Sunday, December 29, 2013

Coming Up... 2014

These days I am kinda lazy to write... I think being sucked into the vortex of Candy Crush has something to do with it too. Candy Crush, I guess does not qualify for those gamification concept that seems to be a rave these days in the education circle. I think I sometimes enjoy being lulled by the mindless swiping of the candies... Seeing them crushed when they line up in threes, fours and fives.

Another year coming to a close... A lot can happen in a year. A lot can change too. And again too I am reminded in small (and big) ways that nothing is permanent. And I wonder too if we try to create a sense of permanence too to give us comfort.

One kid an adult, another one leaving childhood behind, entering the marginal world... I hope the next few years would not be as traumatic for me as the years I went through with the one before her.

The coming year will be a year of challenge, especially at work. I enter it with anticipation and trepidation. I don't know if I still have the tenacity and stamina to see the challenges through. There will be a couple of IT related stuff which I hope to start at work... This year, I started using the iPad and AppleTV in teaching. I have discovered much but there is still much to learn.

Technology is moving fast... The likes of Google Docs, Google Drive, various apps like Socrative, concepts like Flipped Learning, Blended Learning, Project Based Learning and so on are changing how we teach and learn. It is a very exciting time. I see too the need for teachers to adapt, and perhaps even abandon many of our traditional teaching methods in anticipation of how information is stored and used. I have even tried gamification in learning... and yes! It makes learning fun. We should put play back into learning.

And yes... Traditional exam taking probably has to go too in time to come. Computers are now wearable. There is probably no need to memorize stuff in the huge quantity that many of us are used to. Testing would be more to assess skills and not just ability to regurgitate.

2014... Supposed to be rambling about the coming year... Reflecting about the year about to end. But I think my mind is still swirling somewhere out there... in the vortex with all the candies crushing with each other. Then again... A couple of thoughts here. We should experiment with technology even though it might be scary. Many of us are technophobic. We should try out different approaches in teaching. Not everything tested remains relevant. And instead of just focussing on the A(s), we should try to embrace those special moments and turn them into a teaching opportunity.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Just A Little Bit More on iPad

More schools jumping onto the bandwagon of using the interactive whiteboard (IWB) and visualizer to compliment the existing use of projection via the computer. I think the iPad (or tablets) will be a better choice. A market report convinces me that. Apparently companies making the IWB have been posting lower profits lately. I am no economist but the little economics that I know tells me that companies make lower profits when their products don't sell that well... And if a product is not selling well, that means it either has a replacement or is reaching the end of its shelf life...

And I think it's quite clear to see why. The writing is on the wall already actually....
I think we are still not quite up to the BYOD or BYOT stage yet. Most of us feel that our students are not quite yet ready for that. That BYOD would probably be more distracting than enabling. However, I feel that this is one area which we should be exploring in earnest. I find it strange that our kids cannot bring their own smartphones to school to use as a reference tool. This is an age of information at 'Google-tip'.

Our text books remain stuck to the date of its publications. So as the world moves forward... even as kids in other countries learn that states of matter consist of solid, liquid, gas, plasma and Bose-Einstein condensate, our kids learn that there are only 3 states. And our teachers say this is good so that they get a good solid basic. I fail to see how. I find it sad that our kids are not encouraged to use the vast resources on the Net as their learning fields. We are still trying to micro manage an environment that seems to moving beyond the macro. And we continue to drill for A(s) because we believe that those with the most A(s) will be good enough for the vocations of their choice. This despite numerous and repeated reports from those in the field that our graduates are simply just not meeting market needs.

Tablets... since I am an iPad person... should be a feature in the classrooms. And kids should be encouraged to bring their own. Perhaps we should allow schools to dicate their own platforms.
Recently I attended a course for the deployment of Chromebook in schools. A new mobile lab concept came with this latest offering from the Ministry of Education. 

This mobile lab which is actually a cart complete with its own internet source and cache storage. They even thoughfully added the access points so that 40 units of computer can access the net in class. All these Chromebooks sit in the cart, ready to be carted to the class for use. But someone seems to have forgotten that our classrooms sit not only on one floor. Our 80kg mobile cart apparently can only be mobile on one floor. It's crazy trying to move a cart up or down two flight of classrooms.

And even as we participants of the course tried to access the net via the modem given.... it was obvious too that having 40 online at the same time might prove a tricky feat. And not forgetting too... the Chromebooks in the mobile carts needed to be extracted for use. Imagine the time needed to retrieve and keep these computers. Putting them back is apparently trickier as it involves plugging their charging wires back so that they could be charged. A class of 30 would spend probably a total of 15 minutes for these activities. Kids might as well just learn without them. Some schools run on 35 minutes... with only 20 minutes left... and countless other possibilities, a teacher might just be better off with just chalk and talk...

A mobile lab which actually isn't that mobile. That's how I see the latest ministry offering. And I haven't even started on suitability. 7 year olds tapping away on keyboards. I just can't see that happening unless the 7-10 year olds attend typing classes.. So mobile labs in primary schools... I wonder if they are only meant for those in Primary 5 and 6. These kids will definitely be better off with an intuitive screen for their little fingers to tap and explore.

The government spent billions to buy computer hardware and software for the PPSMI. It later went on to 'give' deserving students a netbook each... But just do a check around and you will find kids with professional parents given a netbook too! And now this mobile lab thing. I wonder too how much benefits this will bring. Maybe it's time to give BYOD a consideration. Tax breaks for such purchases will be a better alternative perhaps... But whatever it is... our students are being left further behind.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

One more trip to the Menara Alor Setar

It's hols... and this was after our 'lessons' with our kids.... reading, writing, thinking... and play.

My bros and I used to be able to keep ourselves occupied during long hols doing the sort of things that kids would do... climb trees, catch spiders, play hide and seek, games and even an occasional roof climbing sessions. My childhood was fun. But sad to say, if we don't plan stuff for our kids, most of them would be stuck at home, in front of the TV or iPad, worse still the computer, playing computer games.

Our first stop for the hols... the Menara Telekom. Used to bring Son and other kids here too when he was my girl's age. But that seems to feel like a lifetime ago.

Anyway, the day was cloudy. It's monsoon season now... and a time when some of us worry about flooding. We piled all the kids into the car and headed for the Tower. The ground was wet, the floor kinda slippery. I thought it would be quite empty.

But when I opened the door leading into the foyer, a group of really young kids were hanging around with a few adults. We proceeded to the counter and I asked the lady there whe,ther we had to wait long to go up. Turned out, we could proceed immediately to the lift.. only one lift was working though, I noticed. Tickets are priced at RM8 for adults and RM4 for kids.

It was already quite cold when we got there but the gust of wind which greeted us up there almost knocked the breath out of me. It was freezing! And it was really windy up there. Alor Setar can be quite cold I realised. 8) There was quite a crowd there even though it was the middle of the week.
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I pointed the kids to the 'telescopes' or binoculars which were all around and they busied themselves to spying with their eyes the landmarks down below. And what kind of landmarks caught their eyes??? McDonald's, a swimming pool, hawker centres... I just realized that they didn't fancy historical places, geographical landmarks...  We used to be wowed by the sight of two rivers meeting... the winding rivers as it snakes inland or into the sea, depending on which direction you were looking... those natural stuff didn't excite them. McDonald's did! Such is the current generation... probably a reflection of how our education system and we parents have failed to plant in them a sense of the past and wonderment for their surroundings.

Like any kids... they ran to their hearts content on the observation deck. We got them some snacks..... and an hour went by rather quickly. I made them read the posters plastered to the railing all around the deck... information about different historical landmarks in the city and the surrounding area.. If I had not asked them to, they'd have given them a miss. The reading habit is sadly missing these days...

Everyone was quite cold by the time we got down to solid ground... we decided to have a quick dinner at Hai Tau Kee.. a hawker centre near the junction after Pekan Cina.

The first outing for the hols... Squash, tennis and swimming sessions to follow... and I wonder how long their enthusiasms will last. Either that or this creaky body gives way first...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Year Gone By

Well, technically the year is not yet over. There's still a month more before 2013 closes. But for me, the year is as good as over. School break is on... and the first week is almost over. Before long, the new year will be knocking and everything starts all over again...

New sets of students await but the same sets of challenges. Changing times might require some tweaking but generally the challeges remain similar. Teenagers, those about to enter the threshold of secondary school life... I've come to realize that time generally stands still for them. Some might say that this gen has more sophistication, more of everything perhaps... but I have noticed that the challenges of growing up remain. Every generation will have different variants but they are challenges nevertheless.

