22 November 2013

With a Sigh (Pt 17) – Shouldn’t schooling life be fun?

( REGRET : I am sorry if the first few lines look odd.  I do not know why and how to correct it!!) 

Hardly a day passes without someone writing in 
the dailies about our education. I seem to get the 
impression that much of the credits come from 
those in authority. People at large, on the other 
hand, seem to express their weariness over the 
current situation. For a start there is no end to the 
issue of PPSMI. Our former PM warned that Malays 
will be left behind in the acquisition of knowledge 
if the government continues to neglect the 
teaching of science and mathematics in the English 
language. I was not surprised to understand that 
Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) was all for 
teaching Science and Mathematics in Malay.  If I 
choose to be cynical I would produce a copy of 
DBP’s dictionary to show the number of English 
words which have been butchered to become 
acceptable Malay words. Many of those words do 
not make Bahasa Malayu any richer. 
I am happy to have a home among the rural/semi urban society. My daily preoccupation at Almanar over the last many years has, consequently, brought me close to many children, rural in upbringing, many with inadequacies; and I have opportunities to interact with heir teachers. It is a shame to hear increasing negative remarks from these educators over the current situation in school. Generally they feel that they are no longer fulfilling their duties as teachers. Among other non academic activities, the introduction of PBS system ( whatever that is! ) leaves them with little time for teaching.

I feel sorry for those teachers and, of course, for the school children. In my selfish way I cannot help feeling that the few children who attend Almanar tuition classes are lucky to learn something.

A couple of weeks ago a group of Form 3 children asked if I would introduce Physics during this long holiday, in advance of their class when they go back to school in January 2014. I like the thought of doing that for them. To satisfy them I picked up one of the old Physics books in my possession. This happened to be one I purchased for one of my children in 1986 ( 27 years ago ). I suppose to the gods of education in the ministry this book is positively archaic. To me the title itself , ‘Physics for you’, is friendly and inviting.    

How about learning some Physics the old method?

I cannot help being amused every time I open the page on ‘measuring Heat’ where a pupil is encouraged to complete a simple poem. It is so typical of many societies, Malay no less, that children are humoured to learn from enchantingly simple poems.

Can you work out the rhyme?

                   Little Jack Holmer,
                   Sat in a corner,
                   Feeling so chilly and cool,
                   He said, “ I should eat,
                   And so produce ……
                   The unit of which is …..”


Whatever ‘education blue print’ the gods of education choose to implement, Pakcik will doggedly carry on teaching at Almanar the way he was taught some sixty years ago! Schooling was fun. Of course it was not funny when you got a cane whipped on your palm for your failure to rattle aloud from memory any of the multiplication tables from 2 to 12 for your teacher. Today a child simply needs to press a couple of buttons to get the answer for 2 times 10.   Nor was it funny in those days when, for not putting in a fair share of work, you had to remain another year in whatever class if you failed the end-of-the-year examination. It was even less funny when you would get sacked for failing twice.

But schooling was fun.

I can only draw a sigh, and keep giving lessons to these children the only way I know how. 

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09 November 2013

End of the tunnel ( Pt 23 ) – Not from Almanar

Indeed this is not the typical account of an ex-Almanar pupil. The subject of this entry is an old friend, one I would like to remember as a successful individual. Lee Chong Leng went through a long and dark tunnel and emerged to see beautiful sunlight and finally ended his day peacefully, leaving behind a legacy of success.

My friend Lee Chong Leng

Chong Leng was, obviously, not a Malay, nor was a Muslim. But that did not stop us from being friends. We started as Malayans and ended as Malaysians.

Chong Leng started life in a rather isolated fishing village of that time. Today, Batu Rakit is no more than 25Km by road, not more than 10Km as the crow flies, from Kuala Teregganu city centre.  But seventy years ago there was no road link. Chong Leng, who belonged to a Chinese family living among the Malay community of fishermen, grew up in this remote locality which is, ironically, my home today, also the home of Almanar.

Like those Malay children in that area, he attended the lone Sekolah Rendah Batu Rakit. Today this area boasts of colleges and more than half a dozen schools of various categories. He used to boast of his childhood torturous journeys to Kuala Terengganu. Setting off from home on foot would take him a good five hours to reach a quay-side in Seberang Takir, from where a boat man would paddle him across the wide estuary of Sungai Terengganu. What a trip it was just to get to the state capital. And today, I take no more than half-an-hour in my rickety vehicle to reach the same place.

