Thursday, August 30, 2012

Teaching Writing - Are We Sesat?

Daughter came back yesterday with her Chinese Writing Paper. Chinese has never been her forte. But she has never failed in her Writing. So, when she told me her marks, I gave her a tongue lashing..... but when I cooled sufficiently, I decided to ask her to read her essay to me as I wanted to know where she had gone wrong.

Now, I can't read Chinese well at all. But I can understand sufficiently. The question she attempted was one of those one/two liners starters. It went something like this... Today is the Speech Competition. I arrived early in school.

And my daughter proceeded to write something along this line...I arrived early because I had been given the responsibility to arrange the tables and chairs. I was also responsible for the hall's cleanliness. So the first thing I did when I got there was to sweep the floor. Then I arranged the chairs and tables. Soon after, the parents arrived. Participants for the competition sat near the stage doing some last minute memorising...... and so she went on to describe the scene. Teacher gave her 5 out of 30. I did a double check for the meaning by asking my Chinese ed friend to listen to my daughter as she read out her essay over the phone and she concurred with me that I had understood correctly. 

Having taught language, I thought my girl had answered the question as her content was in the context of the intro lines. Also, she had placed herself there as a helper. The teacher had scribbled on her answer sheet that she has to write the essay from the perspective of a participant and nothing else which was mind boggling to me. It wasn't a remarkably creative piece but it offered a different perspective, one that should remind us that not every student is competition material, that everyone has a role to play in everything, no matter how small that role is. The context is apt... but a different perspective.

So, I sat down to write a letter explaining to the teacher and asking for her feedback. Both Other Half and I were also upset that our girl had been caned because she failed her Writing paper, which we felt was uncalled for as she had written what she felt was right. She was basically writing from her perspective because she felt that she would never be good enough to be chosen to compete. She was honest and for that she got a caning as a reward. Even though caning is disallowed in schools except for serious misdemeanour, Other Half and I would not object to it. We still feel that it is sometimes necessary. But we felt in this case, it was uncalled for. So, I sat down and wrote a long letter (in English) to the teacher pointing out that she had written in context but from a different perspective. 

Our girl was reluctant to give the letter to her teacher but we insisted. And today she came back telling us that the teacher had scolded her in front of her class because I wrote a letter to her, in English. That made me even more upset and I went to school immediately to see the Headmistress. And what happened after that is an eye opener to me.

First I explained to the HM I was there because I felt the scolding my daughter received from her teacher was totally uncalled for. But what I got was she seemed to think that I was there (I guess like what most parents would do) for the marks. I told her that the teacher could have just replied my letter. I had ended my letter by saying that I would appreciate and welcome any feedback from her and that if she was willing, to give her phone number to my girl so that we could call her. Anyway, I told the HM that had marks been my only preoccupation, I would have hounded them long ago for my girl's English paper had been marked wrong for right statements.... You see, the English teachers too followed a prescribed answer for sentence construction. But I did not pursue it because that is a problem of teacher competency... teacher incompetency is an open secret. Our teachers also aren't supposed to think, not even those from the supposedly better schools like cluster schools. And Chinese schools are more rigid than kebangsaan schools. 

The HM not only could not wait to end our conversation because she asked me to go back another day to meet the teacher, but implied that they'd prefer that I see them and not write the letter. My girl got scolded because I wrote the letter in English. I get the feeling that since it is a Chinese school, I must communicate to them in Chinese, which I am not able to. I could have written in BM too if they feel that English is not suitable. And writing is not encouraged... only talking. I guess conversations leave no trail. What is whispered can be denied....

What is appalling... is how they hide behind what the JU said, that the essay is wrong. And that seems to be what they are concerned about. I told the HM that if the teacher had even just scrawled on my letter that that's the mark scheme, I would have accepted it despite my personal feelings that we've a screwed up system. What I could not accept is the lack of discretion and the form of punishment. The subsequent scolding of my daughter in front of the class because I wrote the teacher a letter in English to me smacked bullying... of the Confucian kind. 

My kid is not that sort of kid who scores top marks though she is coping. She's not even in the first class because we don't send her for any tuition. She reads voraciously and is beginning to develop an active imagination though. We have resisted pushing her into the grind because we have our own convictions. Some may look at it as being foolhardy because this is an age of going for strings of A(s). But these last 2 days have been quite traumatic for her. How do you explain to an 11-year-old that you cannot write from the heart? How do you expect kids to find meaning in their learning if learning means bluffing your way through with prescribed answers? 

