Thursday, February 20

Broadening Horizons in Kuching

Their first time at the beach. No point holding ourselves back.
Anyway, this jumping photo has been a trademark of this programme since 2013.
My students have spent most of their lives in the middle of nowhere. A majority have never been to a beach so you can imagine how much they lack exposure to the outside world. One reason for this is their low socio-economic background & rampant illiteracy in their community. They also lack role models of whom they can emulate & imitate.

It is sad that most of the brightest students end up getting nowhere near achieving their greatest potential. Some of the bright girls hook up with the not-so-smart boys & end up with a bulging belly. Some of them experience culture shock when they leave for their studies & drop out of matriculation/university. Some of them get caught up in social ills. At the very end, those who do make it are very very few.

To address these issues, in 2012, I decided to personally mentor the PMR students. I would meet with them every week to exercise & also talk to them about life & how important education was. I also promised them all sorts of rewards if they did well. One of which was a fully sponsored trip to Kuching if they achieved straight As in PMR. As a result of this mentorship, 3 students achieved 8As in 2012 PMR. And, I took them to Kuching in 2013.

In 2013, I also mentored the PMR students but, this time, I decided it was probably more sustainable if the students were taught to mentor their juniors. I roped in the excellent 2012 PMR students to mentor the prospective 2013 PMR students. In 2013, 2 students achieved 8As in PMR. And, this is the blog post about their trip to Kuching in 2014!

The boat we took from Sibu to Kuching. 5 hours of being tossed about at sea. Not fun.
They tried Kuching Laksa!! Yums!!!
My favourite is at Mega One Food Court, King's Centre.
They also tried Lui Cha.
My favourite is at Hakka Lui Cha on Jalan Intan.
I treated them to their first ever western dinner.
I knew the owner of the restaurant so I persuaded him to sit down with us & share his life with my students.
My favourite is Big Oven in Bormill Commercial Centre.
I wanted my students to be aware of the cultural heritage of Sarawak so I took them to the Sarawak Cultural Village.
I also took them on a tour of Kuching & we visited all the iconic sites in Kuching.
We visited at least 3 malls too. This was their first time at a mall.
Makes me wonder if they've been to online malls like Zalora.
We watched a movie.
Took them on a tour of Swinburne where we got connected with the staff there & found out about their scholarship programmes for Sarawak natives.
Did you know that they have more scholarships than they do students?
If you're a Sarawak native, you can seriously consider Swinburne.
One reason I love my parents so much is they decided to contribute to my vision.
My parents treated us to 2 dinners & they spoke extensively to my students.
All in all, the price tag for this 4D3N trip to Kuching was RM900++

Why spend all that time & money on children who have absolutely no ties with me, you ask? I want to show them that the possibilities in their future are greater than what can be imagined within the jungle. I want them to know that I believe in them so much that I am willing to put my money where my mouth is & blow a large chunk of my monthly income on this trip. This was also my chance to expose them to all the best minds I know in Kuching & allow them to be enriched by their stories.

This trip is more than a reward. It's a gift that keeps on giving. I made it very clear to them during the trip that they have the greatest potential in their community & also the greatest responsibility. God has blessed them so that they may be a blessing to others. I told them to dedicate their lives to living to their highest potential & becoming successful. Then, I want them to return to their homeland & lead others of their kind to do the same thing. Thus, uplifting a forgotten people via their most talented.

To me, this is a small price to pay to make a REAL difference.

View all the pictures here.

Thursday, February 13

When Students Surprise You

The feeling you get when your students surprise you. Isn't it the awesomest?

Firstly, let me wish all of you reading this a Happy Valentines' Day. I'll be celebrating it alone in the jungle in my boxers with a glass of red wine & my own cooking. I guess it is apt that I share something romantic on a day when men around the globe make a desperate attempt at romance to make up for 364 days of neglect.

My students did something for me today which brought me to tears. And being the machismo man I am, I did my best to hide it & I suppose I hid it well. I think.

I really love it when my students surprise me. They may not do it intentionally but, honestly, in this profession, you'll see something every once in a while that surprises you & gives you hope for the human race. But, I'm not the kind of guy who is easily surprised, you know? A man's got to have standards.

