May 27th, 2012

Windows to the future

EVEN with a sincere passion for teaching and the desire to give our students the best, teachers end up bowing to time constraints as well as social and administrative pressures.

“What society wants are students with straight A’s and spoon-feeding them in order to score top marks is encouraged by some quarters,” said teacher S. Shobana from Johor.

At the same time, she acknowledged the goverment’s endeavour to transform the national education system, and praised its efforts.

“I can’t wait to teach the new Standard Curriculum for Primary Schools (KSSR) pupils when they enter secondary school.

“I’m looking forward to the brand new curriculum for secondary schools in 2014 as well,” said Shobana.

The KSSR is said to be pupil-centric, with an emphasis on fun learning, critical and creative thinking, reasoning skills, communication and ICT literacy. It was implemented last year, starting with Year One pupils.

Besides tidying up school administrative functions and giving teachers more access to experiential learning opportunities, the most integral change was a change of perspectives, said Aisyah Syed Abdullah Al-Mashoor, a teacher from SMK Seri Bintang Selatan, Kuala Lumpur.

“Society’s outlook on the teaching profession is rather negative; they regard it as a second-grade job,” she said.

Respectable profession

People who took up teaching used to be driven by passion but not anymore, lamented Aisyah, a product of the Excellent Students Programme (ESP) which began in 2002.

“Under the programme, 100 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) students with outstanding SPM results signed individual contracts with the Education Ministry to become teachers every year,” said Aisyah.

“They were sponsored to study key subjects such as Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics in renowned universities in the United Kingdom.

“During his tenure as Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad established the programme to support the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) policy.”

However, after Dr Mahathir stepped down, the programme did not seem to draw the same enthusiasm.

“I am from the programme’s first batch of graduates and I am devastated.

“We blew our chance to turn things around and reinvent the image of teachers,” said Aisyah.

“We had top SPM students signing up to become teachers, which in itself polished the profession’s image, and now we are overlooked ... it is such a waste of resources.”

Aisyah said she and her peers were sent overseas to pursue a degree in Science, not Education.

She added: “Our level of expertise dispels the view that teaching is a leftover job for underachievers and indecisive graduates.

“The ESP also helped sketch a different picture of what a teacher was, in order to break stereotypes.

“It portrayed teachers as professionals much like any executive in a private corporation.

“We have to change stereotypes and make sure students who want to become teachers know that teaching is a rewarding and beautiful career.”

Another young teacher, Lu Jia Yi, said students should be reassured that the teaching profession is a career worth pursuing.

“The irony is that society wants good teachers but tells smart students not to become teachers.

“Thankfully, not everyone thinks that way. I have a friend whose parents didn’t stop her from pursuing a career in teaching even though she could have chosen any other course after scoring straight A’s in her SPM,” said Lu.

By Aminuddin Mohsin

Source: The STAR Online Home Education Sunday May 27, 2012

Too heavy a burden

So much has been said about teachers being saddled with clerical chores. While attempts have been made to reduce their workload, a more efficient system needs to be put in place to ensure they focus on teaching.

THE recent string of education initiatives to assist school teachers in both primary and secondary schools have put teachers in a spot.

While teachers who appreciate the help rendered are mostly fresh graduates, questions have been raised as to the effectiveness of these initiatives.

Many teachers feel that the need for the initiatives suggests that they are inept.

Younger teachers will be the first to tell you that the reason for whatever perceived ineptitude society has towards teachers is not entirely due to the individual.

Teacher S. Shobana said that while there are thousands of teachers out there, there are a few who are just there because they have no other career choice and do a half-hearted job.

“But you’ll also find many who will go the extra mile for their students. So you have to look past the individual to see what is affecting teachers’ performance,” said the teacher from SMK Puteri Wangsa, Johor.

Discussion time: Aisyah offering some pointers to her students. She believes that teaching should be given the respect it deserves as a noble profession.

From the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships to the Teach For Malaysia (TFM) fellowship, there are numerous education initiatives and programmes underway.

