One size fits all' sort of system out of date.

Letters to Editor, NST, 22th May 2012.

THINGS were easy, interesting, yet tough for me through my school days. It was only recently that I realised I have a huge creative streak buried deep inside me. That was after I did a dermatoglyphic test which indicated my creativity quotient was ranked above average.

A pupil painting an empty tin. Schools must encourage children to use their creativity to find solutions to problems. Bernama pic
For years, I had been wondering why I was a Jack (in this case Jill) of all trades and master (mistress for me) of none. My friends call me "Information". This is because I am like a book of knowledge (from cars to do-it-yourself, information technology and child development).
I have this feeling that there is so much to learn in this world, yet so little time.
I am bad at repetitive work and bad at memorising facts, but when it comes to projects, assignments and new ideas to try out, I will be the first in line to give it a shot.
Why am I writing about this? Our government seems to be extremely keen to revolutionise our education system. I have talked to parents, teachers, friends, etc. Almost all just shrug their shoulders and have resigned themselves to fate that since they can't change the system, they have to change themselves.
I refuse to do that. Our current system is like fitting every child into a square hole.
I was lucky I was just a little tad smart. In school, I did sufficient work to stay at the top of my class. For the rest of my time, I did so much to fill my inquisitive and creative mind.
I was involved in many sports, including netball, rounders, hockey and volleyball. I was also head prefect and head librarian. I got involved in school activities because I felt I had a better purpose than just sitting for exams.
I felt I should know more in the coming year compared with the previous year, and I don't mean just getting better marks.
In my secondary school, I got the chance to organise talentimes, do community projects, get involved in drama productions, organise campfires and combined meets, learned cardiopulmonary resuscitation, how to bandage an injured limb, was head prefect again, almost picketed in class and the list just goes on. It was like my school allowed me to be flexible, to fit my oblong shape into a square hole.
We were all very lucky because our school didn't just want to produce straight-A students. Our school's motto was not to let any child be left behind.
Also, the composition of the students was well balanced. Chinese, Malay, Indian, Portuguese -- it was a melting pot of mini Malaysia.
Our principal was a Canossian sister. She did a great job of making sure character building played an important role in school. Many of us were talented in our own ways, that was why we had talentime contests every year. We were able to develop at a relatively slower pace compared with other prominent schools.
Even with all that, unfortunately, I didn't flourish after school, because I later realised that I was too well protected by my parents.
Though I had the necessary skills and brilliance, they were afraid to take risks. Because of that, I lacked life skills and street-smart skills needed to survive in the working world. Because I didn't get to try out the various opportunities out there before I entered university and because I was above average in all my endeavours, I didn't realise my greatest potential.
I was like so many other Fifth Form leavers before me, just wanting to get into university to finish my degree.
Like lemmings, I took up the most common course available, that is accounting and finance. My creativity was left buried. It was only later in life that it surfaced and made me see the errors of my education.
Children today are living in a digital world. On top of that, due to the hormone-induced diet they have been consuming all their life, they mature way much faster than I did.
To them, it's no longer "follow the rules and stick to the path". They view living life as playing a computer game. You need to play many games till you get better and manage to find all the tricks set in the game.
They need to have hands-on experience of what life is all about before they mellow and realise what's good for them. They need to have a purpose in learning.
They need to know why they are doing this in the first place before putting their heart and soul into making it successful.
I am talking about children who are natural-born leaders who are creative, inquisitive, not into rote learning and memorising facts.
We need to have an education system where choices can be made. If Ujian Pencapaian Sijil Rendah is still on, then let the children and parents have a choice whether they want to sit for the exam. If they choose not to , then they can have a choice where their child can be in a stream where exams account for only a certain percentage and the rest are measured in coursework.
Let them build a portfolio of the work they have done, be it a website, handy projects, etc. Parents can advise but not help them do it. They can plan at home and do it in class.
I teach English but I admit I do not teach just the Queen's English. I write whatever that comes into my mind because when the creative juices flow, I just can't stop them.
It's like my brain purging. My students, most of them from Chinese-medium schools, have to do a lot of grammar and comprehension -- the usual works.
But I use overseas publications, like Cambridge, Oxford, and Pearson Longman books, because they have an abundance of knowledge and information.
We talk about languages in the Amazon, gorillas in the mist, sumo wrestlers, life in the 1900s, high school students having their own band, students getting to be newscasters or DJs, etc.
When time permits, which is usually during the school holidays, we do projects and write about them. So far, we have made solar ovens, did the coke and mentos experiments, cooked an egg in an aluminium foil in an oven, etc.
My pupils are from Year One till Six and all get to do the same projects. We get to talk a lot in class, too. And after class, they get to play at my house before their parents pick them up. We try to use as much English as possible.
I have many varieties of books and they love Asterix and Obelix. They will never find them in their school library because the books there are mainly Chinese books.
So in my two-hour weekly class, we get to do Science, Maths, History and Geography. The children love their English lessons. That way, it keeps the passion of wanting-to-know-more-things-in-English going for them. My class size is small, about five in each class.
The gist of my story is:
WE need to do away with classifying lessons into subjects.
WE need to focus on knowledge, not language. When the thirst for knowledge is felt, the children will want to know the language to get the thirst quenched.
MAINTAIN the traditional way of learning but introduce a parallel system like I have mentioned and let willing parents try this out. Many home schoolers are using this method. Many like-minded parents face financial constraints implementing this but if the system is up and running in government school, more takers will be willing to give it a try.
The government should consider letting such homeschoolers join the normal education system in their later years without looking at paper qualifications. This is especially so for vocational or technical schools as many such homeschoolers have better skill-based knowledge than exam-based knowledge.
MORE project-and-research- based evaluation should be introduced as this will gauge the child's understanding in applying what he has learnt and if he is able to use his creativity to find solutions to problems.
DO not rush the child into learning too much at a rate faster than his own pace. (Right now, our schools are doing Form Three work in Year Five. Check out the Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia syllabi in school. They are creativity killers.)
If you allow this, the left-brained child will get to do the kind of education he wants, that is mugging and logic and rote learning. The right- brained child will get to tap his creative potential.
And not forgetting, the sporting types will get to excel, too.
Get students to organise events in school even though they are in primary school. If they can organise their own parties, why can't they organise a competition and talentime, exhibition, etc?
We have spoon-fed them too much. Nowadays, it's the teachers who are doing all the organising. The children don't get the chance to be involved, except as participants and part of the audience.
If I have the money and opportunity to set up such a school, I will do it. It will be the first school where students will be more involved in the running of the school the way they want it. Teachers should be mere facilitators.
By all means have a fighting competition for kids, but with protective gear and all. If they want to have a tortoise-racing competition, let them. They will be learning how to organise and manage an event.
It is not sufficient to have an education review. We need to revolutionise our education system to be in line with current developments. We need to address the fact that the core of the problem is that the policy-makers in our education system are out of date with current and modern studies on children's mental and physical development.
We should not go along the road of mass education where one size fits all. Different children have differing learning styles and different multiple intelligences. No child should be left behind.


