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帮助一名学生就能帮一家人脱贫

 
NorthLight School — Giving Less Academically Inclined Students Hope
By Elizabeth Lie
Photos courtesy of NorthLight School
Published: EduNation, Issue 6, November-December 2013

Before NorthLight School started in 2007, students who failed the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) had to repeat it twice before they could enrol in one of the two Vocational Training Centres (VTCs) operated by the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

This was because both Geylang Serai VTC and Assumption Vocational Institute only took in students aged 14 and over. The attrition rate at these two centres was also exceptionally high — 60 per cent of students did not finish the two-year programme.

There was clearly a need for the Ministry of Education (MOE) to plug the gap in the education system or risk students dropping out of school entirely. It was in response to this problem that NorthLight School was set up to give the less academically inclined students another chance at finding success in life. NorthLight students graduate with an ITE Skills Certificate (ISC) qualification in one of four areas — Mechanical Services, Facility Services, Retail Services and Food Preparation Services. Depending on how well they have done, they can choose to continue their education at an ITE, sign up for a traineeship programme or join the workforce.

This social innovation has given immense hope to these students by showing them that they can still be successful, lead a purposeful life and contribute positively to their community. More importantly, the School has been such a success that it has paved the way for three more specialised schools, and the closing of the two VTCs.

“The MOE’s confidence in setting up specialised schools grew after the initial success of our school,” said Mr Martin Tan, principal of NorthLight School.

Today, NorthLight School has approximately 830 students on roll, and takes in about 240 new students every year.

A Place for All Students

NorthLight School’s enrolment varies from year to year as it depends on the number of students who have failed the PSLE and who would like to apply to join the School. Its numbers have been steadily increasing as a result of a change in its admissions policy. In 2007, the School offered a 3-year programme for those who had failed the PSLE twice. However, in 2008, the School started to take in students who had failed the PSLE just once and they were admitted into a 4-year programme.

“More students are joining us after they have failed the PSLE once. They now make up more than 50 per cent of our student population,” said Mr Tan.

Although NorthLight School has the capacity for 1,000 students, it hopes to keep its student population at an optimal size as it believes in giving each and every student adequate attention and care. The building of a similar specialised school, Assumption Pathway School, in 2009 has also helped the School to optimise its population.

But Mr Tan was also quick to emphasise that despite its focus on making sure that every student receives adequate attention, NorthLight School would not turn students away.

Mr Tan stressed, “To date, no student who failed PSLE has ever been denied a place in our school because we don’t believe in giving the child a double blow. Imagine a child who has not only failed the PSLE but is also rejected by our school. This would add to the disappointment. We make a conscious effort to ensure that there will always be enough places for those who want to join NorthLight. We are here to serve a purpose. Nobody will be turned away here.”

Successful Curriculum

For those who get into NorthLight School, many choose to stay — which in itself is an achievement given that dropout rates have been traditionally high for such schools. When the School was conceptualised, its target was to reduce the attrition rate from 60 per cent to 25 per cent. In NorthLight School, students are so motivated that the attrition rates of the graduating cohorts were 14 per cent in 2009 and only 10 per cent in 2011, outperforming the School’s initial target of 25 per cent.

Students feel a sense of belonging in NorthLight School. The hands-on pedagogy makes learning more interesting and they look forward to going to school.

“We make our lessons authentic. There are opportunities for students to apply what they have learnt in class. We develop our own curriculum and teaching packages and have moved away from using textbooks. When students start to do well, teachers reward them with tokens like certificates and lollipops. We want students to experience the joy of learning. Though many are not strong in Maths, they begin to experience the learning of it in a different and meaningful way. It’s easier said than done but that’s how we try to do it here,” said Mr Tan.

With a focus on all-round character building, students do community work and service learning to acquire and apply values.

“Our students have plenty of opportunities to go for learning journeys and do community work. This is called ‘values in action’ and it is a critical part of our school programme. There are many different ways for them to give back to society. Some have made pineapple tarts for the residents staying in one-room flats at Circuit Road. This year, our students were also involved in the packing of goodie bags for the National Day Parade. We have even had a group of students who went to Chiangmai to help paint an orphanage,” said Mr Tan.

Because he believes that values can be learnt through the various co-curricular activities (CCAs), Mr Tan has placed a greater emphasis on these by having them conducted once a week on Friday mornings, instead of in the afternoon.

“I see great value in CCAs as they help to build character, but when they were held in the afternoon, students were often tired and would just go home. So we decided to have CCAs every Friday morning. When the students come to school, the first thing they do is take part in their CCAs. The attendance for the various CCAs shot up and students became much more enthusiastic about them,” explained Mr Tan.

He has even introduced new CCAs like BMX cycling.

“Such activities really excite the students. Our soccer team even went to Thailand for an exchange programme. Our teachers use CCAs as a vehicle to talk about values and teamwork so it’s a focal part of our curriculum,” he said.

Self-confidence is an important attribute and it is also one of the enhanced desired outcomes of education.

