School Improvement Ideasfrom aYouth PerspectiveSimple Steps for School Reformand Student Empowermentfor Girls’ High Schools Ali Zayaan Shaafiu by: firstname.lastname@example.org
IntroductionThis is a document about some changes and improvements that would be important to bring to highschools (O’ level schools) in the Maldives, with a special focus on all-girls high schools. The ideasincluded here are ones that will cost very little to implement, will be easy and simple changes tomake, and that schools would have the power to make on their own (i.e. not ones that would needspecific government approval). They are also ideas that I feel will not only improve the educationalstandards of schools and help them to implement their resources and use teachers most efficiently,but also ones which address underlying social problems in Maldivian society that can be targetedthrough schools for youth that will be the future citizens of tomorrow. It is meant not only and notjust to produce students who get all As, but to draw up the achievement levels of all students andcreate students that are inspired, independent, creative and motivated citizens that will be a vitalcatalyst for social improvement of the entire city and nation as a whole. I see the current schoolholidays as a good opportunity for reform and improvement in the schools for the beginning of nextyear, and see an urgent need for this reform and improvement.In this I have drawn from my own experience in school, in Maldives as well as Malaysia. I studiedgrades 8 and 9 (2005-2006) in Majidiya School, Male’, and then studied grade 10 as well as my twoA’ level years (2007-2009) in International Islamic School, Malaysia. From my time in Majidiya I feel Ihave first-hand experience of many of the realities of secondary education in Male’. In Malaysia, Istudied in International Islamic School, a school that was very limited in funds and suffering fromadministrative problems, where the teachers attempted to instigate several programs and schemeswith support from and involvement of senior students (including creating a debate team and gettingit participating in national-level competitions, arranging trips for science students to attend Nobellaureate lectures, supporting A’ level students in creating a charity program for an orphanage, etc) totry and create a holistic education and quality school experience in spite of the existing limitations. Ifeel I have gained some valuable insight and experience on ways to create a motivating and holisticschool experience from my years there.While in Malaysia, I also met people from various countries and discussed the school systems,innovations and problems with the schools they went to in Bangladesh, Canada, Australia, etc. Inaddition to his, I have had discussions with many Male’ friends and acquaintances about what theyfeel are the problems with their secondary schools, and with them discussed many ideas on how tomake things better, improve the academic aspect, inspire students, etc, some of which I havepresented here. I hope to present in this report many ideas from a youth perspective, most of whichdraw both from my own experience in Malaysia as well as a few methods and ideas used in schoolsfrom Canada and Australia, combined with my discussions with some female secondary-schoolstudents and their explanations of the problems in their schools as well as their inputs on suitableideas to fix them. I believe that many of these concepts, which would be easy to implement andwould cost very little, could help enormously improve the school experience, increase results, makehappier and more responsible students, and plant the seed for lasting social improvement.To get details or to clarify anything, I can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com. Ifinterested in implementing these changes, I can provide the presentations etc to inform teachersand staff etc about the changes that need to be brought and how to bring these changes, etc, as wellas to provide any other assistance (such as getting movies and books for the library, designing aschedule for implementation, etc).
