Thursday, November 19, 2020


Education in doldrums... An already broken education system given a really hard whack by Covid-19. 

I used to read about pandemics, that a big one should be coming soon. For years, I would teach about the 1918 Spanish Flu. There were a few close scares along the way, SARS, Nipah Virus closer to home but I think most of us felt that the big one won't come. After all, we have all the science... we know all the science.

Yet, it did hit. And its name is Covid-19. Going to be a year since the virus was announced to the world.

In January this year, I read about the Wuhan virus. It had no name yet but I started teaching about it to my students. I hashed up my own materials, scour the net for stuff which I could use. I told my students that what was happening in Wuhan was going to blow up. I felt it will not pass us by and for a couple of weeks starting from end of January, many of my lessons evolved around the pandemic which was raging in Wuhan. 

The virus reached our shores shortly. However, at school everything was running as usual. The Principal never seemed to pay much heed to the dangers. As a matter of fact, just a day before the MCO students were still gathered in closed rooms for programmes. I tried saying that it wasn't in the kids' best interest. It was just brushed off. This same callous response to the ongoing pandemic would be seen repeatedly throughout the year. We just seem to think and feel that it will not affect us. 

11 months on, one Movement Control Order and 2 CMCOs down the road, with an end seemingly in sight because vaccines are on the way. However, it has been a year of disruptions in schools. Out of the usual 40 plus weeks of school that we usually have, the physical school has been off for more than half that time. Going online has laid open our incredible shortcomings. Billions of dollars spent and still reports say about 40% of students do not have proper gadgets/access for online education.

How can we be ready for online learning? I think it is an uphill struggle. The reason? Many of our heads belong to that era where chalk and talk seems to be the only rule of the day. Soon after the MCO ended and school resumed, I asked permission for students to be allowed to bring their mobiles so that I could continue to work on the online platform that I had been working on during the MCO. The answer was no. In fact, the whole school went back to doing things the old way. As the weeks wore on, more 'normal' programs were cooked up. 

Extra classes made their returns. Never mind that a pandemic was still raging. I have never seen such silliness. Extra hours when we are supposed to mitigate the exposure. I have seen also how labelling of such classes kept evolving to escape the SOPs. It is as if the school too was playing a cat and mouse game. When Extra Classes were not allowed, they changed the name to Bengkel. When that too was disallowed, they changed it further to Kelas Lanjutan PdP. Yet they were all the same.... in the face of a pandemic, even the ones who supposed to be leading were scheming and plotting. Makes me wonder what we are teaching kids cos I don't think the kids don't see it. 

The extra classes above have peculiar purposes. Students were made to stay back for an hour after school. All the kids did was this...  they were to complete the work their subject teachers mete out, in other words, homework. They were instructed to complete those work under the watchful eyes of teachers who were assigned to watch them like hawks. It was the most unproductive sessions I have seen and yet, they continued it. What made it rather irrational was amidst it all, there was a raging pandemic. I often wondered what good would all the seemingly extra cramming do when all the kids did was just to do their homework when the same could be achieved at home. Such is the state of the minds of those who head our schools these days.

So, a year on... I have learned a lot also during this pandemic. I made my first teaching video for the first time in my life. As much as I hated to hear my own voice and see myself in a screen, I did it. I picked up more editing know-hows in the process too. Played a bit with emojis and bitmojis. Turns out the learning curve isn't so steep this round. However, with age catching on and up, sitting too long in one position can be kind of a torture these days too. 

I have also learned that online teaching is actually like a truth serum. Lessons on WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram, Google Classroom.. the list is very long. And when the reports start rolling in, it seems like they are working fine. Yet around me, from the kids I know, online lessons feel like a sham at times. There are some really good 'reviews' but those are far and few... 

It is going to be one year of disruptions and it looks like it might spill over to 2021. But this seems to hold true... for a good online teaching/learning session, you need a really good teacher. But these days, they define good teachers as ones who 'borrow' videos from the net and send them as the lesson for the day for their students... Whatever happened to teaching....

2020... they year teachers repost videos (not theirs)... great isn't it?

that teach for them.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

See A Wrong... Keep Quiet

From KH1 I went to KH2 and I saw there in 7 months probably sounds unbelievable. There is a teacher who is known to use profanities in class. I shared a PE class with him and it looked like he did not return the exam papers to his students. Further conversations with students imply that he has been like this for many years. Yet the school does nothing about his ways.

