Sunday, October 24, 2010

Educational Illusions

1. Universities in the world including some in Malaysia are after the THES ranking; some want to be come world-class universities as the likes of Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford. Some aspire to be among the greats in Asia as the likes of Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. Some just want to be in the league as to be noticed. There are many arguments on this locally, some made sense and some made non-sense.

2. I could only speak for my university, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia as I began in this university in 1974 as a tutor in biology department and retired as a professor of botany in 2004, some 40 years. I enjoyed teaching and supervising students on both levels, the undergraduates and the graduates. I cherished research in botany and later in biodiversity and published some good, some bad and some lousy papers ....these bore my name.

3. When I looked back I began to see some illusions in our educational aspirations and systems. We made mistakes by going English and we made mistakes by going three years for an honours degree. When I taught them in Malay the graduates went on to do well in their MS and PhD degrees overseas and they came back home to be somebody ....when I taught them 4 years of botany they learned many things useful and they could communicate botany very well. And now when I taught them in English in 3 years, many of them couldn't survive the interviews for jobs, may of them failed in their MS and PhD studies overseas. What went wrong with me?

4. Years ago I used chalks and over-head transparencies and now I use power-points; then I used to take them to field works now the university doesn't have money to pay; we used to have many more practical classes and now we cut-short our practical classes because of monetary problems. The labs have not been improved and the equipments were old and rusty. What went wrong with us? Since 1982 when we first occupied the Biology building, nothing has changed. We have not added any new labs and building ....and we aspire to be among the best in the country.

5. I wished I am the Minister of Higher Education as I will approve 100 millions to refurbish the labs and build new building to house post-graduate and lecturers research labs. I will buy new up-to-date equipments, I will add two more SEM machine, six more PCR, 4 more DNA sequencers and I will allocated some R & D funds to professors ....when would I be the Minister?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On the current local university graduates

1. I was recently asked to state the differences between the local graduates and the overseas graduates. This question arisen as there are perceptions that the local graduates are less prepared to enter the Malaysian workforce. This question is difficult to answer as I myself am a local graduate in botany who teaches botany in one local university. However, I did my MSc and PhD in Plant Taxonomy at Reading, England. My eldest son is an overseas graduate in finance and accountancy and my daughter is the local graduate in biology.
2. What strikes first is the fact that most overseas undergraduates have a cheque book and most local undergraduates lack it. The possession of a cheque book makes one a different person as one can sign it to pay for services and other transactions. This I think makes the locals less confident in their conversation and undertakings.
3. Next is the power of English language. The locals proficiency in English is second-to-none and they don't read English newspapers and English novels. Those studying overseas, especially in UK, US, Canada, Australia have no choice but to read English newspapers and speak English, hence they become more proficient.
4. Next is the teachers or lecturers. Most local teachers and lecturers are not open, liberal, understanding, more dedicated and committed, of course with exceptions. However, most lecturers overseas are liberal and open and they are not stuck-up. In local universities the lecturers demand they be properly addressed as Dr and Professor; overseas especially in US they would rather be addressed with first name, Tom or ted etc.
5. The library and librarians. Overseas , most libraries have adequate number of reference books and journals. Local ones lack money to buy and subscribe to the journals, other than the popular ones. The overseas librarians are very friendly and ever-willing to help the students, the local librarians are library-workers, with some exceptions.
6. Lastly, the personality and personal altitude. The local students due to not being able to speak and write good English tend to be expressionless and conservative. They would mix among themselves and would be happy to wait for spoon-feeding and initiatives from their lecturers. They lack a lot of motivation to do better and improve their personality and character.