Summary of ContentsThis document will talk about the importance of implementing a more holistic approach to teachingin school, of placing responsibility on students, and having a free system of extra-curricular activitiesand encouraging such activities. It will also discuss new ideas on maintaining student discipline andraising student morale and inspiring students, as well as on teacher improvement and teachermotivation. It also talks about ways of improving the teaching and education itself, by having anefficient system of teaching that both increases student understanding and involvement whilepreparing them much better for exams.A short summary of the contents follows: - The importance of easy availability of good reading materials, with good books for the age group that can be mind-opening and relevant, with a sample list of such books attached at the end of the document - How a reading list program, as exists in many high schools in Europe and North America, can be an important tool to create well-read and knowledgeable students by necessarily exposing them to some amount of literature - Academic reform aimed at creating a more methodical, and thus more efficient, system of teaching, mainly by following a syllabus in teaching and encouraging student learning following a syllabus, as well as replacing the current system of copying down notes from a blackboard or being given photocopies of written notes by teachers, by a method where students write their own notes as well as make a mind-map and summary when done with each chapter, which can then be marked and corrected by teachers who can also correct and explain what went wrong to students who had made mistakes - The importance of contextualizing teaching in classrooms, both to create a direction for lessons as well as to create citizens who are well equipped to deal with the problems faced by our country - Discussing women’s empowerment and the importance and impact of women for social change and norms in a community - A collective discipline system to maintain good class discipline, by applying the management principles of incentives and motivation on classes - Allowing and encouraging students to take initiative in making and organizing extra-curricular activities, and supporting student activities - Motivating teachers to reach their maximum levels of performance and allowing them to use their creativity and methods in teaching
Library and Reading Material OverhaulsSummary of Steps: - Allow free access to the library - Create a smooth system for borrowing books and movie DVDs - Buy a set of good books from the list of books given for the school library - Add DVDs of several movies to the school library - Create a reading list and a reading program for grades 8-9Increase of materials in the libraryAttached in the appendix is a list of books which should be bought for school libraries.School libraries should also have a stock of movies which students can borrow. As well as watchingmore movies being eye-opening from a cultural point of view, the presence of movies in a libraryalso feels like the needs of students are being catered to, which increases motivation amongstudents by making them happier with the school.Libraries should be open at all times, with students able to go and borrow books and movies fromthe library at any day or time of a school day, with no limitations such as ‘being able to borrow abook only once a week’ etc.A reading list programThis program will be meant to create students who are quite well-read, while not being time-consuming enough to get in the way of studies. In this light, a program where students have toborrow and read one book from a given list of books every month and then talk about it in class,would fulfill both these requirements. This list of books can include classics as well as contemporaryfiction books, ranging from books such as Wuthering Heights and The Age of Innocence to bookssuch as Catcher in the Rye and The Kite Runner. One book per month for grades 8 & 9 (leaving outthe final year grade 10 in order to let students focus entirely on exams) would result in students whohave read atleast 20 good fiction books by the time they finish their O’ levels. The results of thisreading program should be shown in the report cards- this is to signify that the importance of theseactivities are enough for them to be put in the same transcript file as your grades.
Academic ReformSummary of Steps: - Contextualizing the teaching of subjects and writing up a plan of basic contexts for each subject - Closely following a syllabus and structured teaching - Aim of increasing understanding concepts not knowledge of facts/details - Simplified syllabuses as teaching material and learning guide - Syllabus-based notes taking and marking - Mind-maps and chapter summaries - Giving a yearly or term study plan in advance to students - Using blackboards as teaching and eliminating word-for-word note-copyingStructured Syllabus-Based TeachingThe teaching of subjects has to become more efficient and methodical. The basic step towards doingthis should be: - The preparation of a simplified, easy to follow syllabus that closely follows the actual syllabus of the given subject. Each point should be in the form of a clear objective, for example ‘being able to define the word diffusion’ or ‘being able to explain how group I metals react with acids with word and chemical equations’ - Giving students a syllabus copy - Explaining lessons following the syllabus (not necessarily in order of topics). No notes for copying down should be written down on the blackboard. The board should only be used as an explaining tool, for example to show how something works with a diagram, or to write down core points or examples. - Students being told to listen to the explanation and participate in a discussion, and then write down their own notes, strictly following the simplified syllabus. At the end of the week or a section or topic, the student can mark these notes, seeing if they are correct or wrong and if the syllabus has been entirely covered. Where part is missing or wrong, the teacher can correct it, and if any part seems to be problematic or show a lack of understanding, the teacher can individually explain the part to the student and require them to write their understanding of it down in the book correctly. This pulls along poorer students upwards by allowing extremely targeted improvement of weak points in their understanding, while allowing the stronger students who need less help to manage things themselves, and thus maximizes the efficiency of the use of teacher time and resources. The emphasis should be in understanding and writing by themselves- improper grammar, usage of Dhivehi words in self-explanations, etc are all allowed as long as it maximizes student understanding of the topic for when they read their own notes. - At the end of every section or chapter, require students to make: a mind-map or diagram of the entire chapter on their own of about one page in size; a brief summary of notes of the chapter that is about one or two pages long; a list of definitions, formulas, or chemical equations that need memorization. This presents all the basic data of any topic in an easily readable form for each student and the availability of this will dramatically increase exam performance. - At the start of every term or year, give a lesson plan of how the teacher plans to cover the subject over the course of the term or year to the students. This increases transparency and efficiency, while allowing students to be able to pre-prepare as well as structure their own study schedules or tuition schemes around this plan, set up a study plan for the year, etc.
