School, tuition and purgatory
|Praba Ganesan is Parti Keadilan Rakyat's Social Media Strategist. He wants to engage with you, and learn from your viewpoints. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @prabaganesan|
NOV 18 — It is November, and the national examinations — SPM and STPM — are upon us again.
So what have the majority of urban kids done — in their respective public schools the past month — to tackle the examinations which determine their futures?
Actually, that’s the wrong question.
Try this. Where have the majority of urban kids been preparing themselves for the examinations? Their tuition centres, of course.
Outside the world of boarding schools (where other advantages are made available), the battle for success lies in shoplots of various shapes, sizes and staircases to decide who gets the grades and who does not.
Tuition in Malaysia is not a service for the child with learning issues, they are performance centres.
The typical public school student is likelier to sink than swim without tuition.
Tuition centres, out of no malice, can only focus on one thing for the limited time and facilities — to give the kids grades. Education is secondary.
That is the summary of the national public schools system.
How did we get into that pickle? That more work time (school and tuition) is enforced on the student, the child effectively does the same thing twice, “dua kali belajar” Malaysia.
The Razak (1956) and Rahman Talib (1960) Reports are just memories of good intentions. The Malaysian public school system’s misadventure has been clichéd, unimpressive and uneventful, guaranteeing only one thing over the years, drastic volatile changes.
Every proceeding minister using his portfolio to further his career, not education.
And surprisingly the changes coming from the lofty offices of politician ministers to bureaucrats across the country have unsurprisingly resulted in broad and complete cynicism. The alarming period of the madness — decades —has cemented an institutional think to focus on end results which please political masters and provide quantitative measurements to brandish successes.
Your “As” will set you free
Process is a dirty word in our corridors of unlearning.
What is more amazing? That 11 years of learning has no checkpoints (thanks to automatic promotions for all students, irrespective if they can spell “promotion”, “automatic” or even “thanks”) and culminates with an examination which rewards you for buying your spotted papers at performance centres, or that we have thousands of students with distinctions in English in our O-level equivalent but can’t speak English with fluency?
No automatic promotion will help a lot. It goes hand in hand with a policy of school-based assessment, not national assessment of curriculum comprehension. You study chemistry and you answer the questions your teacher prepares based on a national curriculum. You can’t help but pay more attention during experiments and class presentations.
And the third point of the trinity would be replacing the national examinations with national aptitude examinations. You can prepare for them, just as people prepare for their SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Test) in the US, but the emphasis on aptitude not memorisation or purchasing of “buku ulangkaji ekspres” (express revision books) and past year questions compendiums.
To test your reading, writing and problem solving abilities through the application of your abilities developed over 11 years of schooling.
That is the only way to end the prevailing “system.”
Too much silliness, too little time, so let me angle to the Malaysian malady of “dua kali belajar.” Once at school, again at tuition.
We committed our nation to provide quality public education to all citizens, but have over time relegated the schools — where they spend most of their time in — behind the tuition centres which are the performance centres.
So opposed to the private school kid who has a syllabus and moves from point to point forward when the teacher is confident of student comprehension, teachers in public schools start to even avoid chapters they feel won’t come out in the national examination.
This think is so institutionalised students appear at the doorstep of local universities expecting lecturers to reduce readings; first the number of books to be read per subject which has whittled to one locally. Then to the number of chapters in the book, why all chapters when you can focus on a few?
And in many instances to reduce work for both the students and lecturers, because there are too many English words in textbooks in English that both student and lecturer are averse to, they reduce it to the lecturer’s notes.
Marketing 101 reduced to Powerpoint slides. It might as well be the Malayan Communist Party pre-1948 programme. All subjects are the same, nothing needs to be appreciated.
Make sure you get them slides.
That is why there has been no upswing in confidence in our local universities who continue the process of promising grades, not encouraging learning.
Which is why we return to the public schools and then the tuition centres. The attitude is cemented at this stage.
Think about it.
The tuition centre teaches the students exactly what they are to learn in school. So why is the average student unable to learn that already in school?
