Thursday, June 23, 2011

Killing the teachers, zombifying our children

Opinion by Erna Mahyuni from Malaysian Insider

JUNE 22 — There is only one thing our schools are good for these days: Creating the living dead. I don’t just mean our “national” schools but all our schools. An education these days is not about preparing the next generation for the future, but the business of scoring on standardised tests. We covet soulless parrots, with the ability to regurgitate whatever information was crammed down their throats along with the insipid “values” our education system attempts to inculcate. Moral Education, for instance, is a stupid subject that exists only to allow students to get one more A.

When I was part of the Barisan Nasional Youth Lab (yes, taxpayers, I apologise for wasting your money), I remember one member spouting that what our kids needed were guides on “how to study.” Essentially, his idea of education was teaching children the best way to study to get the highest marks. The amazing thing was how the other lab members shot him down, some with biting, cutting remarks. The poor bloke never came back to another lab session.

But who can blame him? Achievement is based on testing, scoring, exams. I wait for the day that students’ worth is not measured by how many A’s they can score but for their unique talents. That day will not come too soon for our overburdened teachers trapped in a system that makes it challenging to do what they’re supposed to do — teach. Teachers I know have a snarky alternative meaning for our national curriculum, KBSM. They say it stands for Kerja Berat Sampai Mati (work hard, until death). Look at the workloads teachers have to cope with and you would probably agree with them.

Teaching, like journalism, is not a profession for those who want to get rich. It is hard work, made complicated by bureaucracy and whoever is heading the Education Ministry. It is no secret that the education portfolio is a coveted one, for it gives its bearer the power to drive high-visibility initiatives that in the end, seem to benefit no one. How can you expect teachers to concentrate on the business of educating their charges when they have countless reports to hand in on various useless minutiae? Let the administrators administrate, and the teachers get on with the business of moulding young minds.

A friend of mine recently joined the Teach for Malaysia initiative; her eyes go all starry-eyed when she talks about how fresh, unspoiled graduates will go in and change the lives of deserving underprivileged children. She got quite upset by the reception and cynicism she met from teachers who told her that it was a waste of time trying to teach the children of hawkers or of particular races. That these children would not, no, could not amount to anything. She says these jaded teachers give up too soon. That if they know their charges aren’t being fed enough, they should be doing more for the children, meeting up with the parents personally and actively make a difference. 

The Teach for Malaysia teachers will do all that and more, hunting for sponsors for underfed children if they must. I hate to sound like a spoilsport but she highlights one problem with our society — we ask far too much of our teachers and give little in return. For too little pay for too much work, teachers are supposed to be godparents as well? I’m not saying there aren’t bad teachers. Plenty of teachers neglect their charges at school, prioritising those monied enough to pay them for after school tuition. There are the lazy ones who became teachers because they wanted an “easy” job or could not secure another profession. These individuals should be culled from the teaching body and told they are not welcome.

As the saying goes, it takes a whole village to raise a child. Therefore it takes a nation to raise all our children. We shouldn’t be vilifying our teachers and pointing the blame in their direction. The system has failed them. We who have done nothing, said nothing, sent our children to private schools... we have failed the teachers and by doing so, failed our children. Too many of us suffer from an insidious selfishness. Why care about other children besides our own getting an education? But it is our duty as citizens to care.

Politicians, for all their big speeches, cannot be depended on to push educational reform with a political agenda. Parents on the other hand, will do it because they are parents. They know better than most that bringing up a child shouldn’t be graded with a KPI.

It is time for parents to step up to the plate at schools, support those tasked as temporary guardians. One school might not change the system but all the schools together, demanding educational reform? We just might get somewhere.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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