Friday, December 4, 2015

Of Being Trapped, Born Privileged and Education

If you are locked away in a cell forcefully, you will be trapped for as long that incarceration remains. But, what if you are trapped in the cells that you wittingly or unwittingly got yourself in?

Was in Genting recently for the a Music Art Festival with my students. It was a relatively huge affair, if you count 3000 plus participants as many. There were some international invitees... and scores of teams from schools all over the country. Three days of continuous feeds of music, from recorders to Chinese traditional instruments; the halls were filled with sounds of musical instruments, playing all kinds of music. The exposure was good for the students. They could measure themselves up against the really good teams as well as the struggling ones. In a massive hall like the Grand Ballroom, it was hard for the musicians to hear each other and so, some teams actually had a hard time keeping up with each other. So, to be able to listen to them play in harmony was a great experience too, more for the participants, I guess.

Three days of being locked up on a hill resort under renovation. The outdoor theme park is no more there cos it is making way for a new 20th Century Fox Theme Park. Genting is now limited to just that small space of hotels... and casinos. Everything else is being rebuilt.
 
The rooms we stayed in were really small. The bathrooms were so tiny that you can't even turn when you bathe. In that kind of space, you have no space to avoid the the scalding hot water. That means you actually have to stand outside the bathroom and let the shower run while checking the temperature.
Yet the place was crowded. This is the hotel lobby and I felt like I was in the train station. Everywhere was jammed pack with people. Yet this lobby was not like any other hotel lobby that I knew cos it did not lead to the outside clear sky directly. Instead the lobby led to this dimly lighted tunnel which brings in buses, cabs and vans. As a result, the lobby and the corridor adjacent had this odour of fumes hanging around all the time. By the second day, each time I went down, I was quite easily agitated. By the third day, it felt like I was perpetually drugged. This has to be one of the more toxic hotel lobbies I have ever been. Yet everyone wandered around, nonchalantly, unperturbed by the fumes or the noise.

Apart from the 3000 odd participants for the Second Malaysia International Music Art Festival plus their whole host of supportive Ah Kong, Ah Mah, Daddy, Mummy, Aunties, Uncles, Brothers, Sisters and other extended family members, the usual casino visitors were all there. The whole place was brimming with people. It rained in torrents on the first evening and I think most of the visitors in this. I had to walk to the adjacent hotel through a series of walkalators/escalators over a rather long distance before getting to an exit. The mist was thick and it was chillingly cold. I was cold to the bones.

The complex made me think of The Matrix. It is so easy for one to forget the real world once you are inside. And this is where I think they are hugely successful in getting people to come back and while there, spend. Casino entrances can be found at almost every turn.

Yet if you really observe the surroundings you find too, noticed a few things too. Casinos for the 'haves' and 'have less' exist here too. One hotel with cramp and tight spaces. Another hotel with a Lamboghirni had all these high ceilings, wide spaces and nice looking restaurants.
The Music Festival... it's quite clear that this is for the elite schools too. I don't think I saw any kampung schools here. MCKK was there and we all know how elite this school is. There were many Chinese vernacular schools too. This probably indicated that many of these schools could get outside funding for their students. Funding was necessary as there is a fee of RM100 per participant. The smallest group I saw was 8 people and that's RM800 for participation. Some bigger groups had more than 60 people. Also, the accommodation is not part of the fee. Each kid who was there had to fork out at least RM250 to take part if they are not able to find sponsorship... and that's just the minimum according to my calculation. The national schools which were there mostly belonged to the elite group - high performing, cluster. And many of the kids had a trail of family members up to this highland resort too. The parents could afford the trip and the stay up too. So, even in co-curricular activities, the line dividing the classes are very clear too. But the clear winner here I supposed would be the owners of where the competition took place.

A month or so back, I took students for the National Robotic Competition where I saw the same scenario more or less playing itself out. Lego Mindstorm is not exactly cheap. Only schools which can afford to spend tens of thousands will be able to give their students the opportunity of taking part. 
Generally rural schools will continue to lose out. Education as a great equaliser might not actually play out its role all that well. Being born in the right family, attending the right school, knowing the right people... all those play a more important role than one's IQ. Actually, many of us made it not because we are good or talented. The former play a more important role than many of us might care to admit.

As for Genting... for me, it was an artificial place. But despite all that, for a while, I too can just sit back and relax. After all, if the any of the bathroom fixture wasn't working, all I had to do was just to inform Housekeeping. If I needed a clean towel, just ring for one too. Oh ya... The same goes for cleaning the room. Put up the sign requesting for a clean-up and it's done by the time you get back to the room. At home, I have to see to all those.... The Matrix is not all that bad.