SPM Dramas

And so it begins.

Sigh. I sometimes wonder whether the fault is with the system, or the students, or a bit of both.

I remember speaking up at a JPA forum organised by DAP last year and reminding everyone that JPA scholarships should be the last resort and not the first one. Every other Malaysian is applying for it and everyone seems to want to do medicine in the UK. There are just not that many places available.

I think that school counselors need to do a better job of advising students. Obviously, I don’t think that these students would be best placed as factory workers but I also do not think that everyone should end up as a doctor. There are plenty of other fields in which to excel in and I suspect that some of these students may end up doing better elsewhere.

As for the case of scholarships, while I do not think that these students have actually gotten very excellent results because there are 8,500 others better than them, I do think that there are flaws in the existing system. Some scholarships should be merit based while others should be needs based. Some of these kids come from pretty poor families and should be given a chance to get out of the poverty trap.

Personally, I think that there are faults with both the government policies and the students themselves. One thing that think should be revamped is our scholarship system. It is in need of a serious re-think. There are already so many ideas thrown about by so many parties that I won’t even bother to go into it but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement.

That said, the students, parents and families should also consider alternative career paths. Also, one set-back is not the end of their lives. There are plenty of other opportunities out there besides being a factory worker. I think that I will consider some other alternatives here instead.


It seems like a poor four-letter word but seriously, it is a well recognised examination unlike the SPM. It is a very viable alternative. There is nothing wrong with taking it – especially if you plan on doing medicine. It will open new windows to you while closing previous doors. While you may not get a JPA scholarship after STPM, there are other ones available – both inside and outside the country.

The STPM is also well recognised as a pre-university qualification for most universities around the world. Do not just limit yourself to applying for local IPTA/IPTS. Broaden your options and consider applying for overseas universities. I have several friends from Cambridge who have gone there using their STPM results instead of A-Levels/IB.


For those who are a bit cash-strapped, there are opportunities for gainful employment if you have some usable skills. While the options are limited when all you have is an SPM, you would still be able to make a decent income in many places – just stay away from the chinaman companies. Do not think of it as a dead-end though but take it as a stepping stone.

Take some time out to gain some real-world experience and save up some cash. You might even be able to fund your own further education at a later time. Keep in mind that most universities are willing to accept mature students into their degree programmes. In fact, in some countries, taking some time off after high-school is a very regular thing. It’s only us Asians who are rushing for time.

In fact, it may be a positive factor because you may not want to become a doctor once your eyes are opened to all the opportunities in the world. For people considering a career in medicine, maybe you can work as a clinic assistant for a while to learn. For people considering a career in accounting, maybe some work as an administrative assistant will work. You get the basic idea.


To those risk takers, there are plenty of government grants available – even for young people – as long as you have a good idea and a sound business plan. Check out the guys from Cradle – they are happy to part with RM150k to fund great ideas from anyone above the age of 18. What is more important than the money is actually the experiences that you will gain, while trying to do a start-up. I can personally attest that you will not learn it anywhere else.

I think that the ultimate problem with our students is apathy. There are things that we can all do to succeed and scholarships, matriculation is just one way to achieve it. There are many others. So, please do not limit your options but go out and explore all the different paths that life has to offer you.

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered/Professional Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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