Saturday, May 13, 2006

PSD No Santa Claus And SPM A Big Deal No More.

The day after the SPM results are announced every year our newspapers are awash with true stories of grit, determination and ambition. A few months down the road when the PSD scholarship list is out, the media starts highlighting the sob stories of the unsuccessful ones. It is sometimes heartbreaking to read of how poor students in the face of harsh adversities have overcome every obstacle, passing with excellent results only to falter at the last hurdle, the PSD.

First things first - how does one get into the medical, law or dental faculty with the SPM results? You can't. So offering these scholarships after the SPM is not entirely appropriate. The real qualifying criteria is the STPM or an equivalent . Therefore one way to avoid all this controversy is to hold off offering these scholarships till they have completed the STPM. That I am told is still a tough exam unlike the SPM which has seen it's standard plummeting for at least two decades and is still in free fall.

Of course the powers that be are not going to change the criteria anytime soon since inertia is the preferred option. So the only way is to make the best of an unsatisfactory situation. In the convoluted mind of the birdbrains at the PSD 11 1As is better than say 15 1As and 1A2 as the former is considered 'straight As' and the latter less than 'straight As'! This is a problem that has been occurring for some years now. What the Ministry of Education could do is to restrict the number of subjects that can be taken so this anomaly doesn't arise. It is ironic that a ministry which is so frozen in it's ways and unbudging on most issues has given flexibility to the students on that one criterion which is the cause of so much heartache .

More importantly the standard of the SPM examinations must be raised. There is so much talk out there in the open that pass marks have been lowered, test questions have been simplified and even unsubstantiated claims that results have been fiddled. Even if half of this is true then the exams and by extension the students' credibility comes into question. Nothing less than a complete overhaul of the system along with all the sloth in human form inhabiting the offices therein will do.

Moving on, the oft-repeated accusations of unfair selection and ignoring merit is another big problem. On the one hand you have certain constitutional obligations to fulfil and on the other the legitimate concerns of citizens to consider. It is definitely not an easy task. One thing the government can do is to make the workings of the PSD transparent. As it stands they are more secretive than the Kremlin, coming out to make statements when things come to a boil and then quickly retreating to their hideaway, leaving the politicians to take the flak.

The reality on the ground is that there simply is no way the government can bankroll every high achieving student even if it wanted to. Scholarships are not a right but a privilege and whether you like it or not you cannot demand privileges. However when taxpayer money is used to dole out scholarships we do have the right to question. In short we cannot demand but we can question.

This whole subject is an emotionally charged one for many a parent and student and the arguments can go back and forth faster than a ping-pong ball in a championship final. As in a ping-pong game there will be winners and losers. We have to congratulate the former and console the latter.

Finally as the title of this post clearly states, the PSD is no Santa Claus bringing gifts for good children and neither is the SPM all that it is made out to be.


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