Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Accountability and maintenance

I am so fed up of the lack of maintenance in everything I encounter. Taxis that smell bad and rattle, buses that are peeling at corners and the hand rail inside being held up with wires. This is an experience I had at the public toilet in KLCC. This is KLCC, the pride of the nation, once-upon-a-time tallest building in the world.

It rained that afternoon so all hopes of going to the park with my kids were dashed. I am trying hard to prevent my kids from growing up to be mall rats. Not much choice seeing that the parks aren't well maintained. Also, the weather wasn't on our side. Since I'd promised my children I would take them out, the closest would be the KLCC for us.

My son needed to use the toilet. When we went into the toilet, there was a queue. Actually, there were several queues. This is what I don't understand how it works. I've always thought that whoever who needed to use the toilet which is full will form ONE line. Then whichever cubicle opens, the first in line goes into that cubicle. Apparently not! The last person to go into the toilet finds the shortest queue in front of the stall and hope that your children don't need to pee that desperately 'coz the stall you chose may have someone who is constipated!

When we were waiting for our turn, a lady peeked out of her toilet door and PSST! her friend to bring some hand towels for her 'coz the toilet paper had run out. Most bizarre since the janitor was in the toilet the whole time we were there. Alright, give the janitor the benefit that the roll of paper had probably just finished before she checked. Now, if hand paper towel is flushed into the toilet, doesn't it cause the toilet to clog up?

Since there wasn't much to do when waiting in line, I looked around. The janitor was cleaning the stalls one by one as people were coming out. She used the mop to wipe down the toilet and the entire time I was there, she hadn't rinsed the mop once! Did I mention that this janitor moved as quickly as a glacier in winter? Then I looked behind me and saw a sign which says Mother and Child toilet. I asked the janitor if I could use that toilet. She mumbled something like, "Dah kunci" (it's locked) The lock and handle on the door looked like they've been shot! Puncture holes around the handle. Then the lady in the stall where we were waiting came out. I saw the roll of toilet paper was empty, so I told the kids in a loud voice (for the benefit of the janitor of course) to wait for another stall with toilet paper. So the janitor "quickly" went to the stall to do something about that. Now "quickly" for this janitor meant glacier moving in the spring. She used the sanitary napkin disposal unit to jam the door open, took out the set of keys she had with her (which probably had the key to open the mother and child toilet door), opened the toilet roll unit, took out the core from the old roll, sauntered to the make-shift janitor cubicle which was once upon a time another toilet stall, took out a roll of new toilet paper,... You get the picture. Fortunately, we all didn't need to pee that badly or we would have had an accident. I think I know why the kids have a change of clothes in their backpack now. For emergency moments like this!

We all used the toilet, washed our hands and got some paper towel from the dispenser to wipe our hands. All this time, the janitor hadn't washed her mop yet and she had already cleaned the whole toilet! As we were leaving, I saw a pile of paper towels on the floor in the toilet inside the janitor's cubicle. On top of the paper towels was a sanitary napkin disposal unit! EEWWWWWW!!!! Needless to say, we all washed and soap our hands again before leaving the toilet!


Monday, July 16, 2007

Amazing woman with no arm

I'm sure this video has been circulating the world through emails, it's still good to share. This amazing woman can do so many things even though born without arms. What is stopping us who are able bodied to be all that we can be?


Monday, July 02, 2007

Children and education

In March/April every year, I see splashed on the front page of the newspaper stories about outstanding students who have scored a string of As in the PMR and SPM. I was blinded by the number of As these students scored. When I was in school, scoring 10As in SPM was a big deal. Even then, my school mates and I have whispered amongst ourselves "How to study for 10 subjects ah?" Now, we have students who score up to 15 A1s! Why am I not jumping for joy for these people? Why am I not impressed?

What brought about thinking aloud about the state of education system? What I'm about to express is strictly from the point of view of a mother to a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old.

