April 1st, 2012

SPM exams only a small stop in life’s journey

LIFE is a journey. And we mark the milestones in our own way. Some are good at keeping diaries and scrapbooks, but I believe most of us just store these moments into our memory banks.

For close to half a million young Malaysians, the release of the SPM results on March 20 is one such milestone. And for their parents as well, surely.

A total of 559 (0.12%) of 468,808 students scored straight A+ compared to 363 (0.08%) straight A+ scorers in 2010.

And we are told that the overall achievement of students for last year's examinations was the best recorded in five years.

The thing about numbers is that they cannot tell the real stories.

And neither can the newspapers. Though stories of the top students are regularly featured, we will never know what their next milestone will be like.

It has been ages since I had to wait anxiously for my public examination results.

But I continue to be captivated by what I see, year after year, even if the script runs pretty much the same.

Every year, without fail, each time the public examination results are announced, there will be the usual stories about the top achievers.

They will share the secrets of their success, as their proud parents bask in their glory. Then there will be the usual complaints about scholarships and places in public universities.

Parents will write to the press to vent their frustrations. The politicians will step in.

But if we look at things in the proper perspective, the life of a budding teenager, or a young adult, is not determined at this point, whatever the examination results.

Statistically speaking, super-duper achievers are very much in the minority and many people do bloom and reach their full potential much later on in life.

I still keep in touch with many of my teachers and the ones I truly admire are not those who drive us to score, but those who understand that their mission is not simply to teach, but to educate.

One of them, who is such a dear friend, has truly touched many lives.

She has helped produce her fair share of multiple-A students but she also knew that the ordinary students without the A's can go on to lead meaningful, rich lives, if they are well-rounded caring individuals who recognise that results are not the be-all and end-all of the school journey.

I always see her face light up each time she shares about meeting a student, often from the lower classes, who has done well.

And so, today, I wish all students who have just collected the SPM results, by all means rejoice in your distinctions, but do not despair over your credits and passes.

Life is a journey, and the SPM is just a little stop along the way for you to pause and reflect, and to move on.

And to parents, remember too that the best we can do for our children is to be alongside them at this stage of their life. For there will come a time when we reach a crossroad and they will have to go their own way.

I reckon that if we have done right with them, they will always make the right choices and carry on crossing their own milestones in life.

 Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin will always remember that the hit song at the time his HSC (now STPM) results were announced was the Bee Gees' Tragedy. His grades were tragic indeed, but he has done okay despite that.

Sunday Starters By Soo Ewe Jin

Source: The STAR Home News Nation Sunday April1, 2012

Need for better classroom management

I REFER to the letter “Don’t throw sandal, throw him out of class” (The Star, March 30).

I am obliged to ask what the writer does to adults who talk and disrupt his training sessions? Does he throw them out?

Does he know that he is only “escaping” from the problem and that it will persist. In other words, there is no learning at all.

In the case of the teacher who threw a sandal at the seven-year-old child, I believe she should re-evaluate her choice of career. She should at the very least take up a course in anger management.

In the first three months of the 2012 school term, there have been five cases of school children being abused by their teachers on the pretext of discipline. A teacher was also charged and jailed for the murder of a seven-year-old and there are at least two cases of sexual assault of school children by teachers.

Doesn’t the writer see that these cases might be just the tip of the iceberg?

Former South African president Nelson Mandela said: “We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from violence and fear.” Let our schools be cradles of learning and let our teachers practise better classroom management.


The STAR Home News Opinion Sunday April 1, 2012

The learning tower of Pisa

Let’s help our students to learn better and teachers to teach better.

AS the Government sets out yet again to reform the Malaysian education system, I hope the experts will pour over the vast amounts of resources and data already available on what makes for a successful education system.

For the first time ever, Malaysia has joined 73 other countries in the highly regarded Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) administered by the OECD which evaluates key competencies of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science. The results for Malaysia are due to be released this year.

Have students acquired the knowledge and skills essential to meet the challenges of the future? Can they analyse, reason and communicate their ideas effectively? Have they found the kinds of interests they can pursue throughout their lives as productive members of the economy and society?

The Pisa triennial surveys seek to answer these questions. Participating governments wait with bated breath for the results and analysis of the voluminous data generated, to find out where they stand in comparison to others in this globalised world and what kinds of interventions are needed to help students to learn better, teachers to teach better, and school systems to become more effective.

As the man who directs PISA at the OECD, Andreas Schleicher said: “Today’s learning outcomes at school are a powerful predictor for the wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run.”

In the latest 2009 PISA assessment, the Shanghai education system, which was evaluated for the first time, stunned the world by coming up tops in all three categories. It topped Singapore in maths, South Korea in reading and Finland in science out of the 65 countries surveyed.

More than one-quarter of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just 3%. “Large fractions of these students demonstrate their ability to extrapolate from what they know and apply their knowledge very creatively in novel situations,” said Schleicher, breaking the myth of a Chinese education system focused on rote-learning.

Significantly, too, of the top five performers, four are Asian countries or economies – Shanghai, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. Finland is third. Other countries making up the top 10 are Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia and Belgium.

What is hopeful about the Pisa assessment is that it provides evidence that change is possible. In his report, Schleicher concluded that the best school systems became great after undergoing a series of crucial changes. They made their teacher-training colleges much more rigorous; they prioritise developing high-quality principals and teachers above efforts like reducing class size or equipping sports teams; and they held teachers accountable for results while allowing creativity in their methods.

There are also gratifying findings about equity in education. The successful education systems are those that devoted equal or more resources to the schools with the poorest kids. There is little difference found in the performance of students from private schools and those from public schools, once socioeconomic differences have been factored out. It found that cooperation between schools and between teachers lead to better learning outcomes than aggressive competition. Trapping the most disadvantaged students in the least successful schools exacerbate social inequality and negatively impact a nation’s overall performance.

What is also interesting is that the top performing countries have contrasting approaches to education. While the Asian countries emphasise academic hot-housing and tests, Finland in contrast adopts a progressive approach. There are no standardised national tests, no streaming or ability grouping. Teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves.

The main driver of Finnish education policy that has brought it success today is the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location, says Pasi Sahlberg, the Finnish education expert. Education is regarded as an instrument to even out social inequality – an approach Malaysian policy makers should really be familiar with.

Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counselling, early access to special education, and individualised student guidance. What Finland has shown is that a shift from an elitist and socially divided education system into an equitable public education system has produced top rate performance from students across all backgrounds.