National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng said that in the case of TFM, engagement methods hint that teachers are incompetent.

“We want to cooperate with TFM, but we are also asking them to be respectful of teachers. Don’t treat us as though we do not know what we are doing,” she said.

She added that TFM should be a catalyst for teacher development, not a body that creates doubts and questions the capabilities of teachers in government schools.

Not all teachers feel the same way though. Many young teachers view the help being funnelled into schools as a positive sign.

“I fully support TFM. I don’t think it challenges my position as a teacher. The initiatives acknowledge the fact that teachers do need help and such programmes are in fact lending us a helping hand,” said Aisyah Syed Abdullah Al-Mashoor, a teacher at SMK Seri Bintang Selatan, Kuala Lumpur.

She added that even if some teachers think it undermines the teaching profession, it is irrelevant because students have been undermining school teachers way before TFM.

“Students tend to respect their tuition teachers more than their school teachers. This in itself subverts a teacher’s teaching ability,” she explained.

As for the English Teaching Assistants (ETAs), Aisyah said as long as local teachers are not proficient in the global language, native English speakers would be in demand as they can correct pronunciation and sentence structure.

“We still have teachers here who pronounce tortoise as ‘to-toy-s’,” quipped Aisyah who has been teaching for more than four years.

Happy together : Devlin (squatting, centre) with her students. The presence of an ETA boosts student confidence in semi-urban and rural schools.

Helping students

Shobana said that any initiative to help schools is welcome as they give students the nudge they need to develop interest in their studies.

“Despite having different methods and approaches, it is the students we have in mind. In a way, we are complementing each other,” she said.

Shobana said her school’s ETA, Kathleen Devlin, learnt as much from her as she did from Kathleen.

“If you’ve never taught before, you’d be surprised at how hard it can be. So, I share teaching tips with Kathleen while she gives me new lesson ideas.

“I’m sure it’s the same for TFM fellows who have never taught before,” said the teacher with about a year’s experience.

The young teacher shared her observations about her students, who like many Malaysians, are in awe of Caucasians.

“I usually walk around my school and greet the students, but when Kathleen (Devlin) joins me, it’s as though I’m invisible!” said Shobana.

She added that her students were all intrigued by Devlin and had “some sort of double standard” when it came to treating local and foreign teachers.

Her compatriot in neighbouring SMK Kota Masai 2, Vincent Tan, said he was grateful his school was also chosen for the ETA programme.

Enlightening experience: Tan (left) helping his students paint a banner for a project. Teaching has been a great learning experience for him.

“Thanks to the ETA, I finally see my students uttering English words.

“Our students have no choice but to use the universal language to communicate with the ETAs. This is what all English teachers want,” he said.

The presence of an ETA, especially in semi-urban and rural schools, boosts student confidence, said Tan who finds teaching a great learning experience.

“Not only do they bring creative and unique pedagogy approaches into the classroom, they also share their knowledge of the education system in the United States,” he said.

Reinventing styles

The interesting teaching methods applied by the ETA in class made Tan reflect on his own methodologies and reinvent his style of teaching.

Although the young teachers are positive and enthusiastic, they too have their fair share of complaints about what holds them back as teachers.

“We can debate all day about whether those in the teaching profession are truly passionate about their jobs, but we’ll never come to a conclusion,” said Shobana.

She added that instead of focusing on what cannot be measured, it is best to focus on problems the profession faces with regards to its performance.

“My biggest challenge as a teacher is dealing with the rigid structure of the school administration system.

Teacher’s pet: SK Bandar Utama Damansara 4 teacher Rusmazura Che Halid, receiving a gift from pupil Elizabeth Lim on Teachers Day recently. Young teachers like her are a great motivation to their pupils.

“Frankly, we need a more efficient system in schools. We are being burdened with clerical duties and administrative work that is killing our morale and passion for the job.

“Some of us wonder how we ended up becoming clerks instead of teachers after studying to become educators,” she joked.

