Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sick Schools?

I think many will go into denial mode and say that everything is good with our schools. Yet if one digs around a bit, you'll see some admissions that things are not really going well, though not that sort that has sent us onto a road of real reform. Read here for a better grasp of where we really stand when compared to other countries for characteristics of first world talent base. We are lagging and getting left behind.
Statistics show us one thing but those of us down in the trenches experience it daily. So what ails our education system.... A scene from a figment of my imagination.

A teacher is teaching in class. At a glance, one student walks out of the class and back in again for no apparent reason. The teacher continues rambling, ignoring the boy. Another stands up from his chair and walks to his friend's place. He takes something and goes back to his class. A crescendo of hootings suddenly rises. Hands hang out of the classroom. One hand is seen pushing and fiddling with the plastic bag that lines the rubbish bin which is directly outside the classroom. Suddenly 2 students run down the corridor, one chasing the other, creating a ruckus. At about the same time, the Students' Affairs Senior Assistant walks down the stairs. He hears the commotion. He pays a quick glance and he scurries down the stairs. Meanwhile the cacophony of noises continue, the sort that disrupts more than anything. Teacher, Senior Assistant, both choose to ignore.

In another class, 2 girls and 3 boys go missing from their class. The teacher writes down their names in the Discipline Book. Next lesson, teacher questions the missing students. Students tells teacher outright that they were in the library, knowing well that they had skipped their class on purpose. Their misbehavior is noted.... No action taken. In the assembly students are told that these are merely misdemeanors, nothing major. In the meantime, announcements can be heard off and on, reminding teachers that they have relief duties, interspersed with announcements admonishing students to enter their classes. Welcome to the school of our future - where the administrators sit in the office and with a mike barks out directions! The voice booms everywhere. Presence via voice. Welcome into the school of work smart....

Discipline is a problem these days. We promote Sekolah Penyayang cos it projects the right image. I listened with great incredulity one day when I was told that some teachers resort to cash incentive so that students don't skip school. This was told with some pride. There are still many teachers who genuinely want to make a difference, but the system works against them in a whole host of ways. Promotions, racism, poor leadership, a system of patronage.... You name it, a school like other institutions have begun to reflect the bigger picture of cronyism and patronage.

One day I bumped into a student who came in looking for the Biasiswa (Scholarship) teacher. He is given a stipend in the form of such scholarship! This is a student with no academic achievement to show, no good conduct.... and he is given a monthly stipend to come to school. Recently a colleague told me about this Chinese boy who has been abandoned by his parents. No scholarship for him. Such scholarships which come under the purview of the Federal and State Governments are hard to come by for non-Bumi students by the way. For no performance, a student gets an incentive. For being of certain race, you get preferential treatment. It's the same with the 1Malaysia Netbooks and so many other things. It's actually quite sickening to see such practices, which is sheer hypocrisy.

In one generation we have seen South Korea becoming the 13th largest economy in the world. They were worse off than Malaysia when we gained independence. So what happened? We pale in comparison today. They have brands like Samsung, Hyundai which have become quality products in their own rights. Samsung is head to head with Apple in smart phones and tablets. Our Proton is still trying to make a name, without much success. The company made a loss this year. Take away Government protection and it will close shop in a couple of years. Let me not even start with MAS which is bleeding the taxpayers' money, yet again. Another 2.5 billion ringgit! Gosh! How come Air Asia can make money? Take a look at Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak could have had it better had they gone Singapore's way, perhaps. We kicked Singapore out of the Federation thinking that they would come crawling back to us because they have no natural resources. Obviously we forgot that they could develop their human resources, which they have done with great success. When our oil runs dry, I think our tears will begin to flow.

And what did we do? We grew a bunch of politicians who divided us first by race, then seal the segregation with religion and stoke it with fear of our own shadows. Then for decades, in the name of race and religion began a systematic 'purge', in the process creating our very own apartheid system, lending it credence by stating how oppressed the Bumis were, creating a siege mentality for namely the Malays. Juvenile behaviour. But a group of even more authentic Bumis, the Orang Asli was conveniently left out. It is with this backdrop that the education system which used to be one of the best in this part of the world began spiraling ways downward. Now we have facilities but not that kind of knowledge workers to compliment them. It's probably just a matter of time before we begin to implode from within. The kind of people we have running the schools today... there is much left to be desired. There is a lot of talk going on. Sometimes you even see real effort.... but effort without talent or the knowledge.... you can only go that far before you stonewall.

The EPU has seen the need to improve our education system. They have a released a report on actions to be adopted. The thing is can we move on. Where education is concerned, teacher quality is one of the first that needs addressing. The thing is many of these teachers grew up at a time where they have been told that they are good when there is much room for improvement. A simple illustration. For English, I often come across teachers who speak bad English, i.e. not able to use the correct grammar yet think they are good. And that's where another problem shows. Years of being told that they are good when they are not have made them lousy lifelong learners. And so we have many half baked English teachers who think they are good teaching many wrong things to the students.... a typical case of the Malay idiom where the mother crab who cannot walk straight trying to teach her offsprings to walk straight. I often cringe at the language that comes out from their mouths. And sometimes when I take peeks into their students' work, wrong answers are marked wrongly. Double jeopardy for the learners!

So is our education system sick? There might be some who will say we are doing great. But I think it's sad to see the state of our education. It's even sadder to see most of our secondary students not on par with their peers from Korea or Singapore. It's not that we lack talent. It's just that we lack leaders. And we the people are foolish enough to allow ourselves to be played out againt each other and wake up to our lack of things.

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