Kids from the less privileged backgrounds with parents who don't know any better. I think I am seeing for myself how they are 'bullied' too. Unable to make these kids see the importance of learning, many teachers just plod in the way they know. It is common to see teachers teaching but students behaving as if there is no teacher in the class. When punishment is meted up, it is often harsh. The cane is used because the school doesn't know what else to do to keep the kids silent. The cane is used because the kids refused to do their homework. The method salvaged some but generally we are losing more than we salvage. Public caning used to be a norm but I heard it hasn't been happening since I left. It is a bit peculiar how my leaving would stop such a practice.

If my first encounter with the teacher bully filled me with surprise, I no longer am surprised at the existence of such teachers. In the past 7 months, I have heard stories from students how the teachers have slapped them on their faces or used the rubber bands to flick their ears. I have also heard from students how teachers show their power at the slightest bit of excuse. One kid even told me that his teacher crumpled his folio because the papers weren't stapled. How do you expect kids to love learning with such kind of behaviour.

You get reasons that these kids are repeat offenders. Teachers tell you they can't change. These kids are labelled hopeless and incorrigible. And I wonder if it's us who have lost our way or the kids.

Everyone is looking for quick solutions without looking at themselves or how they have also contributed to the problem. You have Principals who keep coming up with programmes because the grades are falling. You have PKs who chase the teachers to discipline, manage, run projects or programmes. You have GKs who breathe down the teachers' necks for reports and more reports. And finally the poor teachers who have to receive all these brick brats from the top people.

I was reading some messages on the School Social Media App. These days, they use WhatsApp, Telegram to run the school. A teacher reports on the app that students are missing from class. The response from the PK HEM can be something like this. "Go record it in the school system." If you check again later, nothing is done. Gone seems to the days when PKs go running round the school to look for these kids who have played truant. These days digitalisation simply means that. Record it into the system and it will appear as a statistic. And so, the state of the discipline continue to slide. Everyone is pushing the responsibility to everyone. It feels to me like the education system will implode.

I had a conversation with a friend. He said that schools should appreciate and keep teachers who still want to truly teach. I replied Principals don't want that. They want obedient teachers. Obedient teachers that form the pack and move as a pack, values be damned.

So is education really about education these days? Or education never was really education. Perhaps too, the real education never did lie within the institutions. Perhaps real education lies outside the grasp of the institutions. Real education would grow the mind and will. Institutions are set by parameters, not just the physical but it dictates too what you are to learn and master.

Public schools are in a dismal state. It's tiring just to try to do the right thing. Perhaps too, just sit back, do as everyone. That's what most are doing. The rot has set in too deep... and to restore it would take more than just political will. A whole generation is now being lost... and it's always the poor who lose more.

All those sweet sounding words.. all the noble talks about making a change in the lives of the kids... they are just words amidst a decaying and crumbling system. Sad.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

And The Student Called the Teacher Ah Gua

So, people are taking sides ... teacher vs student, public vs mother. The kid won’t get too much sympathy for sure. After all, she started it...

Somebody posted out the poor girl’s results. In the midst of all these, obviously many forget that she’s still 13. One tends to do lots of crazy stuff at that age. Emotionally they are also trying to make sense of themselves... 

Then the teacher who lost it. I cannot understand why so many condone caning. The marks on the kid were telling. It was caning done out of control. And he is the adult. If teachers cannot hold their temper or emotions in check, then students’ lives will be in danger.

The SOP on caning is clear. No caning for the girls. Say what we want but the guidelines are clear. And it’s there for a reason. 

Yet, caning... so many seems to swear by it. Nostalgia.

But imagine this...
A school where the cane reigns supreme. You are late. You get caned. You talk to your friends during the school reading time... caned again. You skip your ‘extra class’ ... yup, caned again. 

Then the hair issues in some Chinese conforming schools... 2 weeks after you have cut your hair. You are told it is now too long... lagi kena rotan. Then have your hair cut in full view of everyone who passes by... cane and more caning. The sound of whipping is the one common sound.... over hair which does not break the limits set by the MOE guidelines. 