We send our children to a Chinese school because we wanted them to learn Mandarin. But we've also discovered that Chinese schools are not places which generally develop communicative or thinking skills. No doubt the good ones do well. But the good ones do well in most places generally. 

We talk about developing creativity. We come out with programmes to improve skills. Yet the teachers stifle curiosity, boldness to speak out by being ridiculously authoritarian and rigid. Teachers learn pedagogy, psychology and what have you not... And like the students they churn out, these teachers don't know nuts how to apply them because they must have just memorised all those theories to pass their exams. Monkey learn, monkey do. 

I could have written the same essay this way....Today is the Speech Competition. I arrived early at school. For many weeks now, I have been going to school like regular kids. The only thing is, I am not a kid. I am an ant. And I have six legs instead of two. That would have disqualified me from the competition. There has been a lot of excitement about this Speech Competition. The whole school has been abuzz with activities for a week. Banners, buntings and a new coat of paint could be seen. So this morning, I got up early and found a perfectly nice spot on an unused table at the corner of the stage. I parked myself there early on because I know the other ants will also come to watch the competition. 
From that vantage point, I could see and hear clearly what was going on the stage.
Right at about 1 p.m. I saw parents filling up the chairs. I could see the participants fidgeting in their chairs. Oh! How I wish I am a human so that I can also take part. But I am only a mere ant.
Soon the announcement was made for the first contestant. I know her. I often see her in class. She is a good speaker. And she spoke flawlessly..............

And I too would fail.... because Chinese schools it seems, according to what I got from the HM, are not interested to develop divergent thinking. They seem to be in the business of churning out subservient and obedient children who should only know how to regurgitate... thinking is not allowed... Gosh! We are so screwed up! We do not encourage individuality. We want homogeny. Basically we just want to produce worker ants to do as we bid. 

As a parent I thought it is perfectly alright to write letters to their teachers. After all when our kids are sick, that's what we do. Write a letter to ask that our sick child be excused. It was only a trivial matter, one of academic interest. I was writing to a peer... unfortunately, I was wrong in thinking that the teacher would be professional. What I got was dogma and something that felt like indignance. It was as though teachers cannot be questioned... kinda like the tuan and hamba thingy. Tuan cakap, hamba dengar saja. We are control freaks!!!! Even free essays also must be controlled! Oh ya! When I saw the HM, she knew who I was when I introduced myself... when I told her about writing a letter to my gal's teacher, she brushed me aside and told me that she knew about it but had no time to read it... Sekolah Penyayang???? LOL! 

Monday, August 27, 2012

To Work And...

Millions of women in my generation work and have families. These days we hail this as emancipation, equal rights, better quality (cos more money) life, and so on. But I wonder too whether we're saddled with more than we can chew. I mean, men and women, increasingly, their roles have merged and have become quite similar.

Working outside the home has its perks. You get to go out and socialize. You get more meaning. It's hard to feel meaning when your teenage kid is making you hit the walls with his crazy antics. A career puts you on the fast lane. You feel a sense of achievement whenever goals are met and at work place, and that definitely happens more often and quicker. You get gratification, and they're quite instant. You get to put on a suit, some make-up, dress up and feel important. A housewife is often harried; the maid of the home. She cooks, clears and is a fixed presence at home. Never mind that some economists have calculated that if all this unpaid housework is counted into the economy it should make up about a third of the economy! Unpaid work... no glam. LOL!

In the home, you don't see the results of your labour until many years on. And the work you do feels mundane. These days even more so, with the availability of maids. It's hard to imagine something like laundry giving you that feeling that you get out of a career. Nor folding the same laundry for that matter. Plus kids can be hard to predict too. They sap you dry and test your patience to the limit. Nah... It's definitely not like a career.

And so the working woman shoulders on more because it's a chance for them to wear the pants too.... conquer the world. These days little girls are told that they are as good as boys. And indeed they are. Girls everywhere are doing better than boys.

But is there real equality? Women go out and work and guess what? They go home and more work awaits them. I wonder whether they've ended up with the raw end of the bargain. Work outside and home. And so, many become super women. For those who become less than super women, they employ maids to make up for the less... but that comes at a cost too. And it's not just in the monetary sense. They lose out on the quality for their downtime too.