While Finland’s approach differ from the top Asian countries, what they have in common is this: priority on quality teachers and school leaders. They depend on expert, experienced teachers and on excellent teacher training. They pay their teachers well and teaching remains respected and prestigious. Finland recruits from the top 10% of its university graduates into teacher training. Every teacher has a Masters degree and teacher training programmes are among the most selective professional schools in the country.

Interestingly, too, the finding in Shanghai shows that its high performance is also due to a “sea change in pedagogy”. From an emphasis on rote learning, the new school slogan today is: “To every question there should be more than a single answer.” Something I am afraid that Malaysian officialdom remains unfamiliar with.

In the age of Google where facts can be found at the click of a mouse, Chinese students today learn how to learn, rather than how to memorise, thus developing minds that are more adept at learning how to solve complex problems, rather than regurgitate facts.

The Pisa study also finds that parents who are more focused on their children’s education can make a huge difference in a student’s achievement. The Pisa team interviewed 5,000 parents from 18 countries in 2009 about how they raised their children and compared that to the test results.

According to Schleicher: “The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socio-economic background. Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance.”

Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in Pisa 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently. Students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child “every day or almost every day” or “once or twice a week” during the first year of primary school have markedly higher scores in Pisa 2009 than students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child “never or almost never” or only “once or twice a month”.

Schleicher explained that “just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring. It is something every parent can do, no matter what their education level or social background.”

I hope the Education Ministry and its team of experts will pour over the Pisa findings on what makes a school successful. We want an education system that will help every Malaysian child realise his or her full potential. We want the highly effective teachers, the equitable education system that embraces diversity and is less competitive, that emphasises critical and creative thinking and problem-solving over rote learning.

We too need parents committed to their children’s studies and schooling experience. These all count for successful learning outcomes today that help define the success of the nation tomorrow.

Sharing The Nation By Zainah Anwar

Source: The STAR Home News Opinion Sunday April 1, 2012

A need to review the system

The National Philosophy of Education aims to create holistic individuals but we do not seem to be producing such students.

THE LATE Prof Datuk Dr Syed Hussein Alatas once likened the education system to another Malaysian grouse - roads ridden with potholes.

“The potholes grow bigger, accidents happen, even loss of life, but the potholes continue to be ignored with no one wanting to take responsibility,” said the former Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor when speaking at a national education conference in 2000.

Any discourse on the current state of our schools causes fireworks, even among the most boring of personalities.

Learning will only be meaningful if it truly empowers students, the most important stakeholders in our schools.

Learning will only be meaningful if it truly empowers students, the most important stakeholders in our schools.

Remarks range from “our education system is a mess, it’s the Government’s fault’’ to “No, it is the teacher who must be blamed’’ or even that “students nowadays are different, they are just impossible to teach’’.

Fingers are pointed at parents too, as some firmly believe that teachers are just substandard baby-sitters in school while parents slog and slave for money.

There are kernels of truth in each of these remarks, but all these perceived problems do not appear everywhere and to everyone all at once.

Contrary to the nostalgia over how wonderful Malaysian schools used to be for our baby-boomer generations, this decay of the education system did not happen overnight.

The nature of economy, the lower levels of competition, and the strong community systems then may have simply masked the static nature of schools.

A high school diploma could still get you a decent job, so perhaps we didn’t care to look too deeply at the possible cracks in the system.

Also, the best schools then were mostly accessible to a minority of the population; the better-off, the urban, and the elite.

The students of yore were responsible for mapping out the country of today — if schools then were successful in breeding critical thinking intellectuals, how did we arrive at the current situation?

We have come a long way in terms of increasing access to education from the days of Independence; from a literacy rate of 48% in 1957, the latest United Nations statistics in 2009 indicate that 93% of Malaysians are literate.

But somewhere down the road, the cracks we previously ignored have turned into significant gaps, and we can’t move forward until all the potholes are plugged.

Reform, revamp, rehaul

A cursory glance at media headlines over the past decade or so suggest that the education system has been in a continuous state of reform.

In between official plans of reform are numerous calls by education stakeholders giving their two cents worth; when push comes to shove, the situation tends to boil down to educators demanding for better benefits, parents calling for lower expenses and extra classes, and employers crying out for skilled workers.

We fail to realise that the only important stakeholders are the students, and the fundamental reason for education is to empower individuals to live meaningful lives.

During pedagogy training, teachers are taught to fall back on the National Philosophy of Education as a mother-of-all-guides for their profession.

Established in 1987, the National Philosophy of Education states that education is the holistic development of “individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced and harmonious”.

It further adds that education should be designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are “knowledgeable and competent”, “possess high moral standards”, “responsible and capable of achieving a high level of personal well-being”, and will “contribute to the betterment of the family, the society and the nation at large.”

For some teachers, the philosophy contains “big words that exist merely in theory’’.

“In reality, schools want to keep the students under their ‘control’. No questions should be asked,’’ senior teacher Sheila retorts.

“Humanisation? How can students learn that in schools when schools carry out ‘body checks’?,’’ she says, claiming that her school’s administrators ignored her protestations.

“We do not need to search for prohibited items to the extent of stripping our students off their dignity. We should discipline them but not insult them.”

It is common to hear teachers using inappropriate words to describe and chide young pupils such as calling them “monkeys”, “goats” and “cows” while ushering them to their respective classrooms.

There is also the constant complaint by teachers about paper work and writing reports.

“Teachers who cannot write reports or do not have basic computer skills should not be allowed to teach. They should be repatriated back to schools to learn!’’ says a former secondary school teacher.

Meanwhile, genuine teachers just make use of their own resources to survive within the system. They have no qualms in spending their own money on the classroom activities.

Some say they use their own broadband in school because the network provided in school does not work most times, or promise their students lessons via LCD projector screening once a week to promote enthusiasm in learning.

Still others sacrifice time with their own children to act as surrogate parents to their young charges in the classroom.

The institutionalised nature and design of schools mean that students are treated like camp prisoners; good schools minimise this with dedicated teachers and visionary school heads.

Schools or factories?

It is strange that although everyone acknowledges the “changing global landscape”, our schools remain as the industrial-era brick-houses that were their origins.

Even now when we speak of revolutionising the education sector, most seem to be enamoured with employable graduates with “marketable” skills - this is one crucial purpose of education, but it seems rather limiting to view children merely as commodities to be churned out for the machine of industry.

It is without a doubt that children who are taught to read early and exposed to positive learning behaviour like wanting to read for knowledge and not for the sake of preparing to score for exams, usually turn out to be better off than their peers who are subjected to rote learning only.

Illustrating this is how the popular debate on science and mathematics education got caught in the politics of language. Meanwhile, policy-makers lament the nation’s slow progress towards achieving its goal of having a science and arts student ratio of 60:40 respectively.