Mr Tan said, “The greatest thing we can do for these students is to help them believe in themselves. When they go out to work, they need to have self-confidence. If a student doesn’t believe in his abilities and has given up, he can’t achieve much. He can’t even learn. Through constant encouragement, these students start to believe in themselves again. They step forward to try new things. Their learning extends beyond the classroom; they try to be a better person. They try to live out the values that we teach them. They step forward and try everything. When a person tries, learning begins all over again. When they learn and experience success, they are encouraged to go further and it’s just like climbing a mountain. They will go higher with each step they take.

“I tell my students that others climb Mount Everest but they climb ‘Mount NorthLight’ and that it is not easy to reach the top of the mountain but it can be done. It becomes more difficult and dangerous as they climb higher and higher. They then have to be more focused. Some of them might mix with the wrong crowd as they get older so they have to keep their eye on the goal and not be distracted. I tell them that it’s just like climbing a real mountain. Towards the summit, the air gets thinner and they have to breathe harder and take each step slowly. When I tell them this, they are able to picture it. I always remind them not to fall off the mountain. By helping them to believe in themselves again, they can go on to do greater things in life. The School colours are purple and white. Purple is the colour of the sky when it is dark and white is the colour of the stars. The darker it gets, the brighter they shine.”

Creating a Supportive Environment

To climb a mountain, much support is required.

In order to create a supportive school environment, the teachers at NorthLight play a crucial role in helping their students to reach their goals. These are teachers who are willing to go the extra mile because they share the school’s vision and mission.

“I believe that having the heart to help these students is most important. We have a number of teachers who have experience working with students from challenging backgrounds and who have great pedagogical strategies to engage them. It is important that our teachers are versatile in their teaching. If a teacher has the passion and the belief to help such students, the rest can be learnt. I have teachers who have not had much experience but they are incredibly enthusiastic about helping such students and they pick things up very quickly,” said Mr Tan.

“When faced with setbacks, such teachers do not give up so easily because their desire to help these students is strong. A teacher with his heart in the right place is prepared for such setbacks as nothing is impossible.”

As such, NorthLight teachers are more than willing to take on difficult tasks. One such task is to instil emotional resilience in their students. This is necessary as some students might not take too well to the working world after leaving the sheltered walls of the school.

“It is a balancing act in terms of providing them with a nurturing environment and ensuring that they are emotionally resilient because they might meet with employers who are not so forgiving in the future. How do we then strike a balance? It’s a balance that we are continuously searching for because our students are all different. Some of them understand it and are able to differentiate between a school environment and a work environment, but some do not. That’s why it boils down to every teacher knowing every student as only then will the teacher know how much to give and how much to hold back,” said Mr Tan.

Teachers therefore spend time getting to know their students by having class family time with them every morning and having lunch with them every afternoon. Not surprisingly, students in NorthLight School are so close to the teachers that they naturally turn to them when they are in need.

“The security guards are stationed at the guard house 24/7 so that students who encounter problems and need a roof over their head for the night have a place to go. The School is the first place they think of and their teachers are the people they turn to. Helping these students is not as simple as making sure the lessons are interesting because they might not even turn up at school. Some of them are in such challenging circumstances that there is a need for us to help them address some of their family problems before they can start going to school regularly,” explained Mr Tan.

It is common for students to miss school because of their families’ financial situations.

“There are times when students can’t make it to school because they haven’t eaten a proper meal in days and there might not be anything in the fridge, so teachers will buy groceries for them and visit them at home. Some might not have enough money to take the bus to school so the School will provide the support and help them apply for a transit link card. There have also been cases where students can’t go to school because they have been sick for a few days and they can’t afford to see a doctor so they simply stay at home to rest in the hope that they will get well. Our teachers will then take these sick students to the clinic. Our teachers have to tackle such family issues to ensure that students can go to school. Sometimes it takes more than one home visit to achieve this,” said Mr Tan.

Why are the teachers willing to do so much for their students?

“Other than having the desire to help these students, it is also an act of paying forward. We help them and we want them to pay it forward and help others and I think that’s what our society needs more of if we want to have a kinder and a more gracious Singapore. Furthermore, when we help these students, we’re not only helping them because if we can lift them up, we are actually also helping their children to have a better life. So once you lift one up, there will be a positive impact down the line which will make a difference to their families. And I think that motivates the teachers.”

Lending a Hand to the Family

As parents are instrumental in the development of their children, NorthLight School also works closely with them.

Teachers keep in regular contact with parents by calling them regularly to inform them of their child’s progress and meeting them at the parent support group meetings. Teachers also update the School’s website and newsletter to notify parents about the various school events, which they are welcome to attend. There are also briefing sessions and even a family camp where both parents and child stay overnight in the School so as to encourage parents to be more involved in their child’s life.

However, it has not been easy to engage every single parent.

“Parents of those students who are struggling in school are sometimes not easy to contact and we want to reach out to them. It requires more effort. We want to reach out to all parents. As such, we have to think deeper about these parent engagement efforts, otherwise we will perpetuate the situation where the good get better and the weaker ones get left behind,” explained Mr Tan.

He let on that during his interview with the Board of NorthLight School, he was asked if there were certain practices that he wouldn’t implement in the school. To which he said, “I told them that I believe that good practices in education can be transplanted into different settings as they can be modified to suit the different school environments. However, in hindsight, I realise that helping these students requires more than good pedagogy. We need the help of the parents to help these students. And in NorthLight, sometimes, instead of parents helping us, we help them.”

To alleviate the family situation at home, NorthLight School works with both the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth as well as the Ministry of Social and Family Development. It has also referred some families to the Family Service Centres (FSCs).

“Even if we help to pay for their food and electricity bills, it’d be a one-off thing. We can’t sustain that kind of support every month so the best way is to refer them to a FSC and then the social workers can help them sort out problems such as employment issues. We do that to help families so that students can go to school without any additional worries.”

Lifelong Care and Support

The care that NorthLight School gives to their students goes beyond their three or four years with the School. It does not stop even after they have graduated.

“We keep in touch with our alumni through social and recreational events. There are at least three to four of such events every year,” said Mr Tan.

“We have students who have gone on to polytechnics and they have received financial support from us as it can be quite costly.”

He gave the example of Paul Tan, who was featured in The Straits Times. He is currently pursuing a diploma in Aerospace at Republic Polytechnic after serving NS (National Service). Republic Polytechnic adopts a problem-based learning curriculum and he needed a laptop which would be quite costly, on top of the school fees for one semester. He came from a single-parent family.

“Where was he going to find the money?” Mr Tan asked. “If we don’t help our alumni, they might simply miss out on any educational opportunities that they have. They can give up, not go to a polytechnic and just work. Paul’s mentor is one of our board members and he heard about Paul’s situation, brought it to our attention and we helped him. We stay in touch with our alumni to ensure that their success is sustained.”

A number of NorthLight graduates choose to enter the workforce and they might need help looking for a job. That is where the School steps in again.

“We have employed a full-time staff member to help match our alumni to jobs. Before they graduate, we do a vocational assessment with them to see what their interests are and then get companies to interview them. We work with external agencies like Bizlink, which helps those who are disadvantaged to look for jobs. They are a great partner and we work closely with them. We try our best to secure the students a job before they graduate. We also help them to stay on in their jobs. Some of them need guidance and we provide them with it,” explained Mr Tan.

“It’s actually very much part of our mission — we want to help them with lifelong learning and employability. Even when they have a job, we still encourage them to continue learning through continual education training with the Workforce Development Agency.”

Partnering the Community

NorthLight School also recognises that the community can do its part to help these students and it works with more than 100 partners to effect this.

“Some of our partners are companies and some are individuals. Collectively, when they come together, they provide the resources which one can only dream of. They give us support and take care of certain needs like transport and meal allowances. Some have even given our students free spectacles. There’s a strong wave of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in Singapore nowadays and companies are looking for worthy and meaningful partners to work with. Personally, I can see that the school mission resonates with all our partners and that’s why they come forward to help our students,” said Mr Tan.

Major accounting firm Deloitte has been an exemplary partner of the school.

“For the past two years, Deloitte has sponsored our students to go to places of interest like Universal Studios, Gardens by the Bay and River Safari. Not only do they sponsor us, their staff also take the day off to accompany our students on the outings. They mingle with the students and it’s a day to remember. Their staff have also joined us for our sports day. They were the timekeepers and some of them ran with our students.”

In addition, some partners of NorthLight School have not only given students the opportunity to do their industrial attachment with them but have also hired NorthLight graduates. One such partner is Home-Fix, a DIY company that has provided support since 2007.

“There was even one company who wanted to absorb all of my graduating students,” remarked Mr Tan.

NorthLight School is so appreciative of its partners that instead of having the usual Partners Appreciation Day at the end of the year, it will now merge this event with its Awards Day. The partners can then be there with both parents and students to see how the students have benefited from their help.

Transformed Students

With a successful curriculum and a supportive environment created by teachers, parents and partners alike, NorthLight students have gone on to achieve much success.

A case study on NorthLight School conducted by the Civil Service College in 2012 stated that almost all the employers in an annual school survey conducted since 2008 agreed that NorthLight interns exhibited positive values and performed well. Some students were also offered jobs at the end of their attachments and before graduation.

Furthermore, about 35 per cent of its students make it to an ITE, which is impressive in itself but even more so when it is set against the former VTCs’ 22 per cent rate.

However, Mr Tan acknowledges that not all students are able to enrol in a full-time programme in an ITE but every effort is then taken to help them to be meaningfully employed and continue their education upon graduation.

There are many definitions of success and these were discussed at one of the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) sessions that was held in the School.

The OSC session was initiated by students from Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution who were conducting public speaking lessons for the students in NorthLight School at the time and realised that these students also have views about community and social issues. The junior college students therefore contacted the OSC secretariat to set up a session in NorthLight.

During the OSC session, NorthLight students expressed their views on how they could contribute to society and their future. They spoke clearly and with great maturity about what success meant to them and several named their teachers. A student even went on to observe that attaining success for them would be easier if society were more inclusive.

Mr Tan said, with pride, “They were able to say those things because of the kind of love and care that they have received over time. They know that the School is a place that cares for them and that the teachers are genuine about helping them and are people they can turn to. They know that when they do things like horse-riding (to help with socio-emotional learning), their teachers and the School’s partners have worked together to plan and coordinate the lessons for them. Also, when the Year 3 students go overseas, they know that their teachers were the ones who helped them to get their passports and that the school paid for them. They know that their teachers really care for them and do not look down on them.

“More importantly, they know that the moment they enter NorthLight, they are in a safe haven because everyone is equal here and everyone treats them with respect, care and love, and they can be who they are and grow,” explained Mr Tan.

Learning from NorthLight

With the success it has achieved, NorthLight School has naturally become a shining example to many other schools that are looking at bettering their support systems for academically weaker students.

Teachers and allied educators from other schools have visited NorthLight to learn from the good practices and apply what they have learnt to their own schools.

“We host about 10 to 12 visits in a year for MOE teachers and allied educators,” said Mr Tan. “In addition, we have also conducted learning journeys for different groups like SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) officers, deputy secretaries and CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) of companies and corporations. The participants of the leadership and governance programme in the Civil Service College visit the School as we are one of their case studies on leadership and social interventions. We share a lot with others.”

NorthLight School has also received international guests who are not only impressed with what it has done but also with how Singapore takes care of the bottom 0.5 per cent of students in its education system.

“Most of them come from the S.E.A. (Southeast Asia) region such as Thailand and Brunei and they tell me that back home, they also have students of the same profile but there is lack of structural support. They feel our students are exceptionally lucky,” remarked Mr Tan.

Battling Stigma

Despite the success of NorthLight School, Mr Tan firmly believes that winning public confidence is a continuous journey.

“When the Princess of Thailand visited us, she asked me about the stigma that my students face. I responded that NorthLight School has overcome these challenges by helping the students to believe in themselves. But this is something that we need to continue to work at,” he warned.

“Many students who have just joined us might come in discouraged after failing the PSLE. Their parents also might not know much about the School and what we do here so we have to start building confidence in both students and parents all over again. From time to time, we also have to deal with students who misbehave outside the school and that results in public disapproval so we have to win people over. We have to continue what we are doing to stay true to our mission. Some Singaporeans might not even know that NorthLight School exists. Therefore, this journey of building the image of the school is a continuous one. It doesn’t end. We have to work on it consciously.”

In fact, Mr Tan feels that some Singaporeans might still be in the dark about the vast changes that have now taken place in the education sector and may still be biased.

“Some might still be trapped in the old mindset about what schools used to be like. And it’s sad when people have limited knowledge as they will form a negative perspective. I believe that even as society grows to be more inclusive, specialised schools will be the exception and not the norm. The majority of our schools will still be schools where students with different abilities come together, interact and integrate with one another,” said Mr Tan.

With time, the School has gained greater public support.

“Our students are the real ambassadors of NorthLight. The best judge of the school’s impact is how the students carry themselves. Stigma won’t go away so easily. People can say what they want but we need to stay focused on our mission and our students. We want them to be confident and believe that no matter what people say, they will not be affected but will go about life with a sense of purpose. So how do we educate them? We focus our efforts on where we have the greatest leverage and that is our students. When our students become confident and are proud of their school, they will carry themselves well, which will reflect well on us. If our students walk out of here hanging their heads, no matter what we do, we will never be able to overcome the stigma,” explained Mr Tan.

“The media has been a great help in helping the School to convey its mission. We also engage the community and work with our parents. Parents start to believe in NorthLight when they see their child excited about going to school, which is very different from how he or she used to feel. When parents are convinced, they will provide the support at home. This is critical because when the students graduate, their parents will be their primary influence.

“We will continue this noble mission of ours and when we celebrate our 10th anniversary in a few years’ time, it will be a great opportunity to share the celebration with our parents, partners and the community who have accompanied us on this journey.”

Creating More Education Pathways and Choices for Students

It could be because of Mr Tan’s humble beginnings that he feels so strongly about helping students who have failed the PSLE.

He took over from NorthLight School’s first principal, Mrs Chua Yen Ching in 2012.

“It was a surprise call as I was not due for rotation then,” said the former principal of Anderson Primary School. “However, beyond the initial surprise of being approached to lead NorthLight School, it struck me that this was my chance to give back to society. I came from a low-income family and the opportunities I received during my years of schooling were mainly a result of the education system. I knew that it was going to be a challenging task but I agreed almost immediately to the request because it was very clear to me that I had to do it.”

After spending more than a year and a half at NorthLight School, Mr Tan realised that helping these students is not as straightforward as it seemed and even though it has been no walk in the park, Mr Tan is grateful that Mrs Chua, whom he thinks of as the “mother of NorthLight”, has helped him to settle down in the School by guiding him along the way.

“Mrs Chua continues to give us a lot of support. She attends some of our school’s celebrations such as Teachers’ Day and Graduation Day. Sometimes she will just drop by my office to either collect or deliver something and everyone’s always happy to see her. Some of my teachers continue to seek advice from her. Even I do too. I find it helpful as she tells me what to look out for,” explained Mr Tan.

Even though he may be new to the job, Mr Tan has certainly had a lot of experience in dealing with challenging students who come from a difficult family background, which makes him the right man to helm NorthLight School.

For example, he spent 10 years teaching in a neighbourhood school that had a number of such students. As the discipline master of the same school for 5 years, he learnt two things: the important role that parents play in their child’s life and the need for a positive teacher-student relationship.

“Very early on in my teaching career, I realised that the family plays a big part in a child’s education. If the family is broken, the child is going to find it hard to succeed. I started to understand some of the difficult family situations that some students were in and very soon, I realised the significance of a parent’s involvement in a child’s life. At that time, when I talked to those students who were regularly breaking school rules and asked to see their parents, they were either not playing their role well or were too busy to be there for their children. Very often, these regular offenders come from a broken family where perhaps the parents are divorced. If there are no parents to guide a child in his growing up years, it is a major disadvantage to him and will obviously impact adversely on his educational journey,” said Mr Tan.

“At the same time, I also started to understand how to relate and talk to such students. We must speak to them in a way that shows compassion and empathy. These students will then go to you when they have a problem. They will be more willing to tell you the truth. They will find you sincere and even want to listen to you. Teachers don’t just teach; it’s far more than that, and teachers have to remember that. Teachers must actively try their best to get through to their students and cultivate a good teacher-student relationship. If they have problems, they must listen and offer a helping hand. And that’s how I am with both my teachers and students.”

Energetic and affable, Mr Tan can be seen walking around the School at different times of the day talking to his students. “When I see students walking along the corridor, I will talk to them or acknowledge their presence with a greeting. Students also approach me during recess or lunch to confide in me,” he added with a smile.
 


封面故事 > 帮助一名学生就能帮一家人脱贫
帮助一名学生就能帮一家人脱贫
— 专访北烁学校校长陈绍健
文:丘珞君
图:北烁学校提供
刊载:《新学》, 第6期,2013年11月-12月
2007年1月,专收小六会考两次不及格学生的北烁学校开学。在创校校长林艳卿领导下,原本是同年龄生学业成绩最底层的0.33%学生,三年后竟有86%完成学业,71%可以升学,34%可以升读工艺教育学院,北烁栽培学生的成果有目共睹。

北烁学校优先录取小六会考两次不及格生。2008年1月,有80个学额供160名都有校长推荐信的小六会考一次不及格学生“竞争”。北烁录取排名最底层的80名,其他80名以成绩不够差,被劝回校留级,翌年再考小六会考,有望及格。2011年1月,北烁才有了足够学额容纳所有小六会考一次不及格生,目前一次不及格生人数过半。

安德逊小学前任校长陈绍健于2012年接任北烁校长,至今近两年。陈绍健接受《新学》新加坡教育双语双月刊专访时说:“我常对教师说,我们不只帮助学生,更要帮助他们的家庭。如果可以把学生从他现有的环境中拉出来,这孩子将有新的生命,整个家族不再被困在贫苦的恶性循环中。帮助一个学生,将改变未来许多生命。我以这个信念推动着教师,使他们无论多艰辛,都乐意继续帮助有需要的学生。”

访谈中,陈绍健向记者娓娓道来北烁学校如何借由改变学生,导正社会对学业成绩较差的“弱势”学生的偏见,实现北烁校园中布条上标语:“黑夜越暗,北烁越明亮”的目标。

真正认识到社会最底层的孩子是怎样生活

陈绍健出身贫寒,是受到一位体育老师自掏腰包,帮助他买多一双球鞋去曼谷参加足球赛所感动,后来决心薪火相传,把从老师那边得到的恩惠,传给其他人,才成为一名教师。

出任北烁校长前,他已有20年教学经验。在兀兰福春中学担任训育主任期间,接触了不少来自破碎家庭,父母离异的学生。然而,只有来到北烁学校,他才真正认识到成绩最底层的孩子是怎样生活。

他说:“我虽然来自低收入家庭,但许多北烁学生的成长环境比我更差。小时候,我和家人住在三房式组屋,家境拮据,但至少我有个完整的家庭。父母引导我,管教我,确保我天天上学,把功课做好。很多北烁学生不单居住环境差,更没有父母教导、指引方向,在成长岁月及学习旅程中,有着重大缺失。”

求学如爬山——建立自信心

来到北烁,陈绍健觉得北烁在学生身上做的最重要的一件事,就是让学生相信自己。

他说:“从学生踏入北烁的第一天开始,北烁全体教职员通过小小的成功和不断的鼓励,引导学生恢复自信。学生开始勇于尝试新事物,表现出不畏惧、诚实和诚心等品格。从学习尝到成功的滋味后,他们有了信心,更受鼓舞,有动力向前进。像爬山一样,一步一步往上爬。

“我告诉学生,别人爬珠穆朗玛峰,你们爬北烁之峰,目标是征服它。当你越爬越高,越高则越危险、越艰难,这时要更专心、更努力。因为爬得越高,摔得越重,还可能一命呜呼。中一、中二,学生很单纯,认真学习。中三、中四,朋友多了,诱惑也增多。有的因为校外损友而误入歧途,交错朋友就像被推下山崖。快要攻顶时,空气变得稀薄,每一步都要深呼吸、小心翼翼。所以在中三、中四,学生一定要很专心才可以达到北烁之峰的峰顶。”

陈绍健在走廊见到学生,会经常提醒说:“记得往上爬!”来帮助学生找回自信,信心会随着时间慢慢增长,这是北烁送给学生最好的礼物。

以感恩的心把爱传开

北烁教师的爱与牺牲,使在北烁学校举行的“我们的新加坡全国对话会”与众不同。北烁学生在对话会上没有满腹牢骚,他们字字句句流露出对学校与社会的感恩之情,令到场的《联合早报》记者留下深刻印象,撰文褒扬。

陈绍健说:“学生懂得感恩,是源于教师长时间、不间断的爱与关怀,这里的教师是真心诚意帮助他们,这也是北烁教职员回馈社会的方式之一。”

北烁学生每天有至少一小时与教师交流的时间。早上有半小时“与班主任谈心”,中午半小时,师生一起享用午餐。北烁教师的时间表虽然排得满满,却很喜欢。他们告诉校长,跟主流学校相比,有更多时间和学生相处,学生变得更听话,教学成效也更显著。陈绍健说:“师生关系要用心经营,学生不信任教师,不愿意交心,教师在学生生命中就没有价值。”

接受了教师的爱,学生也开始成为社区义工,在自己接受社会帮助的同时,也回助社会。学生的义工活动多姿多彩,他们制作黄梨酥派发给附近的居民、陪养老院的老人聊天。今年的国庆庆典前,他们每天下课后从学校乘车到裕廊军营,帮忙整理国庆礼包。

有些学生还曾到泰国清迈为当地孤儿院髹漆。陈绍健告诉学生:“全校老师帮助你们,并不要求你们回报。只希望你们把所接受的爱传出去,帮助身边有需要的人,学校就高兴了。”

改进课外活动及职业技能教育科目

陈绍健在福春中学担任训育主任期间,为了处理学生问题,他经常要和社会工作者以及警察来往,向他们请教解决办法。后来他为30名有问题的男生设计了一套全年的课程,通过划独木舟、攀岩、骑马,射箭等活动,让问题学生享受参加正当运动所带来的乐趣,走回正路。

来到北烁,他自然要在课程辅助活动方面加一把劲。

他发现北烁学校课程辅助活动的时间和一般学校无异,都是下了课才进行。上了一天课,学生和教师都很 疲累,没有人愿意留下来参加活动。加上学校没有室内体育馆,大家只能在大太阳下进行活动,又热又累,都想回家。在和教师讨论后,他决定从今年起,课程辅助活动在星期五早上进行。

星期五一早,学生到校,第一件事就是参加课程辅助活动,这让学生兴致高昂,出席率立刻提升。学生对学校为他们开办的新活动如溜滑轮、极限脚踏车运动都很感兴趣。教师于是借活动灌输学生合作、持恒、责任感、归属感、领导能力、接受失败、团队精神等好品德。

对职业技能教育科目陈绍健也进行了检讨,把电子维修科改为机械及设备维修科,因为设备维修涵盖面更广,除了电子维修,还包括铺设电线、水管、安装卫浴、冷气、洗衣机等设施。2015年当北烁搬迁到位于马里士他路永久校舍,学生人数将增至1000人后,他会考虑开办新课程,为学生提供更多选择。

帮助学生、帮助家庭

对北烁学校教师来说,教学工作不受校园限制,课外、校外有更多“工作”。

陈绍健说:“北烁教师不只在学校教学生,还要上门了解学生的家庭问题,帮助他们解决困难。我们发现有些学生家里的冰箱是空的,全家人已经有几天没吃过一顿饱饭;有些学生没有交通费不能上学,有些没钱治病,病了只好在家躺着,不来上课。结果,教师必须立刻去买些杂货和食品送去;或先给学生一些车钱应急,再回学校申请学生易通卡;或把学生带到医院去。教师必须先为学生解决种种家庭问题,学生才能回学校上课。只有亲身了解,才知道情况有多严重。”

北烁创校校长林艳卿曾在北烁学校聘请24小时保安,让半夜因种种问题解决不了的学生可以逃到学校避难。如今,北烁校园保安还是24小时候命,但教师和学生的关系已经十分密切,学生有任何问题,会第一时间通知教师,不需要半夜逃到“避难所”。

