Archive for January, 2010

Knowing the characteristics

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

TO be a superior English speaker, one must understand the special characteristics of the language.

Particularly important are those relating to the syllabic structure of words and those that determine the sounds made by the various symbols and symbol combinations from which words are formed.

Many of the 450,000 words in the modern English language can be traced back to the Germanic Angles, Saxons and Jutes – to French – to Greek – to Latin and to at least another 40 to 50 countries.

This ‘origin’ characteristic explains why some of the symbols and combinations in ‘borrowed’ words such as kiosk, chef, fiord, plateau, mechanic, bouquet, cello, etc. make different sounds.

Firstly, a speaker must be aware that all the vowels can make different sounds.

‘a’ makes eight different sounds: cat, ape, want, saw, ask, about, air; orange;

‘e’ makes five different sounds: egg, eat, eight, chateau, pretty;

‘i’ makes four different sounds: sit, side, radio, onion;

‘o’ makes eight different sounds: hot, goat, son, two, woman, corn, women, colonel;

‘u’ makes six or seven different sounds: hut, unit, rude, put, busy, bury, buy – depending on whether the sound of ‘uy’ is included.

Again, the various sounds of ‘y’ must be known as it often plays the role of a vowel, e.g. a long ‘e’ sound in pony and Yvonne; a long ‘i’ sound in spy and sky, as well as a short, regular ‘i’ sound in bicycle and gymnast.

Also vital is knowing that five of the consonants — ‘w’, ‘r’, ‘l’, ‘q’, and ‘v’ — are categorised as Influential Consonants, because they can influence or affect the sound of other symbols is vital.

The consonant ‘r’ usually changes the sound of the vowel that comes before it. Compare ‘car’ and ‘cat’. Similarly, “w” can change the sound of vowels and consonants in words, e.g. won, work, warm, which, sword, and write.

Likewise, the five regular vowels also can influence the sound of other vowels in a word.

When two vowels are together in words such as in rain, seat, tie, boat and fuel, the first vowel is sounded but the second one is silenced.

The final ‘e’ in a word usually affects the sound made by a vowel that precedes making it produce its ‘long’ sound, e.g. state, scene, bike, rope, jute.

A very important characteristic of English is that the vowels are often silent in words, i.e. they are not sounded. For example: eagle, home, waiter, country music, vacuum.

The consonants: b, c, d, f, g, h, k, l, n, p, r, s, t, w and y also can be silent in words, e.g. thumb, neck, Wednesday, cliff, sign, ghost, knee, etc.

All English words are pronounced in syllables which can vary in number, e.g. One Syllable: cow; shark — Two Syllables: cam/el, pi/lot — Three Syllables: pel/i/can, oc/to/pus, — Four Syllables: hel/i/cop/ter — Five Syllables: ex/am/in/a/tion.

Every syllable, in every English word must have at least one vowel or the semi-vowel ‘y’. The rare exception, depending on one’s pronunciation, is ‘rhythm’.

Another characteristic is that some core combinations can make more than one sound, e.g:

  • ‘ar’ = far, wart, canary, parallel
  • ‘ear’ = fear, bear, learn, heart
  • ‘our’ = hour, four, tour, colour, journey, courage
  • ‘ain’ = pain, mountain
  • ‘ice’ = advice, office, police
  • ‘an’ = answer, many, wand, bank
  • ‘on’ = monster, Monday, donkey, monk.

In turn, different core symbol combinations can make the same sound, e.g:

  • ‘air…’ = heir, there, share, chair, canary
  • ‘er…’ = camera, bird, turkey, worm, injure, learn, journal, guerilla, were
  • ‘or…’ = short, score, board, door, four, walk, bought, dinosaur, insurance, warning.

Finally, one needs to know that some words, called homographs, are spelt the same but are pronounced differently and have different meanings. For example:The medic wound a bandage around the wound on the soldier’s leg.

The archer aimed his bow at the bow of the boat.

Myra will read from a book she had not read before.

The key to English proficiency is to know its special characteristics and to practise, practise and practise.

by Keith W. Wright, the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) — a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English.

