February 3rd, 2013

Thrills and troubles of teaching

While the educator’s role is fast-changing in the digital era, the primary objective is still to get their students focused and engaged in the learning process.

JUST last month, I had the opportunity to meet up with a friend who was my former college mate. We had so many things to catch up on since we were meeting after almost a decade, and ultimately our conversation shifted to our jobs.

As educators, we had so much to talk about our work and I could tell that my friend was a devoted teacher. She took her job seriously and was concerned about the progress of her students. She was frustrated at times when she did not attain the expected level of progress from her students.

From the conversation, I could deduce that my friend had prolonged moments of self-reflection about her teaching approach and methods. However, I assured her that she was not alone, for as educators, we all go through such moments too.

In teaching, there is no ready-made recipe that teachers can apply to be labelled as “successful”.

What works well with one class might not work for another.

There is no consistency in the effectiveness of the teaching methods because we are teaching children and also adults with different needs, cultural backgrounds, ethnic belongings, psychological make-up, and learning styles.

Teaching is the only job in which the educator deals with all types of people. Yet, we love our job dearly and we strive to equip ourselves with skills that enable us to adapt and blend in any educational context.

The students we teach today are different from the school-goers of perhaps a decade or two ago, which is why we need to look at some of the skills we have. We need to equip ourselves so that we can live up to the challenges ahead.

As educators, the most daunting challenge is to get our students engaged and focused in the learning process.

All teachers are concerned about their teaching practices and skills, but how many times have we wondered about a better way to teach the same lesson that was delivered to an earlier class?

How often have we used technology to engage our students and improve their learning? These are some recurring questions that come up when our teaching skills are put to the test.

It is amazing how technology has changed the world, giving rise to new forms of education we never thought of. Our students are very digitally focused. They spend more time interacting with their mobile devices than they do with their parents and family. If they are not engaged in sending out their text messages via their mobile phones, they are probably “busy” on Facebook.

Facebook is a very popular social media site that attracts all young people. Face-to-face interaction has “almost” been replaced by communication through Facebook.

Social media networking is a requisite for today’s learning. We are living in a digitally-wired world where the power of information rests with those who are properly “connected”.

In the above context, a teacher who does not employ technology is deemed to be “obsolete”.

It is like driving a car for a decade without having an oil change. The engine will definitely get rusty and fall apart. The same applies to teachers who fail to seek more information to enrich their students with knowledge and not rely solely on the textbook provided.

Admittedly, the digital boom has both a positive and negative impact on our students. Lack of concentration, short attention span, distraction, visual stimulus overload, identity theft, lack of real world socialising, privacy issues, depression, and many more are a direct result of the growing exposure to this technology.

We should not look at only one side for the other side might be a lot more interesting and beneficial. There are many plus points for the use of technology in education.

In the 21st century, the role of a teacher should be that of a mentor and guide. Teachers should interact closely with students and seek their views on identifying areas or topics that they may have difficulties with. Being recipients of the system, students can describe clearly what is needed for learning to occur.

The teacher’s role should be in such a way that students become the judge of their own performance. Students learn a lot through self-evaluation.

The teachers’ challenge is to create a lesson that engages students and draws them in.

It is to build rapport with students and cultivate a classroom of trust and encouragement.

Use of technology in the teaching and learning process can make more learning take place, while at the same time engaging students.

Dr TERMIT KAUR RANJIT SINGH is a senior lecturer at the School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). Her main interest in research is in the area of ICT in Education and the use of Peer Coaching in Technology Integration in Teaching and Learning. She received a Gold Medal at the Malaysian Technology Expo 2011, for creating a courseware using the SmartBoard. She is currently working on the development of an Interactive Teaching and Learning Lab at USM.. The STAR Online Home Education  Opinion Sunday February 3, 2013

Creating students of substance and character

SOCIAL science subjects undeniably play a vital and pivotal part in harnessing the full potential of our young.

It is precisely through such courses that students broaden their horizons and thinking.

The most suitable place for young minds to be developed and cultivated is undeniably at university.

A university is where we pursue excellence, character, harmony and wisdom.

It has been said that truly outstanding minds are usually cultivated from within, and emerge from, a conducive environment.

They take shape when their intellectual capacity and potential is supported, encouraged and cultivated.

An intellectual is a person who uses thought and critical or analytical reasoning in either a professional or a personal capacity.

These people are involved in abstract, erudite ideas and theories.

They are also in professions which involve the production and dissemination of ideas.They could also be people of notable cultural and artistic expertise whose knowledge grants them intellectual authority in public discourse.

There is no doubt that among intellectuals are philosophers, teachers, writers, poets and artists.

