May 13th, 2012

Sometimes we forget

Teachers often have a trying time dealing with vulnerable teens. Their charges can sometimes be downright rude seeking individuality, yet there are other times when they cry for attention.

WITH the constant shift in interactions between students and colleagues, it is probably an oversight to sometimes forget the age group of the person or persons we are dealing with at the precise moment.

One minute you are in the staffroom enjoying some celebrity scandal suitable for an “adults only” audience, and the next minute, you are dealing with a tiff between your students, or providing advice for a “crushed” teenage heart.

Teachers often do such an admirable job of accommodating communication between generations that at times, they appear to be hosting a children’s programme and chairing an international conference concurrently.

However, there are times when we slip up and quite forgivably so, given the continuous nature and frequency of switching between conversations.

There is usually no in-between period of readjusting our mental frame to suit the audience that presently seeks our attention.

And this is when we sometimes forget. We forget that the gawky teenager whining about his classmates or the teenage girl with a crush on every male teacher, is after all still a teenager.

A person in a transitory period of his life, having recently left childhood and is now on an uncertain (and sometimes frightening) journey towards adulthood.

A person in search of self-identity; constantly dealing between the need to cling on and the need to let go.

I have found it necessary to stop and remind myself of this truth.

That my students are not the adults in the staffroom whose mutual idiosyncrasies we can choose to ignore if we want to .

These are people who are at a vulnerable stage in their lives.

As teachers, our words may make a difference in the way they perceive themselves and direct their life’s path.

They seek individuality and yet crave conformity. They want private space, but cry for attention.

Whether we like it or not, teachers are caught in this rite of passage in their students’ lives.

The things we say or do may creep surreptitiously into our students and form a significant part of their outlook in life.

Disciplinary action is necessary against rudeness, flagrant disregard of school rules and deliberate disrespect.

However, there are also minor offences that do not warrant a formal written warning but are exceedingly annoying.

Students saunter into classes without acknowledging the teacher’s presence or give a less-than-polite reply to a routine question.

There are times when teachers are tempted to use harsh words in response to this obvious lack of respect for authority.

I remember using caustic remarks to ‘put a student in his place’ only to wonder later if those words were necessary or justified as they were just adolescents.

I constantly remind myself that the swagger, extreme pretentiousness, boasting or even snitching about other classmates is often a cry for attention, a need to project their identity and a real attempt at building a sense of self-worth.

Certain forms of behaviour among my students such as the need to appear attractive before the opposite sex both amuse and annoy me until I remember that even this is part of their growing up.

While it may have been momentarily gratifying to see the deflated look on a cocky student after a sharp rejoinder, I feel uncomfortable reflecting that the student was part adult-part child, and my role was to educate, not show who was smarter.

The balance between being firm without appearing weak is probably not easy to achieve but totally necessary in the classroom.

Perhaps remembering our own teenage years and what we went through with our teachers may help us in dealing with our present students.

We may have not come away completely unscathed but thankfully for most of us, there were not enough cynical adult lips that dangerously inhibited our transition from child to adult.

There were also teachers who remembered that we were not yet adults and supported rather than ridiculed us.

And because it is so easy to forget these things, we need to remind ourselves from time to time that if we have to pass judgments on our students, our decisions have to be based on a set of rules which are different from the ones we apply to people who are already adults.

It is not fair to make the usual adult demands of maturity on those who are not yet adults.


Source: The STAR Online Home Education Sunday May 13, 2012

A tribute to teachers

One teacher can make a change but a succession of dedicated teachers can change a nation.

To thank only a single teacher for shaping us into wonderful personalities would be tantamount to blatant disregard for blessings in the form of teachers.

Throughout our school lives, we come across various personalities imparting knowledge in unique ways. Whatever uniqueness they possess, an outstanding teacher’s dedication can be clearly seen from afar.

Although it has been years since I left school, I would like to thank a few teachers from Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) Sitiawan who made a change in my life.

First and foremost is my class teacher in primary school, Mr Ching Eu Pang. His tireless efforts in piling a tonne of homework on us every single school day has been an unbeaten record.

I owe my neat handwriting to him simply because the first thing he did every morning was to check our handwriting before collecting our homework. Those with bad handwriting had to redo their homework. No wonder the whole class ended up with good handwriting.

