24 January 2013

With a sigh ( Pt 14 ) – Teacher, oh, teacher

Awang  Goneng  (Wan A Hulaimi) came around to leave a possible explanation to the ‘Active Eye’ of my last posting. Obviously he had done some research and suggested further reading – http://www.cvcny.org/index.php?s=1&b=4&p=4  

On a number of occasions his appearance was timely. This time I was planning to write about my uncalled-for poor impression of certain teachers around me. I must make it very clear that I am not in any way generalising my view of teachers, the one group I like to befriend. I sigh when, in my occasional depressed moods, I see weaknesses where they ought not to be.
The New Sunday Times - 20th Jan.2013

I was in that mood when I read W A Hulaimi’s weekly column in New Sunday Times of 20th January, ‘To teach, you have to know’, as usual a well-researched piece of writing. On this subject he quoted Art Markman, a professor of psychology. I will now copy-and-paste a few lines from that column.

- If you want to learn, teach.
- You cannot teach what you do not know, and to know, you must look up the subject, and the more you look it up, the more you’ll see.
 - We often ask of each other, “Are you familiar with the subject?” as opposed to “Do you know?”.
- Before I started teaching, I did not believe that I would be the one learning.
-  If you look at a house from a distance, you are looking at it abstractly, but when you move in close you’ll see it specifically, in greater detail – how it is structured, what kind of windows and pillars and which architectural genre.

When I started Almanar and thought of helping needy children in English, mathematics and science subjects, I did not realise how hard it would be for me to do it after having left school more than fifty years. It was not so difficult with English but with additional mathematics, physics and chemistry it was self study all over again. I was not facing a few questions in an examination but odd questions, some from thick-headed children. I had to dig out whatever old books I still had stowed away in boxes, and had to buy more.   

It was then I realised the superiority of old imported books over those being flooded in local bookshops. For a start hardly a local school reference book has index at the back, making it virtually impossible to check at a glance the presence of certain topics.
Then at one point a teacher came around and had a glance at the few reference books at Almanar, and declared that those books, being about five years old, were ‘out of date’! No wonder book publishers keep revising school books not less than once a year to keep the contents up-to-date (or create new market?). The catch phrase is ‘format baru’.  

To teach I have to learn.

Stubborn as I am, I have been doing it my way. Newton’s laws of motion  have not changed. The concept of chemical bonds between elements has never changed. Do we need to change the way we teach because of changes in examination format?  So today I still make reference to my old books.

I teach, and I learn.

Now I must relate what I did some ten years ago. I had just taught coordinate geometry to a group of Form 2 children. When the children had grasped it I ventured to explain its application in geography; in the formation of longitudes and the latitudes on earth. It was such a revelation to them to know why the range of longitudes is from 0 degree (at Greenwich) to 180 degree east and 180 degree west, but of latitudes, on the other hand, are from 0 degree at the equator to 90 degree north and 90 degree south.

It was then I learnt that a globe, like the one I used to illustrate my explanation, had never been used by their geography teacher. So I was na├»ve enough to ask a couple of the children to ask their geography teacher to explain why latitudes and longitudes were not simplified by having 180 degrees east, 180 degrees west for longitudes,  and  180 degrees north, 180 degrees south for latitudes.   

A few days later we had a good laugh in class when the two children came back to report. The first geography teacher they approached asked them to ask a second geography teacher who happened to be around. The second teacher asked them to refer yet to another teacher. To her surpridse a terse reply, a kind of rebuke, came from the third teacher.

“ Apa nak Tanya lagi? Memang dah macam itu. Ingat saja sudah lah! ( Why do you need to ask? It has been like that. Just take and remember it!)” The teacher was obviously annoyed with such a frivolous question.

If you do not want to learn, don’t teach.

I laughed but I drew a long sigh. I am an old fashioned and inquisitive fool, wasting time teaching what is not needed to get ‘Aces’ in an examinnation. I will never know how to use such ‘Malay’ words as, produk, ilusi, emosi, kompelikasi etc. Dewan Bahasa’s dictionary is probably the only dictionary in the whole world that needs to be purchased every year to enable one to acquire the fast expanding Bahasa 1 Malaysia ‘moden’.

I will go on learning and I will go on teaching; but I will go on doing it my way.  

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18 January 2013

Active Eye?

No longer needed

Last week Pakcik had a new group of Form 1 at Almanar. They are from the centre of less privileged children I have made reference to before. In general, children from this home are difficult to handle. This has been a real challenge for me.

