Inculcating the reading habit at school

Sunday, 16 October 2011

By Dalton Lee

Students are introduced to newspapers as a rich source of information through The Star’s NiE programme.

AS a primary school pupil, How Siew Fen used to read The Star at her school library, as her family did not subscribe to it at home.

Coming from a predominantly Chinese-speaking family and having studied for six years in a Chinese vernacular school, reading the newspaper regularly proved to be a distinctive advantage for this friendly 15-year-old. Her love for the English language has prompted her to encourage her classmates in SMJK Chi Wen in Bahau, Negri Sembilan to learn the language as well.

Siew Fen recently received recognition for her efforts as she was chosen by her English teacher to participate at the school’s newspaper-in-Education (NiE) programme using The Star newspaper.

A total of 15 students were placed in groups of three and were given the theme “54th Merdeka” to work on their respective posters. Students undertook various topics such as harmony, development, education, leaders and transport.

Work of art: Students (front row, from left) Siew Fen, Lee Yong Teck and Lim Siew Chen, proudly holding up their poster with (back row, from left) Sivakumar, principal Lee Boon Seng and Ong.

The activity, according to the school’s English panel head Sivakumar Athimulam, was to show Malaysia’s progress over the last 54 years through pictures. Armed with scissors, bottles of glue, and copies of The Star, students planned and created their respective group posters.

“The students enjoyed the lesson as it involved much creativity on their part.

“Working in a group also taught them the importance of cooperation and teamwork in order to complete the task effectively,” said Sivakumar.

“Our school has been utilising The Star’s NiE programme to achieve a high level of proficiency in English in good classes. At today’s programme, we decided to extend it to the less proficient students as well,” he added.

The school’s senior assistant (academic) Josephine Ong Kui Hua said that students who were less fluent in the English language were chosen for this session as they were not usually exposed to the language.

“The activity was a resounding success as these children have now seen a different aspect of the newspapers.

“Incorporating Visual Art, English and History would also instil in them the love for our nation,” said Ong.

Ong added that newspapers were a rich source of information, and the reading habit should be instilled in students from a young age.

“Students who have inculcated the love of reading articles found in the current affairs, sports and entertainment sections of The Star, will not only ace examinations but find that mastery of the English language has many advantages in their daily lives,” said Ong, who also teaches History for Forms Four and Five.

English lesson spurs action

Sunday, 16 October 2011

IN THE short story Flipping Fantastic by Jane Langford, a pair of twins are separated when they move on from primary to secondary school. The story revolves around James and Tristan (who is wheelchair-bound) and how they worry about coping without each other.

After learning the story as part of the literature component in English, the students of Form One Dinamik at Kota Kinabalu High School, Sabah, were intrigued by the plight of disabled people.

According to their English teacher Grace Phan, the lesson sparked several discussions involving, among others, the legend of Terry Fox, the Paralympics, and prosthetic limbs.

After learning the fact that one kilo of ringpulls – the discarded tops of canned drinks – contains enough material to make parts for a pair of prosthetic limbs, the students then came up with the idea to collect them as part of the school’s recycling drive.

Jonathan (left), Phan (third from right) and the school’s senior assistant (cocurriculum) Haimavathy Nair with the project’s organising committee and the boxes of ringpulls collected.

“The students took it upon themselves to organise the project. Having realised the limitations and frustrations of the disabled, they felt motivated to do something to help as much as they could,” said Phan.

The students had originally targeted to collect 11,111 ringpulls during the two-month collection drive, dubbed “Project We Care”, but the project garnered momentum and almost 100,000 ringpulls were collected from the school’s student population.

“At first, the students were hesitant about setting a high target — some even said we should target only 5,000. We were so happy when we managed to reach the target after two weeks!” said Phan.

The project’s coordinator Jonathan Ho, 13, said the unpredictability of life motivated him to help others.

“Life can be like a yo-yo. We may be ‘up’ in our comfort zone at times but good times can end, and while we are able, we should help people who are at the other end,” he said.

Assistant coordinator Amabel Shim, 13, said that everyone has a role to play and if something as small as a ringpull can make a difference in someone’s life, anyone can.

The project’s committee members also organised an inter-class competition to motivate students to come up with the most number of ringpulls. Form One Tekun clinched the top prize of a hamper with a collection of 16,223 ringpulls — half of which came from one student, Chew Poow Chaen.

