The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme has penetrated thousands of classrooms in Malaysia since it was launched in 1997, by our then Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. This year, the programme celebrates 20 years as a learning resource. Much like a “living textbook”, The Star and its 12-page NiE pullout bring authentic life experiences into the classroom. The colourful pullout, published on Wednesdays, is written by a team of experienced English language teachers. The activities are packed with ready-made hands-on activities for the classroom. The annual NiE contest for students engages them in activities that go beyond textbook learning like storyboarding, magazine writing and photojournalism. The pullout adheres to syllabus-based topics and is endorsed by the Education Ministry. The contests are held in collaboration with the Education Ministry.
TEACHERS Day is just around the corner. As educators, we secretly harbour these thoughts with trepidation: “Am I going to be showered with cards and flowers once again?”
“Well, why not?” comes that inner voice. “My students don’t loathe me.”
You are a star teacher after all! Yes, a Star-NiE teacher who has gone the extra mile to make classroom learning fun with the newspaper.
Practitioners of NiE will tell you the benefits of using the newspaper in the classroom – ranging from language arts to science – have been tremendous. But don’t take our word for it. We gathered teachers, past and present who have used the power of NiE to engage children of all ages in active learning.
Storytelling in language learning
Lucky are students who have teachers with an affinity for cracking jokes. Ooi Ean Nee, 24, had one such teacher when she was a fourth former studying at SMK Haji Zainul Abidin, Penang.
She remembers her English teacher Foo Chuat Meng, whose class lessons were always filled with humour. “His teaching style was very different. He used the newspaper and storytelling in class. It made me more interested in English and made the class understand topics better.
“The NiE activities in class were very enjoyable as we got to move around and talk to friends. I think this way of learning is better than just learning theories.”
Currently pursuing a part-time degree in Business Management, Ooi tutors schoolchildren in Bahasa Malaysia and English.
“I learnt a lot when he was my teacher. The children that I am tutoring have never heard of NiE. I try to take after his teaching style so that students have more fun learning.”
A proponent of the NiE programme, Foo, 58, said,“Back at SMK Haji Zainul Abidin, they used to subscribe to The Star so there was an ample supply of the newspaper to use as a teaching resource. I was teaching there for 24 years.
“I attended a workshop by Lucille Dass years ago and I found it very interesting. The newspaper creates excitement in class. It is a good way to get students to be more interested in the language.”
Throughout his 37 years of teaching experience, Foo who was recently transferred to SMK Jelutong, Penang, said that students actually paid more attention when they were having fun.
“I feel that much of the teaching revolves around completing the syllabus. It can get very dry and monotonous at times. NiE activities inject fun into lessons. Students are more relaxed and they learn at the same time. I always tell my students: if you want to improve in English, read the newspaper!”
Foo does not see his day job as teaching but views it as knowledge sharing with his students.
“Learning must be fun! If it isn’t, I’m just forcing them. I don’t want my lessons to be just another English class. The NiE helps me make lessons more interesting.”
Informative and interesting
It was the stress-free lessons by Form Six Malaysian University English Test (MUET) teacher Ayumalasari Ahmad that had piqued Nur Hanis Mohd Nizam’s interest in the English language.
“She made the assignments look simple, but they were surprisingly full of information.”
Nur Hanis, who is currently a second year student at Universiti Utara Malaysia, described Ayumalasari as a dedicated teacher.
“She had a great teaching style. I could understand her instructions very clearly. I simply loved the way she delivered her lectures and valued our opinions in class.” Nur Hanis said that the newspaper was the best material she had used so far to improve her command of English. “The information in newspapers is precise, so it is easy to understand.”
Ayumalasari, 43, who teaches at SMK Tengku Temenggong Ahmad, Johor, has been using NiE for a very long time.
“My students are fully engrossed when they have an NiE activity. The newspaper brings a wealth of information to the classroom as it has articles on sports, social issues and even entertainment.
“The newspaper is a convenient teaching resource. I don’t have to search for materials as the news is related to many topics in the textbook. While you might find something interesting from the Internet, you would still have to print it out. As for the newspaper, I can just flip through the pages and cut out what I want.”
Ayumalasari’s objective is to impart knowledge. “It can be used to change the world. That is why you should acquire as much knowledge as you can from many sources. Learning is a lifelong process, not something you do just to pass exams,” she added.