Contextualizing EducationTeaching as stand-alone subjects is not conducive to a good and relevant education. The best waywould be to teach subjects in certain given contexts, mostly with a Maldivian spin on it. For example: - Science subjects should be taught in a Maldivian context. Classes should have discussions about applications or relevance to Maldives. For example, in discussions on environment and global warming or fertilizer use, the context of the effects of global warming or environmental pollution on the Maldives should be discussed. - Economics and commerce stream subjects should also be taught in a Maldivian context. There should be discussions of the Maldivian stock market, major Maldivian industries and companies (tourism and fishing, Villa, MTCC, Felivaru, etc), the unique challenges of business in the Maldives (such as having to import raw materials, difficulty in achieving economies of scale, or etc). - Dhivehi should be taught in a governmental context, with things that will be relevant to a student who will be living in the Maldives. For example, some occasional discussions of how the Maldivian government system is supposed to work, with teachers talking to students about the role of Parliament, the Supreme Court, etc. Transcripts or audio records of parliamentary debates can also be used as a tool for discussion in classes, as an example of Dhivehi in use in a formal and legal situation, for example.Contextualizing education has many benefits. These include: - Providing relevance to the topics being taught in school - Involving students into the discussion by talking about things happening around them - Having a common theme provides a direction to education that otherwise might threaten to become a collection of factsDiscussion of Women’s EmpowermentAminiya is an all-girls school for students who are at O’ level age, and thus a place where a vastamount of the capital’s female population grow up and discover the ideals and principles that willlast them through life. However, since schools themselves often neglect this aspect, these ideals andprinciples end up being picked up from peers and the environment.The Millennium Development Goal #3 is to promote gender equality and empowerment of womenin the Maldives. The MDG also recognize the importance and value of empowered women towardssocial progress and improvement. The completion of this goal faces many obstacles, mainly culturaland social barriers. Aminiya should take the opportunity to promote women’s empowerment amongthe young women of tomorrow, in what would seem to be a logical step for an all-girls high school.This should mainly be done by awareness and education of the following principles and ideas: - The ability for the independence and self-reliance of women - The importance of women who are prepared for a tertiary education and positions of importance in government and social capacities in a country - The impact that women have on setting social norms, in terms of how acceptance or rejection of certain trends or issues by women can make or break them, and the responsibility in the sense of how young women not outright rejecting and renouncing things such as smoking, drug abuse, violence, gang activities, sexism and inappropriate behavior is essentially condoning such activities; the principle of women not having to settle for a compromise but being able to tell their friends, boyfriends and relatives whether they are unhappy with something or find something unacceptable instead of compromise; and how the opinion of young women is thus a vital factor in shaping social norms
- The importance of strong young female role models throughout a community working for social change as the sure-fire way to create grassroots improvement of the situation of women, especially in terms of empowering youth and cutting down on abuse and crime against womenSuch topics should be discussed by teachers with students and regularly discussed in terms of theimportance of women in a society and the importance of empowered and educated womenthroughout a community.Summary of some of these points: - The angle of women’s empowerment - Stressing of the importance of educated, empowered and self-reliant women in a community - Social impact of women - The power of women in a community in setting the social norm
Disciplinary Reform and Student MotivationSummary of Steps: - Collective responsibility to classes - Collective incentives and punishments - Teacher powers - A clear and pre-defined disciplinary system, clear consequences of actions, consistency - Stress on criticizing deed, not attacking character - Emphasis on student trust and discouraging snitching - Allowing students to present a defense or explanation - Student freedom to organize activities with detailed proposals - Social events such as movie day and the importance of having these as the incentiveCollective DisciplineDiscipline has been a severe problem in schools over recent years. Giving too much free rein seemsto be only promoting poor discipline, while the attempts at controlling students with strict disciplinehave proved unsuccessful in maintaining discipline while further alienating students.The most suitable means of maintaining discipline seems to be collective discipline, where studentsare given partial responsibility to the discipline of their class. This involves basically telling a classthat they are supposed