Since my retirement, I have been concerned with how we can solve the problem of the poor through educational mobility. This has involved putting my money where my mouth is in a program which helps needy families send their kids to university through financing their first year. Although Forbes, the media organization has given recognition to me in its annual selection of Asian philanthropic heroes in 2011 (see, “48 Heroes of Philanthropy” in http://www.forbes.com/global/2011/0718/heroes-philanthropy-11-kaldor-zhiqiang-oberoi-heroes-list.html), I am the first to realize that my efforts at providing university scholarships to the needy are extremely modest and a drop in the ocean of need.
After much reflection, I would like to provide what I think is a practical and easily implementable solution to the national problem of too many deserving poor children having to chase and compete for too few scholarships.
My solution is a two pronged one. The first prong relates to government scholarships. These scholarships are in fact provided for by tax payers money so that tax payers like me and other citizens have the right to ensure that the funds are not abused or misused and are fairly distributed. My proposal applies not only to federal and state educational scholarships but also to scholarships provided by the GLC’s and GLIC’s such as Petronas, Tenaga Nasional, Telekom, Bank Negara.
Targeting Scholarship Awards More Equitably
Today we have a upper class of Malaysians who have benefited from the NEP during the past half century through access to government scholarships. These recipients of previous NEP scholarships (Malays and non-Malays) should now be disqualified from having their children apply for government scholarships except for the small proportion of scholarships awarded purely on a merit basis.
Instead the greater proportion of government scholarships should be made available to the children of those families who have never received such scholarships in the past. This will ensure that the children of poor and lower middle class Malays as well as poor non-Malays who cannot compete with the children of richer families will compete amongst themselves for scholarships. A small quantum of the total number of government scholarships though can be based solely on merit and set aside for brilliant and outstanding students for which the disqualifying clause will not be applicable.
The following are some of the positive effects of my proposal
- It will create a more level playing field for all young Malaysians in the area of government and GLC scholarships.
- It will make the children of Malays as well as non-Malays who have previously benefitted from the NEP more competitive and self-reliant.
- It will provide a boost to racial harmony
- It is an easy affirmative action programme to operate as all that is needed is the identification details of earlier education scholarships holders for vetting purposes as well as a simple question in the application form: has your father of mother been recipient of a government scholarship award previously?
Any affirmative action programme should have a beginning and an end. It must also justify its target beneficiaries and remove them from the queue once they have been provided with the opportunity and benefits. Others formerly excluded or left out should now be put into the queue if they are in need.
Private Sector Participation
The other prong of my strategy applies to the private sector. One reader in response to an article I wrote on the Chinese poor had provided the following comment
“ the super rich chinese can do more by funding more educational organisation for the needy one. As we know non-bumi have minimum opportunity to study in full government funded tertiary or vocational education. The capable and and well networked chinese should organise schools like early days when the chinese merchants self funded the chinese schools. But nowadays the super rich chinese are only interested in creating international school for their own profit. God will help those who help themselves. Let us help ourselves while waiting for the change in government.
It is clear that the very rich and even rich – of whatever race – can and should do much more in providing educational access to the poor as well as middle class. These private sector scholarships can have a higher proportion based on merit to balance the pro-poor one awarded by the government.
If this two pronged strategy is adopted, we will have a greater measure of national unity and harmony, and quicker progress towards a more equitable and fair society.