She added that there is unnecessary bureaucracy, such that even education policies from different eras are being practised.

“The Education Ministry should tidy up old policies every now and then, so that they don’t overlap with new ones.

“That way, the activities we carry out stay relevant and make sense to our students,” she said.

Aisyah explained that the old book-keeping system is still prevalent no matter which school a teacher is at — a semi-rural school like Shobana’s or an urban one, like hers.

She said: “High performance schools like mine are granted huge sums of money by the government every year.

“You need to conduct programmes and activities with that money, and that is when the paperwork begins.

“We have to deal with planning and budgeting. You have to finish the budget within a given period, otherwise your school will be queried by the ministry.”

Citing an example of organising a Maths camp, Aisyah said the teacher would have to draft the objectives of holding the camp, plan the budget, then decide and contact the Maths experts available for the camp, apart from taking care of other details like food and refreshments.

“On top of all the e-mails, letters, phone calls and planning, the teacher also has to write a report that details the whole process once the camp is over.

“The workload is insane because of this muddle. When that adds on to a teacher’s other responsibilities, like planning lessons, helping students catch up with the syllabus and co-curriculum, it is overwhelming,” she said.

Ideally, a school needs a special team of “auxiliary staff” who can support teachers with activities unrelated to the classroom, said Aisyah.

Shobana shared her sentiments, saying that having clerical staff in schools would to some extent solve the problem.

She added that what made it worse was when the “higher-ups” who demand written reports do not even read them.

Tan on the other hand had a different outlook on problems faced by his peers.

He said: “The paperwork and filing system isn’t the real issue, it’s the lack of clear guidelines on related procedures and processes.

“The ministry should provide a clear, standardised and practical system, not just for submitting reports and filing, but also for delegating administrative duties in general.”

Aisyah said the problem was straightforward and so were the benefits of coming up with a solution.

“The paradigm is simple, less paperwork means more interesting and thought-provoking lessons in class. Students will then learn to analyse and digest facts instead of simply memorising them. One can only be creative when one starts to think,” she added.

Lok said the NUTP has been pushing for a change in teachers’ standard operating procedures (SOP) for a long time.

“We know teachers have had to put up with some irrelevant procedures over the years,” she said.

Apart from the administrative clutter, teachers have complained that dealing with students from different backgrounds and competency levels, both in rural and urban schools, is another major challenge.

Experience is essential

“You need experience to deal with the situation in our schools. For some, the syllabus may be too complicated; and there are also the disciplinary issues to handle,” said Lok.

Nur Amalina Mohammad, one of Tan’s colleagues, said: “All the pedagogy theories we learn can’t be directly implemented without prior preparation. You’ve got to fit them within the context of our classrooms.”

She added that although training offered by local institutes of teacher education and universities is excellent, it would be better if they accord more practical training hours.

“Of all the subjects in college, I think psychology helped me the most in classroom management as it guided my attempts to understand how students think.

“But at the end of the day I would have preferred more hours as a trainee teacher in schools because nothing beats experience,” said Nur Amalina.

Lu Jia Yi, a newly-posted English language teacher at SMK Taman Sutera, Johor Baru, Johor, said some schools have tried making it easier for trainee teachers by assigning them to top classes where students are manageable and smart.

However, that does not reflect the real situation as there is a difference between real and mock experiences.

Most of the time, the problem is time itself and the lack of it, said Shobana.

She added that it was possible to put new pedagogy techniques to practice, but it has to be prepared carefully to suit the students.

“Preparing these kinds of lessons take a lot of time – sourcing from the Internet, finding visual aids and figuring out how to make them interesting,” she said.

Source: The STAR Online Home Education Sunday May 27, 2012

The X-factor in Dr M

Former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has faced many critical elections but the next general election will see him fighting like never before.

TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad is quite used to people telling him that he looks good for his age.

