Sunday, November 02, 2003

Sad Stories In Schools

School term for the year 2003 is almost coming to an end. In fact some of the secondary schools have already closed to give way to the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and Sijil Tinggi Persekolah Malaysia (STPM) examinations.

Students and teachers are the happiest when school holidays approaching. They can finally take a long rest after about 10 months of hardwork. Teachers who are posted far away from their hometowns have already left for home. Others are planning for the vacations.

However, there are thousands of students who have to sit for their examinations and teachers who have been assigned to invigilate the examninations. They might need to be a little patient until their examinations over.

Some parents are relieved that they can now rest for a while for not having to juggle between work and school, sending children for tuitions and art lessons. Some mothers have been full time drivers sending and picking children from school. Then later part of the day sending them out again for tuitions, computer class, art lessons, dancing and a lot more. To them they too can take a rest during the school holidays.

Some parents, on the other hand, are having problem for not knowing what to do with their children during the two month holidays. Working parents especially, might have problem not being able to spend time with their children during school holidays. They are worried to leave their children at home alone, but what choice do they have?

These are the yearly scenario of students, teachers and parents. We are all very familiar with these year in year out. There are, however, more to this cycle which affect all of us.

School text books, reference books, and workbooks publishers are rushing to push out their products to all corners of the country. For text books they have spent a lot of money hiring well known authors to write for them then getting them approved by the Ministry of Education. If their text books are approved, they are sure to have a lot of money rolling into their bank accounts for at least 5 years before the books are reviewed.

The process might look normal, but a lot of the text books written by 'big names' are found to have lots of mistakes, irrelavant and contradicting facts, which are both misleading and humiliating. Unless the teachers using those books are very careful, knowledgable and responsible, they might just impart the wrong facts to their students. Some mistakes were never noticed even until the books expired.

This is the case when textbooks are written purely for commercial purpose. The contents are not that important. The most important issue is whether the book is accepted by the Education Ministry. If the approved textbooks are found to have so many mistakes, written for unsuitable level, it is not difficult for the public to guess the hanky panky things happening during the process of approval. If anyone would like to challenge to this, then make the approval of text books transparent or better let the public too take part in reviewing the books before approval.

For the reference books and workbook, no approval is needed from the Ministry of Education. What is needed is only the endorsement of the the headmasters or teachers concerned. That is why teachers and their superiors in school have been very popular during this time. They are most wanted by the book salesmen.

In order to get the school using their reference books and workbooks, salesmen, when failed to convince the teachers, offer many perks, such as commissions, computers, furniture, holiday package and many more depending on the negotiation. Some schools or teachers openly accepted the offer (bribe to be exact) but some receive it quietly outside.

The schools and teachers concerned are most likely to be influenced by the perks that they are offered when making decision on which workbooks and reference books to use. Their decision is less likely basing on the contents, quality of the book and the suitability for their students. That is the why many parents complained about too many homework, too many books for a single subject, heavy school bags. Some parents even complained that the textbooks are hardly touched by the teachers. The reason is, the teacher's noble profession has been compromised, commercialised and enterprised.

The poor students and parents have no choice but to follow whatever the school or teachers decide. Once the school makes it compulsory for the students to buy certain books, their parents have to fork out all the money with protest. Here is how registration fees during the new school term is ever increasing. Imagine how much parents who have many school going children have to pay at each beginning of the year. Bonuses, if any, will never be enough for their children's books, let alone to enjoy.

The story does not end there. Enterprising teachers openly look for students for tuition in class. Some show favourtism towards their tuition students. During tuition, they would intentionally or otherwise concentrate on questions which they would set during the school tests or examninations. Thus making their tuition students score high marks in order to impress their parents. It also helps to advertise and promote for the teachers to have more tuition students.

With the increasing number of workbooks and reference used, both in primary and secondary schools, most school based examination questions are taken directly from these books. With the advancement of photocopy machines and computers, teachers take the easiest way out by replacing heading with the name of the school on top of the sample examination papers taken from reference books. Gone are the days where teachers set their own question paper to really test the students' understanding and achievement.

Unfortunately, when teachers fails to teach but been taught by others for personal interests and benefits, we could expect what will happen to the younger generations. If we do nothing about it, we too are responsible for all these.

No one would deny that there are still good teachers around, but sadly the number is decreasing. If there is anything the Ministry of Education wants to improve, then look into this unhealthy culture both within the ministry and schools. Education officers should visit the schools more and not just practicing arm-chair planning. Stop talking about any upgrading courses for teachers, or implementation of new policies without first bring back the noble way of teaching. Stop pushing the teachers with administrative and unimportant surveys and blue prints but let them go back to their chore business, teaching.

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