Friday, October 27, 2006

A JOURNEY

It was some years ago that we first began to catch on to these roads. It was a long journey to Kelantan via Serting and Muadzam Shah, spent a night in a friend’s house in Pasir Putih and headed home. Roads are fairly safe, not many traffic, but as we come to a town, then traffic get heavier. Most roads are flat. Only Bukit Putus offers different experience with its twisting hilly road in otherwise long, flat and manageable roads. Roads with little traffics are more enjoyable and safer. Roads free of junctions and billboards are better, roads where; orchards and swamps and jungle and field come almost to the shoulder, where kids wave to you as you ride by, where people look from their verandah to see who it is, where when you stop to ask directions or information the answer tend to be longer than you want, where people ask where you are from and how long have you been riding.

A stop at Muadzam Shah breaks the long journey. Refreshment. The development of this town radiates from the nucleus of its township, a kilometer inside. It was a very ambitious plan to create a township and develop this part of Pahang. Many years ago, DARA was entrusted to see this through. With its business centre, UNITEN, Politeknik, MRSM, Sekolah Menengah Agama Muadzam Shah, Mardi, Sekolah Menengah Teknik and a few SMIs, this place is really thriving, gearing itself to support a large agricultural land. One of the largest FELDA scheme, Felda Keratong was there. A river called Sungai Badak which is a tributary of the larger Sungai Rompin cut across the region. Unfamiliar names like Kedaik, Mentadang are a few examples of settlements along the river. A real haven for Udang Galah. With more land opened up for cultivation, and as a result a diminishing catchment’s area required for a good, healthy and thriving river, I cannot guess the fate of Udang Galah there. Somehow nature will react to changes and find its own equilibrium. It has always been like that in any part of the world.

Then I would like to mention a bit on being reactive and proactive as a one of the mechanism in management. Being proactive is seen as good because one scan things, plan and do things on a zero defect mission. Zero defects were a popular slogan during the Blue-print days of Tan Sri Wan Zahid. Being reactive is seen as weak, without vision loose alignment, and whatever is bad about performance. Management books say it as relentless effort to keep putting fire out. I would look at school management as being in war. One doesn’t kill people obviously but manage them. I sincerely think that the two, are just things required to go to battle. Having weapons to push through the opponents in one hand and having first aid box and medical team together on the other. One will be for the onslaught with clear mission and the other to tend to the bruises and injury.

A strong inclination towards reactive strategy will strengthen the organization because it deals with the real thing. Otherwise the mission can still be accomplished, victory in hand and at the same time with lots of injury, bruises, and hurt in body, souls and minds not attended. A strong organization I would say has the capacity to get on with their forward looking strategies and also has the ability to tend to unexpected happenings, to view and to do serious postmortem. A matured organization must have mastered the skill to adapt, to change and to cushion unintended falls. Students are sent to play on fields to have a taste of the reality; of winning and losing. Maturity develops that way.

Now we follow the main road from Serting to Seremban. It changes from rubber trees, oil palms, secondary forest, paddy fields, orchards, monolith graves, country sides, and little towns, abandon paddy fields, rivers, streams, wetlands and dry land. It changes from undeveloped to developing and to developed setting. Sometimes we wonder how the constant changes will affect the setting of the journey in years to come. Then we want to wonder if the changes are manifestation of necessity, greed, or just a battle between man and environment to determine who will outlast.

I remember many years ago, there were big boulders somewhere along the road. They were quite close to the road. PWD had broken it to pieces for safety reason I was told. But then, the existence of the boulders is in itself a safety signage “HATI-HATI DI JALANRAYA”. As one realize its existence, one would slow the car down, and possibly has time to view the surrounding, the plain and the paddy field. It’s more than beautiful. It is majestic. The PWD could have done a better job by taking boulders out completely. Few broken bits of the boulders were left, probably as a reminder of something that we had been missing out of their doing. That could have been intentional or a result of poor supervision or as admission of failure when man has war with nature. It is really a grim reminder which ever way one look at it. Man rule over things is one. Clouded thinking is another one.

