Monday, August 27, 2018

The Free UPSR Lunch

What if I told you that the road to a primary school system without a “centralised exam” is one which is paved with good intentions, great theories but not pragmatic.

 As early as 2016 there were calls for the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) for Year Six pupils to be abolished. The calls are getting louder today, under the guise that we should be looking at the Finnish system and be less exam centric.

The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) supports the proposal to abolish Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) for Year Six pupils. 

“We came to this conclusion because a lot of pressure is placed on teachers to get their students to score,” said its president Kamarozaman Abd Razak .
“Pupils who score As are not necessarily better than those who don’t. A lot of emphasis is placed on pupils scoring As, but not on producing those with critical thinking skills . ”Assessments can be based on six different rungs. Pupils are graded on how they understand and perform in a particular subject, said Kamarozaman.
“We want students who are competent and not robots who just memorise answers,” he said. “The school-based assessments idea would be a move in the right direction, as it places the grading power with the school and teachers. They know the pupils’ strengths and weaknesses better,” he added.
Additionally, the union’s secretary- general Datuk Lok Yim Pheng emphasised that there should still be an assessment held in schools, even when there is no more main exams. “Instead of having examinations which focus on grades, we should have a school-based assessment,” she said.  (thestar, Tuesday, 29 Nov 2016)

The reality of our world is that it rewards those who manage to perform to a higher standard. A running shoe, designed with good intentions and great ideas but not able to perform on the track is left on the shelf.

 In Malaysia we over-emphasise examinations and our examination system blatantly promotes a habit of “exam question mastery” through past year papers and drilling. Like a child that has a bad habit of not wanting to do homework, we shouldn’t be taking away the homework.

 We should engage with the child, work on the core of the child and the values that give rise to the undesirable behaviour. Chances are that the homework is not interesting enough to engage the child.
So like the examinations, improve them. 

Shift our forcus away from the simplistic questions that ask a student to label and describe, these questions encourage rote memorisation anyway. Redesign our questions with higher order thinking skills like analyse, conclude, provide an opinion and justify. Add ethical dilemmas and real world problems into the mix. Make the assessments relevant and meaningful.

Assessments, the feedback from them and particularly external ones play an important role in the development of a child. To determine his place in the world, to provide a clear goal and to recognise those who have put in the effort so that others may follow. Strife, failure and hard work are the key ingredients to developing a child that will thrive in our Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world.
The world isn’t going to hand out a free lunch. Our children have to be prepared for that future.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Here We Go Again!!!

Malaysia needs up to 500,000 scientists and engineers by 2020, or seven times more than the current number (we have only 70,000 scientists and engineers now) to deal with the challenges of Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0), based on statistics from the National Council for Scientific and Research Development said Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh.

Can we achieve those numbers within 36 months? The answer is most likely yes if we really want to achieve those numbers.

Here we go again putting numbers over quality. How many of our scientists and engineers are world class, movers and shakers of their respective fields?

I will be the first to admit that in the field of rubber research and in a few other crops  Malaysia does indeed have world class scientists but how about in the field of new technology and innovation?

We are far behind. Its time our schools tie up with tech giants such as IBM, Samsung, Apple to bring in real technology training and education into the classrooms.

Perhaps this way, wee won’t be able to churn out half a million geniuses in the field of science and technology in a period of 36 months. What we may be able to do is to have a group of science and engineering students who are future ready.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

We Didn't Start The Fire!!!

I can assure you that we didn’t start the fire which is burning our education system, but we can surely help in putting out the flames that are
damaging our students and with that our entire future well being of the economy.

Last week, Siti Kasim in an opinion piece in the Star had wrote that “basically from Year 1 to Year 6, the ratio is approximately on average two hours of Science versus five hours of religion per week,”. 

She was rightfully lamenting the fact that more of our students are opting out of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields at secondary and tertiary levels.

So how can we help rectify the problem in the shortest possible time? Perhaps it’s time we take a look at what is happening in Hong Kong. The South China Morning Post reported on July 29th this year, multinational company IBM plans to bring a skills training programme to Hong Kong schools which will equip pupils as young as 15 with technology sector know-how while remaining in mainstream education.
If launched, the five-year programme, which would award graduates an associate degree and put them first in line for positions at the tech giant, could be a potential game changer with industries complaining of local students starting job-specific training much later than their overseas counterparts.
“The latest technology, like artificial intelligence, data analytics … changes the world and the future of jobs. These ‘new collar’ jobs call for a new approach in education,” Mary Law Wai-oi, head of corporate citizenship at IBM Hong Kong, reportedly told the newspaper.
Malaysia should likewise kick start similar projects with tech giants to bring back the groove into the STEM field. We can no longer just lament, and point to the obvious. It’s time for action!!!!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

English, let's not go straight to the "Finnish"

I am a Malaysian principal in an international school where English is the medium of instruction.