Life brought us together when, in 1952, I joined him in Standard 7 (today’s Form 3) of Sultan Sulaiman English School. Unlike me he joined the school immediately after his five years of primary Malay school in Batu Rakit.  I went through a different route before joining him in Standard 7

I think I was drawn to him by his ability to speak Terengganu native dialect as well as his exceptional ability to write Malay in Jawi script. He was proud to show me how he could write my name in reversed Jawi script; from left to right instead of right to left.

Hassan in reversed Jawi script

That was the beginning of our friendship. And I cannot help believing that his mastery of Malay language was instrumental to that friendship. In the course of conversations it was natural to hear him use such terms as Alhamdulillah and InsyaAllah.

Chong Leng and I were probably the only two candidates (of 37 boys and 5 girls ) who used Jawi script in answering the Malay papers in our Senior Cambridge School Certificate (just SC – the like of SPM today) examination at the end of 1955. Unfortunately he could not satisfy the minimum number of passes from the eight subjects we sat for. In those days, nevertheless, passing Standard 8 ( current Form 4) was good enough for one to earn a clerical job. The standard of English of that era was more than adequate for that purpose. I think one may find it hard today to imagine that in the Malay subject SC exam question papers a candidate had to answer a question which asked a candidate to translate into Malay a short given passage in English, and likewise to translate into English a short given passage in Malay. Perhaps the schools were not called ‘EnglishSchool for no reason.

Shortly after knowing the SC examination result Chong Leng succeeded to get a clerical job in the judiciary department where he worked for many years.     

Although Chong Leng could not achieve a simple Grade 3 in the SC examination, he never lacked the determination to see his children perform better. When he was a child elder members of his family, worked hand in hand with local Malays, in making keropok. But his parents, instead of making him an apprentice in keropok industry, sent him to school, to finally succeed in make a living working comfortably at a desk with pen and paper – no longer necessary to clean oneself of scales and smell at the end of each day. Given that chance Chong Leng was determined to improve his children’s lot in life. His son won a coveted scholarship in Singapore to do architecture; a daughter works in a bank after graduation, and a second daughter is a specialist English teacher in one of our country’s top premier colleges for girls. 

Would that not be a dream realised? Yes, we joked and laughed the last time I was in his home, though his health was failing him.

Our last picture

We could no longer enjoy lunching out. But Chong Leng could not be a happier person – knowing that he was out of the long dark tunnel.

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02 November 2013

All in the family (Pt 10) – Adam the boy scout

Ten grandchildren later we finally have in our family the first member to join the Boy Scouts; befittingly his name is Adam.

Making it somewhat eventful, the primary school of this standard four boy was selected to be present at what was supposed to be an international jamboree; and of all places it was held a week ago at a sizable permanent Boy Scouts campsite in Kuala Terengganu, merely 12 Km from our home. Like our Nuri (of last posting) this well-equipped site faces the same stretch of South China Sea. If we take a small fishing boat and skirt around the coast past the sea end of KT airport runaway, we would come to this campsite. One of those English channel ( 32 km across to Calais ) swimmers could do a return trip without much effort.  


The main entrance - facing South China Sea

This being a sort of family’s historic event and the site being so close to our home, the aged grandparents from Nuri drove the short distance to wait for the arrival of the coach bringing our Adam. Finally, after seven hours on the road, the group of about thirty boys and girls from Sekolah Kebangsaan Bukit Damansara arrived to join the few hundred boys and girls of similar age from different parts of Malaysia and neighbour

On arrival

  • Ready to face the challenges

Not to be outdone, Adam’s mother flew in from KL early the following morning. We waited at the airport and drove her straight to the camp site, hardy 2 Km away. We could not help sensing the boy’s embarrassment that his friends would know the presence of his mother and grandparents. For that reason we tried to remain inconspicuous.

Good enough to weather the monsoon rain!

The two days and two nights of gathering must be quite an experience for these children to mix and participate and compete in various indoors and field activities. Their spirit did not seem to be dampened by rain which came down both evenings  - heralding the arrival of Monsoon season. Adam had to be thankful to see us the following morning to tell that he had lost his towel and soap after his first shower, and he had to share a friend’s!  

We make our own kites

Our dishes are god enough for competition


We can be creative given the chance


Gamelan presentation from Indonesia

And as we begin to talk less of the excitement of Adam’s first field experience, he is now talking about the next gathering in Johore Bahru. I can imagine the exodus of Pakcik’s clan down south. After all, Makcik’s father died and was buried there and Adam’s father hails from that part of the world as well. There is, obviously, every reason for them to visit the place on top of another Jamboree!

 On scouts honour


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