11 October 2011

With a Sigh (Pt 9) - Punish her or Pity her?

This is the story of a small incident, insignificant on the surface of it. It is real. Initially I had no intention of making a posting of this but, on reflection, I doubt many of us would have a close encounter with that sort of situation unless one is a teacher. By default I was associated with the small school where this little drama took place. Because the incident meant something to me I chose to have it jotted down, and today is as good a time as any to share it with my visitors.

It is a small rural primary school with a total enrolment of just about 200 pupils. Many of their parents are just ordinary fishermen, small-time carpenters, petty traders and general labourers. A number of them are boatmen ferrying tourists to the island resorts off the shore. A number of younger ones found themselves manual jobs on the islands where rich operators serve super-rich tourists.

This school had nothing to be proud of by way of UPSR exam results. To improve the situation extra classes were arranged for the final year pupils of Standard 6. But many parents did not see it important enough to make their children attend these classes unless the children themselves could be motivated enough to attend. For this reason a very basic incentive scheme was thought of. Prizes would be awarded to those who scored well in their English monthly tests, English language being the most problematic.

I found it hard to believe when the teachers were almost unanimous on the kind of prize to be handed out to the top six best performers every month. Each of them would receive one or two packets of sugar-coated biscuits, each packet costing about two ringgits!

But it worked wonders.

Indeed, the teachers knew that the in-thing for these pupils was enjoying the luxury of those cheap sugar-coated biscuits, the craze of those children of that locality at that time.


A couple of months later, Pakcik was told by a teacher of what she had just heard. Children excitedly talked about the biscuits, how wonderful they tasted and so on.

This went on fine and the general improvement was surprisingly encouraging. Each time the prizes were presented, the losers would look with envy, lucky if the winners chose to share their prizes there and then with them instead of taking them home to proudly show their parents and share with their siblings.

One day Pakcik was told of an unexpected incident, a kind of the famous ‘Great Train Robbery’ ( of England in 1963 – a couple of years after Pakcik left the country, so I am not guilty! I estimate the 2.8 million pound sterling robbed, was equivalent to about 20 million Malayan ringgits at the exchange rate of that time. Only a very small part of the heist was ever recovered)

One packet of the biscuits was found missing!

A search was carried out resulting in a standard six girl being found with her bag containing the tell-tale biscuit wrapper. Not one piece of biscuit was left. On being questioned, the guilty girl full of regret and eyes full of tears, pleaded her case,

Saya teringin sangat, cikgu. Tak pernah makan.” ( Too tempting, teacher. I have never tasted it before.)

She had found a quiet moment to pick a packet and eaten the lot of its content in one go. Fearing to be caught she innocently hid the wrapping in her school beg.

Now, would anyone have the heart to punish this girl?

I knew this girl, a shy little girl whom I would never lay a finger on. I would just draw a sigh.

Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan


i ) The school had its record performance that year, thanks to the sugar-coated biscuits.

ii ) Against this kind of scenario, not an isolated one for that matter, would I consider importing Mat Sallehs from all over the world, with all their slang and twang, to raise the standard of English in rural areas like this? Do the people up there, up in and beyond the clouds, know what the likes of these children need to improve their English? Is it the Mat Sallehs for them to watch with awe, wonder and admiration, or the sugar-coated biscuits to struggle for?

iii) Given the freedom and appropriate means our teachers may know better how to make children work and improve themselves. This may be the path rural schools need to take instead of the glorified 'policy' pushed down from the sky. Do these children really care for the need to obtain points in the mandatory co-curricular activities to qualify entering one of the universities 'of taraf antara bangsa'? Which should come first, university entrance or just simple sugar-coated biscuits?

iv ) Now I am wondering where that sugar-coated biscuit girl is now. Pakcik would love to see this girl again one day.


Wan Sharif said...

I remembered the incentive for me to score in those end of the year exams at Sekolah Kebangsaan Duyong back in the 60's - was 6 exercise books for getting number 1, 5 books for getting number 2 and 4 books for number 3 in the class. We were also awarded 3 books for full attendance for the year.
I work extra hard and normally get 9 books and my parent do not have to buy any exercise books for me most years and I normally won against my elder sister who got number 2 or 3 in her class ;).
That work (hard) habit stayed with me although I did not get good result or incentive in secondary schools.

kaykuala said...

Dear Pak Cik,
Such an eye opener!
1) the biscuits: interestingly enough it is not so much the value but the appreciation and recognition one received over peers. That is a great motivation. In a Human Relations case study, a group of workers increased productivity when they were chosen instead of other groups for certain tasks. Since they were chosen they made it their business to prove to the rest that management made a good decision in choosing them. Thus appreciation in front of peers is a great motivation.
2)the girl: she reacted in a simple way typical of a deprived soul of simple pleasures, in this case a luxurious biscuit not available at home. But she must be made aware what she did was wrong and to apologize to the 'winner'. The teacher should then tell the class it was a small mistake, an apology given and accepted and best be forgotten. In all innocence she should not be made to feel embarrassed. My 2sens worth!


Al-Manar said...

Ayah Wang

So these apparently small incentives helped to make you what you are. Have such effective practices been replaced today by greater things? I find it disappointing that we strive for newer practices without due regards for the older, yet more effective ones.

Al-Manar said...


Thank you for your interesting psychological analysis. During my working career I was exposed to human relation case studies.

I am of the opinion that teaching institutes in our country need to get potential teachers well versed in the various aspects of child psychology, not forgetting the very fundamentals contained in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs etc.

