My 2015 actually started off with two good news; one being the appointment of School Improvement Specialist Coaches (SISC+) for a local district office, another one being one of the handful receivers of Federal Training Grant (Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan, HLP) to do my masters degree locally.
Before I decided to apply for the grant, I’ve heard so many teachers saying how difficult it is to get an offer. I heard testimonials from those who were granted to study overseas and how they commented nowadays the grant has reduced to only local universities except for doctorate study.
In 2013, the new circular was published stating that if you have obtained a good basic degree, the number of years you need to be in service in order to be eligible for the grant has been drastically shortened. I had a second upper basic degree, but by the time they announced the new requirement, I have already recorded enough years of service that fulfil the old requirement. Another reason I have not been applying all those years was because I had thought that I don’t want to be bonded to the civil service anymore. Nonetheless, I’ve changed my mind.
I have always wanted to study. And I have not stopped studying. I have written and published research papers, squeezing whatever amount of time I can from the taxing teaching schedule. However, nothing beats the joy of being able to study full time in a campus. Many had stated that I am ‘lucky’, as I was awarded the grant the first time I applied.
I applied for the grant in 2014, via the online portal. If you are interested, check out the MOE website everyday. This is because the letter will always be late. Once the advertisement is published, you should do the following:
1. Crack your head to write a sound proposal;
2. Apply for a local university.
It is NOT required for you to send these two documents with your application form. But I think they do help you in getting the grant if you are shortlisted for the interview.
When I attended the interview, I went to chat with the registrar officer from Bahagian Tajaan, Putrajaya. Understand this, that the HLP is the brainchild project of BT nowadays. And the officers are the ones that receive our applications online, sift and sort them out before we become shortlisted for the interview. I am curious to know what is the probability of one getting shortlisted for the interview, also at the same time confirming all those claims that I’ve heard. The lady told me the probability of one getting shortlisted for the interview is 20%. She had the name list of near 200 applicants that will attend the interview out of 1000+ applications they received online. However, I did not manage to get her to talk what are the criteria or guidelines they use to shortlist the applicants. My hunch tells me that the application form will give you the clue. It looks at how much you have contributed to the system and how ready you are for a masters study. Later my attendance at the HLP prep course confirmed this.
Whatever you do, do your proposal seriously. Do not do it just ‘for the interview’.
First, there were candidates that attended the interview with me but failed to receive a grant telling me that. There was a lady that dragged along a 2 inch spiral bound proposal, which someone else did for her. She was confident she would get the grant because the one that helped her is a doctorate holder. Another lady that had no clue what she wanted to research on, but had only coughed up the proposal three days prior to the interview. These candidates spent almost an hour in the interview room. I presume that the interviewees were considering seriously whether to approve their applications. And they were asked all sorts of questions; ranging from the countries policies, to the latest issues.
On the contrary, I was commented on my research title as it sounded ‘cliche’ and skewed towards a research title instead of a dissertation title. Other than that, the interviewees discussed with me on what I want to to study, how will I carry out my study. I wasn’t asked at all about the latest government policies, how many elements, what are the aspirations and all. I was asked to comment on how my study is in relation to the current issue though.
During the prep course, I learned that there are 3 training centres in the whole of the country. In my training centre, we have a total number of 28 doctorate candidates and 31 masters candidates. The prep course runs us through the process of writing a dissertation (from Chapter 1 to Chapter 5) in the stretch of two weeks time. The speakers are experts in their fields and all of them are also previous grant holders. Besides guiding us academically, I think their main purpose is to motivate us.
One of the speakers said this, “When you pursue knowledge, be sincere, for we have a lot to lose.” What he meant was, if you have just thought that HLP is your easy ticket out of the routine to have an extended holiday, you will be disappointed. Many that have joined the programme with this kind of mentality either ended up dropping their studies or went ‘missing’; they did not return and report for duty. In the agreement, if you fail to finish your study within the given time frame, a penalty will be imposed.
Some of the things I’ve learned from the prep course are:
1. If you failed to be shortlisted, appeal;
2. Apply for non-pay study leave and start your masters, and continue to apply for full-pay study leave with scholarship.
There is also one candidate that applied for full-pay study leave with scholarship but is awarded full-pay study leave ONLY.
There are even more candidates that are awarded full-pay study leave with scholarship of a different field/study. One of the speakers being one of the interview panels had told us this, they really want to award the grant to educators that intend to further their studies. However, some fields are very popular while the others are not. This is parallel to what the registrar officer had told me, that each field, there are only TWO vacancies. That is why I can’t find another TESL candidate in my centre, he or she may come from the other two training centres. I did try to ask the interviewee’s opinion on which is the more popular ones. She did not have an answer for me.
A lot of the candidates say this, “I’m going to change my research when I go to university.” My take is, why do you want to do two times job? Write your proposal seriously. Because it involves lots of reading, to build up your knowledge and to help you identify the research gap that will form your study. If, you have just write a proposal for the writing’s sake, you will find yourself being grilled, baked and toasted even during the prep course. There is nothing you can offer. You miss the golden opportunity to fine tune your research before seeing your actual supervisor. To me, if you are interested in this grant, your preparation starts way before even filling in the online application form. You would have been constantly reading journals and carried out some action researches within your means. In that way, you are clear of what you want. On the plus side, it adds volume to your confidence that you know what you are talking about so that you stand a better chance in receiving the grant.