to follow a basic guideline (i.e. not talking loudly during class, being involvedin discussions, not making noise, keeping the class relatively clean, etc) and that if they are unable tofollow the guidelines given, the class as a whole is given the stated punishment, while presentingincentives to keep on following the guidelines. This deals with the impossibility of identifyingoffenders when trying to maintain discipline in a class, as when the whole class is talking or makingnoise it is difficult to single any people out, by giving a classroom of students the responsibility tomake sure all their individuals maintain discipline. Since the whole classroom will lose privileges ifthey cannot keep to the disciplinary guidelines, it puts enormous peer pressure on trouble-makingstudents to stop.The teacher will generally let the class maintain discipline among themselves if they manage to do sosuccessfully instead of enquiring about details of who makes trouble, etc. For classes that keep onbreaking the disciplinary guidelines, privileges will be taken away and eventually punishments will begiven.Students that commit severe individual misdemeanors, such as insulting teachers or picking fights,etc, or repeatedly keep on breaking the rules can be given individual punishments, the highest ofthese being suspension and expulsion. There should be a clear rule-book or set of rules making clearwhat the punishment for each crime is (for example, fighting first time would be a certainpunishment, second time a suspension, etc). These rules should always be applied consistently andwithout bias. When criticizing a student, there should never be a personal attack on character or theperson themselves (such as you’re so stupid, or you’re so fat, etc).Snitching on fellow students should be highly discouraged.Students should be allowed to present an explanation or defense. If it seems like a one-time crime orsomething that would not be repeated, some amount of leniency would make the student feel moremotivated not to do it again, whereas severe punishment for a first-time crime or something that
the teachers feel would be unlikely to be repeated will only breed resentment. When deciding toforgive, the teacher should get a written pledge from the student to not do the said crime again, andwarn them of the consequences of repeating the crime.Teachers or supervisors should talk to the students first instead of going straight to the parentswithout telling the student beforehand. Telling on students to parents immediately before evendiscussing the problem with the student only breeds distrust and resentment.IncentivesThe existence of incentives, which can be taken away for poorly-disciplined classes and allowed as aprivilege to classes that maintain disciplinary standards, etc, is important in the system describedabove. These incentives should also be motivating and inspiring events in their own right that add abit of fun to school life. Ideas for this include: - A ‘movie day’ every month or so where students of each grade get to watch a movie on a school-day, with students being able to vote which movie they would like to get to watch. The classes that passed the disciplinary standards can be given the privilege to attend, while classes that don’t will have to spend the day studying in classes as would be usual - A fun and informal social event, for example a barbeque or dinner some night or weekend at Aminiya School for students of the grade, where students from classes that have gained the privilege if going by meeting standards can go by invite. - And other such incentives that also are fun and interesting for students who get to be part of them.Student Responsibility in Planning and Carrying Out ActivitiesThe school should communicate to students that they have the freedom and that they areencouraged to plan and organize activities and events that they would like to have on their own, andthat the school would be willing to back them and help them carry out the event or activity that theyhad wanted to carry out.Students are encouraged to plan any activities they would like to, with some ideas ranging from atalent show to field trips, inter-school or intra-school competitions, class activities etc, and present adetailed plan to the school. If they present a plan of how they will go about organizing the particularactivity or event, show that they have enough member students to run such an event as well as thesupport of atleast one teacher who would act as an advisor, and in general can show the schoolenough for the school to feel confidence that the students can be able to organize the said event,the school should back and support the event. For example, if students organize an intra-schoolcompetition, the school should be willing to provide some classrooms on a weekend as well as someteacher volunteers for the event, announce the event in assembly, or any other such backing as isrequested by the students.Students are also encouraged to do the same for any clubs or societies. If any student wants to starta club or society, they can present a plan to the school, as well as have atleast a given number ofmembers and the support of a teacher. The school can then decide whether or not to approve theclub or society and comply with the requests of the given club or society, for example allowing themthe use of a certain class at a certain time for club meetings, etc.
