Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Cluster schools - good or bad idea?

I generally like the idea of giving schools more autonomy and local 'stakeholders' to have a greater say in the running of a school. I think it provides more freedom for farsighted and innovative principals in cooperation with local businesses, parents and students to venture beyond the narrow field of 'education'. The idea of having cluster schools, as outlined in the National Education Blueprint, builds on this platform, where schools will be "given autonomy in five key areas - human resources, school funds, student intake, teaching and learning, and examinations and evaluation". This issue was covered in last Sunday's education pullout in the Star.

The problem with such ideas is that, as usual, the implementation process leaves much to be desired. According to the Star report, "Since the announcement of the schools, principals have been waiting for the Education Ministry to give full details on the degree of autonomy or the funds they will get." Bureaucratic ineffectiveness on the part of the Minister of Education, surprise, surprise. Remember the announcement sometime last year that the Minister of Higher Education was going to release 'rankings' of private colleges? We are still waiting, as are some of the principals who are hoping that their schools will be selected as one of the cluster schools.

Some possible reasons behind the bureaucratic delay:

1) The sensitive issue of choosing which schools. The ministry, I'm guessing, is attempting its usual balancing act of not choosing only schools from predominantly urban areas in certain states but want to 'spread' out these schools. My feeling is that it is precisely urban schools (or those in semi-urban areas) which can benefit most from having this greater autonomy since there are a greater number of 'stakeholders' who can contribute and benefit from the process. It is much more important to ensure that the basic necessities - sufficiently qualified teachers, electricy and school supplies - are provided to rural schools before they can even think of 'making the leap' to being a cluster school.

In any case, doesn't the very definition of 'cluster' imply that there should be groups of these schools in the same vicinity? Presumably so that they can have different areas of specialisation, for example?

This is not to say that most of these cluster schools should only be in PJ, KL, Ipoh or Penang. I'm sure that schools in Kota Baru, like the one headed by Aidah Mohd Salleh of SK Zainab 2, can benefit from being a cluster school. In this particular case, the headmistress wants the school to specialize in archery.

2) The issue of funding. While it is implied that cluster schools will be given more money by the Ministry to run some of their 'specialized' programs, it seems that not all the funding will come from the Ministry. The principals together with other stakeholders will have to find creative ways of coming up with sufficient funds to cover the total running costs of having these programs.

I don't have too much of a problem with this since if it is the students in these schools who will benefit from having these specialized programs, the stakeholders such as the principal and parents should take the iniative to raise more funds e.g. working with local businesses or MNCs.

It has also been suggested that the Ministry set up a central fund from which individual cluster schools can apply to for the specific purpose of running / starting certain programs.

In general, I think that this can be a good idea, albeit limited to being applied to a small number of schools, at least initially. The problem is, like with most things in Malaysia, is the bureaucratic process which screws up the original intention of having such a program in the first place.

On a related note, anyone knows what's the status of the 'SMART' schools?


Anonymous said...

My alma mater (in Penang) was one of the selected schools. However, knowing what the 'leadership' is like, my money is that the school will continue to decline, as it has been doing since the late 90s, rather than the other way round.

As for autonomy - we had it once, with school boards of governors, now abolished in all except mission and national-type schools (my old school is probably an aberration in this regard, but it does have a long history). My alma mater has one, as well as a board of trustees, which exist pretty much in name only. Why are we re-inventing the wheel when we can go back to the tried and tested of yesteryear?

We have to choose the right leaders for such a project to work. As far as I know, no one has assessed whether the current heads are up to the job. The current trend of awarding headships of premier schools as sinecures has to be stopped.

Anonymous said...

First of all...let me mentioned that i knw the school u meant n i m currently the i guess i knw what is actually hapening

So...let us see tis cluster school in the different view.. there were so many rumours saying about this chnages and that changes...

However...the matter is that is that goin to suit the students way of increasing the capacity of time of learning..having those implemenatation shud be handed well or it may jus ended to be a disaster when their parents cant find their children when they children were still in school..though we already feel that now

However, we must also consider the pionering change that the Ministry will undertake..i am sur this cluster school implementation will expose student with futher extend of learning...which will of cos mould the future students with first class intelectual..

I dun reli care what is the good and bad of tis system but i rather wanna knw how long will tis thing stays on..if it is jus to be in few years time without continous determination then i think we can forget about it..however, since it was done i thk we shud all together gif our support n thoughts to build a succesful cluster school since billions of rinngit had been spent to ensure a succecc from tis let us work together n forget abt period time of learning or watever..if it can ensure our (Malatysian students) success in future.

Mufadzal Safiuddin said...

Muffy handsome...