He is also the Director of International Language Academy (ILA).

The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Program (AEP) mentioned in this fortnightly column are now being used internationally to enhance the English language proficiency of people from a diverse range of cultures and with different competency levels.

E-mail for your free full copy on Pronouncing Nouns and Verbs.

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Study loans for the needy only

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

PUTRAJAYA:  Parents who can afford to pay for their children’s local university education may have to cough up the full sum in the future.

This is because the Government – which is expected to fork out RM5bil annually for the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) by 2013 – wants to ensure that only needy students will obtain financial assistance.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Khaled Nordin said it was studying the possibility as demand for study loans increased every year, adding that such a move would ensure that PTPTN could offer financial assistance to more students.

“Education in public universities is already subsidised. With the Government having to fork out more and more money for PTPTN annually, I think it is about time that we look at the possibility of parents, who can afford to, paying for their children’s university education.

“We are also looking at offering students partial PTPTN loans, which parents will have to pay part of the fees.

“However, parents who cannot afford to pay for their children’s university tuition fees will continue to receive full PTPTN loans,” he told reporters after launching the REAL Undergraduate Conference here yesterday.

Currently, students offered places at public and private universities are entitled to apply for PTPTN loans, with their parents standing as guarantors.

No limit is placed on the parents’ age or income.

Khaled said for this year, the Government would have to set aside about RM3bil for PTPTN loans while repayment had been “extremely slow and long”.

“We cannot depend on students repaying their study loans to top up the fund because this will take a very long time while the money is needed immediately. That is why we have to look at other options to make it work,” he added.

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Going beyond classroom walls

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

SCHOOLS are about to be transformed. The government has announced it will set up a system by which to rank all 10,000 primary and secondary schools in the country.

The rankings will be the basis for reward and remedial programmes, and the transparency of how well or poorly a school is doing is also expected to motivate schools to raise their performance level. Head teachers and principals will be financially rewarded if their schools do well. And, in addition to the cluster, premier, controlled, smart and high-performance school initiatives, the government may introduce another category for other schools.

Which begs the question: with so many different types of schools, how will the performance of each be compared? In addition to the different performance initiatives, government schools are already divided into national, vernacular, religious and boarding. Each functions differently. So, what will be the common area of comparison? One thing it should not be is solely examinations-based. Examinations function to gauge whether or not a student lives up to his academic potential. Certainly, that is important. But Malaysian students and schools already suffer from too much academic competitiveness, to the point that there have even been instances where students have been locked out of national exams because the school was worried they would bring the school’s score down.

If a head teacher’s bonus depended on the academic performance of students, where would be the emphasis on learning for learning’s sake? And where would be the acceptance of industrious students of mediocre intelligence? A school’s main function in a child’s life is to provide social education. School is the biggest arena in which a child is supposed to learn that the world is a lot bigger than the home; that the community is more varied than the family; that each person is equipped differently, but can serve just as well; and that living and surviving necessitate understanding and compromise.

If money and effort have to be spent on preparing a ranking, a school’s performance should also be measured by whether there are enough tables and chairs, library books and ceiling fans, and good quality teachers for all subjects; by the small ratio of student to teachers; by the proximity of the school to houses; by the community projects to which students are exposed; and by the racial mix of not only students but teachers as well.

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Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities.

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

There are many different types of disabilities for which there is also a vast amount of written information for. However, key to working with the inclusion model and struggling students which will be in your classroom, there are few important things to remember. If you keep the following points in mind, you will be in a much better situation to meet the needs of your struggling student (s).

Supporting Students with Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities in Your Classroom.

