Thursday 26 May 2011

High achievers' PSD scholarship dreams dashed

Every year, we hear stories of high achievers not being able to secure government scholarships to pursue the courses of their choice despite fulfilling the necessary requirements.

Heamanthaa Padmanaban was among those who had suffered this setback to follow her ambition to study medicine abroad and also did not qualify to take up a course in biotechnology locally.

The 17-year-old from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Tuanku Jaafar in Seremban, Negri Sembilan, scored 9A+ and 1A in last year's Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations and was an all-rounder in extra-curricular activities.

"I qualified for cross-country runs and played hockey at state level, and was a school champion in chess and badminton.

"NONEIn April last year I was among those chosen to participate in the Malaysia-America Soccer Exchange programme with 12 other women," Heamanthaa (right) said told Malaysiakini.

All these, besides her academic qualification, were means to secure a Public Service Department (PSD) scholarship to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor.

"I got the letter from PSD on May 13 and when I saw it I was happy thinking I must have qualified.

"After reading the contents of the letter I felt as if all my efforts and everything I had strived for had shattered.

"I cried and when I told my mum about it she broke down crying, too, she couldn't take it," she recounted.

Instead of an opportunity to study medicine or biotechnology, the petite and athletic looking Heamanthaa was offered a Diploma course in English at University Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI).

"If it was my ambition to teach English, I would have taken up the offer but I want to be a doctor. It doesn't make sense," she said.

'I believed in the govt'

Although disappointed, she has appealed for an alternative offer as she is determined to become a doctor, specialising in oncology.

But without a scholarship, Heamanthaa's chances of achieving her dream are bleak as her family may not be able to sustain and fund her tertiary education if she decides to pursue medicine privately.

Her father deals in health products and her mother is a primary school teacher while her younger brother is in Form 4.

"Private institutions have offered scholarships but they are only enough to pay tuition fees. I worked hard to study overseas and I believed in the government's word that students with 9A+ will be given scholarships and also to study the courses of their choice," said Heamanthaa.

In July last year, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced that PSD scholarships would be awarded to all students, regardless of ethnicity, who managed to score 9As or higher, for either local or overseas studies.

On May 4, the cabinet decided that all students who scored 8As and above in the SPM would be eligible for PSD scholarships and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohd Nazri Aziz reiterated that the promise will be kept.

Later, Nazri had rubbished Deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong's allegations of malpractice in the PSD's selection of scholarship recipients.

The minister also said the PSD's focus includes medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering, science and technology and several areas under social sciences.

"Two of my peers were offered medicine, one at a medical college in New Zealand and another at the International Medical University (IMU).

"We all got more less the same grades but why didn't I get any such offers? I want to do medicine and it is one of the critical courses under PSD," said Heamanthaa.

'Think about our feelings'

She related that during her 45-minute interview with four PSD panel members on April 13, she was asked several perplexing questions.

"They asked me why doctors don't want to work in rural areas; why PSD scholars don't want to come back to the country to work; and what inspires me to be successful."

In PSD's merit category - 85 percent is based on academic excellence, 10 percent on co-curricular activities and five percent on the interview.

Heamanthaa's father Padmanaban opined that it is unlikely for his daughter to fail her PSD interview, as she had received good remarks from the US Embassy visa approval officer when she attended an interview last year.

At a press conference yesterday, Heamanthaa said she had appealed to MCA and MIC as well as to several NGOs.

"Please give it to those who are worthy, that's all I ask, give scholarships to all those who deserve them," she added.

Imagine the anguish when their applications are rejected or not offered the courses they want, she said.

Another who suffered the same fate as Heamanthaa was Chair Sheng Min from SMK St Joseph in Kuching, Sarawak who obtained 10As. He said he was only offered a scholarship to study engineering at Universiti Technology Petronas, while his two friends with 4As and 5As respectively were awarded scholarships to pursue science degrees in the United States.

"I hope this doesn't get repeated again in the coming years and the issue is addressed once and for all," Hemanthaa said.

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