One would assume that, and I would be the last person to oppose the teaching of Maths and Science in English, especially in our national schools. However, this is exactly what I must advocate.

The teaching of these important subjects in English is an excellent move but, I am a firm believer that, a sustainable evolution is always preferable to a revolution. A sudden shift would result in curriculum misalignment (we teach the wrong thing), talent mismatch (we don’t have the talent to teach in English) and operational inefficiency.

I would suggest a steady shift, resolving one issue at a time with a 3-pronged approach. Firstly, deploy resources to ensure our teachers have a suitable level of proficiency in English. Deploy a performance based pay training project tender where companies are paid only on the success of their programmes. Have all teachers to sit the IELTS independently and then allow companies to train teachers, with payment subjected only to the increase in IELTS score improvements obtained. If we aim for an IELTS score of 7 and above, that should be sufficient. 

Secondly, conduct a curriculum review to translate the national curriculum into English so that the operational language for Science and Math teachers is English. Thirdly, use grants or other incentives to encourage the private sector to develop educational resources like textbooks in English. 

After a year, begin the transition by implementing English as the medium of instruction and examination in Standard one, Form one and three, progressing upwards as the years go by. 

Finally, to really make the use of English relevant, make industry connections by developing a programme where students are able to gain work experience during holidays by “interning” at English medium work environments that have an international outlook on their business.

By approaching the situation steadily, developing solid supporting structures based on solid fundamentals and creating a sense of relevance I am absolutely confident that the shift will be successful. 

Someone once told me, we need to look to the Finnish way of education to guide us. I don’t believe so, we have everything we need right here, right now.

So, let’s just do this for Malaysia!!!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Made in Malaysia but....

"My parents could not afford to send me to college, much less the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but this great American educational institution took a chance on me, by giving me a scholarship to pursue the American dream," said Tan Hock Eng.

Who is Tan Hock Eng?.  Penang born, Hock Eng, is currently the highest-paid Chief Executive Officer in America, according to The Wall Street Journal.

 Tan, who heads Broadcom, an international supplier of semiconductor technologies,  made a US$103.2 million (RM406.9 million) last year – that is about 2,039 times more than the average US worker!.
Malaysia spends about RM60 billion a year on education. 

 Sadly, much of that budget invested into growing our young minds is lost to the brain drain. Today’s world is characterised by international mobility and our brightest will not pursue their dreams in a country where opportunities are not given to the most able, but by race or relationship.

The pursuit of good education must be colour blind. The Government of the day, should implement a system where the brightest minds, are given the opportunity to develop themselves to their fullest potential.

Simultaneously, implement a quota system, which is not based on race but rather  on the disposable income of a family to enable social mobility by allowing them to pursue a higher education in local or in universities abroad.

Let’s just not be made in Malaysia, let’s show the world, that once we get our act together, there is no stopping the Malaysian Dream

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Fairview For Malaysia

49 Years ago, this nation was soaked with bloodshed and hatred. A young Lim Kit Siang, was almost everything, that defined an angry Chinese men. A young Dr Mahathir Mohammed, was everything that defined an angry Malay youth.

Fast forward, 49 years, and we have an aging Lim Kit Siang and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammed, standing together,  saying let's do this for Malaysia.
We can never erase what happened on May 13, 1969. But on the night of May 9 2018, we  buried these ghosts. Yes, we are an educated nation, and have always been one. But today we are a united nation.

This is not a DAP victory, a PH victory or even a BN defeat. This is a victory for Malaysia, secured by Malaysians. We can now dare to dream, as a nation.

 In Mahathir Mohammed, we have a 92 year old who has been called a racist, a dictator, a pharaoh. Whatever he was, is a matter for history to decide and debate.

Because, today, just days short of May 13, Mahathir Mohammed is the undisputed father of a new Malaysia.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


Come May 9, Malaysians who are eligible to vote, will be casting their constitutional rights. As an educationist, what fascinates me about the whole election process is the aspect of equality. 