Should we try this instead? Engaging students, making them understand, moving on with times, staying relevant... would an engaged student be calling a teacher Ah Gua?

Yet, you get bored kids. Those grades.. which have been displayed to shame this kid. You get lots of those these days. Some say it is the good life that’s causing them to lose focus. I think it’s more than that. Most don’t see relevance of what is taught in the class with their lives.

I see kids being lined up and whipped in public, right in plain sight of everyone. Girls being caned too.. now is everyone okay with their kids being dished that in school regularly. 

We desensitise the kids. We normalise caning as a solution to disciplinary problems. It is not. Caning, quick solution for quick adherence.

A walk down my own memory lane. Primary school. I was in Std 2. I always had perfect score for my spelling... cos one mistake ... and the cane awaited. Well, I am human... so like the fallible human... one day, after almost half a year, I made a mistake. The trepidation when lining up to be caned. 😂

Guess what? After that day, I didn’t really care much about being caned any more. It didn’t matter to me any more because my childish mind discovered that I could numb myself to the pain and humiliation. 

Oh! I continued to get perfect scores still for my spelling. But the occasions when I did not, I didn’t think the caning made a difference to ensuring that I hit the perfect score all the time.

Yah.. there might be bad parenting here. But that’s a mother being instinctive. Her language showed her not to be very polished. But put anyone of us in a situation like this... I think most of us would be tongue tied. The school office can also be a very intimidating place... 

There was excessive show of force in the Ah Gua teacher case. 
There was misbehaviour most definitely. 
And you also have a mother who got really, really defensive. 

And yes. The mother viralled it. Good idea? Don’t think so. But years from now, this video might serve as the starting point of a greater awareness for stakeholders involved.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

How A School Can Fail To Deliver?

I met an ex-student recently at an event. Taught him in Form 4 last year. I would still be teaching him this year had I not been transferred out from the school over the teacher bullying case. It’s been more than half a year since I saw him. And he has grown taller... and better looking too.
So I called him over, as I sat on the floor and he squatting, we had a conversation about him. Now, this was a boy I regularly reprimanded for skipping classes due to a co-curricular activity. Today I found out that he was one of those given a place in SMJK Keat Hwa 1 for his ability to contribute to the school for that particular co-curricular activity. You see, there were many such kids accepted into the school to boost up the co-curricular achievements... basketball and band mainly. To bring up the school name in various aspects, diversity is required. Other schools have other sports with this same scheme, football, hockey... the chase

These activities actually good for the students. After all, co-curricular activities school a child in the soft skills. It gives opportunity for leadership training and so on. It teaches them sportsmanship, They catch many other skills from playing with other kids. And these skills will be useful when they begin to interact with the world.

However, things do not look so nice once you know what goes on to keep those honours coming in. Lots of training hours are required.

In my former school, KH1, kids basically have no time for co-curricular activities unless you structure it and make it achievement based. Then the kids get wowed and their parents too. Another problem is practice time. To win a world band title is no easy feat. Many hundred hours of practice are required. To enable a brass band to move with the precision required to win a world title would mean a lot of resources as well as man hours. Resources are easy enough to source. The Board and PTA will pay a trainer to do the coaching coach. That is the easy part.

The training part is not so easy. Where do you find time for kids who have tuition packed throughout the week? Enter some creative arrangements. Permission slips are give out to members to practice during school hours. And this is where we begin to see how the delivery system fails our kids.

You give a kid an opportunity to skip classes and bets are all on that they will stay out of class for as long as possible. After all, who would want to sit in the class and listen to boring lessons which many feel they will be able to get in their private tuitions? As long as the tuition centres out there are on the right track, things would be fine. But one can always expect that as mainstream system deteriorates, the same would be seen in the private tuition systems too.

I specifically remember 2 of my students. That was the year when they had a major competition. Both kids were in Form 5. That year both of them were missing from my classes for 3 to 4 months. Each time I ‘chased’ them to attend classes, it was always band practice. And the school allowed it. They are given the permission slip by the PK Kokurikulum, sanctioned by the school. If memory serves me right, one of them failed his history. We teachers, have no say when the kids wave their permission slips.