The girl's case is an interesting study in psychology for teachers.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

pakcik, i so wish i have the ability to dissect the case as crisply as kaykuala did; alas, i do not... this story cuts deep. one thing for sure, though; what the girl did was wrong. but i wouldn't know how to deal with it.. and this bothers me somewhat..

Anonymous said...

Salam Pakcik

When life was so deprived even a small packet of biskut tawar was much appreciated. I remember looking forward to the visit of an aunt from another village which always cheered me up as she never came empty-handed, at times with just some biskut tawar wrapped up in old newspapers.


Cheqna said...

Assalamualaikum Pak Cik,

It may be small incident, but its not insignificant. Thank you for sharing, it reminds me to be thankful for having a little bit more compared to them when I was growing up..Alhamdulillah.

Salute to the teachers for their extra efforts. As for the little girl, I'm so touched by her words..wishing for her success and hope she's leading a better life now.

Al-Manar said...


Hajjah, dealing with punishment for the guilt is not as simple as saying one is right or wrong. You are absolutely right. If we forgive all the faults of our children on the basis of love and compaasion we may not end up having them grow with a proper sense of judgement. We can forgive but must not always forget.

Thanks for dropping in again.

Al-Manar said...

Amimy 01,

If we can place ourselves back in time as you did, we have some idea how to handle the current situation. We want to give a child a lesson not to hurt and cause embarrassment that may have a negative effect on her.

You often have real life examples to relate. Thank you.

Al-Manar said...


Indeed most of us had a little bit more than the children I quoted. If we can get our children appreciate being short and wanting, we may instill some degree of humanity that modern children need to remain thankful for what they have while working hard for greater things in life.

nordinmusa said...

I agree with you Pak Cik, our children don't need the Americans to come and teach them English, they only need our own teachers who know them well to motivates them to excel in their studies. And it doesn't take a lot, just a pack of biscuits and that is heaven to them.

Reminded me of how much i enjoyed biskut jagung dipped in susu cap junjung, during my younger days in Kg Tanjung. It a was a luxury to me then.

Hazri Hazmi said...

Dear Pakcik,
The story reminded me about our class in 1997.After one and half an hour,at least we had some tea and biskut tawar.It was a wonderful break time we had..
As a teacher,i wonder why our government still need Americans to teach our children especially English.It happened in my school where a visit,an American try to teach English in year one rural area,kg.Parit Makuaseng,it just like chicken talking to ducks.and then some children asking me,"ape die cakap tu cikgu".
For me,Our children just need some appreciation to motivate them in studies.even a small pencil or an eraser,it will motivate them to speak at least one sentences correctly.
From experience,even an apple and pear from Pakcik before exam inspired me a lot to score in PMR..Through your way, i hope i can motivate my pupils as well..and it works..

Semoga Allah memberkati Pakcik dan Makcik selalu..

Al-Manar said...


That biskut jagung tastes even better if you place one piece in a sauce, cover it with susu cap junjung and let it swell to become soft. It used to taste delicious some sixty years ago. We often fail to appreciate what effectively motivate a child - certainly not an American tourist, talking about the luxury of American children, way of life; with fork and knife, looking with disgust at kerabu perut and gulai kaki ayam, makan dalam daun pisang, and the need for driving skill to manouvre the cows' whatever all over the rural roads, etc etc.

When are you updating your blog?

Al-Manar said...


You still remember the years around 1997, fourteen nyears ago. You know I never was a teacher in my life. But I did whhat I thought my poor children needed because I was no better once. My own parents did not give me my first bicycle. So I realised what a bicycle meant to the needy.

I know, after all these years and your current spell, teaching in the middle of nowhere, you will be a respected teacher. Let Pakcik hear more often from you.

Kalau balik kampong singgahlah.

norzah said...

After reading your "brick" and "sugar-coated biscuits" stories i feel that my writing always lack the very human elements your writings are always rich in. You really have a way of reaching out to knock at the soft spot in the reader's heart. I think you should try to write a full memoir or a novel with sll the personal anecdotes and experience recorded for eternity.

Csn't agree more with you on the futility of importing English language teachers from US or UK, to teach the children. If there's any need at all it's to brush up the spoken and written English of some teachers who often make embarrassing grammatical mistakes because we don't speak the language all the time. Many of us who didn't have the opportunity of brushing up our English overseas like you, can still make unintentional errors.

The problem with teachers nowadays is that they do not seem to have the commitment and dedication to teaching as did the teachers who taught us before. There are too many non-teaching jobs they had to do in schools. Government keeps changing the curriculum and the syllabus rather than examining the way teachers are handling their students in class to ensure that students get the best attention and guidance.

It's a blessing that good samaritans and concerned individuals like you are helping out to assist students eho have been shortchanged by the formal education system.

Al-Manar said...

Dear Norzah,

Now that you have scratched my back I am saying this to you. We have our weaknesses and strengths. How I marvel at your ability to pick a current affair and do a good postmortem in great details. I simply have no flare for that. Generally I am a sentimental old fool, so to speak. That is reflected in my writing. Do not wonder at that.

Apart from being sentimental I tend to be cynical and sarcastic. I like to take a swipe at people who say a lot but do nothing in essence.

I think older folks like us tend to see teaching of English from a different perspective to the people currently handling the issue. Thank you for expressing your views.

I may, in my next posting, take another swipe at those running our universities.