Mourning Over Loss Of Scholarships: Do We Want To Die For As?

A while ago I received an email from a frantic school-leaver (posted here with her permission):

[I] scored 10a’s in spm [science stream] but didn’t not get scolarship to further my studies in medicine….i was so frustated,nearly killed myself fot 2 times and mourning for a year…since i got no money,i enrolled in local matriculation programme to live like normal people.i am so confused.i’m not sure what are my talents bcoz i’ve spent my teenage life for studying…i’m kind of interested in journalism or broadcasting i guess but don’t know what to do…it’s hard to afford the tuition fees in private colleges/university fot that courses…i don’t want to end up being like my sister-24 yrs,have chemistry degree in um and jobless….please help me coz no one does!

This is exactly what appalls me so much about the education system we have here. She goes into mourning over a scholarship. She attempts suicide TWICE over a scholarship. She got straight As, which apparently is supposed to get you the grand successes in life, but it nearly cost her life instead.

And the best part? She’s stressing out over a scholarship for a course she’s not sure she’s interested in.

Sad thing is, she’s not the only one. Just recently, when the SPM results were announced, there was a report on a student who attempted suicide at school because she failed her paper. (Does anyone have an update on her? Last we know, she was in the hospital; is she OK?) So many of my peers at my school were going through anxiety and hysteria over the exams. And what about the potential thousands of cases out there that go unheard?

No one had given these students their various options in life. What to do after school. What to do if you get – or don’t get – a scholarship. What to do with your grades. What to do when your plans don’t go quite what you expected. How to pursue your dreams. How to cope with life after SPM. No one had taught them that. And because of that, they suffer.

I suggested a course on post-school life to my teachers when I was in secondary school. I got laughed at. Yet that course would have turned out to be the most important one…more important than “How To Answer Such-and-Such A Paper”. It deals with the reality; life is not like school, your grades aren’t necessarily a reflection of your future, there are more variables in life than just your As or Bs or Zs, and you need to create your own destiny.

Notice how she applied for a scholarship in medicine, but she’s not even sure if that’s her interest? That she has an interest in journalism, but no one is nurturing that, or showing her where to go? Why is she doing medicine – because it’s expected of her? I would personally have a doctor that was actually interested in his/her path, because he/she gets the job done well. Why subject yourself to so much stress if it’s not something you’re interested in? It’ll only make you suffer, and your work suffers too because your heart is not in it.

Emails and stories like these are a core reason why the education system needs to break away from its obsession with perfect scores and go towards a more holistic, well-rounded, democratic, open system that really prepares students for the randomness that is life, and encourages them to pursue what they really desire.

Right now there are efforts from the Education Ministry to lessen exams and make it more well-rounded, which I applaud; however, they can’t be the only one making changes. The media needs to spend more time profiling students that are outside the norm, and not just the yearly crop of “top students”. Schools need to make a better effort to educate, truly educate their students on the vast life outside of school. Companies need to look at their hiring practices and be open to people that get the job done well without being myopic and looking only at grades. The society at large needs to understand that we are all human, and should be considered on so many factors, not just grades.

In the meantime, if you have a friend or relative who (like my email correspondent) is grieving over results, stressing over school, or is near-suicidal, PLEASE GET HELP. Depression is a serious condition and suicides do happen. If you feel something is not right, please contact The Befrienders at the following:

Please, people, see the humanity of everyone. Don’t get fixated on grades. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not worth killing yourself over.

edit: I should probably add that the girl who wrote to me earlier did indeed reply, and she was feeling better. She appreciated my advice and is now making an effort to find out what she really wants to do with her life. Great for her; now let’s see if we can inspire other youths in her position.

Help Victor Get Into Up With People!

Update: Due to other commitments, and not enough money, Victor has deferred to the July 2007 semester. He could still use some advice and encouragement, and Up With People really needs all the help they can get. So please contribute however you can! Thank you!

One of my best friends, Victor Gan, has been accepted into the July 2006 semester of Up With People, the program I was on last year.

He's 19 years old (20 in August), originally from Malaysia (Cheras) but now lives in Melbourne, Australia. He's studying Interior Design in RMIT, transferring from LUCT a couple of years ago. He's an extremely talented photographer, singer, and filmmaker and he loves computers, film, and photography. He's quite active in his church, especially when it comes to making multimedia for them. He's very bright and intelligent, a very thoughtful person, and is very thorough and hardworking. He would be UWP's dream tech person!

He's been very keen to participate in Up With People; his only obstacle now is funding. He doesn't come from a well-off family – I believe he has some funding from church-related people for his university – and he's really hoping on a possible AUS$30k deduction on the rest of his university studies if he does well this semester. He's been sent a document with fundraising ideas but isn't sure if he could pull them off. He needs at least US$11800 (AUS$16,025) [no word yet on scholarships; they'll be announced mid-March] and every penny counts!

I have complete faith in this extremely talented young man and I think he will thrive in Up With People, so I'm trying to help him out. Support Him! Here's what you can do to help:

  1. Email him with ideas and suggestions of how he can raise the money. The more specific the better.
  2. Sponsor him! Send in cheques to his account (Victor Gan) at Up with People, 1600 Broadway, Suite 1460, Denver, CO 80202 USA or go to their Donate page and pay via PayPal/credit card. Make sure you specify that it's for him, otherwise it'll be considered a general donation.
  3. Pass the word! Tell other people about Victor, or just pass this URL around. He deserves a lot of positive attention for his cause.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me. We have been friends for over two years and I truly feel that this program will benefit him a lot – it definitely benefited me!

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Penang State and Supplemental Education

According to this article in ALIRAN Malaysia, the Penang state government have been initating a number of projects over the past few years to supplement formal education there.

… the State can focus on areas that somehow have received scant or no attention within the formal system of education.

– Datuk Dr Toh Kin Woon, State Executive Councillor for Economic Planning, Education, and Human Resources Development Committee, Penang, Malaysia

Among their projects include:

  • Bureau on Learning Difficulties (BOLD), aimed at helping children with learning difficulties (or underpriviledged children) learn literacy and numeracy skills through talks and workshops
  • PACE, aimed at providing opportunities for continuous learning through regular talks on varied issues such as astronomy, healthcare, and self-development
  • Arts-Ed, which provides art education through short courses in music, drama, visual art, literature, and video production
  • The Penang Public Library, with resources on Penang’s culture and heritage
  • The Penang Library Network, which connects the catalogues of participating libraries

It’s highly interesting to see such efforts being done in Malaysia, especially at a state level – it shows that the state government has alternative and supplementary education in mind and realizes that there are still many limitations to the current educational system that require outside help.

Many of these ideas – especially BOLD, PACE, and Arts-Ed – are reminiscent of plans for Brick In The Wall, a project I founded last year to support and promote alternative education. We too had plans for talks and art education, as well as including those with learning difficulties, though our focus was mainly on being a no-governmental open network and resource for alternative educational programs.

Our biggest problem was that not many important people (who could really make a difference for us) really took us as seriously as we wished (and we need to work on organizing), but these efforts by the Penang State government are really inspiring and helpful, and help provide a framework and support for our project.

It would be good to see efforts like this implemented in other states, and hopefully nation-wide. Are there any plans like this elsewhere?

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