When asked how she managed to collect over 8,000 all by herself, Poow Chaen said she went around to coffee shops.

“As long as it is to help people, it’s worth it,” she said.

The total collection, weighing around 30kg, was sent to the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Entrepreneur Metropolitan Malaysia in Penang courtesy of City Link Express Sdn Bhd.

JCI Entreproneur Metropolitan is conducting a similar project with the aim of collecting 1,000kg of ringpulls by the end of the year. The ringpulls would then be mailed to the Prostheses Foundation in Thailand.

When little incentives mean a lot

Sunday , 16 October 2011


There are perks aplenty for parents, teachers and students but it is the implementation and sustainability of these rewards that matter.

PLEASE don’t judge our situation by how nice our furniture is,” says Raginah Abdul Rahman, gesturing around her home at the Sri Pahang low-cost flats in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.

“Most of these things here have been donated to us; people have been good enough to give us nice things.”

With the floral rubber flooring, cheery curtains and functional chairs and tables, the 35-year-old’s home is humble yet average enough.

But a closer look reveals paint peeling off walls, chipped utensils stacked on an old rack in the kitchen, and everyday items held together by tape and rubber-bands.

“That doesn’t really work,” says Raginah, pointing to an admittedly large television set at the corner of the room.

“Someone was kind enough to give it to us, but we can only see a few channels after adjusting it for about half an hour or so.”

Simple meal: Raginah serving her children (from left) Rauf Mujahid, Rafi and Rasinah with a home-cooked lunch.

Raginah explains that she sells stickers and knick knacks at night markets, while her husband does odd jobs at Rela-organised events.

“My husband injured himself in a motorcylce accident last month, so he’s at home for now; he can’t get any other work because he can barely read or write.

“Aside from that, the only other money we get is my disability allowance of RM350 per month. It’s hard, but we do what we can to manage,” says Raginah, whose disability was caused by a road accident.

With three of her five children in primary school, Raginah explains that schooling expenses are a great strain on her household budget.

“The school that my son goes to keeps reminding us to pay, but if we don’t have the money, what can we do?” she says.

With an average family income of RM300 a month, Raginah is but one face of Malaysia’s so-called “bottom 40%” – a segment of society that stands to immediately benefit from the recent Budget 2012.

Tabled in Parliament by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the budget unveiled a host of incentives under the theme of “National Transformation Policy: Welfare for the Rakyat, Well-Being of the Nation”.

Among the benefits offered are a one-time RM500 assistance to households earning less than RM3,000 a month, a one-off schooling assistance of RM100 to all students from Year One to Form Five and the abolishment of additional fees currently charged by schools.

Some claim that these incentives indicate an “election budget” and criticise the lack of long-term plans to assist the underprivileged, but some Sri Pahang flat residents say that they will take whatever they can.

“I work as a clerk in the welfare office here,” says single-mother Norlela Abu Yazid, 39.

Favourite pastime: School boys playing a game of checkers

“I make about RM1,000 a month, but with four children (their ages ranging from 10 to 21 years) to care for, any help is a relief.”

Another Sri Pahang resident, Rosalina Baharom, says she pays almost RM120 for her daughter’s secondary school fees.

“And there are other things to pay for; uniforms, exercise books, workbooks, school bags and so on.

“Even the bus fare from Bangsar to Brickfields is RM40 a month; for just one child!” exclaims the 33-year-old mother of six.

Rosalina shares that she is her husband’s third wife, and occasionally receives money from him.

“He comes by twice a week, sometimes he brings the children gifts.

“But I earn what I can by selling nasi lemak, and if I’m lucky I can make about RM350 a month,” she says.

While candid when describing her life, Rosalina’s voice cracks at the mention of her eldest son.

“He got kicked out of school, and started doing petty crime around the area,” she says, dabbing her eyes with the corner of her headscarf.

“I had to send him away to live with my mother in Shah Alam, and he’s working in a factory there.

“He seems to be doing better, and he’s going to apply for a certificate in electrical wiring next year.

“I worry about him all the time – he’s only 16.”

Even as they welcome the incentives however, almost all the interviewees imply that the implementation of these benefits may see problems.

Raginah claims for instance, that one of her sons has yet to receive welfare assistance despite being qualified for it.