Changes... they are inevitable. Yet those changes are actually the same too. It's just that cos we're experiencing them for the first time in our lives that they might feel different. But essentially, I guess every generation before probably feels the same way how many of us might feel. Living once.. well, that more or less ensures that they feel new. So sometimes I feel it's not a bad idea to heed the words of the wise ones before us. But that too poses it's own challenge.

Social order... sometimes I wonder if all of what we have is conditioned. Social conditioning for the greater good. Gender roles, societal structures... etc, etc... I have been thinking a lot lately about the roles that each of us is to play and how social conditioning has played its role in shaping roles.

I still do the things I do. I still believe in some of my ideals. I think life is better for them. But I'd like to think that I am a little wiser... maybe wiser should not be the word... a little more discerning perhaps?? But I am painfully aware that every step that I make into my future is a step of discovery... cos they will all be first steps. I don't have the privilege of foreknowledge. And I have realised that ideals are just that -- ideals. They are only as good as you make of them.

Age is something that none of us can escape. No amount of make-up will be able to hide the lines that will appear on our faces. The body will fail. It should. Steve Jobs said something about death being one of life's greatest inventions. I see his logic. The old must make way for the new. When the old digs in and tries to stay put, the final picture is usually not very pretty. We are corrupted creatures...

Finding meaning... I realise too that many are searching for meaning. Everyone wants to be heard but few want to listen. The art of listening is a dying art. It took this new work environment to make me see that clearer too. Maybe having too many choices has something to do with it too. Noises, inability to listen... these are the hallmarks of my (not so) new work environment. Kids today do not stay very focus. I tend to think that delivery has a lot to do with it too. The old refuses or finds it hard to change with changing demands.

And one final thing... There is nothing new under the sun. The Philosopher's word. Indeed true. It only feels new to us cos every step we make into time is a first step to us. Yet millions before us have trodden on the same path.... there are variables but the constants have remained the same I think. Hence, nothing new under the sun. How we choose to live... I think that's what makes the difference.

A student of mine recently said that if we want to serve people, be a politician. I gave him a quick retort and told him if he wanted to serve people, be like Mother Theresa!

I am in a reflective mood tonight...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

iPad in Class

I started using the iPad as a teaching tool sometime this year. I have actually been using it off and on in my classes ever since I first bought the iPadto show stuff or copy exercises onto the chalkboard from the many ebooks that I carry in my iPad. And that was about 2 years back, if memory seves me right.

Anyway, Airplay on AppleTV made it possible for me to project whatever that is on my iPad onto the screen. And to get my school onto this bandwagon.... one day, I brought my AppleTV to school and hooked everything up. Then I asked my Principal to come and have a look. From there, I got the green light to get a set for the school. With that, I moved most of my classes to the room to have their lessons there. And the last few months have been an experience of sorts, one which also allowed me to embark on a journey of discoveries.

One of the best discoveries was this app called Doceri. Doceri is basically like the chalkboard in class. I guess I could likened it to a chalkboard on steroids! Lol! It is now one of my main teaching tools. Having it in my iPad means that I can now prepare my lessons anywhere, as long as I have my iPad with me. And I am one of those people who carry their iPads almost everywhere.
I can do stuff on it which one could only dream of a decade ago on my iPad. Back then, they would require a certain amount of knowledge in animation and sound softwares. And that was daunting enough for many. With Doceri, the animation that I made below took a mere half an hour.... Could have finished it earlier if I had not been that fussy.

I have been able to engage students with other apps that allow me to manipulate timelines, use videos, mindmaps and images. And the best thing is lessons become clearer and I am less tired. Cos now, I don't have the write the same stuff on the chalkboards of a few different classes. I have better eye contact with students too. Lessons become easier to digest because lessons can get very visual.
I convinced a good friend of mine to give this a try. Unlike me, she had to bring her own devices. Yet she persisted and our experiences have been more or less the same in terms of student response. I was an early adopter with the use of the computer in class many years ago. But I abandoned it because it was too much hassle. This shows promise.

The last few months have been a time of discoveries. I have been able to adapt and adopt ideas and try out new stuff in my classrooms. I have also learned that with the iPad, very often our own imagination is the limiting factor. My school will be setting up more of such facilities. I have shared my experiences twice with my colleagues and once with teachers from another school (at the insistence of another friend).

There are some still with the Luddite mentality that technology does not offer much benefits. I think not. Technology is a great enabling tool. However, it's only as effective as we make it to be. To do so, we, ourselves will also have to undergo our own transformations and change of mindset. To make it relevant, we have to relearn ways of doing things.

Life is about constant rejuvenation.... a story of the old passing to make way for the new... I guess technology is one of the agents if rejuvention in the field of education.... 8)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Being Connected

I read somewhere that as educators we should be connected... It got me thinking. I recently was invited to give an inhouse training to a school. This has been a year of changes, challenges and a time of revisiting the past for me. It's been a while since I addressed a crowd of people other than students. Over a decade ago, I had the opportunity to attend some IT related courses in Universiti Tenaga and Universiti Telekom. They were short courses running for 2-3 weeks. And soon after, I was again fortunate enough to be involved in some projects. Those days, even the use of PowerPoint was something of a novelty. And I was one of the early adopters.

Yet, because I served under a visionary Principal who was visionary in every sense of the word, I was given many opportunities...... opportunities which would not have come my way if not for the way he 'fought' for me to be included in the courses I mentioned above, courses which I attended and where I would often find myself the only or if not, one of the very few teachers of other than those from the dominant race. But I have since also learned that unequal opportunities and treatments come in all forms.... and the worst sometimes come from within the same race itself.

Anyway, going out to give a course allowed me to reconnect with an old friend of mine. And it reminded me too how despite everything, there can still be opportunities. And if one continues to work and improve oneself from the opportunities that come along, we can still move forward. My early exposure to the world of Photoshop, Macromedia, sound editing planted long lasting interests in things related to IT. And over the years, it has somehow been sustained. My home became a 'hotbed' of innovations of sorts as my other half was just as interested. We scrooged and saved but IT stuff were things which we'd 'invest' in. Till today, purchasing gadgets out of curiousity remains a practise in our house. Gadgets like Raspberry Pi, the NAS have made their presence felt

The internet was a boon. Where once we had to search high and low for information. The world wide web opened up possibilities. I am a fervent believer of lifelong learning now. I might also add that the net has also enabled personalized Learning in a way not imagined a decade ago. I read about Flipped Learning some time ago. And it works for me too! Theories abound these days in the field of education. I believe that there is much to be learned still. There is no end to learning.... If we can continue learning, I guess it also points to us still being able to progress... to live.... cos life is about challenges. Learning something new is a challenge.

The inhouse training my friend and I conducted was on the use if tablets (namely the iPad) in classroom teaching. It was an experience of sorts. I have carried out 2 of such courses in my own school this year. We are slow in adopting technologies which enhance our teaching as well as the students' learning experiences. We are too bogged down by too much of our own self interests very often which affect a school's abilities to make school meaningful to many of the students. The system that we're in, coupled with the political practices create a situation where sharing is somehow dampened. But I guess too, without such a climate, such things will still rear their ugly heads.

One thing I mentioned in one of my closing statements to the participants of the course though.... Technology if adopted for the 'wow' factor will not impact the learning experience very much cos the focus would be on either the tool or the 'deliverer'. At the end of the day, that which makes the greatest difference, is still the teacher. Tools such as the iPad (and the other tablets) serve to assist the teachers and students. How effective a lesson turns out....... well, it still depends on a big part on the educators.

Being connected. We were among the earliest adopters of the internet where we are many years ago. How did I know that? When we went to Telekom to sign up, they showed us this list that had names of those who had applied for the service. We were among the first 5 who signed up! We were early adopters! Lol! And oh how this connection has enabled us to learn stuff never imagined before. Most of us take the Net connection as something that is just there these days. For me, the Net connected me to a world of amazing stuff, one made possible when we decided to journey on the roads it paved for us.

Thoughts in the cold wee hours of the morning.... It's the end of the year when the northern winds are blowing. The cold woke me up and connected me to these thoughts.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Yet Almost Another Year Gone By

This blog has been kinda quite this year. But it's not for the lack of things to write. It's just that I've been preoccuppied..... with things, changes.... the mundane existence of life. I've been busy. Have kept myself busy too. Age is also slowly and surely catching up. The stamina takes a beating these days. Joints ache more. Tiredness sets in more easily too. And it's also a time for lots of reflection.

New work environment. Old challenges with a new face. Almost the same sets of problems too. I guess it shouldn't be surprising. After all, our lives are surrounded by people. One thing though, I try to maintain my old pace as much as I can. But bones are creaking and muscles protest quite readily these days.

