Wednesday, April 14

Giving school dropouts a second chance


An aerial view of the school campus now.The campus of CHMS No.4 before 2006. — Photos courtesy of CHMS No.4

CHUNG Hua Middle School (CHMS) No.4 threw a vital lifeline to students who had to drop out of school back in the 60s.

It was set up in 1960 to absorb early school leavers, especially those who had to stop schooling due to compelling circumstances.

CHMS No.4, situated at Jalan Haji Taha, Kuching, ran classes for advanced English, book-keeping and typing between 1960 and 1970. A Junior One class was introduced after 1970. The school produced its first batch of Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) holders in 1975.

Johnny Kon

CHMS No. 4 carried on without a senior section until 1988. To this day, the senior section is without a science stream.

The principal Johnny Kon told thesundaypost in the 60s, the school took in some 70 per cent of dropouts.

“In those days, only 30 per cent of students could further their studies. So CHMS No.4 was set up to cater for the 70 per cent. The school had only 67 students in the first year and the numbers peaked around 600 between 1965 and 1973,” he said.

According to him, the school administrative block was built in 1930. It used to belong to a Malay community leader, Datuk Patinggi Abang Abdillah and his grandchild later sold the building to the Sarawak Chinese Trustee Board. The Chinese Consulate rented the building as its diplomatic office from 1948 to 1949.

The historic building is still standing while the wooden block adjacent to it, serving as classrooms, had been demolished in 2006 to pave the way for a school rebuilding project.

Kon said CHMS No.4 had only 110 students when he took over as principal in 2010.

He admitted he was under a lot of pressure to not only maintain but also increase the numbers. After years of promoting the school, he managed to raise the figure to 403 this year and projected an intake of 430 for next year.

Before he became principal, the school had fewer than 200 students and the management board mooted the possibility of relocation.

CHMS No.4’s present location at Jalan Haji Taha, Kuching.

“I suspect it was due to the lack of promotion in the community that the number of students kept dropping. Another factor could be the proposed relocation. Parents were naturally concerned about what would happen to their children’s studies if the school were relocated,” he said.

Even now, he added, some parents were still worried about whether the school would be relocated.

While he has no say over the matter, he assures parents a move will take time and not happen overnight.


Limited facilities

CHMS No.4 is a small school with limited facilities. A multi-purpose hall was built only in 2016.

Kon said he did ask the management board for a school hall a year or two after he became principal. Instead of acceding to his request, the board challenged him to increase the students’ population to over 200 to earn the school a hall.

The campus of CHMS No.4 before 2006. — Photos courtesy
of CHMS No.4

In 2014, the school took in 237 students and the total has never dropped below 200 since.

“So in 2016, we got our multi-purpose hall which also serves as basketball and badminton courts. If students are playing basketball, then badminton has to wait and vice versa,” he added.

Despite being a small school, CHMS No.4 was rated a five-star private school by the Ministry of Education in 2015. It was two-star in 2009 and three-star in 2012.

Among the school’s three-year assessment criteria are improvement in academic performance,  increase in the number of students, discipline of students and commitment of teachers.


Second chance

Kon said CHMS No.4 emphasised the appreciation of education by inspiring students to do better through encouragement and love.

CHMS No.4 was rated a five-star private school by the Ministry of Education in 2015.

“We don’t resort to punishment. It doesn’t matter if our students don’t do well academically. We will not give up on them. CHMS No.4 is the perfect platform for students to have a second chance. We want our students to feel they belong and can go far in what they are good at.”

He said some of the teachers had been playing a pivotal role in nurturing the students’ talents by encouraging them to work hard and excel in what they decided to take up — be it arts or sports. He pointed out that students were encouraged to discard bad or old habits and pick up new skills.

“What students can look forward to at CHMS No.4 is a rebirth. We focus on rebuilding and embrace students who have no place to turn to. We give our students a chance to grow.”

Kon said the school offered a calming learning environment where students were not pressured to perform and were considered as part of the school family.

“At least three meet-the-parents sessions are held every year to keep parents in the loop of their children’s education. The teachers go through the report cards with parents, offering advice and encouragement. Before the year-end break, the students will stage a one-hour presentation for parents.”

He also mentioned that with smaller classes, teachers could focus more on their students’ performances.

The school’s overall passing rate was 70 per cent in 2017 and it placed sixth in the state-level Chinese Independent Secondary Schools Trilingual Story-telling Competition that year but showed marked improvements in the next two years by taking the second runners-up and first runners-up spots in 2018 and 2019 respectively, he noted with pride.

According to him, the school’s vision is to give students an avenue to fulfill their dreams.

“In terms of academic performance, we cannot compete against schools like CHMS No.1 but to make up for that, we organise a lot of activities, including field trips outside Sarawak to prep our students for future challenges.”


Familiarisation trip

Last year, the Hsiuping University of Science and Technology from Taichung City, Taiwan, invited the school for a familiarisation trip. The participants only had to pay for the airfares while other expenses were borne by the Taiwanese university.

A one-hour presentation staged by the students for their parents.

Kon said his students took part in voluntary work in some rural schools in Taichung City, Taiwan, during that trip.

CHMS No.4, CHMS No.1 and CHMS No.3 are sister schools of Taichung Municipal Sin-She Senior High School in Taiwan.

Students from Taichung Municipal Sin-She Senior High School have been visiting CHMS here in July while CHMS students have been making annual reciprocal visits to their counterparts in Taiwan in December since 2015.

Taiwanese high school students have had the chance to explore the cultures of the Dayak community, especially the blowpipes, and taste the local delicacies.

Kon said CHMS No.4 also hosted the first high school global forum last year, involving students from nine provinces in China, including Guangdong, Guangxi, Shandong, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Yunnan and Jiangsu.

He said the students exchanged views on how to prepare for future challenges arising from the Belt and Road Initiative.

“Besides these international events, we also organised local field trips, including a visit to an orchard, managed by the parents of one of the students.”

The tea ceremony on Teacher’s Day at CHMS No. 4.

Tea ceremony

CHMS No.4 celebrates Teacher’s Day in June or July where students perform the tea ceremony in appreciation of their teachers.

The principal and teachers will be seated in a row, facing their students serving a cup of tea each to them to express their gratitude.

Kon said the tea ceremony served to remind the students not to take things for granted and to appreciate their teachers’ efforts.

“Our Teacher’s Day event is organised by the students themselves — no teachers are involved. The students will pick up some organisational skills along the way.”

A meet-the-parents session.

CHMS No.4 is one of the 14 Chinese independent secondary schools in Sarawak. Last year, some 70 per cent of students in the school who completed their UEC, chose to pursue tertiary education.

Before this, Kon said most of the students decided to look for jobs on obtaining UEC.

Since 2014, he added, CHMS No.4 had been collaborating with some higher learning institutions to organise a higher education fair annually at the school.

“We also have been holding our Sports Day for five years now. We see it as a time for students and teachers to have some fun and build closer rapport.”

On appreciation education, Kon said the students were taught to acknowledge and respect differences and uphold the motto that failure is the mother of success.

He noted that while they could accept that students may not excel academically, they would not stop encouraging them to continue learning and growing.

Thanks to the annual grant from the Sarawak government, CHMS No.4’s financial burden had been lightened considerably, he said, adding that this would give the school a welcome break if the total students’ intake were to hit 500.

He pointed out that relocation would augur well for CHMS No.4 in terms of long-term development because right now, they were limited to two acres with no room for expansion.

“Even if the management board decides to relocate us, parents should not over worry because such a move will normally take years to materialise,” he assured.