However, not many people have seriously questioned the way science and mathematics are taught to students in the first place - if all that is required to pass examinations are wholesale memorisation of formulas and experiments, it is no wonder that students are uninterested.

Compounding this is the arbitrary segregation of science and arts students in secondary schools, especially at a time when the real world is pursuing multi-disciplinary innovation.

In fact, this separation of disciplines in Malaysia was criticised in the Mahathir Report of 1979, written by a Cabinet committee chaired by then Education Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The report cautioned that streaming students into the arts and sciences is contrary to the notion of a wholesome education, especially if the streaming is based on achievement tests rather than an assessment of talent and interest.

Aside from proposing a less academic and test-orientated curriculum, the report also stated that the primary school curriculum was too “middle of the road” where bright students were bored and slow learners failed to keep up; the strict separation of subjects left students with knowledge that “lacked usefulness and functionality” in the real world; and even the design of schools was not conducive to learning.

Although the 1979 report led to big improvements in the school curriculum, the core issues raised then remain true today as we continue to bemoan excessive testing and ranking.

When teachers and students resort to “spotting” questions in upcoming national examinations, this is simply a sophisticated form of cheating that circumvents the purpose of undergoing examinations in the first place.

Tests, key-performance indicators, and measurement tools of the same ilk are merely crude estimates of learning - a string of numerical scores cannot articulate meaning on its own. A more useful assessment is one that allows students to directly justify that they have grasped a particular concept or theory.

In this regard, school-based assessments are now seen as an alternative to high-stakes testing.

It is too early to determine the overall efficacy and reliability of these assessments, but when the proposal to abolish public examinations in favour of school-based assessments was made public, various parties voiced out concern over possible bias, leaks and manipulation, as well as a general lowering of standards.

The implicit message here is that we don’t trust our schools to assess students’ learning abilities; ironically, when students under-perform schools suffer the blame as well.

Going back to the National Philosophy of Education, the over arching idea of education that both policy-makers and laymen talk about is one that values learning and knowledge - a noble and humanistic view.

Why is it then, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details and action-plans, we fall back to the checklist mentality of production assembly lines?

The big picture and the small details

From the National Key Results Areas (NKRA) to the ministry’s own five-year blueprints, it is fair to say that policy-makers do not lack vision in coming up with improvements to the education system.

The latest in these attempts at change is the i-Think programme launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak last month, aimed at inculcating critical thinking skills among students.

Using the Thinking Maps tools developed by American researcher Dr David Hyerle, the initiative is a collaboration between the Special Innovation Unit (UNIK), the Malaysia Innovation Agency, and the Education Ministry.

The pilot project had started in ten randomly selected schools across the country last year and will be rolled out to all schools by 2014.

UNIK chief executive officer Datuk Dr Kamal Jit Singh explains that this is first school-based project for UNIK.

“We started seeing results in just two months - there was a dramatic culture shift in classrooms, as students were actively participating in lessons and asking questions.

“The whole idea of this (project) is to equip teachers with the tools they need to spark critical thinking so that they can go on to apply them in whatever lessons they conduct.

“You can’t have creativity without critical thinking; the latter acts as a ‘reality check’ and helps students distinguish between facts and opinion,” he says.

He adds that the bulk of RM5mil price tag for the pilot programme went towards training the teachers.

“We may only be able to see the full results of the programme in five years time, when these students go out into the work force armed with problem-solving, decision-making and communication skills,” he says.

While the initiative itself has noble intentions, how will it fit within the current education framework?

While reform plans are fantastic on paper, the devil is in the details; how many times have we read news of unprofessional and unethical conduct by those within the system only to have them get away with a slap on the wrist?

The pressing concern is that if we are stuck in a vicious cycle of expecting indifferent people to execute excellent ideas, the ripple effect of inefficacy will spread throughout the system.

Real change will be more painful but with pain, there will be healing too - look at the Finnish experience. (see below)

At the heart of a public school system is a belief of the common good - we care about the education of our neighbour’s children as much as we do for our own.

This is not just for the sake of altruism or being politically correct, as there are practical and economical reasons for fighting for brilliant schools that are readily accessible to all.

By providing an avenue for social mobility and narrowing the income gap, a strong education system translates into less crime and social ills.

By equipping our students with both scientific reasoning and artistic philosophy, we will not just have a better leverage in the proverbial “marketplace” but a richer Malaysian culture as well.

By allowing students to pursue their talents based on their interests and ability, innovation and creativity will naturally grow without the need for special intervention.

We tend to forget that true innovation does not need policy nor a grand masterplan - it rests on the shoulders of ordinary people working to improve the way we do things and the way we connect with the world.

By CHELSEA L. Y. NG and PRIYA KULASAGARAN educate@thestar.com.my

Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday April 1, 2012

Aye to alternative assessment

Every other day we receive letters from our readers commenting on our education system. Most complain about the system but there are some encouraging ones like the one below:

THE recent move by the Education Ministry to make the education system less exam-oriented with the introduction of a new alternative system of assessment, Pentaksiran Berasaskan Sekolah (PBS), is a positive step forward.

Many educators have come to recognise that alternative assessments are an important means of gaining a dynamic picture of students’ abilities to acquire, understand and critically interpret information; use creativity and innovation in solving problems; and express ideas succinctly and effectively.

Such a scheme of assessments should be based on procedures and techniques that are uniform and verifiable in the context of a standardised curriculum and be readily incorporated into the daily lessons and activities in the classroom and school, without unduly overloading or interrupting the flow of the learning process.

Assessment strategies will be required that ask students to show what they can do.

In contrast to traditional testing, students will need to be evaluated on what they integrate and produce rather than on what they are able to recall and reproduce.

Such assessments, generally, should meet the following criteria — focus on documenting individual student growth over time, rather than comparing students with one another; emphasis on reinforcing students’ strengths and overcoming weaknesses; and consideration be given to the learning styles, language proficiencies, cultural backgrounds and progressive grade levels of students.

Alternative assessment includes a variety of measures that can be adapted for different situations. Some of these presentations are oral, written and electronic; assignments and projects; discussions; research and design, including information and physical material gathering; spot-tests and quizzes.

To gain multiple perspectives on students’ academic development, abilities and aptitudes, it is important for teachers to include a range of measures in the assessment portfolio.

The Education Ministry’s proposal that teachers would conduct both formative and summative assessments during the learning process, at the conclusion of a learning unit, at the end of a semester or at the end of the year, is crucial to such a scheme of alternative assessments.