Tonight I had a visit from a young lady I used to teach and mentor. She is a young lady now. I kinda miss those days when Son was schooling and I used to have kids over for lessons. They have all grown up now.... all in college and in a year or two, all of them will be graduating. Time flies. Those mad years! Yet I cherish such visits now... Young men and ladies they are now...

I still have kids over for lessons. I guess I'd probably do it for as long as I can. Working with kids... I discovered that I actually enjoy it. Each one of them is different, yet same at the same time too. It's always a nice feeling realizing that one can make a difference in another's life.

It's been a challenging year at work too. I finally got to teach history. For the first time since I started teaching, I actually got to teach it for the whole year. And it's been a learning experience for me. I have experimented with different approaches, trying to make kids understand a subject which they've not been able to make sense of the whole time they have been at school, either through the lack of interest or language. It remains that vernacular school kids continue to be at a noticeable disadvantage when it comes to language mastery. And that lack of mastery impedes learning and puts them at a disadvantage.

One nice thing though, when kids come back on their own accord for lessons.... It's one of those things I cherish. Somewhere, at some point of time, we connected. And history lessons have gone into ideological arguments of communism vs capitalism. How is that for a bunch of kids with no inkling or interest for history at the beginning of the year?

But while I have made some headway in some, in a few, the battle seems lost for some too. Sometimes all it takes is just the lack of presence to seal a kid's fate. The lack of presence can be due to so many reasons too, and some of our own making. Schools are not without blame too. Too much effort in window dressing often leads to the loss of such students.

The year has almost gone by... I thought I'd continue to try to keep this going too. More to come, I hope.... cos I have been up to quite a bit too...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Me and Technology in Education

I've had my share of involvement in the introduction and use of technology in education. In my early years of teaching, I had the good fortune of working under a visionary Principal. I was a young gungho rookie and he was looking for someone to carry out some new ideas that he had in mind. So with the support of the school's PIBG, we embarked on an ambitious programme to introduce new technology to the school.

I bought a digital projection panel for the school. It was the first in the district and many schools came to have a look how it was used. The panel is placed on a regular OHP and when hooked to the computer. That of course is 'primitive' by today's standards. But we could project anything from the computer to the screen. The only setback was it was only in 3 colours. However, it was a cheaper alternative than a projector. Projectors cost a bomb those days.

In the ensuing years we went on to create a network for the school. Routers were big and cumbersome those days and a colleague's daughter donated two old sets which she brought back from the US. We bought our own crimpers and did the wiring ourselves. By then, the Internet was already a source of information. We learned as we went along, from the technology itself.

Then I had the good fortune to be involved in the planning and design of computer labs at a time when computer labs were a rarity. With about 700k funding from one of the banks, we embarked on an ambitious project which included computerized Braille gadgets for the visually impaired students. It was at this time too I got involved in web development, using HTML. I spent a many hours working on content as well as the webpages, putting in 10-14 hours at work sometimes.

The lab project was my last foray before a break from all techie stuff for about a decade. It was a good break though, looking back as it gave me time to focus on my boy. However, I continued to keep abreast with the changing trends... Those were also days of PDAs - Sony Clie, HP Jornada, Palm Vx, Palm m500, Palm 505, Tungsten T... And through it all, I found great joy in reading from them. My world had always been a connected and mobile one, even right from those early days. My first Harry Porter book was read on a Palm.

Then a couple of years ago, I switched over to the world of Apple. It started of with a MacBook. Over the years, more Apple products entered our household... Actually, the first Apple product which we bought was an iPod Mini. Anyway, ours is now a household of Apple products - iPod Shuffle, iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone, iMac, MacBook (Pro)... The tablets have become part and parcel of our lives.

And this is where I find it most amazing, of how the tablets is transforming education. Recently, I brought my own Apple TV from home and hooked it up to the old projector at school. Other Half had to go searching round town for a HDMI-VGA converter to enable it to be hooked up to the VGA projector. I showed by Principal and asked him whether I could start one at school, He gave the okay and I've had the most enjoyable and liberating time teaching these past two weeks with the iPad.... minus the trailing wires or the need to be confined to a small space.

I believe that we need to bring the world into the classrooms. Many of our textbooks are archaic. They are static too. The world we live in is evolving at a dizzying pace. Many of our students are bored at school. We are losing many kids too to this along the way. Many laments that our graduates lack many skills required at the work place.

Learning should take on new dimensions. We should focus on skills like analytical and critical thinking. We should teach our students to fish and not wait to be given the fish. Our system spoon feeds them to a point of debilitating them. We should begin to focus on personalized learning. For that to work, we need to inspire. We also need technology to assist us in monitoring individual progress.

I've had the most amazing response so far. I am beginning to see sparks of interest in some of my students' eyes. I find it amazing that some of my most laid back students are now the first to come to the room where I carry out my lessons. I find it incredible that I can move from one display to another with minimal fuss. There are so many great apps which have enabled me to bring the world into my classes. And apps like Doceri which mimics the real life interactive white board with many added plusses have increased efficiency, added educational value and made lessons interesting. It glaringly overwhelms the chalkboard. And oh... minus the chalk dust too! 8)

I have seen how technology evolves, right from those days when my alma mater bought 10 sets of XT machines. Those computers came with monochrome monitors. I learned BASIC programming on them. Then when I was in uni, bro bought his computer, an AT 286 PC with a composite monitor...

I think many of us would have not imagine that we would one day be swiping and tapping screens with such ease on tablets such as the iPad. It has indeed been an amazing journey and I think it's going to get even more amazing...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Unintended Consequences ...by Stuart Woods

Finished this book a couple of weeks back. Haven't been reading novels this year. Too preoccupied with other things. Anyway, this is one of those feel good novels, where everything turns out well at the end of the story. It's the kind of novel which makes a good reading during a stress-filled period cos you don't get any added suspense which might sometimes leave the reader feeling 'unhappy.'

You have Stone Barrington, the super rich, handsome and available hot shot lawyer as the hero of the story. And since I have already mentioned that the novel has a happy ending, it is safe to assume that he survived every threat that hurled itself at him. And of course, in novels like this, there is always a pretty woman somewhere, only in his case, the beautiful woman is also a woman of substance, well able to stand on her own and packs her own punches.

The novel begins with the hero finding himself in Europe, having awaken from a drug induce state of unconsciousness and memory loss. His adventure begins as he tries to unravel the mystery surrounding his unusual circumstances. Business dealings from the rarefied world of the ultra wealthy and privileged, murders and involvement of the espionage agencies coupled with the shadowy underworld make the novel an intriguing read in its own way.

Suffice to say, I enjoyed this book. After all, I am a fan of happy ending where the hero (and heroine) can hold his (her) own against the enemies. I'd rate this a good read for those stressed periods. 8)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

An Evening In Tanjung Dawai

Years gone by... My boy is already done with with his first year at uni. He's back on his break. And since mantis prawns is one of his favourite, my friend enthusiastically made the necessary calls to make this trip a success. These prawns are only available during certain time of the month only... something to do with the ebb and flow of tides. So, it's always best to call ahead. Anyway, I blogged about this place here after my first visit there 3 years ago. We've gone back there 2 or 3 times but did not manage to eat the mantis prawns.

So after lessons with the kids, we pushed off to Tanjung Dawai, 5 kids and 2 mothers - 4 juvenile and one soon-to-be adult, who can now drive. The journey took over an hour and when the first stop was the wharf to get the mantis prawns where they are kept in holding tanks.
The prawns are as fresh as you can get them, alive and swimming for us to choose. We took 8 of these huge flers. These set us back around RM150 @RM95 per kg. These were skill kicking when we passed it to the cook to be deep fried. You can also request for them to be baked.
We also took some crabs. 4 of these cost around RM20, which I felt was quite reasonable. We had it cooked sweet sour. The littlest of the kids who is a crab fan ended up saying that the mantis prawn tasted better than the crabs. I have this to say... at that size, they are as good as lobsters.

These we took to the old ramshackle restaurant by the jetty. Beyond the jetty is Pantai Merdeka. The shop was packed when we got there at around 5.00 p.m. Service was quite slow but everyone dug in as soon as the orders arrived. We also ordered some deep fried squids and another vegetable dish for good measure. Suffice to way, everything was wiped clean. Initially, I had thought that there might be mantis prawns left over for us to tapau home but it was not meant to be. We paid an additional RM70 at the restaurant for their service and the extra dishes.
An interesting observation though... Found the way this uncle make the drinks most interesting. Watching him prepare each drink conveys the feeling that every cup he makes is important to him. We noticed that every glass took quite a while to prepare. One can't help but feel that it's of great concern to him that every glass is well-prepared. He makes sure that the sugar or milk is well mixed into the drink by twisting this mini egg beater like thing in the glass. It's quite mesmerising watching him work. This uncle takes great pride in his work. I noticed too that he would wash his hands, utensils while he sets about preparing each drink.

