I REFER to "Training skills focus to tap best to head schools" (NST, July 3). The education minister announced that effective next year the appointment of school principals and headmasters will be based on the National Professional Qualification for Educational Leaders' training and assessment conducted by Institut Aminuddin Baki.
Also taken into consideration would be the candidate's capabilities in carrying out the job, creativity and innovation as well as track record as a teacher.
The move should be lauded. Often schools have seen poor selection of heads resulting not only in their potential not being fully realised but also frustration among all stakeholders.
As much as we enjoy and celebrate success stories and learn from them, we can also acquire wisdom by studying and understanding some "failed" cases of principalship. Let me elaborate.
A senior lecturer in educational leadership and management courses wanted to put his teaching into practice/test. He was formerly a teacher and had done a short stint as a state education department official. But, that was a long time ago; schools had changed much since. He opted for a normal secondary day school with a student population of over 2,000 in the Klang Valley.
The school had been performing below par and had its more than fair share of student disciplinary problems. It was categorised as a "difficult" school. The senior lecturer expressed his "like" for the challenge, and eagerly went in to "change and transform". Sooner rather than later, however, he realised that he could not "lecture" his staff, students and parents as he had lectured his charges in the training institute. Pressure built up on him. Sadly, he did not survive the test and went back to his ivory tower with his professional credibility somewhat discounted.
A senior assistant (academic) of an established, well-respected residential girls' college gained much appreciation and praises for having continually improved the quality of her college's annual public examination results. She was honoured with the excellent teacher's award.
When her time for promotion came, she was appointed the principal of a secondary school in a suburban district. Though the student population was less than a thousand, as was in her former school, the students were of an entirely different crop. They were mostly from low-income families and excelling in studies was the least of their priorities. On top of that they had language difficulty, being mostly from vernacular schools, and had a poor grasp of Bahasa Malaysia -- never mind their proficiency in English.
The senior assistant had a culture shock that defied all her previous understanding of how a school could function. The "fatal" mistake she made was to start imposing on her new environment all her own values and ways of doing things that had been successful with the elite school she was in before. She also introduced many stricter rules and regulations in the hope of controlling the behaviours of her students. She also struggled with her staff because of their insubordination. The students and parents "revolted".
In a short while, incidents of school display boards and rooms being vandalised and even set on fire were reported. The principal could not adopt and adapt to the "new" culture. Her earlier experience with an "exclusive" school setting did not prepare her well for engagement with the common, so-called "marketplace" schools that were the more prevalent type in our school system
. She had to be transferred out to calm the sentiments of the local community.
I believe these anecdotal examples may provide pointers for those in the Education Ministry who are devising new methods of assessing candidates for principalship.
Perhaps the ministry could also get teachers in schools to assess their colleagues whom in their understanding are the best people to be promoted as principals.
Each potential candidate gets an "approval index" which is simply the percentage of the staff who "approves" of his promotion. Based on these teachers' selection, a list of three to five names can go up to the district/state/ministry for final vetting. Peer grading, properly done, is usually valid and reliable.
Liong Kam Chong, Seremban, Negri Sembilan New Straits Times Letters to the Editor July 12, 2013