Working women have more stress. They plan and run two sets of lives. And that's multitasking, probably another reason why women can do that well while not men. I belong to this new generation where such a gender equality is practiced. I run a harried life, living these 2 sets of lives. Prioritizing one over the other has reduced some of the stress but I find myself looking more for my quality time, which is a rare commodity these days...

It's harder to be a woman today than before. If in days of old, a girl grows up and gets married and stay at home to care for the family, today, choices mean they have to dig deeper to cope. The social reengineering while succeeding in transforming women's life hasn't been quite as successful with the men. Men are trying to help out more now but the bulk of the work at home still rests squarely on the women's shoulders... Double income is supposed to enable us to have more disposable income. But I wonder that too now... I see more troubled kids these days. And the state some are in worries me... We used to label kids with 2 working parents latch-key kids. The latch-key kids have evolved somehow too, more disjointed from reality and disenchanted because their world is getting even more fleeting these days. Mom's lack of presence might have something to do with it...

To work and be emancipated to stand equal with the men.....I am all for equality but I often wonder too whether equality in this sense is all that good for society. Life is this big picture made up of many interlocking pieces. We're changing those pieces. And I wonder whether these changed pieces will affect the big picture.

So to work and earn one's keep might be liberating but I wonder too whether that feeling of liberation is just another facade...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Another Raya Gone By.....

Another Raya, another year gone by.... I was looking forward to it being over, mainly because the roads have been jammed up quite a bit these last few weeks. There seemed to be more food stalls everywhere this year, I feel. I could be wrong. People are cooking less? Convenience? And this year, I didn't go food hunting. The thought of traffic was enough to put any of those thoughts away.... though I missed the daging with air asam.

We took a drive around on the 1st day of Raya... all the way to Kuala Kedah. From there we went onto the bund roads and found our way to Gunung Keriang. Many of the kampung houses we passed have out-of-state cars parked in their compound. Signs of changing times. The children of these farmers are now working in the urban areas. From the cars, one can also surmise that they are doing okay economically. It's a also a sign that the Malays are no longer economically backward...

We went onto one of the bund roads which led us from Kuala Kedah to Gunung Keriang.

Along the way, we stopped to let our girl see paddy close up. The view of rural Kedah is actually beautiful, except that these days it seems more marred by rubbish. All sorts of rubbish can be seen floating in the canals, strewn by the roadside and in unsightly heaps along the road.

This year too (or was it a missed observation in yesteryears?) I noticed an increase in fireworks activities. Driving on the highway one night, we saw the sky lighted up ever so often with flashes of sparkles. Sparks of fireworks decorated the night sky. We had booming and cackling sounds accompanying us for a couple of days. In fact I heard these loud booming sounds yesterday and thought that the kampung kids were playing the meriam buluh. When Other Half walked in the house, he said the sound was coming from one of those huge fireworks which we saw neighbours playing during CNY. And they do not come cheap as one box is more than a hundred ringgit. Yet another sign of economic prosperity for those firecrackers do not come cheap. To be able to burn them is also a sign of disposable income.

So, to have the government keep harping on how the Malays need economic assistance or different levels of playing field, I think is no longer valid. It's time we move on. It's time we create a level playing ground so that we can achieve better Policies on crutch create invalids. If we're honest with ourselves, if it's any group, it's the natives in Sabah and Sarawak who need more. Development has kept moving and left them behind. And it's not for the want of resources but lack of leadership.

My time was packed... in a way. And again too I am reminded how dumbed down my kids have been by our education system. Long nights of academic discussions after an equally long time of reading. Conversations, visits to and from people, lessons (yup... it's the time of the year, when exam beckons) with kids on the last legs of time...

This Raya has sort of imprinted into to me that many things are changing. Friends are leaving... kids I've taught for years have left or are in the midst of moving on to further their studies. Nests are getting emptier.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


We will always feel a sense of loss, I feel. It's part of life. We lose things. We lose bits of ourselves - hair, eyesight, teeth, memory, etc. And we lose the people around us. People come in and out of my life. Death, moving away... They're all losses. In the last 2 days, I've spent time with friends who are moving away. Both to faraway places; one is uprooting for good, another is half uprooting.... It's a sense of loss... One couple is nearing retirement age. Another couple is just starting together in life, with a young kid in tow. And both are leaving in search of better life, to be nearer kids, to have a better shot at career advancement.