The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature has not misled us into thinking we know something we don’t actually know. There is not a scientist, an engineer or principal or teacher who hasn’t suffered from that one. That’s the main reason why so much scientific, engineering or school information and manuals sound so dull and cautious. If we get careless or go romanticizing scientific information, giving it a flourish here and there, Nature will soon make a fool out of us. One must be extremely careful and rigidly logical when dealing with nature, one logical slip, and an entire scientific frame will tumble down. One false deduction, one can get hung up indefinitely.

A formal scientific problem will start with the statement of the problem. The main skill is stating absolutely no more than what we positively know. It is much better to state “Solve problem: Why doesn’t car work” which sounds dumb but correct than to say “Solve problem: what’s with the electrical system” when we don’t absolutely know the trouble is in the electrical system. One can state “Solve problem: What is wrong with the car”. And then state as the first entry of part two “hypothesis one: the trouble is in the electrical system”. One can think of as many hypothesis as one can, and then design. An ability to sieve through data, post relevant question, put up good hypothesis and goes on with the test and research and come up with answers. Sometimes things may get muddled up, like the recent case of Proton versus AP. Looking through reports and comments in mass media; some unfortunately miss the whole issue by miles.

I find it worthwhile mentioning about a school in Ipoh. The school has a tradition of parade competition between classes, right from form 1 to form 6. Every class will send a platoon of 30 to the competition. Something kids will talk about for weeks and they assemble and train everyday after school. They check their steps, their turns, the precision, and their dress. Form teachers play a role as well to keep enthusiasm going. That is beautiful for kids for their development, the unity and togetherness. A new principal came in and stop that part of school tradition. The school result drops from that year onwards until he was transferred and another principal come in and have it reinstated. His reasoning would probably be “Why allow kids to parade under the hot sun for weeks and they are not reading or studying”. He may miss the point there when pride and unity is a unifying thing surpassing others. The parade is a symbol of struggle to glory. Lot of good values and virtue lies hidden under mundane activities. Again applying bit of scientific approach to things and activities may allow us to be proper, sensible and not blinded by the more obvious.

The whole pace of life and personality of people who live along the road are truly different. They are not going anywhere. They are not too busy to be courteous. The here ness and now ness of things is something they know all about. It’s the others, the one who move to cities years ago and their lost offspring, who have all but forgotten it. We saw it and we didn’t see it. Or rather we are trained not to see it. Conned perhaps into thinking that the real action was metropolitan and all this was just boring hinterland. It was a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I am looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling.



Gentam. Nice name. It fits the setting. We pass through more fields and jungles and the day wears on. Teghachi is also an interesting place and I think the place is very neat. There is a police station there with its unmistakably blue colour.


We ride down out of Bukit Putus onto the plain of Paroi. On both side of the road we can see medium size Pokok Jati. Factories start to appear as we move on, more on the left towards Senawang, the right side is Kampong Baru Paroi. This picture-postcard scenery fits memory well. The meeting point of Bukit Putus and the Plain of Paroi have not change much, except for the dying durian trees at the first turn. The row of vegetable sheds on the left side looks as old as before.

There is two traffic lights before we reach the Stadium Paroi. The house at that junction with retaining walls has gone through face lift recently and stays as a land mark. Stadium Paroi too has gone higher as SUKMA fever swept through Negeri Sembilan last year.

Trip back from Kuala Pilah is not a multiple choice journey. There is only one route to be taken, unless one wishes to go round and come back from Rembau. As always the journey is routine, no complexity and fairly straight forward.

Looking after a school is like a journey too. One travels and arrives. To avoid depression out of resting period of arrival, then one may want to consider multiple journeys, different destination, and different mode of transport, different passengers and setting different pace.

Taking into consideration administration, curriculum, students’ affairs, co-curricular and others, then one will see the multiple journeys or rather multiple task at hand. It’s not a trip at a time.

We come to the junction separating Gedung Lalang 50 and Gedong Lalang 120, Paroi and Ampangan. The junction will be very busy early in the morning letting people from Paroi and Sikamat through to work, and kids to schools. In that proximity alone, there are 5 schools; STTJ, SMKSA, SMTA, SKA and King George Primary. I think something like 5,500 kids see that junction every morning. Sekolah Kebangsaan Ampangan is one of the oldest schools in Seremban. A glimpse of the old building can still be seen. The old block was occupied by PSPN once.. The junction has always been a bottleneck. It is also a trap, where once you get in it, you will be swallowed by madness of traffic and can’t get out.

