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Monday, July 1, 2019

Teaching Conundrum

Other than military and police, another career path that have a special place in my heart is teaching. Not a surprise as I came from a family of teachers. Many in my family are teachers and according to my late Grandma, Grandpa himself descended from teachers from olden days in China.

And I personally have immense respect to teachers, save a few that I have personal dislike, not because that they're teachers but of who they are.

I had been a temp before too. After I finished my Form 6, I was a temporary teacher for a few months. That convinced me I'm not cut out for the job. And that was pre-KPI era.

So enough about myself. Let's get to the issue.

The Issue
An irate mother had recorded herself scolding a teacher for caning her daughter. The child's offence? She had called her teacher as "agua lao shi", translated to mean effeminate teacher.

The teacher resorted to cane the 13 year-old despite the existence of a standing instruction against caning of girls and that only school principals and disciplinary teachers are allowed to cane their students. When you think that the viralled video of the mother scolding the teacher is very bad, this is topped by the fact that some cyber-vigilantes managed to obtain the young girl's examination result and had it viralled.

Two Wrongs Doesn't Make One Right The mum's action and her daughter's are already wrong. But that doesn't give us the right to worsen it by leaking the girl's personal detail for the world to see.

The mother could have tried to be better. But as a parent, I can understand her exasperation. Horror stories of teachers abusing students often shared making the insides of us squirmed for fear that it happened to our children.

Worsened with the fact that some systems prefer to avoid the cane for fear of scarring a child forever, as the physical scar may heal over time, but the mental scarring would only be seen far long into the future.

But when you spare the rod, you spoil the child. That is quite true too. If a child is often spared of disciplinary actions, he or she will think he or she is immune from such actions. And he or she will wantonly break the rules again and again, till the day he or she becomes a criminal. By then, it is too late.

Before we go any further into polemic debate over who was right and who was wrong, let's put ourselves in their shoes; the teacher, the mother and the young girl.

The Teacher
He had probably joined the teaching service eager to be able to impart knowledge to a new generation, continuing the strong tradition that many Malaysian teachers had gone through. He would have been in the teaching service for quite a number of years, frustrated at the slow yet steady deterioration of our education system.

A teacher's role today is no longer the same as one that a teacher would assume say, 2 decades ago. In fact, a Malaysian teacher's role is far different even from the roles of a teacher in another country.

Malaysian teachers are civil servants. They are hired under Education Service Commission, a commission formed under the Federal Constitution.

As civil servants, they get all the perks that a civil servant receives. Yet, they are largely expected to perform more than most of civil servants.

Often, the only meaningful contact that an ordinary Malaysian would have with any Federal Government function is via a teacher, as Malaysian children are usually educated via government schools and government assisted schools. The high frequency of contact makes Malaysian teachers as somewhat defacto Government representative to many ordinary Malaysians. Hence, whenever the Federal Government requires certain demographic data, they're often the preferred point of contact to obtain these data.

So they get burdened with many requests for parents' income data and parents' occupation. Granted, the Government could request these from Statistical Department, but they only do headcount every 5 to 10 years.

Now let's look at the next issue about teachers. Teachers are also expected to take care of students' welfare. They are the defacto guardians to our children. When students need to attend competitions or courses at another school or district or even other towns, it is not the parents who accompany these students. It is their teachers that are expected to accompany them.

If there are only a few students, the teacher would have no choice but to be the driver responsible to send the students to the arranged events.

But that's not all. When a child faces problem, the first person he or she would turned to would usually be the teacher.

The age of Information Technology means some work can be automated. But the age of technology did not fully catch up in education sector. The introduction of APDM or Aplikasi Pengkalan Data Murid which is supposed to record all students' data from their demographic to their academics still need to be inputted manually by teachers. A noble idea, no doubt. But the implementation has left a sour taste in many teachers. With the system going down whenever there are too many users accessing it, it has very much become a burden. The system architecture design resulted in the database being updated live instead of allowing batch updating forced many teachers to burn the midnight oil to have the data updated timely. That being said, the idea behind system is noble but the implementation sucks.

Malaysian teachers are also burdened with unnecessary outdated processes which they have to perform. Despite the advent of Information Technology, teachers are largely still required to prepare their lesson plans in writing. Can you print and paste inside the teaching plan? As far as I've been informed, the answer is no.

Then you have students' attendance which in some schools are still being taken manually and would need to be updated into the APDM later by the teachers concerned.

So in all, Malaysian teachers do not have much time to teach, when what really matters is they get to teach their students.

Even when they get to teach, Malaysian teachers do not get to maximise their time to teach what is relevant. Personally, I find it a waste that Malaysian teachers are required to teach Pendidikan Moral or Moral Education. Do you remember the nilai-nilai murni? What about their sub-nilai? Do you remember their exact definition? And what is that got to do with your lives today? I still remember till today, a rather obnoxious classmate whom I shall not name, could easily score an A for his Pendidikan Moral.  And if Pendidikan Moral is effective as it is supposed to be, our toilets would be clean and the there would not be any rubbish on the 5-foot walkway.  