Same old issues in the new Education Review

This is in reply to an article by  re

MOE Roundtable : 25% Dropout Rate In Chinese School Grads (http://syedsoutsidethebox.blogspot.com/2012/05/moe-roundtable-25-dropout-rate-in.html)

I am afraid the current review might just be the same old issues that have been churning round and round mainly because the policy makers are not involved hands on in teaching their own children on a daily basis in completing their homework, getting them ready for exams, and the tremendous amount of daily stress just to cope with the languages for written exams.

I truly believe the notion, that different children have different learning styles and different multiple intelligences, has not been emphasised at all when the syllabus of our primary education was prepared.

The current syllabus is such that our children are forced to memorise vocabularies and sentences which are beyond their ability to absorb and process and reuse them again in their daily life. It seems easy for us, the adults, to understand the current level of BM in school but for children who hardly use the language, it is totally Greek. Without the parents or extra tuition coaching, they are totally unprepared for the exams.

Imagine getting a lost of confidence when the child gets only 20-30 marks for his first ever exam in primary one. Then, the parents starts to panic and the rush for tuition teachers will begin. Subsequent years will see the syllabus getting tougher and tougher and the poor child will just be playing catching up for the rest of his primary school years. Come secondary years, he/she is totally lost coz the child will be streamed into classes where the children there are no longer interested in studying and are just wanting to finish PMR and start working.

