AMIDST the drumming, snapping and clapping, the grand finale of The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) contest had the audience at the edge of their seats as eight student finalists put their best foot forward to impress a panel of judges in a photojournalism task.
Five of the students - Adriel Hen Aik Shen, Lam Jone Wing, Nisa Qistina Badrul Hisham, Nur Syazliyana Shek Daud and Yaashinii Naaidu Sri Sivabalasundram – walked away with the grand prize: an all-expenses-paid six-day, four-night trip to South Korea, sponsored by Star Media Group.
The other three – Jasvina Jayani Sanyasi Jeyaretnam, Lee Wai See and Nur Shahirah Mohammad Rashid – joined 12 runners-up who will be enjoying a three-day, two-night trip to Genting Highlands, sponsored by Resorts World Genting. These three runners-up also walked away with a Coolpix W100 camera each, courtesy of Nikon Malaysia.
This year’s contest zoomed in on photojournalism as well as good deeds. Dubbed Making a Difference (MAD), the Star-NiE contest this year was open to all secondary school students nationwide.
Participants were required to produce photographs capturing teenagers or young adults who inspire social change through their actions. Each photograph was complemented by a 150-word write-up on the featured youth and how his effort is creating an impact in society.
Held at Menara Star, the contest finals was infused with elements from different disciplines – such as photography, performing arts, and public speaking, just to name a few.
Entering its 20th year, the NiE programme once again demonstrated its aim in fostering all-rounded individuals as it stays true to its intention of bringing the real world into the classroom.
Five student volunteers from the audience were also in for an exciting learning experience as they were taught drumming basics by percussion group Hands Percussion.
The finalists were challenged to take the best shot of the drumming lesson in progress as Hands Percussion member, 23-year-old Yujiro Ohmori conducted the coaching session.
Contestants weaved in and out, stooped high and low, in search of the perfect shot. Finalists were later further evaluated on their language proficiency during their impromptu speech.
Their candid answers during the question-and-answer session were also evaluated by judges.
Star Media Group editor-in-chief Datuk Leanne Goh addressed the nation’s decline of English language proficiency in her speech. “We see it in the newsroom; we see it in the entries we receive.
“But we also see pockets of excellence and we know that dedicated and committed teachers and parents are a huge contributing factor,” she added.
She also revealed that the Star-NiE team received many contest entries that were plagiarised, and commended the finalists who were there for their original works. “Congratulations on your integrity and for doing yourself, your school, your teachers and your parents proud.”
Although it was the third time around that grand prize winner Nur Syazliyana of SMK Bukit Jambul, Penang, had made it into the Star-NiE contest grand finals, she said that it felt amazing every time.
“It took a lot of preparation – three photography sessions – just to get the right photos. I would like to thank my ballet teacher for her support, and also my dad for his guidance and for bringing me here.
She also urged all Malaysian students to join the Star-NiE annual contests.
“You get incredible moments and memories. You also get great opportunities to learn. Just get out of your comfort zone and give it a try – you won’t regret it!”
Adriel, 16, of SMK Seri Bintang Utara, Kuala Lumpur, was over the moon when he was announced as one of the winners of the grand prize.
“I can’t describe how happy I am. I’ve put in a lot of effort and it’s definitely been worthwhile. This contest has taught me not to give up despite challenges. Anyone interested in joining the NiE contest should do so. It’s good exposure for students.”
Adriel also expressed his gratitude to his sister, who was a grand prize winner for a previous NiE contest, for cheering him on.
“She has always helped me with English and comes up with ideas. I’d also like to thank the people at Star-NiE and my English teachers for the support.”
Schoolmate and fellow winner Jone Wing, who aspires to be a motivational speaker or a journalist, was glad that he took the opportunity to send in his entries.
“I wished I had participated in NiE contests earlier. With one year left to participate, I look forward to taking part again next year,” he said, adding that the contest was a great opportunity for students to try and learn new things.
Nisa Qistina, 16, from SMK Sultan Badlishah, Kulim, Kedah, never thought she would clinch the grand prize.
“I’m really excited and happy. The session conducted by Nikon before the final task was very helpful. I was never exposed to handling professional cameras and it really helped me to take better photos.”
“I really appreciate my parent’s support. We took the train here and it was a four-hour ride. My friends too helped me with ideas for the impromptu speech,” she said.
“Last but not least, I would also like to thank my English teacher who encouraged all the students at my school to take part in the NiE contest – she reminded us about it almost every morning. Without her encouragement, I wouldn’t have sent in my entry,” she said.
Yaashinii Naaidu, 13, of SMK Sultan Yahya Petra 1, Kuala Krai, Kelantan, was in disbelief when her name was called out as one of the grand prize winners.
“I love taking photos. In the days leading up to the finals, I practised every single day. It was a great experience. I would like to thank my dad for guiding me in this competition.”
Despite being the youngest among the finalists, she was thankful to have won. “I just want to let students know that age is just a number. You can do anything if you put your heart to it.”
Runner-up Jasvina Jayani of SMK Alor Akar, Kuantan, said that it was a fun and unexpected experience for her. “It’s my first contest. I never thought that I could make it as a grand finalist. It has definitely boosted my confidence in my photography and writing skills.”
