HOW does one decide what makes a school the best in the country?
On the surface of it, the answer might seem simple: it is the school that produces the best academic results.
After all, isn’t education about producing knowledgeable youths who are able to contribute to the betterment of society?
And isn’t the best and fairest measure of such knowledge public exams set by a central governing authority?
Schools like SMK Convent Bukit Nanas, which have renowned alumni like Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz (left), were not among the 20 HPS announced recently. — File photo
The answer, as educationists will tell you, is no.
Educating our young ones is far more than just stuffing academic knowledge into their brains.
It is, as anyone in the Education Ministry will say, about the holistic development of a person — holistic meaning the entire physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual package.
So, the best school in the country should be the one that is producing the very best all-rounded students.
To get back to the original question, how does one measure this type of achievement?
For the Education Ministry, they have condensed it down to six criteria (see table): excellent academic achievement, well-known alumni, consistent participation in national and international-level competitions, linkages with colleges and universities, networks with other local and international schools, and having been measured against national and international benchmarks.
These are the standards that have been set for the selection of High Performing Schools (HPS), which are part of the National Key Result Areas (NKRA) for education as announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak last year.
Twenty schools have already been announced as the first batch of HPS (see graphic).
Thirty more are expected to announced next year and 50 by 2012, to make up a total of 100 in three years.
Residential secondary schools like Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah have the advantage over day schools in terms of high-achieving students as the best Year Six and Form Three students nationwide vie to get into these schools. — File photo
With an annual extra allocation of RM700,000 and more autonomy at stake for the school, not to mention individual financial rewards for staff members, it is not surprising that the concept and selection criteria for the HPS has come under close scrutiny.
In particular, the yardstick of having a track record of developing influential and successful individuals has been questioned.
Said United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) deputy chairman Chow Siew Hon: “We wouldn’t know if any of the students will end up being a famous scientist or not when they grow up.
“All we can do is provide them with a solid foundation while in school, and help them maximise their potential.”
Another experienced educationist agreed, saying that the criterion did not consider late bloomers.
“Someone who didn’t do well in school might do well later on in life,” she said.
A current principal also pointed out the practical difficulty of keeping track of all their alumni.
“Some of our students go overseas and might be doing really well for themselves, but we wouldn’t know about them.”
Schools, Chow said, should see the ability to achieve the HPS status as a bonus, not as a target.
“It would be great if they could make it on the list or are able to produce successful alumni 20 years down the road.
“But I feel the primary role of schools should be to provide students with quality education that is student-centred,” he said.
He also cautioned against the idea of elitism, saying that parents would rush to enrol their children in those schools that have been selected as HPS.
“The intention of identifying the HP schools might have been good one.
“However, in my opinion, the plan might backfire and demotivate schools that did not make it on the list,” he said.
It has been reported that the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Hua Zong) had expressed its disappointment and puzzlement that no Chinese primary school was picked as one of the 20 HPS.
Why not us?
Its president Tan Sri Pheng Yin Huah said the selection criteria raised doubts as several Chinese primary schools had done well in all aspects.
‘’Irrespective of hardware and software or in terms of academic and co-curricular activities, students of Chinese primary schools have done reasonably well in comparison with other schools,’’ he was quoted as saying.
Complaints that schools from East Malaysia and Pahang were left out have also been reported.
The fact that premier schools like St John’s Institution, Convent Bukit Nanas and Penang Free School, which seemingly fulfil the criteria for the HPS, have not made the list also raises a few eyebrows.
One educationist pointed out that residential schools had an advantage over other schools in terms of performing well.
Most schools do not have much of a choice over their student intake, whereas residential schools have their pick of the best Year Six and Form Three students every year.
This factor, she said, should be taken into consideration when evaluating a school’s performance.
Half of the 20 HPS are residential schools.
Many people also see similarities between the concepts of cluster schools and high performing schools as they both have similar objectives, that is to spur outstanding schools to achieve world-class standards and improving students’ learning outcomes.
Said the educationist: “I think there is no need for high performing schools as we already have cluster schools. If you are a cluster school, then that means you are already a high performing school.”
Cluster schools was one of the six key strategies under the ministry’s National Education Blueprint 2006-2010 launched by then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
According to the blueprint, around 300 cluster schools were to be identified and provided with increased autonomy, funding and training for school heads, in order to be a benchmark for other schools and equal to schools in developed nations.
So far, 120 cluster schools have been identified, 16 of which were also chosen as HPS.
by Tan Shiow Chin and Tan Ee Loo.
Read more @ http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2010/2/7/education/5614122&sec=education