Malaysians were flabbergasted when Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh of the Education Ministry recently said that a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 4.0 in the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) examination does not guarantee a place in a public university, especially for medical courses. This statement was met with a lot of disapproval from netizens and many commented that “skin colour is worth more than the CGPA” and that that’s why most recommend students to “go overseas to study medicine instead”.
While everyone hates on what the minister said—some just purely because he is a minister—let’s take a step back and look at what he said without any bias.
An academic counsellor at a private university in Malaysia, Elaine (not her real name), shared that in her line of work, an average of 10 students come to see her daily because they wish to secure a spot at a university in Australia or New Zealand.
The type of questions asked by these students vary according to their needs. Some students set their mind on a particular course that they’d like to apply to, so they ask her about entry requirements and other necessary steps to take to be accepted by the university of their choice. On the other hand, there are also students who have no idea about what they should study and are simply looking forward to studying abroad.
Of the total applicants from Elaine’s workplace, about 400 students are successfully transferred to Australia and New Zealand. The rest are left to search for other available options.
A Downward Spiral?
While there is a happy verdict for the 400 students that do make the cut, Elaine reveals that she has made some disturbing observations from her discussions with the students. “There are students who want to be a doctor yet have no idea about how to get there. With medicine and dentistry’s deadline which are commonly earlier than other courses, students are still coming in after the deadline, despite the constant reminder from counsellors,” she said.
It is rather unbelievable that in this technology driven society, students still have “difficulty” accessing information from the university. “Students should be most technology savvy in this era, however with all the provided information platforms, be it emails, students portals, Facebook, notice boards, etc., students can still say that they did not receive any information from the counsellors. Worse still is when there are so many ways of announcing information, but counsellors are still frustrated at the lack of outreach to the students,” Elaine asserted.
This shows that the proactive go-getter attitude is sadly lacking in these students who know what they want, but are unaware of what it takes to get it.
Results Are Something, But Not Everything
Other than the challenges of being disciplined and informed, students are also taking their inferior results too lightly. “They have no idea that their mediocre results are no match for those who are well prepared to take up the challenge,” Elaine shared disappointingly.
How about students who are academic geniuses then? Surely the cream of the crop will be the first to be accepted from the pool of applicants.
Not necessarily, according to Elaine. It’s not always about getting the top grades and being the president of all the clubs in the university. For example, being a doctor requires skills and knowledge, but universities in Australia and New Zealand who conduct interviews are also looking for actual dedication and passion.
“Some students who are sure they want to be doctors will gather all the information they need for application and admissions but are not aware that interviewers are looking for genuine applicants—students who love medicine from the bottom of their hearts and are not in it for the fame and money,” Elaine remarked.
“They think all it takes is straight As. Interviewers can tell if students are answering from their heart or answering with a pre-prepared answer script, yet students still think that interviewers are just looking for the perfect answer,” she added.
Other than academic requirements and having a legitimate interest in a certain course, soft skills are just as crucial. “Students have always been trained to excel in examinations but they lack communication and social skills. This can be clearly seen when students come in and enquire about courses. They either cannot articulate properly or they have no common courtesy at all while asking questions, yet their results are as good as can be,” Elaine explained.
It is no secret that mastering the English language in Malaysia is still a huge obstacle for students. Late last year, Muhyiddin Yassin, who was the Education Minister then, openly admitted during a dialogue on the Malaysian Higher Education Blueprint 2015-2025 that “something is not right” when students are still struggling with English when they enter university.
To make things worse, the Education Ministry is delaying the compulsory pass in English in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination that was supposedly scheduled to be implemented next year. This delay is to give more time for teachers and students to “get prepared”; however, this preparation time could come at a cost, that is the further deterioration of English proficiency among students.
But language skills aside, what is the excuse for poor social skills and courtesy then?
Passion ≠ Hard Work ≠ Money ≠ Fame ≠ Success
I might be over-generalising here, but students and young graduates of this age are a confused lot.
They want to be successful, but they might not understand the challenges they need to overcome in order to achieve that. Thanks to over-inspirational stories on the internet, they think that they can get wealth, fame and world-travel all from a day’s work (Sound familiar?). They will always assume that there is an easier route so they want to do the bare minimum and expect to obtain maximum results.
Passion, hard work, money, fame and success are not always directly correlated. Some people work hard their whole lives but still live with only the essentials. The only element that makes everything else worth it is a sense of purpose.
The concern here is that these students, assuming that they return to Malaysia after studying abroad, are supposed to be the “leaders of the future”. What kind of doctors, lawyers, businessmen, entrepreneurs—or any other working professional for that matter—are we churning out if these future leaders don’t have a clear sense of direction and purpose?
Of course, students who complain about not getting accepted by a university just because they got a 4.0 CGPA is not acceptable. If every bright student who got rejected by Harvard complains about it on social media, we’d be having an online riot.
That said, it isn’t fair to leave well-performing students in the dark about their application results. For students to understand what went wrong, it would make more sense to at least provide an explanation as to why they were rejected.