On the eve of the Teachers’ Spring?

Azly Rahman
Feb 14, 2014

“School-based assessment”, “Data-driven decision-making”, “Professional Learning Communities”, “Systems-based schooling”, “Authentic-based assessment”.

All these are nice words for Malaysian schools to have but alien to teachers driven to death by administrative work to even understand let alone enculturalise scientific thinking in teaching and learning and in managing student progress.

We have a society with scientific buzz-word and sloganism governing, but not yet a society whose members value scientific and rational thinking. That is why we have tribal practices in schools, of:

*Magic pills administered for students taking tests;

*Magic and miracle water drank to increase intelligence;

*Strange sounding pills sold to enhance brain power;

*Teachers punishing students to eat grass, asking them to go back to where they belong, and all kinds of methods used to punish children not skilled in memorising facts that will become obsolete.

What do the untrained teachers need?

Teachers are going into the teaching profession unprepared, ill-prepared, and not trained as an anthropologist of learning, psychologist of curious young minds, a politician able to do crowd control, and an actor able to juggle roles and interpret the script well without losing sense and sanity. Without all these they are set for failure.

Even worse, given the burden of work, un-mentored early years in the profession, inability to master subject matter that is constantly progressing and worse still confronted with a large class of children of the new millennium smarter than the teacher at times and hungry for inspiring teaching techniques, teachers often resort to strange techniques of “disciplining and punishing” all because “fight or flight” of the “reptilian brain” govern their daily practice.

These reactions are understandable when classes are huge, workload insurmountable, salary low, and communicated goals unclear. These teachers need help. They need professional as well as emotional help because their hopes about being a good teacher might have been destroyed by the system itself that runs on auto-pilot and at times self-destructive mode.

Who loses in this game of educating? Children

The losers will be a generation of children bored and their minds unchallenged and uninspired and after a number of years in this system of survival of the fittest in this world of learning, dread, and boredom set in, and there goes the meaning of the idea of education down the drain; the meaning of the Latin word ‘educare’, i.e. to draw out (the best of human potentials constantly) That is what children are subjected to.

We must revamp teacher education entirely with new premises, new paradigm, new modus operandi, new culture breathed in, new vision of a good society of good workers and citizens, new everything — including the very idea of “what is a teacher” itself. When can we do this before two more generations are lost?

If the teachers need to be helped as such, what then should be the role of another partner in the education of the Malaysian child?

It should be one of partnership with the school – of smart partnership

My advice to parents are these:

*Train your child well before sending them off to school;

*Teach them respect, ethics, and good manners and discipline; and

*Train their minds to be disciplined with acquiring knowledge as well.

The school is not a babysitting place you drop your children off to be disciplined by teachers. They have better things to do – teach.

If half of the time is used to discipline your child or even your youngster, half of the joy of teaching is gone, half of the battle to make your children cleverer is lost.

This is a gentle reminder: teachers are not correctional officers in a glorified prison – they are noble people who will also manage virtue.

It is all a collaborative effort – taking a village to raise a child, your child.

To the Education Ministry we should all say this:

If you can spend many millions of dollars just writing up a blueprint, spend that much money to reduce class size to 20.You cannot continue to make the lives of teachers miserable and expect miracles. Education is not an act of enslaving teachers by making them burn out from day one.

Investing in the country’s future through small learning communities – priceless.

Time after time, reform and new ideas are introduced to the school system without giving time for the old to prove their worth through long-term cumulative research findings and development of artifacts of learning and teaching to be developed and showcased.

This is a case of too many wines in too many new bottles maketh the teacher a drunken sailor.

A synthesis of workability

The best teaching techniques are the ones not necessarily transferred lock, stock, and barrel from faraway lands, just because they worked in those cultures.

The best are those in which the teachers and the techniques gradually harmonise into a synthesis of workability, of what worked best under different circumstances, with different student population, and ones that are constantly improved and refined and ultimately what the teachers have not only understood as best practice but have become one and inseparable with the teacher.

In essence, less is more, small is beautiful, one small step for a teacher is a giant step for the children.

I end my lamentation on ways to improve the state of teaching and learning entire by a reminder of the five C’s of education that need to be explored, enriched, embraced, and enculturalised by teachers with a certain level of mastery: “culture”, “curriculum”, “classroom management”, “communicative competence” and lastly but most importantly, “common sense”.

There is still hope in making things better. Because education is about hope and love.

DR AZLY RAHMAN, born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in four areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 350 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He has edited and authored four books; Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), and the latest Dark Spring: Ideological Roots of Malaysia’s GE-13 (2013). He currently resides in the United States.

