31 January 2012

Pakcik reminisces (Pt 23b) - Response to Awang Goneng

Pakcik’s previous entry drew a number of comments. The one from Awang Goneng (copied below) touched on points very pertinent to learning of English language.

Way to go Abang Ngah! I am happy to hear about your planned collaboration with a local university. The problem nowadays is not the quantity of teaching but the quality. Our children have lost their language skills but there are more opportunities for language learning around them. People say there's too much Malay nowadays, but there's too much English too. More and more government departments are writing in English, more people in public are speaking in English and there are many, many television programmes in English. Language learning isn't just vocabulary building or learning the mechanics of grammar. It is more than that. Children should read and love reading. They should listen and love listening. In short, they should love the language they are learning. Literature is kicked by the wayside nowadays and language is pushed into slots. English for Science, English for this English for that. Teaching English as English seems to be a futile exercise. Give them back the love of literature, the sounds of words.”


While Awang Goneng laments briefly over the teaching and usage of English language I am using this avenue to express my concern on the same subject:

i ) - Would the few hundred teachers imported from America be of help to the likes of the poor rural children who attend classes at Almanar?

ii ) - Assuming our teachers have been suitably trained to teach English as a means to communicate and a tool to search for knowledge, are they at liberty to use their skill to the full or are they being restricted to doggedly and blindly follow what the demigods of education upstairs have outlined?

iii ) - Have the heads of schools been trained to MANAGE an organisation rather than to teach; and if so have they got the leeway to exercise discretion to suit the problems faced in their varied environments?

iv) - Seeing what has been the excessive emphasis on RECORDs of straight ‘A’ at state as well as at school level, should we not, for a change, see highlights of the number and percentage of pupils achieving nothing beyond ‘D’ and ‘E’? Not long ago, the percentage of the group of pupils in this low category at one school reached as high as 30% in one PMR exam. That is very telling isn’t it?

v) – Does the introduction of a subject like EST ( English for Science and Technology) reflect deficiency in our English as a subject?

vi) – Instead of hard copies, blackboard and chalks, must we encourage the use of computing technology to the extent that a teacher can leave the pupils on their own in class?

vii) – Are the text books used for teaching English up to standard? Is it acceptable, for instance, that poems and short stories by Malaysians are translated into English and used as parts of introduction to English literature? Are we making our children learn English literature or learn to be proud of ‘Malaysia boleh’?

I have these questions playing in my head from time to time for so many years when I keep seeing with despair at the attainment of many kampong children coming for help at Almanar.

I will not forget what Awang Goneng once mentioned to Pakcik how the problem of poor children at the bottom classes in schools of a neighbouring country was tackled. The method was so successful that teachers would scramble to teach bottom classes! But we are too proud to be a ‘copycat’. With Malaysia Boleh we should not be surprised when Malaysian engineers are soon required to reinvent the wheel!


To Awang Goneng.

Mi, I may have been unnecessarily critical. I may have raised some eyebrows among my readers. But in the environments I happen to live in, on top of growing old, I have my frustrations.

Thank you for your comments.

Abang Ngah

Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan

26 January 2012

Pakcik reminisces (Pt 23a ) - A milestone in time

Weary of a possibility that this entry might be construed as an attempt to highlight self importance, Pakcik will have to be as brief as possible.

I cannot help waking up to the reality that this year marks an important milestone in my journey through time. Twenty years ago Pakcik had to vacate a cosy chair with an employer that I had been closely associated with for thirty five years of my life. I owe them my tertiary education and I owe them material gains and experience in building the life of my family. At the end of that milestone we were gratified to witness our three birds leaving their nest, and the two of us left contented to begin unhindered the final part of our journey. That was 30 years ago.

We were ready for our ‘hijrah’; in location, modes of living, devoid of clubs and partying, and, above all, the activities which preoccupy. Sadly we had to part with many very close friends and relatives, including our own children.

Two years later I chose a new career, one which the pair of these old birds would not expect any material gains. And now, eighteen years past the bridge in time, we are happy that, without any lingering doubts, we had Almanar launched. In its humble way Almanar shares the pride of seeing some deserving children from this small community progressing ahead in education, one that could bring gains to their respective families; as briefly sketched in our ‘End of the Tunnel’ series.

The very recent siting of a home for orphans and children of needy families by the authority has presented Almanar a new challenge. The present number of children living in this new home, a stone’s throw away, is about 80 children and very soon it will increase to about 100. Sadly, these children, resulted from shortcomings in years of upbringing them, have little inclination towards education. This is an added challenge which Pakcik have neither time nor expertise to deal with.