“My son stopped receiving Baitulmal (schooling) assistance, and when I checked with their (the fund’s) office, they told me that their records say that he’s been expelled from his school – this is completely untrue!

“In my experience, it feels that some teachers pick and choose students seeking financial aid; the assistance is not being handed by need,” she claims.

Meanwhile, Rosalina says that her application to the welfare department to start a small business had been rejected.

“But I found out that my child’s pre-school teacher managed to get the approval because she had the right contacts within the department,” claims Rosalina.

“We appreciate these handouts, but we don’t want to live off them forever; aside from some immediate assistance, we need to be able to make a living on our own.

“We need help to stand on our own feet.”

Schools and teachers

Out of the overall Budget 2012 allocation of RM232.8bil, a total of RM50.2bil has been allocated for the education sector.

From this, RM1.9mil will go towards the development of schools, while a further RM1bil will be used as a special fund for the construction, improvement and maintenance of schools.

The special fund provides RM100mil each for Chinese, Tamil, mission, religious and Mara schools, and the remaining RM500mil is allocated for national schools .

Teachers meanwhile, as with the rest of the civil service, have a headstart in enjoying the perks oulined in the Budget 2012 – a half month bonus with a minimum payment of RM500 this December.

Prior to this in August, a halfmonth bonus of at least RM500 was paid out. With an estimated 1.3 million civil servants in the country the total Government spending on civil service bonuses this year would be at least RM1.3bil.

Additionally, the retirement age for civil servants has been raised to 60 years from the current 58 years.

But the biggest change for the civil service is the introduction of the New Civil Service Remuneration Scheme (or known by its Malay acronym SBPA) to replace the present Malaysia Remuneration Scheme (SMM).

Under the SBPA, civil servants will see improved salary scales and annual pay increments over a longer period of time, said Najib.

Those who opt for the SBPA will receive an annual increment between 7% and 13%, while those remaining under the SMM will receive annual increments between RM80 and RM320.

The SBPA also includes a new exit policy for underperforming civil servants.

While the actual SBPA guidelines are yet to be made public, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said details would be available soon.

“I will announce the content of the new scheme for teachers in early November,” said Muhyiddin in his press conference after the tabling of the budget.

Salary benefits aside, civil servants also stand to benefit from tuition fee assistance to further their studies on a part-time basis.

In this regard, a total of 5,000 Masters scholarships and 500 doctoral scholarships at local tertiary institutions have been allocated to the tune of RM120mil.

An additional sum of RM80mil (for the initial year) has been set aside for 20,000 diploma teachers to pursue their undergraduate studies locally.

While the Government may pride itself on the abolishment of current school payments, involving an allocation of RM150mil, the trend of doing away with schooling costs has been going on for some time.

In 2007, fees for examinations such as the UPSR, PMR, SPM and STPM were abolished.

The following year, school fees (RM4.50 for primary pupils and RM9 for secondary students) and examination fees for the Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia (STAM) were scrapped.

While the move was initially heralded as a provision of free education in government schools, parents still generally had to pay “additional fees” and “Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) contributions”

In a circular dated Oct 26, 2009, the Education Ministry stated that schools may still charge additional fees for the following items; co-curricular activities, Malaysia Schools Sports Council fees, sports, internal test papers, insurance, and Islamic Education or Moral Studies activities.

These additional fees varied based on parents’ income.

Later that year, then Education director-general Tan Sri Alimuddin Mohd Dom announced the standardisation of additional fees at RM24.50 for primary pupils and RM33.50 for secondary students from 2010 onwards.

A subsequent circular on the matter, dated Oct 27, 2010, reiterated that schools wishing to impose additional fee charges must first seek approval from their respective PTAs.

Meanwhile, the ministry’s education bulletin in December 2010 clarified that parents who could not afford PTA contributions or other payments could seek exemption from the school, and such fees would be charged per family instead of per student.

With under-equipped libraries and the high cost of imported reference books, Form Six and tertiary students see the one-off RM200 book voucher as an unexpected gift.

Engineering student Marvin Lim (not his real name) says he forks out about RM300 every semester for his reference books.

“We need to buy them because there are not enough copies in the library; it will certainly ease our financial burden.

“Besides reference books, students who are living on their own have to pay for other expenses such as rent, food and transportation,” shares the Sarawakian currently studying in Subang Jaya.

Universiti Malaya student representative council president Mohd Syahid Mohd Zaini says the cost of reference books differ according to the courses that students take.

