Friday, April 13, 2012

Malaysian Education: Need for Change?

I've recently become a part of the Parent Support Group of my children's school. Parent Support Group is another name for the PTA or the PIBG, the group of parents who work with the school on behalf of all the other parents.
We are having the kick-off meeting on Saturday and one of the items on the agenda is "Delivery of School Lessons", so I took this opportunity to ask my own kids what they thought about the lesson delivery in their current school compared to what they have experienced in Saudi and Dubai.

"Over here, only the teachers are allowed to talk. They never ask your opinion. In Dubai, we were the ones doing most of the talking. There were more discussions".
"Homework was fun! I was so excited to do my homework when I was in school in Saudi/Dubai. Homework here feels like a chore.. it's all writing and more writing"
"You know that's not really true ... you did get a few assignments to make movies and diagrams"
"yeah, that's true ... but for subjects like Math, they gave us assignments like 'Build your own Amusement Park' and you were taught how to keep track of cost and revenue and how to calculate your profit and loss, how to estimate how many workers, rides, and food stalls you need. That was FUN. Over here it's all exercises."
"Yeah and there was that enterprise week where I got to create my own island resort and wore a suit and I gave a presentation"
"And remember that Rainforest concert? We got to sing or act out what we learnt about the rainforest in class, to the whole school! And we made an aboriginal masks during art. That was fun."
"Why can't they do these things over here?"

Having experienced 'Malaysian Schooling' for roughly 6 months now, I think I now know why.
This has probably been said before, but our education system is too exam oriented. Worse, it is geared to reward students who can answer questions in a fixed format. Interprate the question differently or answer it a little differently, or perhaps use different or the wrong or unfamiliar word, and you lose points. So students have no choice but to learn how to interprate the question and how to answer the questions in a specific way, to maximize the points you receive.
Compound that with a public that sizes up schools based on exam results alone, you get schools that are forced to spend more time training students on how to answer questions to maximize points, instead of teaching them how to learn and apply the knowledge. Teachers have no time to make learning fun, because they are too restricted by this system.
Our children are being taught how to swallow facts and figures whole and spew it out in neat little packages that conform to the examiners format. They are being judged on how well they do that. The judges are the local 'good schools', the colleges, the universities, the employers.

In my opinion, our students need to learn more about how to GAIN AND APPLY knowledge than how to RETAIN knowledge.

In this day an age, what you are learning today is probably obsolete yesterday. The advent of technology has made it easy for you to extract information. There is really no need for us to test our students on how much they know and can remember, because that skill is no longer required. What is more important is to test them on their skill in getting information, on mining data, on deducting facts and figures and how logically and creatively they can apply that knowledge.

Want to know when the Portugese invaded Melaka? Just google it. Want to know why? Wiki. Want to know what the Melakans could've done to prevent the invasion? Now, *that* is something worth spending time pondering, discussing and concluding about.

You think questions like that is waaay to advanced for our young students? Think again.
At 11 years old, the students in Ilham's Year 7 class in Jumeirah College Dubai were talking about the Battle of Hastings (go wiki it). They were asked, why do you think the Normans won, taking into account not only the size of the battling forces, but also the demographic of the forces, the tools and weapons they had, the geography of the area and other extenuating circumstances. They were also asked, what could the Engish have done to win it?
With this one question (eh, two), they were not only able to apply their power of deduction and assumption, they also applied their skill in clear and persuasive writing.
Budak darjah lima hokay.
Now, don't you dare say Mat Salleh kids are better than Malaysian kids. I think Malaysian kids were just never given the opportunity.

And that's only the subject of Sejarah (History). I am sure there are many other ways where we could encourage our students to be creative in applying the knowledge that they have learnt in all the other subjects.

Unfortunately, the local 'good schools', universities, colleges and employers do not look at or for these skills when they are evaluating applicants. The first thing they look at are the results on paper. That is such a shame. Perhaps that is why you find that most successful people in the world nowadays are those that did not do so well in school or go to the best schools. Perhaps these organizations need to stop looking at only the exam results and look deeper into the applicants' skills instead, if they want truly the best people in their institution.

I know changing the school system would be an arduous long-winded process that will probably take years of writing and presenting working papers, cabinet debates, minister slanderings, illicit videos, handbag purchases and what not. So, I am not hoping much.
I do hope that we, as parents, could do little-little things within our own school, or even within our own household, to make not just learning, but the the application of knowledge, more fun and exciting for our children.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Getting my eye poked

As I mentioned before, I needed an injection in my right eye to fix the lesion/macular degeneration on my retina.
I chose the drug Avastin, which is 12 times cheaper than Lucentis (google it if you want), and the doctor only does the procedure for this drug on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
My original appointment was on Thursday, but earlier in the week, one of Taufik's drill bits broke apart while drilling granite formation and that meant he could not miss the early morning meetings with customers, and on top of that he had another mid morning meeting on Thursday which he could not miss. He requested that I change the appointment to Wednesday instead, because or else, he would not be able to go to the hospital with me.
So I called the hospital asking if it was possible for me to change the appointment, but unfortunately wednesday's appointment was full. I asked them to just put me on a waiting list if there is any, Manalah tahu ada orang kensel ke..
But they didnt call me back.
Upon Taufik's insistence, I called up the hospital again on Tuesday 6pm, not hoping too high for a positive response, since it was after office hours. Surprisingly, the nurse said, "There is a place for you, you can come tomorrow morning". Yay!

