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Thursday, April 28, 2022

Highlight of Changes in School SOPs

On 28th April, 2022, the Minister of Education, Datuk Dr. Mohd. Radzi bin Md. Jidin made an announcement on some changes in School SOPs in line with the reopening of Education Sector as we head towards endemicity. Below are highlights of some of the changes that will affect primary and secondary school students with effect from 1st May 2022.

1. No need to scan MySejahtera to enter school premises

2. Mask mandate continues for enclosed spaces with exceptions or relaxation for certain situations or individuals, example when you are alone or teachers when teaching in front of classes or during gym classes or students below 5 years old or special needs individuals or those with breathing difficulties (medical report is required)

3. Face mask is encouraged for activities outside enclosed spaces within the school premises and for group activities

4. No more social distancing

5. Self-testing is required only for those with symptoms

6. Management of Covid-19 in school. Isolate student in isolation room and conduct self test. If negative, can continue lessons with mask on, if positive, inform parent to pick up their child from school.

7. Attendance is compulsory. Parents need to inform school in case of absence from school. (Previously parents could choose not to send their kids to school due to pandemic but now attendance is compulsory.) (See minute 16:38 of the video below)

8. Meals at canteen is now allowed with staggered recess time if required.

9. Resumption of all sports and co-curricular activities and competitions within and as well as outside school premise

10. Visitors are allowed to enter school premises eg for PIBG meetings etc.

11. School uniforms are compulsory with effect from the 12 June 2022 ie the second semester onwards.

12. Other changes affecting residential students or those staying in hostels, please refer to the complete summary or the press conference below.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Homework help for primary and secondary school students

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What is phonics and why is it important for your child?


Guest post by Geoff Taylor, the Cluster Academic Manager, SEA at the British Council

If I were to ask you how many letters there are in the English alphabet, you would know the answer (26).

If I were to ask you what the English vowels are, you would know the answer (a, e, i, o, u).

However, if I were to ask you how many sounds there are in English, would you know the answer? (It’s 44.)

Why are there more sounds than letters in English?

It is because letters can have more than one sound. For example, the ‘a’ in ‘apple’ sounds different to the ‘a’ in ‘plate’. It sounds different again in ‘hear’. We see this a lot in English. The ‘ie’ in the word ‘tie’ rhymes with ‘eye’, but the ‘ie’ in ‘pier’ rhymes with ‘ear’. Letters can have more than one sound.

So, what is the relationship between sounds and spelling in English? How do we know when a letter has a different sound? And most importantly, how can we teach this to our children?

Luckily the answer is very simple…through Phonics!

Phonics teaches children the relationship between sounds and spelling. It helps them develop reading and writing skills. If a child can say the word, Phonics will teach them how to spell the word and how to read the word.

It may look as though there is no relationship between sounds and spelling in English (for example, ‘rain’, ‘reign’ and ‘rein’ sound the same but are spelt differently) but there are rules that can be learned to explain these differences.

A simple rule is the ‘Magic E’. The ‘a’ in ‘tap’ sounds different to the ‘a’ in ‘tape’. This is because the ‘magic E’ at the end of ‘tape’ changes the sound of the ‘a’. We see this with ‘hat’ and ‘hate’, ‘fin’ and ‘fine’ or ‘bit’ and ‘bite’. Adding the ‘e’ to the end of the word changes the sound. There are songs for children explaining these rules, like this one for the Magic E:


Another common rule is that when you put two vowels together, we only hear the first one. For example, we hear the ‘o’ in ‘boat’. We do not hear the ‘a’. We hear the ‘a’ in ‘train’. We do not hear the ‘i’. Again, there are songs that teach this rule to children:


Phonics is about understanding these rules and applying them when reading and writing.

This skill is taught to children in Western schools. All schools in the UK teach Phonics to help children develop literacy. Research from the Ministry of Education in Australia states “The evidence is clear… instruction in Phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation in teaching children to read.” Research also shows that Phonics could be most important in countries where children speak two or more languages, such as Malaysia.

However, Phonics is not without problems. While it can help children learn how to read and write a word, it does not help them know what the word means. Focussing only on Phonics can mean that children only read books that help them learn the phonics rules. If we want them to develop the habit of reading for pleasure, it is better to encourage them to read anything that they are interested in.

At the British Council, we use Phonics as part of a balanced strategy to help children learn to read and write in English. We believe that learning should be fun, and that children learn best in a relaxed and friendly environment. Helping children learn the rules of Phonics is useful, when done correctly it helps them develop a love of reading and a passion for learning that can last a lifetime. This is the aim of all good courses that develop literacy for children, and this is the aim of the British Council’s Phonics programme.

About The British Council in Malaysia

The British Council in Malaysia offers English courses for kids and teens. Your child will learn more than just language, they will develop skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, and making connections.