I have not blogged about food for quite some time. But memories are made of these. The kids are growing. One of mine has 'semi-flown' the roost. In a short time, the other 4 kids (3 belong to my friend) will leave the nest too. On our way home, we stopped by the popular restaurant for Bedong's famous mantou. The mantou tasted better this time around too.
The trip was nice... And I didn't have to drive... 8)

Friday, June 28, 2013

MMI... Memelihara Masa Instruksional

The fact that we needed to come out with this one, I guess, in a way points to another failure in our school system. Apparently our instructional time is under siege. And I suspect the 'enemy' is from within. MMI goes to great lengths to spell out the need to protect the instructional time at school. So much so that we hear of all kinds of measures. And we also get circulars from the departments spelling out what can or cannot be done at school.

One program which fell victim was the Teacher's Day celebration. The school is no longer allowed to spend the day celebrating the Teacher's Day. Instead teachers had to go back to class and teach for half the day - on that one day set aside to appreciate teachers. Lol!

But on many other days, when it suits the school... and I am not blaming school administrators cos their hands are rather tied too. After all, we only have 24 hours a day..... other programs which affect the instructional time are carried out. For example, I remember one program, some Purple Walk event where students were taken out from school and had to waste the whole morning sitting around the stadium. There wasn't much educational benefit from that event... Yet when the orders came from above to find numbers to make up the crowd, the MMI was overlooked.

Our education system is not in the best of health now. But instead of treating it with the right medicine, we keep calling for unnecessary tests... hoping that those tests would show us a magical cure. I think everywhere in the world, the same problem plagues the educational system. We keep discarding the old because we feel that the new is better. But unfortunate for us, in this era where the sense of entitlement is high and the willingness to work hard is low, things continue to slide. Most of us see the slide but we seem so unable to stem it.

MMI... sadly one of those things that mean well but highlight even more our failures and shortcomings. And the result - a generation unable to seemingly think analytically or critically. For we often seem to keep trying to come up with slogans and acronyms without really looking inwardly to ourselves and see what ought to be rectified within first.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Listen, Listen and Listen

Five months into a new work place and I have discovered how little my students actually listen. I was shocked when I first entered my classes because what greeted me was not the typical type of classrooms which I was used to (I don't know whether location, race have anything to do with this) but that of students busy having their own conversations or doing their own things while the teacher is talking. It took weeks of constant reminders and great effort to make them sit and listen. And while I have seen some degree of silence, making it a point that these kids listen while lesson is ongoing is a continuous effort. And a noisy surrounding certainly does not help. A great way to learn about life and everything else in it... We think more too I feel, when we listen well...

Notice how people redirect a conversation to themselves or topics of their interests while are in the midst of telling them something? Or how they start giving their own opinions less than a couple of minutes into the conversation? They are many ways a conversation is redirected or hijacked.

The art of listening is a dying art. I always believed that listening is one of the dominant ways of learning. If we are not able to listen, we will not be able to learn. And by learning, I don't mean the kind of learning that requires you to regurgitate stuff lock, stock and barrel. When one listens, one is supposed to make meaning of the sounds he takes in. The brain then extracts meaning from those sounds. It's a great way of exercising our brain if we listen well.

I learned something these last few days by observing how the people around me communicate. And I discovered that by observing how they listen, I could identify their intent. I could infer the intent of the person doing listening by just observing the responses given. And much to my chagrin, I discovered that many people are poor listeners. And guess what? Poor listeners aren't really interested in other people. Most of the time, they were into themselves. And so, very much like many of my students who were so engrossed with themselves that they hardly listened, I found that it wasn't very much different everywhere.

Good listeners make good learners. Good listeners understand that listening helps us understand more about life. A good listener learns to think more because listening is a process that includes the need to extract, make sense and reflect on the materials taken in. Only in good listening will we be able to process further the understated and the subtle.

I teach History this year too. And in Form 5, the MOE has introduced a new paper which is an open book exam paper. The lack of ability of our 17 year olds to think shows very painfully in this paper. Despite having mostly better students, I found their ability to think sorely missing. Even in copying portions which have been prepared beforehand for the exam, I see the lack of ability to discern. Hence, typo errors were transferred unchanged into the exam scripts without even any thoughts. Just to illustrate... There is no BM word for 'dating' but for those of us familiar with the auto correct in MS Word, you know that the original word is 'datang'. Yet students did no processing of whatsoever. It's easy to conclude that they brain was hardly thinking when the hands were copying. These are kids who have lost the art of listening...

I think conscious listening is helps to create understanding. I mean, one can always claim that reading helps us understand too... But I think, it's by listening to our surrounding, the people around us that true understanding takes place. Cos listening is supposed to be two way. It shows us what we understand and don't understand. We have conversations but if listening doesn't take place, there will be no understanding. We become lonelier people, I should think. And in the world, if we don't listen, chaos will reign.

People don't listen for many reasons. There are too many distractions. We are too desensitized by so many things around us. Kids don't listen in class because they are lulled by the thought that their tuitions would see them thru. People around us don't listen because they are not interested in others. Whatever the reasons, the inability to listen brings about a lack of understanding.... of ourselves and the world around us. Not being able to listen actually dumbs us...

 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Fix Our Schools

Fix our schools... that's what I think we need to do, if we are to stand a chance of righting the wrongs of the last few decades. Fixing our schools would probably fix our society; our society which built on racial lines which divides than unite. We have so many different types of schools. Our students are divided along racial lines. Our education system has been watered and dumbed down. Yet our leaders keep hailing it as among the best, even when international assessments show us to be regressing.

Fix our our schools.... perhaps that would give our young a chance to grow up together, as Malaysians and not as Malays, Indians, Chinese and so on first. Instead of having so many types of schools, have one where people need not fear about their identity because we aim only to build one identity - to be Malaysians. Al schools should get equal funding. These days exclusivity of schools comes with other names too - cluster school, high performing schools and so on. Oh yes! I forgot the residential schools... And so those fortunate enough to get into such schools continue to benefit while those who end up in the lesser schools get less... Is this our new social reengineering?

Fix our schools... instead of dumbing down our exams. Set a standard and keep to it so that our young minds can be challenged and aim for the world. We do not lack brains or talents as many of our people have made it on the global stage. Instead of flip flopping on our education policies, dare make changes and embrace them so that we can stand tall among the best. Make teaching a career of choice for our best and brightest so that together we can inspire a new generation of Malaysians.

Fix our schools... so many things are not going well in our schools. Ensure that schools get heads with calibre. We have way too many mediocre heads. We also have way too many heads who ought not be leading schools. We have way too many heads who focus on too many wrong things. We are now paying the price for our skewed morality. Schools are very much like a political entity now. The wrong people get promoted because they have the right connections.

Fix our schools... our curriculum is slow in adapting to the changes in the world. We come out with bombastic sounding blueprints and they remain very much just that. We have grand sounding ideas and programs but very often they remain just that. This year, one that I have been hearing is Memelihara Masa Instruksional. An observation I have made is, these are readily sacrificed to achieve and maintain certain standings. And very often at the expense of students.

Fix our schools... Assessments. PBS, PMR (soon to be abolished), SPM and at pre-uni level, an unfair playing field where the field does not seem to be even... STPM, Matriculation, University foundation courses for those who vie for places in our public universities. PBS is a sham. Many teachers are already complaining of the huge amount of work. Assessments seem to be a sham. Many are wondering whether we will wake up to a bigger nightmare when these PBS kids get to their SPM. At pre-university, the segregation is telling and it is very racial.

Fix our schools... Perhaps when we start to truly fix our schools, we might finally begin to move forward as one bangsa Malaysia. But we need Change.... Will we see that change so that we can fix our schools?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

At the dawn of yet another General Election

For the first time in the history of our General Elections... ROS's decision not to recognise the DAP's office bearers means that no one can authorise its candidates to use the party's recognisable Rocket logo.... This, a technical glitch which happened last December, which at that time didn't seem a problem but became one just before naming of the candidates.

