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Maszlee high-fives his way into ‘model’ Sungai Ara school that captured public imagination

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Education Minister Maszlee Malik believes the school has the ability to become a model for wholesome education in the country, writes Anil Netto.

The Sungai Ara Tamil Primary School in Penang received top-level endorsement for its wholesome all-round approach to education when Education Minister Maszlee Malik praised its efforts this morning.

The place was buzzing with anticipation ahead of his visit at 8.30am today as Maszlee took up a suggestion to visit the school. The school proudly claims it does not give its pupils homework and encourages its pupils to take part in outdoor learning activities – yet it is one of the top schools in the state with an 86% pass rate at the Primary School Achievement Test (UPSR).

Since the school received a wave of publicity a month ago after its efforts were highlighted here, word has spread on social media and among neighbouring schools, civil society and the larger public.

Education Department officials from the state and the South West Penang Island District turned up in full force at the school this morning. Also present were 10 other principals from neighbouring schools in the district.

Principals and Education Department officials turned up in full force to meet Maszlee and check out the school

Children from the Al Iqtan Secondary School just next door were specially invited to join their counterparts in meeting Maszlee.

“This is the Malaysia baru,” beamed principal Sangga Sinnayah of the coming together. “This is how it should be.”

Sangga has involved the neighbouring school in joint activities for some time now. It is through many of these practical activities that the school teaches its pupils lessons about life.

Maszlee has had to face brickbats from segments of the urban middle class who feel he has not done enough to revamp the education system. But today, he showed another side to himself as he was introduced to the ‘Finland’ school model adapted to local conditions.

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The minister high-fived the pupils who had lined up on either side of the path leading to the school. He looked delighted to see children from both neighbouring schools coming together. “This is something we would like to encourage, schools of different streams coming together.”

Maszlee looked at ease being with the children, engaging them in conversation and appearing genuinely interested in what they were saying.

Chatting with young scientists in the school

And they responded enthusiastically to his interest.

The rapport was evident. When the children in one classroom greeted him, “Good morning, doctor,” he told them they should instead say, “Good morning, Uncle.”

The children giggled, looking bemused.

His parting words to them? “I love you three thousand” – a line made famous by Ironman’s daughter in Avengers: The Endgame when she expressed her love for her father, who responded in similar fashion.

Sangga explained to Maszlee how the school was implementing nine of the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals in its everyday activities.

Maszlee also had a good look at the organic farm run by the school and was briefed on how the school taught science using the farm as a platform.

Impressed, he announced an on-the-spot allocation of RM20,000 for the school in addition to RM4,000 worth of books he had brought along for the school.

The school runs on a tight budget. It needs about RM70,000 annually for maintenance, which it has to raise from well-wishers, explains Parent-Teacher Association chairman Vimalan Narayanan, a young engineering professional who is passionate about anything to do with outdoor activities.

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The government, for its part, funds the teachers’ salaries as well as provides allocations for other specific requests.

But now that the school is in the national spotlight, already more quarters have expressed interest in collaborating and supporting the school’s work. Even Consumers Association of Penang president SM Idris, who passed away late this afternoon, had contacted Sangga to touch base after the school came under the spotlight.

Listen to Vimalan explain what makes the school so special.

Yesterday, also in Penang, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the dual-language programme for teaching maths and science in English would be extended to all schools.

Sangga expressed some concern about this move. He feels it would be more effective for the pupils’ mother tongue to be used as the medium of instruction as they would more easily grasp what was being taught. “When they go to secondary school, yes fine, by all means teach them in English.”

While showing Maszlee and his entourage around at the school farm, Sangga managed to slip in his concern about the wider environment to the minister. “Please request Tun (Mahathir) to review the PIL.”

Maszlee listens to Sangga, who says: Please request Tun to review the Pan Island Link

Sangga was referring to the RM8bn six-lane Pan Island Island Link highway which would run along the sensitive hill slopes of Penang and degrade the popular Sungai Ara Linear Park. The principal said he was genuinely concerned as the school could already see the impact of climate change at close range: a few of the plants in the school farm were withering.

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Maszlee said he would convey the principal’s request to the prime minister.

An obviously impressed Maszlee has plenty of takeaways from this visit. Let’s see if he can use some of the innovative methods in this school to transform the education system nationwide.

Maszlee’s comments below:

Pada hari ini saya berkesempatan melawat Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Tamil (SJKT) Sungai Ara, Pulau Pinang pada 17 Mei 2019 (Jumaat) dan begitu tertarik dengan pendekatan dan pelbagai program yang dilaksanakan oleh sekolah ini.

Mengamalkan pendekatan pembelajaran secara lebih terbuka, guru dan murid di sekolah ini mengusahkan ladang mini yang menghasilkan pelbagai jenis buah-buahan, sayur-sayuran dan haiwan ternakan.

Melalui ladang ini, pihak sekolah menjadikannya sebagai medan pembelajaran khasnya untuk mata pelajaran sains dan di samping itu, mampu memberikan pulangan sehingga RM600 sebulan kepada sekolah berkenaan.

Menjadikan United Nations Sustainable Development Goals fokus, sekolah ini turut menggerakan pelbagai aktiviti pemeliharaan alam sekitar bagi mewujudkan suasana sekolah yang lebih selesa dan menyeronokkan.

Selain itu, sekolah ini juga tidak menetapkan kerja rumah untuk anak-anak, sebaliknya hanya mahu mereka menikmati secara positif persekitaran di sekolah.

Pihak Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia (KPM) melihat SJKT Sungai Ara berkeupayaan menjadi sekolah contoh di negara ini melalui penekanan aspek nilai kegembiraan, kasih sayang dan hormat-menghormati dalam sistem pendidikan.

Tahniah kepada Guru Besar, Encik Sangga Sinnayah dan seluruh warga sekolah kerana cukup komited dalam mendidik anak-anak mengenali dunia dengan cara yang cukup hebat.

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