The Importance of a Self-Improving School and Student ResponsibilitySummary of Steps: - Student suggestion box - Encouragement of student proposals for things they would like to seeThe Importance of a Self-Improving SchoolPublic schools in the Maldives often have a large number of students, and have limitations in money,teachers and facilities. In this context a school that is designed to be self-improving will very quicklyreach the optimum standard possible.What I mean by a self-improving school is that, instead of all policies being decided at the start of aschool year and running the school based on status quo and decisions decided beforehand, schoolscan have a system where everyone- students, teachers and staff- can recognize and point outproblems or improvements, which can then be quickly acted upon.In addition to creating a system where optimum use of resources available can happen, this also hasthe added advantage of involving students and motivating students, teachers and staff.It is a basic principle in businesses that you should allow employees to make some of the decisions,or atleast have the ability to bring up ideas or problems and have some responsibility for thebusiness, in order to increase productivity. This is from the logic that an employee who feels someamount of responsibility towards the company is more likely to do his work to the best of his abilitythan one who is just told what to do and has no real motive to try and work for the good of thecompany. This same principle could apply to students and teachers. In the current status quo, thereis very little inspiration for students to particularly apply themselves at either their own studies orfor the sake of the school. On a similar note, there is very little inspiration or motive for teachers togo out of their way to improve their teaching abilities, learn new and improved ways of teaching,bother to identify problems in class and address the problems in the current status quo, etc.With this in mind, I propose that students should be given the means to identify problems orpotential improvements in schools, and a way to take responsibility for this and to correct it. Thiscould be done through encouraging students to identify things they would like to correct in theschool, write out a solution, a budget for the solution, and an idea of how to raise said budget. It is inthe interests of students themselves to improve their schools, the places where they spend a lot oftheir time in, and if they feel like their ideas will actually bring about a change instead of just beingread and discarded without even being considered, they will begin to come up with these ideas andsuggestions.An example: if a student feels that the library needs more or better books, they can write out thatthey feel the library would do well with more books, write out a list of the books they would like tosee in the library, call a bookstore to find their prices and put down a rough cost of the idea, andpresent it to the school management, who can then consider whether to buy it or not. After seeingthis, the school would do one of the three options: agree to do the suggestion, or tell the studentthat if they are able to find the means to raise the money to do the suggestion, whether through abake fair or carnival or whatever, the suggestion will be fulfilled, or to tell the students that thesuggestion cannot be fulfilled and explain to them why. This could also happen to any other sort of
idea; for example, students who want to plant trees in the grounds, or buy sofas to make a leisureroom, or buy new sports equipment, or get new food for the canteen, etc.Along similar lines, after every school fair or carnival, a specific amount of the money raised (afterthe school has covered costs) can be allocated to classes, for the students to give ideas on how theywould like to see that certain allocation of money being spent, which the school can then use as aguide when spending the money raised.Students should also be able to give input on other aspects of school. For example, their time-tablesand schedules, school hours, etc. The more students feel like their views are being heard andrespected, the happier they are and more inspired they are to study properly.
Teacher inspiration and improving teacher performanceSummary of Steps: - Monthly teacher meetings with presentations on what was learnt - Teachers given freedom to propose own activities or programs to school - Subject teacher meetings on teaching methods and ideas for the following week’s lessons - Teacher input into school improvement and decisions asked at monthly teacher meetingTeachers for School ImprovementSuch a program (being able to suggest ideas and proposals for school improvement) for teachersshould also be in place in order to motivate them and make them feel more inspired and interestedin their teaching and more willing to improve themselves, by feeling part of the school andorganization instead of just feeling like people hired to speak in a classroom a certain part of eachday. Teachers, for example, should be given the opportunity to propose ideas to the schooladministration, along with a budget and details of what the idea could be used for. For example, ifthey want to have a field trip, or start a new club or society, organize an interclass or interschooltournament, or propose a program relevant to the academics being taught (for example, aneconomics or business teacher might want to let her senior students run a small stall or store atschool for a certain period of time in order to give them first-hand experience on running a smallbusiness), teachers should be given the opportunity to propose such ideas to the school. Being ableto have this freedom would inspire teachers to maximize themselves and their efforts, and givethem the opportunity to bring their ability and creativity into play by, to some degree, getting to usetheir own methods or ideas instead of just following the instructions of the school and nothing elseonly.In a system like this, feedback and communication between the various sectors- the student body,the staff and teachers, and the management and administration- of a school is very important. Inthis context, the communication between teachers and other academic staff (supervisors, principals)and the management and administration (who make policies, allocate budgets, etc) is of vitalimportance. It is the academic staff that has the training and knowledge to know what a schoolneeds, not its administrative staff, and thus there should be a system to ensure that major decisionsin administration must always be made after a discussion with the academic staff.Teacher-student communication is also important. The current system of schooling places anemphasis on teacher seniority and control and the subdued student, in a system similar to theschool system in many other South Asian countries like India and Bangladesh. This system does notwork, as is evident from the disaffected, undisciplined and uninspired student bodies of manyclasses at this level, and must be replaced gradually with a system that ensures more discussion andco-operation between the teachers and the students. Students need to feel that their views arebeing listened to, that they are respected as individuals, and that their needs are also considered.This is a long and complicated process. However, the first step towards this could be requestingteachers to move from a teaching system where they talk and write on the board, and students copydown notes and ask occasional questions, to a system that is more dynamic and more like adiscussion. During the course of a lesson, teachers should ask students their opinions, hearfeedback, and talk about the subject matter in a relatively informal manner that promotes fulldiscussion and full understanding of the subject matter. Students should also feel the freedom to askany questions they wish, as long as it is not frivolous or offensive, no matter how stupid thequestions may seem.