As there is no empirical evidence that either interim or end-of year assessment alone can improve student learning, it is critical that both formative and summative assessments be administered with clearly defined roles for the teacher and the student in the learning process.

Alongside such an assessment system, schools should have the capacity for and incorporate literary, cultural, sporting, performing arts, service and volunteer activities to complement the core academic curriculum.

Students should, not only be guided, encouraged and coached to excel in these activities, depending on their talents and flair, but they should be recognised and appropriately rewarded for their performance.

An alternative assessment system is aptly suited to streaming students, based on their interests, competencies and performance.

This will imply carefully guiding students, after eight to nine years of schooling and assessment, into academic or technical streams of education with opportunities to progress to the highest possible levels in those fields of study.

Teachers’ orientation and training and the quality of teaching, in order to effectively implement the new assessment system, cannot be over emphasised. Upon this single aspect will largely depend the success of the system.

At a time of unprecedented explosion and accessibility of information and knowledge, the alternative assessment holds great promise for students’ learning.

Although the challenge to modify existing methods of assessment and to develop new approaches is not an easy one, the benefits are great.

The methods and techniques introduced should be adaptable, practical and realistic for teachers who are dedicated to creating meaningful and effective assessment experiences for students.


The STAR Home Education Sunday April 1, 2012

Learning from Finland

FINLAND entered into the mainstream discourse on education after their strong showing in the PISA survey. Conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the survey compares 15-year-olds internationally in reading, mathematics and science, and Finland has consistently ranked highly in all three areas since 2000. Finnish students’ performance only dipped in 2009, as students from Shanghai, China bagged the top spot.

Since then, scores of educators and policy-makers worldwide (including Malaysia) have flocked to the country to see what they were getting right.

In his book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, the Finnish Education Ministry’s Center for International Mobility director Pasi Sahlberg writes that the Finnish educational level before the 1960s was “close to that of Malaysia and Peru”.

Following dramatic changes around the 1970s and onwards, the Finns’ approach to reform may surprise Malaysians —there are no standardised tests, at least until students get to the upper-secondary level, teacher training programmes are among the most selective in the country, and a masters’ degree is required to enter the profession.

Teachers are trained to assess students and provide individualised grading for each child. Incompetent teachers are dealt with by the principal, and there is a strong teachers’ union.

Additionally, there are virtually no private schools, and all pupils receive free school meals, healthcare access, psychological counseling, and individualised student guidance.

Critics rightly point out that the lessons of Finland are not readily applicable here, citing the country’s mostly homogenous population of about 5.4 million as an example.

But the country’s immigrants have doubled in the past decade, to no ill-effect to Finland’s PISA scores.

Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday April 1 , 2012

Gauge quality of teaching

I MUST applaud the students who did well in their SPM examination and for those who did not do well, don’t give up.

Perhaps it is time for you to enrol in an established tuition centre for good results. The credit and praise must go to parents who send their children to tuition centres, and these days without additional help, most of the students will not be able to do well in exams.

Tuition classes have become a necessity nowadays because most schools have teachers who seem to lack the passion to teach.

In the past, tuition lessons were meant for weak students but currently they are a must for all categories of students.

So what are the teachers doing in the school? When I hear praises being heaped upon these these teachers from the media, it annoys me.

The Education Ministry is spending millions to increase the salaries of teachers but do the authorities really gauge their performance?

What is the yardstick used by the authorities to measure teaching quality? They are doing a disservice by sending under-performing teachers to some schools.

Take the Chinese school in Sitiawan, where my son is studying, as an example.

The less competent teachers are still in the school while the good ones are transferred to other schools.

The principal has been on medical leave for almost one month and she travels daily from Ipoh to Sitiawan.

Travelling long distance is tiring, so how can we expect her to focus on the teachers?

The other issue I would like to bring up is the heavy bags that school children are forced to carry to schools.

I don’t see any reason for students to carry such heavy textbooks and bags when lessons are not really taught in school.

Education Ministry officials should regularly visit schools to know of the problems at ground level.

Be that as it may, there are still good teachers around these days but they are rare gems.

My wish is for schoolchildren to be taught in schools.

This is because if they are taught by dedicated teachers, they will not have to rely on tuition classes to get good grades.


The STAR Home Education Sunday April 1, 2012

Reach to teach

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp/, Or what’s a heaven for?” ~ Robert Browning.

NITHYA Sidhhu’s “Challenge yourself with change” (StarEducate, March 18) set me thinking about my experience as an educator. I too have received commendation from students.

A lack of in-depth understanding of what teaching really involves might lead some to dismiss or even conclude that we are trying to blow our own trumpet.

But honestly, there are so many unsung heroic teachers out there who have done their students a world of good before launching them into life.

Only our students know this and they remain our valued evaluators, not the school inspectorate.

Henry Adams was spot on. Teachers do affect eternity, not kno-wing where their influence stops. Virginia M. Axeline says much the same through her revolutionary and inspiring true story called Dibs In Search Of Self which I read twice.

As an educator who has taught in school, college, and the university, I know I had to reach my students first before I could teach them. A teacher is basically an enabler — when you reach out to students because you have their interest at heart they will likewise reach out to you and make the all-important connection for a learning transaction.

It is crucial for teachers to recognise the awesome extent of their influence. In fact all stakeholders should realise this because “Education is the mother of leadership” (Wendell Wilkie).

I dare to call myself ‘experienced.’ ‘Experience’? Teachers tend to liberally count themselves ‘experienced’ in terms of calendrical calculations. Pedagogically speaking this is inappropriate.

An ‘experienced’ teacher is one who has had a felt sense of what she is doing, as well as how and why she is doing it.

She reaches first within herself and then reaches out to take measures to improve (e.g through action research) as she moves along her career path.

In empowering herself she can empower others to continuously improve. She understands that to live life is to constantly become, not stagnate.

Effecting change

When a teacher, although only in her first year of service, dares to take risks and tries something different because she is desirous of improving her capacity for teaching, she embraces her experience to effect a change for the better.

Conversely, a teacher may have been teaching for decades but routinely doing more of the same year in and year out — how “experienced” can she be?

To benefit from your experience, you need to be attentive and optimistic.

It is a fact that most teachers are reluctant to change once they get comfortable with their routine act.

Well, I happened to be restless, I wanted to do my best even in my first year of teaching!

I began using magazines and newspapers early, long before NiE became the buzz word in Malaysian schools.

I brought in music, percussion (both instrumental and bodily), verse, chants, toys, realia, real-life people, fruits and food, threw a party, held a forum, acted with students, staged short plays, sent them out with paper-and-pen task in hand, held classes under the trees and in the hall, in the field I taught them to drive (yes! my car) … to the extent that I was termed “radical” and “crazy” by some colleagues.