Then came Encik Zakaria who showed us the wonders of having confidence in a subject.

He made Bahasa Malaysia so exciting that we longed for more. He also took the trouble to improve our Jawi writing skills which remains an asset treasured till today.

The commerce master who introduced ledgers and journals into my life was none other than the late Encik Ibrahim. His teachings have been useful in everyday life and his desire to impart knowledge was impressive.

For three years in lower secondary, I was blessed to learn Home Science under the strict guidance of Mrs Ding.

She was a perfectionist who demanded the best. I am proud to have learnt cooking and sewing from one of the best in the field.

Out of fear of having to redo our mistakes in the Home Science and cookery rooms, we slowly bloomed into talented beings.

She even taught us to crochet after the final exams and opened our eyes to a whole new world of wonders. All these skills remain as part of me and Mrs Ding’s guidance will be forever treasured.

Mr Patrick Fernandez was another colourful character in the school. He was my English and Geography master whose knowledge for these two subjects was second to none.

Although we dared not whisper during his lessons for fear of being admonished, his classes were lively as he always had tricks up his sleeves that left us in stitches.

We learnt about countries on every continent, right down to tiny details such as the presence of elephant grass in Africa.

Our map drawing skills improved by leaps and bounds. Our vocabulary improved too through his pop quizzes which taught us that English was certainly an unquenchable language.

The one who instilled a love for Mathematics in my life was none other than my tutor, Mrs K. Nagarajah. She had a way with Maths that benefited many children in Sitiawan. She had been bestowed with the Midas touch and through simplicity and precision, could shape anyone into a mathematician.

The Additional Mathematics maestro in school was none other than Mr Song. During his lessons, only his voice was heard as the entire class was in full concentration. He showed us that the subject was not difficult through daily exercises.

Physics too became a fun subject under the carefree guidance of Encik Salleh Abood. He made Physics so exciting that nobody saw it as a dull subject.

His concept of starting from simplicity before diversity would have certainly produced many future Newtons.

These are only a handful of wonderful teachers in ACS Sitiawan who made a difference in my life more than 30 years ago.

As Teachers Day is celebrated every year, many of us would reminisce about our glorious school days and the people who made a difference in our lives.

To all the dedicated teachers in Malaysia, you are truly the unsung heroes of the nation and your work will forever be etched in the hearts of your students.

As Mark Twain quoted, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see”. A teacher’s kindness will be remembered for years to come as you are the ones left to mould young ones into mature beings.

This is the power endowed to teachers all over. Let’s celebrate all the teachers who have toiled to create people with hearts and knowledge.

V. T. ARASOO Via e-mail

The STAR Online Home Education Sunday 13 May 2012

Of early retirement and benefits earned

I WRITE in response to the article “Sentimental about calling it quits” (StarEducate, May 6).

School holidays and after school hours is when a teacher finally gets time off to do what he or she wants such as conducting tuition or taking an overseas trip.

The privileges and “rewards” for teachers are countless and serves as an inspiration for others to take up the noble profession.

What teachers get from the package is a form of gratification, “compensation” and largely a satisfaction.

People say that there is no retirement for doctors and teachers be-cause they can continue working pass the retirement age (taking on self-employment).

Of course, there are many workers and employees who would rather go on full retirement when they are 55 years old so that they can still enjoy the remaining years with whatever they have acquired (cash and assets).

There is a saying that goes “What you spend during this lifetime is yours and what you leave behind in the bank is not yours”.

Therefore, there should be a time to call it quits so that you can give yourself enough time to enjoy life as a retiree.

These days, life is so unpredictable. It is best to retire if you have the finances and whatever that is required to enjoy life during your remaining years.

It is good to look at the positive side of things but there have been many cases of retirees who passed away within days or a few years after retiring.

Nobody knows when he or she will pass on or how much longer a retiree will live to spend his hard-earned wealth. It is not within anyone’s power to predict death and everyone must accept this.

It does not make sense to have so much wealth and yet have so little time to spend it.

If one can retire at 55 years and live until 65 years, then he or she will have 10 years of life to spend what they have. If one lives beyond that, then he or she will get to spend more of what they have earned.

To retire at 55 years or 60 years may be good for most people as they get to enjoy their golden years. However, it may not be practical to put off retirement until after 65 years as many people may not be in the best of health to enjoy life.