  • Break away from those traditional models, that’s when these students start their descent and begin to fall through the cracks. Vary your strategies until you come across one that works, and you will!
  • Remember, most of these children DO have an average intelligence. When their frustration level escalates, the learning potential diminishes and the behaviour issue escalate. Always make sure that your struggling students believe in themselves. You will need to be positive, encourage risk taking attitudes and build self esteem as much as possible;
  • When something is not working – STOP! Notice the things that aren’t working and move toward a change. Look for those puzzling looks from your students and be prepared to intervene;
  • Whenever possible, make learning concrete. Always ask yourself if there’s a method for making the particular learning activity concrete. Remember, students with learning disabilities are much more interested in project based learning that they are on refining a specific skill (s);
  • Struggling students work much better alone (when they understand the task) or with a partner, avoid large groups or whole class settings;
  • There is no right way that works, when something is not working, it’s time to try a different strategy. After all, it’s much easier to identify the wrong way and change it!
  • Notice what works. When the student is learning and is applying him / herself diligently, ask yourself what strategy you employed. Does this particular strategy take into consideration the learning style of the child? (Auditory, Visual or Tactile?) It is important to be observant about what does work and use those same strategies for other learning tasks. Always vary your instructional methods to meet the varied learning styles of all learners;
  • Recognize that children need to be active in their learning, they need to be engaged. Remember, we diminish the amount of learning thy will actually do when we treat them as a passive learners and try to impart our knowledge upon them. The longer the child sits in passive mode, the greater the chances for misbehaviour are. Vary your instructions, five minutes of talk, five minutes of visual, five minutes of interactive conversation etc.

By Sue Watson.

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A Learning Environment.

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

People often use the words reading disability and dyslexia when they are referring to the same disorder. The disabilities are close, and key to reading success are the following strategies. Setting up a learning environment that maximizes  learning for students with learning difficulties is every bit as essential as intervening appropriately and at the appropriate times. ALWAYS remember that children with learning difficulties rarely learn in the traditional manner. Vary your strategies until you find out what works, persistence will pay off. In the front of your mind, remind yourself that having learning difficulties is like trying to learn a completely foreign language. Ignore and avoid the labels – your main focus is on effective interventions.

Top Tips For Helping Students with Learning Difficulties.

  1. Find out about the student’s learning style, thus understanding his / her strengths. Which of the seven (7) intelligences (verbal/linguistic, musical, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal) does he / she demonstrate a strength in?
  2. Have you provided an area that is free of distractions? A study carrel or an area that isn’t in a direct line of traffic? Is there a divider you can used to set up a quiet work area? These students are often distracted and shouldn’t be placed near classroom pets, windows or pathways to the sink, pencil sharpener, doors, etc;
  3. Is your student hyper? If so, remember that these students have great difficulty sitting still. Provide opportunities for a three (3) minute stretch or a  quick 5 minute by your desk workout;
  4. Sometimes these students benefit from soft music playing as they work, do you have a set of headphones and a player? If so, try some soft music while the child is engaged in seat work;
  5. Avoid abstract concepts. Use concrete manipulative on a regular basis, once the students fully understands, you can move to the abstract. Whenever possible, keep learning focused on the child’s interest;
  6. Children with learning difficulties rarely work in large groups. You will need to find alternatives to large group instruction whenever possible;
  7. Ask yourself if there’s an assistive technology to help this student. There are lots of text readers and voice activated word processors to help children with learning difficulties. Offer calculators, spell checkers and grammar checkers whenever you can;
  8. Avoid drill and repetition, students need to be motivated and excited about learning, the quickest way to turn them off is through drill and repetition. Use games for this type of learning. Think of ways to keep learning project based, this is much more motivating for the learning disabled child;
  9. Last but not least – avoid telling the student to try harder. Although it may seem so, the child is often trying his / her hardest.

When the right  methods are employed, the child will be successful. Remember, small steps are better than no steps!

By Sue Watson.

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Hypertension on the rise

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR: Hypertension has been on the rise in Malaysia over the past 10 years and now affects an estimated 4.8 million Malaysians, said Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Mohd Ismail Merican.

About 43% of Malaysians over the age of 30 suffer from the chronic disease, an increase from the 33% recorded in 1996, he said in his opening speech at the Malaysian Society of Hypertension’s Seventh Annual Scientific Meeting,

Quoting statistics from the Third National Health and Morbidity Survey 2006 on the prevalence of hypertension among Malaysians above the age of 30, he said that of the 43%, only 36% were aware they had hypertension and 87.7% of these were receiving treatment.