It's sad. The older couple is leaving because our country cannot give their children fair opportunities. The younger couple is leaving because our country cannot give them further training in their career... The opportunity to advance one's career, especially in the civil service is very much dependent on your race. Both husband and wife are our cream and have much to contribute. But they'll most likely be denied the opportunities despite their abilities and talents; and it boils down to racial prejudice.

A sense of loss... cos these are people who mean something to me. And they're leaving... because we are still very much a country divided by race which has caused us to compromise our values and act in a skewed manner.

These are rubber bands which snapped soon as I stretched them in my attempt to use them to tie a bunch question papers together. I took 6 from a new bag of rubber bands. I was not able to use a single one of them for my intended purpose because they were of such low quality. And there was a whole big bag of them. Somebody ordered from the supplier. The funny thing is, it wasn't returned to the supplier even though they were mostly defective. That's how it is with our system now. We continue to accept mediocrity or worse and not do much about it. We think that like these defective rubber bands, one day the mediocrity that we've been promoting will magically evolve into excellence. But the rot is setting in, values are getting skewed.....

These are spools of strings. I cut them into shorter strands to be used by students to tie their scripts together. The string needs to be of a certain diameter so that the students will be able to tie their scripts easily. But guess what, we did not get the specified thread from the supplier. Is somebody making extra profit here? It happens a lot. The sense of accountability and public funds are skewed. I attended a briefing once where we were told that even if prices quoted by bumi suppliers are higher, we should get it from them. Taxpayers' money are not well spent. The AG reports after all, have highlighted exorbitant sums paid for stationery, etc. This might be no different. The school is short changed. The students too... And we seem to be okay with it. Poor management of resources and we accept it (or are told and forced) to accept it.

That's how it is with our management of our country's human resource. No effort is made to retain our best and brightest, if not from the 'right' race. But these days, even those from the 'right' race are sidelined because the end product of what is skewed will be skewed. Every effort, on the other hand, is made to give identity cards to any unskilled immigrants who can speak Bahasa. A former revered leader said they should be given, as long as they speak the national language. Never mind if they are unskilled or have very little education. We accept breakable rubber bands. We settle for inferior quality strings when we have already spent for better strings...

Racial politics that divides... brain drain... it adds on to the losses of life, hastening it prematurely....

Monday, August 13, 2012

Yours and Mine

Flew Firefly recently... I was early at the airport even though I had done the web check in. Decided to go to the check in counter just the same and was told that my flight had been re-timed. It would depart 1.5 hours late. Since I had nothing better to do, I decided to just walk around Subang Airport. I last stepped into the airport more than 20 years ago! And what used to feel so big back then is actually quite a small place. My perception has been tampered by time and experience.

Walking around, I spotted that the screen which showed departures and arrivals only showed a 20 minute delay. This time I went to the Firefly Office to double check. The ticketing clerk checked and told me the time on the screen was the correct one, which made me very happy since it was only a 20 minute delay. I decided to check-in after wandering around a while. The waiting area was quite full as there were passengers for the Penang and Kota Bahru flights. Those flights were called by 6.30 p.m. While waiting to board, I busied myself with a book.

When I looked up, the place was quite empty. I thought my flight would be quite empty. I was looking forward to go home after a tiring day on the road with Son. As I was walking to the plane I suddenly saw a familiar face. This friend said she had a coupon issued by the airline company for free makan at one of the outlets as the plane was supposed to leave at 8.30 p.m. She said she only knew about the 'error' from another friend (whom I presumed must have looked at the departure and arrival screen like me). Later I found out that those who did not do the web check in mostly had free makan coupons.

At 7.00 p.m I boarded the plane. It was quite empty. 7.20 came and went. Then the Captain announced it was time to buka puasa. And I was thinking that it was quite ridiculous to wait till after buka to take off... 7.45 p.m. By then many of us on the plane were plain annoyed. But I noticed that passengers were still boarding. At almost 8 p.m. An apolegetic but equally frustrated Captain announced that we were waiting for one more passenger as the Duty Manager insisted that we had to.... We finally took off at 8.05 p.m., after sitting in the plane for an hour!

Made me realized that even after I went to the airline office to enquire about the time discrepancy, no effort was made to inform the check-in counter of the error. I must have been the first to 'check-in' at the check-in counter cos I did not get the free coupon... There seemed not be any communication between the office and and counter even after an enquiry about the discrepancy of time was made and noted that the check in counter had made an error. It was a you do your job and I do mine... Any problems arising from it, well... just hope somehow it'll solve itself.