And so, DAP will contest under PAS logo in Peninsular and PKR logo in Sabah and Sarawak. Perhaps this might be a new dawn for Malaysian politics. Dato Onn (who could have been the founding father of Malaya) was way ahead of his time when he proposed opening UMNO to non Malays. He was ahead of his time in promoting what would have been known as 1Malaya back then... all races under one single party. We would probably be a different nation today... in all probability, a more dynamic one. 

But Malaya was not ready... He left UMNO. But his IMP floundered and was forgotten. But perhaps, even with this action with this really odd timing from ROS on DAP, might be a new dawn for Malaysia, ushering in perhaps a single identity for Malaysians.

We are way too divided along racial lines. We frowned upon apartheid, we used to join the chorus of voices condemning South Africa. Yet many of our own practices are also questionable. Quotas based on race, in education, business, civil service... and some of these quotas have actually decapitated our abilities to compete with the rest of the world. We have created instant millionaires but not been very successful in raising our ability to stand out. One just needs to compare ourselves with Singapore and Korea, and perhaps even Taiwan to see the difference. These were countries who were behind us in per capita income in the 1950s. Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia. And today, it is among the richest country in the world. What went wrong with us?

Many are beginning to stock up for fear that there might be unrest. The ghosts of 513 have yet been laid to rest. But perhaps too here, we might be heralding a new dawn.. because Malaysians today are better informed... thanks to the Internet. Change is necessary for a better tomorrow. Change is needed for our next generations.

The 13th GE.... it should be an interesting one. For one, MCA has become irrelevant. So has MIC... Together with UMNO they formed BN. And together, they have been practising politics along racial lines... The British divided us to rule us. I think BN style of politics works almost the same way. We have always been a divided nation... the leaders we elected made sure we remain suspicious of each other. A new dawn is needed....

And perhaps this new dawn will bring with it a new openness.... 

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Last Lecture ...by Randy Pausch

This is a very good read. The last lecture by a dying professor of computer science. Snippets from his books... paraphrased of course... He passed on in 2008.

About children living in an age where they are unrelentingly praised by parents who think that their kids are geniuses... I think it's true. We give way too much credit to our children these days... and too much sympathy too. As a result, we produce kids with far less resilience.

On your critics... People who critic you constructively are often the ones who really care. It takes effort to do that. Constructive criticisms make us think. Thinking is required to build. People who say only things we want to hear are not giving us self-esteem cos self esteem needs to be built. It can't be given. The process of building that self esteem builds self esteem.

Head fakes... very often we don't realize we are learning until well into the process. I totally agree... The process of learning provides all kinds of opportunities for us to improve.

Not everything needs to be fixed... Some of us are so preoccupied with looking good outwardly that we forget that it's okay as long as the thing still does what it's supposed to do. We live in a throwaway society these days... wasteful. We replace things at whims and fancy. We want things to look good all the time. But we forget that everything has a life span. You can't fix everything in the end.

Judging ourselves... I think many of us are unable to judge ourselves objectively. Cos if we can, most of us would have a sense of our own flaws and will be realistic about how others view us. As a teacher, I think many of us fail to teach our students to be self-reflective, to have that real ability to assess ourselves.

Being earnest or hip... Earnest is long term. Hip is just trying to impress on the surface. And I think the latter sums up most of us, regardless of age. Bigger house, nicer car, more expensive clothes... all of us try to be hip. He says hip people love parodies. And I agree with him that there is no such thing as a timeless parody. Sooner of later, we have to accept reality. I see that a lot at my work place now... being hip.

On experience as something you get when you didn't get what you wanted or it took a lot of effort to get. Very true....

On being elitist... after working for so many years, I realize that there are many elitists among us. Many of us think of certain tasks and jobs as beneath us, even though we came from very humble beginnings.  We become pompous self appreciating elitists and think of ourselves as above others.

On becoming who we should be... Many parents set their kids' paths.  So instead of helping them to develop a personal set of tools to help them along the way, to be what the kids want to be, many set their kids to be what they aspire...

Lots of snippets of wisdom... Seeing life with clarity... We begin to when we begin to live as if we are dying. Each of us should do that....

And I should start reading more too....

Friday, April 5, 2013

Any Similarity For Men???

Do men make it to the news on such issues???

Honour killing.... An abused wife who was forced into marriage tried to run away. She ran away with another man. Her brother tracked her down to the border and hacked her with an axe! Killed the guy whom she ran away. She was 12 when she was forced into marriage a 60 year old man. He beat her every day. She survived even though part of her brain was hanging out when they found her in a pool of blood.

Women needs permission to cycle... I think it's hard for most of us to imagine that such a simple activity requires permission. But apparently, that's the case in Saudi Arabia. And the women recently just won rights to cycle.

Urinals... Toilets are sexists too! This is a top notch university. Obviously they weren't thinking of women studying there. But this article is more about the challenges facing women in the business world, how their career advancement is still impeded in this man's world.

Ah! Women have fundamental roles to play in the church. Sometimes I wonder... I think all 3 monotheistic religions say women cannot lead. Yet we see women making strides in many fields now. Funny too.. I read somewhere that a couple is more likely to divorce if the wife makes more than her husband... And a working woman puts in way more hours into the housework too compared to the husband. 'Fundamental' roles.....

Syria's Rape Crisis... As in any crisis, women often bear more of the brunt. History has an extensive record... the Holocaust, Rwanda, Bosnia and now Syria...a country which once proudly claimed Arab dignity and honour. And now it seems majority of the rape perpetrators are government troops. Rape is a tool to control, subdue and instill fear...

I sometimes tell my students stories of women's plights in different parts of the world. And I am often amazed how ignorant many of our young are. Many of our girls are not aware of the freedom that they have. Many of our boys do not realize that even simple acts like dating can cause a girl her life in some countries. As a result of the ignorance, many don't realize that extremities, bigotry and fanaticism (often times done in the of religion) can take away the freedom taken for granted.

Women don't start most of the conflicts... but they certainly seem to be bearing the brunt of them. And in the homes too, women seem to shoulder more too. It used to be, men went out and work and brought back the dough while the womenfolk stayed at home and tended to the household stuff. These days, women wear the pants too... but the household stuff generally still remain their domain too, kind of a raw deal actually they're getting.

But some (??) development... Free Abortion and Contraception in France. This is kinda touchy and sensitive.. cos I am not too comfortable about ending a life.

Also, dig this... Apparently too women have better decision making abilities than men according to this study. We've often been told that being temperamental makes women unreliable as leaders and decision makers, one reason why women are not suited as leaders.... Wonder too whether perception is at work here or under siege???

Monday, April 1, 2013

History

I asked a bunch of my Form 5 students regarding the history of our nation.... stuff like the Straits Settlement, Federated and Unfederated Malay States. And I think our education system has failed them. When I saw baffled looks on their faces, I asked whether they knew what I was talking about. Many shook their heads. Some even admitted that they had no idea what Negeri-Negeri Selat stood for.

History is a compulsory subject in Malaysian schools. The students were supposed to have learned about the history of the various states in Malaysia and how the British started the colonization of Malaya with the Straits Settlements and then the Federated Malay States. Unfortunately, after 4 years of learning History, it feels like many have failed to learn anything.

de Tocquiville once said that history is a gallery of pictures where there are few originals. In failing to instill an understanding of our history as well as others' history, we also lose a great opportunity to develop thinking skills in our young. In viewing history's gallery of pictures, we learn the folly of those who come before us. We also learn to see that the ink that records history can be very fluid. Prejudice is fluid, like many things in our lives. Learning history is supposed to give our young the opportunity to learn to think and identify the fluid prejudices. But unfortunately, we have failed to do just that in many of them cos many are leaving school clueless about our nationhood.

In the first place, I think our interpretation of nationhood is already skewed. We teach our kids that ketuanan is okay. Did we not oppose apartheid in South Africa? Or was it just for show? It's not affirmative action to right an imbalance but lordship which seems to be promoted... a return to the feudal ways?? We do not teach our young to question the practices of our leaders. We imply that we should defend certain institutions to the death even though those institutions might be bleeding us dry. History equals subtle propaganda? What I learn from history is everything is a tool to perpetuate power... from religious institutions to laws. Man made so that man can retain influence.

While there are some questionable historical perspectives in our textbooks like the use of the Ketuanan Melayu terminology in the Form 5 textbook or the issue of slavery which got Birch killed in Perak and some others, the inability of our students to recall or understand the history of our nation also indicates that the effort to plant certain ideas in the heads of our young is also not working out very well. Our delivery system is just not working very well. So, either way... we're not making much headway. Ironic, isn't it?

Friday, March 29, 2013

No PMR...

