Friday, August 31, 2007

What Went Wrong In Our Schools?

If you had read my other blog, you'd have know that I'm kinda tied up with a writing project for my "work", so I didn't really have time to post a "Merdeka" message. In addition, I've been receiving requests for comments on the latest Higher Education Action Plan launched by Dato' Mustapa Mohammad and the Prime Minister recently. In particular, whether the hype over autonomy for our local universities as well as the highly commended "Apex University" concept are justified. Well, I have my reservations but as I've not read the report in detail except for the media reports (you'd probably need to give me at least a week), I won't say too much as yet.

Anyway, I thought it'll be good for everyone to read an article by R Nadeswaran of The Sun on "What Went Wrong in Our Schools?" published earlier this week, which I'll take the liberty to republish here for all to read.
At the sound of the engine, my late father, who was returning home from work, stood at attention. Others who were cycling got off their bikes and did not move until the Austin A40 went past.

I watched this drama unfold almost every other day - circa 1956.

I remember these scenes vividly as it gave me early impressions and would have a great impact on me decades later. Innocently, I asked my mother what it was all about. She said: "Ithu Vellakaran vatcha sattam." (This is the law of the white man).

When the estate manager was on the move, everything else came to a standstill. The mandore would chide even children if they did not give the manager his due respect.

I was considered lucky because my dad was an estate conductor or kerani as they used to call him, but for the other workers, they were at the mercy of the management and its systems.

Being the son of the kerani, I was forbidden to go to the "labour lines" as they used to call the one-room wooden houses that housed Indian immigrants brought here to tap rubber.

That was my first glimpse of apartheid a'la Malaya, and fortunately, I was never to see such class polarisation and discrimination, when the family moved out of Ebor Estate in Batu Tiga, to Klang.

In town, the initial adaptation was difficult because the boys in the neighbourhood spoke English and I had spent two years in the estate Tamil school.

But those I befriended had no inhibitions. We studied together; walked to school together and played together. No one, let alone my friends who came from the Special Malay Class to join me in Standard Four classified me as kaum pendatang.

I learnt to sing Negara Ku with others, with Mrs Nora Eu on the piano. We did not have to raise flags or write slogans to show our patriotism.

We were all Malayans and we never saw any barriers - racial or religious - in our interaction.

While I was representing the school in the oratory contests and debates which were open to only non-Malays during the Bulan Bahasa Kebangsaan, the Indian Muslims and Pakistanis, in order to take part, proudly gave their full names including son of or daughter of - not bin or binti.

Today, the same people have conveniently dropped those words and assimilated themselves with the majority. I have no problems with that. Good for them that they have learnt how to work around the system.

We had two Abdul Halims in class and in order to avoid confusion, we called one Halim Kichap - referring to skin tone - and he had no qualms about that.

We learnt about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Francis Drake, Christopher Columbus, Gandhi, Mohamed Ali Jinnah and the like.

We were taught that a Javanese Hindu named Parameswara founded Malacca, but we are now told that someone is trying to re-write history by obliterating his name from textbooks.

My Standard Six teacher, B. M. Das, used the cane sparingly and those who had contemplated complaining to their parents were politely told that "if your father comes to school to complain, you can sit at the back of the class and watch me teach".

There were only 13 "A" graders in the trial exams before the government exams proper.

"If there are more than 13 who pass with an A, I'll eat your shoes," he ventured. Our class produced 33 and it goes to show how teachers used to motivate the pupils. Das never ate our shoes and we never asked him to!

In secondary school, we had inter-class games, inter-house games and inter-school games. We all got involved. When the class was playing, everyone was on the field - cheering the team on.

Besides, everyone was encouraged to join the literary and debating society or other extra-mural activities, as they were called. But then, there were no computer labs or clubs.

We never identified ourselves by race and the only "segregation" came when we had to attend "Pupil's Own Language" classes in the afternoon. Everyone ate from each other's tah pau from home, and nothing was taboo.

In Form Two, our literature teacher P.K. Singh made us read a book a week, and then write a synopsis and identify 10 new words that we had learnt. It was this that helped our generation excel in the language.

Cikgu Idris, who taught us Bahasa Kebangsaan, told us that letters should end with Wassalam, an Arabic form of greeting which has now taken religious connotations.

We had the like of Lee Mun Yew and D. R. Daniel as headmasters of two schools - Klang High School and Anglo Chinese School respectively - which had a strong rivalry be it on the playing field or the debating halls.

