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