The making of a scholar

IN ancient China, outstanding scholars, known as zhuang yuan, held respectable positions in society. In order to become one, citizens spent years poring over classical texts, and mastering calligraphy and poetry to pass imperial examinations.

Upon passing, they would be elevated to elite status for education was a luxury, given the scarcity of information then. Fast forward to the technologically superior 21st century, where information is accessible at our fingertips. While a majority of our students nowadays can read and write, they don’t read much beyond school books.

They can copy text and recognise the alphabet, but school teachers often bemoan the declining standards in essaywriting, grammar and structure.

Where have we gone wrong?

“Our school system overly emphasises academic achievements,” says Tan Poh Lee, co-founder and programme director of Scholar Base, a Klang Valley-based child development centre that recently opened its third outlet at Tesco @ The Scott Garden in Old Klang Road; the other two are located in Ulu Kelang (its first, which opened in 2005) and Kepong.

Scholar Base offers a range of locally formulated literacy programmes, both in reading and writing, that target children from four to 15 years old. It boasts an enrolment of 300.

“The quest for more As has placed less emphasis on the pursuit of non-examination elements such as literature, art, drama, public speaking and creative thinking,” Tan says. “It’s no wonder that many children today derive little pleasure from learning.”

These concerns are nothing new, especially among parents and educationists.

At Scholar Base, Tan and her husband and founding partner William Chin – both avowed followers of Ken Robinson, the renowned British-born, US-based author and advocate of education in the arts – decided to go back to basics by using stories to engage children and nurture the love of reading.

“It’s no point if a child can read but doesn’t enjoy what he is reading!” Tan notes. “If we can get them to be excited about the story, they will want to read the story themselves.”

Storytelling and acting are used to make the plots come alive while students are encouraged to ask questions as a way to help them build confidence and improve their communication skills.

Although they are often perceived to be an English language centre, Tan is quick to point out that they have more to offer.

“English is our medium of instruction, so people think of us as a language centre. But we don’t just focus on grammar or repeat the school syllabus like a tuition centre. We use interactive lessons that encourage students to converse with the teachers.

“Lessons are disguised as games, like in the form of role play or cards, so the children don’t realise they are actually learning,” explains Tan, who’s trained in finance, and was previously with another child development centre.

As the parents of four children aged between nine and 19, Tan and Chin, whose background is in engineering, sure know what it’s like educating and coaching children.

At Scholar Base, abridged versions of classics such as Gulliver’s Travels, The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, Oliver Twist and many others form the backbone of its programmes because the founders believe that “these time-tested tales are useful in promoting thinking skills, debate and drama”.

This statement will find favour with parents like Mat Radzuan Abdul Razak, a senior manager of a unit trust company, whose three children aged 10, nine and eight have been enrolled at Scholar Base since early this year.

“I only realised the importance of having a good command of English when I entered ITM (now UiTM). My classmates who were good at English spent six months on the language programme while I was put into a two-year programme. I don’t want my children to be disadvantaged like I was when they go to university,” says the 41-year-old.

Ang Kah Shin’s 10-year-old daughter has been going to Scholar Base since she was four.

The girl started with the reading class before progressing to writing.

Like Mat Radzuan, Ang, 38, an accountant and organic shop manager, drew on her university experience.

“When I was studying in Australia, I struggled with my assignments in English. I watched enviously as my classmates wrote effortlessly and debated with our lecturers!

“Even in running an organic shop, I find that I need good communication and language skills to get the message across,” she says.

He Yanling, 41, an officer at the Chinese Embassy, was concerned when her son Howard Wang, seven, could not express himself well in English despite studying in an international school.

“I found out that he didn’t have the confidence (to speak in English), even though he is a very talkative boy!” she shares.

After four months at Scholar Base, Howard is now more selfassured.

Ultimately, it all boils down to creativity in learning.

“We motivate the children to wonder, to enquire, to think, reason and explore outside the box. When they can express themselves well and structure their thoughts and creative ideas into written words, we would have succeeded in creating a true ‘scholar’,” says Tan.

For details, visit Scholar Base will present the Young Musician Charity Concert in aid of the Persatuan Sindrom Down Malaysia at its premises at Lot G-04, Scott Garden Complex, 289, Jalan Klang Lama, Kuala Lumpur, on July 23. There will be two sessions: 3pm and 6pm. Tickets are priced at RM20. For more information, call (03) 7987-0707 (9.30am-10.30pm) .

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