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.