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** For foreigners who are not familiar with the country, education and tuition culture in Malaysia, you might find the following guide useful - Malaysia, Education & Tuition: A Background Guide.

Are we diseased or just being practical ?

         No, we aren't talking about a new strain of germs. Rather, a social phenomenon known as the 'Diploma Disease', a term first coined by Ronald Dore, an educator, in 1976. It is by no means a condition exclusive to our Malaysian society. In fact, the 'Diploma Disease' is an easily recognizable phenomenon in almost all newly developed or developing countries such as Japan, Sri Lanka, India and Kenya where people chase a 'paper qualification' as a passport to a coveted job, a better status and a higher income.

How we are infected
         Malaysia is becoming increasingly a highly academic oriented country where people seek success through academic excellence. A seed of this trend was planted during the colonial period. In fact, the chances of obtaining an education was at that time exclusively held by the 'aristocrats' to maintain their dominant positions. However, after independence, the education system was revamped so that education opportunities were open to all. Our government had encouraged its people to seek education to meet manpower needs. Thus, many people attended school and had, as a result, obtained higher education. As there was a need for educated personnel, those who were highly educated could easily find better jobs in the government or in the private sectors. Along with a better standard of living, there was also social recognition and a certain amount of prestige associated with having made it in life. They were automatically relegated to higher echelons of society and became role models for future generations.

Are you terminally degreed?
          But of course, times are different now. The drive to seek advancement via the academic route is, however, still alive and thriving. One need not to look far for evidence of this. Newspaper advertisements of job vacancies clearly reveal the symptoms. Almost all of the higher positions that come with higher salaries require university degrees or professional qualifications. In this environment, it is difficult for non-degree holders to obtain satisfactory jobs. Some disadvantaged teenagers are likely to return to a vocational school to get a certificate. When asked why they have decided to study for a certificate, most of them would say that there are better opportunities of employment and salaries if they had certificates in accounting or in computer studies and so on.

Parents are disease carriers
         Students themselves are fully aware of the importance of academic qualifications from an early age. Parents, who themselves are afflicted with the 'Diploma Disease', have reinforced into their children the paramount importance of these little pieces of papers. No efforts are spared in regard to the education of their children. In order to attend favourable schools, some families resort to crossing the school district border to study in another school district. Actually, these pupils who are from a rural area are not supposed to go to an urban school. However, if they are doing well in their current school, they would be encouraged to attend an urban school by diligent parents. Sometimes even at a great inconvenience to the entire family. A school with a good reputation will generally attract such forms of aggressive enrollment.

          The truth is, parents share the same fear of their children falling behind in this 'race for academic credentials' and would rather tighten their own belts if it means helping their children pass exams. Thus we observe the popular trend of sending their children to tuition, exam seminars and workshops. Education related spending are given priority over other less important household expenses. A mother commented in The Star (March 1986) : "I have had to cut down a lot on other household expenses to pay my children's tuition fees but every cent is worth it - I can see the improvement in their grades."

Is it harmful?
         In Malaysia, it has been noted that parental influence is very strong because of the traditions of our Asian society. Furthermore, it is these values of our society that have caused us to place a disproportional premium on education, thereby exacerbating the ill effects of the 'Diploma Disease'. And unsurprisingly, this mindset naturally brings forth an unhealthy preoccupation with examinations, which are regarded as the shining gateways to the coveted certificates. Those who are in pursuit of academic credentials often justify any of their excesses as regrettable, but necessary evils. Accumulating 'pieces of papers' is the price that one has to pay for a successful life. They feel that those who think otherwise are just not being practical.

         The 'Diploma Disease' influences people's paradigms on how to move up in life. It does not necessarily reflect the actual reality of the situation. As long as people believe in its validity, then the paradigm will continually be perpetuated. A case in point is the condition in Nigeria and India, where bus drivers who are university graduates are quite common (New Straits Times, July 1988). Even when faced with an oversupply of graduates, this fact does not deter their people from chasing after more academic credentials, all in the name of a falsely held belief.

