Overly politicised and lacking in international standard
The Malaysian education system has always been a topic of scrutiny from its over politicisation, lack of international standard, and its impact on unemployment rates within the country.
Through it all, those with the opportunity and privilege have looked to private education as a potential avenue to safeguard the promises tertiary education brings to the quality of life.
Graduating in 2018, I had the privilege and luxury of pursuing a degree from a private institute and I was fortunate enough to land an employment opportunity months after graduating as a lecturer for an esteemed pre-university college here in Kuala Lumpur (KL).
To a certain extent, the offer I received to be a part of a reputable academic department was a testament to the recognition and the promises that came with my degree.
However, I learned very quickly from shifting between the receiving end of the industry to being an education provider, what over-commercialisation of private education actually meant to students' investment.
Programs offered within an institute will always be a product or a service first before an education.
Private education is what it is: a business
At the end of the day, private education is a business. Sustainability of a business is dependent on competitive advantage, range of products, diversity in revenue streams which are all fair factors that contribute to my monthly pay as an educator.
But what does this mean for students choosing an institution or a program?
Understand that while education fairs are important in helping any student learn about their options and to gauge institutes better, it is still a sales pitch platform for these institutions. Speaking to college/university ambassadors or their marketing department would mean that you are presented with biased information.
In most education fairs, subject lecturers are usually present.
Take that opportunity to approach them with questions about the structure of the program or assessments, understand what do students usually struggle within that specific program or subject.
For external programs like A levels, what is the difference between taking an A levels course under their institute in comparison to their competitor?
As a consumer, you would need to know what you are paying for. Is it a promise of recognition through the brand? Is it facilities or being taught by lecturers who are practising in their fields?
To be an informed consumer would be to go into education fairs prepared with knowing what courses you are browsing for, learn beforehand about how these programs are offered, only then you can effectively ask questions that will benefit your decision making and allow you to understand where the cost differences are from.
Education counsellors and their inherent limitations
When seeking consultations from an education counsellor, acknowledge the inherent limitations that come with education counsellors who work for a specific college or third party counsellors that usually have partnerships with various universities.
The point here is in understanding that while they are able to educate you on the different offerings of various institutions, there will be limitations of how objective their opinions are, and that comes with just about anything we buy as consumers.
'Fast track' option into university
With external programs like A levels and Australian Matriculation Programme (AUSMAT), one of the key selling features that are usually marketed is a 'fast track' option into university.
If you're contemplating your decision based on this option, you need to acknowledge why exactly are you rushing into university?
If there is an age limit to a specific program and you are a mature student or someone who has taken a gap year, then yes, a fast track program would benefit you.
However, if your reason for choosing a fast track program is simply because you want to graduate sooner or get into university quicker with no other substantial reasoning, then your decision is at a greater risk of being an irrational one.
It's important to take note that fast track programs for an A levels cert or an AUSMAT cert would mean that you are cramming the same amount of syllabus content and graduation requirement within a shorter time frame.
And for students who come from Malaysian high school system, you are expected to adapt to the UK or Australian based education system and syllabus and fulfil graduation requirements within a shorter time frame.
Additionally, the cost difference is usually insignificant from the typical 24 months (A levels) or 11 months (AUSMAT). So all of this just to get a cert a few months earlier?
There is a flawed perception behind assessments and exams that limit students' performance
When I interact with students through lectures, discussion, and grading their assessments, it becomes apparent that there are so many of them who have tremendous potential in excelling academically and in other aspects but are held back whenever their grades do not reflect an A.
Being a student and to perform in examinations is not determined by 'intelligence'.
Standardised assessments will only be able to measure how effective your revision method is and that comes down to consistency in effort, perseverance, and discipline.
Take it from someone who has never consistently performed as an A grade student herself but has learnt this from being forced to study, understand, and memorise two different syllabus and teach students simultaneously throughout the year.
I started my first day in the college as an academic staff on January 2nd 2019, and my first lectures were a week later. While I, of course, had the advantage of having completed my degree and therefore knowing the basics of the subject I was teaching, most of the content and the topics covered were not part of the modules I took in degree and that meant that I was pretty much learning and memorising from scratch with my students as well.
Grades are not a reflection of intelligence
When students start to acknowledge that their grades are a reflection of their effort and their understanding rather than their intelligence, you start seeing them dissociate their self-worth from their grades and start appreciating the techniques that can help them revise and learn effectively.
I've been fortunate enough to witness my A levels students acknowledge and benefit from this change in perspective from the whole class averaging between Bs and Cs to 13 out of 21 students scoring A in their AS examination from Cambridge.
If parents as well enforced this change in perspective, I'm optimistic that students will acknowledge their accountability and potential that they have in achieving the future that they want.
I leave the education industry after a year and 5 months of teaching and I acknowledge that my experiences and insights are limited to the time I have been in the field and to the type of programs and the institution in which I gained my experience as an educator from
Therefore, by no means am I presenting a viewpoint that aims to generalise to all educational institutions. However, I do firmly believe that these are information that I would have benefited from when I was entering tertiary education and hence I would hope that at least one other person would benefit from this insight.
Lastly, to the students that I have taught, my hope is that yes, a little bit of what you learn sticks with you but most importantly, I hope everyone realises that tertiary education is a skilful tool that is a privilege that not many have.
It should never dictate anyone's self-worth and that if you have the luxury of pursuing tertiary education, leverage on all the advantages that come from it and graduate knowing that all of us are capable of an accomplished and fruitful future through the effort we invest into what we want for ourselves and not from grades.
This story is the personal opinion of the writer. You too can submit a story as a SAYS reader by emailing us at [email protected]