The French philosopher and revolutionary, Jean-Paul Sartre pronounced that the intellectuals are the moral conscience of their age.

He passionately believed in this, as he himself lived his life the way he wrote and taught.

The task of the intellectuals, he said was not limited by merely observing the political and social situation of the moment, but undeniably to be involved and engaged actively in all of society’s issues and concerns.

Finally, he also maintained that part and parcel of the duty of an intellectual was to serve as a voice of the marginalised, the oppressed, the idiots, the exploited, the lowest members of the society and indeed to speak out freely, in accordance with their conscience.

Standing up for truth

Philosopher and activist Professor Noam Chomsky, like Sartre also subscribes to the belief that a true intellectual must not be silenced nor cowed.

They must always stand for the truth and condemn all the injustices and inequalities in the world.

An intellectual therefore is not only a member of a community, but a citizen of the world. Intellectuals are truly necessary and indeed important in any society or political community. Their ultimate function is to serve as the critic of their society’s malaise.

It is not an exaggeration to state that intellectuals are precisely the eyes and soul of the community.

As such, universities should encourage critical thinkers who lead and are responsible citizens in society.

Hence, we must engage in a two-pronged programme which involves the development of the mind and cultivation of the inner spirit. These two elements must concur in order for us to mould and create students and citizens who have substance and good moral character.

JOSE MARIO DOLOR DE VEGA was previously teaching Philosophy, Ethics and Anthropology at an institution of higher education in the Klang Valley. The STAR Online Home Education Opinion Sunday February 3, 2013

Share with humility

PROPHET Muhammad advised that if you are riding a camel or a donkey alone, offer someone a lift.

The act of sharing to ease the burden of others who are in dire need was highlighted at a recent wakaf conference.

As we reflect on the recent birthday of the prophet, there is no better message than the call to share.

Indeed, share the best -- not just as a token or for the sake of publicity.

The prophet also said: "He is not a believer who has a square meal while his neighbour starves."

In yet another instance, he recounted a traveller, who, after quenching his thirst at a well, offered water in his moccasin to a panting dog.

God appreciated the good deed so much that He granted him deliverance.

The prophet reaffirmed that there is divine reward for sharing with any living being.

Sharing is such an important gesture today when disparities are on the rise, as the socio-economic situation worldwide worsens because of not just the lack of sharing but also utter greed.

The act of sharing and performing charity are powerful ways of life to narrow gaps.

As the prophet attested, on the day of judgment, you will enjoy shade and comfort as a reward for your charitable deeds.

In the Quran, verse 273 of Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow) states: "Charity is for those in need."

We are to help people in need regardless of religion.

The prophet further reminded us that charity does not diminish wealth. Nor does humility lower prestige. If you act humbly for God's sake, then He will certainly raise your rank.

In other words, it is best to perform charity with humility to the extent that the left hand knows not what the right hand is giving.

On another level, charity and justice are equally vital and linked.

The Islamic concept of charity, after all, is not merely limited to alleviation of grievances, but rather arriving at a form of social justice in the long run.

It implies, therefore, that every human being has the right to attain quality of life in an egalitarian way if charity is practised widely and honestly.

In some cases, as in zakah in Islam, it is obligatory and binding as a form of sharing between those who have and those who have not.

Sharing through charity, or otherwise, is also encouraged in many religions and beliefs.

For example, soon we will celebrate another day of kongsi, come Chinese New Year.

The word kongsi is now in the Malay vocabulary to emphasis just that -- sharing.

In fact, Kongsi is a name of a town in the Malay-dominated area of Balik Pulau, Penang, known for its diverse agricultural produce ranging from nutmeg, clove and pepper to vegetable.

The Analects, or Lunyu of Confucius remind us that "of neighbourhoods, benevolence is the most beautiful".

" How can the (wo)man be considered wise who, when (s)he had the choice, does not settle in benevolence?"

He noted, "The superior (wo)man thinks always of virtue; the common (wo)man thinks of comfort."

Confucius asserted that nurturing our hearts is the fountain head of benevolence, sharing and charity.

"The superior man will watch over himself when he is alone. He examines his heart that there may be nothing wrong there, and that he may have no cause of dissatisfaction with himself."

In similar ways, Prophet Muhammad talked about the heart (more accurately, qalbu) as a piece of flesh in the body -- if it is cleansed then the body becomes clean, otherwise the latter will "rot".

 DZULKIFLI ABDUL RAZAK New Straits Times Learning Curve 27 January 2013

We are humans, not rats

AUTHORITY OF IDEAS: Youth should pursue a life that enriches them

IN the drive for change it is often said that "the authority of ideas" is deemed to be more important than "the idea of authorities." This is in essence what Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said when he told youth last week that their ideas were much welcome.