Years later I discovered a journal simply titled “Radical Teacher.” Apparently, the term was first used in 1975 “by a group of dissident college teachers of English.”

And guess what I found out – that radicals were in vogue; radicals reach their students. I was in good company!

In my time I was even hauled up to explain why I was not using the textbook. But guess what gave me the courage to carry on with my radical methods? My students, and the need to be true to the very best within me to bring out the very best in my students.

I still recall that if I happened to be a wee bit late for class, a few students would come dashing to the staffroom and announce “Puan Lucille, it’s your period now. What are we doing today...” all in the same breath.

My students consistently challenged and proved themselves.

They produced excellent results in English even though I never “groomed” them for exams.

They made real-life use of English – writing notes to friends, parents, teachers, and letters to the press. Think: What good is an A in English when the said student cannot string a sentence correctly?

We now face the unsavoury task of having to rescue a generation of incapacitated learners and users of English.

Teachers must trust what John Dewey said early in the day (1938) — the most important attitude that we need to develop in the student is the DESIRE to go on learning.

This equates with making learning a joyful and meaningful experience.

By adding small doses of creativity to our conventional practice we breathe new life into our routine classroom interactions. We need to have a passion for teaching – we must enjoy our noble deed!

Students need the will to learn and teachers can inspire this will by being enthusiastic about their students’ learning.

To be enthusiastic is to be charismatic and it is happily infectious!

I once presented a conference-workshop titled “Radicals...just wanna REACH” (the acronym stood for some teacher qualities). Yes, we must reach our students to teach them.

Another rambunctious conference presentation was enticingly titled “It’s ‘Lite’, its ‘Racy’ … it’s a Party!” This one saw educators having fun, with one lecturer even rolling on the floor with laughter!

Learning fun

The objective of language learning via fun was achieved. I have had the fortunate experience of some senior and well-known foreign professors attending and happily surrendering themselves to some of my joyful learning activities during conference presentations. They appreciated the underlying value of learning therein.

Sad though that our teachers, after enjoying all these activities, and being cognizant of the learning that accompanies such activities, remain reluctant to utilise the same — adopted or adapted – in their own classrooms.

They think of these as “extras” and fail to understand that these add to their repertoire of teaching methodology.

Many swear the textbook or syllabus must be “covered” first. Indeed, it’s the “covering” that is the problem! The syllabus must be uncovered, revealed. Listen to Bishop Hall, “Seldom was any knowledge given to keep, but to impart; the grace of this rich jewel is lost in concealment.”

I dare say my classroom encounters could fill a whole book, but who wants to know? I would be accused of blowing my own trumpet.

The most important thing is that my students long remember those special classroom encounters.

The fact that many students remain in touch and call you their “role model” to this day is indeed gratifying to an educator that she has done well by them.

I am supposed to be retired, but since my heart lies with the teachers, I continue to do teacher development.

And if what you do is inspiring, you’ll never think of retiring.


Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday April 1, 2012

How to SCORE with students

Teachers must carry out activities that will stimulate their students’ interests and actively engage them in class.

IT IS a very basic equation. When you try out certain teaching plans or methods with your students, they will improve by leaps and bounds in terms of achievement, success, prowess and performance.

But, before a teacher even gets there, the first thing she or he needs to address is to answer the following question – “What do my students really want from me?”

Seriously, this is one question not many teachers ask of themselves before they begin their daily rounds of teaching.

But, it is one they should. So say researchers Richard Strong, Harvey F. Silver and Amy Robinson.

It is hard to doubt the word of these researchers and their published findings in the September 1995 online issue of Educational Leadership.

I did not. In fact, I found that ever since I understood the importance of their research, I became a better teacher almost overnight.

Their premise is convincing: If you wish to get students to really like the way you teach, then you have to be aware that students are, in fact, “energised by four goals - success, curiosity, originality, and satisfying relationships.

The research project they carried out asked both teachers and students two simple questions:

·What kind of work do you find totally engaging?

· What kind of work do you hate to do? The researchers found that both teachers and students hate work that is “repetitive, required little or no thought, and was forced on them by others”.

Yes, that should explain why teachers do not like redundant paperwork and non-teaching tasks they are assigned to do on a regular basis! It also explains why students hate copying endless notes and doing mundane academic tasks.

Writing this, I am reminded of a very intelligent Form Three student I taught in 2010. During my Civics period, he had asked me a question about Stephen Hawking and that had got us talking.

Noticing that he had his Mathe-matics book open in front of him, I asked him whether he enjoyed studying the subject at school. He told me “No” and followed this by explaining that the way his teacher taught was so routine and predictable that she was boring him.

And, then he said, in resignation, “She kills Mathematics for me! I wish I could do more challenging stuff but what can I say?”

“Have you ever told her that?” I asked.

He looked up and me and said incredulously, “You must be joking!Do you think she cares to know what I think?”

The only teacher he liked was a language teacher he had had in Form One whom he described as charismatic, lively and interesting.

Not only had she bonded well with her students, she had also carried out numerous activities in the classroom, and had even allowed them to work in groups.

When you think of it, what do students really want from you?

“Engaging work!” reported Strong and his co-researchers. This included tasks that “stimulate student curiosity, permit them to express their creativity, and foster positive relationships with others.”

To make it easy for teachers, the researchers have come up with the acronym SCORE as a means by which teachers can carry out a mindful self-check to make sure that they are providing what their students really need from them.

What do the letters in this acronym stand for?

S – SUCCESS: Students want to be able to master the subject. To this end, they like teachers who give clear instruction, quality presentations, helpful guidance and skill-honing workshops.

A teacher has to have the right personality and teaching techniques to give students the confidence that success is within their reach.

From experience, I can say that students reap huge benefits when they are shown past examples of good, mediocre and poor work and given constructive and regular feedback on their performance.

C – CURIOSITY: Students want to be able to understand concepts and new knowledge.

My students have openly confessed to me that they prefer teachers who relate examples to their own life as well as encourage creative games and fun activities like jigsaw puzzles or debates to stir discussion.

They even enjoy being provided some clues and then asked to come up with possible solutions rather than being spoon-fed. I realised the power of their “why” questions and I often made them think of possibilities rather then tell them all the facts.

In my classes, I allowed “weird” and “outlandish” questions. To me, hearing them really speak their mind and then, discussing the possible answers with them made the journey of discovery all the more interesting for both of us.

O – ORIGINALITY: Students thrive on self-expression but what often happens at school is that teachers suppress this without realising they are actually doing so.