I would like to expand the categories of traps. Those that block affective understanding, called value traps; those that block cognitive understanding, called truth traps and those that block psychomotor behavior, called muscle traps. The value traps are by far the largest and the most dangerous group.

Of the value traps, the most widespread and pernicious is value rigidity. This is an inability to revalue what one sees because of commitment to previous values. In school management you rediscover what you do as you go. Rigid values make this impossible.

The typical situation is that the school doesn’t perform to expectation. The facts are there but you don’t see them. You are looking right at them, but they don’t yet have enough value. This is what Yusof was talking about. Quality, value, creates the subjects and objects of the world. The facts do not exist until value has created them. If your values are rigid you can’t really learn new facts. This often shows up in premature diagnosis, when you are sure you don’t know what the trouble is, and then when it isn’t, you are stuck. Then you have got to find new clues, but before you can find them you have got to clear your head of old opinions. If you are plagued with value rigidity you can fail to see the real answer even when it’s staring you right in the face because you can’t see the new answers importance. The case of Ipoh’s school, boulders beside the road and APs highlight this problem.

The birth of a new fact is always a wonderful thing to experience. It is dualistically called a discovery because of the presumption that it has an experience independent of anyone’s awareness of it. When it comes along, it always has, at first, a low value. Then depending on the value looseness of the observer and the potential quality of the fact, its value increases, either slowly or rapidly, or the value wanes and the fact disappear.

The overwhelming majority of facts, the sights and sounds that are around us every second and the relationships among them and everything in our memory – these have no value. If they were all present at once our consciousness would be so jammed with meaningless data we couldn’t think or act. So we preselect on the basis of value, or quality.

What you have to do, if you get caught in this gumption trap of value rigidity, is slow down – you have to slow down anyway whether you want to or not – but slow down deliberately and go over ground that you have been over before to see if things you thought were important were really important. Watch it the way you watch a line when fishing and before long, as sure as you live, you will get a nibble, a little fact asking in a timid, humble way if you are interested in it. That’s the way the world keeps on happening. Just be interested in it.

There is a road separating SMK Seri Ampangan and SMT Ampangan. As we take the turn and head on towards PPD Seremban, we are able to see four schools simultaneously, and although they look quite similar, they exhibit individual character. At times we wonder why by looking at the school we can guess the actual soul and spirit lying underneath and within. The journey ends when En Sulong, a colorful figure and the guardian of the soul of STTJ greets us and opens the gate. The automatic gate opens slowly letting the car in, the stainless steel arch reflects the afternoon light on to the grey Waja and the five of us return after a long journey. It is through the same gate too, that Dato Sudin, Dato Khusaini, Dato Rohani, Dato Rafie and Dato Ahamad had come and visited the school. So are many officers, principals, headmasters, teachers, students, parents and others.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A school fondly known as STTJ

(Nukilan ini dipapar dalam buletin pendidikan negeri sembilan tahun 2005, nukilan azizi bin lin)

I remembered reading about an archeological excavation in the Middle East, learning about the archeologist’s feeling when he opened the forgotten tombs for the first time in thousands of years. Now I feel like an archeologist myself. I am now walking down the steps towards the main door far below. The wall is marked STTJ in an ancient script; not pictorial script, no description and no footnote. I just like to meander through the passages with no intention of reaching the exit door but rather to move round, touching the walls, feeling the dampness of the floor and breathing in the sweet familiar air.

1. The beginning

It was quite early in the morning in February 1999 when boxes were loaded into the lorry. Kamaruzzaman, Zolkarnain, Mohamad, Lin Hussin and others were there, helping and sweating. The boss joined in a short while after and he sat and chatted intermittently setting chorus of laughters to motivate others as it were. I was on the move again, this time to Seremban, leaving Politeknik Shah Alam and its glitters behind.