Kinda very much a reflection of a lot of things in our country. Different races are 'taught' to mind own race so much so that we've turned many blind eyes on many things. Even in neighbourhoods, break-ins can be happening right next door, and we just mind our own business too. And in recent days too, I noticed too many of our kids go sesat because of the same attitude. It takes a village to raise a good kid. These days, parents better hope hard that their kids aren't one of those with a penchant to go sesat, cos if that happens, it's a lonely path you traverse. Many of us seem to subscribe to as long as I am doing fine, my kids are doing okay.... anything that happens outside that circle does not deserve my attention or effort.

Another observation, majority took the word of the check-in of the change and did not look further on their own; which is a norm. Many of us take the word of our political and religious leaders without question.... (how nice if our kids do that when we talk to to them, 8))

As for my flight... 50 people would translate to 50 hours lost. Add that to the extra time those family members waiting at the airport in Alor Setar and the stress, etc, etc. So much wasted.... which could have been saved if the ticketing clerk just picked up the phone and informed her superiors... but then it's not her time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Demi Agama And So On, So Forth....

How often have we heard this? For country, God, family, etc, etc. Only that lately, I feel that many of these have become mere tools for us to advance ourselves. Ancient history regales the role of the God-King. Somehow, the man who became king always became the mouthpiece of God because his ears seemed to be able to tune into this special frequency, the chosen frequency.... audio highway to to the furthest reaches beyond the comprehensible. This is instrumental in sealing his position as ruler of his people. After all, if God is for him, who then can be against him. And always, great sacrifice would be required of the people, to appease the gods. The God-King became the High Priest. Sacrifices of humans, animals, harvest, first fruits, they were part of the rituals which reflected the power shifts. And the mortal God-King became empowered, revered.

The mortality of life ensures a degree of unknowns in life. Life can be taken away in a second. Sometimes, I think this unknown creates in us a mix of fear, awe, humility to tamper the arrogance and pride which are so natural to us. And it is also this unknown, perhaps which reminds us of the Creator - the need to rely on something, someone. And I think those are understand this well enough understands too that this can be manipulated to their advantage.

Invoke the name of God, and we can stir people to rise up. Romanticize the lure of afterlife and people willingly give up their lives. Hide behind the authority of God and we get to dictate how lives are run. Use the Word of God and we can give a reason for everything. We call on the name of God for many reasons. But the funny thing is we cannot seem to agree which God is real. Every monotheistic faith claims their God is the true one. And the world has been at loggerheads over this 'yours' and 'mine', to the point of mortal combat and death.

And within the same faith, the same kind of turmoil. We seem be numbed to dumbness sometimes, even when our leaders lead lives which are questionable. A speaker I heard recently commented on a scandal involving a church, that there hasn't been an apology issued. The best and most expensive legal mind have in fact been employed to fight the case in court.... the best that money can buy. Faith that God will see the righteous through???? I guess that's only true for followers... leaders hsve different set of rules.

I think God does not need us to defend Him. Yet we are at arms doing that. At church, in selecting musicians for worship sessions, we select those we think are good enough and leave out those whom we deem not ready. Somehow, the story of Cain and Abel seems to have been conveniently forgotten here. In choosing leaders we look for willing people.... Everyone will give you reasons why. Have we forgotten the reluctant leader in Moses? In choosing people to head various ministries, we look for people whom we think have talents. Have we forgotten Jesus' disciples? We choose the best and brightest because we think there is not much value in the rest.

I came across this in one of the FB postings. Interesting, huh, how an ulama can issue fatwas just like that. Read in between the lines and you realize that we're all taken for suckers. And is this thing really one of those 'demi agama' sentiments? Or this is one of those ploys that plays on the emotions to ensure that the divide between us and them continue to exist. God of love or God of division? A God who sows compassion or one of hatred? And on the same page, Mano's apology.... Not accepted! Gosh! God of forgiveness or God of vindictiveness???
God and politics... When certain men believe they are the divine mouthpieces, havoc!!!! Perhaps halal certification is also required for political parties. Religion for man or God, I wonder????
Might as well just focus on Azizulhani's effort right at the top of the paper! At least that one... It's not hard to feel his disappointment cos that one truly shouldered all our aspirations! A medal at the Olympics!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lifelong Learning

Life is a journey and one just has to keep learning as we move along. Lifelong learning isn't a new concept. It's a concept as old as Man. I guess somewhere, someone coined it into a word and it has caught on. These days, we talk a lot about lifelong learning, maybe because the comforts of life has made us soft and lazy.

