“Schooled” – film on alternative schooling system

The Sudbury Valley School system, started in Massachusetts in 1968, is one of the more pre-eminent and well-known forms of alternative school systems in the world. In the core of the Sudbury Valley system is democracy in education: students and staff are all given the right to vote on issues in the school that affect them – from school lunches to changes in rules. There are also no compulsory sessions, classes, or subjects; instead, the students take their own initiative in deciding what they want to learn, when and how they want to learn it (much like unschooling, just with a structural base). Age groups are mixed and often the students also act as teachers to their peers.

The Sudbury Valley system is in place in North America, some parts of Europe, Israel, and Australia, though it hasn’t really taken off elsewhere. This could be due to different cultural and societal expectations on the purpose of schooling and education. Imagine if Malaysian students were allowed to decide what they wanted to learn, and didn’t have to do exams if they didn’t want to! I would personally love it, but the rest of the country may degenerate into confused chaos as it’s completely the opposite of what we’re used to.

Part of overcoming such barriers is to experience the Sudbury Valley system for ourselves. If we’re not lucky enough to get to visit a school, though, there is another way: watching the film Schooled.

Schooled showcases the journey of Fred, a school teacher facing plenty of problems both in his personal and professional life. To resolve his crisis, he goes out to discover alternatives, and stumbles upon a Sudbury Valley school. The sheer difference of systems shocks him into reevaluating his perspectives and goals.

The film has received positive feedback from the Alternative Education Resource Organisation, the key worldwide organisation for alternative and democratic schooling, as well as other educators and past Sudbury Valley students. Screenings have been held around the US, Australia, Sweden, and Canada.

To celebrate its launch, the people at Schooled are offering special discounts and free offers for every DVD sold on Wednesday, October 15 (Launch Day). The DVD normally costs $25, but for Launch Day there will be a 20% discount as well as a choice of goodies related to alternative education or to Hollywood.

I haven’t had the chance to see the movie yet, but if I do I’ll post a review. This should be interesting – there have been a lot of films about teachers and schools, but not many (if any) dealing with a real-world alternative system. Will this increase awareness and acceptance for alternative systems? Let’s see.

(thanks Erin!)

Now Hiring: Press & Partnerships Officer, YOUTH ’09

If you are good with people and connections, and would like to get involved in something for three months, take this opportunity to apply for the role of Press & Partnerships Officer for YOUTH ’09, the second in a series of annual youth festivals organised by YouthMalaysia.

According to Khailee, who is a main player in YouthMalaysia (and various other projects) alongside founder Joel Neoh, this role involves liasing with media partners to handle pre- and post-event publicity and coverage, as well as liasing with program partners that are presenting events at YOUTH ’09. To qualify:

  • You have excellent spoken and written skills in English.
  • You possess outgoing, social, positive, youthful energy.
  • You possess your own transportation
  • You must be available full-time from 15th October till 31st January
  • You are willing to learn, do whatever it takes to MASTER this role
  • Must be not older than 30 years old (this is a youth-for-youths event after all)

Experience in media and public relations is a bonus, but not necessary.

If you’re interested, send your CV to Khailee at khailee@youthmalaysia.com by the 18th of October 2008.

    EducateDeviate on the Staples Youth Social Entrepreneur Competition

    Check out EducateDeviate on Staples

    Check out EducateDeviate on Staples

    The Staples Youth Social Entrepreneur Competition, hosted by Ashoka and Youth Venture, provides young people and youth organisations the chance to showcase their project online around the world. Projects will be evaluated and voted on, and the best projects go on to win a variety of prizes.

    EducateDeviate is one of the projects listed for this competition – check out our application page and leave us some comments! You can see all the other projects (from 46 countries) here.

    If you have a project and want to give this a shot, you have until October 15, 2008 6:00 pm EST (21:00 GMT) – which isn’t long!

    Interesting changes afoot

    So it seems that there are quite a number of interesting changes to the Malaysian education system, following the Ministry of Education’s blueprint:

    1. A holistic, less exam-oriented primary school curriculum. I like this idea. The early childhood years are highly formative and children should be given the opportunity to explore all facets of life and learning, instead of already being indoctrinated into exams (well, no one should be indoctrinated into anything period). I like the six focus areas – communication, spiritual values, humanitarianism, ICT & science literacy, physical health, and personal development. My only worry is that a certain type of moral value or belief will be pushed through this curriculum (as has happened in the past) – but if this goes well we would definitely have more well-rounded kids who are able to adapt to life’s challenges creatively.