It will be a blessing indeed if such children don't end up being delinquent juveniles.

Mind you dear sir, this is just in regards to children in the SK schools.

For those in SJKC, it is a much bigger nightmare. This is because, they have to cope with bigger menaces. The chinese language and the mega fierce teachers who go around canning for even the minutest reason like leaving your seat to talk to a friend.

Children who are visual hands on learners, those with ADD/ADHD/Asperger/dyslexia are the ones who will end up half a bucket full across the board in BM, chinese and English. In the end, they can't flourish in either SMK, Chinese independent schools or private schools. They are the ones who constitute the 25% of the dropout students. Frankly, among these children, many of them are actually geniuses who were made to fit into the rigid education system when they could have excelled in their respective field of interest at an early age. I have known of a few Asperger children who can rattle of scientific facts like a radio commentator, memorise thousands of words and spelling them our without any errors etc. But alas, they were called stupid and mischief makers in their school because of their inability to fit in the system.

Sorry, sir, they are just not jack of all trades which is what our current system is making our children to be.

May i suggest dear sir, to allow such children flexibility to have an alternative education system to enhance their intelligences in a way without overburdening them with too many things to handle.

Allow me to relate to you a very good example of my son. He is naturally very inquisitive and creative. He is a visual hands on learner. Loves Science and Maths and is very good with his hands. Problem is, he hates anything that has to do with memorising and writing. He is quite a disorganised person and most of the time, likes to build castles in the air.

For the first two years of his primary life, mummy was the one who has to pack him bag, look through his work to make sure he completes them, remind him of his daily routines etc..... due to the hectic daily schooling schedule, he had no time to thoroughly absorb the daily learning process well. He just lives life being told and pushed to do things. If you have a child like this, is this the kind of education you would want him to have??

Basically, his psychological age and his physical age aren't really in sync yet. If he was to continue being in the system, he will end up being the 25% dropout statistic. I had to pull him out, homeschool him with solely one language with English as the main language, throw in BM and Chinese tuition but not for exam purposes, let him learn chess, do Singapore maths with him and send him for tae kwan doe training. In the evening, he has free time to tinker with whatever art and craft projects he likes.

Comparing now (he is ten) with when he was in school, he has matured a lot in terms of his thinking skills, his independence and his general knowledge.

Dear sir, many parents are aware of the need to look for an education system which suits their children. But most of the time, we are constrained by the law, money and time.

I do think that the government can help by allowing parents who wants to be more involved in their children's education to let them have the flexibility to rejoin back the system at some point in their life. For example, I would love to have my son enrolled in government polytechnics schools but he does not have UPSR/PMR certificate and that is the hindrance factor. I would love to have him join any school competition (as an independent or together with other homeschoolers) ran by the education ministry just to let him experience the spirit of competition / teamwork etc.

It is time we should recognise that mass education belongs to the 20th century to fulfill the era of industrial revolution. We are now living in the borderless world where knowledge should not be taught but should be sought.

Our government should not be so steadfastly holding on to only one education system but to look into assimilating many systems as branches in the core system.

Another point to highlight is the fact that there should be child psychologists, early childhood educators, pioneers of modern learning styles like waldorf, montesorri, green schools, creative learning schools etc, sitting on the review panel too..... They are the ones who will be able to let it be known that child developmental process should not be accelerated for the sake of wanting them to complete our education syllabus. No child should be forced to learn when they are not ready to do so.

One last point to be brought up dear sir. The current KSSR system is no better than its predecessor, the KBSR. In fact, the current second and first year students loses so much more because they didn't get to learn maths and science in English. The examination format for KSSR and KBSR doesn't differ but yet the contents for KSSR is so much tougher, not much work to reinforce the children's understanding of the languages (BM and Chinese) and basically, without tuition or parents assistance, the child will find it difficult to understand what is going on in class. They are doing yet again a lot of memorising work without understanding why and how things are done.

Please do not let yet another generation of our youth slip through the cracks in our education system.