In  my school, we have a policy, where no child is left behind. I can see the same spirit in the spirit of the election itself.
No man is above the other. All are equal in terms of the law. You can be a billionaire or a pauper. You may contribute millions to the political party of your choice or you may have contributed nothing at all. All things, being equal. We all have only one vote.

So make your vote count. Vote in peace. Vote for the dark blue, light blue or the green. It is your choice to make. Our collective choice is to ensure that the voting is done in peace, and the will of the majority is respected.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Wonder Years

DICIPLINE is a word, which evokes a range of emotions.  Many people assume, discipline means to punish, an act which means we're going to go and hurt someone when they misbehave. 

Most people associate the word discipline, with either corporal punishment or harsh words inflicted on a child. Discipline for me though, is what schools and teachers should and must be doing at all times.

Discipline is a way to positively guide behaviour.  If you look up the ‘etymology’ of the word, where it came from, it comes from the word 'disciple', which means to teach, or to guide, or to instruct.
Children growing up in their “wonder years”, those in the pre-teen years, are the ones require the most guidance as they are at the most impressionable stage in their life.

So how do you discipline your child without hitting them? For starters, one should raise their children with kindness and empathy, considering what they are going through, rather than focusing on performance and outcomes.

Secondly, consider the concept of restorative discipline where the traditional destructive focus on fear, exclusion and control is shifted to a positive culture of belonging, connectedness and the wilingness to change because people matter to each other.

So the next time your child makes a mistake, instead of punishment and sanctions, consider the questions “what is my child going through?”, ”How can this be a learning opportunity?” and “How can my child regain his dignity in his community?”.

A happy child with proper guidance will help make their  wonder years” a memorable and disciplined one.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bon Voyage

For most teenage students, going abroad to study is the ultimate experience. Finally, free from the watching eyes of their parents. I can resonate with that feeling as I too had studied abroad, in Manchester.

With the freedom, though comes responsibility, and with that maturity. Malaysians, naturally take many different paths to reach their university destination abroad.

Some of them do it via the NCUK international foundation year, which is the speediest foundation year in the market place. The NCUK is a six months, foundation year programme, which gurantees students a place in one of  the 12 member of universities in the United Kingdom.

Those using, this path, can also make their way to universities in Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.  Most students, prefer the NCUK, because it offers them a guaranteed access to some 12 universities in the UK, once, they pass their foundation course.

The safety net factor has seen more than 4,000 Malaysians rush into this foundation course.
Then, we have the international baccalaureate diploma programme (IBDP), often described as a challenging programme.

 I have some experience, running the IBDP at Fairview International School. I can tell you, that this programme   is for those who are looking to go to the top universities in the world, for those who are willing to challenge themselves to be all they can be.

The IBDP is indeed the “A team” of all foundation year programmes, as it develops the same knowledge depth as the toughest or pre-university programmes and couples this with advanced university level skills that are all put together in the examinations. 

To put it plainly, this is not a programme, in which you can memorise yourself to success.  This programme has spunk!!.

The IBDP, though is not the only route to a university abroad. They are thousands of twinning programmes in Malaysia, which could also help you, to someday study abroad in a foreign university. Each pathway, have their plus and minus points. At the end of the day, you have to settle for what fits you, only then saying bon voyage, will be worth the time and effort spend.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

8 mile

Is a 2002 American  hip hop drama film, which won  Eminem an academy award. The film is based loosely on Eminem's actual upbringing, and follows white rapper B-Rabbit (Eminem) and his attempt to launch a career in a genre dominated by African-Americans. 

Odd as it, may seem, I found myself in the same situation as Eminem on August 2009, when I joined Fairview International School. Here, I was in an international school, which was and still is facing the same set of prejudices, faced by the rapper B-Rabbit.

How do we break stereotypes? International Schools been dominated by owners from Western Europe and the United States. The teachers meanwhile were often always native English speakers, with Asians slid in between, for the schools to have an international outlook.

 Today, the prejudice still continues; even though, the test scores show that, students at Fairview, outperform the global averages. Take for example, our international baccalaureate diploma average score of 35.5 points, equivalent to four A*s in the A levels.
Yes, it’s a good school, and having watched 8 mile several times, I have come to realise, there is nothing wrong in being white, yellow, brown, black or even green. Each face their own demons. 

At Fairview, everyday, I know, that I am in a race   to breakdown these walls, to ensure that everyone regardless of race will access a quality of education that doesn’t prioritise to the current political, national or social agendas present in our world today. Perhaps my tenth mile is to provide an educational opportunity that is accessible to all, that is blind to colour.