of the PSD scholarship has mutated into a divine right. It doesn’t help that Asians tend to think that the only yardstick for intelligence is exams, and that the government officers themselves abuse the system for their own gain. I think the people who are protesting now should realize that they are also trying to exploit the system themselves. The difference is, they want to do it breaking a different rule.

Its even more interesting then the PSD offers them a local scholarship instead. They get all up in arms that they don’t get to go to the USA to study but someone else who did worse did. They are still getting an education. But that isn’t enough. They want an education abroad. Apparently, the quality of education there is better. Since they got better results, they deserve the better quality. Makes sense, but I cannot seem to shake off the feeling that it has more to do with the glamour of an overseas education and the four year holiday that comes along with it.

4. Wrong placement of scholarships is causing a brain drain.

I won’t deny that it contributes. But to pin this one problem on a much larger issue of talent flight is a bit of an over-reaction. People leave Malaysia for a huge number of reasons. Unfair policies do not only affect scholarship awards. It runs deep in every aspect of Government. I get very amused when I read responses from disgruntled parents who have had to spend their own money to educate their kids overseas. They say that the children deserved scholarships and didn’t get them. They were devastated. Now they are working overseas and are never coming back because the government was unfair to them before.

There are countless cases of scholars who flat out refuse to return to the country to serve even though they have used half a million ringgit of tax payer money. These parent write as if a provision of the scholarship would have ensured that their child would have returned to serve like a responsible citizen would. In reality, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference at all.

The PSD scholarship system is broken and needs to be fixed. There are likely to be some legitimate complaints in that big mess of voices claiming injustice. But I can’t shake off the feeling that a lot of the people complaining haven’t really thought it through.

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Miri – 1 May 6, 2010

Posted by Siew in Uncategorized.
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Okay, let me first get some things straight. Miri is not a backwater town like some people would describe it to be. Before I left, I was told that there is one Starbucks in Sarawak, and that is in Kuching.

An hour into my arrival I saw one in Miri, somewhere in the shopping complex. The next day, I saw a Coffee Bean in my own office. And there is a Secret Recipe within walking distance to the hotel I’m living on now. Miri is not Mar Sara.

So far, life here has been everything I was expecting it to be. Miri is mostly quiet, with small pockets of happening-ness that caters to the oil and gas employees that come from all over. The drive to work is pleasant in the morning, but I can’t help but feel like I’m late for work everytime I step outside. By 6.30, the sun is out.

Integrating into Shell has so far been a very good experience. Somehow, the company has managed to make it so that everyone seems to be happy to see someone new come in. No sulky faces, no mono-syllabic grunts of acknowledgement when I was introduced to all the people in my department. I’ve already had a game of squash with some Shell fellows and some others have asked me to play tennis. Apparently, with the lack of a nightlife in Miri, most of the people here just turn to sports. I can definitely live with that.

When I got here, I found out that I will be doing procurement for IT services, which was a bit of a surprise. I’m working in Finance, and I didn’t even know that until I stepped into the office. Whats even weirder is the fact that there were 2 other engineers coming in at the same time as me going to reservoir and production engineering. Both of them got hired later than me. Can’t help but to feel that I should be in their office instead.

But then again, all things considered I am pretty happy with my current position. My supervisor is really nice, and more importantly, efficient. I got my smart tag (Shell calls it a GID card) on the first day, and by day 2, I was beeping myself in and out of the office. Plus, having been a graduate trainee before, I know what its like to constantly feel like a deadweight in the company because people are constantly training me, but during that time I’m practically useless to the company. Engineers in Shell tend to be in training for the first 2 years or so. If I got into engineering, I’ll feel the same way I did in MOX all over again. I’ve had enough of going from one place to another and having everyone there look at me like they can’t really give me anything substantial to do (which they can’t because of the limited time I have in the departments).

I’ve been asked to sign to about 6 different training sessions relevant to my department, but then that would have to await my entry to the Shell Open University.

Owh, and the best news I got was that Shell Sarawak observes the Gawai holidays, and so the office shuts down for 10 days at the end of May. I’m coming home at the end of the month!.(Flight bloody expensive though, but its 10 days. I’m not going to pass up a holiday like that. I’ll only be back for about 7 days though.)

So I guess I might be seeing you guys pretty soon then. Heh. I’ll blog again about Shell soon. It’s a very interesting company indeed.

The Incomplete Survey April 28, 2010

Posted by Will in Education, Fiction, History, Society, Uncategorized.
4 comments

If life is a tapestry, Gezus was fairly sure that it is one of a million creatures copulating to the rays of as many stars. He was in a foul mood for certain, as was his mate earlier when last night’s effort proved to be fruitless yet again. Shina did the test three times and was last seen crying and on a tirade about his diet when he stepped out of the house to get to work. So the day that started off dismally continued its whimpering trajectory when the computer fed him the report of the latest survey.

SUBJECT: TERRA, SOL

SURVEYOR: CAPTAIN SEEKER KITAN, 4th SURVEY FLEET

PROBLEM: CIVILIZATION NOT ADVANCING AS PER PROJECTIONS. SUGGEST INFILTRATION TO ASCERTAIN REASON AND DETECT EXTERNAL INTERFERENCE, IF ANY.

It then rather painfully elucidate that the civilization on the planet is at least a couple of hundred years behind in sociological and mental development although technology is only lagging behind by a little shy of a century. Gezus tapped his temple, found the location of the survey fleet and started the procedures to beam his mind aboard their flagship, Are We There Yet.  He would be gone for at least a month and decided to let the computer inform Shina of that fact. Of course, being the honourable and sensitive male that he was, he hinted at the computer that it would not be too untoward if it made some insertions of URGENT, EXTREME, HELP and HERO at choice locations in the message.