Anyway, what did my students do? Did they give me a big expensive shiny present?
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'd probably have figured me out. I'm not the kind of guy who is impressed with material things. I prefer to store up treasures that rust nor mould nor thieves can steal away. But... If someone came along & decided to hand me the keys to a brand new Ducati... I'd appreciate you so very much. But not as much as if you did what my students did for me today. The best part is... they did it unintentionally & unknowingly. Oh, I love them so!

Today, I gave the weakest Form 3 class their PBS Band 1 assessment. A kid in the city could probably ace the paper with both eyes poked out & 9 fingers chopped off. It's Band 1. But for students who are in the weakest class in a pedalaman school you can't find on Google maps in the middle of a jungle, it can be pretty challenging. Esp for those amongst them who have difficulty recognising letters, reading & writing.

I didn't expect them to do what they did during that class. I had a lump in my throat during most of the lesson! They knew that it was an assessment so they sat extra straight that day & didn't make a sound. They were sitting right next to each other but they didn't even try to cheat. Even the naughty boys behaved better than angels that day. And... this was only the warm up.

Most of the students in this class perform way below par to qualify to even be in Form 3. There were two boys & a girl in the class who were the weakest of all. They wouldn't even be able to spell 'Wednesday' or 'February' or 'hippopotamus' if you tested them. You would expect weak students like these to shrug their shoulders & go meh. But these kids didn't. Oh no. They gave it their best & it was obvious.

You could see the intensity on their faces. Everyone was really digging deep into their brains for words & letters to complete the tasks on the assessment. They were totally quiet & totally focused & there was a pureness in the energy of that class that day. Pure productive effort. A very positive & powerful spirit.

2 of the 3 weakest students managed with all their might to fill in all the blanks. And they did. Looking at them as they painstakingly wrote their answers, their spelling may be slightly off but the meaning comes through & they'll achieve the Band. I'm so proud & moved at the same time. This must be what it's like to be a proud parent. Serotonin surge. This is still not the best part.

The best part is the weakest of them all tried so hard during the whole 80 minute lesson, you could see his face turn red. He was staring intently at his paper during the whole time. He didn't even want to hand in his paper at the end. And the look on his face after I took away his paper was not of relief nor I-couldn't-do-it-but-I-don't-care. It was of pure exhaustion from mental exertion. He looked really tried & really down.

When I looked at his paper, I saw that he only managed one word... 'I'. Next to the letter were patches of rub marks. It was obvious that he wrote, rubbed, wrote, rubbed, again & again & again & again. He probably did that for the whole 80 minutes. Even though he didn't write enough to achieve the Band, he did more than enough to earn my respect.

I'm not sure if I wrote this well enough to allow you to feel how I feel about them right now. How they are able to reach into the deepest parts of my soul & how much they motivate me to work for them. But I just want you to know that you should not be discouraged. A surprise like this is waiting for you just around the corner!

Thank you.

Sunday, February 9

2014 Form 3 Pentaksiran Pusat (PP) Schedule

If you're asking me what the heck PP is, please read up on Pentaksiran Pusat with the slides below.



If the slides are not clear enough, this blog post & this blog post should provide you with more than you need.

p/s: They have not come up with a name for the exam yet. For the time being, it's designated PP (Pentaksiran Pusat). And, for god's sake, stop saying PBSMR which is based purely on hearsay & picked up by our oh so independent & trustworthy media!!!
~~~~~

What does this mean for the English Language in Form 3?

There will be an exam in October in a format very different from what was in PMR. The new exam will test the 4 language skills of your students. i.e. Listening, Speaking, Reading & Writing. Make sure you polish these skills this year. Those teaching Form 1 & 2 would do well to start early. Also, do implement your understanding of the new format in the coming Mid-Semester Exams.

I will only reveal details of the new format after it is officially made public by LPM. Don't want to end up famous & in jail now, do I?

I think that this new format might actually be a good thing for English language teaching in our country. Having all 4 skills tested at high stakes will most definitely encourage teachers to start working on the much neglected Listening & Speaking skills. Students will probably have another reason to want to listen & speak the language too.

As it was with PMR, LPM will prepare the test papers & the exams will be held in the respective schools. However, at this point, I understand that teachers will be invigilating & examining their own students (based on guidelines provided by the ministry, of course). Marks will be keyed into an online system (no surprise there). KPM will prepare the necessary transcripts & certificates.

I will update this blog post as new information comes in.
~~~~~

When is this... PP?