“Students in the Science stream usually have to pay more for reference books compared to those in the Arts stream,” says Mohd Syahid.

The Islamic Political Science student says the books for his course are not very expensive, with each costing about RM30.

While welcoming the incentive, Mara College student Aina Munirah Helwany says the distribution of the book vouchers should be based on students’ individual needs.

“Instead of providing for every student, perhaps the government should give more to students who come from lower income families,” says the 18-year-old. In a bid to increase youth employability, a total of RM520mil was allocated for youth training; of which RM320mil is for general youth skills training and RM200mil for the Strategic Action for Youth (SAY) 1Malaysia skills training programme.

The “general” training encompasses practical skills, leadership, resilience and entrepreneurship, and this allocation includes contributions to the Malaysian Youth Council as well as state and district youth councils.

SAY 1Malaysia on the other hand, is specifically targeted at youths who “don’t continue schooling”; presumably this refers to those who either lack post-secondary qualifications or have dropped out of school.

The scheme will involve skills training by institutions such as community colleges, Institut Kemahiran Mara, Institut Latihan Perindustrian and Giat Mara.

Those who join the scheme will then be offered practical training in Government-linked companies (GLCs) and private firms.

The Key Indicator of the Labour Market Malaysia, 2001 – 2010, published by the Department of Statistics in June, implies a dire need to provide such skills training.

According to the report, out of an 11 billion-strong Malaysian labour force in 2010, 3.6% had no formal education; 16.5% had not completed primary education, 55.7% had not completed secondary education and 24.7% had no tertiary education.

These statistics may be skewed, as the report defines “labour force” as those between the ages of 15 and 64, but they seem to support the figures shared by Talent Corporation Malaysia’s Strategic Programmes general manager Mohamad Kamal Nawawi at the Education Nation Conference 2011 in September.

“We lose 45,000 students every year when they fail to make the transition from Year Six to Form One.

“An additional 14,000 students then go on to drop out from secondary school annually,” said Mohamad Kamal.

While we may rejoice at the goodies provided, every attempt should be made to ensure that these benefits reach the truly deserving ones.

SCHOOLS: ‘Find joy in doing things’

By Simon Solomon
Pupils wishing  Ab Rahim Ab Rahman well

Pupils wishing Ab Rahim Ab Rahman well

AB Rahim Ab Rahman had a heavy heart as he prepared to say goodbye to everyone at
SK Gadong Jaya in Labu, Seremban on his retirement day recently.

He left the school after serving 36 years as a Bahasa Malaysia and Mathematics teacher in Negri Sembilan.
A special assembly was attended by the school staff, teachers and about 800 pupils, who presented Ab Rahim with gifts and performed dances as a show of their appreciation.
Ab Rahim, who was born in Labu on Oct 2, 1953, received his primary education at SK Batu 8 in Labu and SK Gadong Jaya, followed by his lower secondary days at SMK Sendayan. He went on to finish his upper secondary schooling at SMK Tunku Ampuan Durah in Seremban.


He received his teaching certificate from Johor Baru Teachers Training Centre in 1973 and was active in music as well as the St John’s Ambulance Brigade.
In 1974, he was posted as a teacher to SK Jerantut in Pahang, then to SK Pasir Panjang in Port Dickson and in 1988, he returned to his alma mater, SK Gadong Jaya, where he has served 19 years as a teacher as well as the final three years as co-curricular senior assistant.
He was married to Robiah Yahidin on April 13, 1986 and is blessed with three boys as well as three girls.


The innovative and always cheerful Ab Rahim says: “I thank God for giving me the opportunity to serve in this humble and noble profession. Hopefully, I have left a positive impact on my pupils.
“To me, success is the ability to bring out the best in everybody and stay happy at most times. I hope my pupils will do all things to the best of their ability and find joy in doing them.” He adds: “As citizens of Earth, I hope everyone will be less materialistic and pay more attention to preserving the environment. As a result of global warming, there is obvious climate change. The situation is worsening so much so that staple crops such as paddy and wheat cannot be planted in many parts of the world due to extreme weather conditions such as flood or drought.
“Everyone must do their part in strictly following the 3Rs, namely reduce, reuse and recycle so as to make this world a better place to live in.” Ab Rahim will truly be missed by his colleagues and pupils in SK Gadong Jaya as his commitment to his work has always been exemplary.