It is very fortunate that we have been offered an opportunity to open a discussion with representives from a university with the view of implementing a small project loosely called ‘transfer of knowledge from university to community’. I am hoping against hope that a new era will open in a not-too-distant future when members from that university will make programmed visits to Almanar to deal with motivation aspects of these children. It will surely mark a new milestone in time for Almanar.

On a slightly wider perspective, if the above-mentioned project truly gets underway successfully, I would like schools around us to take advantage of this new university-Almanar venture; instead of the current tendency among certain groups in the schools to look with scorn and doubts at what benefits Almanar could offer to their pupils.

Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan

20 January 2012

Interlude – Bengawan Solo

“Ning, I have no class this afternoon. Let’s go out for high tea after my Jumaat prayers.’

“ So I don’t have to prepare lunch.”

“ And dinner!”

That was a deal and by three we were in town to join a small crowd with a three-piece band playing soft music. We found ourselves a table for two in a corner within sight of the music makers. After picking up some dishes we sat quietly enjoying our food half listening to lovely old English pieces – pieces for dancing.

I did not know what was in her mind but I quickly went back in time, some fifty years ago`. I could see couples, all properly attired; swaying to romantic waltzes and slow foxtrots. Oh, what a lovely scene it was in the pictures of my mind. Suddenly I was awakened from my reverie when the music changed. It was Bengawan Solo, my very favourite of the mid 50’s.

I looked up and saw the leader/singer smiling at me as he sang the lyrics. Yes we know each other and it was his way of presenting something special. What a song this is, an evergreen Indonesian classic.

Bengawan Solo

Bengawan Solo, riwayatmu ini
sedari dulu jadi perhatian insani
musim kemarau, tak seberapa airmu
di musim hujan air meluap sampai jauh ...

mata airmu dari Solo
terkurung gunung seribu
air mengalir sampai jauh
akhirnya ke laut ...

itu perahu, riwayatmu dulu
kaum pedagang s'lalu naik itu perahu


"Bengawan Solo, this is a song of your history.
People have been fascinated with this great river since ancient times,
In the dry season, your water is little, and in the rainy season, your water overflows till far,
Around the source of the Solo River, there are a thousand mountains,
And the river flows all the way to the sea.
There are always many merchants on board ships going up and down the river.
These ships also show your history."


Before we left I made the few steps to the music makers and thanked the leader for his very special song. “ I knew you would want me to sing that. Until next time …..”

That was a good break for us. On the way home I expressed the thought which had been lingering in my mind. “ Ning, isn’t strange? Fifty years ago our Malay folks looked with contempt and disapproval at Malays in proper dresses dancing gracefully to the sentimental music because it was a western culture. And today, we see on TV crowds of young and old Malays swaying their hands in unison, delirious at boys and girls jumping and wriggling on stage in dresses I feel completely disgusted.”

“You are behind time, darling!” she responded with a wry smile.

Indeed I am. A lot of water has gone under the bridge (of Bengawan Solo)

Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan yntuk kemanusiaan

12 January 2012

All in the Family ( Part 2 ) – From Adam to Adam

Over forty years ago, a young couple indeed we were when we received the much awaited news of the coming of our first baby. And during the next nine months we were made to wonder in suspense whether it was a boy or a girl, whether it was just one or more, and hoping all was going to be a gift with perfect features and all. Baby scanning was not even a dream. In many ways, however, the months of expectation, suspense, dream and prayers were all part of the pleasure. Much of the thrill is lost today, not unlike watching a replay of a football final when the score is already known.

And the pleasure of trying to arrive at a suitable name for our first one was an added pleasure. We borrowed and we bought books of names to make our list of preferred names. And it had to be a boy’s and a girl’s name, with contingency added in the event of more than one. But how would one arrive at a name or two? What criteria and basis were to apply? At long last, after much deliberation and brainstorming, the name/names had to start with alphabet ‘A’. You see we went so far as to assume that the yet-to-be born babe would be clever enough to go into a university, and at the end of each year the child should not find it difficult to find his/her name from the long list of passes! It had to be among the top few name! It was beyond belief that the result could appear on a small screen held in your palm, wherever you choose to be.

So we had Ainun followed by Amran and Anwar – just three? Pakcik had wanted a full dozen, or even more, but three times on the operation table was enough for any mother to go through in the 60’s. Our Dr McCoy advised against going for number four. ( Note: Dato’ Dr McCoy is a founder member of Malaysian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (MPPNW) and has been its chairman since 1989. He is Co-President of International Physicians for the Preventive of Nuclear War (IPPNW). Disappointed, we conceded.