These are only a small part of what teachers are required to do in Malaysia.  Harry Tan, NUTP (National Union of Teaching Profession) Secretary-General had come on record on several cases of Malaysian teachers suffering from work-related stress.  At least 1 teacher in the example he gave had even suffered miscarriage due to work-related pressure.  

In this particular case, the Education Department did the right move of giving counseling to the teacher.  He may not realise it, but the counseling could help him get back on his feet.  Hopefully, they do not record this incident in his permanent file.

The Mother
Imagine the mother who came home to see her daughter had been caned until the skin was marked.  During the last few years, we had several cases of students being abused by teachers resulting either in traumatic experience for the chid, or worst, death.

In a way, I empathise with the mother.  I know the feeling.  One of my kids is hyperactive.  He was moved from one kindergarten to another as he was very hyperactive.  One day, he came back with cane marks, like the girl.  The teacher had hit him far harder than required.  Even my parents, both very experienced teachers, were aghast at the cane marks.

My wife told me that the doctor was ready to assist to make police report.  But the teacher was a friend to my wife's cousin.  After the teacher apologised, we took him out from the kindergarten.  

As much as I empathise the mother, we must remember that all children are as innocent as they seems to be.  Some are very culpable of heinous crimes.  Remember the tahfiz kids of Kampung Dato' Keramat?  Some street kids burnt down the tahfiz after blocking all escape path, killing a teacher and 19 other tahfiz students.  All just because some of the tahfiz kids ticking them off for being truants. 

As for the mother, she had probably thought the social media world that we are exposed to today would have backed her up.  Unfortunately, she was far off and the backlash against her and her daughter is far more damaging to themselves. 

The Student
Behind the blank face of the young girl in the furore, could be a young girl that is unable to fit into the world that she is placed in.  Our education system do not place emphasis on the student's capacity to learn.  

Often, we find students that could not cope up with their lessons.  The push system that we are applying to our students resulted in our schools churning batches upon batches of students that do not even understand what they had learnt.  I had a taste of that when I took my Form 6 in Science stream.  From a 7 1A and 1 3B student in SPM, my result dropped drastically to just 1 A, 1 C and 2 D's.  Thankfully, I scored A for my General Knowledge paper.  Had I taken an aptitude test earlier on, I might have realised I am not suitable for science strea and taken Art stream instead, which offers subjects that I have better aptitude for, as I had belatedly found out in University. 

Let's not talk about additional mathematics, advanced physics or even biology.  Some do not even know how to read ABC.  

Another problem that I had belatedly noticed, and even that upon prodding by a certain teacher that I know, is our school system streamline students according to their educational capabilities.  All the best students go to the same class, while the lesser capable students get dumped into the same class.  

Years ago, I would have agreed with this approach.  Why not?  I am the result of the same system.  Due to my result, I get to go to a residential school.  Later on, I got to study in the defacto best class in the school, thus getting the best teacher to us.  

But how about the lesser capable students who want to learn?  Dumped into classes with lesser than capable students, the teachers assigned to these classes get overwhelmed and ended up unable to teach those students in need.  Sometimes it is not because the teachers assigned to these classes are not the best, but they are simply just overwhelmed. 

Thus, when the Pakatan Harapan Government took over and instructed that there should not be any more streamings for students, this was one of the very few decisions that they had made that I fully support.  But how about the super-smart students that pops up every few hundred students?  We have PERMATA programme to handle those students, and we also have fully residential schools to for these students.  One or two could be set aside just to handle the smartest of our students.  When I say residential schools, I do not mean MRSM, but SBP.  Thus, this should not impact MRSM ability to support the upliftment of Bumiputera in the country. 

As for the girl in this case, I do hope she is not off the hook.  Despite apologising to the teacher, she should still be sent for counseling.  Note, counseling here does not mean punishing her.  She needs help.  Get her to adapt to school culture.  Who knows, she would be able to excel in the future.  

Work to be Done
Can we fix this?

We can, if we have the political will. The Pakatan Harapan Government came to power with popular support.  It was supposed to be an opportunity to fix our education system.  Yet, in this one year in power, they have only managed to introduce changes to the colour of school shoes.

They came to power with quite a huge support from the teaching community.  Yet, hey have not taken opportunity to help to fix the problems faced by teachers.

With approximately 19% of 2019 budget is allocated to education, we have yet to seen any constructive measure to improve our education system.  Schools remain dilapidated, yet funds are given to private schools which do not want to be under the education system.

So where's the priority?

Unless the government wake up, we will continue to treat the symptoms only, never the actual cause to this calamity. 

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