Speaking at the Youth Action Forum last week he recognised that it was important for Malaysia to have a large reservoir of young people who would be able to contribute positive and fresh ideas in developing the nation. And for them to be passionate about their ideas and projects for a better Malaysia, especially in "social economy" through social innovation.

In other words, social innovation can be turned into an important platform for youth to be change agents that will make them responsible citizens of the country by adding value to the community.

The recent spate of crimes that Malaysian children have been subjected to should make us pause and think as to where we are heading as a nation.

Youth, in particular, must be sensitised to such a question and take up the challenge of finding a lasting solution before the youthful ideas and idealism wane. It is true as the prime minister asserted that we tend "to lose our passion and dreams when we get caught up in the rat race."

In fact, youth need to examine critically the notion of "rat race" before they decide to join one. First, it is a potential source of social "unhappiness", even with the increase in prosperity and a higher standard of living.

A recent Gallup report that measures daily emotions in more than 150 countries and areas demonstrates that even citizens of countries considered economically more prosperous can be rendered emotionally deficit.

It cites Singaporeans as the least likely in the world to report experiencing emotions of any kind on a daily basis.

The 36 per cent who reported feeling either positive or negative emotions is the lowest in the world. According to Gallup, Singaporeans are not enjoying their prosperity despite their per capita income of US$33,530 (RM103,900).

The metaphor "rat race" conjures an image of rats in a science laboratory when being subjected to several repetitive activities -- for example, running around a maze -- in order to fulfil some sort of experimental goal.

For humans, this may appear in the form of routine work functions performed mindlessly day in and day out for a specific goal that has low value or little social purpose.

It follows that work is no more than a dreaded chore and no longer inspiring, let alone in the effort to make a difference towards nation-building.

While the prime minister is right in saying that work experience can bring out new ideas and different perspectives to solve issues and problems, youth need to seek out challenging careers (not just jobs!) where "the authority of ideas" is valued most.

Not the other way round. Equally important, such careers must not cause them to be alienated from the community at large.

Alienation is becoming very real and alarming as the disparity gap widens as is the tendency today.

To my mind, what James Reid (1932-2010), the University of Glasgow rector from 1971 to 1974, described as "alienation" when he delivered the 1972 Rectorial Address entitled "Alienation" was spot on, viz: "It is the cry of (wo)men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making."

He further reminded us to reject greed and individualism and the rat race when he said: "A rat race is for rats. We are not rats. We are human beings.

"Reject the insidious pressures of society that would blunt your critical faculties to all the happenings around you that would caution silence in the face of injustices lest you jeopardise your changes of promotions and self-advancement."

"This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you are a fully-paid up member of the rat pack. The price is too high. It entails a loss of your dignity and human spirit."

In the pursuit of any idea, this must be the ultimate caveat.

Dzulkifli Abdul Razak New Straits Times Learning Curve 3 February 2013

Sharing publication glory

QUALITY REIGNS SUPREME: A PhD student wrote a research paper and sent it for publication in an international journal.

The work was accepted. She gleefully told her supervisor that "their" work had been accepted. She expected joy and happiness on the face of her supervisor. Instead she sensed that her boss was not happy at all.

"Please remove my name from the paper," he told her in no uncertain terms. The PhD student wanted to give her supervisor a pleasant surprise. Instead she was rebuffed.

Not all supervisors want to publish works with their students. On their own they can come up with at least five papers a year in respected journals. They need not "tag" along with their students.

If the students do want to include their supervisors as authors they should at least show the draft to them just in case they have any input or comments. They want a say in how the paper should be written. Their sense of fair play and integrity demands that they do not "tumpang glamour".

We know of supervisors who forthrightly tell their students not to include their names in their papers because they have not made meaningful or significant contributions to the work.

For most practitioners of Science, they have certain ground rules to follow. One of them is on the question of authorship on papers.

Barbara J. Culliton, in a paper entitled The Ideal Scientists Described, published in a 1990 issue of Science, opined that the ideal scientist is listed as an author of a paper only if he or she actually did some of the work.

The guidelines describe authorship as a privilege that belongs only to those who make a significant contribution to the conceptualisation, design, execution and/or interpretation of research study.

In their eagerness to play the game of "publish or perish" some postgraduates overlook the sensitivities of human feelings. Those who have reached the pinnacle of success in their research do not want to be dragged down by papers which were later found to be flawed or the data fraudulent.

In scientific parlance, it was "painting the mice". They would rather have one truly good paper rather than several which were hastily churned out just to meet the required key performance indicator. To top researchers, quality reigns supreme.

Koh Aik Khoon New Straits Times Learning Curve 03 February 2013