Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Life #10

What are the odds?

He is two year older than I am, was in a class deemed poor by the standards of the Ministry of Education and did not mix with our 'click'. We hardly saw each other in school, let alone talk and had the opportunity to become friends. But somehow, we did. And that was back when I was 16.

Last year, all thanks to the wonders of facebook, we reconnected. All it took was some initiative from both ends to keep in touch occasionally and the 11-year vacuum was filled.

How did we do that? 11 years of not knowing what happened to each other, of total MIA-ness disappeared just through Skype sessions, SMSes and phone calls.

And the icing on the cake had to be the moment I sat in his car - to finally see him in person again.

Some friendships just go on. No reasons needed.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bittersweet homecoming

I have been looking forward to this trip back home for some time now. At first, it was due to the reason of being able to fly on the SIA A380 (Yes, I am from some kampung somewhere as I have never been on an SIA flight and have never set foot in Changi Airport). Then, it was because I would be able to celebrate Chinese New Year with family and friends. In December, an extra reason surfaced - my grandma.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer.

You know how the Chinese believe that when an elderly person passes on, it would be before a big festival? Normally, it is said that they would not make it to celebrate with the family. Hence, my anxiety.

But negativities aside, there have been much happiness on the home front.

The youngest female cousin on my mum's side is expecting a bundle of joy in June while another cousin has given birth to a very adorable little Kevin in Melbourne. He has made grandma extremely happy, as grandma is now a great-grandma!

Another cousin - the prettiest and most popular of the lot - has also very recently signed the papers to a lifelong partnership. Her wedding is in March, which I unfortunately would not be able to attend.

My cousin brother and my brother both have also introduced their girlfriends, making many ask when it would be my turn to get a guy. Hm, would 'slow and steady' be an appropriate reply?

Some of my most loved childhood friends are also tying the knot. Rick and Jon, I feel so happy for both of you. Rick, I am so sorry for not being able to be at your special day. Jon, I will try my best to attend yours but of course, subject to availability... haha...

While some are moving up one on the love front, others are moving in a different direction. Max, Robin and Tommy - I wish all of you every best in your next big steps! You guys know I am a huge supporter, right? We need to catch up to fill in all the missing blanks!

The sunrays quickly take their last bow, as they pierce through the gaps in the clouds. Girded by silver linings, they remind me of how my life has been blessed by many people who love me for who I am.

I look forward to meeting up with as many of you as I possibly can, as I really do miss you guys.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Isn’t everything mainstream?

What is mainstream? Mainstream would be what is deemed normal, perhaps. Or dominant? Some of you may think of the word majority. Whatever your definition may be, we still point to it thinking that anything that is mainstream is the norm.

But what is not normal? What is not mainstream?

We now live in an age whereby rights of various groups are upheld and fought for. We want to live in a just and respectful society. To achieve that, we say that we would need to abolish preferential treatment of certain groups. Have we succeeded in doing so?

In Australia, there are ‘mainstream’ schools and Aboriginal schools and similarly in New Zealand, where they have Maori schools that are open to everyone. In Malaysia, we have the Malay, Chinese and Tamil schools, all, which are open to any member of the society from any ethnicity. So tell me, which schools are mainstream and which are not?

They cater to everyone. If we deem mainstream ‘normal’ and ‘majority’, should they not all be considered mainstream schools, then?

Everywhere you go, you would be able to find shops run by Chinese, Korean, Indian and some other nationality. Okay, let us focus on the Chinese in Malaysia and Australia. We are not considered mainstream but our influences are everywhere! There is Chinese press, Chinese radio stations, Chinese television networks, Chinese shops of all sorts and the Chinese language is everywhere. But we are not mainstream.

If we fight for equality and claim that we are a fair country, shouldn’t everything be mainstream?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Inclusive Education

Throughout my studies and teaching here at uni, the issue of inclusive education is being brought to light more and more. We talk about providing inclusive facilities more here compared to back home and I sometimes wonder if it is a contextual matter, this matter of inclusivity. Regardless, with increased public awareness towards human rights and respect, it is making the headlines back home more in recent years.

Being inclusive is not just spraying the sign on the ground for disabled parking it is also about implementing it. What is the point of having it when it is not accessed by those who need to but selfishly want to? It is not about building a ramp on the outside of the building so that people using wheelchairs, delivery companies or mothers with prams could enter the building. What is the use of that if when that is as far as the ramp goes? Has anyone realised that we are great at setting inclusive systems up but are totally hopeless when it comes to following it all up to the end.