He will be 87 in a couple of months and at a recent function in Kedah, he joked: “People tell me I look young but the fact is I am going to be 87 soon. Even if I switch the numbers from 87 to 78, that is still old. There is no running from it.”

But, said Sungai Tiang assemblywoman Suraya Yaakob, the former premier’s schedule in Kedah over the last few months has resembled that of a 50-year-old man’s rather than that of a man in his 80s.

“He is determined to help us win in Kedah,” said Suraya.

Dr Mahathir’s trips to Kedah used to be confined to what some call his other love, Langkawi, where he would hop into a car and drive himself to his appointments, meet people and look at the development.

But he is said to be on the campaign trail in Kedah. Last weekend, he addressed a gathering of Kedah Umno grassroots leaders in Alor Setar where many faces who had been missing from the political scene since 2008 were there for him. They included people who had felt slighted by the previous leadership or what the Malays would describe as merajuk. They had been inactive or had kept a low profile and Dr Mahathir is trying to draw them out of inactivity.

Among them was Datuk Seri Syed Razak Syed Zain who was replaced as Mentri Besar in 2005 after a stroke. Since then, he had avoided Umno events in Kedah. He has aged and lost weight, his left hand looks stiff and he drags his left leg when he walks but apart from that, he was his usual garrulous self.

His appearance on stage, seated beside Dr Mahathir, was yet another sign of the shift taking place on the ground.

Syed Razak was dropped as a candidate in 2008 and Kubang Rotan, the seat he had held since 1995, fell to PAS. He is a Mahathir man and had been the strongman in the Kuala Kedah division. It is no secret that his supporters resented the way he was ousted. As a result, PAS and PKR made a clean sweep in his area in the 2008 election, winning the Parliamentary as well as the three State seats.

Syed Razak was a popular Mentri Besar, the sort whose house is open to all and sundry. He could speak the northern style Hokkien and frequents the Chinese kopitiam to chat with the local folk.

Dr Mahathir had personally called him two months ago to ask him to throw his weight behind Kedah Umno again, especially in Kuala Kedah where he has family, friends and supporters and to get them to come out for the party in the election.

But several big names were missing, among them Padang Terap chief and former Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid, who was overseas with the King. Kulim Bandar Baru chief Datuk Aziz Sheikh Fadzir, whose elder brother Tan Sri Kadir suddenly quit Umno last month, was also overseas.

Kubang Pasu chief Datuk Johari Baharum was also absent which was not surprising. Johari is still in Dr Mahathir’s bad books for his role in blocking the elder man’s bid to be a delegate to the 2006 Umno general assembly.

When told of Johari’s absence, Dr Mahathir had said: “Well, he does not like me so much, I also don’t like him that much. But if he is picked as a candidate, I will still vote for him.”

Party man

It was his way of telling those present that he has not forgiven Johari but the party is bigger than the individual and as a party man, he is prepared to overlook his feelings about Johari.

Dr Mahathir understands Kedah politics very well. He knows that sabotage is the eighth of the Seven Deadly Sins in Umno.

As such, when speaking to the gathering, he asked the division chiefs on the stage to stand up and pledge that they would not indulge in sabotage if they were not picked as election candidates. They rose to their feet and raised their hands high above their heads; some were enthusiastic and raised both hands but there were a few hands that were neither up nor down.

However, political pledges are not etched in stone and Dr Mahathir quipped in the Kedah slang, “Depa janji ini boleh pakai tak?” (Is this a serious promise?)

The fall of Kedah came as a great shock to him; it was something he did not think he would see in his lifetime. Many attributed the defeat in Kedah to his fight with Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the fact he had resigned from Umno.

“Kedah people were not happy to see him treated that way. There were Umno members who did not go out to vote,” said a senior Kedah civil servant.

For more than a year after Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak came in as Prime Minister, there was endless chatter in a pro-Pakatan Rakyat news portal that Dr Mahathir was trying to topple Najib the way he had tried to get rid of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. It didn’t make any sense but that was what subscribers to the news portal wanted to believe and the portal churned out the reports until they died a natural death.