“I would encourage students to join the NiE contest because it challenges the students out of their comfort zone. It brings us new experiences and exposes us to what is out there. This provides an opportunity for us to gain confidence and we all know that confidence is very important to keep us going in life,” she said.
Also a first-time participant in the NiE competition, runner-up Nur Shahirah of SMK Lunas, Kedah, feels lucky to have made it into the grand finals. “More students should know about this contest,” she said, adding that she plans to participate again next year.
Nur Shahirah said that being a shy person by nature, the contest “has made me brave”.
“I am not confident speaking on stage. But after joining this contest, I feel more comfortable facing people around me.
“I’d like to thank The Star for giving me the opportunity to take part in a national competition. Also, thank you Nikon for the camera!”
From the judges
Resort World Genting communications and public relations vice-president Katherine Chew, who was part of the judging panel, said students who participate in the NiE programme reap many benefits.
“Participants this year learnt how to take good photographs and to relate their lives to pictures,” she said.
She added that an impactful picture would be able to encourage reading among people because “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
“Many people nowadays do not read much, but an interesting picture will be able to capture their interests and hopefully encourage them to read the articles,” she said.
Chew said Genting remains a big supporter of the programme as it values education and family togetherness.
The Education Ministry co-curriculum and art department assistant director Nadhirah Azman expressed her appreciation to The Star for constantly creating educational programmes to benefit students.
She said that the activities organised by Star-NiE help students break out of their shells to get involved in extra curricular activities such as English Language Clubs and more.
“The ministry would like to see students improve on their confidence level, their language proficiency and softskills,” said Nadhirah.
She added that the NiE event is an “all-rounded” activity which has aspects of writing, and speaking. It has helped students develop ideas and critical thinking.
She said the participating students did quite well, but reminded contestants that there was always room for improvement. Nadhirah also pointed out that the programme helped youngsters master English.
“It is a medium that allows them to survive in the real world,” she said, adding that she hoped The Star will “keep up the good work”.
Nikon (Malaysia) Professional Services Imaging Marketing Department senior manager Mahfooz NR said the competition allowed students to “get back on track” in the English language.
“Going for a competition such as this one, is a good way for students to use English. It is important, and many Malaysian students still have room for improvement,” he said.
He added that having a photojournalism-themed competition is something new for the students as they get to learn about journalism and photography, which are not taught in school.
Mahfooz said that Nikon believes in the power of education. He urged more schools and students to participate in NiE in the future.
Datuk Dr Sheik Daud, 62, the father of grand prize winner Nur Syazliyana, said he is proud of her for doing well in the competition.
The doctor from Penang, said he encouraged Nur Syazliyana to be innovative and creative, adding that the competition not only served its purpose as an educational activity, but as quality bonding time with her.
“We drove down from Penang a day before the competition, during which we exchanged opinions and ideas on how to win the competition,” he said.
Dr Sheik Daud added that NiE develops children in terms of language, mind and skills.
“English is the king. When one is skillful in English, one can be accepted everywhere in the world,” he said.
Felicia Hen, 55, the mother of grand finalist Adriel, said she was very happy to see her son relying on himself throughout the whole competition.
The homemaker, who doesn’t micromanage her children, said that allowing children to manage their own tasks has helped them to become independent individuals.
“The competition opened more opportunities for my son to explore photojournalism and to understand how to use an advanced camera. It could be a passion of his in the future,” she said.
Kolej Tingkatan Enam Sri Istana, Klang, teacher Chandrika Menon G. Balakrishna Menon, 54, who teaches the MUET (Malaysian English University Test) said that NiE is a source where students can learn English in an interactive and interesting manner.
“English is a common language that brings people together and we (teachers) are always looking for ways to improve our students’ standard in the language.
“The different theme each year sparks interest in our students and gives confidence and exposure to those who participate,” she said, adding that it is an activity that all students can take part in.
SMK Jalan Bukit, Kajang, Selangor, English panel head S. Jayanthi Sanasi, 53, said that it was the first time her school won a prize in the competition.
“It is a very good programme that improves students’ vocabulary, and exposes them to knowledge they would not obtain within the classroom,” she said.
Rashid Mustafa, the principal of SMK Sultan Yahya Petra 1, said the competition allowed students to develop their critical thinking skills to answer HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) questions posed to them during the programme.
“Mastering a language, English in particular, is important.
“It opens up avenues for students to become global citizens when they grow up. A student who doesn’t master English will not be able to go far in the international arena,” he added..
Puganeshwarie Nambirajan from Kolej Tingkatan Enam Sri Istana, Klang, said she didn’t know how hard it was to drum until she tried it.
“I don’t know how the professionals count in their mind and play the drums simultaneously, but it was a really enjoyable experience,” said the Form Six student who was also a runner-up in the NiE competition.
Puganeshwarie added that, she was glad she took part in the NiE contest.
“NiE is very useful for all students, even for those who are sitting for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) examinations.
“Our teachers always recommend using the exercises in the The Star’s NiE pullouts to improve our English. We do enjoy the lessons conducted using this resource,” she said.
NiE subscription schools received certificates of participation co-signed by the Education Ministry and The Star. With these certificates, students are entitled to co-curricular points.