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School CP - August 2002

Straits Times, Singapore, 16 August 2002

Bukit Batok shoots up school rankings

Bukit Batok Second and Catholic High were among the schools that improved most in this year's secondary school rankings. TRACY QUEK and SANDRA DAVIE report

IN JUST one year, Bukit Batok Secondary leapt from the bottom of the annual secondary school rankings to 33rd spot this year in the Special/Express stream category.

In the Normal stream category, it shot from No 34 to 16. The school also bagged two value-added awards in the Special/Express course and Normal course categories.

Among the value-added schools this year, 13 were newcomers like Balestier Hill Secondary, Greenview Secondary and Serangoon Secondary.

Never before had the 17-year-old Bukit Batok Secondary climbed this high. The best it had done was 39th (Special/Express) and 24th (Normal) in 1998.

But the man behind the school's dramatic climb from 50th place last year is not at all surprised.

Students draw inspiration from Bukit Batok principal Suparman Adam (right), whose pep talks are remembered even by those who have left - among them NJC's Ng Yim Kum (seated, right). -- WONG KWAI CHOW

Principal Suparman Adam said candidly: 'I was looking forward to the ranking results this year. After five years of hard work and perseverance, I was expecting results to show.'

When he became principal in 1998, he said that truancy, absenteeism and gangsterism were rife. The former vice-principal of Woodlands Secondary knew he had to tackle discipline before making any headway academically.

The educator with 35 years' experience said: 'Without discipline, you cannot do anything.'

Caning, although already carried out, was enforced more vigorously.

He said: 'I was very clear about that. If you fight in school, you are caned by me. If you smoke, play truant more than once, it's the same punishment. If you're late for school, you stay back for two hours to finish your work.'

To overcome the problem of students joining the street gangs that loitered near the school, he patrolled the neighbourhood every morning.

As staff concentrated on keeping students in line, the school took a beating in the annual rankings. It fell from 39th spot in 1998 to 44th the following year. In 2000, it slipped out of the top 50.

But Mr Suparman did not lose sleep. He was heartened by a different set of results.

Student discipline improved dramatically, as shown in the decline in the number of times students were caned, from over 200 in 1998 to 150 in 1999 and 119 last year.

After the first year, he turned his attention to grades. 'More than 90 per cent of our students were passing with five O levels, but what we needed were quality passes.'

To motivate his students, who are mostly from non-English-speaking homes in the neighbourhood, he started holding regular talks with graduating classes.

He would tell the students how their results measured up against their seniors' grades, and compare the school's performance with other schools.

Students were encouraged to set their own targets for grades and then better them.

Former student Ng Yim Kum remembers those talks. Said the National Junior College student, who scored eight points in last year's O levels: 'They helped me focus and gave me direction. Teachers would tell us if we were not up to standard and we'd go back and work harder.'

Fortnightly tests in all subjects were held to make sure that the students studied consistently. The scores counted towards the final examination grade.

And when exam time drew near, Secondary 4 students were not left on their own to study. They had to come back to school for intensive revision with their teachers.

It worked. The school improved its percentage of A grades by about 10 to 15 per cent across the board last year, compared to the year before.

Physics, for example, saw 40 per cent of the cohort scoring distinctions, up from 13 per cent in 2000.

Mr Suparman said: 'It took five years to instil good values in our students. But it's worth it. Students know they must work very hard and make sure they get the best results they are capable of.'

Students like Chee Kin Onn, 16, have been inspired. He wants to get a place in Victoria Junior College next year. 'Our teachers are dedicated and our principal never gives up on us. They make us believe we can do the impossible.'

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