Encouraging Students To Challenge The Norms: Stephen West

Having worked across many sectors of education across several countries including Australia, Brunei, Thailand, Japan and the UAE, Stephen West is now the principal at MIGS preparing students for the ever-changing future.

Photo: Mutiara International Grammar School

You have a fascinating career path – from forensic photography to education. Tell us about it. 
Photography has always been a passion, and I got into investigative and forensic photography by chance through the Australian government. The work was varied and required frequent travelling throughout Australia and overseas, working with government agencies from various countries and in many fields. During this time, I was also asked to teach visiting parties from abroad who were seeking experience with our methods and technologies. I liked the teaching aspect, and this opened a new career path. 

Having worked in my previous career for several years, I realised that we needed to train more people in the technological advances that were happening. The best way to do this is to inspire students from an earlier age to begin the process of thinking about their future and take the necessary steps to achieve goals. 

Are international schools doing enough to prepare students for the future? 
The international school scene, like most other schools worldwide, is out of touch with the wider job market and the technological and innovative changes that are shaping our students. Most children are more computer literate than teachers, and many students are being taught 20th century curriculums that have failed to keep abreast with what employers really want.  It is no longer just about exams. 

Why is Mutiara International Grammar School (MIGS) different from the other schools in KL?
MIGS is smaller than many other schools and has a sense of togetherness that is hard to find in larger schools. Our staff and students are a tight knit supportive band and have developed a caring, responsible culture that continues to mature. Many of our teachers have been with the school for over 10 years and our staff turnover is low, which shows that they are very committed to their jobs. 

Why do you think more Malaysian parents are opting for the fee-paying international school system than the free national option?
One of the reasons is that there’s a perception that fee-paying schools are better. But the underlying truth is that many fee-paying schools have smaller class sizes, a more personal approach to students and their families, and our curriculum may have a bit more flexibility than the national option. 

Having achieved such good results in Brunei with your A Level students, can you share any tips with potential parents and students on how to achieve such results?
I don’t teach the textbook or to the tests. In all cases, I encourage students to explore and challenge the norms, and to work out the biases that society attaches to everything. Once they develop that understanding and challenge themselves to use initiative and set their own goals, taking tests is easier.

‘An academic success rate does not secure job security’. What should schools – particularly the secondary level – be doing to ensure students are prepared for university and the working world?
Imagine being a manager of a company and having to interview 50 applicants for one junior executive role. All the applicants are academically well above standard and have impressive academic CVs. The quest is to sort them into categories without discriminating in any way to find the best candidate. Not an easy task these days. The problem is that schools are teaching to tests and academic results, and not doing enough to define character and build the skills that society now demands. Creativity and initiative are lagging, and we must encourage students to be multi-dimensional in their thinking. 

Tags: Features, Schools, Profiles, MIGS
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