My daughter goes to a Chinese medium school in the city. It is a well-known school with a good reputation. Most days, I coach her on her homework. With Mandarin, I help her wherever I can as I have limited knowledge of Mandarin. With every subject, I encourage her to ask her teacher if she doesn't understand what is being taught. Laura seems to be coping well in school, getting A and stars for her homework done. However, when she couldn't do her Bahasa Melayu, I mean Bahasa Malaysia (can the Education Ministry please make up their mind??), I was shocked to discover she is VERY weak in BM, not being able to understand simple words and definitely not able to string a sentence without help. Doesn't help that the BM syllables for Std 1 is extremely difficult! They are already making sentences and using words like "pelawas". How many pupils in Std 1 know what "pelawas" is? Ironically, BM is a subject taught every day in school.

How does one learn languages? Laura is brilliant in English. She can read and understand story books, eg books by Enid Blyton (Blue Dragon categoery when I was a kid). Stories of elves, goblins and magical faraway lands which are written in simple English. Did she learn to read from school? Yes, she did. She learned phonics and very quickly was able to make out words and soon learned to read books and such. Why? Because she grew up speaking English. Laura is coping well with Mandarin, having learned a lot of words and able to make simple sentences in Mandarin. She speaks to her schoolmates in Mandarin, even though her first language is English. Why? Because everyone speaks Mandarin in school. So what is established here? Laura is strong in the two languages which she has heard being spoken and which she speaks. She has learned subconsciously the language structure and also what word means what. How is BM taught in school?

Every day, she brings back stacks of workbooks - Maths and Science in English, Maths and Science in Mandarin, English, BM, Mandarin. Some subjects have two workbooks. On top of that, she writes pages and pages of words. Eg of what's in her workbook, make a sentence from jumbled words:

buaya tajam Gigi sangat

She didn't know what buaya means. She also didn't know what tajam means. How did she know how to do her homework? In class, her teacher gets them to pull out their workbook. This is the same workbook she'll be facing at home. The teacher asks them to read out the words, which presumably everyone can. Then asks if anyone knows how to make the sentence. The students who know raise their hand, those who don't keep quiet. Student who gets picked makes the correct sentence. So the teacher writes down numbers on top of the words. Gigi = 1, buaya = 2, sangat = 3, tajam = 4. Viola, even weak students know their homework now. Alright, everyone knows how to do their homework. Nobody said anything about them UNDERSTANDING what they're doing.

This applies not just to BM but also English. So with this method of teaching children, the obsession with workbooks, the students just aren't learning anything at all! What happens to families who do not use the languages regularly? The same applies to non-English speaking students who studies in the school. Do the teachers speak to the students in BM and English? Do the students hear stories in these languages so they know the flow of the language? Do the teachers encourage the children to interact in these languages so the children get to practise what they hear? Do the teachers make the lessons fun by playing games so that what is taught is memorable to little 7-year-olds? Obviously not!

What is the solution most parents choose when faced with kids who are weak in school? Send to tuition! So the poor kids spend hours in school, get home and have to face homework, rush to tuition and then deal with homework from tuition.

(school + homework) + (tuition + tuition homework) = exhaution, frustration and still not understand

Something is wrong with this equation...

Some people may argue with me that more students are scoring 10As and above then when I was in school. How many of these people actually understand what they learned? Did they go through years and years and years of past year exam papers to spot the questions that are coming out? Then muck and memorize what they need to score?

I can't help thinking that Einstein, Newton, Franklin, Curie will not have achieved anything if they had gone to school with this education system. In the first place, they wouldn't have had time to explore and experiment. Also, they wouldn't have had the time! And there isn't any space at home with postage stamp-sized land with 4 walls and a roof which we call houses here. But that's another post. Here's what could have happened:

Newton sits under an apple tree (or if you prefer a mangosteen tree). His mother comes out and shouts, "Isaac, come in here to finish your homework now! You have to get to your Science tuition at 3pm, then swimming at 4pm and art class at 5pm!"


Benjamin Franklin takes out his kite (alright he was already a grown up by then but play along with me here) and he heads out the door. His father hears him and asks, "Ben, where do you think you're going?"

Franklin: "I'm going out to fly a kite"

Franklin Sr: "Fly kite? You finish your homework already ah? No need to go to Maths tuition meh? Is that thunder I hear?"

Franklin: "I've finished my homework and my Maths tuition changed to Sat morning already"

Franklin Sr: "Eh, I hear thunder lah. You better not go fly the kite lah. If it rains you'll fall sick and you will have to miss school. How to catch up?"