Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Dedicated Educator (II)

I adapted the Reader's Digest story of headmaster Mr Tiong Ting Ming's selfless dedication towards building a better school and providing quality education for his students and community earlier. If you thought the little snippet was inspiring, then you need to read this post. It'll provide you with a lot more insight on what Mr Tiong did to bring technology to his students as well as what he incredibly achieved despite the many hurdles and obstacles. Much of the information below is extracted from a seminar paper presented in 2005 provided to the bloggers of this site. ;)

As a bit of background, there are about 2,000 secondary schools in Malaysia of which 78 are Chinese Conforming Schools which are collectively known as Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan (SMJK) and are categorized under Bantuan Modal Schools.

The land where SMJKs are sited belong to the Board of Governors (BOGs) who are responsible for the physical development of the school. The key draw back for SMJKs is that the public at large is responsible for the funding of any school projects. The Bantuan Modal scheme provides only some grants for the schools' physical development. However the main advantage is that the school has the flexibility to implement projects without much interference from the authority.

One of the first things Mr Tiong did after being appointed as headmaster for SMJK Dindings way back in 1992 was identifying ICT as one of the key strategies for improving the school in terms of teaching, learning, communications and administration. He placed his vision for the school in a strategic paper and spent 5 tireless years turning SMJK Dindings into a high-tech learning institution. Readers might note that by 1997 the ICT and Internet bug hasn't really caught on in Malaysia. The Government only released the various tenders for the Smart School programme in that year.

During the 5 painful years, Mr Tiong traveled all over the country, “begged and twisted the arms of many people into donating to rebuild the school, netting more than RM1 million in cash and kind”. All that was raised went into the renovation of the older school buildings and the construction of a new three-storey building which is more often refers to as "cyber-classrooms".
The new building was fully 'connected' via conduits for data cables setting up a school-wide Local Area Network (LAN). The laying of the copper and fibre optic cables were undertaken by Sapura Network Integrator, Thomas & Betts, a US-based company and the students of SMJK Dindings.

Mr Tiong's enterprising spirit is almost unbelievable, even to a seasoned Internet entrepreneur like myself. Together with his students, they really went to the ends of the earth, enabled by the Internet to seek out the best deals for the schools with its limited funds.

While the initial years depended on the generosity of the local corporations such as Sapura Holdings, Hock Hua Bank Bhd and 3Com Asia Pacific Ltd, Mr Tiong knew that such consistent and continued charity are going to be hard to come by. Hence, key technology equipment such as hubs, switches, network interface cards and other computer accessories were purchased from eBay.com at a rock bottom prices when the Internet bubble burst. In fact, one of the students even traveled 6 times to the United States to ship the items back.

Additional hardware was purchased from Singapore or through local auction sites such as Lelong.com.my. In 2005, the school started to purchase large numbers of refurbished CPU and servers from Dell that come with 5-year extended warranty, part and labour. The deployment of the used and refurbished hardware certainly enabled the school to maximise returns from the limited financial resources.

So how “high-tech” is SMJK Dindings today?

Well, I can say that after reading his story, I have nailed a note in my head to visit the school one of this days. And I would encourage all Malaysian headmasters and headmasters-to-be to do the same, for there is much we can learn.

From what I can tell, the entire school is run using some of the best technology applications. Each student have their own RFID tags which linked themselves to the schools management system enabling attendance taking, school discipline via an online merit and demerit systems, library access, utilisation and much more. What is most interesting, is that not only will the system be accessed by the teachers, administrators and students, they are also monitored directly by the students' parents!