Anyway, in education today we tout lifelong learning as an essential, something that is necessary because everything is changing so fast. I think it's just a illusion. Reading novels about the eras before this one has taught me that lifelong learners have always been around. When I read 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks', I was amazed by how innovative the doctors were. They built their machines and tools from scratch and imagination.

Today, I think it should be the same too, except that knowledge is now available at giddying quantities and speed. But many of us are not bothered about it. Cos we feel we have everything we need. There is less hunger in us these days.

Anyway, continuous education, lifelong learning...they've become easier. Once upon a time, you have to find a master willing to take you in as an apprentice. These days, you need to have an attitude, well not that sort of negative attitude but the sort that quietly propels you to learn and continually improve yourself. And learning has taken on a new dimension with the Net, which is very liberating.

Other Half recently introduced me to this site, Coursera, where you can sign up for courses; all disciplines. A gamut of courses are available and many of them are by professors from very well known universities. I am currently following this course 'An Introduction to Finance' conducted by a professor from the University of Michigan. Because I am a week late, I have decided to just listened to his videos. I won't be participating in the forums or assignments. No certs but this course is giving me an opportunity to learn some basics in Finance. I've done 4 lectures in 2 days and I've found his lectures to be most informative (and entertaining).

I've also signed up for some other courses which will start in a couple of months; World History by a Princeton lecturer, Critical Thinking and Sociology (which I did in uni more than 20 years ago). And I am super sure that all these will be many folds better than anything my school or state department can ever offer me because the facilitators have been downright boring and come across as quite clueless in the subject matter which they should be experts.

Coursera is not the only avenue. The Net has opened up many other possibilities. There are talks one can listen to like those from TED and RSA Animate. You can also try iTunes U which is a great resource. Also, you have forums where you can discuss with like-minded people. There are online articles, ebooks, interactive sites. If you are an occasional space buff like me, there is also NASA you can check out. It has great pictures of everything to do with space! Incidentally, they've just put another Rover called Curiousity onto Mars! I used to show Spirit and Opportunity to my boy and co, trying to spark their imaginations years ago.

You can learn anytime, any place... as long as you are connected to the Net. 8) Apps on tablets have also enabled anyone to learn stuff which needs real expertise.... like astronomy for example. These days, you can just hold your iPad to any location and with the right app, the constellation of that particular location you're pointing at will just pop up onto the screen. The rest is easy because there is Google!

So yeah! I am a lifelong learner, not because I am forced to but because I have an 'attitude'. LOL! But I'm truly amazed by the offerings. I think being a student today is really fun, cos there are so many sources you can look into. The only thing is to drag oneself away from the distractions... also from the Net. And it's a bit sad that our schools aren't preparing our students to be lifelong learners. One of the prerequisites is independence. Spoon fed students make poor lifelong learners cos they need external stimulation and are not internally generated.

A university degree may not mean very much in the future. It's your 'attitude' that will matter more. And to sell that attitude, one needs good communicative skills. So yeah... lifelong learning has been happening from the beginning of humanity. And it just got more complex.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What Aren't Our Schools Teaching

Despite all the hoo-hah about how 'world-class' our schools are, they don't quite liberate the minds to face the challenges of the today's world... What aren't our schools teaching?

Our schools aren't teaching our students to be lifelong learners. What our schools teach is regurgitation skills. The better one is at regurgitating, the better his grades will be. So, despite being brilliant in public exams, employers still lament about their lack of dynamism. We seem to fail to get it across to a great many of our kids that learning doesn't stop when they leave school, that the rigours of learning matter just as much if not more than the knowledge itself. I subscribe to the belief that knowledge is easily available these days. It's the resourcefulness, eagerness, willingness and other qualities that play pivotal roles in separates. Learning should never stop. Lifelong learners embrace knowledge not as an end but a continuous means; building blocks.