Reading for rewards
In 1998, class Form Two Ungu from SMK Convent Lebuh Light, Penang, participated in a Star-NiE scrapbook competition dubbed Read 4 Rewards. Their English teacher Amy Wong had come to know about the contest and suggested it to the class. Being an active and enthusiastic bunch, the students jumped at the chance. They created a scrapbook and submitted it to The Star.
As it turned out, their class was one out of five in the country to have clinched a scrumptious reward of a pizza party worth RM1,000.
“We put in a lot of effort in the scrapbook, but we didn’t expect to win!” recalled Phuah Wen Li, 33, a former student of Form Two Ungu.
“I remember Puan Amy telling us after she returned from the prize presentation that our scrapbook was the thickest and everyone there was waiting to see our book.”
Almost two decades later, class Form Two Ungu students of 1998 still talk fondly of her. Many still keep in contact with their beloved teacher Wong, who is now a teacher trainer for Physical Education at the Institut Pendidikan Guru Kampus Pulau Pinang.
Phuah said that Wong, who taught her class English and Physical Education back then, was the reason her English improved.
“Students like me who were weaker in English understood her lessons well and improved tremendously in the subject.
“Sometimes she would play games with us so that we can better understand what she was trying to teach. I became more confident since then.”
Lim Bee Ling, 32, also an ex-student, said that Wong was passionate about teaching.
“To be honest, English wasn’t my favourite subject back then. But NiE made it enjoyable because there was teamwork and it created a bond between us classmates.”
Agreeing, another ex-student Denise Ooi, 33, who now lives in Australia said: “The NiE project created camaraderie between us classmates. The subsequent win was just an added bonus!”
“Even now, working at corporate level, it is communication that trumps all other skills. I cannot imagine where I would be had I not crossed paths with Puan Amy!”
Wong said that the newspaper is the best resource if one wants to improve their English. “I would always encourage my students to read the newspaper because the articles are written in a way that is easy to understand.
“Also, reading the newspaper helps readers raise their language proficiency and builds their vocabulary. This contributes to better grades.
“The newspaper is also an affordable resource. Even with one copy then, I could use it for many lessons. Most of all, students enjoyed the newspaper activities. I encouraged them to take part in NiE competitions. We won and the class had a pizza party and invited all their teachers.”
Thinking ahead and out of the box
HAVING been a teacher for 31 years, Kalaverny Rasiah, 67, has definitely encountered a myriad of student personalities.
One such memorable student is The Star’s assistant news editor Shaila Koshy, who once gifted Rasiah some 10 to 15 mosquitoes wrapped in a sheet of paper. Rasiah had taught Koshy English Literature when she was a sixth former at ACS (Anglo-Chinese School) Ipoh.
“She gave us a lot of homework!” Koshy said, as she recalled killing those mosquitoes while staying up late to complete homework given by Rasiah.
“Both my parents were teachers, so I appreciate good teachers. She was strict but she didn’t bully us. And she respected students’ creativity,” she added.
Even before the inception of NiE, Rasiah proved to be ahead of her time. Koshy said: “I think she is the perfect teacher for NiE! Even back then, she was using different methods to teach. I remember her using song lyrics and debates as part of her lessons. Miss Rasiah was definitely the type of teacher who did think out of the box and was ready for something like NiE.”
Always wary of what Koshy was up to, Rasiah was pleasantly surprised when Koshy presented her a handmade Teachers Day card. Rasiah still keeps the card to this day. The message on the back included a light-hearted poem, signed “from the oppressed to the oppressor”.
Rasiah said that she started drawing ideas from the newspapers when she was posted to SMK Sultan Abdul Aziz in Kuala Selangor in the 1980s.
“It was a cultural shock moving from an urban school SMK ACS, Ipoh, to a rural environment. I was desperate to help improve the barely existent English levels of my students.”
“The Malaysian English Language Teaching Association workshops helped me and I learnt a lot from the late Dr Hyacinth Gaudart who encouraged us to be “hands-on teachers”.”
She started using the NiE pullouts when she joined SMK ACS in Klang later on. “The head of English department, Puan Sukeshini, was already encouraging students to buy the newspaper.”
“In addition, the Rotary Club of Klang, the school’s Old Boys Association and several others started subsidising sets of newspapers for the school. This made using the newspapers in class simpler as each student had a copy.”
Rasiah was amazed at how NiE unleashed students’ creativity. “In classes where there was hardly any interest in English, they showed the ability to come up with novel ideas. Students gained a sense of accomplishment as I displayed their work in the school foyer.