Mr Tiong is also not so “blinkered” by technology that he forgets the critical human factor.
“It is probably true that pupils have much higher levels of ability in ICT than many of those in the teaching profession. ICT is the new literacy skill and teachers have to grasp any available opportunity to enhance their ICT skills if they are to use it in the teaching and learning process. Pupils cannot be expected to become adept at the new technologies if the teachers themselves do not fully appreciate the potentials of these technologies.”
It is well-known that teachers often take a longer time to learn the new technologies and to integrate them into the everyday curriculum. SMJK Dindings provides a wide selection of ICT training for teachers and administrative staff. All the staff members must attend computer lessons, one and a half hour each week, learning more about email programs, Internet search tools, web designing, Office tools, computer hardware and trouble-shooting skills, Windows installation and even digital photography.

With so much ICT equipment in the school, maintenance, the Achilles heel of typical Malaysian government projects, will certainly be have been a challenge. Instead, the school turned this challenge into an opportunity by forming “cyber-brigades” which are given responsibilities to keep system downtime to a minimal level.

The cyber-brigades comprised Form 2 to Form 5 students. Software and Operating System maintenance are assisted by Form 4 and Form 5 students taking Information Technology and Computer Programming courses at SPM level. Network and servers maintenance are undertaken by ex-students working in Kuala Lumpur, either remotely or on-site during the weekends.

The story of the students and alumni taking charge is highlighted in the Star Education supplement on November 5nd. The two young men picture there are Mr Tiong's ex-students who came back to help in install network cables.

One of the more interesting projects undertaken by students in the school included a hands-on experience in laying a 700m multi-modal fiber-optic cable linking the school with a nearby primary school and kindergarten. The campus-wide high bandwidth network was probably the first of its kind in the country that was commissioned and maintained by teenagers.

As part of the curriculum, students are also assigned projects by teachers to encourage them to do research on the Internet to complement their traditional subjects. Some tertiary colleges do not even encourage such activities, much less a typical secondary school.

SMJK Dindings was a dwindling school quickly losing relevance to parents even in the neighbourhood when Mr Tiong was appointed its headmaster. His task to turn the school around was not helped by its location in the village, sandwiched between an oil palm estate and a coconut plantation.

Today, parents from far and wide sent their children to SMJK Dindings to study ICT related subjects. Students, teachers, administrative staff and parents are able to access information about Real-Time Attendance with RFID, students discipline, examination management, library management and co-curriculum activity via Internet and Intranet. All this was achieved with a meagre RM2 million in cash and kind which was collected over the past dozen years or so.

This is in stark contrast to the efforts of the Ministry of Education, which has spent hundreds of millions to build smart-schools and very little to show besides poorly maintained and under-utilised computer hardware and ICT equipment. The Ministry of Education should perhaps consider appointing Mr Tiong as the Director-General in-charge of Smart Schools in Malaysia for I'm certain that he'll help achieve Malaysia's goals to provide quality education with less than half the budget in less than half the time for ten-fold the returns.

Is the Minister of Education himself, or his senior officials too proud to eat humble pie at the expense of the nation?

Thank you, Mr Tiong for helping make Malaysia a better place for fellow Malaysians. This certainly makes a great Malaysian and Christmas story. ;)

7 comments:

chenchow said...

Great that the story of Mr. Tiong is highlighted by Tony. If I am not wrong, the computer labs in SMJK Dindings do not only benefit the students, but it is also opened to nearby residents for us after school hours.

Shien Jin said...

This story highlights exactly why money shouldn't be concentrated in the ministry or education department's hands. For money to be best spent, principals and headmasters should be given a budget (that is based on the number of students), and be given flexibility in hiring and school maintenance. This way, principals/headmasters are like CEOs and can be held accountable. Question is, when will our Malaysian society demand this?

Anonymous said...

It only highlights what can happen when there is the right leadership at the school level and also what miserable failure it can be without it. Education and teaching is not a highly scalable process. Its individuals that counts and individuals that fails. The arrogance of education officials including our ministers to believe they are that important compared to the likes of local leadership is something I can never understand....

Anonymous said...

