Leaders in the Making1 May 2012
Student councils and unions not only serve to provide a platform for the student body to engage with their schooling environment but also helps to develop important skills and prepare students for life after school.
Student councils and unions have long played an important role in representing the interest of the student body, giving them a voice in the daily operation of a school.
“The Uplands Student Council (USC) is meant to give voice to the students’ wants and needs; it serves as a forum for them to come up with ways to improve the school, provide social activities for their peers and help the community through various fund-raising and charity events,” explains Abby Brewer who serves as Teacher Advisor alongside Tony Luciano for the USC at The International School of Penang (Uplands).
Although the school has been around since 1955, the USC itself was a student-initiated group which started much-later unlike at Nexus International School, Putrajaya where the School Council (SC) was established almost as soon as the school opened in 2011.
“As an educational institution, we see it as being of core importance to our school, not only to develop the leadership skills of our learners but also to ensure that the views and priorities of our student body remain the core focus of our decision-making,” says Teacher Advisor, James Tipney.
But regardless of when or why they were established, the fact remains that student councils and unions offer an invaluable opportunity for students to learn and develop skills that will be necessary for their life after school.
Paving the way
In their role as Teacher Advisors, Abby and Tony give advice and support where necessary but in most cases the students themselves are quite capable of taking charge.
“In order to be involved with the USC, students must really take on the roles of leaders. They must learn how to work together and delegate responsibilities. They must also learn how to communicate effectively with others,” Abby points out, highlighting a charity event organised by the USC.
“Recently, they worked closely with a local children’s home to organise some activities, which included some visits to the home itself and inviting the children to our school for an afternoon of fun and games. This called on them to really use their communication skills, not only with the adults in charge of the home, but also with the children, some of who were quite shy.”
As Teacher Advisor for the fairly new School Council at Nexus, James’ plays a more decisive part in giving advice to council in terms of implementing ideas, as well acting as a link between the SC and the teaching staff to help ensure the ideas and policies initiated by the council is well publicised within the school community.
But he is keen to point out that despite the council not being initiated by the students it has certainly become their own.
“Teachers are involved only as facilitators and advisors when required; as a result it has become a quite autonomous body within the school. The council’s purpose has evolved over time according to the learners’ vision of what it should be. They have steadily expanded the scope of their interests, establishing subcommittees that cover a wide range of areas.”
Lim Sheau Yun and Lai Ming Yi, who are the current President and Vice President of USC respectively, have their own views to add. “As leaders of the USC, we undertake a range of responsibilities including acting as a liaison between students and teachers, organising discos and proms, but mostly, we just point a very capable group of students in the right direction.”
Their sentiments are an echo of American author, Henry Miller’s words—“The leader has no need to lead; he is content to point the way”—which show a mature and level-headed approach to leading a team.
Although the duo have only been elected to their post a year since, they have been active members of the USC for three years altogether, thus giving them a good sense of what their current roles entail.
“The USC in particular has helped us grow and develop as a person, and as a team. Being the leaders of a student union, and even the wider school community, is a huge responsibility that we’ve learned to embrace.”
Sheau Yun further enthuses, “Teamwork is a concept often addressed in classrooms, on the pitch and even at home, but what we experienced in the USC was true teamwork. We co-operate to function like a well-oiled machine, and to be honest, this kind of experience cannot be found anywhere else.”
For Lee Yen Yi, being President of the School Council has allowed her not only to hone her leadership qualities but also to help develop her fellow team members in order to promote a more effective committee.
“Aside from coordinating meetings, I also need to regularly monitor and review the Council’s progress. My responsibilities include recognizing the members’ strengths and Nexus students’ having a bake sale weaknesses so that they can be allocated to different committees. This is important because it is vital to play by each other’s strength. With different committees, tasks can be delegated and it improves the efficiency of the council to get more things done.”
Change, we can
Despite being President of the School Council at Nexus for only seven months Yen Yi, 17 is already witnessing the benefits of being the voice box of the student body and having the means to make a difference.
“For example, we have been getting complaints from students regarding the long queuing time during lunchtime and as a result, with help from teachers, the stagger system was introduced whereby Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 learners start queuing up on different times. This is proven to be quite effective because the length of the line and waiting period reduced drastically.”
But their activities are not always contained within the school environment.
“For example, several MUFTI days (Free-dress day) and bake sales have been conducted to raise funds throughout the year to aid the Myanmar refugees. Also, we emphasize the importance of the environment through putting up recycling posters in the school to advocate the importance of living sustainably and how a small action can make a big difference in the world,” says Yen Yi.
And their community-conscious efforts are not only making a difference to the recipients but also to the students themselves, as Ming Yi points out.
“We’ve also developed a sense of service to the community through working closely with our charitable cause—the Shan’s Children’s Home. Organising events for these children has been one of the highlights of our term in office. Ultimately, we feel that being involved in the USC has given us the perfect opportunity to give back to a school that has helped us grow into the people we are today.” And quite possibly the making of discerning leaders for tomorrow.
The International School of Penang (Uplands)
Jalan Sungai Satu,
Batu Feringgi, Penang
Tel: 04–8819 777
Nexus International School
1 Jalan Diplomatik 3/6,
Presint 15, Putrajaya
Tel: 03–8889 3868