Link To ..... Sentimental About Calling It Quit May 6, 2012

LAU BING Via e-mail

The STAR Online Home Education Sunday May 13, 2012

Motivating mentors

Teachers have been our role models and guiding light. The winning letters published, feature educators who have inspired and made a difference in the lives of their students. StarEducate wishes all teachers Happy Teachers Day!

A teacher to be respected and admired

A TRUE teacher is someone who gives it their all. Someone who has knowledge. Someone who creates peers, not fans. Someone who helps you find autonomy, not dependence. Someone who shows you how to think and not what to think. But of course, not every teacher is perfect.

Here is one teacher who I think has most of these attributes. She is my English teacher, Dr Lau. The first time I met her, I did not know what to expect. In my mind, most teachers are strict and all about obtaining A’s in exams. Her hair was permed and she wore clothes that were fashionable for her age. But once she spoke, my view of her changed entirely. She was different from the other English teachers I had met.

She had a unique teaching method. While teachers would tell you to write out the answers, she would tell you to copy every single sentence so that by the end of it, you would feel that your grammar had actually improved a little. Whenever someone writes a good essay in class, she would print it out and give it to all her students so that they could improve their English.

Her punishments were also unique. It was not the usual cane and demerit marks. It was a punishment with no harm involved. She would ask the class what punishment be given to those who had forgotten to bring their books or did not do their homework. The whole class would burst with laughter as the victims acted out funny and sometimes embarrassing skits.

Despite being an English teacher, English was not all she taught us. She was wise and shared her experience. She taught us moral values, and helped students learn quickly and stand on their own. She was also loyal to the school. With a PhD in English, she could have chosen to become a college/university lecturer but instead, she stayed at SMK Kuching High.

At times, she was a spontaneous mother and friend. She constantly interacted with her students and shared jokes.

She is definitely a teacher to be respected and admired. If I were to obtain the RM100 McDonald’s voucher, I would gladly treat her to it.


An awesome teacher

LIKE other teachers, Madam Patricia had her idiosyncrasies. If you did not know her, you would probably think that she was a strict and scary teacher.

After a year in her class, I found that she had a heart of gold. She even boiled herbs for our school’s Senior Assistant (Student Affairs) when he had gout and gave acupressure massages to my classmates when they fell ill. After that, they immediately recovered!

She advised us like a mother – it was annoying sometimes but it was for our own good as she wanted to see us succeed in life.

She even cooked porridge for the athletes to improve their performance during Sports Day last year. She was the only teacher I knew who did all these in my seven years in this school AND she never complained.

And she was fashionable! One day, she came with a choker and proceeded to illustrate how it could choke the daylights out of her. We guffawed at many of her antics to gain our attention. She did manicures and artistically painted designs on her nails to talk about “manicure and pedicure”.

Most of all, she was an awesome teacher. She used Newspaper-in-Education techniques that not only improved teacher-student relationships but livened up the whole English learning process. I remembered how she chuckled at the creative ways we used to persuade the “consumers” in the class to buy our products.

She had the makings of a great teacher — passionate, humorous, diligent and knowledgeable. Her years of teaching had turned her into an elegant and matured lady.

“Teachers are like candles, burning themselves out in the process to give others light” was indeed a true description about her.

Thank you teacher, for the wonderful and meaningful moments we spent together.

Happy Teacher’s Day, Madam Patricia!

I’ll cherish the hilarious time our class spent with you every single day of my life!


The teacher who fought for us

HER name was Ms Elena and she was in her 40’s. She constantly frowned and if you did not finish your homework, she would ask “why?” in a stern voice. If you gave a stupid reason like “my dog ate my homework”, she would unleash her anger and gave you a lecture.

Everyone disliked her as many of us were “tortured” by her. She often held our class back when it was lunch time. As our break was only 15 minutes, the next class would have started by the time we finished her class. One of the boys suggested not giving presents to her on Teacher’s Day.

On that day, she walked passed a few classes before reaching ours. Other teachers’ tables were filled with presents. When she walked into our class, her table was empty. She continued teaching as usual but I saw glimpses of disappointment and sadness in her eyes ... we had gone too far.