If the Ministry of Education had wished to appoint Mr Tiong as the Director-General in-charge of Smart Schools in Malaysia, it would had done so years ago and not now in 2006. This serves to show to the world the type of people we voted to power but betrayed our trust by holding back progress in Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

I quote Tony P:

"This is in stark contrast to the efforts of the Ministry of Education, which has spent hundreds of millions to build smart-schools and very little to show besides poorly maintained and under-utilised computer hardware and ICT equipment. The Ministry of Education should perhaps consider appointing Mr Tiong as the Director-General in-charge of Smart Schools in Malaysia for I'm certain that he'll help achieve Malaysia's goals to provide quality education with less than half the budget in less than half the time for ten-fold the returns."

Please do not get Mr Tiong appointed to any body having anything to do with the government. For all his good work, he will just be "used and dumped", and be discredited politically. Our government, which is openly and grotesquely wasteful of talent (as is abundantly evidenced by the university quota system), will not hesitate to destroy him and everything he has done. Simply put, when push come to shove in terms of "muka", it will be Mr Tiong against the entire establishment, including the MCA. No prizes for guessing who will be destroyed in the process. Surely, there must be a reason why neither the MCA nor the BN is giving any credit to nor trumpeting Mr Tiong's vision and success as an example to all; for so many years, Mr Tiong's example has not been mentioned.

To misquote a certain Minister, "if anyone thinks Mr Tiong is our Smart School savior, I would like to look him in the eye". Just look only, mah! The brain need not think.

As they say, the software is in the brains, stupid. Or was that "stupid brains"? Whatever.

I quote Tony P again:

"I'm certain that he'll help achieve Malaysia's goals to provide quality education with less than half the budget in less than half the time for ten-fold the returns"

I agree with Tony's arithmetic, given a rational environment. I do not doubt Mr Tiong's willingness to help, given his passion, belief, commitment, and, most importantly, his achievements. It is just that he may be lured into the folds to lend credibility to some sneaky government project, but they will never let him help. Thereafter, they will destroy any remaining optimism and passion left in him and leave him a disillusioned man. Totally.

sammo said...

a wonderful entry for dedicated educator. i wonder if i may suggest another individual for dedicated educator part 3?
Datin Freida Pilus, currently chairman of Cempaka Group of schools. The group has two campuses one in cheras and one in bukit damansara and is widely regarded as the top school in the country.
Datin Freida founded the school in 1983, one of the first few private schools in malaysia and it has grown by leaps and bounds since then. i hear they are planning another school in sepang. An all-girls residential school.

i also saw in the papers a few days ago about they one-to-one notebook programme they are starting in 07. the first in malaysia as well. Bringing teaching and learning to a whole new level, fully utilising WEB 2.0 technology.

This story of SMJK Dindings ICT achivements reminded me of Cempaka's involment in that area. Also being the first school in malaysia to adopt a fully wire-less internet access campus in 1999, it remains the first school in SE Asia and only school in malaysia to be designated an Apple Distinguished School by Apple USA.
Smart cards have been used in the same fashion as SMJK Dinding but has been widen to purchase of books, stationary and school uniform readily available at the school mart on campus.

Lastly i i agree with one comment about the so-called Govt "smart school" blue print. To quote Dr Iskandar Rizal, vice-chairman of Cempaka Group of Schools, technology is a vessel of knowlege. Technology without content and quality is futile and wasteful." the govt seems happy chucking some computers in a class and calling it a "smart school"...

anyway i just wanted to highlight another candidate for Dedicated Educator, Datin Freida Pilus.

thanks
sam
any comment pls feel free to email me at hisham_sam@hotmail.com


oh and do check out the school at www.cempaka.edu.my

sammo said...

to comment on Shein Jin's comment.. actually all government schools are given a budget based on the number of student. i think its around average 7.500 per student.
this budget is then used for paying for operating costs and development.
principals or headmasters need to have the initiative and drive to spend it wisely .
thanks
email me at hisham_sam@hotmail.com