Corpun file 12781
Bernama (Malaysian National News Agency), 13 February 2004
Sarawak School Shows The Better Way
A Special Report
By Frankie Lian
BEAMING WITH PRIDE… St Thomas Secondary School is today a role model school.
KUCHING, Feb 13 (Bernama)-- Located in the heart of Kuching city is a school that was notorious for the indiscipline of its students. But that was some 10 years ago or till two committed teachers came along to put things right and the students and their parents beaming with pride [sic].
St Thomas Secondary School is today a role model school and other school authorities, including one from Brunei Darussalam, are coming to the school to learn how it resolved the indiscipline problems of its primary and secondary students.
Bernama asked principal Peter Foo and his Senior Assistant (I), Tilai Bala Udan, for the secret of success and the answer is an integrated and systematic discipline system called the "Merit and Demerit Discipline System" (MDDS).
Underpinning the system are the various players responsible for moulding or shaping the character of the students, namely, the school administrators, teachers, prefects, class monitors, parents and counselors.
Intervention of these various players, Foo said, is deliberate and structured to optimise paradigm shift in student behaviour.
Transparency and fair play
An important feature of the system is transparency and a sense of fair play in every punishment or reward meted out. This means that the school rules, job specifications of discipline teachers and work processes are formalised in a disciplinary manual or handbook available to all concerned, he said.
Foo said empowering all teachers, staff, prefects and class monitors to enforce this discipline system have far greater reach and depth.
Forms used, letters and files are colour-coded to facilitate easy retrieval and accessibility. They are being integrated into the school computerised management system, he said.
Implemented in 1997, St Thomas borrowed the idea from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Green Road in Kuching, improving on it through the years till it became an integrated system, complete with additional features and manual, a systematic filing system, enforcement and user-friendly standard letters to parents.
The system calls for "zero tolerance" in managing disciplinary problem and the strict enforcement saw a phenomenal drop in disciplinary problems among the students.
Foo said the system worked so well that some parents came in to report their own children smoking at home.
"This was done to ensure that students discipline are [sic] extended beyond the school compound and beyond school hours. Prefects and class monitors have the power to give demerit points to students," he said.
To prevent abuse, which rarely happens because of the transparency nature of the system, all demerit points meted by the prefects will be vetted by the discipline teachers.
In fact, enforcement in school is mostly done by school prefects and supervised by discipline teachers acting as facilitators.
Foo was glad that there was full support from all during the first few months of MDDS's implementation and the general consensus then was that disciplinary problems in St Thomas must be stopped immediately.
Parents were introduced to the system through flyers and the Parents-Teachers Association.
Circular letters with regards to discipline from the Education Department, including the chapter on discipline in the Education Act, were operationalised in the system.
Caning versus rewards
For example, the Peraturan Pelajaran (disiplin sekolah) 1959 with regards to caning of students was effected through a form to record all cases of caning, with another form to be signed by the principal authorising the caning and a set of guidelines pertaining to caning itself.
He said the system goes through a total review and adjustments every year for the sole purpose of continuous improvement.
"Yes, we have achieved the desired targets. One good example is that there is no vandalism, no graffiti or littering in the school, unlike in the past. Students are encouraged to spend their own money to decorate their classrooms, thus creating a sense of belonging," he said.
Absentism, a major problem before, has been dramatically reduced, Foo said.
As for academic performances, he is pleased to note that there is a distinct improvement in students' academic results.
Tilai, on the other hand, said they also have a system of rewards or incentives as part and parcel of education psychology.
To encourage the students to behave, they give bonus points in the discipline system. "We operationalised this integral need by devising a system of incentives and awards which is formalised in the handbook," he said.
Teachers more focussed
The improved level of discipline enabled teachers to focus more on the core business of teaching in a less stressful atmosphere for both teachers and students.
The end results, said Tilai, were satisfying. The school has won various awards at state and national level competitions.
The "feel good" atmosphere and beautifully landscaped environment had helped the school to win the national level 3K's competition and a string of other awards.
The 3Ks (or "Pertandingan Keselamatan, Kebersihan dan Keindahan Alam Sekitar") competition last year had judged the schools on security, cleanliness and the environment.
St Thomas was placed runner-up in the National English Drama Competition, while securing the 7th placing for best results in Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) examination last year.
It represented Sarawak and Labuan in the hockey premier schools competition, and was winner of the SONY science education award 2003. It was one of three schools in the state nominated for the Sekolah Harapan Negara award, and it bagged the consolation prize for the national safe school competition.
Equally gratifying to the school was its selection for a research by the Education Planning and Research Division, for promoting real-time racial integration among school citizens.
Time and money
For all these accolades, both Foo and Tilai knew too well the amount of time, money and effort put in by the students, teachers and parents.
BERNAMA. All rights reserved.
Parents were so supportive that they sent their children for work parties and some gave outright donations. Even old students of the school were enthusiastic about the change in their alma mater.
"This is the trend and culture for Thomians for generations to come," Foo quipped.
"We have the highest hope for the school, true to its mission statement of 'Aim Higher'. We aspire to be the national benchmark for areas related to discipline, prefect system and counselling department.
"More importantly, we would like to see our students do well in life," he said, adding that former students of the school include State Secretary Datuk Amar Abdul Aziz Husain, State Assistant Minister of Housing Dr Abang Abdul Rauf Abang Zen and Permanent Secretary to Ministry of Tourism Abang Affandi Abang Annuar.