Saturday, December 22, 2007

Two old dudes

Haha, I read an article about our former PM, Tun Dr Mahathir, getting quizzed by the ACA about the Lingam-gate scandal. This old dude is still so sharp. However, I doubt that many people would've actually gotten the message. Anyway, here's the quotable quote:

"If the people selected to lead are the people who support the use of ISA, then they will use it. The choice is yours."
In one fell swoop, he's giving us a slap across the cheek and good advice, at the same time. He's telling us to be careful of who we vote for. Also, that we are all a bunch of idiots, and we got what we richly deserved. For someone like me, I tend to agree with him. When we put jokers in parliament, we cannot possibly expect anything but jokes to come out of it.

We are all a bunch of fools. Technically, that's true, as by definition, only the top 5% are smart, then the balance 95% cannot possibly be smart too. But democracy is about mob rule, in other words, rule by numbers. So, all issues need to be distilled down into something that can be understood by the 95%. This inevitable leads to over-simplification and over-generalisation by all the political parties. Like this bit of comment by another old dude on an article in the NST:
"Since Ong knew about such intellectual fraud of fake thesis writing and pseudo-PhDs, the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamed would have known or Ong would have failed in his duty in not keeping his Minister informed of such serious intellectual transgressions in our universities.
Why didn’t Mustapha or Ong sent [sic] officers from his Ministry incognito into universities where such intellectual malpractices are rampant to verify and root them out?
Is this because intellectual dishonesty is the order of the day in the entire Malaysian university system with the adoption of the fraudulent meritocracy system by equating two completely different examinations – STPM and matriculation – of the same standards for university entrance despite the vast gap in intellectual attainments for both examinations?"
This is a frakkin' (mis)leading question, and one that leads to absolutely nowhere. Astute readers will notice the fantastic leap of logic required to link the problem of dishonest thesis writing and the problem of university entrance exams. I'd certainly like to ask Uncle Kit, how he managed to link the two disparate problems. I feel that this has diluted his otherwise, rather cogent attack on the problem.

Yes, there is a problem of people dishonestly submitting theses/work written by others, as their own work. No, this problem will never be eradicated as long as there is inherent "value" placed on a piece of paper, called a "degree". No, it's not a problem that merely plagues our local universities as it happens everywhere, including here. Yes, there is a gap in intellectual attainments for STPM and Matriculation. No, a university doesn't need to standardise entrance qualifications.

I have had two personal experiences with the former problem, here. I had once seen an internal "wanted" ad for someone to help write up a thesis. The pay was fairly attractive and I would be very surprised if nobody took up the job. I had also once marked two reports that were fairly obviously copied. However, there was nothing that we could do to the students as they were on exchange from MIT. So, the problem exists everywhere, and is difficult to dislodge, even in the top universities of the world.

As for the latter problem, we shouldn't be asking for a standardisation of entry qualifications but rather an expansion of entry qualifications. You cannot objectively say that an A from one exam is worth less than an A from another. If Malaysia truly wishes to be an educational hub, it needs to recognise not just the STPM/Matriculation, but also various other examination standards from all over the world. So, students need not only depend on these two but can also use alternative entry qualifications to get in.

However, reading the comments on Uncle Kit's blog, you'll see that many of his readers have swallowed his comment whole, without chewing it first. And as usual, you'll see the bashing of local graduates versus foreign graduates. I particularly liked one reader's comment (see if you can spot the many errors):
"I currently doing my Master (Australian Uni), they not only scan for Internet/Intranet or community sites. It does scan and comparing your work against others or prior student papers. I personally do not have confident on local Uni… no standard, no credibility, no market value…"
Moral of the day: value the person, not the qualification.


KC said...

Your comment on plagiarism everywhere is most agreeable. Yes, value the person not the qualification :) I can of course give an example of such at the University of Nottingham (even at PhD level). How do you propose we can distinguish a person who genuinely worked hard for his qualification over one who doesn't?

Shawn Tan said...

Propose? I doubt that there's going to be any fool-proof way to do it.

The only way that I can think of doing it is to impose a proper technical test as part of the interview process. The test shouldn't be something abstract, but rather, an actual task that they would be expected to perform. For example, a programmer should be asked to write a program on the spot. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it should be part of the hiring process. This will not only reassure the interviewer that the person actually has the skills advertised, but will also provide insight into the person's work process. However, this will incur an additional cost to the hiring process. Whether or not it's cheaper to have a more stringent hiring process, or if it's better to fire them later and restart the hiring process, is a question best left to an economist.

Whatever way is used, the best thing to do is to just ignore the person's degree, whatever it may be. What's important is whether or not the person can actually do things that add value to the organisation. One of my friends was lucky enough that Intel hired him as an engineer, even though he didn't finish his degree. He was a good electronics engineer. He just couldn't get past basic engineering mathematics.