However, only 26% of those treated managed to achieve their target blood pressure.

Dr Ismail also said that the World Hypertension Day 2010 would be observed on May 17, with the theme “Healthy Weight-Healthy Blood Pressure.”

He said screenings for the public would be held in every state as part of the campaign, but added that his department encouraged people to test their own blood pressure regularly.

He also launched a “hypertension clinical guidelines” pocket guide to help medical practitioners diagnose and better manage hypertension in their daily practice.

Malaysian Society of Hypertension president Dr Azani Mohd Daud said that doctors only manage to diagnose four out of 10 patients with hypertension as the disease had few outward symptoms.

“Many people do not know that they are hypertensive. Those who show symptoms like headaches and dizziness are actually the lucky ones,” he told reporters in a conference.

“That is why we are encouraging people to take their own blood pressure tests at home to keep track of their blood pressure levels,” he said.

He added that people must not stop taking their hypertension drugs without consulting their doctors first as their blood pressure remained low as long as they stayed on their medication.

by Shaun Ho.

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Support Children with Reading

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Teaching struggling readers to read takes time and patience. Here is a complete checklist of what you need to do to assist the learning disabled child with reading. The inability to read is one of the most common complaints from teachers and parents with students exhibiting a learning disabilities. There are several items to think about to foster reading and to help with comprehension. Use this checklist to guide you to better assist the reluctant reader.

1.   Do you make the time to read aloud to the child each day?

2.   Do you ensure that the following strategies are used to encourage the child to focus on meaning:

  • Discuss the selection / book prior to reading by asking – what the child thinks the selection / book will be about.
  • Discuss the content?
  • Ensure that the level of reading is appropriate and that the selection will be meaningful to the child?

3.   Do you :

  • Ensure that reading occurs each day?
  • Let the child select their own reading materials?
  • Provide a variety of books at the child’s level of difficulty?
  • Talk about the reading that the child has done?
  • Demonstrate respect for the child’s opinion?
  • Spend MORE time on reading than on follow-up activities? This is important, too much time on follow up activities can turn children off of reading.

4.   Do you ensure that the child has access to a variety of reading materials such as picture books, student generated materials, novels, magazines, comic strips, reference articles, news items, poem, rhymes, mysteries, instructions / directions, reports, etc?

5.   Do you make sure that there is opportunities for: silent reading, listening to tapes, shared reading, guided reading, chime style reading, etc?

6.   During reading, are your groups mixed? For instance, are there opportunities for individual, small group, large group, specific interest group, whole class?

7.   When reading with the child do you help them to:

  • Predict words?
  • Skip over it and determine the meaning from context?
  • Use sounding techniques?

8.   Do you use good questioning techniques that foster higher level thinking skills such as:

  • Ask the child to make predictions, comparisons, hypothesis, and make inferences?
  • Do you ask about cause and effect and whether he/she can distinguish fact from fiction or opinion?
  • Do you ask the child to relate the literature to his / here own experience?

9.   Lastly, do you:

  • Involve volunteers?
  • Encourage support at home?
  • Invite parents into the classroom?
  • Provide information to parents and volunteers about reading processes?

Children benefit from good modeling. If you tend to let them see you take enjoyment in reading, take an interest in everything they read, they will begin to see reading as a pleasurable activity. When reading is enjoyed, it will naturally get better!

By Sue Watson.

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Spread a Multicultural Message Every Day

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Nearly everyone agrees that teachers have an enormous opportunity to shape the lives and futures of young people. Even the slightest comment or connotation could be remembered for a lifetime. For example, I still remember when my third grade teacher, Mrs. Miller, criticized the shape of my capital “W” during a cursive lesson. I remember the frustration I experienced, as well as the stress I subsequently felt each time that I attempted a capital “W” for the rest of the year in her class.

