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! 


Grace said...

I am so sorry to read of your daughter's situation - though I am appalled to read that she was canned for something so stupid. I used to be a special ed teacher in Singapore and they reserve caning for serious offenses, like a boy setting the toilet on fire and another boy slashing his classmate with a knife removed from a pencil sharpener. I hope your daughter is not traumatized by this, it seems that she is very creative and it would be a shame for them to stifle this creativity. In any case, it would be the teacher's fault for not stating clearly in the essay what was required of the students, that it be written from the perspective of the speaker and not the participant. I would be most interested to hear what the end result of the situation would be.

AJ7 said...

It's an open essay... The instruction to me was clear - none! But this is Malaysia. We have become so rigid and dogmatic that we are stifling vibrance. I could be accused of being a sour grape because I did not agree with the teacher but the state of Malaysian graduates from our public university is the reflection of the malaise that has plagued us all. That is very, very sad. The way they want the answer is a reflection of a greater problem... we are not educating. If only one perspective, then we are telling our kids that in life only one role matters... in sports everyone must be an athlete, if you are not an athlete than you are useless....

Daniel Kopial said...

Chinese schools system in Malaysia was adapted from China during the great communism era. There is no doubt this culture survived throughout generations, seeing how ex-students patonize their schools very much. Such thing do exists in English Mission Schools too, but on a moderate note. In Islamic schools, things are sometimes far worse...think differently, and get stone to death under the who-dude law...Lol! Hope Alysa forget about this quick, at such young age...that teacher has done much damage on her creative mind. If J.K Rowling had that kind of teacher, she'd just end up as a typist kekekeke

PreciousPearl said...

you should seriously consider sending a solicitor's letter to your daughter's teacher for the unwarranted physical assault she carried out on her. or tell the HM that you are considering contacting a newspaper to highlight the failings of teaching/ teachers in this school. wonder what the fallout would be like!

Die, die also hers....

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