By Cheryl Ann Fernando, CEO PEMIMPIN GSL
When schools first closed last year, I was preparing to give birth and I remember being hit by a wave of panic. What’s going to happen to all our training and sessions with our school leaders that we planned for this year? How are we going to go to schools and coach them? I thought it would be temporary but there was this nagging feeling that this isn’t a school closure like the one we had because of a heatwave or haze, this was going to be long term.
Throughout last year, we worked with over 100 government schools under our program to share strategies, ideas and best practices on what they can do to ensure student learning. We worked with schools to provide food aid for their students, to reflect on what they can do better, to understand how to use different low tech and high tech solutions and most importantly, to reach out to the students who are struggling to keep up with online learning.
By October 2020, I knew we’re going to be in this for a long time. We set out to launch an ambitious cohort of 75 schools from all over Malaysia, totalling to around 200 school leaders (principals, assistants etc) who will participate in a series of capacity building training for the next 12 months, Our schools varied in terms of achievement and demographics but the one thing in common was that they wanted to innovate and to see what else can they do in this pandemic to ensure student learning is not interrupted.
The first hurdle was to decide on a platform that would be good enough to accommodate 200 teachers with varying levels of internet bandwidth and tech capabilities. We settled with Zoom and after a bit of teething issues, our school leaders slowly picked up and adapted to sitting through three hours of sessions. We took our leaders through 8 virtual workshops and 5 webinar sessions all focused on helping them improve strategic leadership, operational leadership and helping leaders lead with technology.
We worked with schools on setting a personalised vision, one that takes into account student outcomes, online learning and ensuring no child was left behind. They then worked on setting goals and creating an online School Improvement Development Plan (SIDP) to help them understand the greatest needs in their schools and how to systematically work on it. Our findings showed us that 100% of our schools had their personalised vision within 6 months of the program, 84% of schools worked on their SIDP and 60 of our schools made a change in the use of technology to drive a positive impact on their students. According to our school leader from SMK Bandar Rinching, “the SIDP provides a way for me to simplify strategic planning. When I received it, I was very happy. I knew how to deal with issues in different stages. Now, within 20 minutes I am able to form a PSO (Strategic Operation Plan). Now, I know the concept and the way to use it”
But more than all of this, was seeing the dedication of our school leaders who turned up for our sessions every week and were always looking forward to learning more. Many of them struggled to get a strong signal during the sessions, especially our leaders from rural schools, but that did not stop them from trying their best to watch and attend our sessions. At every session, my team and I are often amazed at the inspiring stories we hear from our teachers who go all out to ensure learning continues for the child, despite the circumstances they are in.
Much has been said and discussed about the quality of teaching and learning in Malaysia, especially when it comes to the quality of our teachers. Having spent over four years working with various schools and leaders from all over Malaysia, I’m confident that with the proper support, guidance and capacity building in place, they will be able to steer their schools and improve student outcomes, despite the challenges of the current pandemic.
*The PPLPS Online Cohort of 75 schools is sponsored by Yayasan Hasanah, the Finance Ministry, UBS Optimus Foundation and run in partnership with Pintar Foundation.