I think we really need to rethink this no PMR thing for our 15 year olds. The whole idea sounded appealing when it was first mooted... no exams so that students will not be too exam oriented. Well, going into the second year of its implementation, I have my reservations and wonder too whether it's really the best thing for our kids.

First there is the problem of credibility. How credible actually are the school based assessments? On paper they look very nice, with students placed in bands according to their abilities. But in reality, the assessments aren't all that accurate. Classroom size is still too big and teachers are still too burdened with many unnecessary duties which simply take their attention away from their core duties. Co-curricular activities and other extra duties draw their attention away. A subject teacher should just teach and do just that. And excessive and long meetings too drain their energy.

The present ranking of the schools too have caused a rat race of sorts. Points are awarded for co-curricular excellence and it's only normal that school heads want to see their schools climb up the ranking. I've seen how students missed classes for weeks because they needed to practise for upcoming competitions. I've heard how administrators shush the complaints of teachers who bring out such matters. I've observed the degradation of the teaching environment through 'noise pollution' from school bands affect the learning of the school population... And after weeks of missing classes, the kids lose their focus in their academics. These days, I think parents have to be really watchful of their kids who join co-curricular activities which demand lots of their kids time. It's easy for them to get lost in their own raging hormones as well as the fun moments.

Co-curricular activities are good. But it's so easy to get lost in action these days. Teachers are less bothered to watch out for the kids. Everyone feels that the tuitions that the kids are taking will see to it that they are okay academically. The thing is, I think tuitions have become their Waterloo of sorts sometimes. The knowledge that they have tuition has also caused the kids to become complacent. Many students don't pay attention in class these days. One of the things I noticed when I went to my new school is how much they talked and talked and keeping them quiet took a lot of effort. When I look around, I noticed that it's the norm. The students are generally poor listeners and they are bored too.

The good classes are bored because many of their teachers feel that they aren't making much difference or getting their attention. The average classes get buried in their over confidence that the tuitions they are taking will see them through. In the end, the education system becomes stuck in a quagmire of our own doing.

Many teachers resort to giving the assessments to their students to be taken home to complete. Some kids take home stacks to be done. And then they are those who just give answers straight on the board for the students to copy. I am sure if one were to really dig around, one would many other methods of getting the assessments done. I am not sure whether such practices are in the minority. Given that teachers are tied to a syllabus it's also hard for them to find the time to carry out the assessments too.

Anyway, what I feel is many are going to find out that kids will be learning much less. It should be the other way round because the the freedom from the stress of examination is supposed to make learning so much more relaxed. Ah... just one more way how our first class education system works!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Perception...

Time flies and moves on regardless of everthing.... but then again it's just our perception that seems to give it a speed... whether or not, it flies or crawls. When one is busy and occupied, then it flies. It crawls especially when we are lonely or have very little to do....

Have not been writing. The procrastinating bug has been making itself very at home plus there seems very little time these days. And there are still so many things I want to do. And time is running short... well, I guess that's also another perception. And I find myself thinking even more, wondering about ..... many things. Perception is coloured there too...

Being remembered... . Was looking at my FaceBook just a couple of days ago and I notice that it has very much taken over how we live our lives. So much of our lives are on it now, put up for our friends (and friends of friends) to see. But sometimes I wonder too how much of the things on it are just facades. In the old days, we used to have this idiom - "Keeping Up With the Jones". I wonder too whether FaceBook has caused us to try to keep up with more people. And I wonder too whether the rat race has gotten bigger and wider! One gets peeps into everyone else's life. Again... are they more for facades???

We remember people who want to be remembered too. FaceBook kinda reminds me that. It has also taken over the need to remember things like birthdays for us. It serves as our reminder. It reminds us of the things we say. It's pervasive. It makes it hard to forget because it is displayed for as along the storage is there... What I think is nice... to be remembered despite not being put up on FaceBook. Today if I were to put up my birthday on FaceBook, I'd probably get loads of wishes. But if I'm off... the few wishes that I receive would probably mean that I'm in their heart and thoughts. Which counts? Some might say numbers mean more....

One more thing on perception... An article I read yesterday... If a guy's room is messy, he will praised because he will be deemed not bothered by mundane things. He will be praised for being focussed on his task, job... that sort of man-and-his-responsibilities kind of thing.... and not on frivolous matters like clearing up. Now if it's a gal that has a messy room, she is deemed to be 'lam-nua' (lazy). She is judged for her inability to keep a room clean. Interesting, isn't it, how we view things? The same messy-ness, different gender and we get different perceptions. Regardless of the great leaps in women's emancipation in the last few decades, gender perceptions are hard to change.

Been 3 months too of change for me where work place is concerned. Teaching is more fun and though there is difference in the work culture, human nature remains the same. If it were any different, I supposed I'd be an alien on another planet. But then again, that might just be another perception.

Friday, March 1, 2013

9 Tuitions A Week

That was what one of my Form Four Student said to me earlier this year when I asked them how many tuitions they were taking! And I think it's a crazy number! These kids take around 11 subjects and they are taking tuitions for practically every subject. Out of a class of about 40 students, there was only one brave soul who was  not taking any tuitions.

What does this show? That we are super competitive? That they have such little faith in the school teachers? Or is it because tuitions will motivate and push them more? I don't really know for sure. What I see is almost everyone jumping onto the bandwagon of tuitions.... each trying to outdo the other. Each claiming that they can't survive their SPM without tuitions...

Seven days in a week... 9 tuitions. Five days of school which ends at 2.00 p.m. In some schools extra classes prolong school hours till 3.30 p.m. or even later. And 9 tuitions! I guess that leaves very few hours at home... Kids seem to lead busier lives than adults these days. Yet I wonder whether they are any better off with all these extra cramming sessions...

I teach English. Yet I find that most of the students can't write critically. Many lack motivation to study on their own. Critical thinking skills are a rarity. What are aplenty? Ability to regurgitate, requests for notes.. Learning is via memorizing facts... which I feel is not helpful these days. Need information? There's Google.

My gal comes home with Maths questions on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division - big numbers. And she spends her time working out the calculations on paper. This in an age where we have calculators to do those menial tasks for us. Problem solving questions are far and few. And when you come come across such questions, they are usually very simple. By and large, our the minds of our young have actually bee very dumbed down.

Students' world view are very narrow. Text books are outdated. Instead of sparking their imagination with new frontiers, we continue to limit their horizon with minuscule local issues. This in an age where our world behaves like a global village. Talk to our kids and you find many of them ignorant of many things. They remain cocooned in this little kampung of ours....  remaining very much the jaguh kampung that all of us are familiar with.

Our children lack the independence and the ability to learn on their own. I wonder too whether we'll be able to inculcate into them the need to be lifelong learners, for which a high degree of independence is required. Cos majority of the kids I see today tell me that they need tuition in order to do well....

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Changes

What actually defines us? Is it our work? Family? Friends? Faith?..... Of late I've wondered quite a bit about that.

Having changed my work environment, I've had to go through a period of adjustments and it's still ongoing. I traded the known for the unknown, the familiar for the unfamiliar. And I didn't realise that the one moment of conviction actually unsettled quite a bit in me... and so here I am, at this mid point of my life, in a new working environment. And wondering whether I should have embarked on this change. 

Yet, for once in many years, I actually teach more than babysit. For once too, I seem to be concentrating less on remedial work. I waste far less hours at meetings so far too.... Students are more responsive.... though, they are a 'numbed' lot. Something about our education is all wrong. And I've spent far less time chasing and doing the mundane... well, it might change. I don't know. A lot in the our system is regressing.

I've also had flattering moments never experienced before. I shall call them my teaching moments... I'm teaching a subject which was my major but never really got to teach after more than 20 years. And yet sometimes I wonder why I did that when the subject that I have been teaching for the last 20 years is very easy for me now. It's so familiar that I can do it with one eye closed. Yet I am embarking on a new challenge. Why do a subject which required new preparations and mindset? And after having started on it, I find myself asking myself whether I really want that sort of challenge? ... at my age where the easy is what most only age would want. 

And every new place has its own culture too... I find myself missing a lot of the familiar old; friend... the space that I had, familiarity too. I find myself questioning about what is important to me and I have come to realize it's the same old things. Life is still about relationships... everything we have, the things that we achieve... actually they can be quite meaningless when not shared. 

Changes... I find myself not so gung ho actually about changes anymore. It is actually more unsettling than exciting now. I am actually feeling more tired, more hard pressed and at times wondering. Yet I also realised that changes are sometimes necessary. It forces us do some soul searching... It makes us realise what is important. And changes change us too... 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in A Mumbai Undercity ...by Katherine Boo

Finished this book about a week ago. Took me a long time to complete this one. Reading is mostly done on the treadmill for this one. This is one of those books which keeps reminding me how fortunate I am. Set in Mumbai, in an undercity as the title depicts, it's a story that is kinda eye opening in some ways.