After school that day, we were in the school compound when a teenager approached us for valuable things. Being young, we could not fight back. Suddenly, Ms Elena came and told the teen to stop or face the consequences. She did a few karate moves and broke a thick tree branch beside her. The teen flashed his army knife and charged towards her.

We saw her face turn pale and her hands shivered. We knew she was frightened. We started counting ‘One, two, three …’ expecting her to run away. We were ready to run too. To our surprise, she swung the tree branch and hit the teen. He screamed, dropped his knife and ran away.

We were so touched by her bravery and her selflessness. The next day, her table was filled with presents. Everyone apologized to her and wished her Happy Teacher’s Day! She was so touched that tears flowed down her cheeks. She may be strict but she cared more for us than herself. She could have injured herself trying to protect us. We promise to study hard Ms Elena. Thank you teacher!


Was he really a teacher?

MY least favourite subject in school was Mathematics so it seemed weird that the teacher who inspired me happened to be my Maths teacher. I could count on one hand the number of times I had excelled in the subject. I despised Maths and everything related to it. In order for my favourite teacher to be someone who taught the “subject-that-should-not-be-named”, he would have to be special. And Mr Tee was indeed special as I had never met any teacher like him.

He realized that my poor marks was because I hated Maths and blocked it from my mind. It probably did not help too that most of my previous Maths teachers were of the “no-nonsense, strictly business” types. As the years went by, I not only hated Maths, but also feared it. When Mr Tee became my Maths teacher, he offered to conduct tuition classes for me.

At first, I thought it would be bad as not only would I have to tolerate Maths in school, but apparently outside it too. However, I did not have much of a choice as my mom insisted that I go in order to improve my grades.

One of the first things that came to my mind during the tuition was “Is he really a teacher?”. The way he behaved, talked and responded to me was just like a friend. We chatted about football, wrestling, food and others. Between sessions, we picked mangoes from a nearby tree and sometimes, he would even invite me to play video games with him after tuition. Despite all these “stuff” that we did together, I still had immense respect for him.

He not only knew everything about Maths but he also knew how to make others understand it. It was my affection towards him that eventually attracted me to Maths. I was starting to score at least a B and occasionally an A. Most importantly, I did not fear Maths anymore. For me, it was just another subject.

I realized that although Mr Tee was a bit ‘wacky’ in his approach, he managed to break down the wall and helped me get close to Maths, close enough to finally score an A in my UPSR. As a teacher, he had improved my grades but as a person, he had helped me become fearless and to believe strongly in myself. His approach to teaching was “you can do it if you don’t like it”.

“Was he really a teacher?” He sure was and a damn good one too.


“Superwoman” saved my exam!

A GOOD teacher certainly brings changes to his/her student’s life. My teacher is a good example of that. Puan Rahizatul was my Form Two class teacher. Words can’t explain how much I adore her as she was a kind, caring and dedicated teacher. I am truly grateful that I have a teacher like her.

She taught me Maths and made sure all my friends in class were present everyday. She was attentive to my needs as an individual in a class of 40 pupils. I was small-sized so she made me sit in the front row. I was shy and seldom talked except when I was feeling comfortable or in my own league of friends. She always smiled at me and made me feel comfortable whenever I felt lost or anxious in class.

Once, I suffered muscle spasms during my Maths examination. I was stressed and had not eaten a proper breakfast that day. My fingers suddenly jammed when I was drawing. Thinking that my marks were going down the drain, I sobbed silently. I was on the verge of a breakdown when suddenly my teacher came to calm me down.

She patted my back and wiped my tears softly. She sat beside me and soothed me with her calming words. I stopped crying and tried explaining to her the situation that I had gotten myself into. It was a huge relief when she said she could help me draw the circles that were required for the Maths question. She held my hands gently and sat with me throughout the examination.

I felt so happy as she was so understanding. The awesome part was when I scored an excellent grade for my Maths examination. Words can’t express how thankful I am to the teacher who saved my “life” that day.

In conclusion, I’m blessed to have met a great individual like her. The fact that she was my teacher made it even better. It showed me how good it felt when someone actually understood our needs. She did make a change in my life and she was my very own “Superwoman”.

I also figured out that one does not need to search for miracles in life as it can happen to you.