It won't happen to me
         A similar situation may plague our country when we begin to see a large number of unemployed graduates in urban areas. These degree holders are unwilling to take up the available blue collar jobs as they consider these jobs unbecoming of their 'status'. Their 'paper qualifications' have unwittingly become hindrances to gainful employment. Thus, these unemployed youths come to be considered a socio-political problem. This is one of the not-so-welcomed results of an academic oriented society. Ironically, many continue to believe that their salvations still lie with more and higher academic qualifications. When there is a glut of bachelor degree holders, some of them go for further postgraduate degrees in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the crowd. This, despite the fact that having a masters or doctorate degree may not fare them any better. They are the ones who strongly believe "I won't be one of those unlucky guys." In fact, we all believe or want to believe so.


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Glossary of Terms :
(1) Tuition - Tutelage, the act of tutoring or teaching a student (pupil); Fees paid for instruction (especially for higher education). In Malaysia, tuition is more popularly used to denote tutoring rather than fee. Common Malaysian misspellings: Tiution, Tution. *(BM): Tuisyen, Tiusyen, Tusyen, Tuisen, Tiusen, Tuisyan, Tiusyan, Tusyan. | (2) Home Tuition - Tutoring that takes place at students' or tutors' home as opposed to at tuition centers; Also: Home Tutoring, Private Tuition, Private Tutoring. *(BM): Tuisyen Di Rumah, Tuisyen Swasta. | (3) Personal Tuition - Tutoring on the basis of one tutor catering to one student. Also: Personal Tutoring, Individual Tuition, Individual Tutoring, One-to-one Tuition, 1-to-1 Tutoring, One-to-one Tutoring, 1-to-1 Tuition. *(BM): Tuisyen Peribadi, Tuisyen Persendirian, Tuisyen Perseorangan, Tuisyen Individu. | (4) Group Tuition - Tutoring on the basis of one tutor catering to several (small number, but more than one) students. Also: Small Group Tuition, Small Class Tuition, Group Tutoring, Small Group Tutoring, Small Class Tutoring. *(BM): Tuisyen Berkumpulan, Tuisyen Kumpulan Kecil, Tuisyen Kelas Kecil. | (5) Tutors - Tuition Teachers, persons who conduct tuition. In Malaysia, teacher is more popularly used to denote a school teacher whereas tutor usually means a non-school teacher. Also: Tiutors, Tuitors. *(BM): Guru Sekolah, Cikgu Sekolah, Pengajar Tuisyen, Guru Tuisyen, Cikgu Tuisyen. | (6) Home Tutors - Tutors who provide home tuition as opposed to those who teach at tuition centres. Also: Private Tutors, Personal Tutors, Individual Tutors, One-to-one Tutors, 1-to-1 Tutors, Group Tutors, Small Group Tutors, Private Teachers, Personal Teachers, Individual Teachers, One-to-one Teachers, 1-to-1 Teachers, Group Teachers, Small Group Teachers, Private Tuition Teachers, Personal Tuition Teachers, Individual Tuition Teachers, One-to-one Tuition Teachers, 1-to-1 Tuition Teachers, Group Tuition Teachers, Small Group Tuition Teachers. *(BM): Pengajar Di Rumah, Pengajar Swasta, Pengajar Peribadi, Pengajar Persendirian, Pengajar Perseorangan, Guru Di Rumah, Guru Swasta, Guru Peribadi, Guru Persendirian, Guru Perseorangan, Cikgu Di Rumah, Cikgu Swasta, Cikgu Peribadi, Cikgu Persendirian, Cikgu Perseorangan. | (7) Tuition Centers - Private institutions that conduct tuition on classroom-like settings. Also: Tuition Centres, Tutorial Centers, Tutorial Centres, Tuition Classes, Tutorial Classes, Tutoring Classes. *(BM): Pusat Tuisyen, Pusat Bimbingan, Pusat Tutorial, Kelas Tuisyen. | (8) Home Tuition Jobs - Home tuition vacancies; Posts to be filled by home tutors. Also: Private Tuition Jobs, Home Tutoring Jobs, Private Tutoring Jobs, Home Tuition Assignments, Private Tuition Assignments, Home Tutoring Assignments, Private Tutoring Assignments, Private Tuition Vacancies, Home Tutoring Vacancies, Private Tutoring Vacancies. *(BM): Jawatan Kosong Tuisyen, Pekerjaan Tuisyen, Kerja Tuisyen, Tugasan Tuisyen. | (9) Home Tutees - Home tuition students; Pupils receiving home tuition from home tutors. *(BM): Pelajar Tuisyen, Murid Tuisyen, Penuntut Tuisyen. | *(BM) denotes terms in Bahasa Melayu or Malay Language.