The Education Ministry in an effort to create a conducive environment in schools, is embarking on a programme that will see teachers acting as facilitators and children maximising their potential through group work and peer learning.
YUVERAAj Kalidasan, Sahmeeha Poongan and R. Lashman Ravi are three children with two things in common.
First, they have their heads in the clouds. Or more accurately, above the clouds.
“I want to be an astronomer. I want to find out what’s on the moon and on the other planets and what’s in outer space,” says Yuveraaj.
Sahmeeha shares the same ambition, adding without hesitation that she would like to go up to space.
“Space is so interesting. If you look at the Milky Way, one dot is the sun. And the Earth is just one of many planets. Imagine, there are trillions of dots, all waiting to be explored.”
R. Lashman is also interested in the solar system but harbours an ambition to be a robotic scientist.
“I like to invent things. The other day I invented a catapult using ice-cream sticks and bottle caps,” he says.
Second, and much closer to terra firma, the 11-year olds are all pupils of SJK (T) Kangkar Pulai, Johor Baru, Johor, a school that, all things considered, is taking its place among the stars.
Trust in quality
Since 2011, SJK (T) Kangkar Pulai has been enrolled in the Yayasan Amir Trust Schools Programme, an initiative aimed at improving accessibility to quality and holistic education in Malaysian government schools with a long-term goal of transforming the education delivery system.
Currently, two initial cohorts of the programme are in place, made up of 13 trust schools in Johor, Sarawak and Kuala Lumpur, and the aim is to have 500 trust schools by 2025 that will form a network across the country.
In partnership with the Education Ministry, Yayasan Amir works with education services provider LeapEd Services Sdn Bhd to deliver the programme in trust schools.
“Each trust school is allocated a team of our expert teaching and learning advisers who have international and local experience,” explains LeapEd Services Sdn Bhd chief executive officer and managing director John D. Chacko.
“Our advisers provide training and mentoring to teachers and leadership and management development to school leaders.
“Intervention is aimed at teachers and school leaders to ultimately bring about an improvement in student experiences and outcomes.”
The programme operates on a five-year gradual release basis, Chacko says, meaning that trust schools are heavily guided in the beginning but left to operate independently by the end.
“We are using the best global practices to ensure that we produce holistic and globally competitive 21st-century students,” Chacko says.
“Students under the programme show confidence and creativity and the ability to communicate and collaborate, which is what employers want and look for.”
S. Gomathy has been teaching Science at SJK (T) Kangkar Pulai for 12 years and says her teaching experience has become more enjoyable under the programme.
“I receive training where I am introduced to new methodologies to bring to my classroom,” she says.
One such methodology is concept-based learning, where pupils will learn one topic or theme in all subjects for a week.
“For example, if the theme is ‘light,’ then in my classroom we will conduct experiments on light. In Bahasa Melayu and English, pupils will learn about how light is used in society and in different cultures. In music, they will sing a song about light and in art, they will draw or paint,” she explains.
Gomathy believes that this method of learning is more advantageous because pupils receive “a complete set of knowledge”.
“It’s not the type of learning that is exam-oriented. It’s one that prioritises the complete understanding of a concept. And once pupils understand something, they will be ready for any exam.”
English teacher S. Tamielselvi adds that teaching is more student-centred and classroom activities are focused on groupwork, collaborative learning and peer learning.
Moreover, at the start of every lesson, teachers will share with their pupils the learning objectives and success criteria for the day, explains senior assistant (afternoon) Pushpam Vijayasingam.
And at the end of the lesson, these will be recapped and teachers will then go around the classroom to help individual pupils further.
“In a typical Malaysian school, learning is seen as taking place when the classrooms are quiet. But over here, if the classroom is noisy, then you know that learning is taking place,” she adds with a smile.
Since being enrolled in the programme, the school’s academic performance has improved.
In the 2012 Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) examinations, the school’s grade point average was 1.84 as compared to 2.65 in 2009 and the overall UPSR pass rates have improved 17% since 2009, resulting in the school’s upgrade from Band Three to Band Two in 2012.
But headmistress Santhakumari Singgaram insists that the benefits of being a trust school extend far beyond grades.
“Students love to come to school and they enjoy learning. They are confident and brave enough to share their ideas.”
She describes how a young pupil (from a weaker class) came up with the brilliant idea of setting up a mini-library in the canteen.
“In my 32 years of teaching experience, this is the first time that students have been brave enough to give their feedback and I, brave enough to ask them for it.”
In addition, the programme requires trust schools to have a strong co-curricular programme and active parent involvement.
“Our pupils are constantly entering and achieving at district, state and national-level competitions. We also started to hold a parents feedback session every three months to open up a dialogue with parents,” Santhakumari explains.
There is also the Parents Assuring Students’ Success (PASS) programme, conducted by ex-PTA chairman R. Manimaran Rajagovallu, that meets for three hours on Sunday for 10 weeks.
N. Wani Nathan describes how her daughter, currently in Year Three, has flourished at the school.
“She used to be quiet but now she freely expresses her ideas and opinions.
“She’s no longer shy to talk to the teacher if she needs to. I feel like the teachers here nurture every child’s talent. I wish that had been the case when I was at school!”
Indeed, at the heart of the programme is the goal to provide a rich and engaging learning environment where Malaysian students can maximise their personal and scholastic achievement and potential.
“The programme is beneficial because it is a partnership which supports teachers to become collaborative practitioners who are more aware of their impact on learners,” says LeapEd senior education adviser to SJK (T) Kangkar Pulai Julie Margaret Ng.
“Teachers develop skills which allow them to have a greater impact on developing their students as well-motivated, thoughtful, creative and independent learners.
“This therefore enables teachers to empower Malaysian students as lifelong learners and to develop skills which will serve them in an ever-changing world.”
Immersed in such an enriching environment, perhaps it is no wonder then that Yuveraaj, Sahmeeha and Lashman are already thinking of reaching for the stars.
Luwita Hana Randhawat The STAR Online Home News Education 24/11/2013