As I was moving around, allowing time for the children to copy what was on the white board, one girl whispered if I could write more clearly as she found difficulty to read my writing and had to resort to copying from one friend besides her. This not being the first time, I knew we were facing another of the normal eyesight problems quite easily resolved several times in the past. So, at the end of the class I was happily driving THREE of them to the normal optometrist, expecting, with a bit of luck, to see them with glasses a couple of days later. This time we had a problem with one of the girls. The optometrist could not determine the power of a lens suitable for her. She suffers from ‘active eye’ problem possibly something to do with her optical nerves, resulting in unsettled focusing power. An eye specialist’s help is needed in this case.

Perhaps, someone would care to enlighten Pakcik what this ‘active eye’ problem is.


Pakcik used to wear glasses for many,many years. At one stage I needed one for reading as well.  Strange enough my problem has gradually improved during the last few years such that  I need no glasses for reading or driving on long distance journey from KT to KL and back. Probably, HE has returned me my eyesight after years of writing on the white board and glaring at misbehaving children and scolding them! About half a dozen glasses of different power and models lie around in my drawers – on stand-by or for sale! Or do I have the 'active eye' of different kind ?

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06 January 2013

End of the tunnel (Pt 21) – Little girls no more

  (Section I)
I wish he were still around that I 
could ask him,
 “Can you still 
remember thirteen years ago when I asked for your permission take Ana to stay in our house?” But he has long gone.  
It was a hard life for that ex-soldier 
and family. Pakcik could 
not imagine how Ana, one of his children, could make it in her PMR examination unless she could be spared from having to struggle to share the burden of the family. To earn money the family prepared breakfast foods for sale at a number of the village coffee stalls. Being the only helping hand in the house, Ana had to spend her evenings helping her mother and could only start doing her school work after nine. When other children were still in bed she had to be up by four to finish the final preparation, steaming and frying and wrapping cooked the food in small packages of banana leaves and old newspapers. By six her father had to ride his old motorcycle to deliver the finished products to the coffee stalls ready for villagers to buy on their way home after their ‘subuh’ prayers at the mosques/suraus.
Over the years Ana never failed to 
regularly attend afternoon
classes at Almanar and had shown to be promising. But it was a job for the little girl to fight her drowsiness and keep her eyes open. It was then Pakcik discovered her problem, and that prompted Pakcik to seek her father’s consent to allow her to stay in our house for the whole of the three months preceding her PMR examination.
What followed is history. Seven years later 
she turned up at our
house to tell us that she had made it. She had graduated from a university. She was no longer the little girl (see my Part 1 of my ‘End of the tunnel’ series posted on 21/6/2008click here)
Indeed a lot of water has passed under 
the bridge. For one thing 
her dear father has gone. Life is easier for the family. Four years ago she began her career in Tawau as a teacher at a technical college. She did not mind being there as the extra allowance was a big help.
Two months ago, Ana turned up with 
an invitation card for her 
wedding. Of course we would never miss that. Yet, while Pakcik was heading for her house with Makcik and two grandchildren, what appeared to be a desparate call came through my hand phone. “ Pakcik, jangan lupa hari kahwin saya hari ni ! “ ( Pakcik, please don’t forgotten my wedding day today !” Did she do that to everyone?
She held my hands tight and 
released them only to pose for this 

Today she is a young lady, no longer 
our adopted little girl.
If only I could hold his father’s hand to 
say, “ Tahniah ! 
(Congratulations !)”. I can only have prayers in my heart.
I must not forget to note here what I 
learned from her on one 
of her visits to our house a year or so ago. Among the people around her in Tawau she was known to be a good cook. Regularly she prepared ‘nasi dagang Terengganu’ on order.  It was an extra income, she said with a smile. And Makcik still remembers today how well Ana could prepare certain ‘kueh’ even when she was a young girl in our house.   
( Section II )
Joining the same class Almanar at Form 1 
fifteen years ago with 
Ana was another girl we lovingly call Neni. Yesterday, while Pakcik was finishing up this entry she came over. She is two years ahead of Ana. She does not call at our house alone any longer. Yesterday a one-year old boy was tagging along and her husband as well. She is a nurse working in Perlis, and I am pleased to hear that she intends to further her studies. Even on a short three days’ leave home to see her parents she did not fail to call on us.


Can our life be more fulfilling and 
satisfying than seeing success 
in these young people? We have our little investment in them.
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