Bro and sis were in India around the same time I was reading the book and when they got back, I had firsthand experiences to compare. Sis stayed for a month in Delhi and spent quite a bit of time checking out all the different places. Bro was there on a business trip. He spent time with my sis and also had an eye-opening experience in that he said he saw 2 different worlds in a city...

And as they regaled their experiences, especially sis... there was so much I could identify with because the book had already described them. The slum, Annawadi is set in the shadow of the luxuries of Mumbai, where big glitzy hotels stand. It tells the tales of its inhabitants, the Muslim scavengers; the slum dwellers who make a living out of recycling. Garbage is their life source. It spins a story out of a place with noxious fumes, brackish water and fetid garbage; scenes which I think many of us are most unfamiliar with.... a thriving community in that place with its successes, comedies and tragedies.

The story centres around the Hussains, with Abdul their son being the star scavenger. There is drama when Fatima their neighbout tries to kill herself by setting herself on fire. Rat poison seems to be the handy choice for one to commit suicide in other incidents. One also reads about Manju the only slum girl with a college education, efforts to get out of the life she knew. Then there is Kalu, a spunky boy who steals scraps to sell to Abdul. Life is also cheap in the slum. It's easy to turn up dead and no one really bothers. Bodies are sold by doctors to supplement their income. Such is the life in India.

But no matter how much success the slum dwellers may achieve, their ultimate fortune lies in the hands of the rich, as can be seen by how it's tied to the arbitrary goodwill. This is India, where power still lies with the powerful and the poor can only but hope for arbitrary handouts from them.

It's a good read, one which would make any reader appreciate what they have.

Friday, February 1, 2013

February Is Here

It feels like a wink of an eye.... A month of school has just ended and with it the first month of 2013. The month went by way too fast. New school which translates to adjustments. I realise that I don't take to changes too readily these days, though it's still quite manageable. Work load has increased by quite a bit with the change plus I am teaching a 'new' subject too. The pace feels faster and more intense but I supposed it'll be a matter of time before I adjust. There's always a settling in period... Work is more fun though, mainly because I have better sets of students now, kids with whom I can relate to, quite different from my old school. Teaching is actually quite fun again. But it also reminds me how big of a divide between schools can be too.

Chinese New Year is just around the corner. The mood of CNY has not set in yet. Maybe it's my harried life these days. The equilibrium got disturbed... So much I want and so little time. But am looking forward to see family members...

Meaning... of late am asking more. But I wonder too whether the revelations would shed more light on life's meaning. Would success, happiness or even bettering ourselves make life more meaningful? I don't know. Most of us seek those things... Some of us seek meaning by trying to offer something back to humanity. Life is after all unpredictable, even brief. Am reminded of Shakespeare's Life Is A Brief Candle Poem.

Life is short. Life is precious. Dreams... we should try to make them happen despite the fears we might feel. See the world perhaps too. Have not travelled much. For me, I've never felt the urge partly because I am usually quite easily contented. Maybe it's time to start. 8) Grudges. Many of us hang on to old grudges. Most of us have one or two in our closets. But perhaps too sometimes, they're better left where they are. Responsibilities... I guess everyone has them. Love... I guess this is perhaps the most important thing. Life is about relationships. Love for self, the people around us, our work and even the experiences in life... I guess those are what give meaning to our life in the end.

Life is supposed to be simple but these days, I think we make it complicated. February has come and will go too like the February(s) of yesteryears. The weather has turned dry and hot. I miss the rains. The months ahead will bring the usual knowns and unknowns.

Election is probably in the air. Tried going to school for sports practice yesterday. The usual 15 minutes took me more than 1.5 hours.... and I only got half way before giving up and making a U-turn. Apparently there was a gathering at the Stadium and the PM was here... Himpun. We have so many gatherings these days... Himpunan Hijau, Himpun, Bersih, etc, etc....

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Technology That Divides

There is so much technology everywhere now. We are all so high tech compared to a generation ago. A lot of the tech stuff that we have now would have been science fiction stuff in those days.

I was in my teens when we got our phone and I think most of us felt that the house phone was an awesome thing to have. I remember World Cup 1984 when my friend and I would call each other during the matches in the wee hours of the morning. And there were other wee hours too when we would sometimes sneak the phones to our rooms or we'd sneak to the phones tot talk. The urge and yearning to talk were great those days... still is. I used to earn Mom's admonishments once in a while when I was caught during those wee hours.

But the phone back then offered us so much opportunity to keep in touch with our friends. I used to get so much talking pleasures out of it. It enabled us to connect with our friends... And being teens, it was a great way for us to continue yakking past curfew hours.... 8)

Fast forward 20 years... we now have so many apps and gadgets for us to stay connected. Instant messaging, social networking apps like FaceBook, Twitter.... and the other gadgets like the iPads, Galaxy tabs, etc which has made computing and staying connected very mobile and convenient. We are supposed to be a very connected society. Everyone seems to know what everyone is doing, the holidays they have taken, food they have eaten, people they have seen and so on... even your emotions are not sacred...

Yet.... this technology which is supposed to make us closer seems to be doing the opposite. I saw a newly married couple at a coffee shop a couple of days ago. They were there for quite a while... Yet the whole time I was observing them, I noticed that hardly any conversation was going on. Instead both were preoccupied with their smart phones. Both were communicating but it just wasn't with each other.

Families go out for dinner and we see the same thing. Everywhere, you see gadgets which are supposed to connect us, yet they seem not to be bringing us any closer. We seem to holding many conversations yet many of these conversations are just surface conversations. We seem to be doing a lot more of those communicating stuff but they just don't seem to be bringing us closer to each other. An ongoing effort to project an image seems to be the focus of some, I feel, sometimes. It's quite easy for the art of conversation to get lost in all these.

We broadcast our statuses. We 'talk' incessantly into the cyber world. We project our image over the internet. But many of us have become poor listeners. We 'talk' so much that we have forgotten how to be good listeners. I find this to be true in many of my classes these days. Kids just don't know how to listen. And I don't know whether it's also due to too much stimulus from the media. There is just so much media content everywhere now.

Technology is supposed to enhance our lives. Yet I am not sure whether it's enhancement that I am actually seeing because I notice that it seems like it's doing quite a good job at dividing us and making many of us drift apart unknowingly.... all the iProducts and its wannabes.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Midlife... Second half

My generation of women has it different from previous generations of women. Many of us work and are financially independent, successful. I am at midlife, or Second Half; Bob Buford's book would label this as the Second Half of my life. I find myself thinking more about many things... Some say the financial muscles, skills and independence are causing many women of my generation to act out their frustrations and resolve them. I don't see much of that resolve in my mother's generation. Most women of her generation bore out their roles as mothers and wives with stoicism, but often at a cost much later in their lives. I have seen many of them sink into depression in their later years, very often, I suspect, due to the inability to resolve many of their frustrations.

Most of us spend the First Half of our life, busy building our lives... families, careers. Much if not all our energy is spent there. And many of us forget to set aside time to reflect. For some, it's a luxury not afforded because there is just so much we needed to build, we feel. And through the years, we forget... we forget to reflect and pause... pause for the important things in our lives. The work and sacrifice which are supposed to give meaning sometimes become the quicksand to our own selves....

Add that to a society which expects them to play out their roles with no complaints and husbands who were clueless that their wives are complex creatures who need support, you have a whole forgotten generation Unlike men, certain studies show that midlife renewal for women seem to see them achieve more. And midlife crisis for women often stems from family problems or events, through introspection. Family life stresses the wife more than the husbands. An interesting study from the UK came to this conclusion that women need friends, men need families. Increasingly I find too that most of the household tasks fall on women. As children grow older, the stress builds up. And it can become quite numbing. It is very probable that as women hit their late 40s, in a household with growing teens, midlife crisis sets in.

And so the second half becomes of time for reflection... of values and traditions that sometimes seem to make not much sense. And because of that sometimes life feels intolerable... As women grow older, many become sicker and sadder. Sicker probably because women often take on the overfunctioner role. Women work outside and they are the domestic engineers too... I don't think the human body (or mind) can take on this charade of the two worlds without getting sick or going crazy. There're just too much to do.

I wonder too for the generations of women before me, those who had no financial clout nor the confidence to question. They suffered in silence, bore with the expectations of traditions and culture, silently; living with their frustrations and dealing with all of that the best they can. They are a generation who had no opportunity to realise their potential nor live their lives as they see fit. They lived as expected of them. Women tend to lose out.