Weak students need to augment their learning, but that is not the situation here. At times school teachers are leaving out chapters, so that they can learn it in tuition.
A child learns more in 10 tuition hours weekly than the six hours daily in school?
Shouldn’t teachers lose their jobs, because they are employed in under-utilised facilities? Thank god they have income from the tuition classes they teach, which is several times over their teaching salary. Ah, maybe that’s the real issue.
The success of the tuition system allows for thousands of teachers nationwide to moonlight.
The need to pay teachers better is a fair one, and one which I have echoed before. But we don’t and therefore the spectre of urban teachers creating another income stream is more prevalent.
The spiralling effect is, school teachers are generally keen to emphasise tuition, as it is their goose laying the golden eggs. The dynamics of urban schools have been altered to intentionally leave gaps which the tuition centres then pick up on.
But modest pay does not justify the replication of work. It is like a South American telenovela, making people sit through more episodes of a paper-thin plot so that you can sell more episodes.
The students are short-changed because they are taught piecemeal, with the jigsaw requiring both school and tuition irrespective of their abilities. Parents are made to pay for tuition while spending for their kids in public schools too. “Dua kali belajar” also means two payment points.
The selling does not stop there. There are holiday seminars and express courses towards the exams. Again not much learning, just a combination of memorisation and targeting questions.
No one is particularly interested if the kids have intelligent thoughts as they are ferried from school, home, tuition centres, home and school.
My nephew has a genuine dislike for reading and A very low attention span. And he is fairly bright compared to many of the kids I work with.
The cash till keeps going ka-ching
That is why all the intentions to modernise learning in Malaysia is just a lot of phooey.
I mean if tuition centres can get you an “A” in science better than any school with an actual laboratory, what’s being tested in these examinations? And would you care or admire learning if all the important bits are in the notes distributed in air-conditioned shophouse partitioned rooms?
The parent is at fault, but can you blame them too?
Parents want better things for their children and rely on quantitative assessments to understand value. Exams are easy sells, and the track record of tuition centres to build results makes them lucrative, almost unbeatable.
It is the cold reality of the economy which will correct behaviour far quicker than roughshod columns.
Even when the kids in the private/international schools have better language, better all-roundedness and less obesity (since there are real sports programmes), the panic still does not kick in.
It is unemployment which will kick all of us in the teeth. No matter what a government-instructed institution writes for a student in a scroll, the proof will be in the pudding.
No “A” in English will cover up for incomprehensible language tethering on the absurd. It is always the economy.
And how about the child?
The child is likelier to detest learning, to have less the central part of learning — constant thinking.
To consider ideas means you consider your own existence more often, and you then complement your understanding, thinking and ideas with more reading.
As like any human activity, it is driven by benefit. Thinking is not a benefit when it is a low priority in the education cycle. The child either rebels or becomes a drone to fit in. When both school and tuition become mechanical, only the drones often get their dues.
Schools are built with so many facilities for a purpose. Teachers are made to stay in school for long hours for a purpose. Examinations have to be there for a purpose.
The central purpose is for character development through the self-discovery of the individual. You lead a child through a lengthy process, with him the focus.
You learn to read, and then guided to reading material. He then is encouraged to critique what he read, and share how knowing more affects him. Slowly the child chooses what to read and has a range of opinions.
To feel comfortable rejecting previously held opinions without being desolate. Then the capacity to build new opinions, and even the moral strength to draw back disregarded opinions.
To be a thinking person.
What do our kids believe in? Can they believe? If they cannot believe in ideas and stand by them, can they believe in themselves?
Education will only grow if schools become the focal point.
Newsflash: High school students in Chile yesterday were arrested for protesting in parliament against the lowering of education standards and funding. Many others are still marching.
They might be wrong, they might be misguided. But they believe in their education.
Anyway hope the SPM and STPM kids get all the “As” in the world and are content. And everyone — students, parents, teachers, educationists and ministers — can go home and be proud of the millions of docile kids graduating from our day-care centres, oops, schools.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.