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Sunday June 27, 2010

Enlightening blogs

Although there may not be many related to the topic, Malaysian education blogs cover a wide spectrum of perspectives from personal commentary to advice from first-hand experience.

SO, what can you find on the Internet about Malaysian education?

A quick search using the phrase on the Google search engine produced 5.36 million results.

Ranking first and second were the Education in Malaysia blog (http://educationmalaysia.blogspot.com) and the Wikipedia entry on Education in Malaysia respectively.

A couple of students checking out the scholarship forums on the Reborn Community (ReCom.Org) website. – NORAFIFI EHSAN / The St ar

Below those websites were the Malaysian Education Ministry website, followed by a few commercial education-related sites.

The ranking of the first two websites, as gauged by Google, gives an indication of the popularity and regard the two sites have within the Internet community.

Both websites are not “official” sites of any sort, but instead, individual or community efforts to provide information and/or opinions on Malaysian education and issues related to it.

While there does not seem to be as many websites or blogs that focus solely on Malaysian education, as compared to say, food or politics, there are certainly a few websites out there that offer information and food for thought on the subject.

Offering opinions

Blogs can come in many forms, but those on Malaysian education generally seem to come in two categories.

They are: blogs that serve as a personal commentary on educational issues, and blogs that collect and share articles related to educational issues.

DR ONG: The blog grew quite organically — we wrote on whatever issues that piqued our interest. - RAJA FAISAL HISHAN / The St ar

The latter can be sub-divided further into those blogs that collect all sorts of articles relating to education, and those that focus quite specifically on scholarships and/or public exams.

As noted above, the most popular blog in the first category (as ranked by a few of the more popular Web search engines) is the Education in Malaysia blog,

Started in 2005 by current Petaling Jaya Utara Member of Parliament Tony Pua, the blog soon gained two more contributors — Dr Ong Kian Ming, then at the start of his PhD programme at Duke University, USA, and more recently, Dartmouth University, USA, undergraduate John Lee.

Dr Ong, 35, explained: “At that time, Tony was in the process of transitioning between being a CEO (of an IT company) and active politics.

“He started the blog because he’s passionate about education.”

Dr Ong added that he was invited to come onboard as a contributor a few months after the blog started.

He said: “We are both passionate about education, and we felt that there are a lot of things wrong with the education system, especially at the tertiary level.

“Our angle is about trying to put out critical positions on education.

“We make no apologies for our view; they are out there for everyone to see.”

As visitors to the blog will know, the three bloggers are quite frank on their views of what is wrong with various aspects of the Malaysian education system.

Hot topics can garner up to around 2,000 - 2,500 unique page hits, and the blog has quite a loyal following, said Dr Ong.

However, as each blogger’s time gets taken up by other interests and duties — Pua, by his political duties; Dr Ong, by his new job as lecturer in UCSI University’s new Faculty of Economics and Policy Science; and Lee, by his studies and other interests — the blog is not updated as regularly as it used to be.

According to Dr Ong, it is possible that the blog may be winding down in terms of activities, but it will be maintained as resource for those interested in Malaysian education.

An alternative pathway

Tiara Shafiq, 24, was inspired to start her blog EducateDeviate (http://educatedeviate.wordpress.com) because of her passion for alternative forms of education.

“I was very frustrated and disillusioned with school, especially towards the later years.

TIARA: I believe that young people need and deserve all sorts of alternative pathways of education, not just the traditional on es.

“There was too much emphasis on grades and following the norm, and nothing about living your life the way you want to.

“When I started hearing about alternative methods like unschooling, alternative schools, etc, I was charmed and very envious!

“Then, in 2005, I travelled across the world with the global education non-profit organisation Up with People for half the year and that trip expressed everything I loved about alternative education — being experiential, diverse groups of people, lots of creativity and social good.

“After my trip, I decided to start a blog about my thoughts, and it grew into a resource for other young people like me who wanted something different that school couldn’t provide for them,” she explained via e-mail.

The blog is a mix of her personal learning experiences in alternative education and youth empowerment, with information on various education-related topics that interested her.

Tiara, who is currently a performance artist in Brisbane, Australia, shared that her blog got around a couple of hundred readers a month.