I guess midlife crisis (or maybe call it Second Half) is probably due to the fact that many women are trying to come to terms with the loss of youth, beauty and roles. I guess too many start to get tired of nurturing and want to be nurtured. I think women sacrifice more because of this role of nurturing... For most husbands, life goes on with less adjustments...

Midlife... Second Half... or even Menopause.... They can be engines of change, either for the better or worse. And I approach mine with caution.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

This Is Our School...

Can you imagine a Pengetua Cemerlang yelling 'dajal', 'bangsat' and all kinds of other derogatory terms to students? Can you imagine a Pengetua who keeps boasting about his achievements when all he has to show is a bad track record of teachers under him applying to transfer almost en bloc? Can you imagine a Pengetua who prints poster of himself and plaster them all over the school? It feels as though he wants to turn himself into an idol. (I thought that is against his religious belief) The list of his tyranny can go on... but the saddest thing is, our system promotes such people to head schools.... Such heads focus on the outward. The first thing they do when they go to a new school (apart from being a despot and tyrant once they have settled in) is to give new coats to everything... change the form of things.

I supposed they initiate such physical changes to placate themselves that they've done something. But the sad truth is they are just clueless as to what to do. These are people brought up under a system of patronage with many special rights and many of them have forgotten how hard work feels like... so they go for the superficial. And when the superficial fails to get them what they want, they turn into monsters.

These kinds of Pengetua(s) are bullies too. They bully their subordinates. I supposed they forget that they are human too... someday they are going to grow old. Someday they have to give up their posts. It's at such times that I thank God for making us mortals. Mere mortals die. Imagine if such tyrants live forever. The world will be a dreary place.

Our education system is going down the drain. The PISA and TIMMS results have both indicated that all is not well with our students. Our students are getting dumbed down. National type schools (Chinese and Tamil) dumb kids down by being rigid.... National schools dumb kids down by stereotyping and hypocrisy. The whole system is crumbling because ours is a nation not build on what is morally sound and right. And the rot begins from the head. We have many unqualified heads actually but they still get there because the system favours skin colour over everything. And everywhere, the skin colour precedes... from thoughts to behaviour down right to our policies. And we professed to be a country with a religious soul. LOL!

The new school term is just 3 weeks old. And such kind of tales do not augur well for our education system. FaceBook posts are full of many shameful acts... the recent Listen, Listen UUM lecturer fiasco is another such idiocy of our education system. Schools and higher institutions of learning are supposed to be places to nurture our next generation. Instead, we seem to be getting students of inferior quality because we have such kinds of Pengetua and lecturers.

We talk about budaya penyayang... it's mostly crap. We promote 1Murid1Sukan... that's another whole load of look-nice-on-paper plan. Face it, not everyone likes games, camping and other outdoor activities. We are just trying to shove everyone down the same pipe, in the process stretching resources really thin. And when you try to make sure everyone takes part, teachers get burned out too.... and guess what? Talents are missed out too cos teachers are just too tired to care...

My gal came home yesterday night with 9 homework... some of them were downright brainless activities. Her school performed below expectations last year in the UPSR. This year they are pushing the students really hard because they want the results to improve... so more homework, more extra classes, more of everything that reinforces the subject content... I supposed these are the things that matter more, more than the ability to think, the enjoyment of learning... Crazy existence that we lead these days...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sarkies Corner @ E&O Hotel : A Journey in Friendship

This was a birthday treat for a friend...

Wanted to do something different and special. So I picked her up from her place in the morning and told her that we were going to Penang.... was a surprise for her and she was surprised. 8)

I had actually wanted to take her to Amelie's Cafe in Armenian Street but after waiting till noon, we discovered that it was closed. So E&O became the next choice, partly also because neither of us had been there before.

The hotel was still undergoing some renovations. Parking was a breeze... and we didn't know that we didn't have to pay parking... we paid! Lunch was either ala carte or their international buffet. We decided to go for ala carte. As age catches up, our stomachs seem less able to take in huge amount of food. We decided to share our orders.
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Had this for starters... I've forgotten what it was called but it was just nice for the two of us. A bunch of salad on bread and the sauces complimented everything very nicely.
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This is their Grain Fed Australian beef steak, well done. Steak was tasty enough and even though it was well done, it was still nice. We should have it medium to well done. Would have probably been nicer. This is one of the better steaks I have taken for some time. The rocket salad complimented the steak very well. The potatoes were tasty. Divided into 2, the portions were just comfortable for the both of us.... As we hesitated in ordering because we weren't sure whether we could finish the food, the waiter kindly told us that they could divide our order into 2 servings. I thought it was nice of them.

We tried their mocktails too.... the Bora-Bora and Mango Mocktail. No photos though cos we were too busy having conversations. Dessert was yoghurt... again, the restaurant split them into two portions which I thought was really good.

The food was slightly better than average but the place is very nice. It still maintains that English classic charm. Other Half and I stayed here with our kids after it was first refurbished some years ago. I remembered being wowed by the classic look with tall ceilings and big white columns back then. It still impresses... very much.
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Friend and I sat by the sea after lunch... It was a nice afternoon. The trees made sure the place remained comfortable. The compound was impeccable and immaculately maintained. We had a nice time talking in the warm afternoon. We'd have gone on and on if not for time constraint. I had to send her back so that her family could celebrate her birthday later.... but it was nice just to sit there.

As the demands of family (and work for some) increase with the passing years, for the women, their own friendships are often the first to be sacrificed. In these last few years, I've realised that we need our women friends cos they are our lifelines very often in this mad and hectic pace that many of us keep. Good friends keep us sane... kindred spirits divide our stress and add to our joy. Conversations with a good friend are good therapy... It does wonderful things to us. A good friend provides the support in a very positive way only someone who understands us will.... and I am very blessed to have that.
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What was nice about this trip... well, for one, the company preceded everything else. However, the ambience enhanced the time we spent there... It's always nice to be in a place that has a character and E&O has that rich and charmed colonial history.... if only the walls could speak. There'd be lots of stories they would tell.

Lunch was nice... the birthday lunch reinforces what has been a most wonderful and busy end of the year hols. I shall miss much of the activities that we've done. I shall also miss the company of a familiar and comfortable presence at work. It has also been a couple weeks filled with an amazing journey of discovery into a wonderful friendship... I am blessed!

This one is dedicated to my friend.... for the patience, kindness, thoughtfulness, faithfulness and love shown to me all these years. I look forward to a lifetime of friendship...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2013

This is a post long in coming. Been meaning to write but these days, the hours just don't seem enough. Too many things to do, too many things I want and too tired at the end of the day. The days just feel shorter. Time seems to fly by too... too quickly very often, especially when spent on the things that makes one happy.

New work place... loads of adjustments. Miss my familiar routine especially the ones that I have been doing with my friend over the years. It's easy to miss many things cos there are just so many things we share, a kindred soul. Every experience, every relationship that we go through, they leave indelible marks in our lives too. And this is definitely one of them...  more than anything, this is one that has helped me grow as a person too.

Enjoy the new teaching experience though.. it's been a long while since I enjoyed most of my classes. The students are quite fun to teach cos they are way more responsive than what I've been used to all these years. And thankfully, meetings have been kept at minimum, in every sense of the word. Many schools like to hold long meetings these days. Too many heads have this 'pegang mike, syiok sendiri' syndrome these days. What can be conducted in less than an hour can take up to 4 hours! They don't seem to think much about the time wasted.... There are way too many lousy heads these days... Non productivity can be quite deceiving. They can be hidden under many veneers of glossy paperwork and beautiful facades. But if you look beneath them, you will find much crap. If the government is serious about revamping our education system, getting good heads is a step to go first.

Loads of new experience, new feelings... been going on a roller coaster ride of emotions of sorts. I've lost more weight in 2 months and has not hit the figure I'm now at in more than a decade! And as I continue to move into the second half of my life, I am reminded yet again that life is about relationships. They enrich our lives, give more meaning, add more vibrance. I realise too that I am super duper blessed to have kindred spirits. I am thankful that God is gracious to me in sending me friends and family who help me discover more of myself. And I believe too that my second half will bring better things into my life.

Resolutions.. a bit late in thinking about them. A few came to mind, as usual and I hope to see some of them come to fruition in the coming months. But then again, very often resolutions remain just that... resolutions in thoughts. I remain thankful for the blessings that came my way (and are still coming) and ask that grace be extended to me for the challenges and trials ahead.