They were there when the inter-school matches were played, and of course, like all school sports days, the main event was the inter-school relay.

Fifty years on and as a parent of a school-going child, I wonder how these great school days just disappeared and how well-versed they are with some famous names and places. Thanks to the Internet, some children know that the American Independence Day falls on July 4 or that Captain Tasman sailed to Australia with a boatload of convicts and that at one time, the sun never set on the Great British Empire.

What went wrong? Why are children now embroiled in colour, creed and religion at such a young age?

We are blaming the schools for all the ills that afflict society. Can it be changed? Can we go back to the times when we gained so much knowledge within six hours? Can we re-live the times when you had to fight tooth and nail to find a place in the school football team?

I don't have the answers, but as the nation turns 50 tomorrow, our policymakers should put on their thinking caps for a solution.

Happy Merdeka!
Happy Merdeka to you too! ;)


Anonymous said...

Those who went to schools in the 50s to early 70s could only look back with happiness (at how they enjoyed their carefree and colour-blind way of life then) and sadness (at how the old carefree and colour-blind way of life degenerated to the current suspicious way of life).

Our entire education system had been systematically and intentionally manipulated by some civil servants who not only refused to learn from history but hell-bent to twist history to their perception.

Our entire education system, like all other systems, is so intertwined with the myopic tribal sentiments of our top civil servants that it is impossible to reverse to the openness and excellence of yesteryears.

Anonymous said...

Its really good to learn from ' learn from history' is alive and well! Glad to see you back :))

Anonymous said...

I was browsing through a book by a US soldier involved in the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia in which Malaysian and Pakistani soldiers helped rescued the US soldiers. He made the comment that there was language problem talking with the Malaysian and Pakistani personnel in the planning of the rescue mission. Malaysia likes to send soldiers for peace keeping duties in other parts of the world (maybe because they got paid by the UN) but the govt forgot that English is the international language for communication. This problem would not have happened in the old days because every Malaysian soldiers then (or at least the officers) would be able to speak English. They abolished English medium schools and nearly wiped out the English language in the schools and now the govt people probably cannot even understand international agreements in English. Was the Malaysian Constitution written in English? Probably it does not matter because UMNO's translation is always the correct one.

Anonymous said...

There was nothing wrong with our schools,...... until the politcians and pseudo smart politicians come and messed a perfect system

Unknown said...

So, has our school system miss something? Or the expectations of parents is not the same as before?

Anonymous said...

No wonder more and more parents are now resorting to home schooling ....

Anonymous said...

It is really sad to see Malaysia getting more polarized, instead of we all working together to build a better future for all of us, a lot of energy is spent in fighting over entitlement. The school is no longer a place to learn and educate the younger generations, the prime goal is placed in social engineering and serving the interest of special interest groups. Instead of building up from what we had, we have destroyed some of the best schools we had.
The best hope is to reduce the power and influence of politics and religion in education. Home school and alternative schools may be the only way out for now, but only for the limitted few.

Regarding sending Malaysians for post graduate studies in the West (US), most PhDs in the top US universities are supported by fellowships. Most graduate students from Taiwan in the 60s and 70s, those from India and China are supported by fellowships. Many of these were ver good students, leaned critical skills and contribute to economic development in the US and their home countries. Compare to the students sent by Malaysian government, we have yet to see similar results.
So, if our goals is to develop the country, it is quite obvious what needs to be done, but if the goal is in dividing up the entitlement then the current system is already set up for.
50 years ago, Malaya got its Merdeka from the British, when can we get our Merdeka from the mind set of entitlement and treat us all as equal, working together for the betterment of us all?


Anonymous said...

The way i see it, both SRJK and SK schools in our country are backward looking.

While many of us from the 80's and 70's benefited from our schooling in SRJK, however, due to the high student enrolment in each classes and the strict and most of the time ridiculous rules enforcement in SRJK schools in the 90's till now, many of our current students are now yes men..... trained to think one way and work like a horse..... be it chinese, indian or malay....

While our preschool education has been very forward looking, talking about montesorri, right brain education, creative and critical thinking skills, the moment they step into 6 years of SRJK schooling, all that has been cultivated for the past 3-4 years of preschooling are all poured down the drain.

Singapore realises this and that's why they are changing emphasis from exam based to more assignment, presentation and skills based teaching.