“Make creative work meaningful,” say the researchers. For instance, you don’t have to teach Mathematics or Chemistry all the time according to how the questions are phrased in the exams, do you?

Occasionally, how about a change in the way you teach?

I found that I was more effective when I let my students be more involved in the learning process.

Presentations, debates, discussions, group work, role play, fieldwork, games – there are many ways in which students can express themselves.

R – RELATIONSHIPS: Students want to be involved with others during the learning process. My best lessons happened when I conducted activities (the best were spontaneous ones) when I followed my students’ moods and allowed them to be involved.

I remember a class when we were all in a stupor because of the heat. One boy had his guitar with him and I requested a song from him and his “band” as a way to get things going.

Since students appreciate the opportunity to interact in a creative manner in an open, accepting atmosphere, we had a most enjoyable lesson.

Too often, the class is quiet — with the teacher lecturing, doing, acting and controlling everything. Bonding, interacting, chatting, asking probing questions, responding to answers and stimulating further enquiry – all these engage the students more

When allowed to mingle and work in groups of their own choice, students become more lively.

Fearing high noise levels and problems arising out of control issues, teachers often resort to the “I talk, you listen” strategy and end up wondering why students are bored and listless.

E – According to the researchers, if you give them all of the above, students will then have the ENERGY and I may add, the ENTHUSIASM to learn!

·What teachers must do is realise two things :

What students really want from them is to have their S.C.O.R. needs fulfilled.

To achieve this, teachers must carry out activities that cultivate these drives in the classroom.

I tried it and it worked. Perhaps you should too.

Teacher Talk by NITHYA SIDHHU

Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday April 1, 2012

Super charge your studies, think critically

MOST students in Malaysia today – whether still at school or at university - will have heard of the term “critical thinking”, but the importance of critical thinking is still not fully recognised on a day-to-day level.

Simply put, critical thinking means looking at a subject – whether it be a course module, a question someone has asked you, or a pressing global concern – and breaking it down into core components in order to understand the subject more deeply.

This might mean understanding the subject from an economic angle, a philosophical angle, a religious angle or a humanitarian angle.

It might mean researching the subject from the point of view of a sector of society and comparing and contrasting other points of view.

It might mean thinking about how to tackle a problem differently, or what certain data means for different groups of people.

Critical thinking also means researching ways people have analysed the subject in the past and ways the subject could be analysed in the future.

When thinking critically about an issue, it is also crucial to do away with prejudices and assumptions and take a more global view of a situation.

Critical thinking is not about simple accepting of a fact or a situation or a piece of learned information at face value.

It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, learning how to think critically will add a valuable new dimension to your life which could mean you enjoy your studies more, do better in your exams, get that dream job quicker and hold onto it for a lot longer.

It’s a skill that may future-proof you in a challenging job market and learning this valuable skill will improve all areas of your life.

Graduates who are looking for work today will need to be able to show their future employer at interview examples of how they have resolved problems, analysed situations, researched potential outcomes and added value in some way to the organisation.

Employers in 2012 want graduates who are able to think clearly, deeply and analytically about any situation and find effective solutions.

Why are these skills so important to Malaysian students into today’s global economy? Because competition for jobs has never been greater and the global economic crisis has forced companies to hire only the brightest and the best.

Young Malaysians are living in an exciting new world. There is no shortage of talented young people in Malaysia who are destined to become the next generation of world leaders and thinkers.

Take Eddie Law, the University’s alumni ambassador for Malaysia, who – in 2007 – set up his law recruitment website www.elawyer.com.my.

Mr Law’s business has gone on to become Malaysia’s number one law recruitment online portal with over 5000 members.

It is currently used by over 200 law firms in Malaysia. Law said the critical thinking skills he learned while studying for a degree in Law at Anglia Ruskin University’s Chelmsford campus in the United Kingdom, continue to help him grow his business and have attributed to his success today.

“As a Law student, I was trained to think critically and analytically, and this skill-set helps tremendously in the current day-to-day management of my company, be it with decision-making or business-planning.

“When I started my company, my analytical skills helped me understand the need for my business in Malaysia and to turn it into the success it is today.” Law said the experience of living and studying abroad at Anglia Ruskin University helped him gain more confidence, more perspective and enhance his problem-solving skills.

“The teaching methodology at Anglia Ruskin University trained me to be more resourceful and more independent; skills which were instrumental in helping me start my business,” said Law.

The University has over 60,000 active alumni in 140 countries across the world, which allows Malaysian students unprecedented opportunities to engage with like-minded young people internationally.

The university’s undergraduate, postgraduate and postgraduate research students benefit by studying, debating and exchanging ideas with others, developing their critical thinking skills in the process.

This critical thinking culture helps create global citizens and prepares our students for the world of work. These strong relationships among students carry on after graduation through the University’s very strong and vibrant Malaysian Alumni Association which meets yearly in Kuala Lumpur and promotes its events on its Facebook page.

Learning how to think deeply and critically about subjects should be a top priority for all Malaysian students wherever they are on their educational pathway, and the very best universities and colleges will actively promote critical thinking as a vital tool in future-proofing students in difficult job markets.

 Raymond Lee is Country Development Manager at Anglia Ruskin University supporting the University’s recruitment in South East Asia. He was born in Kuala Lumpur, but has worked in the UK since 1999.

By RAYMOND LEE educate@thestar.com.my

Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday April 1, 2012

Tribute to an institution

It is a trip down memory lane for the writer, a STTI alumnus, as he recalls the camaraderie among his peers, and its founding lecturers who nurtured their charges into committed and dedicated specialists in their chosen fields of the noble profession.

THE CLASS of 1962 of the Physical Education Department at STTI (Specialist Teachers’ Training Institute), Kuala Lumpur, met to celebrate 50 years of camaraderie.

The 38 of us — 22 men and 16 women — first met on Jan 2,1962.

Realising the dwindling numbers in our group, it was decided that we “open” the gathering held in Petaling Jaya to fellow colleagues from the other departments, who never had the opportunity to such a reunion before, so that we could relive that glorious year of comradeship, for we did enjoy the company of the 120 students pursuing other courses at the institute then.

Perfect poise and precisio n: Lecturers expected the highest standards from their charges during gymnastic sessions.

With two founding lecturers, Mr (now Datuk) Teoh Teik Lee, and Mr Lim Hock Han, who are now in their eighties, their former students engaged them in nostalgic recollections of the institution to which they owed a good part of their professional training. There was no better person than Datuk Teoh to learn about the origin and circumstances under which STTI was established.