And it has to be advocated and supported by people without a disability, as well. I remember my holiday in New Zealand with a dear classmate. If possible, she would only buy coffee from a cafe that blends Fair Trade Coffee and would rather pay that little bit more to spend a night at a backpackers’ accommodation that has disability access. Small acts but if everyone had her mentality, imagine the ripple effect.

In education, it is vital to be inclusive. Yet, it is the most ignored part of our teaching. Admit it - it is extremely difficult to practice inclusivity. We are all, every single one of us, guilty of behaving discriminatorily at one point or another of our teaching career.

The ripple effect applies to inclusive education, as well. Take the example of a child who does not seem to enjoy reading. The words do not make sense and the time taken to put the words together is long, compared to peers. If we do not recognise that as a problem and try to come up with ways to support his reading in a different manner, it will persist to be a problem. In fact, it will become a bigger problem. The child will continue to lose interest in reading and in school the teachers may mistake his reading disability as laziness. The root of the problem was not tackled, which opens the doors to other behavioural problems. Why? Simple because to the child, lessons are not interesting anymore!

For all you know, it could have been a learning disability, such as dyslexia. Or it may have been ADHD, or some other contextual reasons, such as lack of good reading role models in the home environment. If you realise, all the above are issues that can become ‘non-issues’ when pointed out and intervened early.

A guest lecturer pointed out that there are three requirements for inclusive education:

• Fair
• Reasonable
• Essential

Think of the above three when you design your lessons. Think of the work you hand out to children to bring home. Will each child have parents or older siblings present to help them with their reading? Will each child access the same assistance with the task at hand? Is this work fair, reasonable and essential to the learning of each child?

Think of attendance. Will each child have equal opportunity to be part of your lesson? Perhaps there is an illness, which deters a child from being part of the group? Is this fair, reasonable and essential to the learning of each child?

Think of practical participation. Will each child be physically able to partake in the experience? Could every child read the book you are holding up or is the font too small? Is this experience fair, reasonable and essential to the learning of each child?

Think of the cost of materials and experiences. Will each child have the ability to afford all the fancy things you say is crucial for learning? To some children, it makes more sense to save up for food than for books. Books will not fill up their stomaches. Is this fair, reasonable and essential to the learning of each child?

Think of the time constraints we place on children. Is it absolutely crucial for them to finish that painting by the end of 30 minutes? Or is it crucial for you? Is this timetable fair, reasonable and essential to the learning of each child?

We do not realise the unintentional consequences of our lessons. We live in a world where everything is fine and follows a routine. But hey, that routine is yours, not anyone else’s hence it is important to constantly remind ourselves not to impose on to others our own world view. That is when we start to take control of children’s learning too much. That is also when we stop growing as a person and begin to practice exclusivity.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Education ahead of development

An article I was reading pointed this out: Education should move ahead of development, not follow it. It struck a chord in me and it made me recall my learning of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

How did he come up with the ZPD? Well, I guess how he did it matters less now. What is of more significance would be what do we do with it.

We are all so engrossed in what a child should be learning at a certain age and time. Familiar phrases such as, “Oh, but he is not old enough to do that yet,” are representations of how most of us think ‘in the development box’. Yes, we love boxes, do we not?

Educating children knowing their ZPD helps heaps, as we not only help them improve on what they already know, we also help them gain unknown knowledge. And we do so without pushing them to far into the deep end of the pool. We do not make the learning curve too steep, as it will not only be hard for them to grasp, it will also be taxing on us to teach.

Do not get me wrong, though. I am not trying to say that if the education that you promote follows development, you are wrong. No, that is not what I am getting across, at all. I am merely sharing my reflections on how I find that it seems more sensible to educate ahead of development, instead of alongside it.

It would seem a little undermining towards the children, if we do not provide them learning experience that are slightly beyond what we know they are capable of. Disrespectful of their abilities, even. It is as if we do not believe that they are able to learn what we hope for them to achieve. If this belief is non-existent, what do you think their confidence and interest in learning will build upon?

So, pay attention to every child under your wing. Observe them critically and with time, you will be able to figure out the ZPDs of each and every one of them without having to pull your hair out. And when you manage to work in favour of their learning, you will gain a sense of achievement that is indescribable.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Life #9

It is the small things that accumulate and count towards bigger things. 2010 has been an eye-opening, humbling classroom of experiences. Thank you ♥

Let us hope that time will make us stronger. Let us look forward to yet another exhilarating 2011!