“In classes with better language skills, they felt challenged to move out of their comfort zone.
“Many were afraid I was not preparing them for exams. I used to tell them I was preparing them for life.”
ASK and learn
In teacher Low Jul Li’s class, there was no such thing as a silly question.
Her former student Tan Shan Li said that Low always encouraged her students to ask questions. “ASKing to her is Always Seeking Knowledge. Madam Low allowed discussion and communication in a classroom environment because she believed different ideas and opinions of each individual provide clear and better understanding,” she said.
Shan Li, now a 20-year-old student pursuing her tertiary education in Australia, noted that Low often gave students the opportunity to carry out presentations in class.
“I found it interesting and engaging. Learning a language is, after all, skills-based. It cannot be memorised.”
“She also instilled in us a love for reading. It made me more interested to explore the uniqueness of the English language. During her lessons, she introduced inspirational poems and great idioms too, making language learning enjoyable!
Having used the NiE for most of her eight-year teaching career, Low who teaches at SMK Convent (M) Kajang, Selangor, is a strong advocate of the programme.
Through the NiE activities, Shan Li said that students were encouraged to become active rather than passive learners by developing collaborative and cooperative skills.
“NiE lessons encourage the development of critical thinking skills. Students have the opportunity to learn from and to teach each other.”
Low, 32, said that the NiE pullout helped bring the real world into the classrooms. “Teaching is made easier with interesting illustrations and content that is geared to match the current English syllabus.”
“Students are usually excited with the activities and, of course, the chance to browse through the newspaper for news on their favourite celebrities. They usually display more concentration throughout the lesson as they are engaged with the NiE tasks.
NiE has certainly made an impact on students’ learning, they look forward to continue the NiE activities each time they start.”
“I believe that a good lesson outcome is determined by the activities a teacher plans and sets.
“A noisy classroom is reflective of productive and engaged students who enjoy the activities. Therefore, the noise is not mere noise but productive noise.”
Holistic language lessons
English teacher Angie Ng, 58, currently teaching at SMK Menjalara, Kuala Lumpur, recounted how she got hooked onto newspaper reading. “I used to buy the papers once a month. Gradually, it became more often and I somehow ended up buying one every day.”
Now, she said, it was something that she “couldn’t let go off”. Discovering the NiE pullouts made it easier to incorporate the newspaper into her teaching. “I have been using the NiE pullout since the year 2000. Every morning without fail I would be delivering newspapers to students. I feel that some stories in the BRATs section are A-plus scripts. I would photocopy them for my students so that they keep them as samples.”
“My favourite thing about The Star is that it is a treasure trove for vocabulary. Sometimes, I find very catchy headlines. When I read the articles, I feel that there is oomph to them. And I would always come across phrases to share with students,” she added.
Ng vouched that reading the newspaper is a good way to improve one’s English. “I’m speaking from experience. I once aced my own English examination thanks to the newspapers!”
Nicholas Chow, 20, who used to study in Methodist Boys’ Secondary School Kuala Lumpur has fond memories of Ng when she taught English in his Form Two class.
“We were Star-NiE Mag Inc contest participants in our school back then, and we were rewarded with a three-day, two-night trip to Genting Highlands. Madam Ng was there to ensure that we were in safe hands. It was one of the more memorable trips I’ve had in my secondary school years!”
While Ng often “strayed” from her lessons, he said that it was “deliberate”.
“She would constantly bring in her life experiences as valuable lessons, ensuring that we got a holistic education that wasn’t all about the textbooks.”
Bennex Ling, Chow’s team member in the Mag Inc contest said: “NiE gave us the occasional break from the school syllabus and routine”.
The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme has penetrated thousands of classrooms in Malaysia since it was launched in 1997, by our then Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. This year, the programme celebrates 20 years as a learning resource.
Much like a “living textbook”, The Star and its 12-page NiE pullout bring authentic life experiences into the classroom. The colourful pullout, published on Wednesdays, is written by a team of experienced English language teachers. The activities are packed with ready-made hands-on activities for the classroom. The annual NiE contest for students engages them in activities that go beyond textbook learning like storyboarding, magazine writing and photojournalism. The pullout adheres to syllabus-based topics and is endorsed by the Education Ministry. The contests are held in collaboration with the Education Ministry.
Straight from the practitioners