Monday, March 19, 2012


In three days, thousands of Malaysian students would gather at their respective schools to await their most important fate so far: their SPM result. Following that would be the annual media-public-government circus known as the Public Service Department overseas scholarship, or better known as the JPA scholarship debate. I am going to take a leap here and be among the first to put forth my opinion on the matter.

Somewhere between my conservative and liberal views on life lies my belief that there are two rights that should be afforded to all regardless of gender, creed, race, nationality, or class (wealth), and they are health care and education.

Some would read my statement above and construed it as a call for more aid to Bumiputras in order for them to be able to fairly compete with the Chinese, while others would read into my statement a call for equal access to university placements and scholarship recipients. The latter is true.

I am genuinely embarrassed to admit that I have family members, friends, family members of friends, and acquaintances that have spoken of Malay rights in education over the non-Bumiputras as if Malaysia belongs only to the Malays. No, education is a right to all; quota in universities and scholarships is a Malay privilege. A right is an unassailable freedom that is allowed to ALL. Rights to a particular group of people are therefore a paradox.

In regards to the JPA scholarship, I have heard of, and am familiar with the argument in support of limiting them to the non-Bumiputras. I grew up listening to them, unfortunately. To these Malays, their children are supposedly too far behind in their education that it is unrealistic to juxtapose them alongside their non-Bumiputra peers. To my ears, all I hear is a defeatist argument, blaming others for their own shortcomings. If in fact the Chinese are more superior in their education, it is not because they are richer (which they are), but more importantly it is because of their desire to get out of the semi-oppressed situation they found themselves in Malaysia. When your whole life depends on it, there is no entertaining a plan B, unlike us Malays who can go begging to MARA or the many other financial aids accessible to us.

The bottom line comes down to this: start learning to trust your own children. These people who are fighting for Malay rights are the same people defending Islam but are afraid to let Islam fight it out to prove its truth—irony is cheap in Malaysia, apparently. I am confident in saying all of these because I have had a conversation with someone inside PSD, and was informed that even without the current quotas, the number of Malays who would receive JPA's overseas scholarship would be relatively the same because we are more qualified than we give ourselves credit for.

To my earlier statement, yes, I firmly believe that tertiary education should be for all. Nonetheless, that does not mean we have to send all our students overseas. In my opinion, a highly coveted scholarship such as the one offered by JPA should be considered a gift by the government to outstanding students, not a right to all. Personally, I would rather see distinguished Malaysians--of any race--represent our country than send students who struggle to keep up and eventually return home without a degree. What the government should provide are similar scholarships and loans to all students who are accepted into local universities. That is fair. If we send all our brains outside, how do we expect to bring universities such as UM back into the world's top 100?