Now it would usually be prudent to have described what Gezus looked like, or the general traits if his highly advanced species. Truth of the matter is, it would be an exercise in futility as they practically do not own bodies permanent in nature. In fact, their whole species is a complete amalgamation of different ones across the galaxy. What remains wholly “Gezus” is a brain which could be adapted into various bodies, although most would choose to stick to one for a reasonable period of time for the sake of procreation and as a matter of personal taste.  Members of Gezus’ society could also choose to be immortal as their neural imprints can be transferred into an artificial brain upon the deterioration of their natural ones.  Strangely, this was a practice not a widely embraced.

*

One peculiar thing about the space vessels operated by Gezus’ society is that not only do they run themselves but also they also name themselves, and often very inconveniently. For example, in the 4th Survey Fleet, the flagship was escorted by two larger ships Honourable Ideals and An Instrument of Peace. These two combat ships are somewhere between two to three kilometres in length and bristled with pointy ends like a Terran monarch caterpillar. Are We There Yet in comparison is a plain disc only a tenth long with observation ports all around the outside edge of the disc. Despite its diminutive size however, it boasted the biggest and most boisterous member of the fleet as its captain.

Captain Seeker Kitan was said to possess such a sensitive nose he could smell your mind (and indeed, the extremely sophisticated business end of his face was tuned to detect neural waves) so when Gezus stepped into the vast cabin at the bow of the flagship Kitan whirled around in a practiced fashion and boomed “Welcome, Operator to Are We There Yet-“

No we are not, Captain. I’d wish you would stop asking or we’ll never get there,” said the ceiling anxiously in a decidedly female voice. “Honestly, how hard is it to-.“ The voice continued but stopped abruptly when Kitan slapped a button on his chest.

“- and to my personal cabin. Don’t mind the ship’s computer, she’s bound to be a bit touchy after not getting anywhere for the better part of five hundred years, “ continued Kitan, apparently used to the interruption. Gezus had read about the ship’s tradition which originated far in the past where her navigators would plot courses a few parsecs more than required to avoid the chance that they would appear in the middle of a star, which was a tragic possibility back then. The practice then gained traction and has been continued ever since, driving the ship bonkers. “One of those spacefarers’ superstition no doubt.” He thought.

“Thank you for receiving me, Captain. Do you have my cover and vehicle ready?” Gezus asked as he glanced inquisitively at the ceiling.

“Yes you will find that all the navigational data has been provided and your human body is fresh from the factory. I’ve even taken the liberty to double check its backup organs and smooth every wrinkle, which seems to be quite a bad thing down there,” said Kitan gravely as he thumbed at the blue-green sphere off to the starboard bow.

“Thank you. I shall be back with a full report as soon as I can.” Gezus was about to turn away when Kitan approached and spoke softly, “there is something you should know.”

Gezus arched an eyebrow.

“Well, you see during the last survey we only managed to take samplings in a relatively small area. A complete survey was not possible due to-ah…us accidentally colliding with one of their probes,” whispered Kitan nervously.

“But that’s not possible! We would have caught the probe on our scans,” exclaimed Gezus.

“We would have, but for the fact that we were too busy shadowing one of their recently launched spacecrafts to notice. One which according to our calculations was heading to the fourth planet from the star,” chuckled Kitan, before continuing “Now that we’re needed at Alpha Centauri for some urgent pirate teasing mission, we will leave after you’ve landed and pick you up on the way back. I trust you would do a thorough job where we couldn’t.”

“I will try, but isn’t it puzzling how could these humans launch an even a primitive interplanetary mission with these low technological readings?” Gezus shook his head as he studied the report in his mind.

“Why did you think we brought you here? Now go prep for your launch, them pirates won’t be happy if I arrive late to the party.” Said Kitan with what you would call a wink as he guided Gezus out the door.

Two hours later Gezus landed as stealthily as he could in a small forest a short ways from a crossroad next to a field. His pod instantly buried itself into the soil as he made his way north quickly through the shrubs. His proxy body and clothes were closely tailored to match the inhabitants of the area where he landed, which was the only country surveyed by Kitan. As he approached the crossroad he attempted to work out the native script on the wooden sign by the roughly tarred road. There was nobody in sight but birds flying in the glare of the rising sun as he read:

“PYONGYANG – 25 Km.”

***

Author’s note:This was written rather quickly as a short story in reaction to North Korea’s most recent threat to nuke the US(for the umpteenth time) after a report about the South Korean navy ship was sunk by a torpedo launched by NK. And this is after all the aid by the US (among others) given to alleviate the famine which killed millions.

It’s just amazing how far removed a whole country can be in this day and age. It is also pretty telling how a biased education coupled with media blackouts is able to totally transform the perception of reality for these people. I’m pretty sure NK isn’t the first nor the last of these extreme forms of dictatorship where the head of state is still revered as The Saviour much akin to godhood while the citizens starve and never felt freedom nor WISH for it.

Is the onus on us more cultured and rational global citizens to liberate them? What would you do for a lost sibling who was raised by trolls and who threaten you repeatedly with a butcher knife every time you try to start a conversation?

On the flip side…perhaps these north koreans have an immense gratitude for their Supreme Leader, being how he saved them from certain death, never mind now that they’ll be thrown into a life of servitude and ignorance. Maybe the joke is on us and they’re all smoking something really awesome, which begs the question – where did they get it and can I have some?