COMMENT: Problem of high stakes testing


By James Campbell


RECENT reports in the Malaysian media in regard to pupils being prevented from sitting high stakes exams in order to maintain a school’s high performance record is a disturbing and practical example of what a singular and narrow focus on results can result in.

While it is hoped that the reports on such actions are unrepresentative of the overwhelming majority of schools, the revelations are themselves sobering.

In a previous column, I discussed the potential for moral hazard in a singular and narrow focus on performance indicators (Learning Curve, Oct 2).

One particularly harsh formulation of the argument I was putting was that there existed a kind of perverse incentive to maximise results in performance indicators through minimising exposure to anything that would diminish the performance results of an institution.

This practice is all the more insidious since it is often not consciously articulated as such.

Usually if this kind of practice occurs, it is rationalised with such arguments that teachers are simply seeking to protect some students from the harshness of exams due to its possible impact on self-esteem or confidence.

My readers will be well aware of this issue in the Malaysian context with reports in the New Straits Times (NST) on pupils being exempted from sitting the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah ( ticles/ UPSRschoolshame/ Article/#ixzz1a662eQbx).

I should point out, however, that concerns in regard to this issue have also been expressed in Australia. The headline in The Herald Sun in Australia reads: “Schools accused of stopping underperformers from sitting NAPLAN tests” (www. heraldsun. com. au/ news/ more-news/flunker s-sunk-toboost- results/stor y-fn7x8me2- 1226052175502 NAPLAN) refers to the National Assessment Programme — Literacy and Numeracy. Under NAPLAN, “all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are assessed on the same days using national tests in Reading, Writing, Language Conventions (Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation) and Numeracy” (

While it is important to point out that the principal of the school cited in the report above denied the accusation levelled by parents, the sense that there was something remiss in the way some schools approached NAPLAN tests remains strong.

The problem of high stakes testing and pressure to maintain high performance targets is that concerns in regard to students being excluded from such tests for fear that their inclusion would jeopardise the school’s overall standing and results is not simply limited to Malaysia. The problem has also been raised in Australia.

However, the public spirited response to this matter in Malaysia has been heartening.

One interesting idea from Malaysia’s National Union of the Teaching Profession is to create a “new key performance indicator to show progress of weaker students in schools… to stop teachers from spending too much time and effort on the bright ones” ( ticles/ 6mkup/Ar ticle/#ixzz1a6ALucUd).

Support for addressing a poorly structured system of incentives and the perverse results that it can generate is also recognised in an editorial of the NST (Sept 20).

In its editorial, the NST argues: “If the performance indicators are designed in an all-encompassing manner, they can encourage teachers to give more attention to children with learning disabilities as this would redound to their credit when they are assessed ( ticles/ 18test/Ar ticle/#ixzz1a6C08HgH).

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has also weighed in on the debate pointing out that “no one should be denied his or her right to sit for a public examination ” ( ticles/ Muhyiddinwar nsschoolsbar ring studentsfromtakingexams/ Ar ticle/#ixzz1a6D7WnGg).

Given the concerns expressed by the public, media and politicians with regard to this matter, there is hope that public policy makers will take a close look at the way poorly structured performance culture can generate perverse incentives and moral hazards.

Again, I return to the core issue.

What if an unintended consequence of focusing on measurable performance indicators leads to an evasion or ignoring of our professional and moral responsibilities? I do not know if the specific allegations made both in Australia and Malaysia in regard to the exclusion of students from high performance tests in an effort to maintain high results are true or not.

Assessing the veracity of these allegations is something that Ministries of Education should take seriously, as I am sure they do.

However, I do know this: research has provided us with important insights into why this problem may manifest.

We have a good theoretical understanding of the issues involved. The media and concerned parents have brought practical examples of the issue to our attention and they are now being investigated.

The role of concerned parents in bringing this issue to our attention is especially to be applauded. Such public spirited advocacy is testimony to their merit as parents.

There is now no excuse for public policy makers not to investigate, address and properly structure the system of incentives in our education system.

If social justice and inclusion are to truly be part of the mix in educational public policy, investigating, addressing and engaging with the matter s discussed above is imperative.

The writer is a Lecturer in Education in Australia and author of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Sustainability and the Struggle for A Vital Centre in Education, Penerbit USM 2011. Email him at