Perhaps I was a hypersensitive child, or maybe I just have a really sharp memory. However, this example illustrates that we, as teachers, must be extremely sensitive to the things we say and the attitudes we express. The area of multicultural education is the most critical area where we must consciously eliminate any and all suggestions of stereotypes or bias from our vocabulary and actions. Collectively, we are educating the adult population of tomorrow, so our uniform message must be one of tolerance and open mindedness. It’s not enough to preach these values only during Black History Month or on Martin Luther King Day. Every day is an opportunity to influence the outlooks of young minds, through our conduct and commentary.

In order to communicate appropriately, our perceptions and vocabulary must change with the times. For example, the term ethnic “majority” no longer means the White Anglo-Saxon population of yesterday’s United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 1997 Population Profile of the United States, by the year 2050, the non-Hispanic White population is expected to decrease from 72% of the nation’s population to less than 53%. The balance of the nation’s population will be 15% Black, over 24% Hispanic descent and nearly 9% Asian and Pacific Islander. Our conception of the dominant culture in society must change with the times and the demographics. Thus, our own open-mindedness backed by a conscious effort to nurture a respect for diversity in our classrooms can go a long way towards positively impacting the society of the future.

So, what does this endeavor look like on a daily basis? What are some of the ways to spread a multicultural message every day? Here are some ideas and links for widening your global perspective:

  • Choose literature with multicultural themes and diverse characters.
  • Provide quality books for your bilingual population.
  • Integrate multiculturalism into every subject of your curriculum. For example, Ethnomathematics is the study of math from other cultures. Have a Multicultural Math Fair to explore and celebrate accomplishments from other cultures. In general, introduce your students to the myriad of intelligent, accomplished individuals who have influenced the fields of math, science, art, and more across the globe and throughout history.
  • Check with resources such as the Clearinghouse for Multicultural/Bilingual Education for the latest research and techniques for working with the increasingly diverse population of our public schools. Be tireless in your quest for the latest theories and insight.
  • Look into special programs that will broaden your students’ perspectives. For example, the One World Our World School Assembly Program integrates Social Studies with conflict resolution lessons to unify students of diverse backgrounds.
  • Seek out and share reliable and unbiased information about the cultures and societies of the world. Web sites and encyclopedias offer a wealth of information for student research projects, as well as for your own background information.
  • A high quality Pen Pal program offers new, global experiences to students who might otherwise never interact with children from other cultures. Such positive interactions form the basis of healthy attitudes towards people who are different from us.

Above all, showcase yourself as an example of an open-minded, non-judgmental individual who appreciates other cultures every day of the year. Use the term “Native Americans” instead of “Indians.” Avoid describing something that’s different as “weird” or “strange.” Explain that the dominant culture’s habits are just one of thousands of various traditions. No one expects you to be perfect, but in light of the enormous influence teachers can have over the lifetime outlooks and attitudes of our students, we must strive to communicate the highest ideals of tolerance, diversity, and appreciation. Together, we can influence the future!

by Beth Lewis.

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The Multicultural Classroom: Teaching Refugee and Immigrant Children

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Even if a teacher had a roomful of all “white”, English-speaking students born in the United States, that teacher would still have a multicultural class. Life experiences, prior educational opportunities, genders, learning styles and personalities of the students create “multiculturalism.” English as a Second Language teachers have all this usual mix of differences, plus a greater blend of cultural backgrounds, native languages and life experiences. Refugee and immigrant children have many of the same challenges as “mainstream” children, but they have some unique issues as well. This article will discuss some of the cultural adjustment issues that limited English speaking children often bring to the classroom, some of the choices teachers have to make when managing the classroom, and tips on how to promote effective and efficient learning.

Often service providers comment that the children of a refugee or immigrant family will adjust easily because children generally learn English more quickly than their parents, and they usually are immersed in a school setting where they encounter the “majority” culture daily. While there is some truth to this view, there are cautions that need to be considered. Except in very rare cases, children do not make the decision to move or leave their homeland. Generally they can bring with them very few items related to their past, and they leave behind budding relationships and familiar sights. Even if they understand the dynamics of the difficult situation their family is leaving, they may feel victimized by the move and by their parents.

