Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Revamp the Medical Scholarship System

Revamp the Medical Scholarship System
By: Dr. Helmy Haja Mydin

The bickering among stakeholders regarding the disbursement of Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships occurs as regularly as the eruptions of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. Arguments are often raised about who should receive the scholarships. The loudest are usually parents who decry the system for failing to provide their child with a scholarship that the child “obviously” deserves.

Debates tend to be more heated about the opportunity to read medicine abroad. It is hardly surprising that the nebulous manner in which PSD scholarships are given out is unsavoury to many, as the ultimate prize is not merely a degree, but a career in a profession that is deemed (rightly or wrongly) by many parents to be both prestigious and lucrative.

This annual cycle of ambiguity needs to be stopped. The uncertainty leads to chronic dissatisfaction, further dividing Malaysians along racial lines. We need an overhaul of the scholarship disbursing system, possibly with a different system for each profession (specifically for medicine).

First, PSD medical scholarships should be awarded following identification of needs within the health-care service. The PSD scholarships should serve as a vehicle for long-term investment in human capital for public medical services.

There should be a clear distinction between offering scholarships to balance economic discrepancies between ethnic groups and scholarships that are offered to fill an identifiable national human resource gap. It would therefore make sense from both financial and administrative point of views for PSD to concentrate on the latter, and leave the issue of redistributive strategies to other agencies such as Mara.

With this key point in mind, it follows that PSD should offer scholarships based solely on merit.

Various factors should be taken into account when the issue of merit is discussed, and clear guidelines regarding these factors should be issued so that applicants are familiar with them and applications can be tailored accordingly.

While there should be a minimum academic requirement, these requirements should be focused on subjects that are relevant to the study of medicine, namely the science subjects. Extra-curricular activities, especially those involving positions of leadership, should also be weighted appropriately.

The interview should play an important role in choosing a potential scholar. Interviews allow an individual’s commitment, communication skills and ability to perform under pressure to be better gauged. These factors are arguably more essential for the practice of medicine than mere academic excellence.

The terms of the scholarship should be more specific with regards to expectations on results and post-graduation service. These should not be amenable to the whims of policymakers. For example, clear instructions should be given on the appropriate universities that scholars are allowed to apply to and these should be universities that offer degrees that are fit for purpose – these institutions should be chosen based on international recognition, and are not simply in the list due to political pressure.

But leeway should be given for the pursuit of postgraduate specialist training, as it is in this arena that Malaysia will be able to reap the most benefits from sending her scholars abroad.

Undergraduate medical degree courses will inevitably have relatively similar contents, but the actual practice of medicine in a postgraduate specialist setting will allow our scholars to be exposed to a different working ethos and to technological and management advancement that may not be as readily in Malaysia.

At the level of postgraduate specialist training, the PSD should send scholars to countries that are renowned for specific training needs that would be beneficial to the health-care system in Malaysia. For example, those wanting to specialise in trauma management could go to institutions in South Africa, while for palliative care the UK.

Scholars should have a clear idea of what they are signing up for. While the current service bond of ten years is seen by many to be unpalatable and should be reviewed, contracts should be adhered to as set out by the rule of law. Any resistance to serving the time that has been agreed upon should result in the repayment of the full amount that was spent on the individual’s education. Partial repayments, as is the practice, will only lead to the interpretation of the scholarship as a cheaper alternative to a bank loan.

We should bear in mind that PSD scholarships are a privilege and not a right for any one individual. It should be given to deserving individuals, and the implementation of a transparent and methodical manner of awarding these scholarships will go a long way in helping prevent misconceptions.

Dr Helmy Haja Mydin is Healthcare Policy Fellow at the Malaysia Think Tank (www.WauBebas.org)
Source: theSun, June 1, 2009
If you could not make $7 day, no where you can make $700 or $7,000 or more!

The Malaysian Way to Better English

The Malaysian Way to Better English
Kee Thuan Chye

I was recently invited by the Education Ministry to a discussion on "strengthening English" in schools, but from the way the proceedings went, it seemed like an exercise in futility.