In Seremban, it’s like coming home. The terrain was very familiar. I came to a school set on a firm foundation. Within the vicinity were SMT Ampangan, SMK Seri Ampangan, SK Ampangan and PPD Seremban. I was told that the schools and the PPD share the same land title.

There was certain aloofness about the school. Years of enthusiasm, effort, planning, and toil that come through from En Rashid, En Abu Samah, Mr. PP Nair, En Mazlan and En Sulong must have shaped it. A civil engineer would say, the foundation was indeed strengthened with some excellent underpinning work! But the core values that I treasured a lot had always been; orderliness, good execution of tasks, and timeliness. These values seemed to be there. Flashes of experience gathered over the years in SMT Muadzam Shah during the 90’s started to get in somehow, blended. The one in Muadzam Shah and the one in Seremban look very much similar, yet they differ in many ways.

2. The physical

The school upgrading work was about to end at that time. The project involved the construction of 2 hostel blocks, a classroom block, an administrative block, a multipurpose hall and a number of staff quarters. I had the opportunity to attend two site meetings during the defect liability period. A memorable one was the one held in HM’s room when I was just posted there for about a week. The PWD state director cautioned the meeting about a letter of complaint received by BPR concerning the upgrading project. He put it bluntly that PWD suspected that it’s SMT Tuanku Jaafar. My mind worked hard getting ready for a combat episode. Lines like “Why was PWD so worried if things were in order” was in my mind. However being new, I just looked at him and said nothing. I was not too sure if in that split second the decision to say nothing was a better one. By the way, the project had problems. The workmanship was appalling.

A year after the defect liability period, when the PWD was about to close the final account, a district engineer came over and authorized remedial work such as tiling the engineering drawing’s room, sealing and put new tiles to the hostel’s toilet. Leaking was very serious there. I had to say something about the engineer. There was lot of sincerity and honesty in him, and one could almost sense it immediately the moment we interacted with him. But then sadly he died few months later. As they say, good people die young.

The old garden formed the focal point of the school. It witnessed the development of the school for the past 30 years. The tall pine trees were the pinnacles and had given shade and breathed life to many. Everyone had to pass through them on their way to the canteen. I had to express my gratitude to the earlier staff, principals and students for what they had left behind. We enjoyed the benefits, the shade, the view and the character. I always like to think that landscape had to be long term. Whatever had been planted must be maintained. By doing so we are actually training the young minds to be respectful and appreciative of effort and contribution of others, hoping in the end they have some respect for the older generation. Anyway shrubs and potted plants will allow room for creativity and keeping up with trends and can be replaced every 5 years. But the conceptual design of landscape should remain intact

The plot had an area of 35 acres, with lot of buildings and it comes with a nice piece of playing field. I can bet, the field is easily the best in town, green and soft .The sight of houses on the other side of the road adds to the character. Sungai Landak forms the boundary at the back. The mosque at the top of the hill is a great sight.

3. The people

I had the opportunity of having 4 senior assistants during my tenure. Puan June was the first one, quick and cheerful lady, who was extremely good at PR. The second was Puan Sham. She was a nice lady, had deep interest in landscapes and exhibited character of a good mother or sister to everyone. The third was Haji Rosli, a very polite man with a soft voice. That was his strongest trait in dealing with people. He always had his way with teachers and students. The fourth was Haji Jumali, a real gentleman. He really was a rarity; a doctorate who has good networking. They were strong in their own ways, dependable and had rendered their time and energy to push the school to greater heights. I did learn a lot while having 4 deputies during the 6 years there.

In 1999, the number of staff was 55 and it swelled to 71 by the year 2005. The number of supporting staff maintained at 20 over the years and the number of students fluctuated around 800.


4. The management system

I guess being a principal; my duty was to lead the way and motivate those under my care. There should also be target to achieve. PDCA concept must be applied to every possible activity and enormous amount of thrust should be given to people.