It is crystal clear by now that the man Dr Mahathir wants out is none other than Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. He will do what it takes to stop Anwar from becoming Prime Minister. He has said some pretty outrageous stuff about Anwar which the latter has not rebutted. The PKR de facto leader knows he cannot take on Dr Mahathir.

And it is not only Dr Mahathir who wants Najib to win the next general election; Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali is also rooting for Najib. The couple are committed to Umno.

During the big Umno anniversary bash at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, the former First Lady lost her usual composure and was overwhelmed by emotion. She was crying openly as those seated nearby passed her wads of tissue.

Dr Siti Hasmah had been deeply shocked and upset over the violence and vandalism that erupted at the Bersih protests. The gentle being in her saw it as some form of social breakdown and disintegration.

According to Wanita Umno veteran Tan Sri Napsiah Omar, the atmosphere at the Umno gathering, the deafening roars from the crowd for Dr Mahathir and the focus of Najib’s speech touched Dr Siti Hasmah deep within and the dam broke. When Najib went up to her after his speech, she gave him a motherly hug and kissed him on the cheek.

“I think what she saw that evening helped restore her spirits,” said Napsiah.

Dr Mahathir has also been addressing Umno groups in Selangor and Penang.

“Tun Mahathir is a big political factor for us. He was outside Umno in 2008, that cost us votes. He has impact, influence and relevance. Not many can be that age and still be fighting,” said Selangor Barisan coordinator Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed.

Seen it, done it

What the elder statesman says carries weight because he’s been there, seen it, done it. And he has been right on more occasions than he has been wrong. And as he has willingly admitted on several occasions, “my big mistake was picking Anwar”.

Dr Mahathir’s hosts in Penang last Sunday were the Umno Veterans Club of Penang and the key man behind it was no less than Fadzil Shuib, a die-hard Mahathir admirer.

“The veterans in Umno have a big role in the election. We figure that each veteran can bring in at least 10 votes from his wife, children, grandchildren and their in-laws. That’s what we are looking at,” said Fadzil who is also president of the Tanjong Malays Association.

Umno is also turning to Mubarak, an association comprising former Barisan elected representatives, for help. Many of those in this association were elected during Dr Mahathir’s administration and he will be playing a role in rallying their support and commitment.

Some in Umno think Dr Mahathir is going all out in Kedah because his son Datuk Mukhriz is said to be the forerunner for the Mentri Besar post. But at the Alor Setar event, he did not make a single reference to his son who was also seated on the stage. Going by his speech and body language, it was as though Kedah Umno chief Datuk Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah was on course to become the Mentri Besar in the event of a win.

The Mahathir name has a certain magic in Kedah. When Suraya invited Mukhriz to her constituency during Chinese New Year, many Chinese ladies, old and young, poured out to meet “anak Mahathir” in the flesh. They held on to his hand and peered at his face, as though looking for any resemblance to his famous father; they probably noticed his father has more hair and is handsomer to boot.

One elderly lady in a wheelchair held his face in her hands and petted his smooth cheek. Mukhriz, who is Jerlun MP and a deputy minister, is seen as some sort of gamechanger in Kedah because of his appeal among the Mahathir admirers, the young who grew up with him as Prime Minister and, well, the senior Chinese ladies.

“Many Chinese here used to say that Tun Mahathir brought them business luck when he was the PM. They said he gave them good fengshui,” said Suraya.

When Suraya met Dr Mahathir at a Mubarak dinner in Alor Setar earlier this month, she teased him about his hectic schedule: “Bini tak marah ke?” (Did your wife scold you?)

“He had a good laugh. I know Tun Hasmah would not approve of the hectic pace, especially after his last heart surgery,” said Suraya.

He told Suraya that if they want to invite him for programmes, they should hand the invitations personally to him because “my family hijacks some of my letters, they want me to rest at home”.

Resting at home is the last thing on Dr Mahathir’s mind at the moment. Like every politician in the country, his mind is on the general election.