Dear sir, thanks so much for allowing me to purge my thoughts. Good day to you..


SJKC Chung Hua - RUNNER-UP in EUREKA REEE 2012 (Karnival Sains dan Teknologi 2012)

SJKC Chung Hua Klang was the runner-up recently in the Karnival Sains dan Teknologi 2012 EUREKA REEE competition... It's a model of a beach house using renewable energy and efficient energy concept. Here's the story of our team..... they had put in a tremendous effort memorising the measurements, cutting endless pieces of mounting board and went through countless hours of gruelling questioning.... Many teachers, parents and even the principal had contributed one way or another to boost the morale of the team... I have never seen Chung Hua so united!!!!! 

We had lost consecutively to SK(1) Tengku Bendahara three years in a row. They were afterall, the national champion. Nevertheless, we will keep on working harder and train harder next year. Regardless, Yu Heng, Ee Tang, Xin Yin and Laura, you guys and gals are already champion in our hearts for the sacrifice and effort you have made......

It might be just a district level competition but it felt like the national championship because we were up against the national champion. Our months of training were aimed to prepare the children for the national level. 

This year, we have also lost due to the judges.... They didn't believe that the children are able to produce the idea book by themselves!!!!

Xin Yin, Yi Xian, Ee Tang and Yu Heng with their EUREKA REEE Geodesic Beach House. This was their 6th model. The first was done in seven hours, the second was five, third four etc .... during the real EUREKA REEE competition, they did it (Eighth model) in 2 1/2 hours!!!!!!

They were so thoroughly professional especially Xin Yin and Yi Xian who are perfectionists in their own ways. Ee Tang is left handed so it took him double the effort to cut the boards. Yu Heng has the most tiny details to be cut. All four had suffered cuts on their hands through the weeks of practice. They learnt to be resilient, that practice makes perfect and most importantly, team work is important!!!!

This was the first sample model the children had to refer to as they make their model. No other school / student has ever made a geodesic roof model for the EUREKA REEE competition. We thought we wanted to put it down for record that SJKC Chung Hua Klang did the first geodesic beach house for 2012 Eureka Reee and they did it in less than 3 hours. Next year, we will definitely see more such models. We have proven it can be done with systematic training process. Please do not doubt our children's ability.

I felt really upset for the students when we found out that we lost a lot of marks on our idea book because the judges didn't think the students are able to produce this by themselves. I want to put it on record that this was the first thing the students have to memorise and continuously draw for days before they can even make the actual model.

 The judges didn't think that the students can produce this by themselves..... For info, this can be very easily done with graph paper, some memorisation of measurements and a look at the actual model itself. It is after all just a symmetrical drawing of a 2D geodesic model. Again, never doubt the ability of our children, they can excel with some right training and hard work!!!!!

 Intensive Q & A session by the judges....

 Hard at work getting the measurements right and the cutting accurate.... The roof was up in less than an hour... It took me an hour and a half to get it done myself!!! Great Work, children.

 Kudos to SK Tengku Bendahara (1) for being the champion once again for the Eureka Reee competition. A word of thanks to Cikgu Alfian for so selflessly sharing with us some ideas and methods on how to improve ourselves. It is with his works and creative ideas that have helped to push us to improve ourselves yearly... Till we meet again next year!!!!

 The second runner-up's model.

We definitely have to work on some areas especially the trees!!!! And we forgot the lightning arrestor!!!! We have to be flawless in our Q & A session!!!!... 

We have come a long way since 2010... Our team in 2010, Audrey, Hao Yi, Jeremy, and Lim Jing... It was a scratch team as we came up with the whole idea and model in a week!!!! Then, in 2011, we improved by leaps and bounds!!!

Our 2011 double-storey model house with sliding doors!!!

Oh Yi Wei was our new 2011 Eureka Reee Team member. Jeremy was very actively involved in his swimming then and has achieved great heights too......

All in all, EUREKA REEE has taught us a lot. It has been a good learning process for everyone, from the students to the teachers and parents as well.... And it all started with this team..............

Teacher Pauline Pua, Teacher Karen, Hao Yi, Lim Jing, Jeremy and Audrey.................. We had great fun and we will continue to strive harder.....