The management meeting was regular, always on Tuesday 9.00 am. Senior assistants, head of departments, counselor and chief clerk were the members. The meetings began with me the chairman doing briefing. The briefing was arranged in a simple priority list; gist of earlier meetings at JPT, JPN and PPD level, circulars and my own observations. Next would be a working paper to be presented. Then each member would report on the tasks done, issues and matters for consideration and approval. I usually wrapped up with some forward planning according to the school calendar and share my monthly schedule with them. My aim had always been to see things done, administer excellence and using teamwork as the vehicle to continuously strive forward. Minutes would be taken on a rotation basis in the management team, excluding the senior assistant and the chief clerk. The meetings covered areas like delivery system, management of resources; provision of resources, human resources, and infrastructure and work environment. There was a regular check on management commitment, customer focus, quality policy, planning, responsibility, authority and communication.

The school ensured that appropriate communication processes were allowed within the organization and that communication did take place regarding the effectiveness of the school management. Everyone was called up for a short 20 minute briefing every Wednesday from 11 to 11.20am. Just to keep up with latest updates and to brief on urgent matters. There would be other sessions; meetings, discussions covering general areas such as curriculum, students affairs and co-curricular activities. Some sessions would be event based such as sports day and prize giving day.

Prize Giving Day which was held once every two years was an important event. Usually it was held the week before the King’s Birthday. Minds and efforts were put to test for three months. As in any other task or event, there was a clear cycle of toil and rejoice. The activity started with a courtesy call to the palace in January. The purpose was to seek the permission of the Yang DiPertuan Besar on the date of the event. The second call would be shortly before the big day. I always made it a point to bring the senior assistant and the secretariat along. The first call in 2000 was quite tense and I really tried hard not to forget the language of the palace, like “Tuanku, patik, menjunjung kasih, etc”

When the day arrived, students were very much excited; cadet’s parade under the hot morning sun, happy and proud parents joined in the excitement, students would be performing on the stage and the most important people are the recipients of awards. I thought, what’s memorable to most would be the tense feeling and the worries everyone had to endure before and during the event.

An organization requires event like this, to keep the adrenalin working, as well as enthusiasm and commitment going. Otherwise the place is dead; everyone would be doing their own things, in their own paces, in their own ways, and in their own directions. Regular stopover and doses of activities would put things in order, giving a sense of direction, the objectives and mood enhanced as a whole.


5. Training the young minds

Dato Seri Dr Abdul Shukor had sent across simple messages like ‘back to basic’ and giving the school a character. Schools are supposed to translate that battle cry into meaningful actions with programs and activities as an integral part of the organization. When Dato Ahamad Sipon was appointed as the KPPM, then an interesting war cry was flogged. No Rust! That was a very simple message but a very tough one to implement. It’s like having a big flood light in the middle of the school and everything had to be accounted for, people, buildings, structures and its content. That requires strong teamwork, and stretches the organization to its elastic limit from top to bottom and left to right.Everything in the school will be scrutinized. Walking down the memory lane, I could not help noticing the impact. A truly simple war cry indeed but with a massive impact!!

School is almost like a worship place. Lots of rituals, dos and donts. I like to admit that the impact is tremendous on the young minds. Schools are training grounds. I like to go through the list casually without hurry : Teachers, students, back to basic, 40 minutes periods, homework, stand up to answer, duty roster, fire drill, monthly test, the cry, the punishment, rewards, the laughters, the jokes, forget, remember, pass, fail, clean, dirty, untidy, angry, exercises, notes, teachers day – worksheets , trial exam, school bags, report cards, register of attendance, log, school fees, annual dinner, school uniforms - waktu rehat –spot checks - relief teacher – trainees – prefects – headboy - counselor, discipline teacher, rattan stroke, blackboard, duster, chalk, queue up, negaraku, school song, toilets, keep off the grass, Cycle of Learning- classrooms-observations – cleanliness – Monday morning assembly – report card day - PIBG – hostel life – rewards/punishment – mentoring – prefects – sports – teachers – staff – cleaners – guards – canteen staff – dining hall caterer. Mosque nearby – Ampangan – Paroi – Terminal – Pasar Malam Ampangan – Tops - Giant- Seremban Town - Undang Sungei Ujung – Local ADUN – the networkings.

It’s like a very big purple parcel wrapped up with yellow and red ribbons given to to each student by the King during the July Speech and Prize Giving Day. The most precious gift ever ……………. and it’s called the future!


