MALAYSIA. Martin Spice on a project intended to benefit struggling primary schools. Primary schools with a record of academic excellence are to be twinned with poor performers in a project unveiled by the Malaysian education ministry.
The schools are in and around Kuala Lumpur serving the capital's large Chinese community. It is planned to boost the performance of 16, and both good and poor schools are expected to benefit from the arrangement.
The weaker group contains Chinese schools, many of them in rural or poor areas. They receive varying degrees of government subsidy, relying for the rest of their cash on fees, donations and local community support.
The children are taught in Mandarin, and those with poor Bahasa Malaysia - the national language - are disadvantaged when they sit compulsory national exams at 14 and 16.
The poorer schools will be twinned with government-funded schools, usually with a mixed-race intake. A significant number of those selected for the exercise were once English schools.
The number of Chinese primary pupils has risen from 367,565 in 1968 to 600,000 today. Teacher numbers have also increased from 11,696 (a teacher-pupil ratio of one to 31) to 26,462 (one to 23).
Not all of the Chinese schools are seen as disadvantaged and several are beginning to attract appreciable numbers of non-Chinese pupils - 25,000 Malays and 10,000 Indians have opted for them. Parents are often attracted by the excellent reputation that many have in maths and science subjects. There is also a widening recognition that more and more economic and commercial activity is conducted in Mandarin. Anyone with a command of English and Mandarin, as well as Bahasa Malaysia, is going to be in a strong commercial position with an ability to communicate with almost half of the world's population.
Details of the full twinning programme have yet to be announced but preliminary meetings between headteachers and staff are already under way. They will be encouraged to share their experiences of curricular activities and to promote ties between their schools. If the pilot project is successful, there are plans to extend the programme.