While her audience consisted mostly of students — either in upper secondary or in the transition between school and university, she also received responses from young adults working in social enterprise and youth development, as well as adults interested in education as a social topic.

“What I did get with some regularity were school students asking me for advice.

“One e-mail that concerned me was from a girl who was either in Form Five or had just finished SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia).

“She really wanted to do media studies, but her parents were adamant about her pursuing medicine. She was so stressed that she was seriously considering killing herself.

“I think she mostly needed someone who could empathise with her, and wouldn’t say, ‘Do medicine or else!’.

“She did cheer up considerably afterwards, which was great!” shared Tiara.

Chong edits and posts blog entries submitted by his team of volunteer student contributors. – SHAARI CHEMAT / The Star

However, as time went by, the effort to maintain the blog became a chore as she developed a keener interest in the creative arts.

“I did have plans to turn EducateDeviate into a more developed resource site, but my heart really wasn’t into it any more.

“By early 2009, I had moved on to performance art and production, which I’m currently loving, and found my interest waning.

“I didn’t want to force myself to update a blog just for the sake of it, so I decided to give it a break.

“I do still hold to my original opinions and politics — that young people need and deserve all sorts of options for their education, and that they should be regarded as people first and foremost — but my life passions come in waves and phases, and right now, I’m more interested in creative expression,” she said.

The blog, however, remains open for those interested in Tiara’s past postings, and can be used to get in touch with her.

By students for students

After finishing his SPM at the end of 2005, Kuantan boy Chong Wei Jie decided to start up a blog because he “had nothing else to do”.

But instead of a personal online journal, he opted to make it a blog for students looking for information on tertiary education, as well as exam tips.

“After my SPM, I tried to search for information on higher education, especially those written by students, but couldn’t find much.

“So I thought, why not develop a blog for this kind of information?” he explained.

Chong, 22, added that since he had just finished his SPM, he also wanted to share his study tips with others.

“As I was a straight A’s student, I felt confident enough to share my knowledge with my juniors,” he said.

The blog called Malaysia Students (http://www.malaysia-students.com) offers posts on a range of topics from SPM and STPM (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia) exam tips to advice on what to do after those exams, scholarships, life in local universities and National Service.

Blog entries are submitted by a team of volunteer students to Chong, who edits and then posts them.

“The blog is for students by students. All the information is from our own first-hand experience,” he said.

Chong hopes to get more contributors to make the blog, which has 8,066 readers on its mailing list, more active.

“I want it to be more active, for example, one post a week, but it’s more like one a month, because all our contributors are very busy.”

He added that now they have introduced guest blogging where contributors can just send in one or two posts, rather than blogging on a long term basis.

“I hope to post more information like scholarship interview experiences, life in public universities and what certain degree programmes are like,” he said.

For Chong, who is currently a third-year computer science student at Universiti Malaya, the blog is a way of giving back to society, and passing on knowledge to new generations of students.

MORE ONLINE RESOURCES

Biasiswa Link - Scholarships for Malaysians
http://biasiswalink.com

A blog that compiles information on scholarships for Malaysians.

Blog Cikgu Blogging in Malaysia
http://www.cikgublog.com

A Bahasa Malaysia blog on topics related to teachers, students, schools and teaching, written by Cikgu James, a primary school teacher at SK Cator Avenue, Ipoh, Perak.

Education Talk
http://www.edu-talk.net

A blog compiling various news articles on Malaysian education, as well as information on education events.

Malaysia Scholarship Centre
http://malaysia-scholarship.net

A blog that compiles information on scholarships for Malaysians, and also has a few posts with tips on how to get scholarships.

School Matters To Me
http://schoolmatterstome.com

A non-profit blog primarily for Malaysian school teachers with resources for teaching and learning, currently funded by a group of SMEs led by Negix Sdn Bhd.

Teo-Education.Com
http://www.teo-education.com

A blog that compiles articles from various sources on a wide variety of topics relating to Malaysian education, put together by UNIRAZAK Sabah Regional Centre, Kota Kinabalu, lecturer and former Sabah Education Department assistant director Teo Eng Seng.

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