Besides, he is not the sit-at-home-and-shake-legs kind of guy. A day after his Umno meetings in Kedah and Penang, he jetted off to Tokyo where he is a must-have personality at the annual Nikki Conference. He returns today to start another full week.

Dr Mahathir has faced his share of critical general elections but the next one is the most daunting even though he is no longer the Prime Minister. This election, he has told many people, is about the survival of Umno.


Source: The STAR Online Home News Opinion Sunday May 27, 2012

Speak up against disgraceful behaviour

Many of us who may be highly vocal against one side are not prepared to register our unhappiness over what is wrong when it does not suit our political palate.

IT’S incredibly disgraceful. It’s a form of harassment, plain and simple, and any decent-minded Malaysian should know when to draw the line. The protests outside Bersih co-chairman Datuk S. Ambiga’s house should stop.

I do not think any politician or non-governmental organisation leader, regardless of their political allegiance, would want to see a protest outside their homes.

For that matter, none of the protesters outside Ambiga’s house would be amused if they woke up one fine morning to find over-weight people doing butt exercises outside their gates.

If these protesters believe they have helped Barisan Nasional with their silly antics, someone had better tell them they haven’t.

So, BN secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor understandably condemned these protests, describing them as unbecoming of Malaysians, and urged authorities to put an immediate end to them.

“We understand that you are upset because of Bersih 3.0 but this country has laws. You want to sue Ambiga, go ahead, but gathering in front of her house to cook things she doesn’t eat (beef burgers), showing your backside, then organising a pasar malam – what is all this?” he asked.

MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said such protests were wrong and that although these people were affected by Bersih 3.0, it did not give them the right to harass Ambiga.

We need to stand up and speak up against what is not right. It has nothing to do with politics, but respect for plain decency and privacy.

I think the protesters have made their point and they should now stop troubling City Hall and the police with plans for more protests.

Ambiga, I am sure, has many admirers for standing up for what she believes in. However, there are also many who do not share in her political enthusiasm.

While the majority of those who took part in Bersih 3.0 were peaceful and law-abiding, a large section was also rowdy and out to create havoc. Ambiga should have come down harder on such rowdiness but she didn’t.

It is clear that the actions of the protesters outside her home cannot be defended. Likewise, those who attended Bersih 3.0 with the intention of starting a street battle do not deserve to be defended.

Malaysia, unfortunately, has become so politically divided that we do not see right and wrong in the correct perspective. Blind loyalty rules the day and we are in danger of sliding down its slippery slope. Many of us who may be highly vocal against one side are not prepared to register our unhappiness over what is wrong when it does not suit our political palate.

It is wrong to beat up Bersih 3.0 protesters, wrong for protesters to beat up policemen and certainly wrong to beat up journalists on duty.

Let’s stop assuming that every protester wearing a yellow T-shirt or a law enforcement officer in a blue uniform is an angel.

Stone-throwing and disrupting the ceramah of a rival political party surely cannot be right. It should not be tolerated and the police must not allow this trend to continue. This is just plain rowdiness. It does not matter whether Barisan members have been provoked; surely, there must be a better sense of restraint.

Similarly, why have Ambiga, the opposition politicians and their supporters been silent on the heckling of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak when he spoke at an investment promotion event in London?

It was wrong – plain and simple – but yet they seem ready to overlook such uncouth behaviour because it involved Bersih 3.0 supporters.

Or are we going to hear that they are government agents and planted by the Special Branch, which now seems to be another excuse to defend bad behaviour?

The political temperature has hit near boiling point. The sooner the general election is called, the better it will be for all of us.

Let’s get it over and done with. The silly season, as newsmen call the election period, has come earlier than expected. Let Barisan and Pakatan Rakyat settle this once and for all so that we can all go back to our normal lives.

On the Beat By WONG CHUN WAI 
Source: The STAR Online Home News Opinion Sunday May 27, 2012