Our number one herself started the short list of four children whose names begin with ‘A’ except for an ‘S’. The ‘S’, for Sulaiman, was our special request in honour of the child’s great-grand-father, a scholar who died at the young age of 39. Like her mother, Ainun herself cannot go for a dozen or more, beating her mother by having four. The fourth was named after our first prophet ( Alaihissalaam), ADAM, and the first of human race.

The list continued with Aisyah, the first ‘Hawa’ in the list of our grandchildren, and finally Adam. We never asked why it should be Adam. But it could very well be the last child. If Makcik found three was enough, our daughter was brave enough to go for four
I have a younger sister in my family, whose name does not begin with ‘A’. She has three children none of whom carries a name with ‘A’, and yet they are successful in life. Her youngest daughter, now in the Hague with her husband, delivered her first baby three months ago. It was a very pleasant surprise for us to know that this first baby was named Adam. This new family of three returned during the recent Christmas holidays.

And for the first time the two ADAMS, sons of two cousins, met.

Ainun & the two Adams (8 yr & 5 m)

We can only pray and hope that these two Adams ( both born in August) are blessed, will live up to their auspicious name, and be humane enough to be of service to mankind.

Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan.

01 January 2012

Hatinya baik (He had a wonderful heart) –Part 4

A) INTRODUCING First Day of 2012

I have seen this first day more than seventy times. A lot of water has gone under the bridge, so to speak. And, if there is any left, how many more are there ahead? Wallahu A’lam.

The year just gone had many good moments. The few instances, which Makcik and Pakcik accepted with sadness, were the deaths of several very close to us, in particular Makcik’s own mother and her only aunt. And just about one week to the end of the year I was particularly saddened by the passing a national figure of whom I am writing below.

There is nothing to celebrate, really. Last night it was cats and dogs right through the night till almost dawn. Therefore open air first-day celebration in this world-class city was out of question.

This being the first day of the year I chose to close Almanar for the normal morning class, leaving just for the afternoon. And I made myself useful in the morning ‘supervising’ Makcik making my usual favourite home-made thick-cut marmalade. She ended with a batch of five tubs which should keep me happy at breakfast for another six months.

Soon after my afternoon class a middle age couple turned at our house. They are a husband-and-wife team planting vegetables for sale. They apparently heard that this old man by the sea had done wonders for free.

Would Pakcik kindly accept her daughter who had just obtained 3C’s and 2D’s (English and Math) in her recent UPSR exam? Whom should I pity, the vegetable growers or her poor daughter? It was not such a difficult question. Years ago I accepted an orphan with 2D’s in the same subjects and he converted them to 2 A’s three years later.

So that was my first day of 2012. This evening I am sitting to draft this posting.


B ) Hatinya baik (He had a wonderful heart) –Part 4

Utusan Malaysia – 24th December 2011

On 23rd December 2011, a Friday, once a minister in Prime Minister’s Dept, Tan Sri Dr Abdul Hamid Othman, passed away suddenly at the age of 72. I cannot claim to be more than an acquaintance to him. But he was a man I could not help admiring.

Had his son, his only child, not been a close classmate of my son during their secondary education at Sekolah Menengah Alam Shah, I would have never had the opportunity to know this very special man whose thought and vision I could share. That was in the 70’s when he was a lecturer at the University Kebangsaan. He used to call at my house in Damansara Heights and we had interesting talks on various subjects, particularly education. We shared a common beginning in education. The two paths in the forest, where I chose to take one leaving the other, were more or less the same paths; but he took the other. We would probably be friends at AlAzhar University had I chosen the path preferred by my parents.

We talked about St Andrew where he went to do his PhD in Islamic study, and I visiting the birth place of golf.

I remember how interesting it was doing research in Islam St Andrew’s University. He spoke very highly of the English professors’ knowledge in Islam and the Quran. I was not surprised when he said a number of them converted, but only after they had retired from the university.

He had high hopes for his son, Wafi, the like of my hope for my first son. He had wanted his son to reach the sky in education. Today I know deep in my heart how satisfied he had been to see the attainment of his loved one, obtaining first-class honours in law, a Masters in law at Cambridge, finishing with a PhD in maritime law, a chip of the old block.

I never wondered why the late Tan Sri was picked by Dr Mahathir to be his advisor in Islamic matters. I could not think of a better person, a quiet, humble and unpretentious great human being.

Many would miss arwah Tan Sri. I regret for not keeping in touch with him in his later days. All I can do now is to pray for him. Al Fatihah for him, and condolence to surviving members of his family.

Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan.