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劣校变名校

 

Underperformer to Outperformer
— An Exclusive Interview with Mr Goh Boon Poh, Principal of Heng Ee High School in Penang, Malaysia
Photos courtesy of Heng Ee High School
Published: EduNation, Issue 6, November-December 2013
Heng Ee High School is currently the most popular secondary school in Penang, Malaysia. Every year, the School takes in nearly 800 students, and has a student body numbering approximately 3,500 — these students are the cream of the crop in the entire Penang state. However, 20 years ago, Heng Ee was an infamous underperforming school that no Chinese families was willing to send their children to. Every single day, hundreds of students used to arrive late, and were lined up to receive public canings. The turnover rate for students was so high that the school clerks were kept busy just filing paperwork for student transfer procedures.

The pivotal figure who turned things around at Heng Ee was Mr Goh Boon Poh, who took up the post of Vice Principal at Heng Ee in 1994. He knew he had to give the school culture a complete overhaul, and acted swiftly, and with resolution — he executed public canings with a renewed severity, to the point where he injured his leading hand.

Mr Goh injected his firm beliefs in character development into the school disciplinary system. Clearly, this was very effective — before the year ended, the School gained, for the first time, 30-odd applicants who enrolled of their own accord. In 2004 he became the Principal, and for the past two decades, Heng Ee has experienced tremendous growth under Mr Goh’s guidance and leadership. The School has not only been achieving academic excellence, but has also distinguished itself in extra-curricular activities and competitions. The student body has doubled from 1,700 in 1994 to 3,550 today. Plans for an affiliated school have been laid — the new campus will be established in 2016, and looks to house another 3,000 students.

In May this year, the Chief Editor of EduNation, Ms Poon Sing Wah, attended a conference in Sabah organised by the Malaysian Conforming Secondary Schools Principals’ Council, and took the opportunity to secure an exclusive interview with Mr Goh.

At 59 years of age, Mr Goh is one of the very few top ethnic Chinese principals in Malaysia. He has won the Outstanding Principal Award in both 2007 and 2009, and this year, he was awarded the Penang State Exemplary Award and a commendation for teaching excellence by the Malaysian Ministry of Education.

He told us about the years spent remodelling the underperforming school, and how he set his reforms in motion, splitting his project into distinct phases to gradually elevate the underperforming students’ confidence and academic results, strengthen Heng Ee’s extra-curricular competencies, and finally forge a distinct and reputable school culture. After two decades of hard work, Mr Goh has transformed Heng Ee from a school with disciplinary problems and poor academic performance into both a symbol of prestige and a target of emulation in today’s education landscape.

Born to a Poor Family

Born and bred in Penang, Mr Goh was born poor. His family made a living rearing pigs and fowls, and lived in a cemetery where there was no running water or electricity. Naturally, living conditions were harsh and not conducive to studies. The family used only oil lamps that barely illuminated the immediate darkness around them, so Mr Goh did his studying outside, using whatever time and sunlight he had before dusk. But these severe conditions later proved valuable to Mr Goh in his career, as they not only strengthened his own character but also gave him an instinctive understanding of similarly underprivileged students. Even after he was married, he and his wife stayed in the old family home at the cemetery for another five years before moving out. His mother, uncle and younger brother still live there, and Mr Goh pays them frequent visits.

Mr Goh completed his high school education and pre-university courses in the prestigious Chung Ling High School in Penang, and received a Penang state scholarship to further his studies at the University of Science, Malaysia, where he majored in Mathematics and Physics. After graduating, he taught in a technical institute where the student population was largely made up of ethnic Malays for 15 years. The Malay students were generally uninterested in the sciences, so Mr Goh dedicated much of his time to helping these students raise their basic competencies. He spoke fondly of his time teaching in the technical institute. In these 15 years, he gained a deep understanding of the ethnic Malay lifestyle and ways of thought, and befriended many of his Malay teachers and students.

Mr Goh can still recall the exact date he received the rotation order to transfer to Heng Ee High School — it was on 31 December 1993. He confessed that at the time, he was less than willing to leave the technical institute where he felt very comfortably settled for Heng Ee High School with its bad reputation and seemingly endless problems. His wife was also against the transfer, and she was worried that the meek-looking Mr Goh would not be able to exert control and discipline in such a “slum” school.

What changed his opinion was the encouragement given by his former colleague and education ministry department head Mr Ismail, who told Mr Goh that he was given the job despite there being other more experienced teachers because of his proficiency in Chinese. Another friend told Mr Goh that his new posting to Heng Ee would mean an opportunity to turn the lives of many underprivileged students around. After this, Mr Goh was happy to transfer to Heng Ee.

“The moment I heard about the poor students, I felt like I had found my calling,” said Mr Goh.

The Initial Phase of Reform — Raising Discipline Standards, No Sparing of the Rod

Mr Goh officially assumed the position of Heng Ee’s Vice Principal on 1 January 1994. He started on his duties by tackling student discipline, as the School had such a poor reputation in this area. He found its disciplinary standards to be very lax — in a school of 1,700 students, more than 100 were regularly late for school. Unsatisfied with the situation, Mr Goh was determined to change this.

At the time, Heng Ee High School had only an acting principal. “This acting principal agreed with my proposal to publicly cane any student who came late,” said Mr Goh. “I remember standing at the gates with three or four other discipline staff to cane the latecomers.” The truth was that Mr Goh had no prior experience in caning a student and hadn’t the faintest idea how to handle the rod. But he stuck by his methods, and solved Heng Ee’s chronic late-coming problem with resolute hands.

Mr Goh’s efforts to raise disciplinary standards demanded more than punctuality — he was equally strict on classroom behaviour. “I would patrol the classroom corridors dozens of times every day,” he said. “If I caught anyone sleeping, I would march right in. But I would first reason with them, and see if there was any cause for corporal punishment. Interestingly, some students began bracing themselves against the wall for caning without being asked after I had scolded them. Over time, the need for such wholesale caning started to ease. But even now, whenever I catch students dozing off in class, I have no qualms about giving them a good scolding, and marching them right off to the toilet to wash their faces.”

Similar standards were expected of the appearances and uniforms of Heng Ee students. Girls with long and unkempt hair would be forced to get their hair cut short. In 1995, Mr Phuah Chor Poay was appointed as Heng Ee’s official Principal, and he was even stricter than Mr Goh in this respect — after his appointment, every Heng Ee boy had to have a crew cut. Mr Goh jokingly remarked that the girls’ short hair and the boys’ crew cuts became the “iconic images of Heng Ee”.

Mr Goh’s strictness struck fear into the hearts of all Heng Ee’s unruly students, and the School was therefore set in order within a relatively short period of time. Recalling his methods in the early years of reforming Heng Ee, Mr Goh remarked that he was extremely unpopular with the students. “Even the Founder of the School, Father Julien, thought that I was being too strict,” said Mr Goh. “Fortunately, everyone came to understand that my efforts were solely for the good of the students. I am a perfectionist, and an impatient one, at that. Even a single table out of place was enough for me to interrupt a class in order to set things straight.”

He made an analogy between Heng Ee’s reformation and the First Qin Emperor’s reformation of the writing system. “To achieve great things, one cannot waver in one’s decisions, even if they are unpopular ones,” explained Mr Goh. However, he stressed the point that ultimately caning is a very negative act.

“It was a measure taken only in desperate times,” said Mr Goh. “It was made necessary by the urgent need to reform Heng Ee’s culture.”

Fighting With Parents to Protect His Students

When Mr Goh first took up his position at Heng Ee, he had to handle more than just his students, as dealing with their parents often proved to be a knotty affair. Heng Ee was situated in the slum area where gang activities were rife, and most of its students came from the lower stratum of society. Faced with the complicated and varied backgrounds of the students and parents he encountered, Mr Goh was initially at a loss.

“I spent my younger years living in a cemetery. Naturally, I had no neighbours to speak of. After I came to Heng Ee, and witnessed the students’ domestic affairs, I came to realise how complicated a community can be.”

Perhaps it was out of fear, but students under Mr Goh’s strict teaching methods never once complained to their parents. It was the School that initiated contact with the parents, and expressed the desire to cooperate with them in taking their children in hand. Surprisingly, many of these parents started physically abusing their children on the spot.

Even till this day, Mr Goh is incensed when reminded of these irresponsible and uncaring parents. He frequently quarrelled with them over the domestic abuse his students suffered. “Because I was born very poor, I was often a target of bullying and derision. As a result, I developed a strong psychological reaction to such things. Whenever my students were bullied, even if it was by their parents, I instinctively felt the impulse to protect them. I had invited the parents to school with the intention of cooperating with them on disciplining the children. Instead, I was the one invited to witness the revolting sight of parents abusing their children. I was so angry at the time — right there and then I stood up and warned them against beating any of the students on my school grounds.”

What was most disheartening was that these parents were actually angry at the School and Mr Goh, because they felt that requests for meetings were a waste of time. They were disdainful of their own children, saying that they were hopeless and a waste of everyone’s resources. Mr Goh’s response was to challenge them to keep their children at home, if they thought educating and disciplining them was a waste of time. The parents, of course, refused.

Mr Goh offered a compromise to one such parent. He was to teach his child at least one new English word a day and in exchange, Mr Goh would allow the student to remain in school. The idea behind this contract came from Heng Ee’s students’ weakness in language. The Secondary 2 cohort could not even spell “flower”. For Mr Goh, this was indeed cause for worry.

The novel agreement sparked off an entirely new project — the daily New Word of the Day assignment for the students. Every day every student had to write at least one new English and Malay word on the blackboard. Before long, a good portion of the cohort’s language abilities started to improve. Taking the idea further, Mr Goh first introduced A Sentence A Day and then A Passage A Day assignment in all three taught language subjects — English, Chinese and Malay. After this the improvement to Heng Ee’s language standards really began to accelerate.

Heng Ee’s renewed disciplinary culture was quickly recognised by the Ministry of Education. “When inspectors from the Ministry came to visit, they were puzzled by how peaceful and quiet the school was. They actually asked me whether we were having a school break. They couldn’t believe their ears when I told them the students were having classes, and reported to the Ministry on Heng Ee’s astonishing improvement. Afterwards, they even invited the newly appointed principal, Mr Teoh Kheng Hong, to provide an account of how the School was reformed.”

The Second Phase of Reform — Promoting the Arts and Performances

Discipline alone could not possibly be the answer to all of Heng Ee’s problems; after all, the students’ emotional and family problems were complicated and deep-seated. Another challenge that presented itself was vandalism. Despite laying low and appearing docile in front of Mr Goh, many students would carry out “guerrilla” attacks after school, using hand-made catapults and firecrackers to damage school property. Mr Goh thought about this and decided that the root cause of these destructive acts lay in the students not having a proper avenue through which to channel their suppressed emotions.

“The School was run like a military camp. The strengthened disciplinary measures solved the problems, by force. But this also caused a lot of unhappiness and anger among the students, and the acts of vandalism were expressions of these suppressed emotions.”

In order to create space for the release of the students’ emotions, Mr Goh introduced more extra-curricular activities. From 1996 onwards, he pushed for a greater focus on performing clubs like Chinese Orchestra, Folk Dance, Choir, the Wind Band and the Harmonica Band. Mr Goh drew this initiative from his own experiences with such extra-curricular activities back in Chung Ling High School.

“I had no money to learn music when I was younger. But I was fortunate, because Chung Ling allowed me the opportunity to join the Choir and Symphonic Band, and learn to play musical instruments for free. I think all children from poor families should have such opportunities. For my part, I try my best to let my students learn valuable skills for free, or at least at subsidised rates,” he said.

Mr Goh also knew that self-motivation is the strongest catalyst to growth and meaningful learning. Instead of trying to force the students to do well in extra-curricular activities, he tried to instil in them a sense of pride for the school by encouraging them to take part in inter-school competitions. Mr Goh ensured that such competitions were well publicised and supported his students at every single event. Furthermore, he encouraged all the students and teachers to do the same. Before long, the students were holding high the school’s competition banners and living up to the spirit of the two Chinese characters Heng (Perseverance) and Ee (Determination) in its name.

Initially, the students lacked both confidence and experience, and had attacks of stage fright when they realised their competitors were from well-known schools. To help them with this, Mr Goh took the extra step of organising internal school performances to allow the students to gain some necessary stage experience.

Although the students were not very skilled, they were happy for the chance just to be up on stage but after only two years, they were beginning to be placed in the top three positions in external competitions. In 1998, Mr Goh moved the annual school concert to Dewan Sri Pinang (a prestigious auditorium of the Penang Municipal Council), and expanded the scale of its operations, and from that moment on, the School became distinguished for its excellence in the performing arts.

The Third Phase of Reform — Raising Academic Standards and Instilling Confucianism

After Mr Goh’s efforts in improving school discipline and developing the performing clubs had paid off, Heng Ee received positive coverage in the local press. Heng Ee’s academic standards, however, remained mediocre. “Many discussions on Heng Ee’s improvements made note of how its academic standards paled in comparison to its achievements in the performing arts. These comments weighed heavily on my mind,” said Mr Goh. “We racked our brains to find a solution to Heng Ee’s mediocre academic standards. We had our New Word of the Day and A Passage A Day assignments to instil the habit of self-learning but we then decided to step up the emphasis on academic excellence, and had the teachers come back on Saturdays to provide extra tuition. Later, we even mobilised parent tutors to make sure we had enough teachers.”

Of course, Heng Ee did not achieve its academic excellence overnight — only 47 per cent of Heng Ee students passed the Malaysian Certificate of Education (equivalent to Singapore’s O level examinations) in 1999. This left an indelible mark of regret on the soon retiring Principal Mr Phuah .

“When I saw Mr Phuah’s disappointed face, I couldn’t help being affected. When he first arrived, I told him that Heng Ee’s reform was not going to be easy. He gave me a lot of encouragement and space to do what I needed to. It was a real pity that when he retired, the School was still academically mediocre. I comforted him, and reminded him of our progress, and how now, so many students were voluntarily enrolling in Heng Ee — even the 80 slots normally reserved for recommendations by board members were not enough,” Mr Goh said.

By the end of the 90s, Heng Ee had become a reputable school, but its applicants were nevertheless largely made up of average students. It was rare for the School to receive applications from students with more than four As in the Malaysian Primary School Evaluation Test, also known as the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR), in which there are seven examinable subjects.

Mr Goh realised that despite its excellence in extra-curricular activities and discipline, Heng Ee would never be a top school without high academic standards. In a formal meeting to discuss the issue it was Chinese teacher Mr Chan Keng Onn who made an observation that was to turn things around: what the School was lacking was a philosophy.

“When Mr Chan brought up this point, I felt immediately enlightened. Initially, I thought we were doing well in this aspect. Because Heng Ee frequently participated in competitions, I thought we had a strengthened notion of common ideals. So what had gone wrong?

“Mr Chan analysed the situation, and identified the crux of the problem. He said that the School was not imparting enough core values that would allow the students to develop the correct mindsets. Such core values would also provide a guideline for their approach in life. Thus, after further discussion, we decided that the next phase of the plan was the introduction and inculcation of Confucianism and other Chinese philosophical teachings.”

The School began by letting the students read some classic texts. However, it quickly become apparent that this method was too slow and unfocused to achieve its objectives, so Mr Chan constructed a syllabus out of ten parables, one of which being the tale of Sima Guang Za Gang, and published it as Heng Ee’s Selected Philosophical Readings. The teachers were then encouraged to vary the difficulty of the lessons according to the grades being taught.

“The content of the Philosophical Readings varies in depth, and is therefore very suitable for teaching to our students. If we force content that is too deep onto them, they would not be able to comprehend anyway,” said Mr Goh. Thus, the students learnt Confucian teachings like “do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you”, “a little impatience spoils great plans”, and “be kind and righteous”, and began to apply such principles to their daily lives.

Opening Week of School Used to Evaluate Performing Talent

In 2004, Mr Goh was appointed as Heng Ee’s principal. By then, Heng Ee’s pass rate for the Malaysian Certificate of Education had already reached 70 per cent. However, this number remained static in the years to follow, and Heng Ee seemed to be stuck at another impasse. Mr Goh thought hard about how to make a breakthrough, and decided that the School would start taking in as many outstanding students as possible.

Looking through the applications, Mr Goh discovered that many applicants wanted to attend the morning classes. In response, he set up a special Secondary 1 class that had lessons in the morning, and would participate in talent development training sessions in the afternoon. The purpose in doing this was to attract academically outstanding students who were also talented in dance, sports and singing. This special talent development project drew a lot of attention from top students and their parents. The parents were particularly impressed, because they knew of Mr Goh’s enthusiasm for creating opportunities for performances and talent development. Mr Goh also tailored the training sessions according to the students’ aptitudes and interests, and as a result they were groomed into school reporters, debaters and emcees respectively. Today, he has four such classes, and two of which are entirely made up of straight A students.

At the start of every school year, Heng Ee will identify those students who are particularly inclined towards music or performing arts. Other clubs begin seeking members only in the second week. Mr Goh justified this policy by pointing out that students talented in music and performance are not easy to find.

“After all, it takes both foundational work and aptitude to make a talent. It is not an easy combination. Some students are naturally gifted and inclined towards performance, while some are simply not meant for the stage. The art of performing entails the ability to capture and present the minutest of undertones. Thus, in our selection process, we are meticulous, and pay attention to specifics. Whether great things can be achieved depends on how one handles the details,” Mr Goh said.

In a decade of hard work, Heng Ee’s performing arts club has regularly won awards across Malaysia, but ambitious Mr Goh feels that Heng Ee now needs to step beyond national boundaries and extend its horizons even further. In 2007, he changed the school vision to Local Roots, Global Outlook, to reflect this new goal of nurturing students who are capable of performing on the world stage. A year later, Mr Goh personally took an ensemble to compete in Beijing’s Chinese Youth Orchestra Competition. Incredibly, the team won the gold medal as well as a Best Conductor Award with its superb performance and seamless teamwork. Since then, every performing club in Heng Ee has the opportunity to compete overseas on an annual basis.

Heng Ee is also known for its large number of publications. The School produces seven of these a year in Chinese, English and Malay, including the tri-annually published, magazine-styled Heng Ee School Bulletin. Mr Goh, who had experience publishing Malay periodicals and graduation volumes during his days in Chung Ling High School, believes that such school publications are not just journals, but are also platforms that allow students to showcase their writing skills and become school journalists. Observing that the published content and presentation was often very eye-catching and inventive, Mr Goh nevertheless stressed the point that school publications should ultimately aim to guide and educate the students, and should not lose sight of this goal by pandering to popular taste.

Heng Ee has the distinction of indirectly paving the way for other schools to publish their own periodicals, and today, all conforming secondary schools in Penang have their own school bulletins.

Assigning Best Teachers to the Weakest Students

Today, Heng Ee is the most popular school in all of Penang. On average, it receives over a thousand applications a year, and these applications come in all year round. The consequence of this is that each class has an overwhelming 45 students — this is ten more than the number stipulated by the education ministry.

“Heng Ee is a Chinese conforming school, which is why I try to accept as many students as possible, so that everyone has a chance to receive a Chinese conforming education,” said Mr Goh. He explained that the 78 Chinese conforming schools in Malaysia play a key role in nurturing Chinese educators for the country. Many graduates from Chinese conforming schools further their studies in universities and major in Chinese, and go on to become Chinese teachers in secondary and primary schools all over Malaysia.

However, Mr Goh was worried that the rapid increase in the student population might cause lapses in discipline. His strategy in dealing with this possibility was to put in place a firm culture that that would influence the students’ behaviour.

“I always tell the students that it is difficult to enter Heng Ee, but it is very easy to get booted out,” said Mr Goh. When he was first appointed Principal, Mr Goh would often be on the school podium announcing the names of students who had been expelled for bad behaviour. This invariably proved an effective deterrent against disciplinary problems in the rest of the School.

Mr Goh emphasised the point that the School is firm about discipline and moral character, and has never once expelled a student for having bad results. “I often tell my teachers that our students should be treated like our own children — we do not simply give up on those with bad results,” said Mr Goh. “When I first taught in the technical institute, I employed Chung Ling’s teaching methods. But the students there complained that I was going too fast, and that’s when I realised that teachers should be student-centred in their teaching methods. Now, when my teachers tell me they have problems teaching particular students, I remind them that no effort should be spared in guiding them. It is their responsibility as a teacher.”

The teachers teaching the best class in Heng Ee have to teach the School’s weakest class as well. By teaching across a wide range of students, teachers gain a better understanding of their own responsibilities. Mr Goh routinely arranges for teachers from the best classes to teach the preparatory classes. These preparatory classes are meant for students who fared poorly in the USPR, and are conducted a year before they can officially go to Secondary 1 at Heng Ee.

Despite his many responsibilities as Heng Ee’s principal, Mr Goh still takes the time to teach at least five periods every week. He deliberately chooses to take charge of the most difficult class — this time it’s the weakest class in Secondary 3 that all his teachers complain about — in order to set an example to the school staff.

Mr Goh values flexibility in teaching methods. “If a teacher cannot adapt and change his methods, his classes will become dull and painful to the students,” said Mr Goh. He hopes that the teachers in Heng Ee do not remain content to follow the teaching guidelines set by the Ministry, but will seek to add value to their classes.

He compares teaching to making a business work — students can be considered as clients. If no clients are interested in learning from you, then your school will fail. However, when a school is enjoying patronage from many clients, its teachers must remain humble and not become conceited. Mr Goh reminds his teachers that even though Heng Ee is reputable and popular, they must always be sincere in their treatment of parents and students, as other schools are also working hard to catch up with them.

Looking to Assist the Other 77 Conforming Schools

In 2010, Mr Goh was appointed the President of the Malaysian Conforming Secondary Schools Principals’ Council. This became a platform for him to understand the other 77 conforming secondary schools. He realised that these schools shared many of the same problems as he had with Heng Ee, and he therefore wanted to help in their reformation. He also identified many good schools that had not identified a way to attract outstanding students, so Mr Goh also felt an obligation here to share his wealth of experience, and tell the other principals how he had built up Heng Ee’s reputation. One example he gave them came from the School’s early days when he would give the local press the story of any outstanding graduate who had been very unruly and disruptive when he was younger.

Mr Goh will be stepping down from his position next year. Many people think that under him Heng Ee has reached its peak, and that there will be no successor capable enough to fill his shoes. But Mr Goh disagreed, saying that Heng Ee is still far from fulfilling its potential. He stressed the point that a principal is not a civil servant, but a leader who must lead the school and chart its course. The new principal, he said, should have his own means and methods, and not just follow in his shadow. The education landscape will be vibrant and lively only when its leaders are allowed the freedom to chart new courses. The one principle Mr Goh has always lived by when managing his school is to make progress always, as to remain stagnant is to fail.

Mr Goh has no clear plan of what he wants to do after retirement. He feels no urgent need to come up with it yet. But he is sure of one thing — that no matter what he does in the future, he will continue contributing to the development and progress of the Chinese conforming schools. This interview was conducted on the day of the Model Principal Award ceremony held in Penang. Mr Goh was one of the recipients, but he sent his wife to receive the award on his behalf, as he was busy attending the Malaysian Conforming Secondary Schools Principals’ Council conference in Sabah. Admirably, he put the opportunity to interact with the other principals above his own pride in receiving the award.

Having nurtured so many talented youngsters in the 33 years of his outstanding carer as an educator, Mr Goh left us with a final piece of advice: every cog is essential in the large wheel of society. Every person has a role to play. Even average schools can play an important role in society. Even though Heng Ee was less than average in its early days, it was still able to produce a number of graduates who eventually went on to become successful and affluent professionals.

“Of course, Heng Ee in its early days had a lot fewer of these than Chung Ling, but they definitely existed,” Mr Goh said.


封面故事 > 劣校变名校
劣校变名校
— 专访马来西亚槟城恒毅中学校长吴文宝
文:潘星华 ߦ 刘素芬
图:恒毅中学提供
刊载:《新学》, 第6期,2013年11月-12月
今天的恒毅国民型华文中学(简称恒毅)是马来西亚槟城最受欢迎的中学,每年收生近800人,有学生3550人,居全槟城州之冠。但20年前,这所华校,却是没有华人愿意把孩子送来的“劣校”。每天有上百名学生迟到,排着队被副校长打鞭,校务处的书记每天忙着办学生转校的工作。

成功让恒毅脱胎换骨的是1994年初到校,担任副校长的吴文宝,他以雷厉风行的严厉手法整顿校风,每天鞭打学生鞭到手痛,要用药油推拿。

吴文宝重视品格教育,纪律严明,一年已初见成效,1994年底已经有30多人自动报名要进恒毅。他于2004年升任校长。过去20年,恒毅在他领导下,校务蒸蒸日上,蓬勃发展,学生学业成绩大跃进,课外活动又获奖无数,学生人数从1700人倍增至逾3500人,学校现已部署分校,在2016年开校,另外可收生3000人。

今年5月,《新学》新加坡教育双语双月刊总编辑出席在马来西亚沙巴举行的马来西亚国民型华文中学校长理事会大会,对吴文宝校长进行了专访。

吴文宝今年59岁,是马来西亚少数的华裔高级校长,曾在2007年及2009年获得两次卓越校长奖,2013年获得全槟城模范校长奖及马来西亚教育部颁发的卓越教师服务奖。他在专访中分享治校经验,如何分阶段落实改革计划,逐步提升学生的自信和成绩,建立恒毅的课外活动强项,打造恒毅的校风和特色。以20年时间,点铁成金,扭转恒毅校运,把一所原本死气沉沉的华校,变成一所荟萃精英,让教育界同行前去取经学习的模范学校。

出身贫寒

在马来西亚槟城土生土长的吴文宝,出身贫寒,父母靠养猪养鸡为生,一家住在坟场,没有电没有水。人畜喝的是山上的泉水,照明靠煤油灯,灯光幽暗,他只能在屋外,靠夕阳余晖在坟场读书。这段儿时的生活磨练,让他充分了解穷人的感受,日后能特别关注家境不好的学生。他结婚后,还和妻子在坟场的老家住了五年才搬出去,至今他的母亲、叔叔和弟弟还住在那里,他也常回去探望亲人。

吴文宝在槟城著名的钟灵国民型华文中学完成高中与先修班课程后,领取了槟城州政府奖学金,在槟城马来西亚理科大学读数学和物理双主修。大学毕业后,他在学生以马来人为主的工艺学院教了15年。马来学生一般不喜欢理科,吴文宝的工作就是帮忙马来学生提升读理科的能力。他认为这段教学日子很好,给他认识了马来族群的生活和想法,也结交了很多马来朋友。

回想1993年12月31日接获要调去学生背景复杂的恒毅国民型中学的指令,吴文宝坦言并不想离开已经是安乐窝的工艺学院。妻子也劝阻他去恒毅,担心外表斯文的他无法镇得住这所位于贫民窟学校的学生。后来曾和他在工艺学院共事的教育局主管伊斯迈告诉他,因为他懂华文,才让他跳过其他资深的教师,破格派他去恒毅。又有一位前辈告诉他,到恒毅可以帮助穷学生,这才让出身清寒和拥有华校背景的他,毅然到恒毅上任。

他说:“我一听到穷学生,就想去了。”

初阶段改革:严整纪律,每天鞭打百多名学生

吴文宝1994年1月1日从工艺学院调派到恒毅当副校长,主管学生事务,当时学校的纪律松散,有关恒毅的新闻都是负面的。全校学生1700多人,每天却有超过100人迟到。他不满迟到歪风,决心整顿。

当时恒毅没有正校长,只有一位代校长,“代校长同意我实行‘迟到一律鞭打’的做法,每天早上,我和三四个训导老师一起鞭打迟到的学生。”实际上,之前吴文宝从未有鞭打学生的经验,甚至不知该怎么打,结果学生的迟到问题就真的靠着他每天打鞭到手痛解决了。

吴文宝对学生的课堂纪律和上课态度同样要求严格。“我每天巡课十多次,只要看到学生打瞌睡,我会马上走进去,先和他们讲道理,再问是否应该被打。有趣的是,学生听了我的训话后,都会自动把手靠墙,转身给我鞭打。后来学生纪律逐渐变好,我也已经不必再亲自鞭打学生了。不过现在,只要还看到瞌睡虫,我还会很生气地训他们一顿,再把他们抓去洗脸。”

吴文宝对学生仪容一样要求严格,凡披头散发的女生,一律必须剪短发。1995年新任校长潘祖培上任后,比他更严格,规定男生一律剪成陆军头。他笑言,“女生的短发和男生的陆军头成了恒毅的标志。”

吴文宝要求严格,让学生心生畏惧,短时间内改善了学校秩序。回首当年的铁腕手法,他说:“我严格的管教法,让学生很反感,就连创校的余廉神父也认为我太严格。幸好他们后来逐渐明白我这样做,一切是为学生好。我性子急,又要求完美。要是看到课室里的桌椅歪歪斜斜,也会立刻进去,叫教师暂停讲课,让我先把桌椅排好。”

他比喻改革过程如秦始皇统一文字,尽管学生不喜欢,为了达到效果,还是必须推行。他强调“鞭打始终是负面的,当时是迫不得已,是整顿纪律必须要的一个过程。”

为保护学生和家长争执

初进恒毅,不仅学生难搞,家长的态度同样棘手。恒毅学校附近是私会党聚集的贫民窟,学生多来自社会的底层。面对学生和家长的复杂背景,吴文宝说:“我从小住在坟场,周围没有邻居。来到恒毅,看到学生的家庭问题,才知道居住环境可以如此复杂。”

学生在学校接受吴文宝的严格管教,并不敢回家向家长投诉。只是当校方把家长请来,要共商如何管教孩子之时,常惹这些来自社会底层的家长,当面对自己的孩子拳打脚踢。

吴文宝对这些不负责任和不关心孩子的家长最气恼。他常因为家长的残暴,和家长吵起来。他说:“我从小因为家里穷,被人看不起,受人欺负,所以我有强烈不让人欺负的意识,连带学生我也要保护。我请家长来学校讨论如何管教孩子,家长竟然在我面前狠狠打骂孩子,让我很生气,这时,我会当面警告家长绝对不可以在学校打我的学生。”

家长气愤的是校方把他们叫来,浪费他们的时间。家长说孩子没有用,不必管。既然不必管,吴文宝就请他们把孩子带回去,家长却不肯。

一个家长要求学校不要开除他的孩子,吴文宝和他讲条件,要家长写保单,确保每天教孩子一个生字。因为,他发现恒毅学生的语文基础实在差,中二的学生连flower都不会拼。

这也让他推出了“每日一字”计划,要学生每天最少学一个英文和马来文生字写在黑板上。这个方法相当有效,有一部分学生的水平提高了,后来,他再陆续推出“每日一句”和“每日一段”,英文、华文、马来文一起上,学生的语文水平因此不断提高了。

第二阶段改革:推动表演艺术活动

严厉处理学生纪律带来另一个问题:学生表面上变得听话,上课时正襟危坐,下课后却搞破坏,砸坏学校公物,用弹弓击碎学校的窗户,甚至在农历新年把鞭炮丢进学校。吴文宝检讨这种种破坏性的行为,追根究底,他发现学生被学校严格校规压抑得情绪无处抒发,“校方如实行军事统治,把问题强硬压下来,学生心里不满,就找破坏性的管道发泄。”

为了让学生情绪有舒缓的空间,1996年起,吴文宝加紧在校内成立各项课外活动,尤以表演艺术为主的项目,如华乐团、民族舞蹈、合唱团以及重组原有的口琴队。吴文宝积极推动表演活动,和他从小参加各种课外活动有关。“小时候没有钱学音乐,到了钟灵,我参加合唱团和管乐团,学吹小喇叭,不用钱买乐器,又可以免费学。我觉得穷人家的孩子应该要找一些免费的东西学习,所以我尽量提供机会,让学生免费或以学校津贴的方式学习。”

他体悟到学生要自愿和自发,才会认真学习,于是他通过校外团体比赛,让学生在最短时间内培养爱校精神,鼓励学生为学校争取荣耀,秉持恒毅“恒心与毅力”的精神,以学校为荣。学生每次出外比赛和表演,吴文宝都一定到场观赛打气,也让其他学生和教师前去支持,并在学校周会宣传表演和比赛活动。

学生出去参加校外比赛和表演,因为经验不足而缺乏信心,听到其他名校的名字就怯场。于是吴文宝在校内举办音乐会,增加学生的舞台经验。他说:“1996年开始我在校内办音乐会,让学生有机会表演。当时水平虽不高,但学生很高兴有个平台可以表现。”在校园内办了两年音乐会,恒毅的艺术表演团稍微建立了名气,校外比赛也得到了第三名。1998年,吴文宝将音乐会移师至槟州大会堂,扩大音乐会的规模。发展表演艺术项目也成了恒毅的卖点和专长。

恒毅的纪律和优良校风很快获得教育部的肯定。吴文宝说:“1999年,有教育部官员来校视察,觉得校园非常安静,问我学校是否正在放假。我说不是,学生都在上课,他们很惊讶,回去报告说恒毅今非昔比。后来教育部还请了我们的新任校长张庆丰去汇报如何改变恒毅。”

第三阶段改革:提升学术成绩和灌输儒家思想

成功搞好学生的纪律和开拓学生的艺术表演活动后,恒毅逐渐有正面新闻见报,但学术成绩却毫无突破。“每当会考成绩放榜,大家都说,恒毅已经很好了,课外活动也拿奖,学术成绩却不怎么样。我们对这种带讽刺性的评语,耿耿于怀,要想尽办法提升整体学术水平。我们除了从原本‘每日一字’计划,进步到‘每日一句’、‘每日一段’,加强自我学习,教师纷纷在星期六回校给学生加课补习,连家长教师协会也发动起来,一起给学生补习。”

成绩的冲刺不能一蹴而就,1999年3月中五会考成绩及格率只有47%,这让当年即将退休的潘祖培校长深感遗憾。“看到潘校长失望的表情,我也很伤感。他刚到恒毅时,我告诉他恒毅不容易改,他鼓励我放胆去做。可惜到他退休,恒毅的成绩还是不好。我只有安慰他说,我们已经有进步了,至少有不少学生要进恒毅,连学校保留给董事部介绍的80个名额都不够用。”1990年代末,恒毅虽已建立名声,但报读学生的成绩多属中等,少有小六会考获得四科A以上的学生(马来西亚华文小学六年级会考共考七科)。

吴文宝不久发现尽管学生纪律好,课外活动也稳健发展,成绩却没有长进,恒毅显然还缺少了成为“好学校”的重要元素。他和教师讨论这个困惑,华文教师陈景安告诉他,学生欠缺的是思想建设。

“当陈老师告诉我,问题在于思想建设,登时让我打开了心结。我原本以为这方面的工作已经做得很好,学生每次比赛前,我们特别加强他们的心理建设,常常到每个班级去关心学生,是哪里还做得不够好?陈老师分析说,关键因素在于学校没有灌输学生核心价值观,让他们建立正确的心态,做人做事有个依据。于是我们立刻展开另一个阶段的计划,开始灌输儒家的道德和思想观。”

计划初期,校方要求学生读一些经典读物,后来发现这方法需要太长时间,结果决定由陈景安老师协助编了一套恒毅的《思想教育读本》,选了10篇如司马光的故事等,按年级决定内容深度。

“这套儒家思想的教材,内容深浅很适合学生。我们认为给学生读的内容不能太深,否则他们不明白。于是‘己所不欲,勿施于人’、‘小不忍则乱大谋’、‘有情有义’等的孔孟思想就逐渐灌输给学生,并让他们在日常生活里应用了。”

开学首周评估新生表演才华

吴文宝在2004年接任校长,当时恒毅中五会考及格率已提升至70%,却一直停滞不前,无法突破。吴文宝想尽办法要突破这个瓶颈,尽量吸收优秀生是一条可行的办法。

他发现许多有意报读恒毅的新生都希望进上午班,于是他在上午特别开了一班中一,以吸引优秀的学生,尤其是在舞蹈、歌唱和体育方面有才华的学生,让他们上午上课,下午参加集训。这个“专才”计划吸引了小六会考成绩优秀的学生,因为学生和家长听说“吴文宝校长会给很多表演机会。”他按学生的能力和兴趣,培养了具备如司仪、辩论员、校园记者等特殊才华的学生。现在他已有两班全是七科A的学生。

每年开学,学校先选出最有音乐或表演才华的学生,第二个星期才选其他学会的会员。吴文宝解释这是因为“音乐和表演艺术不容易找到优秀的学生,毕竟这需要一定的基础和天分。有些学生站到台上,天生就有表演的架势,有些人则不管如何训练也不会成功。表演艺术讲求的就是表现细腻的内涵,所以我们从选拔的小细节开始,大事能否完善,其实就看怎样从小细节的处理开始。”

经过10年的耕耘,恒毅的艺术表演团体已在马来西亚取得许多奖项。目光远大的吴文宝认为恒毅学生还应该走出国门,开阔视野,他甚至在2006年把恒毅学校的愿景改为“扎根本土,放眼世界”,订下学生必须走向世界的目标。2007年,吴文宝亲自带队到北京参加中国华乐少年公开赛,以精湛的演出和所展现的团体精神,获得金奖及最佳指挥奖。此后恒毅各个表演团体每年都有机会出国表演和比赛。

精彩缤纷的课外活动外,恒毅还有一个让其他学校效仿的特色,即是制作大量的出版物。恒毅一年出版七种中、英、马来文校园刊物,包括一年三期,走杂志风格的《恒中校讯》。吴文宝曾在钟灵母校办过马来文刊物及毕业刊,他深信“校园刊物不仅是一种记录,还是为学生提供一个可以发表作品和当校园记者的平台。”他强调,校园刊物可以配合学生的喜好,图文并茂,以轻松的方式呈现,但必须是来引导学生,绝不能一味为了迎合潮流,而失去教育意义。

现在全槟城的国民型华文中学都出版校讯了。

最好的教师教最差的学生

今天的恒毅是槟城最热门的中学,每年申请就读恒毅的学生人数超过1000人,整年都有学生要进来。结果学校班班爆满,一班超过45人,比教育部规定的每班顶限多了至少10人。吴文宝表示:“我们是华校,尽量想办法录取最多的学生,让大家有机会念华校。”他解释,全马来西亚的78所国民型华文中学,因为学生必考华文,还有校园里浓厚的中华文化传统的校风,已经成为国家培育华文教师的摇篮。许多学生毕业后,进入师范学院选修华文,成为马来西亚中小学的华文教师。

恒毅学生人数急速增长,吴文宝担心学校无法全面照顾学生。他的对策是,靠学校文化和风气带动及指引学生成长。他告诉学生:“要进恒毅不容易,但要出去却不难。”担任校长初期,他经常在周会报告某学生因行为不检被开除,以此警惕学生。

吴文宝强调,学校注重的是纪律和品德,绝对不会因为成绩不好而开除学生。“我常告诉教师,学生就如亲生孩子那样,有的成绩好,有的成绩不好,但绝对不可以不管成绩差的学生。从前我在工艺学院教书,以钟灵学生的水平教书,结果被学生投诉说我教得太快,我才领悟到教师应该以学生为中心。所以当教师告诉我说,某些学生老是教不好,我会提醒他们,再困难也要想办法教好,教师的责任就是要把学生教好。”

恒毅教成绩最好第一班的教师,必须兼教成绩最差的最后一班,从而了解不同程度的学生,才能做好教学工作。吴文宝把最好的教师编排教成绩差、基础弱的班级如预备班(预备班是给小六成绩不好的学生在进入中一以前的一年基础加强班),已是常态。

身为校长,虽然行政事务繁重,吴文宝每周仍然教五堂课,并且还选了教师们都投诉说最难教的中学三年级的最后一班,亲身了解学生的状况,并以身作则,为教师作榜样。

教学他重视灵活性。他说:“如果教师不能改变教学方法,教课就会很乏味,让学生感觉辛苦。我如果代课,不会只让学生做功课,而是找机会和学生交谈。”他希望恒毅的教师不应满足于完成教育部规定的基本教学,而是要多做一些,要有增值效果。

他以办企业来比喻办学,学生是顾客,没有顾客,学校办不成。学校人丁旺盛时若姿态过高,迟早会失败。他告诉教师,今天恒毅名气大,报名人数多,但其他学校正迎头赶上,所以对待学生和家长要真诚,切忌傲慢无礼。

希望协助其他77所国民型华文中学

自2010年,吴文宝身兼马来西亚国民型华文中学校长理事会主席。这个平台让他接触到其他77所同类型中学,了解其他学校和他一样,有很多问题。他希望尽力协助改善另外77所学校,因为“独乐乐,不如众乐乐”。不少马来西亚国民型华文中学遇到种种挑战,他的观察是许多学校其实办得很好,只是不会展现优点而被忽略,以致很难招生。吴文宝会和他们分享自己如何请记者来报道差生进校,以优秀生毕业的新闻,引起社会人士注意。

吴文宝明年退休。许多人说恒毅已经到达顶峰,难有突破;吴文宝太强,很难找到接班人。吴文宝否定这个说法,他表示恒毅只是到了山腰,离顶峰还远。他强调校长的角色是领袖而不是公务员,需要运筹帷幄,领导学校,所以每个校长都有自己的做法,新校长绝不能死守旧方法不变,只有百花齐放,才能把学校办好。他的治校精神是“学校必须要不停改进,如果十年如一日,觉得自满而停滞,就完蛋了。”

吴文宝还未有明确的退休计划,他认为自己不应该想太多,因为还没有退休嘛。但他表示日后无论做什么,必然和国民型华文中学发展有关。访问当天,在槟城正举行模范校长的颁奖礼,他是其中一位得奖人,但为了出席在沙巴亚庇的国民型华文中学校长理事会大会,他安排妻子代领,他认为和其他校长交流的机会更重要。

对于今天如日中天的恒毅,他表示学校还不算成功,因为恒毅还有很多毕业生不算成功,也没有成就。他所谓的成功和成就,不是以赚大钱或进大学为标准,而是以学有专长,能在各自的工作领域有所发挥来界定。

春风化雨三十多年,作育无数英才,吴文宝强调社会上每一颗螺丝钉都很重要,每个人都有自己的角色。就比如学校,不管多糟糕,还是有各自的特点。早期的恒毅虽然很差,也出过博士和医生,“虽然和钟灵比起来,恒毅少很多,但还是有。”

 
吴文宝/Goh Boon Poh
Mr Goh Boon Poh was born in Penang, Malaysia in 1954. He completed his high school and pre-university education in Chung Ling High School, Penang. He graduated with a BSc (Hon.) in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Science, Malaysia. Mr Goh was appointed Principal of Heng Ee High School in 2004 and was promoted to Excellent Principal (the highest grade attainable) in 2009. He is also the President of the Malaysian Conforming Secondary Schools Principals’ Council. 1954年出生于马来西亚槟城,槟城钟灵中学毕业,获奖学金升读槟城理科大学,主修数学及物理,考获荣誉理学士学位。1979年执教于槟城东姑阿都拉曼工艺学院,1994年调任槟城恒毅国民型中学副校长,2004年升任该学校长,2009年擢升至马来西亚最高等级的卓越校长。2010年起至今担任马来西亚全国国民型华文中学校长理事会主席。

 
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