  1. #1 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 19 February 2014 - 8:34 am

    So do you still wonder why we have people who are completely disconnected with the real world and are unable to understand anything at all? For instance, to them

    (1) “Fairness and equality” means anti-islam jenis umno, anti melayu (read umnoputra) anti-agung, anti-kerajaan, anti-malaysia, unpatriotic and ungrateful.

    (2) “Good governance, transparency and accountability” means anti-islam jenis umno, anti melayu (read umnoputra) anti-agung, anti-kerajaan, anti-malaysia, unpatriotic and ungrateful.

    (3) “Fair election” means anti-islam jenis umno, anti melayu (read umnoputra) anti-agung, anti-kerajaan, anti-malaysia, unpatriotic and ungrateful.

    (4) “Protecting the environment” means anti-islam jenis umno, anti melayu (read umnoputra) anti-agung, anti-kerajaan, anti-malaysia, unpatriotic and ungrateful.

    (5) “Fighting corruption” means anti-islam jenis umno, anti melayu (read umnoputra) anti-agung, anti-kerajaan, anti-malaysia, unpatriotic and ungrateful.

    (6) “Religious freedom” means anti-islam jenis umno, anti melayu (read umnoputra) anti-agung, anti-kerajaan, anti-malaysia, unpatriotic and ungrateful.

    (7) And many more.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 19 February 2014 - 9:11 am

    Its classic – they think that the word “system” is a cure-all or white wash for many things that are fundamentally wrong. Every system person will tell you, any system can be a complete waste of money and makes things worst if the right conditions is not there.

    You can’t implement wholistic system when the intention is NOT wholistic. We are a nation of crass even ruthless development – our modern political culture is anything for money and power – and that include politics in schools and certaintly very true in ALL MINISTRY including Education and school administration.

    Trust teachers in my children’s politically-charged school to make subjective assessment on my child everyday to determine his future? How crazy of parents to allow that?

  3. #3 by Noble House on Wednesday, 19 February 2014 - 11:26 am

    Minister Moo visits a primary school and sits in on one of the classes, which is in the middle of a discussion on words and their meaning. The teacher asks the Minister if he would like to lead the discussion of the word “tragedy”.

    So, the illustrious leader asks the class for an example of a ‘Tragedy’. One little boy stands up and offers: “If my best friend, who lives on a farm, is playing in the field and a runaway tractor comes along and knocks him dead, that would be a tragedy.

    “That’s wrong,” Minister Moo shouts. “That would be considered an accident.”

    A little girl raises her hand: “If a school bus carrying 50 children drove over a cliff, killing everyone inside, that would be a tragedy.”

    “You are completely incorrect,” shouts the Minister. “That would be what we would consider a great loss.” The room goes silent. No other children volunteer. Minister Moo searches the room. “Isn’t there someone here who can give me an example of a tragedy?”

    Finally at the back of the room a small boy raises his hand. In a quiet voice he says: “If a plane carrying the Education Minister were hijacked and blown to smithereens, that would be a tragedy.”

    “Fantastic!” exclaims Minister Moo. “You are absolutely right. Can you tell me why that would be a tragedy?” “Well,” says the boy, “because it sure as hell wouldn’t be a great loss and it probably wouldn’t be an accident!”

  4. #4 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 19 February 2014 - 11:33 am

    The chinese “fu” possesses special powers. One can benefit from its power directly and quite easily. Follow these steps:

    (1) One cup of water – size of cup and quantity of water are immaterial.
    (2) One piece of “fu” – any “fu”. But make sure it has been folded into a triangle.
    (3) A match stick. (I suppose a lighter would do just as well.)
    (4) Open up the folded “fu” and set it alight.
    (5) Then dip it into the cup of water.
    (6) Drink the water from the cup.

    The power of the “fu” can be felt immediately. Beware. Men may get an instant erection. Suitable for umnoputras.

  5. #5 by bangkoklane on Wednesday, 19 February 2014 - 11:22 pm

    When Noble House gets burned that’ll be a tragedy. When you insult a Malay minister you are insulting all Malays and Islam. How come people like Azly Rahman do not get to be Education Minister? Is he not a Malay muslim?

  6. #6 by Noble House on Thursday, 20 February 2014 - 3:02 am

    Good question! If someone like Dr. Azly Rahman gets to be the Education Minister it will be a real blessing to the country especially to the next generation of Malaysians. Never mind that he is a Muslim Malay!

    I am not inclined to believe that the majority of our Malays today cannot differentiate what that is between Black and White. That will be an insult to my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters! My issue is with those pompous fools and the baser elements of our society who think they are to define who we are. That will be a real tragedy to the country!

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