The Bangsar Boy in Singapore: Northlight School
In my The Bangsar Boy article, I wrote about a talk I gave last year for TedxYouthKL which I also blogged about previously (kinda). Why I decided to talk about it now is because of a recent visit I made together with the other Fellows to a school here in Singapore.
But more on that later. In my article, I mentioned my talk titled Confessions of a 1 A Student, where I spoke about how I thought there was something fundementally wrong with our education system considering the obsession that teachers, parents and students have with getting straight As. I shared a couple of stories, including this one regarding my niece Sara:
If I can venture a guess, I would say this is the same culture that led to my niece Sara crying over the one B she got for her UPSR last year. I have since spoken to some parents who said their children reacted the same way, and in some cases, the parents thought the children didn’t do enough!
At the TedxYouthKL talk, I asked: “How did we get to the state where we would cry over one B and not celebrate the six As that we got alongside?”
You can read the full article here. Strangely enough, I also just came across a video recording on YouTube of that particular TedxYouthKL talks I gave (the ending got cut off a little bit).
But back to my article. The reason why I brought the education system up was because of the visit I made to Northlight School in Singapore. I wrote:
Funded by the Education Ministry, NorthLight takes in students who fail their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), the equivalent of our UPSR.
The school acknowledged there were many factors that caused a student to do badly in their PSLE, and therefore provide an alternative learning environment to the usual secondary school to help them catch up and grow.
I have to admit that I totally fell in love with the system at the school and the passion in which the principal, Lim Yen Ching, and her bunch of teachers ran and operated the school. There is too much to share (we spent a good three and a half hours there) but I thought I’d share some photos here.
One of the first spaces we visited after our briefing was the theatre black box. Students are expected to get involved in productions (and the training) not just for fun, but also to build their confidence. Facilities like these are not for extra-curricular activities, they are used as part of the syllabus. The even have a audio/visual department – complete with a green screen and a radio system – for their students to product movies and radio shows.
It was like walking into an Apple store! Yup, these are all for the students to use, and they actually use it not just for studies and research but also to create drawings, graphics and images. We saw some sample of the works and some of them are really creative. The school is fully funded by the Ministry of Education, hence why they afford such facilities.
Not everything is in a classroom setting (you would know that of course, with the black box photo above. The school also has a functioning kitchen and restaurant as part of the syllabus, a simulation supermarket – with real goods – and hotel room etc). This “farm” was started at the request of the students. Principal Lim admitted that she was hesitant at first, wondering if the students will be able to sustain it, but it has and some of the fruits and vegetables are growing quite well!
This is the back of one of the classrooms. The Principal was explaining to us about how they deal with some special students (the school is not a “special” school but they do have students with learning disabilities). One of them has a condition where he has to move about a lot (possibly ADD, but I can’t be sure) so they marked out the Xs at the back of the class and told him that if he feels the need to move, he can pace back and forth where the Xs are. This way, he doesn’t disrupt the class. She also mentioned a student who has the tendency to tap his/her pen, so they got a rubber pad so that the sound wouldn’t bother the other classmates. What a brilliant approach!
As for the blue box that she is standing in, that is the area where if a student has had a bad day at home etc, he/she can carry his/her table to the box and sit there for the duration of the class. This way, the teachers and classmates know that the person might be edgy and best to give him/her some room, or to offer support.
Some students in the school have a hard time because they come from families with financial difficulties. The school offers each student a small “allowance” of sorts to make sure they are not hungry. Students have a cash card which they can place on this device which will add some credit in. They have to do this each day they need money as the balance that is unused will expire at the end of each day.
The school also has a student lounge which is filled with lots of goodies – console games, foosball table, TV, pool table and the works. To play the games (not sure if it’s only for the pool table or all the games), students have to earn credits from good behaviour. They cannot ask for the credits, it has to be offered to them from the teachers. Nice approach to discipline.
Speaking of discipline, we walked into the canteen area the moment we arrived and saw several games there – ping pong table, foosball, Wii and carom boards. Each of these games came with a message stuck on it, telling students that they need to take responsibility for the belongings (it belonged to all of them) and that trust is important (therefore none of the devices/seeds/ball are locked up).
The use of these signs are common in the school. The ones that accompany CCTV cameras do not warn students that they are being watched for their bad actions, but instead, tell them that the cameras are there to watch them behaving well.
There are so many things I like about the school but this bin is perhaps my favourite – the bin of no regrets. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s hard to be good all the time especially when you feel like the world is against you and there is so many obstacles in life. This bin is placed near the entrance to the school. Students who smoke or do anything that they are not permitted to are allowed to dump it into the bin, with no consequences. The Principal said that the students after school holidays, when they spend more time in their previous environments than in the school, put the most things into these bins.
I don’t know about you but I think this is a wonderful system. I don’t know if it will work in Malaysia, but it sure is worth a shot. I know that the Malaysian Education Ministry folks have visited the school before, so we might see something similar.
Oh, one more thing, after this article was published, I received an email from someone who said that we already have an alternative learning system in Malaysia thanks to a former La Salle brother called John D Cruz. I did a search on Google and found out that he runs classes (with some help) to help those who are not so academically inclined. I think it is brilliant what he is doing, but I would also love to see the Education Ministry formalise such efforts instead of relying on good samaritans.
8.30am Malaysian time (+8 GMT)