How many of our students are able to have presentation skills at the age of 7??? How many of our students who faced problems in schools like ADHD, dylexia, poor eye and hand coordination etc are left behind by the system????

In 10 years time, both (SRJKS AND SRKS) systems will fail us miserably. Already current graduates be it former students from SRJK or SK are facing challenges like have never been faced before....
Are we well equipped to face the influx of workers (skilled and unskilled) from China , India , Myanmar, Cambodia etc???

Afraid not..... so let's talk about a new form of schooling which help our students to develop language skills, critical thinking skills, creative thinking skills, thinking out of the box, good presentation skills, mosaic thinking learners, skill based learning etc.....

I believe that the effort to change our education system does not only come from the Education Minister himself. As much as he has an idea how to improve our system, he faces a myrid of problems. Mainly political.

Let's look at the Chinese medium schools. The persons at the helm of DJZ, the deputy EM, the relevant decision makers from the chinese community are mostly 40s to 60s year old males. They have been holding their positions for a while, are comfortable with the boat and do not want to rock it.

If the Chinese education system has not failed them for so long why fix it?? Why would they want to give up the control of the running of SRJKs and subject the schools to islamisation as what has happened to many missionary schools.Look at students from chinese medium schools now(Primary). Strict and most of the times ridiculous rules enforcement due to high student enrolment, rote learning, exam based system etc have produced a very result orientated hardworking generation..... sounds good but if we look carefully, they are also rigid, could not think for themselves, spoon fed, can't think out of the box, yes man, only know how to work work work but don't know how to communicate, lack of critical thinking skills, lack of creativity and worse of all many are faced with mental pressure.

Government schools on the other hand are just the other extreme. Students there are lacked of disipline, lack of motivation and rebellious, self centred, lazy but they can be really creative..... on ways of how to beat the system, play truant, cheating, joining the gangsters etc.

Our preschooling system are on par with the latest development in world. We are talking about montesorri, right brain thinking, instilling critical thinking skills and creative thinking skills, using art and music theraphy, sensory integration etc, but the moment these preshoolers start their primary education, all effort used in cultivating these live long living skills will go down the drain.

The rich have the option to go to private schools... some private schools are already using character building modules, assignment and skill based learning, smaller teacher student ratios etc.

Some opted for home schooling especially for those with learning disability like ADHD, dylexia, down syndrome etc.

Some very commited parents also started homeschooling and have their own little communities.

As parents, i would like to provide the best for my children. But decision making like this sometimes require input from other parties like my husband and family support too.

I weep for many of the other Malaysians who are not as well informed as some of us and i wonder how i can help them.

Unless and only if the decision makers will wake up and willing to take charge and are willing change our education system, in the next 10 years, Malaysia will be severely left behind.....

Amir Dina said...

If you look at the national education blueprint then you will find that the education system is heading the direction that you have mentioned.

However, implementation is another matter, Anwar with his KBSR/KBSM plan, failed miserably, so I don't know how Hishamuddin will fare better.

Why parents are flocking to SJK is due to the fact that SJK currently able to beat the current exam regime with their rigid traditionalist form of education.

The administrator of SJK really live up to pragmatic expectation of the parents and deliver results in term of A. However, as mentioned before the traditional methods results in 'yes man' product.

SK, is somewhat in between, depending on the administrators. The good ones, will deliver results and produce all round personalities. The soft skills is imbued in the curricula, however as it is not an examination object many administrators (SJK included) simply put it aside.

However, the mechanism to check on administrators is severely lacking in SK unlike SJK where PTA are more vocal. Well in the current set-up there is 'nazir' who visits schools to check its performance. I believed there are very much under staffed or ppl there are not motivated.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is indeed sad to be fighting for an entitlement.

It is even sadder on how else we have sought to impose our entitlements on others.

I was listening to my cousin complaining how NUS is now not accepting anyone with less than 4 A level subjects, and that NUS should accept all applicants who meet their required points. Sounded very logical. Until I realised, who are we to decide what are the required points for NUS? Who are we to impose an admission entitlement for Malaysian students in NUS?

Anonymous said...

Today in the news, it was mentioned about another 'bocor'

News about UPSR bocor!

What is happening to this country?

Anonymous said...

Is there anybody can tell me where can i find best speech and drama centre for young kids at Johor bharu?? I want to enrol my 8yrs old son so he can develop his enthusiasm/confidence. thank you. said...

how to develop young kids' enthusism/confidence level? Is drama classes can help them? any suggestion?