Datuk Teoh was appointed the institute’s Physical Education (PE) Department head in 1969, and after a fulfilling career that spanned 20 years, retired in 1980.

He left behind a well-developed professional course in PE that gained accreditation to graduate level of studies in overseas universities.

He has had great satisfaction in seeing that his former charges distinguished themselves not only in teaching PE in schools, colleges and universities, but also in sports development in the public and corporate sectors.

Mr Lim Hock Han, after a brief stint at STTI, left to head the PE department of the Malayan Teachers Training College at Pantai, Kuala Lumpur and subsequently left for Singapore. STTI was conceived almost immediately after Merdeka when the educational needs of a new emerging nation was at stake. Teachers, then, were either trained under the “normal class” system or in the teachers’ training colleges in the country, or from the two teachers colleges in Kirkby and Brindsford Lodge, England.

While the training produced dedicated and committed teachers, it was of a general nature and the teaching of non-academic subjects were often neglected or deemed unimportant.

The Class of 1962: Seated (left to right): Abu Awang, Annie Tan Eu Leen, C. Ramanathan, Fong Shook Yen, Mr. Teoh Teik Lee (senior lecturer), Mr. R. Drennan (Principal), Mrs. Mary Ghouse (lecturer) En. Mohd Nor Che Noh (lecturer), Tang Kit Cheng, Leonard deVries, Khoo Cheng Hiong. (L-R) Middle Row: Abdul Rahman Basir, Edwin S. Abrahim, Lim Keow Nooi, Winnie Cheam, Lim Cheng Hoon, Kamala Losani, Leela Mohd Ali, Monica (Monique) Szetho, Faridah Merican, Breda Chan, Halimah Bongsu, Ang Swee Teen, P. Sutindar Kaur, Tang Yoke Lin, S. Pathmanathan, Serjit Singh. (L-R) Back Row: Lim Chee Leang, Edward Liang Kok Khiang, Lionel Rajamoney, Chin Siew Foong, Ho Chee Eng, Chong Wah Chin, K. Ratnasingam, Wilson Doss, Ong Kee Jin, T. Vasudevan, Peter Lee Guan Chye, A. Sundram, Mohd Ali Abu Bakar, M.P. Haridas, Nazeri Othman.

Fortunately, far-sighted educationists at that time saw the need for non-academic subjects in the school curriculum and decided on providing a strong basis for such subjects to be taught in schools.

STTI came to the fore and provided training in such non-academic subjects as PE, Art and Craft, Home Science, Woodwork and Metalwork, Library Science, Education of the Blind, Education of the Deaf and of other subjects, as required by the Education Ministry then.

As a former PE student from STTI, I shall confine my article to the institute’s PE department.

The training provided teachers with a good mix of teaching and management skills in organising the PE programme in the school.

This phase of training was an important ingredient in ensuring the competency of teachers in teaching PE and organising the co-curricular programme that would have a profound impact on a pupil’s life, even beyond school.

The institute officially had its first intake in January 1960 at its premises in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, although the PE department had a “dry-run” of in-service courses in September 1959 to test the equipment and facilities at the gymnasium, swimming pool and its huge sports complex.

In truth, the infrastructure and facilities designed for physical education were comprehensive enough to give the impression that the institute was a physical education college rather than that of a multi-disciplinary institution.

Sprawling: An aerial view of the campus and the road leading to it from Cheras.

Initially, selection to the one-year course was done by the respective State Education Departments. Some years later, selection was carried out by the PE department where applicants had to undergo a battery of tests.

The criteria for such selection was that a teacher should have at least two years of teaching experience in the relevant subject, and that he or she should be involved in organising sports and games, as in the case of physical education.

In the first couple of years, most of the successful candidates were generally much older and senior, being from the “normal class” and early batches from the teachers’ colleges.

Outstanding group

This pioneer group of teachers, in their late twenties and early thirties, though not being exposed to training as PE teachers, learnt quickly and were able to follow the physical aspects of the course work well, mainly due to their physical fitness and active involvements in various games.

Bringing with them a wealth of knowledge in organising physical activities, from school to state levels, they helped to charter a school programme that had many students taking active part in various sports and games, with some even excelling at the national level.

The knowledge they gained in STTI greatly enhanced their belief in the subject and in their methods of training.

With the advancement in sports and games in schools, regular competitions were held through the formation of the Malaysian School Sports Councils in the early sixties.

The blueprint for a national sports development programme had been planned at the end of the fifties.

Many of the STTI teachers who played a prominent role in the sports programmes of schools were appointed sports secretaries of the councils from district to state levels.

They served a more administrative function, planning courses to train more teachers to meet the demands for athletics and games coaches in schools. Indeed, STTI was established at the right time to provide training of qualified teachers to run sports programmes in schools to complement the students’ academic education.

However, at a time when the crying need for trained PE teachers was at its height, STTI had to stop its intake of specialist teachers training and assume a full-time role of a regular teachers’ training college.

Between 1960 and 1980 (the period of Datuk Teoh’s tenure of the PE department), STTI had to also open its doors to the “Basic Teachers’ Training Course” .

However, the need for specialist teachers, particularly in physical education, as expressly requested by various State Schools Sports Councils, called for the continuance of this one-year programme. It was revived over the years and today the institute has been upgraded to take in graduate teachers for specialist training.

Without doubt, STTI could have been developed into a model College of Physical Education that would go towards fulfilling the goals of the National Education system. That many of its past students proceeded to pursue postgraduate studies abroad and returning to hold high positions in universities and in the private sector, underscores the success of the programme at STTI.

Look out for the second instalment of this article in our pullout next week. The writer thanks Datuk Teoh Teik Lee for some of the information provided. He can be reached at stti.classof62@yahoo.com


Source: The STAR Home Education Looking Back  Sunday April 1, 2012

In a class of our own

Young, fit and robust in physique, we the class of 1962 were mainly from the teachers’ training colleges and had taken PE as either an “option” or “major” subject. Many of us were active sportsmen, representing our states in various games.

It was our batch, recalls Datuk Teoh Teik Lee, who made an impact and took the honours during his terms of office at the STTI.

With youth on our side and being able to play in different games, it was easy for us to assimilate and work together as a team to achieve success in any given sport.

In top form: Safety and trust among members was uppermost in the minds of the STTI gym squad which proved to be quite a formidable team then.

Although we had met on half a dozen occasions with one reunion in Penang five years ago, we were never tired of reminiscing the past. I suppose the opportunity of being able to meet in our mellowing years and to see one another growing old gracefully, brought about the nostalgia of past foibles and shared hopes.

