Sunday, October 9

My Views On The System

Let me be the first to admit that I am NOT an expert on the system nor I have spent years studying it by analysing demographics, statistics, stakeholder opinions & whatnot.
I have, however, given the first 3 years of my best years & am still giving to serve in the interiors under this system.
This is purely my opinion & observations. Do not mistake them for credible fact.

Good People Leaving
I am passionate. I work hard. I am idealistic. People like me are pure energy. All we need is direction & focus. We will be the laser that will shine through the darkest moments & cut through the toughest circumstances. We are the ones who can bring change. We are willing to suffer & even die for what we believe in. We are willing to work for you to make a difference.

Sadly, over the years, I have seen many of my kind leave the service. Mostly due to frustration with the system. These people are not half-baked potatoes that give you diarrhoea. Many have found better remuneration & lifestyles outside the system. Mostly because they are good, they know that they are good & they want better. If the good are leaving, who is left behind? How will this affect the quality of the system?

Poor Vetting Of New Recruits
Are we able to bring out the best in students from best buy teachers?
I guess it all starts with the people who are let into the system. I agree that having the best academic results doesn’t automatically make you the best teacher; but it does help because, eventually, just as how you’ve learned to achieve excellent grades, you’ll learn how to be an excellent a teacher.
If we want to develop excellent minds, we need to have excellent mentors. Excellence can only come from discipline & discipline bears fruits in results whether it is academic or co-curricular.

I knew someone who judged recruits solely based on their SPM results. Whatever degree, training or certificate the recruit had did not matter. The SPM results are a reflection of a person’s discipline, excellence & dedication when he was at school & it will also foretell his performance at work. He has never been proven wrong.

We have a very peculiar vetting system where people with the best results do not necessarily get the job. People are said to have been chosen based on merits but it seems that there is some kind of quota system where a certain number from a certain race or from a certain part of the country are recruited regardless of merits. There are also rare occurrences of nepotism where the children of the influential are admitted into select programmes regardless of merits.

I am not against people with poor academic results. I personally have many friends who are weak academically but passionate about improving themselves & becoming a great teacher. I love them with all my heart & are proud to work together with them.
Sadly, I know even more people who are weak academically & professionally yet do nothing about it. They hide behind a loud bark & justify everything they do (and what they don't do) based on how many years they have served. These is the kind of people that should not be let into the system in the first place.

Not Walking The Talk
There is a saying in Sarawak: “Cakap Tak Serupa Bikin” (Talk Not Same As Do). We have a great National Education Philosophy & an even greater challenge to implement it in the lives of every child. Not everybody is able to rise to the occasion & take it on. Some people just want to put up a good show to make people think that they are working towards the goal & achieving it when in fact they are doing something completely different.

That is very common in the system. Many things are done just for show so that they can tell the parents: “See… we did this whole list of programmes so it’s not our fault your child failed. We’ve done all we could.” But have we?
How many times have I had to participate in ridiculously grandiose fancy-named mega-budget programmes that do little to achieve its objectives. I have also witnessed many programmes that sound awesome on paper but failed in execution due to weak planning, half-hearted execution or both.
Sometimes I think that the funds for these PR stunts could be better spent on simple yet significant programmes or simply placed in the hands of capable teachers with a heart for service.

Mismatched Rewards
Steven Covey, the author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, taught in his book ‘The 8th Habit’ that when it comes to rewards, we must water what we want to grow. It basically means that we need to check whether we are actually rewarding the right behaviours in our people & aligning the system to reward our people for doing what is wanted. Bear in mind that it is possible for us to water the weeds & then blame the seeds for not growing.

Steven Levitt, co-author of ‘Freakonomics’, reveals consistently that humans respond to incentives. Let me summarise the incentives in the system & basically what behaviours it rewards.
APC or Excellent Performance Award rewards kissing up & pushing down (how ironic).
Yearly Salary Increments & Time-Based Promotion rewards people for staying as long as they can in the system (regardless of performance). Many times I’ve heard people say something to the effect of “Kenapa rajin sangat? Perkhidmatan saya masih panjang lagi.” Do you think that they will work harder when tempoh perkhidmatannya hampir tamat?
Guru Cemerlang rewards those good in creating a pretty, thick & fully-illustrated report-book of what they’ve done for the past 3 years (strange thing is when people come to evaluate you, the first thing they want to see is paperwork).
The unbreakable rice pot rewards, heck, doing whatever you want without consequences (WOO!!)!
Undesirable behaviours that are left unchecked will also serve as an incentive to repeat them & for others to learn them i.e. laziness, apathy, tardiness, plagiarism, cronyism et cetera.

Just as humans will find a way to do as little as possible to milk the system for as many rewards as possible, the reward system needs to evolve & be constantly aligned to reward what it actually wants to reward.
The saddest thing to happen is for a hardworking person who really deserves the recognition & rewards to be bypassed again & again because of his meek personality.
p/s: Thanks for rewarding me with an allowance to work in the interiors! Greatly appreciated!

The Fish Rots From The Head Down
This is the most important thing the system has to do. Make sure that there are capable leaders heading each school. Unfortunately, I have seen people who are about to retire being promoted as some kind of appreciation for years of service. Most of these people merely warm the seat while waiting for retirement. In the 2 or 3 years they are there, someone else could have turned the school around.

Also, there are leaders who abuse their position to make money. Delivering a quality product for a fair price is totally fine. I’m speaking against those who spend school money buying thin air or overcharge the school for commission. All this money could have been used to improve the school.
Yet little or no action is taken until it has become too big to sweep under the carpet. In one case, the person was merely demoted & transferred to another school after making lots of money & spending it openly on smokes, booze, gambling & girls.

No matter how horrible a school is, put in a capable head, give him the support & he will turn the school around. Similarly, place a nincompoop in a good school & watch the school crash & burn. As the saying goes "there are no good schools with a bad head".
The system has to be extra selective about who they place on top. Not everybody who is able to sit through management courses is capable of dealing with tough decisions, teachers or students.
Instead of giving the post away to the oldest applicant or to a friend or to your uncle’s son, give it to the most promising people. Tell them to prepare a personal checklist of what they want to achieve in the school. Give them the necessary support, motivation (both soft & hard), monitor his progress (via multiple sources) & retain accordingly.

Weak heads who are honestly trying, can be given another chance. Those who are not, should be shown back to their old jobs. Only the best can be head. Then only can you expect the best out of every school i.e. the ‘First Class Mentality’ in a ‘competitive & globalised world’ as desired in Vision 2020.

Conclusion
Let me conclude by clarifying that I am not saying that people who stay in the system are bad or the system is bad. We are in a system with an excellent philosophy & overlying principles. Furthermore, everybody can repeat all the ideals required.
However, not everybody is practising it. People are not expected to & those who do are not rewarded.
I’m bringing out the issues so that we can stop the backbiting & finger-pointing, confront the issues in the open, ponder upon it & improve together.

There are many good, honest & talented people still in the system. I have learned a lot from the few of them I have had the privilege of studying under & benefitted greatly. These people are the ones who are working with the system trying to making a difference every day. Kudos to them.
To those who are going to leave the system, I bid you all the best. To those who have decided to stay & risk their sanity, I bid thank you.

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