6. Measurement, Analysis and Improvement

The school is an interesting bureaucratic place. People are so used to forms, procedures and the dos and don’ts. It is a very orderly place. Teachers have a niche to come up with good working paper at a very short notice. That culture would not have been there without years of drilling. I am very proud to be part of an excellent organization. May God always bless Sekolah Teknik Tuanku Jaafar and whoever that comes, stays and moves on.

New staff, time and time again, said the school is moving fast. Jie for one mentioned that she had time to read novels during office hours at her former school. Another lady said that the first three months was very tough, she felt like fainting due to the tough and tight work schedule. Once she managed to cope with the pace then everything was plain sailing.

I enjoyed doing my rounds in the school. Sometimes I would take the senior assistant, teachers or technicians along. Principals have to be visible and manage while walking around. By doing the rounds, I guessed I was projecting the image of a leader on the ground, wanting to know and getting involved. Sometimes I would jot down a few things to be raised up later. The school was generally clean. During examination time, however it was not that good. Students were too engrossed with revision to remember their duty roster. I had seen it through the years.

There are lots of measurement, analysis and monitoring on the school and its performances such as Examination Postmortem, student attendance check, cleanliness report, security feedback, canteen and dining hall performance report, , booking for buses, halls and fields, school auditing, discipline reporting, inspectorate reports , District Education Office report, sport performance and their analysis. It’s an important element of management cycle, providing solid analysis for strategies and continuous improvement.


7. The Awards

Quality is often used to signify the standard of a product or service – people talk about Mercedes quality and top quality. In some engineering companies the word may be used to indicate that a piece of metal conforms to certain physical dimension characteristics often set down in the form of a particularly tight specification. In a hospital it may be used to indicate some sort of professionalism. If we are to define quality in a way that is useful in its management, then we may recognize the need to include in the assessment of quality the true requirement of the customer – the needs and expectations. The quality of a school is embodied in the Quality Manual called “Standard Kualiti Pendidikan Malaysia”. It is a very comprehensive manual outlining the parameters, the indicators and the analysis of service provided.

Implementing the quality manuals is like putting the school through acid test. STTJ has gone through years of acid test. The results were reflected in the following awards:

1997 Minister of Education Quality Award first prize for management of finance.
1998 Minister of Education Quality Award first prize for management of finance.
1999 -
2000 Minister of Education Quality Award 3rd prize for school management
2001 Minister of Education Quality Award 2nd prize for school management
2002 -
2003 Minister of Education Quality Award first prize for school management
3 K National Award champion
2004 Dato Dr Ahamad bin Sipon Trophy for excellent school management.
2005 -


Dato Dr Ahamad bin Sipon Trophy in 2004 completed the array of recognitions given to STTJians for their performance, enthusiasm, care and strong teamwork shown year after year. A school with a history of its own images came to my mind whenever I think of Sekolah Teknik Tuanku Jaafar, my most adorable school. The school is inspired by intimacy and touched by tranquility.



8. The final part

The news broke that Dato Dr Ahamad bin Sipon, the KPPM, had signed some eleven transfer letters and my name was in one of them. I was made to ride again, but this time on a modified version of DG1 across the South China Sea for more adventure in May 2005. I brought along the collection of six memorable vintage years. The Land of Adat Pepatih was really something and had been worthwhile.

Many trails through school management have been made and forgotten and although the answers brought back from these trails are universal in nature, school performances have varied in the trail chosen. We have many answers to the same question, all of which can be considered true within their own context. Even then, old trails are constantly closed and new ones opened up. School management is quite an adventure.

Everyone in Batangan, Tariyong, Telipok, Karambunai, Inanam, Menggatal and Sepangar Bay would have a list somewhere of valuable things to remember that can be kept in some safe place for future reference and inspiration. Details. And now, while the others are still snoring away wasting this beautiful morning sunlight………well……to sort of fill the time……the sun peeps over Mount Kinabalu with deep serenity. The Land Below the Wind is cool and the terrain is rough and rugged. That sounds like a very adventurous journey waiting.





Kota Kinabalu
7th of August 2005