校方也成为学生家庭及相关援助组织之间的桥梁。陈绍健说:“一些家庭每月的伙食费和水电费都成问题,有关这类的严重案例,我们会提交给家庭服务中心,中心会提供援助配套,帮家长找工作,引导他们走出困境。我们也和社会及家庭发展部等相关政府部门沟通、联系。

泰国公主关心社会偏见

北烁学校奇迹般的栽培成果扬名海外,许多慕名而来的国际贵宾或外宾看见北烁学校的成功都啧啧称奇。

陈绍健说:“来自东南亚国家如菲律宾、印尼、泰国和文莱的访客都说,他们的国家有同类型学生,但政府并没有开办像北烁这样的学校。他们觉得新加坡孩子很幸福。教育的确是新加坡成功故事的重要篇章。”

今年8月,泰国公主诗琳通到北烁学校参观。公主的第一个提问是:“北烁学校会不会感受到社会投来的异样眼光?”

陈绍健说:“是的,正如公主所关心,北烁迈入第七年,还不断与社会偏见抗衡。”

他认为导正社会偏见要多方着手。“首先,无论别人说什么,我们的重点永远是学生,学生是我们的着力点。思考如何教育北烁学生,建立学生的自信,远胜于对他人的恶言耿耿于怀。我们要求北烁学生无论别人说什么,都应该抬头挺胸、有自信,为学校感到骄傲。否则,垂头丧气、畏畏缩缩的话,不管校方多努力,社会偏见仍会存在。所以北烁有现在的成绩,其实已经超越挑战、偏见和误解了。然而,这并不是一劳永逸的,校方仍在继续克服不断涌现的挑战。

“其次,提升北烁在媒体上的曝光率。我们欢迎多家媒体报道。

“第三是让社区和公众参与北烁的教育工作,消息传开,让更多人知道‘北烁’这个优良的教育品牌。

导正社会偏见当然不能忽略对家长的教育。陈绍健说,学生对家长说的话比任何广告或宣传策略有效。只要孩子说,“爸,明天记得叫我起床,我不能迟到。”他的父亲会感到好奇,因为孩子从来不爱上学,怎么现在天天期待到学校去?饭后,孩子总有好事报告,又和从前放学回家总是苦着脸不同。因此,学生是最好的宣传,把精力专注在学生身上一定不会错。千万不要什么事都做了,却忽略了学生,那是最不幸的事。他认为与社会偏见对抗需要持续不断的努力,周而复始,不能停止。希望北烁10周年校庆时,多数新加坡人都认识北烁学校了。

集社会逾百合作伙伴之力共筑北烁

要改变社会对差生的看法,另外最直接的方法是让社会参与栽培差生。陈绍健说:“北烁倾全力教育差生的目标有价值也很有意义,与很多公司的‘企业社会责任’契合,过去两年不断有新伙伴加入北烁,目前我们已经有超过100个合作伙伴,当中有公司、有群体,也有个人,力量之大是难以想象的。”

两年前,知名的德勤(Deloitte)会计事务所成为北烁合作伙伴,赞助学生的户外一日活动,让学生到很多本地旅游景点游玩。公司职员还特地陪学生一同出游,令学生难忘。

北烁的合作伙伴不只帮助在籍学生,还提供就业机会,协助减轻毕业生的就业压力。北烁毕业生逐年增加,今年共有200名毕业生加入职场或准备升读工艺教育学院。还有校友需要就业援助,学习如何保住工作。校友越来越多,校方需要更有效地与合作伙伴保持联系。

随着政府收紧外籍人士雇佣政策,北烁毕业生已经有“供不应求”的状况。陈绍健说:“我们聘请了一个全职职员,帮助应届毕业生做职业配对,让学生有机会在毕业前找到工作。学生离校后继续过有意义的生活,我们才算完成任务。因此,学生毕业了我们还要继续提供帮助。

“我常告诉学生:‘在新加坡,只要你们肯努力、肯学,前途是一片光明。’北烁毕业生的本地就业前景十分乐观,他们非常抢手。很多公司都跟我洽谈,想聘请我们的毕业生。其中一家合作企业甚至要求聘请所有毕业生。”

毕业后进入职场的学生需要帮助,继续升学的学生也可能面对极大挑战。至少有两名升读理工学院的校友受益于北烁董事会设立的校友助学金。《海峡时报》曾报道北烁校友陈宝琨被共和理工学院录取的同时,却没有钱交学费、买电脑。一台电脑加一学期的学费,数千元开销,陈宝琨出身单亲家庭,母亲是清洁工人,要到哪里找钱?陈绍健说:“如果北烁不帮助像陈宝琨这样的校友,即使有机会升学,也会放弃。”