The fact that it was being held in tandem with another discussion to "memartabatkan" (uphold) Bahasa Malaysia speaks volumes. As we all know, the standard statement that comes with any official announcement on the need to raise our standard of English must invariably contain the apologetic caveat: "but it must be carried out without threatening the position of the national language". This occasion was evidently no different.

Both the English and Malay groups congregated at the outset in the same conference room where everyone was briefed on the purpose of the event and then parted ways to deliberate on their respective language concerns. During this initial common briefing, it was made unequivocally clear that even though there were plans to "memperkukuh" English, this should not be seen as a challenge to Bahasa Malaysia.

As to be expected then, the meeting on the English side was characterised by guardedness and underdog ambition. Issues raised were mainly those that had been raised before – again and again ("I’m hearing comments I used to hear 20, 30 years ago," said a veteran educationist). Many of the participants had been embroiled in many a discussion past and were now wary of whether their current proposals would amount to anything. You could tell by the conversations outside of the meeting room that most were pessimistic.

Nothing has changed. Certainly not the political will of the government to truly revolutionise its attitude towards the teaching, learning and use of English in this country, which would call for a radical overturn of an official position that has been entrenched since 1970.

Who in the current administration would dare venture that way when their uppermost consideration is winning the next general election? Which is why the vision on English has been always short-term. And what the recent reversal of the teaching of science and mathematics in English was motivated by.

No one in power has dared to think of the long term, of the potential future of a Malaysia dragged down by its lack of proficiency in the global language, of the future of the rural populace who must continue to wallow in their lack of command of the language because they are not ardently advised otherwise. To get them out of their complacency with being monolinguistic would risk raising the ire of certain interest groups – and that could be disastrous for the ruling party.

Most of us at the meeting were too polite to bring this up, but an old hand in education did ask, "What is our language policy now? Monolingualism or bilingualism?".

So, by and large, we dutifully confined ourselves to discussing the areas of training, marketing and pedagogy. We gave suggestions on how to make the noble profession of teaching seem truly so to those going into it ("most students go into teaching English because they have no choice", observed a participant); on the need to take in only teacher-trainees who had an acceptable level of proficiency in English; on getting teachers to employ non-formal teaching methods that would be filled with fun for the learners and to organise out-of-class activities; on making more use of e-learning and ICT; on what to avoid if grammar were to be taught explicitly; on how to instil confidence in English teachers and give them the support they need when this is denied them by the school environment.

One of the best ideas – and possibly the only political one – was to urge the government to commit to promoting "coordinate bilingualism" rather than "subordinate bilingualism", such that no language would be eclipsed or even dominated by another. That kind of commitment is essential, especially in a school environment where the ustaz can have a powerful influence on the headmaster’s policy implementation.

At the meeting, no one suggested bringing back the English-medium school or making a pass in English compulsory for passing SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia). Most of us thought this would be pointless, anyway.

After all, Dr Mahathir floated the English-medium school idea briefly when he was prime minister and then backed off. And only recently, Deputy Prime Minister and new Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin sent up a test balloon regarding the compulsory pass but nothing has come out of it since.

To me, that meeting was a sad reflection of what we are – a people who are rich but are afraid to cultivate our wealth and let it blossom, and all because of our insecurities. We fear opening our minds so we deny our children access to our vaults. Each time a new education minister comes into office, there will be an attempt at some stock-taking and cursory spring-cleaning, but this is then followed by the same old business as usual. We pay lip service, we opt for eyewashes.

Will this time be different? I much doubt it. So, as has been happening over the years, those who have the means will find ways to improve their English, mostly outside of the school system, and those who don’t will lag behind. And when it comes time for university graduates to attend job interviews, that’s when the difference will be telling. Still, at the end of the day, these will just amount to being mere statistics. It’s the outcome at the elections that matters more.

It is, as we say, the Malaysian way.

Kee Thuan Chye, who retired from journalism in May, is an advocate of good English, having edited a column on the subject in a national paper for years. He also authored the book March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up, which has been translated into Chinese. Comment: letters@thesundaily.com.

Source: theSun, Thu, 13 Aug 2009