Our July intake is now open for registration, with early bird promo as low as RM599 per term, valid until the end of May. If you are interested to know more, please visit our website or book a free consultation with our friendly consultant.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Unboxing the iPad Air 5, Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil


Do college/university students need iPad?

About 2 years ago, we bought a laptop for our kid who was going to college. We thought that would be the right device to get. Fast forward a year later, the kid is now in university. More than 90% of the course mates use iPad for lectures because the course is heavy on group discussion and presentations. The lecturers do not hand out physical notes, an evolution that resulted from the pandemic and online classes. Everything is digital so students use their iPad to annotate a lot. During presentations, students easily transition from note taking on the iPad to carrying a small hand held device to the front of the class while my kid struggled with the big laptop. So, began our search for an iPad.

During our search we discovered that the iPad is now more than just a tablet. With the magic keyboard, and the powerful processor of the iPad Air 5th Generation, the iPad is slowly transforming itself into more of a computer than a tablet.

Where to buy and how long does it take for delivery?

On the 26th of March we went to Machines to enquire about getting an iPad for our college going kid. We were recommended to get the iPad Air. The sales person said that iPad 9th Generation and the iPad Mini was more suitable for basic stuff like giving to a kid for watching videos or playing games at home. On the other hand, the iPad Pro was more suitable for office use. We found out that the iPad Air 5th generation was about to be launched so we decided to wait.

You can compare the iPad Pro, iPad Air 5 and iPad (9th Generation) here.

We decided to get our iPad online from Apple to get entitlement to student discount of about RM200. You need to purchase using your student id to get the rebate. This is the short timeline of our order. Delivery was within 5 days of our order and in split into two packages.

Ordered online on Wednesday, 30th March 2022
Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil was delivered on Saturday, 2nd April 2022 (from Singapore)
iPad Air 5 was delivered on Monday, 4th April 2022 (from China)

You could also buy online from Machines during special promo days. 

Is the iPad Air 5th Generation worth it?

To us, it is worthwhile to pay about RM200 more for the iPad Air 5 compared to the iPad Air 4 because of the more powerful M1 chip with next‑generation Neural Engine processor which is the same as that for iPad Pro. 

There are two models ie Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Celular. We decided to go for the celular model because Wi-Fi connection at the college is poor. Hotspot via mobile makes our low end phone hot and run out of battery very fast. 

You can also choose between 64GB and 256GB. 

There are 5 colours, Space Grey, Starlight, Pink, Purple and Blue. A lot of people are excited about the new blue. We like Purple so that was what we got. 

Check out the iPad Air 5 full technical specifications here.

Do you need the optional Apple accessories?

There are two types of iPad keyboards. They are the Smart Folio keyboard and the Magic Keyboard. The main difference is the Magic Keyboard has a built-in trackpad for better navigation with a cursor. This important feature makes it more of a computer than just a tablet. 

The other difference is the Magic Keyboard has backlighting so you can use it in dim light, for example when the lecture hall lights are dimmed.

The Smart Folio keyboard can be raised at two different angles whereas the Magic Keyboard can be pushed to a desired angle up to a limit. However, unlike the Smart Folio Keyboard, the Magic Keyboard cannot be flipped around to the back of the iPad. It is not practical to sketch at an angle, so you would have to remove the iPad air from the keyboard if you wish to make notes from a flat surface. The Magic Keyboard is also rather heavy.

Obviously, you will also need the Apple Pencil to make annotations. Some students buy cheaper Pencils online. If you are planning to do so, make sure it is compatible by reading reviews so that you can have a smooth writing or sketching experience. Some students also buy pencil sleeves to give the pencil a better grip.

Alternative accessories

The answer to my original question of "Do college/university students need an iPad" depends on the type of course, how interactive is the course, does it have a lot of presentation, digital notes and it also depends on budget too. You can find cheaper alternative accessories online. However, do make sure to read the reviews to find out if they are compatible and fits your iPad.

Below are some alternative accessories we found online.

Apple Pencil Sleeve from Shopee

Logictech iPad keyboard with trackpad f rom Shopee (Do check with the seller whether the keyboard is compatible for iPad Air 5

You can also search for similar accessories from Lazada.

Watch our unboxing video below. All images and videos are original taken by us using our home camera and music for the unboxing video was composed by my son.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

A parent's search for private colleges and universities after SPM

I call this post a parent's search for private colleges and university after SPM because this is not meant to be an informational post. It is just the sharing of my private musings and thoughts while searching for a private college and university for my children. Photos are kept to a minimum to keep this post as short as possible.

We always make it a point to do a research by visiting the educational facilities for all the schools our children had to go to starting from primary school, secondary school and later on college and university. Personally visiting the premise gives us a better feel so we can visualize if our children will be happy there for the next few years. However, due to the pandemic, most parents have had make do with visiting virtual educational fairs like the picture you see below. We visited some too. However, there is nothing like visiting the real thing. Of course if you are sending your kids abroad, you may not be able to visit beforehand.

