LETTER | I was intrigued by this heading to a news item in Malaysiakini about Education Minister Maszlee Malik saying that the Tamil film Raatchasi interpreted his aspirations.
After reading the article, I sat down to watch the movie. I watched it with the assistance of subtitles. It was an easy to watch movie.
In the film, the school is dilapidated. Their budget does not allow renovations.
The teachers are lazy and generally quite useless. There appears to be little motivation to help the students. There is a general acceptance that the children of poor people are not educable.
There is a private school nearby that feeds on the poor performance of government schools. Parents with means abandon the government school to enrol in the private school paying huge fees thereby enriching the owner.
At least one teacher is actually paid to ensure the poor performance of the school. The children of many of the teachers are sent to the private school.
The government appears to accept the situation as being hopeless and does little to change things.
Parents are not involved in the administration of the school. And for a combination of reasons accept that things will never change. That conditions in the school will always remain the same.
Their expectations of the ability of their children are low and they often need them to help them with their farm or whatever business they are engaged in. Caste is also an issue.
The new headmistress recently retired as a colonel in the Indian army becomes a headmistress in the school.
She has a reason for coming to this school and is on a mission to make a difference.
She engages with the students. She eats, and even shares her meals with them. She whips the teachers into shape. She gets the parents involved. And very soon the school begins to glow after renovations, a fresh coat of paint, murals and landscaping.
She even gets the authorities to go after students who play truant. And finally, their performance in national exams begins to improve.
Interestingly, she goes after teachers in the teaching of each subject and gets them to improve their own performance. She gets them to teach in ways that are interesting and practical.
The English teacher gets a hammering. She tells him that you can only teach if you know and can speak English. And gives him a limited time to up his game.
All efforts to get her out by disgruntled teachers and by the owner of the private school fail, including being physically attacked. She is imprisoned for allegedly falsifying exam results, but is vindicated in the end by the stellar performance of her students.
A suggestion box proves to be very successful. Even the most useless teachers discover their vocations after earlier resistance.
Maszlee says that every one of his aspirations for schools in Malaysia are to be found in the film. What are they?
A dedicated inspirational headmaster or headmistress? Committed and well-trained teachers? A very involved PTA that helps raise funds and to look after the school?
The sharing of meals with students by teachers? In Tamil Nadu, they have implemented very successfully a meal programme for all school children.
Dealing forcefully with corrupt officials? Having the support of the government?Having adequate resources?
Are these the real problems with our education system?
We have so many school systems. We have government schools. We have vernacular schools. We have Islamic schools. And we have the elite schools which include boarding schools and private schools. The traditional elite schools and mission schools are not more what they were.
What are the reforms that we expect to see?
Teacher training is clearly one reform. We expect greater diversity and we expect teachers to be sensitive to the needs of a multicultural society.
Recent studies in the United States say that the expectations of parents and teachers play a big role in the shaping and formation of the self-esteem of students and their own expectation of themselves.
Black male students in one study in one state suffered most from the low expectations of their parents and of their teachers many of whom were also black.
The elite school systems that exist in large numbers in this country cream off many of the brightest kids from the government school system. And presumably many of the better teachers as well.
That cripples many of the government schools. The separation of students by race and the absence of diversity among teachers leave minorities with no meaningful contact with teachers. Many Malay teachers face difficulties in relating to Indian kids.
Poor parents are generally unable to provide the support that their children require for their studies. They either lack the physical environment or the knowledge required or the funds necessary to ensure an adequate supply of school books and other materials.
The importance of English has not been appreciated and provided for. There should be provision for the teaching of POL and ideally for instruction in one's own faith and culture.
Government schools should be comfortable for all. Raatchasi is a film located in Tamil Nadu. All the kids are of the same race. Although some of the children are Muslim and Christian.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.