The practical work brought out the best in us, displaying an esprit de corps in helping each other achieve confidence and success in such activities as swimming and gymnastics.

These were two areas of PE that most of us were hardly exposed to when we were in school, mainly due to the lack of facilities and trained teachers.

On the aquatic front

Swimming was a feared activity. Without our legs firmly planted on the ground and the discomfort of water getting into our eyes and nostrils, we took to the water, even at the shallow end, with trepidation — for fear of being drowned.

The Sprinters: (Left to right) Leonard deVries, Lim Chee Leang, S. Pathmanathan and Ho Chee Eng were an asset to STTI’s Sprint Relay Team.

Strangely, equally divided, as if by fate, was a third of the class who would show off their skills by plowing through the length of the 50-metre pool like the bow of a ship heading for a pre-destined port.

A third consisted of totally non-swimmers, huddled together in one corner of the shallow end of the pool with a false sense of security — I guess each was trying to reassure the other of being safe — through numbers.

The remaining third of the 22 men (the biggest third) was of swimmers of “average standard”, including myself. Now lay the problem for Mr Teoh — to make a swimmer out of every one of us.

Promptly, he set about to detail a programme of training especially for the non-swimmers and the “average” ones. It will be unwieldy to explain the steps he took to help the group achieve success in this article (as that would take a chapter for that). Suffice to say, by the end of the course everyone could swim.

Swimming provided great humour too, with the not-so-good swimmers thrashing the water with great might and not moving very much forward, while the good ones demonstrated great economy of effort with their graceful strokes in propelling their bodies through the water.

One could only stare in awe, but it was a quiet reminder that anyone could achieve that if one was to put one’s mind to the task. And, we did.

While swimming may be tough going, diving, even off the one-metre board, was terrifying. I leave it to one’s imagination to fathom out the result when a big guy jumps off the board and lands on his buttocks, if not the stomach, first. Not counting for the pain he suffers, or the laughter of his peers, the splash could displace almost a ton of water from the pool!

First Aid: Lim Chee Leang being treated for a foot injury at the communal shed on campus.

The hard work put in at the pool, especially during our spare time, culminated in a water show for the public on the Institute’s Open Day. It should also be stated here that about half the class graduated as qualified life-savers with the “Bronze Medallion” of the Royal Life Saving Society. A few even qualified as instructors. Such was the determination shown by the group in the aquatic programme.

Of flips and somersaults

Gymnastics was not terrifying but worrying, all the same.

The agile and flexible ones made good gymnasts. Being young and flexible, gymnastics provided a challenge and we eagerly accepted it.

But safety was uppermost in our minds and the trust in our partners for support in our performance was essential. Foolery was unacceptable. Performer and supporter both realised that any careless action could lead to serious injury: a broken bone or twisted joint or even paralysis of the limbs or body.

A warning sign was devised to sound alert on certain performers who were less than flexible in executing flips and turns in the air, or over-swings over high apparatus.

When a thunderous call of “timber” split the air, much like the lumberjack signalling the fall of the tree, the class knew that a friend amongst us was falling over to land, hopefully on his feet even though support was provided.

Silence was broken by cheers of joy on a successful landing. Such was the camaraderie enjoyed among friends that everyone learnt the proper techniques of support.

But, the important part of teaching was in providing safe support and confidence to the students. Athletics and games training were two disciplines not new to us, having coached pupils in schools, or represented our respective district or state sides.

However, the newly acquired knowledge in kinesiology and exercise physiology did help to raise our level of proficiency in coaching as well as in our own performance.

The benefits we received from games training were amply shown in the games we played against outside teams.

Most matches were run-of-the-mill types with the losers congratulating the winners. We then went our separate ways.

Softball, when played against the USIS (United States Information Service) team, was an exception.

Win or lose, the generous team members of the USIS would treat us to tea at the “Oasis”, a café along Batu Road (now Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman). There was always a wonderful spread of tea-time fare and it was here that I first came to know of the “submarine” sandwich.

Understandably, the softball team was never short of players whenever the USIS wanted a game!

The satisfaction we derived from the other games was in defeating teams of repute such as against the Technical College and the Selangor club in rugby (rugger). We had a number of state players on our side and with youth and speed, we were able to acquit ourselves well.

The other games in which we had formidable sides were hockey, volleyball, badminton and soccer, seldom losing to our challengers. Even our lecturers took part in some of these matches.

Outdoor pursuits in camping and hiking in Kuantan and water-related activities at Emerald Bay in Lumut Laut, provided more opportunities for the class to work together.

In fact, such activities were included for the first time in our course of study and had become a standard feature of the PE syllabus in the teachers’ training colleges.

Theory lessons were humdrum by nature but they provided a firm basis for better knowledge into subjects which helped us understand the teaching of PE better.

We had large areas to cover, encompassing administration of physical education, anatomy, exercise physiology, history of physical education, athletics and games training and not forgetting various stroke productions in swimming.

Forging friendships

That we were able to “gel” well and had developed a friendship that spanned 50 years was due to the fact that we fed off each other’s enthusiasm and energy in all our endeavours.

Parting was inevitable and as we all went back to our schools, some were already envisaging furthering their studies abroad. Leonard de Vries and T. Vasudevan headed to Canada, with the former returning with a Ph. D degree in PE, (the first to achieve this distinction in physical education), and the latter, a Master’s degree. They taught at universities until they retired.

Mohd Ali Bakar and Chin Siew Foong joined the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, the former retiring as director of culture while the latter was in the Sports Division and was later to be the Special Assistant to the Chairman of the 1988 Commonwealth Games in KL.

To this day, Faridah Merican, the doyen of the Performing Arts, continues her love and passion in this much neglected part of social life and often encourages young artistes to expose their talents in the theatre.

Leela Abu Bakar is still serving as CEO of Yayasan Budi Penyayang Malaysia, a charity organisation that supports the poor and those in difficulties.

Half a dozen of us in the group served in the teachers’ training colleges as lecturers in physical education.

About the same number, disillusioned with our education system, decided to leave the service to move abroad or to join the private sector. It also attracted two lecturers to opt for early retirement to take up positions as administrators in sports organisations.

Despite going our different ways and pursuing different careers, we often met when the opportunity arose to cherish those memories of an era long gone but not forgotten.

What can be more rewarding in our retired life than to meet up with old friends with whom we had shared some good times together?

There is no doubt that we will continue to enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company as the sun sets over the horizon in our life and, hopefully, radiating long golden rays that illuminate the scenery on a good summer day with our ageing minds fighting off dementia.


Source: The STAR Home Education Looking Back Sunday April 1, 2012