Schools no longer teach us how to think. Students aren't expected to think. Maybe teachers don't know how to teach thinking skills too... probably because it's not really required to pass exams. Thinking requires effort. These days, effort isn't something that people willingly put in. I see that a lot in the boys. And perhaps too, those in the corridors of powers too are not all that sincere in ensuring that everyone of our thinking caps work. Thinking people are not easily fooled. When Shih Huang-ti wanted to strengthen his power base, one of the first people he went after were the thinking people...

I think our schools also fail to teach us how to handle our money. Look the credit card spendings and you'll catch my drift. We have subjects like Kemahiran Hidup (Living Skills) and Perdagangan (Commerce) but many of our young know squat about saving and investing. What they do know is they enjoy spending and they're easily lured by glitzy products and lifestyles. When we don't teach this skill, we also fail to teach them how to delay their gratifications. And this is an era of instant gratifications... to be able to delay is less common. We are bombarded with a slew of temptations for everything....

Our schools aren't places where we teach good citizenry. We don't teach our kids to be Malaysians first. Instead, schools become places that subtly breed intolerance. We've had schools banning children from bringing food from home because of the haram and halal issues. We focus on way too much religious programmes from one particular faith and in the process alienate other students rather than unite. Religion becomes a tool to advance one's ambitions and to suppress. History is full of accounts where religion has been used to cite people to war, induce submission and even to fill coffers. Religion is supposed to be about peace, justice, freedom, etc, etc. Look around and try count, how many self declared religious countries are utopias on earth!

Schools don't teach kids how to say 'No'. Baby dumping cases are on the rise. It takes sex to make babies but sex is a taboo subject in school. So kids turn to the next most available source. Friends and the Net. Kids don't know how to say 'No' because sex education is a no-no. We seem to be oblivious that the current form of religious education seems to be no match to raging hormones... or the onslaught from the net. We don't teach kids that substance preceeds form. I see too often teachers going after students' hair hidden under their scarves to see whether they have dyed their hair! We focus way too much on form these days. Piety is often measured from the outward. But we fail to build character and substance. We sacrifice co-curricular for curriculum. PE lessons are often the first to be sacrificed for other subjects.

Schools don't teach our kids how to be polite or beradab. Classrooms are noisy even when the teachers are in. Students talk when the teacher is talking. And greeting a teacher when you bump into them (which are aplenty) is no longer the norm. So, wonder not why when Reader's Digest survey shows KL to be 33 out if 36 cities in being courteous. We were only better than Bucharest and Mumbai. This coming from our supposedly superior Asian culture.

Schools don't teach kids to respect and obey the law. Every morning, along roads leading to rural and suburban schools, you'll find many underaged as well as helmetless motorcyclists, all in school uniforms. Schools should work more often with the relevant authorities to educate the kids on the need to follow the law. Instead, we 'teach' them that the need to go to school precedes that of keeping the law. Another example of the manisfestation of this failure would be every Friday, we get cars parked haphazarly near mosques because attendance at the mosques precedes the need to obey the law. It's the same for other religious functions. Because one does it, the other follows suit. We seem to be teaching our kids that as long as it's God's duties we're doing, breaking man made laws are okay.

Schools don't teach us about meritocracy. Instead, the school becomes the place where the practice of preferential treatment is put asunder, for all to see, without any shame. You put 3 students, different race, same family background, same set of results. Inadvertantly, one will get offers for further studies or places in public higher institutions while the other 2 most likely will not. And it will all boil down to race. We condone racism in the process too. Who says Malaysia does not practice apartheid?

Our schools are not independent of politics. We do not put the best people to run them. We do not employ great teachers....Malaysia is facing a brain drain problem, mainly because the ethnic Chinese and Indians have been taking flight. I guess it'll be only a matter of time for the really capable ethnic Malays who are sickened by the same thing to follow suit. The ones who leave are usually the best and brightest. They leave because of our racial politics, which breeds other unequal policies. And we replace them with semi or unskilled workers from Indonesia. Some studies say, at this rate we'll be stuck where we are. The world is already competitive enough as it is...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What London Olympics Taught Me

Read this article, Brutal Truths of Education Systems. Then I read this post in a blog I follow regularly...

This excerpt was taken from Dr. Milton Lum's article in The Star recently and this phrase caught my eye, A deficient doctor is reflective of a deficient teacher; just as a child's conduct is reflective of the parent's. Similarly, the state of our education system is a reflection of us.