    2. Greater focus on vocational and technical education. Vocational education gets a bad rep in Malaysia – it’s usually seen as the pathway for those who failed. However, there is a lot of value in vocational education, and a lot of skills and knowledge required to survive – mathematics, science, logistics, logic, creativity, and so on. To make this successful, we need to increase awareness and respect for vocational education, and transform it from something undesirable to something worthy of exploration – like the apprenticeships system in Australia.

    3. School-based examinations instead of central examinations. This could be interesting. On the one hand, this gives greater freedom and flexibility for schools to develop their own curriculum and testing methods, and experiment with alternative teaching styles. Alternative schools systems (like Waldorf and Sudbury Valley) will also be able to thrive as they don’t have to “teach to the test”. However, some schools may not be able to adjust, or end up pushing a very non-productive method of testing. The Ministry is considering looking at more semester-based assessment and reducing exams, which to me is a good idea – instead of putting all the pressure on one week’s worth of work, let people work at a more gradual pace and relax a bit.

    4. Allowing schools to administer the International Baccalaureate exams instead of the SPM. Now this is a VERY interesting development. The IB tests, which are internationally recognised, and also of a higher level than SPM (I believe they are closer to STPM), demand a stronger grasp of knowledge but also a greater sense of creativity and critical thought. This is not an exam you can teach to. Schools that administer IB tests need to adjust their teaching styles to allow for fuller, more holistic learning. Hopefully this will become the impetus for schools to stop worrying about grades, and do what they’re there for – education.

    The NST also has a report on a pilot project to test career aptitudes of primary school children. The idea is that they will be tested at Years 5 and 6 to see what career paths suits them. I really DON’T like this plan. The kids are 11 and 12 – they haven’t even completely developed their capabilities yet! How can you push them towards a certain future when they’ve hardly lived their lives? As it is, asking young people to decide their entire lives by 18 is too much – people change and new opportunities come up all the time.

    Kids are overtested already. There’s no need to make them decide their future now. Give them some time to experiment and get to know what they like.

    Young Malaysians – how can we support you?

    Hey EducateDeviate readers – especially from Malaysia – I need your help.

    I’m planning to apply to the Sauve Scholars program, a one-year fellowship based in McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where you are given full support and resources to research, study, and work on a project of your choice.

    I would like to use the year to come up with a project plan for resources that help young people find support for their passions and interests – mainly from a Malaysian perspective, as there’s nothing there (as you probably know) but involving research into how young people are supported in other countries. To do that, I first need to know what Malaysian youths need in terms of support. So:

    Young Malaysians – how can we support you?

    Do you need a space for support and advice?
    Do you need more information about what’s out there in Malaysia and beyond?
    Do you need more money?
    Do you need changes in your school?
    Do you need a mentor or a support group?
    Do you need a club or society?

    Whatever it is you want or need, feel free to comment below or email me. Anything from “I would like a personal counsellor to tell me what options I have” to “I would like a million dollars and stuff for my rock band” works. Anything at all.

    If you’re not a young Malaysian but you still have ideas, feel free to contribute too. The more I know what to look for, the better I can be at making this project plan. And even if the Sauve Scholars thing doesn’t work out, I still have some concrete starting points to do something back home.

    Please also forward this post to your friends and peers – the more ideas the better!

    p.s. If you’ve done an undergrad degree, you’re under 30, and you have strong passions for any field of your choice, feel free to apply to Sauve Scholars too 🙂

    Youth Helping Youth: Pinkpau’s Guide to US College Applications

    American college applications are a strange beast. I considered applying to a few US colleges before but the sheer number of alien acronyms, requirements, and costs (not to mention the fact that I would theoretically be a “transfer” but wanted to start over) gave me too much of a headache. It is a wonder sometimes that there are international students in the US tertiary system at all!

    Writer and general busy bee Su Ann, also known as PinkPau, went through this herself last year and has succeeded in getting herself a spot in a top US university (I believe Columbia but I could be mistaken). She has helpfully provided a comprehensive guide to US applications for Malaysian students, whether fresh out of secondary school or in pre-university programs. This first part of her guide also includes a sample resume for the applications (don’t let the sheer number of achievements scare you!), as well as a sample fee waiver letter – really useful as US college applications can go higher than US$50 each and many people typically apply to a few at once.

    Su Ann will publish a few more guides, including one on writing the application essays. She’s also happy to answer questions till January, the end of application deadlines.

    Asking a qualified college counselor experienced in US colleges is the ideal option, as is contacting the university, but Su Ann has a very friendly peer perspective and definitely makes a great start. I wish I had her guides three years ago!