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Pioneering US program creates spike in student success; Malaysia becomes first country to adopt ideas at national level

Malaysia is preparing national level education reforms based on tactics pioneered in the US that are successfully raising student success throughout the school system, from very early childhood through completion of university or college.

The "cradle to career" approach of the Strive initiative, originated in Ohio by Dr. Nancy Zimpher, now Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY), involves, among many measures, identifying specific interventions such as daycare or home visits by social service workers that best prepare a child to start kindergarten on the right foot ("Success by Six").

The students are then helped to meet carefully tracked indicators of critical progress in, for example, math and reading proficiency along their educational journey.

US experience with Strive shows a given approach is not necessarily best in all circumstances; preliminary studies would be required in Malaysia.

But, armed with these important insights, community talent, time and resources would be narrowly concentrated on tactics that produce proven, winning results.

SUNY and the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the initiative with the Malaysia's Ministry of Higher Education, headed by Dato' Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin.

Malaysia is the first country looking to institute at a nationwide level the Strive methodology, personally detailed for the country's senior-most leaders by Dr. Zimpher, a member of Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC) and Chair of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Chaired by Malaysian Prime Minister YAB Dato' Sri Mohd. Najib Tun Abdul Razak, the year-old GSIAC is today comprised of international experts in education, economics, business, science and technology, each volunteering to help the Asian country achieve an environmentally-sustainable, high-income economy driven by knowledge and innovation.

Host of the meeting in Manhattan is the NYAS, which co-chairs the GSIAC Secretariat with Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) of the Prime Minister's Department and last year helped assemble international Council members from China, India, Russia, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands, the UK and the USA, including two Nobel laureates.

Dr. Zimpher notes that positive results are being documented in many education systems where the Strive approach is being deployed, which now includes 27 US states and the District of Columbia.

Since Strive began in Cincinnati a few years ago, that city, for example, has experienced a sharp 9% increase in kindergarten readiness, setting the stage for later success. The use of certified teachers, small class sizes, and summer learning enrichment programs, are part of the early education strategy chosen there.

Cincinnati public school student math proficiency in Grade 4 is up 7%, Grade 8 math up 15% and college enrolment has jumped 10%.

At the end of high school, one-on-one advice and simply helping students complete financial aid forms and scholarship applications, led to a profound 40% increase in college enrolment by graduates from one low-performing Cincinnati school compared to the year before.

An essential STRIVE pre-requisite, says Dr. Zimpher: Strategic buy-in from hundreds of partners throughout the community -- city government officials, school district superintendents, presidents of universities and community colleges, corporate leaders, philanthropists, and the executive directors of hundreds of education-related non-profit and advocacy groups.

"There is virtually no reliable or continuous collaboration between pre-kindergarten, kindergarten to Grade 12, higher education, and workforce development," says Dr. Zimpher, adding the need for co-ordination with other student supports such as after-school programs.

"This is a recipe for failure. Kids may do well in pre-school, for example, but unless that pre-school is working with the local school district to align expectations, most of them won't be ready for kindergarten. The same holds true for the transitions to high school, college, and career. These absences of collaboration cause what we call 'leaks' in the education pipeline," youths leaving the educational system before completion.

"The alignment of efforts involving all players throughout a community is a major enterprise but offers high rewards for students and educators alike," says Dr. Zimpher.

"We are proud that Malaysia is the first country taking up this challenge at a national level and look forward to working with the country in making this program succeed in an emerging economy context."

Prime Minister Najib notes that the proposed reforms would help ensure every child enters school well prepared, eliminate disparities in academic success, and link the community and family supports available to students -- all important steps in the transformation of Malaysia's economy with greater human capital in science, technology and innovation.

"This initiative will also address the lack of student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics due to poor teaching of the subject matter, insufficient professional support and supervision, a lack of priority given to the subjects by schools, a lack of information on career prospects in science-related fields, and unattractive prospects for science-qualified graduates."

The Prime Minister said he was struck by a comment Dr. Zimpher made on a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur that the challenges she faces as SUNY chancellor are similar in kind and in scale to those faced in his nation.

"A truly remarkable alliance has been initiated between the State University of New York and its Cradle to Career program, the New York Academy of Sciences and its STEM (Science, technology, Engineering, Math) Education Initiative, and our education-related ministries and three of our leading universities.

"The notion that Malaysia and New York State would benefit by attacking many of the same problems in tandem, learning from each other's experiences, and leveraging the investments of the best practices going on throughout the world, as conveyed by Chancellor Zimpher's team in the sphere of education and the New York Academy of Science's team in the sphere of science, technology, engineering and math, is truly inspirational."

Provided by Malaysian Industry‑Government Group for High Technology