Clarity is replaced with confusion. Refugee and immigrant families may have developed a reasonably clear idea of their roles and family expectations in the native culture. Parents are comfortable with parenting roles in the family and their responsibilities toward their children prior to coming to a new land. It can be very frightening for both parents and children when they come to a new culture and suddenly find the old rules don’t seem to work and the new ones aren’t obvious.

In their new country, children don’t know the roles/expectations of children and they have no clear guides. Their parents have knowledge only about how their roles worked before. When they hear about or experience differences in the new culture, their struggle to understand and adapt may be very unsettling for the children. In addition, parents are often overwhelmed by the complexities of coping in the new environment and may not have the time or energy to spend on their children as they had before. To further complicate the role confusion, children who learn English more quickly than their parents are sometimes asked to be interpreters for them, often in medical or school settings. This role reversal can cause distress to both parents and children, indicative of how difficult cultural adjustment can be.

What, then, is the role of the teacher? The teacher is in the classroom to provide a learning environment for the students, not to play the role of therapist or psychologist. Further constraints on the teacher include little time and energy and few resources. However, both teachers and students benefit when teachers are provided an orientation to new learner populations, identification of community resources to help with specific ethnic groups, information about the situation in the home countries of the students, and descriptions of the potential mental health and cultural adjustment challenges. Finding ways to enrich the experiences of all students in the class by utilizing the opportunities that diversity and a multicultural environment bring, while meeting the needs of individual students, is indeed a challenge for the teacher.

Remembering the vast differences between people, even from the same country or ethnic group, the teacher needs to be cautious about attributing problems to just one cause. Information becomes crucial. Is there printed material available through a community agency, such as the agency that resettled this family? Is there a community member or parent who can shed some light on how education is structured in one of these various cultures, and the primary learning style of its students? (For example, is rote memorization or creativity encouraged?) What is the literacy level of the students in their native language? What were cultural norms and rules in the “home” country related to various age levels? Was there a disruption of education due to war? What are the stages of acculturation, what causes culture shock, and how can it be recognized?

Appropriate conversations with parents, with the aid of an interpreter other than the child, can be a source of both general and specific information, at the same time building relationships with, and involvement of, the families. (In many cultures, education is left to the educators, and it is unthinkable that parents would interfere or even be involved in this area where teachers are thought to know best. ) This kind of background information prepares the teacher to utilize instructional methodology and design teaching techniques and activities to engage the multicultural nature of the class as an asset. It also alerts the teacher about how to assist individual students who may be having particular challenges adjusting to a new environment and life.

Teachers should also know where and how to refer students appropriately, should the teacher notice behavior that may represent a student’s need for mental health intervention. Having this information ahead of time can ease the teacher’s mind and identify allies for ambiguous situations that need professional evaluation. It is sometimes hard to distinguish an individual’s unique dysfunctional pattern of coping from a sign of traumatic after-affects, a cry for help, or all three.

What are some of the instructional strategies teachers might call upon specifically to address the challenges presented by the multicultural classroom? Many of these activities probably have been used in many different class settings. However, thinking about them with an eye to enhancing opportunities for learning based on multicultural experiences and needs may mean the teacher manages both the content and the details of presentation and participation differently. Pictures, maps and artifacts from the students’ home countries can be used as the basis for many different points of learning. A whole host of opportunities can be created in which the children can teach about the way things are done where they came from.

Children need to experience the classroom as a safe environment where they can tell their stories or be encouraged to draw or write. Journals often are a good way for this to happen because they provide privacy. However even in journals, students should never feel pressure to reveal more than they are willing or want to declare. Assignments should be broad enough so that every child can participate without feeling discomfort about the subject or the memories and experiences it brings up for them.

On the other hand, such assignments may give students opportunities to work through difficult facets of their life by simply being listened to. Teachers do not have to listen with a therapist’s hat on, but simply as a friend and or ally as the student comes to terms with the new culture. Although the multicultural classroom contains a cacophony of differences, there are likely more similarities present between the students than differences. These can be building blocks to help children from various cultures (even those in which severe animosity still exists between people) learn to relate to each other and to the world at large. Having students work in pairs and small groups also gives them opportunities to share and risk and to get to know each other more than some might in a large group setting. This also provides opportunities to handle both the usual multilevel and multicultural aspects of the classroom.

