Saturday February 23, 2013
Aiming high for Harvard
IN the 1970s, there were not many university students. In fact, getting into a university then was something very prestigious. Parents would brag about their child’s success in being admitted into a local university, what more an overseas one.
Back then, the standard of education also was very high.
Decades later, however, getting a university education has become compulsory instead of a luxury. University graduates are now a dime a dozen in Malaysia.
Nonetheless, the quality of our graduates has gone down. It’s common for a university graduate to experience failure in getting jobs nowadays, let alone getting entrance into Harvard University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world.
There must be reasons why, for the past two years, none of our scholars have gained admittance into Harvard. Ten years ago, Malaysians were offered places there at a consistent rate.
Firstly, we cannot deny that education plays a vital role in modelling and building one’s character. You can easily differentiate a learned and holistic person from one who only practises rote learning. Our education system, undoubtedly, needs a total revamp. Pragmatic steps and policies have to be implemented and executed before it is too late. Sports should also become part of the lessons, and pupils must be encouraged to participate proactively in extra-curricular activities in school.
No doubt, without any incentive most of our students will never take up these activities as they are deemed to be a “waste of time” since they do not contribute to the final grades in their examinations. As such, schools should start implementing an education system that emphasises the overall development of the student, both holistic and scholastic.
Marks should be included into the final examinations for students who make an effort to participate in extra-curricular activities. In this way, I’m sure the student would be better and well prepared to face unforeseen challenges that might come their way in future. It will be very useful for them too when it’s time to apply to universities.
Secondly, the Education Ministry must improve the English literacy rate among our schoolchildren. Proficiency in English among Malaysians has deteriorated tremendously over the past 20 years. This is evident in the various complaints received from recruitment heads and headhunters who claim that most of our jobseekers have very poor command of English, resulting in their failure to secure well-paying jobs.
English is the lingua franca of our globalised world. Those who speak English as their first language will have the upper hand in their career progression in the future.
To make this a reality, the quality of our teaching force must be improved. Don’t discount the possibility of flying in expatriate professionals to conduct specialised training for our teachers.
I was shocked when I heard from my younger cousins that their teacher could not teach them using proper English. This should not be happening. Moreover, we are in the midst of progressing from a middle-income to a high-income nation. Thus, we have to ensure that our education system will contribute to developing highly-talented and qualified individuals to drive the nation’s growth.
Last but not least, parents must play a part in making sure their children do not end up being just “bookworms”. Make sure they are also groomed in essential soft skills like communication skills.
Top institutions like Harvard or Princeton do not just look at the academic abilities of a candidate, they also take pains to ensure that the student they are about to admit is an all- rounder who is very passionate about his area of interest.
One point to note is that most Asian parents tend to have the impression that careers in popular fields such as engineering, medicine and law are more preferable and fashionable than in a field that is unconventional. Hence, they usually reject their child’s opinion on what they should study, which is detrimental to the child himself.
No matter how intelligent or capable the student is, if he does not have passion in what he does, he will not be able to maximise his potential. The experienced admission officers in top institutions know how to assess students beyond their academic results. For instance, when interviewing students for entrance into medical schools, they will scrutinise whether the potential candidate has the passion and capability to be a doctor.
Oprah Winfrey once said, “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”
Hence, when a person is passionate enough, he has no reason to fail and entering a top university to major in a field that one is really passionate about would not even be a problem.
In a nutshell, there are various reasons as to why Malaysians fail to get into top universities such as Harvard. But I believe that if pragmatic and drastic measures are taken, gaining admittance into Harvard will be a reality rather than a dream for our students.