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EXEMPLARY EFFORTS: There is increased efforts to improve the quality of education in public schools
AT a recent assembly of 1,500 master teachers, the prime minister reiterated the importance of teachers educating students "to develop higher thinking skills" to cater for future needs.
"We cannot identify (with accuracy) the type of disciplines that will emerge in the next 15 years, in which our future generation may be forced to work. We can, however, prepare them to think thoroughly, creatively and in an innovative manner so that they can adapt to any situation," he said.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak also mentioned that master teachers must know how to motivate students to come up with new ideas as it was not enough for students just to do well academically. This is where higher order thinking (HOT) is imperative.
By sheer coincidence, a day after the prime minister's reminder, some of his hopes and wishes could be seen being translated into reality in a three-day Conference on Education Transformation through Leadership Excellence held in Kuala Lumpur.
Sponsored by Yayasan Khazanah, Yayasan Amir and Pintar Foundation, the conference showcased some of the work focusing on the primary and secondary schools.
There is indeed a range of exemplary efforts to increase access and quality of education in public schools through a public-private partnership with the close involvement of the Education Ministry.
Based on the progress report on the Trust Schools Programme (TSP) for the period 2011/2012, impressive improvements in some competency areas were apparent.
For example, in the usage of strategic questioning that promotes student thinking, a 33 per cent increase was reported.
For the usage of defined collaborative and cooperative learning structures, the increase is even more significant at 40 per cent; whereas for fair and consistent application of rewards and sanctions, 32 per cent and usage of effective feedback strategies, 30 per cent.
Overall improvement in teachers, based on 20 competency areas through lesson observation, is reported to be 25 per cent, from February 2012 to June of the same year.
In other words, what was expected of teachers by the prime minister is not a mission impossible, at least as far as the conference finding goes. More importantly, this can serve as a template to be scaled up and replicated for many more schools to be involved.
Today, the first experimental cohort under the TSP involves only 10 schools in two cluster areas in Sarawak and Johor. It comprises primary and secondary schools across the performance spectrum of Band 1 to 6.
The schools were selected based on several criteria including geographical location, dimensions of schools and school types, and other factors like rural and urban areas as well as balanced social equity.
The Education Ministry is involved throughout the process, sharing the common goal to eventually drive improvements in national schools across the nation.
The programme is designed to help bridge education gaps and inequalities where they may exist. This in turn will touch the lives of thousands of children, by bringing meaningful enhancements to their learning environment in schools.
For the private not-for-profit partners like Yayasan Amir, it is a commitment beyond traditional Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in education, as "it represents a long-term investment by the private sector to elevate the quality of education provided by our schools".
It is after all about sustainable change applied throughout the learning ecosystem with the recognition that school leadership and roles of teachers, students, parents as well as members of the community are paramount. These are supported by four strategic goals ensuring that the intended education transformation is translated into reality.
While it is still too early to predict how much transformation it will bring at the end of the day, the need for major changes to occur as outlined by the deputy prime minister at the closing of the National Education Dialogue recently is not illusion.
"There will be multiple shifts under the strategic plan of the (15-year education) blueprint" -- a culmination of a comprehensive evaluation report on the review of the education system. The last such exercise was in 1960 with the Rahman Talib Report, following the Razak Report of 1956.
Given the continuous changes sweeping throughout the education sector worldwide, a 50-year gap is indeed a challenge that could only be met by putting on the HOT cap every step of the way in the education transformational process.