The teacher who finally remembered my name

FROM afar, Cikgu Tarmudi walked towards our class. He clearly wore an exhausted face while entering my class. Tired, he took a deep breath and responded “Ah, give me a moment. Let me catch my breath.” Smiling, he continued, “I really love to teach this class.”

That’s what amazed me the most about him. It was the same sentence he said to us each time he entered my class.

Cikgu Tarmudi was our class teacher. As our class was the first class in our batch (Science stream), it was a big responsibility for him. Being students of the first class meant facing high school expectations and it somehow burdened us. But he always said, “Don’t worry, I believe you can do it.” He was Javanese and taught Mathematics. The way he pronounced the Maths terms in English sounded Javanese and I still remember how he pronounced the word ‘transformation’. The whole class giggled at him. If it was me, I would snap and find out who laughed first. However, despite being embarrassed, he turned to face us. He laughed and said, “I know why you laughed. What to do, I’m Javanese ...”. He was optimistic and never jeered at us. That was how patient he was.

The only problem was, he never remembered my name. Once, he called me out to solve a problem on the whiteboard. With his loud voice and Javanese accent, he called “Kazimah! Try to solve this.” The weird name caused the entire class to laugh. “Teacher ... my name is Shahirah,” I told him. As usual, he laughed and replied, “I’m sorry. I only remembered your father’s name: Azman.” I guessed he mixed my name and my father’s name. That was how he called me for almost the entire year.

He was a teacher who always cared for us. Once, we were scolded by a teacher and it humiliated us to the point that we cried in class. He saw us and approached us. “Don’t worry, she’ll cool down later. Don’t think too much about it.” That was his attitude that I admired the most. He was always being positive-minded.

After our SPM, we went to school to get our co-curricular certificates from him. He saw me and said, “Yes, Shahirah?” I was so surprised that he did not call me Kazimah anymore. I asked him how he finally remembered my name. He replied “You’re my student.”

Originally, I was pessimistic and thought only of bad consequences. His positive and optimistic attitude had really changed me. He taught me how to face the challenging life as a student.

To Cikgu Tarmudi, thank you so much. And to all SMK Dato’ Harun’s teachers, Happy Teachers Day!


The Maths magician who motivated me

FOR many of us, Mathematics is a feared beast, best tamed by rote learning, memorising formulas and repeatedly doing past year questions. At least that was what my teachers told me until Mr Karamjeet came along. He was my Further Mathematics teacher.

Within the first few classes, he had transformed my perception of Maths, showing it to be nothing but a misunderstood unicorn, beautiful and powerful. Everyone remembers Pythagoras’s theorem but how many know how and why it works? He never forced anything on us. Instead he compelled us to accept it by showing the proof, and explaining the reason behind it.

He was like a magician. He showed us many cool Math tricks such as Pascal’s Triangle, and this often led to gasps of shock and awe in class. He would also expound on the importance of the theorems he taught and their applications. Sometimes, he would also throw in a few factoids, like the one on how Gauss found his summation formula when he was just a child.

Besides that, he never spoonfed us. He believed in thinking on your own. His problem sheets were filled with questions, not exercises. We needed to look for the critical step which would dismantle the problem and this required presence of the mind. The questions were also highly anticipated and quickly done as the brainiacs compared solutions. There was a lot of pride at stake but it was fun.

Most of all, he showed that there was so much more to Maths than blindly applying formulas. This impressed me so much that I have been motivated to pursue a Maths degree in the United Kingdom this September.

He has truly made a difference in my life.


For a special teacher

TEACHERS are the brightest guiding stars in every child’s life. There is always one particular teacher that touches the heart and she or he becomes the special one. Puan Mazlina (Pn Maz as she is fondly known) was my class teacher in SRK Methodist Klang. Since “Teachers Day” is celebrated to show the love and respect that students have for their teachers, I dedicate this special poem to her:

Thank You my teacher for being there at times when the skies were gray,

Thank You my teacher for lending an ear when I had things to say,

You showered love on me lavishly when no one seemed to care,

You brought me untold joy that filled my heart with moments of gold,

I would have felt isolated and lonely if you had not been there,

I lack words to let you know how much you mean to me,

But I will profusely thank God for you for all eternity.

I am thankful for all that you have done. I admired you each day and I just want to say that as a teacher, you are NUMBER ONE.

Happy Teachers Day Puan Maz!


