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Education system reset: Coach Carter shows the way

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The state of our education system can be likened to that of the Richmond Oilers when Ken Carter accepted his appointment as coach, writes Teo Chuen Tick.

I just watched the movie Coach Carter on television. It is based on a true-life story of a coach who tried to teach his players that there is more to life than basketball.

While the coach, Ken Carter, wanted to turn the Richmond Oilers [the Richmond High School basketball team in Richmond, California] into a winning team, he also wanted a lot more. He wanted to teach the boys to respect themselves and one another and to excel in the classroom as well as in the gymnasium.

Please pardon my use of literary licence as these thoughts came to me with respect to reforms to our nation’s education system. The Education Ministry has reportedly received more than 11,000 suggestions so far – suggesting that education is an issue close to our hearts.

The state of our education system can be likened to that of the Richmond Oilers when Carter accepted his appointment as coach. The team was having an awful season and its players lacked cohesion.

Carter adopted a no-nonsense approach in his coaching style. He tolerated no prima donnas in his team – all members had to accept punishment for infringements to the rules they had signed for in their contract with him. No favouritism, even to his son, who signed on to his team against his wishes.

Call me old school, orthodox, conservative or whatever – but I firmly believe discipline must be one aspect looked into seriously in our education reforms. No ifs, no buts – all teachers must be given the full backing to use appropriate disciplinary measures in the discharge of their duties.

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When Carter learned that a number of his players had let their grade point averages slip below 2.3 (as mandated in a contract he entered into with the students), he locked the team out of the gym and sent them to study at the library with some volunteer teachers.

The team was then on a winning streak so the push-back from the players, parents and supporters was intense. The coach lost the vote at a school board meeting, which mandated the gym be reopened.

But Carter stood his ground. He resigned as coach because he held on to his belief that his players had to have goals beyond college basketball or the NBA.

This is another aspect of our proposed education reforms. Education Minister Maszlee Malik must be able to stand his ground if those reforms are for the greater good of the nation.

Our nation has lost a whole generation because of the flip-flop over the use of English for the teaching of Science and Mathematics. This must not happen again.

Coach Carter is an inspiring story as it shows the influence one individual, a teacher, can have on the lives of the wards under him or her. Carter’s team did not win the state championship that year. They lost by two points in the final seconds of play. But five senior players of the team won sports scholarships to university that enabled them to better their lives and their families’.

Carter withdrew his resignation because his team moved their study sessions into the re-opened gym to show their support for him. With that sort of commitment and dedication, those players lagging behind soon caught up in their studies.

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There is another lesson to be learned here: we may not succeed in all our education reforms but we owe it to our younger generation to take that first step and then to plod on diligently.

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