And so what has London Olympics to do with this rambling? I watched the Opening Ceremony twice, first with Mom, in a groggy state. The second time was with our gal, cos I wanted her to see, learn and experience it. Of course, instead of the boring and insipid commentators from RTM which I had to put up with during the live telecast, Other Half and I provided our running commentary.... LOL!

My first impression of the Opening was chaos. But as I watched, the beauty of the whole event just sort of sank in. In all that seemingly disorderly field with people running everywhere and everything seemingly out of sync, Danny Boyle did a superb job of telling the story; but it's one that can only be understood in totality if you know, or at least a sufficient amount of knowledge. Britain has a complex history, one so diverse and vast that at one point in its timeline, the sun never did set in its empire. And that is the indication how it has influenced the modern world like no other civilizations.

And so in class yesterday, I discussed the Opening Ceremony with my students. One kid said it was kucar-kacir - chaotic. These days, most kids don't have much working knowledge of English. Hence, teaching in English can be a horrendous experience, unless like me, we turn to BM. BM is already dimartabatkan. We have no choice. Many students are just not functional in English.

Anyway, back to the opening ceremony, they could not understand what it was all about. The transformation of an agrarian society, by the Industrial Revolution to world conquerors; the beauty of its literature from Shakespeare to the much loved Hogswarts and its world of wizardry; and even the touch of sweet Mary Poppins and chimney cleaning; or the kind of Mr. Bean humour that only the Brits can come up with, it was all there. The Opening Ceremony was one that sums up the glory and greatness of the British culture.... And it was a lesson missed on our kids. They did not realize too that the social networking that most of us take for granted today, well, it has its roots from a Brit too.

Even though the Industrial Revolution is taught in Form 4 History, its significance is lost on our kids. Similarly, majority of our kids are lost even in the obvious and subtle segments. And that is where our education system has failed them. To watch and be awed, to wonder whether Malaysia will ever reach that level where we can host such an event, or whether if we were ever to do the history thingy, will our story telling mute out all the contributions of people like Yap Ah Loy or that this land was once a Hindu land... What has been happening is much of our heritage has systematically been denied and erased, in an attempt to create a monoracial kind of legacy.

The sad thing is to most of our kids, the Opening Ceremony was just a show with some segments which are more entertaining than others. Many were entertained by the musical put up, boy meets girl, falls in love with the social media playing a role but missed out on being wowed by the music development as it evolves from one era to another... the glory days of Rock and Roll, etc. Our students lack the intellectual prowess to conclude, compare, rethink and produce. There is this feeling that imagination is nearly dead in them, that they are dulled by our education system. And a great part of that problem is the deficiency which many of us do not care to admit.

Imagine during an assembly, you hear this...'tahniah kerana berjaya menghadirkan diri ke sekolah. Syabas diucapkan." or that teachers are asked to stand at the school gate to 'salam' (shake hands) with each kid who comes to school to show a budaya penyayang. Something is seriously wrong with the way we run things I feel. We mollycoddle, try to show that we care when we actually are clueless as to what to do.

When Principals get transferred (or 'promoted') we throw lavish send-offs. Have we forgotten that we are civil servants? Instead, to be a boss these days is more like a tuan... Tuan and hamba kind of relationship. In a society still marked by titles... I guess we have never really shaken that mentality off. Or the glossy everything that we see in every event... wastages which promote self-importance. A projection of grandiose which very often is just a facade, and when removed, bares the pathetic deficiencies.

We are now reaping the results of yesteryears' policies. Once upon a time, the teaching profession was the stuffing ground for those who could not fit in elsewhere. Many discards ended up in teaching. Well, these people have found themselves at the top now... I'll leave it to one's imagination, how far-reaching that one act of compromising quality for political mileage has damaged our education. Uninspiring teachers can only 'inspire' that much.... Similary, a teacher who has never known success or the grind involved in getting there cannot be expected to push for that sort of excellence.

A deficient student is the result of a deficient teacher. A small deficiency can still be covered but when it's a major deficiency that we're dealing with, the system will begin to crumble. Private education, be it schools or higher institutions; they will be the preference if nothing is done and sadly only for the moneyed ones. Education, supposedly the one accesible tool to provide leverage has failed. It produces jaguh kampung, hardly many world beaters. The lack of English mastery in the majority compounds the ignorance. Many of our world beaters are not 'locally made'. Sad, cos once upon a time too, our Malaysian education system was acknowledged for his quality. And that was for real, not like the many glittering facades that have been put up today.