Now, I wonder how many unsuspecting parents are there who do not realise that their kids skipped classes for all these extra practices. Many students will tell you too that they go to school not to learn. They have tuitions outside to settle that. School is for them socialise, get involved in activities. But many forget too that there are kids who can catch on quickly and kids who need more time to cope with their lessons. And for those who cannot cope, the results can be disastrous.

As the deterioration becomes apparent, I think we have come to a stage where we are seeing kids who  are having real issues of learning. The academically weaker kid from a vernacular school often has dismal language mastery. Because of that, going MIA from classes is bad for them. For those kids who were brought in so that they can play basketball for the school or be in the band, those activities become the cause for the further deterioration in their studies. And the school knowingly allow it. And parents seem to not know any better.

These kids would do much better had they gone to national schools because they would at least leave school being able to use Bahasa Melayu. Being in a Chinese school, they bring glory for the school but they lose so much themselves because they lose themselves in the system.

As for the school brass band, I don’t know how the unsuspecting parents cannot see that they will hardly see any of the school teachers’ children joining the band. That fact should have sent some alarm bells to them.

The constant practices that eat into lesson time is wrong to begin with. Also, outside coaches who are not teachers push their agendas without really understanding their charges’ problems because they also need to show results to be able to continue to ply their trade. For them what matters are the medals, the wins. These are some of the problems brought in by a system that pays its way for everything. In a way, it reduces the teacher’s load but at the same time, it brings in other problems. As for a band member who has been part of the team which may have won a world title.... what use is that achievement if he leaves the school without his SPM certificate or without the required language skills?

It feels like the school has made used of these kids without really seeing into their welfare.

As for our conversation, the teenager had this to say. He knows his basketball prowess isn’t going to bring him any further. I asked him if he passed any of his subjects. He said, how to pass. He has been sleeping in class most of the time and he didn’t even study at all. I told him not to give up yet... with our SPM full of surprises, there is still hope yet.

So, how relevant are our schools really? As schools try to make a name for themselves, it looks like many kids become casualties too... this is one facet of our education which we rarely talk about. Yet I have seen it happening but most will not acknowledge.

I don’t believe that kids cannot learn anything. All kids (unless they have some disabilities) should be able to learn the basic skills set by the curriculum. When they fail to learn those basic skills it can only mean that we have failed to make students see the relevance, either through carelessness or downright apathy.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Basketball and Hari Raya... and what the Minister of Education Says

This message was published in the papers recently. Apparently after some laments (these days teachers are but mere stooges and kuli who must obey the principals) the Minister of Education released some press statements that school breaks should be kept as school breaks. But it is often hard not to have any activities during the break at school... 

This mid year break also coincides with the Hari Raya Puasa. So, one can imagine how many people are looking forward to it. For the Muslim teachers, it’s a break from the grind at school. For the students, it’s holidays. I think many kids find holidays boring, unless their parents take them on a trip. But, the economy is not doing well. Many families are making do with less expensive or no mid year holidays. 

Then the message came above as school heads continue to ‘force’ teachers to hold Program Peningkatan. Actually the Program Peningkatan is extra class. But because extra classes cannot be forced upon the teachers, school heads have cleverly rebranded extra classes as Program Peningkatan. And teachers are pressured to give extra classes. It has come to the point where some teachers have cannot go for their holidays, which of course these heads will point to the regulations that they have a right to call the teachers back for a certain number of days during the break. So, it becomes a norm to see kids in full uniform, at 1.00 noon during school breaks. 

Which of course highlights this basketball tournament. Organised by the Conforming Chinese Schools, they decided to have it during this break too because apparently (again) there is no other suitable date. The point is, the organisers figured that since this involves only the Chinese schools, therefore it is okay to have it during the fasting month, even though it is held so near to the Hari Raya... which is still fine, except that the Muslim teachers who are getting ready for their Hari Raya had to go on duty too. It is a Conforming Chineses Schools competition but Malays teachers had to be involved too, with Raya just a few days away, because the Principal of the organizing school said so. This is where, it crosses into being inconsiderate. 
So apparently, now the Ministry advises schools to cancel activities during the break so that everyone can get a break. Question now... why allow an event such as this to be carried out under its auspices, so near the Hari Raya.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


What is 4000 minutes to a teacher? Been thinking about it for the past few months.