This post is merely about some of the private local universities and colleges we visited and our initial impression. It is by far not a comprehensive researched article. Just a private sharing which I promised to share with some friends. Some of the photos are lost now too because these were taken around 2018 and 2019 before the pandemic. 

In 2018, we visited the University of Nottingham Malaysia, Semenyih, one day on our way back from hiking in Broga. The University is vast, has a nice lake in the grounds and student quarters are located nearby. Not much for me to write about here, this was just a visit on a whim. It is nice but a bit quiet. Most of my photos are gone now accept a picture of the lake in the University grounds.

In 2019, we visited a few more colleges and universities including Taylors, Sunway, TARUC, UTAR, UCSI, including a matriculation college which I shall share below. 

Below are some pictures of Taylor's College which we visited during its Open Day before the pandemic. We went to the Taylor's Lakeside campus in Subang Jaya which houses both Taylor's College and Taylor's University. The college received “University College” status in 2006, and "University" status in 2010, which further divided it into Taylor's University and Taylor's College. as the name suggest, the University surrounds a lake.

Since we were at Taylor's, it was only natural that we stopped by Sunway College and Sunway University. We also visited it a second time for a scholarship interview later on. Sunway University was established in 2004 as Sunway University College. It was upgraded by the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education to full university status in January 2011 and became Sunway University. As for the physical site, Sunway College is right opposite Sunway University. We were impressed by the library which uses facial recognition recognition to enter but was told that it is usually very crowded around exam season.

We also visited Monash University Malaysia while we were in the area. Like Sunway and Taylor, these are urban universities. So they do not have sprawling campuses. Instead, the campuses are built upwards. While at Monash, you would definitely want to find out more about MUFY (Monash University Foundation Year) which is the pathway to Monash University.

We love how the whole area for Taylor's, Sunway and Monash is in an established township with easy links to transportation and amenities.

Next up: Confusion between TARUC and UTAR. 
This is a little bit confusing to us because of the similarity in the names. TARUC stands for Tunku Abdul Rahman University College and UTAR stands for Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman. Can you see why we were confused? 

The only way to clear up the confusion is to visit both educational institutions. TARUC is as its name a University College. However, despite its name of "University College", it is actually a sprawling campus with wonderful facilities. We visited the Kuala Lumpur main campus in Setapak. We had to board a bus just to tour around the campus. What I remember from the Open Day was the person patiently helping my kid take a personality test and then trying to match the personality with the course. I also remembered visiting the student's accommodation which was part of the tour. We got down to view the facilities. Unfortunately below is the only photo I managed to take at the time! 

As for UTAR, we visited the Sg Long Campus. UTAR Sg Long is more of an  urban university. It is housed in two buildings, one in traditional style and the other a modern one. UTAR Kampar which we did not visit is in Kampar with a sprawling campus. Some courses are available exclusively at the Sg Long campus while others are at the Kampar campus. 

If you are visiting UTAR, you could drop by UCSI as well. UCSI is located at Taman Connaught, Cheras, close enough for a same day visit though not entirely near.

We were also shown the student's accommodation at UCSI and were told there were too types, a more basic one and another which is located at the hotel run by them ie Le Quadri hotel which is located nearby.

IMU or the International Medical University is a private medical and health sciences university in Malaysia. If your child is interested in medical, dental or nursing courses, you can consider this uni. The fees are not cheap though.

Finally, we saw an Open Day for one of the matriculation colleges and visited one too. This is the list of all the Kolej Matrikulasi in Malaysia. We visited Kolej Matrikulasi, Selangor during its Open Day. Unlike the private colleges, there was no one to greet us. We went in and walked around on our own. I had the impression that the Open Day was more a day for the different matriculation colleges to get together to showcase their projects. We spoke to several of the students about their projects. They were all brilliant students from different matriculation colleges all over Malaysia.

Currently application for matriculation colleges are open from 15 March 2022 to 15 April 2022 for SPM 2021 students.

This is but a small handful of the many private colleges and universities available in Malaysia. It would be a good idea to start visiting education fairs around the time when kids are in Form 4 to open their minds to the possibilities in courses and colleges and to help steer their thoughts towards what they wish to do after SPM. 

Some choices open to students after SPM include foundation courses, STPM, Matrikulasi, Assasi, A-levels, IB, Diploma, TVET, MUFY, AUSMAT (Australian Matriculation), ADP (American Degree Program) and many other options. 

So many possibilities and countless private and public educational institutes. The time to start thinking about tertiary education would be when students choose their streaming in Form 4. Start on the desired University program and work backwards to help students know the type of foundation course required and the qualifications necessary to pursue the course of their choice and their eventual career. Good luck to all!


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