An all-rounder whom we adore

MADAM Zaini’s motto is “we cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails”. She is our 52-year-old English Language teacher who always encouraged us to try something new. She made sure we entered different types of competitions to gain exposure, experience and self-confidence.

First, she coached her students for the “Spell It Right” contest. Next, she registered her students for the “Way With Words” contest organised by the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA) andThe Star. They took the train to the competition venue as she could not drive. The team won third place in 2009.

Her students also entered the “Mighty Minds” competition organised byThe Star and RHB. She was also my school coordinator for The Star’sNiE Mag Inc competition and made sure the whole school took part.

She was in charge of the Softball Club and persuaded the principal to let her send the girls team for the Malaysian School Sports Council meet. She sent two teams for the “under 18” boys and girls categories.

She was the Red House team advisor who obtained food and shirt sponsors for sports day.

She was an ardent photographer who took most of the photographs herself when she was in charge of the school’s magazine. She created history in my school when she came forward to take pictures during the state Teachers Day celebration. She was like a paparazzo, taking photos of the VIPs and even the singer Mawi. She made other girls in my school want to be photographers.

She also coached a student for the Public Speaking Competition and made sure the student performed in front of the audience during the school assembly. For the Choral Speaking Competition, she coached an entire class!

She enjoyed travelling and organised day trips for her students to Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Malacca. She even went as far as Pangkor, Langkawi, Kelantan and Terengganu. In 2010, she took four buses of students for an AgroXRace competition in Malacca. Her students placed fourth at the national level.

To me, she is an all-rounder. Students call her “ummi” as she is like a mother to us. Students adore her and they open up their hearts to her. She is not only the best teacher for 2012 but the best teacher forever.

As Henry Adams said: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”.


Tribute to a preschool teacher

OH dear teacher ... how long has it been? Six, seven or eight years?

I can hardly count the years we have known each other but it is all thanks to you that I knew how to count.

I still remember the first day we met. I was crying frantically for my mum to return so I did not have to go to preschool. Then … you came.

When I first laid my eyes on you, I thought you were the prettiest and most divine teacher I had ever met. You held me in your arms and comforted me with the softest voice.

With your help, I stopped crying in the end.

Do you remember how much I love reading? You were the one who instilled the love of reading in me.

You introduced my first book to me. Barney. When I look back, I can’t help but laugh.

You made funny faces to keep me interested in the book. As a child, my favourites were fairytales such as Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast. They are still my favourite books and I read them over and over again. I never get bored of them.

Back then, I was a quiet girl. I still am quiet, but not so much anymore. You practically made me mix with others. And I am eternally grateful for that action although I did not like it back then.

I also remember stealing a classmate’s pen. It was really attractive. I eyed it and stole it. Somehow, you found out and announced it in class. I could not help it then but confessed that I stole it and cried. Surprisingly, you did not scold me. You just showed a grim expression.

You praised me for admitting my mistake and said you would not report it to the headmaster. I was ashamed of myself and remembered the incident till today.

Now I am 12. Are you still teaching in the same preschool? Perhaps you switched schools or retired? I still remember you despite us losing contact with each other.

There are only two words to describe my eternal gratefulness. Thank You.


The STAR Online Home Education Sunday May 13, 2012

The mark of a 'quality' school

THE high-level Education Revamp Committee will review and deliberate on nine areas of our education system. "School quality" is one of the areas. Mention "school quality" and it immediately brings to mind the notion of a school that achieves high grades in public examinations, wins numerous co-curricular awards and has an impeccable disciplined student populace, a close rapport with its local community and is in collaboration with an educational entity in a distant land.

Schools that have achieved this have been given cash incentives or rewards by the Education Ministry. All this is well and good. But, if we ponder a little further, we may realise that this is but quality "stereotyped" and "standardised". Every school is doing the same thing; only that each arrives and achieves at a different level. Those that are assessed to be at the highest level on average get the incentives or rewards. But, basically, all schools are doing the same things.

Quality should be "liberalised". Yes, achieving a certain competitive level of success in all the above-mentioned scopes of school life is necessarily important, but beyond and above that, a "quality" school must show that it has character, it is different and it is unique. In other words, a "quality" school should have its own ethos or distinguishing characteristics and its own niches or unique areas of distinction.