After dropping off Taufik at the LRT station (he could not miss the early morning meeting) and my kids at school, I again parked my car, rode the LRT to Asia Jaya, walked to THONEH and got registered by 8:30am. By 9a.m. I was brought to the DayCare Centre where I was asked to put on a robe over my clothes, take off my tudung to put on a hair net (ini kira darurat lah kan?) and was bought into this huge waiting room with comfortable lounge chairs.
The nurses tested my blood sugar and blood pressure, and gave me the OK to go. They put an X over my right eyebrow, cleaned my eyes and served me kaya toast and milo (coz I didnt have time to grab breakfast). Only then did I find out how close I was to not getting my injection that day. There was another lady that had failed her blood pressure test and could not go through the procedure today, and I was taking her place. Subhanallah, I was *this* (gap between thumb and forefinger) close to being sent home empty handed. Alhamdulillah Alhamdulillah.
While waiting for my turn, i received an sms that Taufik had arrived and was waiting outside. I was relieved and felt comfort in knowing he was out there even though he was not allowed to come inside the operating theatre with me.
My turn came just as I had finished eating my toast and had 2 sips of Milo. I followed the blue blob I identified as the nurse (coz I was almost blind without my glasses on) into the operating theatre and she asked me to lie down on a gurney.
On my right, Dr. Gayatri was administering the injection on another patient and as I lay there reciting all the Qur'anic verses I knew, I was also eavesdropping. I overheard the word "slight hemorrhage" and heard Dr. Gayatri telling the patient to sit up without opening his eyes. A vision of bleeding eyes came into my mind.
Robbi Yasser walatu 'Asser, Ya Kareeem!!!
Oh Allah Please make it easy!
It was then my turn.
The nurse put a piece of paper, with a hole to expose only my right eye, over my face. She asked me to close my eyes and swabbed around my right eye. She then asked me to open my eyes to administer the local anesthetic, but some of the liquid she had swabbed with went into my eye and it stung, so I couldn't open it. Panic lah kejap. The doctor suggested that I blink rapidly while the nurse put the anesthetic drops, and alhamdulillah that worked. She administered a second drop, just in case.
The doctor than asked me to look straight ahead, as she put a clamp over my eyelids to stop it from closing up while she does the injection. She then told me to look to the top left. Good thing I had impaired vision on that eye, coz I couldn't really see whatever she was holding. She said, "Okay now you are going to feel a slight pressure on your eye ya..." and so I felt a slight pressure, and "Okay all done!" she said.
"What??? That's it??" I asked.
"Yup! And you were all anxious for nothing", She laughed at me.
When I got up from the gurney, I noticed a block spot at the bottom of my vision, but otherwise, everything else felt fine, Alhamdulillah :)
After the nurses checked that I was okay, they let me take off the robe and put on my tudung, and I went out to meet Taufik. I was told to wait in front of the doctor's office for a post-op consultation, but Taufik and I went to have some breakfast at the canteen first before we went to see the doctor.
The anesthesia was starting to wear off by then and my eyes felt a little sore. Not unlike the feeling of an eye infection, or if it were to be poked by something, which it had been.
This was the first time Taufik (or someone other than me) talked to the doctor about my case, so Dr. Gayatri took the time to explain what's going on and how this medicine is going to help me. I was to see her again on Monday for a follow up, and after a month she'll do another OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) and decide whether I need more treatments. I were to continue putting on eyedrops till monday.

After meeting the doctor, one of the nurses explained to me about post-op care for my eyes. I cannot get water or soap into my eyes for 2 days, so that means no washing my face or shampooing my hair. I were to put antibiotic drops every 2 hours that day and every four hours the following days till monday. I were to call the hospital immediately if my eye get really irritated or red, if I start to suddenly see a lot of 'floaters' (black spots) in my vision, or if my vision gets worse.
haiyo so meng-kancheong-kan.
I seek protection and healing from Allah.

After settling the bills, Taufik and I walked to the AsiaJaya LRT Station. He asked me, "Erm, are you okay to drive?"
"I can drive as well as a one-eyed man can", I said.
"Coz I have to get back to work lah... ", he said.
"Hm... okay", I was a bit dejected, but what to do.
"You're gonna be driving dalam taman tu je from SS3/43 to SS3/44 aje kan?", I think he was trying to assure himself more than he was trying to assure me.
"Ok, see you at home lah nanti". :P
"Erm, you come pick me up at the LRT station ya?"

So I did as I was told (you don't fool around with your eyes) and took my wudhu musafir-style (i.e. wet my hands and spread water around my face, as opposed to the malaysian-stye, splash macam nak mandi), making sure no water or soap gets into my eyes. Good thing I had washed my hair on Wednesday morning, so it wasnt that bad when I finally got to shampoo on Friday.

By Saturday I was actually seing improvement in my vision. There was still that gray blob, but it was getting lighter grey, and more transluscent. I could almost see the outline of my hand when I waved it in front of my face, when previously it would dissapear behind the blob. Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah.

When I went to see the doctor yesterday (monday), I told the nurse that did the eye chart test that even though I still could not read the letters, at least now I could see that there is a chart there. Dr. Gayatri scoped my eye and said she sees a fading of the lesion and that is very encouraging. Alhamdulillah!
So she made me an appointment for Wednesday 25th April (3 more weeks). I am to administer the antibiotic drops into my right eye 3 days prior to the appointment. If the OCT results show that I require another dose of Avastin, she will give me the injection straight away.
She also asked me to monitor the vision in my left eye and to come right away if I see deteriotarion in its quality. I know now to do so, and not wait till I see the grey blob.

Alhamdulillah, I am happy.