Schools are supposed to inculcate a love for reading in their students. So they craft all sorts of programmes to instil that love for reading. From NILAM to Reading Corner to Morning Reading Session, they hope to get students to want to read. After all, we know those kids won't be doing much lifelong learning or self-directed learning if they don't like reading.

NIILAM has been going on for years. Schools try to cajole, coerce, force and even threaten kids to get NILAM going, though I think NILAM has gone into cold-storage for the time being. However, I think NILAM has not succeeded in most schools simply because there wasn't much concerted effort put into it. Teachers have too many other things on their hands.

Reading Corner, on the other hand, collects dust after the initial brouhaha dies. It sits in the corners of classrooms, school compound, collecting dust... and eventually cobwebs, the reading materials aged by the unforgiving weather.

Enter Morning Reading Programme. In my school they force everyone to gather at the assembly area. Kids can't go to the classroom. So they are forced to sit there till reading starts at 7.20 a.m. If you walk into a school for the first time and see this programme, you'd be forgiven for being impressed. I mean, how not to. That is until you actually see it in action for a couple of weeks, when you, as a teacher are forced to sit there with the kids. After a few weeks, you will begin to notice that kids actually don't read. They just sit and stare at whatever printed stuff they are holding, under the watchful eyes of the prefects and discipline teachers...

As a teacher, I find it a chore after a few weeks. I mean, before I even get to sit down and work on my lesson, it's time to go down. And I am one who often arrives at school before 7.00 a.m. It is frustrating. These days, I make it a point to sit at the coffee shop before I go to school since the canteen food is rather unpalatable. Why torture myself some more?

When asked why the teachers have to sit there, I was told we need to read with the students, be a reading role model. Lol! After a couple of months, I find myself resenting having to sit there. I find myself telling myself, why even bother to prepare the lessons when the school doesn't see the need for teachers to settle down or prepare their lessons. Lol! Lesson prep is not important. Sitting there and wasting time is... for a show.

And, I asked a few classes what they thought of the Morning Reading Programme. One student even said she felt like an idiot sitting there. Even the younger ones said they do not like sitting there. Who can blame them. In the beginning I thought it was a good idea. But after a few months, I can see that I was wrong to think so. A school is also a place where kids play. These kids' lives are regimented from the time they step into school. So how fun is it to sit there? If I were one of the kids, I'd hate it. Lol!

And it got me thinking about the time it forces the teachers to waste. 10 minutes of sitting there waiting for the kids to finish reading. I am already in no mood to read because my mind will be on the lessons for the day. I get cheesed off because I would probably want to work on my computer or print some worksheets for my students. My printer is up there printing and I'd be thinking, did I leave enough paper in it? Would the paper jam ... that's a real worry cos I used recycled papers whenever possible. Life is a constant hurry, a harried rush down and then up again... so much energy wasted. 20 minutes a day.

A schooling year is an average of 200 days. The school wastes 4000 minutes for me without me having to do it myself. But I am not the only teacher. If there are 60 teachers, that is a whopping 240,000 minutes! And 20 minutes is an understatement. Very often it runs to 30 minutes, when there is a spot-check for hair length (that is another topic to ramble on), for example. So much time wasted. So much goodwill burnt. So much forcing down the throat the need to read... so I guess the students must have a very high level literacy ability. But sadly, it is not so.

So yeah.. READING IS HOW WE INSTALL 'SOFTWARES' INTO OUR HEADS.. but when done for show, those heads in the assembly area will still be empty even after 200 days of 10 minutes-a-morning enforced reading.

Want to see how to kill the love for reading??? I think one can safely make an assumption that such a Morning Reading Session will kill it... many, many times over. Want to really get kids to love reading.. inspire the teachers to do so. We'd achieved more this way.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Hari Guru Hijacked

So, what actually is Hari Guru or Teachers' Day for? Is it a day for students to show appreciation for their teachers or what?

I feel Teachers' Day has been hijacked. Hijacked because it is no longer a day for students to appreciate their teachers.  It is more a day of show, and more show.. a lot of physical activities with expected superficial responses.... perhaps that's also a reflection of what we have all become.

The fanfare may all be there. Teachers seemingly being feted yet there seems to be an emptiness of sorts. This year, it is no different.