北烁是社会创新项目

北烁学校的成功是新加坡教育体制的成功。

自2007年创办以来,北烁经常对外分享优良的办学策略,每年接待来自不同校区的教育工作者到校参观,包括教师和和教育协作人员。陈绍健说:“我们进行教学示范,让主流学校教师可以参考我们行之有效的教学法,回去帮助成绩较弱的学生。每年我们接待10至12团的校群到校参观,我个人也受邀到国立教育学院跟硕士生分享办学心得。在公共服务学院的领袖学系,北烁学校是个案研究,政府部门未来的常任秘书、总裁学员都到北烁来视察。他们把北烁视为一项‘社会创新’项目。”
 

北烁的感动
NorthLight’s Midas Touch

潘星华 • Poon Sing Wah

北北烁学校是专门为小六会考不及格学生提供品德、学术及职业训练的学校。在好校长林艳卿的领导下,北烁已经成了“点铁成金”、“化腐朽为神奇”的校园。无数被正规学校丢弃的学生,都在北烁重新肯定自己,找到新生话,开启生命新的一页。

每次和林艳卿见面,都被她口里轻描淡写的故事感动。

北烁原本是为小六会考两次不及格的学生开设三年课程,因为家长要求进校的人太多,2007年教育部长尚达曼要求北烁考虑招收会考一次不及格的学生,为他们开四年课程。

林艳卿说:“2008年,我们准备了充足的学额给小六会考两次不及格的学生,却只有80个学额给会考一次不及格的学生。2007年底,来了160名会考一次不及格生,每个人都有校长推荐信,怎么办?结果我们给这160人按分数排名,收最底的80人。失望的家长来问我说,为什么孩子不被录取,是不是不够好?我说,不是,是不够坏。回校留级吧,明年会考肯定可以过关,读正规中学还是比较好的。”

每年,北烁给毕业班学生安排到职场工作八星期的实习机会。之前,给他们先做好“老板骂我是教我,是为我好”的心理指导。一个被派去大酒店早餐时间做煎蛋工作的女生,因为细心要使“阳光”鸡蛋,蛋黄闪亮不破,结果客人排了长龙,给管工说了几句。她于是趁放假买了鸡蛋回北烁苦练“煎蛋术”,终于把工作做得很好,这家酒店要在她毕业后聘用她,小女生竟然拒绝,说要到ITE读书。

林艳卿说:“去实习被老板呵斥,学生一般有两种反应:一是消极找机会不上班,二是积极把工作做好,这个女生是属于后者。我们告诉学生,生命有很多东西无从选择。不能选择父母,不能选择家庭,碰到什么事情,也无从选择。但是回应的态度却掌握在自己手上,我们教他们以积极的态度回应。”

北烁鼓励学生做社区工作,了解世界还有人比他们不幸。学生到达哥打弯去为独居老人更换节省能源的灯泡,回来对林艳卿说,有老人对他说:“今天你点亮我的家,明天有人点亮你的生命。”这句话让学生特别感到为人民服务是有意义的。

经过全体教师爱心调教,北烁学生并没有完全变成天使,还有很多劣质需要克服。林艳卿说:“我们学生上门服务后,一名住在勿洛北的居民不见了一支手机。向我投诉后,让我感到非常失望。我对这群出去做社区服务的学生说,我感觉自己失败,还没有把学生教好,还不能让学生分辨什么事可以做,什么事不能做。讲完话后,一名学生到我面前来自首,承认错误,并且立刻交还这支手机。

“第二天早上,我陪他去道歉。那天下着滂沱大雨,我们两人只撑着一把伞。学生知道我刚生好病,把伞都遮着我那边,自己全被大雨淋湿。他不断向我道歉,说以后不会再犯。他的诚意让我了解他表示不会再犯错,是真正了解自己做得不对,而不是为了不伤我的心。”

为了让这群容易犯错的学生,面临险境的危难关头,有地方可以避难,北烁学校的大门是每天24小时,一星期七天,为学生打开的。林艳卿说:“过去三年,只有两次学生在走投无路的时候,深夜躲进校园。次数虽然不多,给他知道校园是避难所很重要。学生手上都有两班保安人员的手机号码。”

感动,感动。你呢?

 
Martin Tan / 陈绍健
Mr Martin Tan was appointed Principal of NorthLight School in December 2011 after serving as Principal of Anderson Primary School from 2007 to 2011. He started his career in education as a Physical Education teacher in Fuchun Secondary School in 1992 and went on to become the school’s Discipline Master till 2001. He then spent two years in the Ministry of Education Headquarters as a Special Assistant in Schools Division. From 2004 to 2005, he pursued a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University on a government scholarship. Upon his return to Singapore, Mr Tan served as Vice Principal of Evergreen Primary School for a short stint before attending the Leaders in Education Programme in the National Institute of Education in 2006. 陈绍健教学生涯始于1992年,在福春中学任体育教师和训导主任至2001年,调至教育部总部任学校督导司特别助理。2004年获政府奖学金,赴美国哥伦比亚大学师范学院攻读课程与教学硕士课程。2005年毕业返新,出任永青小学副校长。2006年到国立教育学院进修“教育领袖课程”。2007年,出任安德逊小学校长。2011年12月出任北烁学校校长。

 
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