Teachers should also ask students for feedback on their teaching or explaining, and use this feedbackfor later. At the end of a class or at the end of the teaching of a certain subject, a teacher can discussthe lesson with his/her class and ask questions such as ‘which parts of my explanation did you feelweren’t clear enough’ or ‘do you think it would make more sense if I used an analogy?’ or ‘how doyou think I could improve my teaching of this lesson’. A school should not have static teachers-teachers should also be learning and improving over the course of their teaching lives, otherwisewhat is the point of experience? A system where teachers can hear feedback and improve alsocreates better teachers and thus a better education for the future, and optimizes the ability of theteacher by bringing out their maximum performance from them over time.To ensure teachers remain up to date and very knowledgeable in teaching skills and ways, there canalso be a monthly or fortnightly meeting of teachers where teachers have to give a presentation onteaching skills, methods, programs, techniques or ideas they have come up with, either frompersonal experience, previous education, the Internet or books, etc. They can also present asummary of ideas they have learnt from them asking students (as mentioned in previous paragraph)to the other teachers.Subject Teacher MeetingsEach group of subject teachers including the HOD should have a regular meeting to pool their ideasand discuss the lessons of the next week/fortnight. They should discuss good analogies to use, howto explain certain tricky topics, etc, from among the subject matter that is set to be taught by each ofthe teachers over the next week/fortnight. This allows newer or less experienced teachers to benefitfrom the expertise of more experienced teachers and HODs, while allowing all teachers to get moreideas and have a sounding board for trying out ideas and lessons and be able to improve theirteaching and explaining.
A Sample Selection of Books for the Library and Reading ListSelected Edgar Allan Poe TalesHans Christian Andersen Fairy TalesWuthering HeightsA Little PrincessThe Secret GardenThe Jungle BooksThe Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Tom SawyerFrankensteinThe Scarlet LetterA Tale of Two CitiesAnimal FarmTales of Troy and Greece (Myths)Alice in Wonderland & Through the LookingGlassConversations of PlatoTess of the DUrbervillesKing Solomons MinesGrimms Fairy TalesOliver TwistDavid CopperfieldJane EyrePride and PrejudiceGreat ExpectationsCatcher in the RyeOf Mice and MenLove in the Time of CholeraThe Age of InnocenceDraculaBlack BeautyThe Lovely BonesWhere the Streets Had a NameAnne of Green Gables & Anne of AvonleaThings Fall ApartRobin HoodThe Count of Monte CristoA Walk to RememberThe Call of the WildTo Kill a MockingbirdThe Master and MargaritaLife of PiLong Walk to FreedomThe Life of Mahatma GandhiThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the NighttimeA Christmas CarolThe Diary of Anne FrankWe Were the MulvaneysThe Color PurpleThe Picture of Dorian GrayThe Joy Luck Club
The Time MachineDr Jekyll and Mr HydeThe Great GatsbyThe Complete Sherlock Holmes Stories Part IThe Complete Sherlock Holmes Stories Part II1984The Kite RunnerA Thousand Splendid Suns