A special assembly. Class parties banned. Students reminded to attend school under guarded breath. You wonder why... The usual assembly, followed by the usual oath taking and the teacher song by teachers. I find it strange that students scream (or yelled) at any given opportunity during the 'show'. I don't think so our singing was that awesome. But the screaming goes to show the seeping of a concert going culture. Perhaps these kids are just so bored that they become like that at the slightest opportunity, an opportunity to let it all go, to assert themselves. To scream to claim the space or attention.

This year, though in another school, the celebration to me was just as staid as before. It would be nice if kids were allowed to have their class parties. Somehow it is always nicer to be able to go class to class at your own pace. You get to do real mingling with your students in a more relaxed environment. I always believe that working together for a common cause teaches us to be better people. When we remove the class parties, we remove so much of those unseen lessons. For me the joke becomes this... teachers feting themselves on Teachers' Day. I mean, what sense is there for teachers to organise a day to appreciate them. Are we focusing on self appreciation? It is rather comical.

The best things each year for me are those well thought out little gifts that kids made themselves for me. Homemade cookies, little cards with heartwarming messages and things that they thought out. I think they are the most priceless appreciation a teacher can have, I feel. Instead they congregated everyone in the hall... an institution institutionalising her own because it is way easier to exert control... and put on a show that something is being done... hijacked for convenience.

So, we have this stage show. Teachers sitting down there. Students screaming and yelling as if they were in a concert. So much fanfare, yet one can be forgiven to feel the sterility of it.

I spent a good part of the day fixing a fan with a colleague in the classroom that I am using. Figured might as well used the time to get the fan fixed ourselves so that the students will be more comfortable. The weather has been very unforgiving. Pleas for more fans have fallen on deaf ears because I was told all classroom in Malaysia are hot and stuffy. I can never understand why a school can raise hundreds of thousands of ringgit or embark on an endeavour to build a hall or some other buildings but not embark of projects to make classrooms more comfortable. How can they expect kids to study and even stay focussed if the classrooms are like mini ovens? Is it because things fixed in the classroom cannot be seen cos they are not imposing? We focus on the big things but ignore the small things...

In between fixing and trying to get my exam papers ready, we were 'invited' to go watch the concert. For me who just cannot stand loud noises, watching a concert is a torture to the ears and the mind. My own kids asked me to join them for the Ed Sheeran concert in KL recently... it definitely would have been an experience with more wow than the one this morning but I told them to go have a good time, minus me. Cos I don't like crowds and noise. I even gladly sponsored the tickets for them.

Teachers' Day... it would be nice just to let the teachers have their day. Instead, these days, many schools force teachers to watch, be part of a show that is put up yet minus all the personal touches... Everything planned.. everything organised... but the heart and soul left out. And in the end you are supposed to partake of it and pretend that it is the best thing that could have been done.

This year... despite in a new place... there were 2 cards... 2 different groups of students. One had this phrase... 'never a dull moment in your class'. They mean more than any of those other organised stuff... We no longer teach kids to take the trouble to appreciate those around them. We take things into our hands because we feel we know better. We don't... that is the sad thing. Our education system is run by these people who feel that they know best.....

Oh ya... every year they have this cake cutting ceremony... the irony of it.. Teachers' Day... yet those who stood in front, taking all the photos, doing all the cutting... the admin and the invited guests... all the while.. the teachers standing behind... Teachers' Day Hijacked. Lol!

The essence and the spirit of Teachers' Day are gone, hijacked.. I wonder by who?

One more thing.. they tried to have a special celebration for teachers who had their birthdays from Jan to June. Thing is when you do something like this, make sure you comb through your teachers list. Lol! They left me out... not that I mind cos I would not have budged from my seat for that sort of thing but it goes to show that it might be better just to opt that out...

Anyway, teaching is not so important these days... holding extra classes, winning competitions... those seem far more important than the mundane, routine work of building character... It is easy to see why. One gives instant recognition while the other ... well you might not even feel the fruits. Yet, without the latter, our country would surely face a further decline too...

Ramblings about Hari Guru... hijacked.


Education in doldrums... An already broken education system given a really hard whack by Covid-19.  I used to read about pandemics, that a b...