A "quality" school is not just the best among equals, it is not a "standardised" unit. A "quality" school stands out. It is of its own.

Perhaps the ministry would consider reviewing its stereotypical evaluation of school achievements. At present, to be chosen for incentives or rewards, schools have to achieve in every one of the different strictly defined categories of activities.

Rankings or marks are accordingly given and the accumulated totals determine if a school gets to be selected for incentives or rewards. Evaluation like this leads to stereotypical pursuits. And, such pursuits get everybody in school busy, restless and soon very tired. And, the "trophy" gained only signifies that the winner is the best among all the stereotypes.

Schools should focus on building their own ethos and establishing their own niches and be recognised for their efforts. This will spare schools from busy running after all and sundry just to get more and higher rankings and marks in order to win the incentives or rewards. Beyond the basics and core, schools should be recognised for what they can do excellently differently.

The school leadership and management must begin to put greater emphasis on building up the school ethos and characters. What personality traits or characteristics are particularly endorsed by the school? What manner of educational pursuits would the school emulate? Perhaps, a starting point for establishing a school ethos is to revisit the existing school motto. How many students are aware of their school motto, least of all practise it? What modifications need to be done? And, how does a school ingrain the "new" ethos upon its student populace? These need hard thinking and tough execution.

A school's ethos builds identity and bond among its students. It births love for the school and establishes links between students and school that lasts even after the students have left school. This "love and link" to the alma mater is much lacking in schools today. "Quality" schools produce "quality" students who remember and value their schools.

As for the school establishing its own niches, recognise first that every child is blessed, in good measure, with multiple abilities (intelligences) and at the same time, each child is gifted in specific areas of ability. With proper nurture and discipline, these abilities will flourish and help establish the school's niche.

Not every child needs to achieve a string of As in the exam (that's excellence), but every child should strive to pass all major exams (that's success).

Not every child can aspire to be a top-notch sportsman or sports woman (that's excellence), but every child should strive to pass all standard takings in his or her physical education classes and enjoy sports and games (that's success). There can be many more such examples. It means that with reasonable effort and discipline, every child can achieve success in all aspects of his or her schooling.

At the same time, every child can strive for excellence in his or her specifically gifted areas of study or learning.

A school should strive to facilitate and provide opportunities for its students to explore and exploit their gifts. Then, with hard work and discipline, the students can achieve excellence; each in his or her own niche.

When a school appreciates, facilitates and cultivates its students' abilities, it will build more self- esteem and greater confidence in its students. In time, the school will see more successes and excellence among its students. This then is the pool of talent from which the school derives its strength and niche. It no longer has to labour in vain to achieve in areas "defined and directed" unto it by the higher authority.

A school's ethos and its niche strengths are the true trademarks of its quality. In assessing "quality" schools, these qualities should rightly be given due considerations.

By Liong Kam Chong, Seremban, Negri Sembilan 

Source:  The New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 11 May 2012 

Being 'well rounded' matters more than As

GOOD grades do help students get into a good college and influence their future employers. However, what's most important during the students' school years is that they learn to try their best and be happy with whatever their best might be.

Learning discipline is one of the hardest lessons, which is one reason why students are sent to school for many years. If they have learnt how to "knuckle down" and do their best, then they would be ahead of many people even if their grades were not as good.

Typical advice parents give their children as they ship them off to college is "study hard and get good grades". I simply despise this and my advice is:

GET involved in activities. Being involved in campus activities offers opportunities for leadership and other practical skills (budget management, public relations, marketing, coordination, communication and so on). It also begins the process of networking.

IT has always been difficult for new graduates to get jobs after college because they lack experience. The best way to reduce this obstacle is to get some experience through internships. In my opinion, colleges or universities should be incorporating them into every course.

Parents also need to understand another fact. As don't ensure a successful career. When interviewing for a job, most employers look for "well rounded" qualities.

The employer needs to know that his worker is going to be responsible to get to work on time every day, and that he will be able to get the job done.

Furthermore, he wants an employee who has been exposed to various other cultures and ideas. He needs someone who can work well with others regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

It is never too late to start. High school students should be hearing the same message.

Good grades aren't enough. Being an excellent athlete isn't enough.

Well rounded and well connected, that is the key.

By R. Murali Rajaratenam, Kuala Lumpur 
Source: The New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 13 May 2012