The multicultural classroom may at first be uncomfortable and challenging to both teachers and students. However, managed well, it can provide the richest of environments for learning, both to students and teachers. It can be a major factor in helping students adjust to a new culture, and be successful in school.

by Burna Dunn and Myrna Ann Adkins.

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Goggle-eyed over choice of schools

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

THE first 20 high-performance schools have been named. There are primary, secondary and fully-residential schools among them, spread across several states. (What a proud achievement for my alma mater, SK Convent Kota, Taiping!)

But questions have been percolating in the afterglow of the initial triumph. What does such an achievement entail? What does “high-performance school” mean?

We know the official answers: these top schools get special privileges, and more autonomy and money.

But how are they different from the other types of schools announced by ministers past?

There were cluster schools and premier schools, and Vision schools and smart schools before them. And most recently, there have been “hot” schools.

Parents are understandably goggle-eyed over the variety of schools we have in the country. And these are just the public schools.

What are the implications of their children being in a particular type of school?

Does enrolment in a “hot” school necessarily mean a student will end up a Mat Rempit, triad taiko, pirate DVD seller, or worse?

Here, as a public service, is a guide to the various types of government schools we now have in our education system:

- High-Performance Schools: These are outstanding schools that will be given special annual allocations and increased autonomy in staffing, enrolment and curriculum.

- Cluster Schools: These are outstanding schools that are given special annual allocations and increased autonomy in staffing, enrolment and curriculum. (Sounds familiar?) Sixty schools were designated cluster schools two months ago, bringing the total to 120. Some cluster schools are also high-performance schools.

- Smart Schools: Simply put, these are schools equipped with Internet access and computer labs, the better to introduce students to information and communications technology as “a culture in education”. Eleven years after being introduced, smart schools are still grappling with the essence of being smart. Some smart schools are cluster as well as high-performance schools.

Confused yet? There’s more. We also have:

- Premier Schools: These are schools more than a century old. They excel in academics and co-curricular activities and have produced many national leaders, corporate figures, professionals, sportsman and scholars.

In 2008, four such premier schools — SMK Victoria and SMK Convent Bukit Nanas in Kuala Lumpur, SMK St Thomas in Kuching and SM All Saints in Kota Kinabalu — were honoured with special sets of stamps and first-day covers by Pos Malaysia Berhad. Curiously, none of them made the cut as high-performance schools.
- Vision Schools: These involved putting a national school and one or two other vernacular schools together at the same site to share common facilities such as the school canteen and sports grounds. It was hoped that the proximity of students of other races would encourage greater interaction among them and foster national unity.

This encountered strenuous resistance from Chinese schools. There are now eight Vision Schools nationwide, but only three — Subang Jaya, Lurah Bilut in Pahang and Teluk Sengat in Johor — comprise national, Chinese and Tamil schools.

- Controlled Schools: Top schools where the number and quality of students enrolled are “controlled”.

That’s not the end of it. There are also:

- Central Schools: Schools with boarding facilities to accommodate students from villages in the interior of Sabah and Sarawak; and,

- Sports Schools: Incubators for potential sports champions. Talented students are groomed in these schools with proper guidance from experts.

And, of course, there are the “hot” schools — those the police have an eye on because of indiscipline, crime and social problems among students. Needless to say, parents will not be scrambling to enrol their children in such schools.

Placing schools in specific categories will definitely raise their profile and perhaps, in time, help them attract students of all races.

The Education Ministry wants to memperkasakan sekolah kebangsaan (making national schools the school of choice), after all.

Some cluster schools are already getting a deluge of applications from non-Malay students, so much so they have waiting lists as long as that of a famous golfer’s conquests.

Parents whose children’s schools are in none of these categories should not despair, however.

A non-descript school in the backwoods is as capable of spurring its students on to unimagined heights of excellence.

All any school really needs is a capable headmaster, teachers of quality, and an active parent-teacher association.

by Chok Suat Ling.

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