Here is a link to the complete schedule & timetable.

This is something I got off a friend who got it off a friend.
At this time of the year, I wouldn't treat this more than as a rough guideline.

Wednesday, February 5

Parable of the Howling Dog

taken from livescience.com
How many of you have heard of the Parable of the Howling Dog? I am reminded of this as I repaired something at school today. I read about it a few years ago from 'Even A Moron With A Dream' by Pathman Senathirajah & was blown away. I think this parable will give everyone from all walks of life something to reflect upon.
~~~~~

Once upon a time, there was this horrible howling sound coming from a wooden house. All day & all night a dog could be heard howling loudly & painfully. Neighbours felt really sorry for the dog. When they peeked out of their windows, they'd see the dog howling away at the front porch of the wooden house. He didn't look injured or hungry so they decided to mind their own business & let it pass. However, days, weeks & months would pass with the dog still howling painfully away. It never stopped.

One day, a neighbour had had enough & decided to walk up to the house to confront the owners. He asked if the dog was injured or needed medical care. The owner said, 'no. The dog is perfectly fine.' The neighbour was bewildered. The dog was howling so loud & for so many days. He scratched his head & curiously asked the owner what was going on. 'He's sitting on a nail,' explained the owner. The neighbour was even more surprised. 'Why won't he just move then?' he wondered out loud.

'He sits there because that's the part of the house which is shaded from the hot sun during the day & warm at night. The nail is painful but it's not painful enough for the dog to move.' said the owner.

How many of us are in a similar position in our lives? You have a brain. Think about it.
~~~~~

I guess in many ways, our education system is very much like the dog. It is in a bad position & it's pretty obvious. i.e. world rankings, PISA, TIMMS, personal experience, etc. But the people involved are very very very extremely so the very comfortable. Examples unnecessary. And let's not forget the loud & incessant howling. i.e. parent complaints, media, activists, NGOs, etc.

Is howling going to solve the problem? No. Action... MIGHT. How many people are actually doing something about it? I'm very thankful for all the great teachers out there (you are especially great just because you read my blog **cue unsuccessful veiled attempt to increase blog readership**) still hustling & keeping it real when ministers & officials are breathing down our necks for stuff they can use to SHOW learning instead of emphasising those which truly ENCOURAGE learning & lifelong learning. Not all of which can be explicitly demonstrated. I hope to grow up & be like you one day.

I am also thankful for NGOs like Teach For Malaysia & Teach For The Needs. They rally like-minded people together to take action & work on making a difference.

How do I avoid turning into a howling dog with something up his ash? Take the advice of a ridiculously overpriced manufacturer: Just do it.
Oh, since I'm spewing out cheesy quotes... Those who can... do. Those who can't... criticise.
Do what comes to mind. Think big. Start small. Any kind of action is better than inaction.

How small, you ask? Well, this brings me back to the repair I did this afternoon.
~~~~~

lo & behold, the glorified handiwork of this macho repairman dressed like a clean gentleman.
I cook. I clean. I read. I repair. Just about every stereotype in the book. Where's my chick?
As you can see, the switch has been replaced with a shiny new one. If you are not colour-blind, you will notice that the front & the back are of different colours. It's different on the outside but totally the same where it matters on the inside. Couldn't find the exact same switch any more because it is obsolete.

The old switch had cracks which interferes with its function so it had to be replaced. This problem was not big enough for the school admin to do something about it. Understandably so. Therefore, 8 teachers (including myself) endured more than 1 year of working in an enclosed environment without assisted ventilation.

It was the perfect situation to lose weight. The tropical climate ensured that we had the best natural sauna available at the lowest cost. Our experience was also enhanced by using the prescribed professional sauna attire with matching ties.

I turned off the main power, opened the old switch, figured out the function of the wires, rearranged them because the previous technician was a moron, screwed in the new switch, & beamed with pride as colleagues jumped for joy at the pleasant surprise.
~~~~~

What simple things have you been enduring or complaining about which are totally within your circle of influence?
Perhaps it is time to do a little something about it.
Short-term pain for long-term gain.

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