Thursday, February 21, 2008

What I remember about primary school...

Playing with my friends before school, during recess and after school. Waking up when the sky was still dark, the air was chilly and fireflies darting about. Yes, fireflies in PJ! We didn't have to drive all the way to Kuala Selangor and jump on a boat to watch fire flies in the 70's!

We played Rounders, hop scotch, five stones and jump rope before school. Nobody told us off for being noisy. At recess, we wolfed down our food so we could have more time to play some more.

When waiting for the school bus, my friends and I would play "Catching" which always involve jumping across the drain. I usually got caught because I was too chicken shit to jump across. I remember my teacher Miss Angela Wong who taught us well, who was firm yet loving. She was concerned about us, made sure we understood what was taught even though there was almost 50 of us. I remember a little fold up cabinet which was opened once a week so we could borrow books to read. After Std 3, once a week we went to a small room filled with books and we could borrow any books we want. I learned later that that was the school library of sorts. I borrowed books by Enid Blyton. Started with Blue Dragon books, slowly moved to Green Dragon and finally Red Dragon. Read all about the Famous Five, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I looked forward to the day we could borrow books. I can't remember now which day it was when we could borrow books. It could have been a Friday.

At home, I hardly had any homework. That was usually dealt with pretty quickly so I could watch TV when transmission started at 5pm. Yes, this was before cable TV and TV broadcast wasn't 24 hours. Heck, this was before colour TV.

33 years later and my daughter is in primary school. Her school days are so different from mine. Her school is situated on one of the busiest road in KL, so no chance to play outside the school compound for sure. Girls her age have been kidnapped, are still missing or murdered so playing outside the school without supervision is not an option!

A schoolmate's mom and I carpool with our kids. Why not put her on a school bus? Just today, a motorcyclist squeezed between a parked lorry and my car which was on the left lane. Needless to say, he scratched my car! With the number of cars on the road and the reckless way people drive, put my kids on a bus where they are not secured with any seat belt? I love my children too much to put them through that risk!

A typical day in my daughter's school day...

Arrive in school and straight away they are to get themselves upstairs to the school hall to be lined up with their class. The time between arrival and the start of school, they are taught to sing by their vice principal and they recite classics. Sometimes, they watch cartoon on TV. They are not allowed to run around or make too much noise as the morning session is still on.

Time to start school, they proceed to their classes in an orderly manner. They settle in and lesson starts. Maths and Science taught in English and Mandarin. Bahasa Melayu to learn and workbooks to do. English as a subject twice a week. Moral in Mandarin. Two to three workbooks per subject. Physical Education textbook and workbook to go through. Textbook and workbook for PE???! WTF! PE meant going to the field and being outdoors when I was in primary school!

Every kid look forward to recess right? Recess time in Laura's school... Children go straight to the school canteen and are expected to stay there the entire time. There isn't much of a field to play in in the first place. If the entire Std 1 and Std 2 population were to converge at the field, they will all be standing shoulder to shoulder. Hey, just like being in the assembly hall!

Poor Laura is swamped with homework. Something is terribly wrong with our education system when 8-year-olds go to school for 5 1/2 hours each day and still have to sit through 5-8 homework each day! A neighbour of ours also send her daughter to the same school. E is in Std 5. When we bumped into her the other day, she told Laura, "You're lucky to be in Std 2. You only have maximum 8 homework a day. In Std 5, I have 10 homework on average". She had just gotten back from 2 tuition back to back. It was 7.00pm (E goes to the morning session) and she was still in her school uniform and hadn't started on her homework. What time does she go to bed?

My little girl has always had an early bedtime. Latest to bed 8.30pm. She's a growing girl so she needs her sleep. Since starting school, she's not had the chance to sleep early. Back home by 7.10pm, shower then dinner. By the time she finishes dinner, it's almost 8.30pm. She has to deal with homework. Plough through 5-8 homework, she's in bed by 10.30pm if she's lucky. The next morning, she's up by 8am so she can attend classes in Bao Bei. Laura doesn't attend any tuition class, only Bao Bei. She loves going to Bao Bei as children learn Mandarin in a fun way.

By the time Laura is done with homework, her eyes are half closed. She is exhausted. Dark circle under her eyes. No chance to unwind, no chance for some catch up time with her family, she is off to bed and falls asleep straight away.

Someone please remind me. What's the purpose of homework? My definition of homework is school work that can't be completed in time in school. Homework is a way to revise what was taught in school so that the students understand what they are taught. How is a 7+-year-old supposed to be able to concentrate on homework after having been in school for 5 1/2 hours? Can anyone sustain concentration for so long, whatever age they are?

What is the purpose of workbooks? Why is there such an emphasis on workbooks? One workbook per subject not good enough? Why the need for 2-3 workbooks? After Year 1, students who excel are placed in the first two classes. Laura made it to one of these two classes. I was actually hoping she wouldn't! I knew it would mean extra pressure on her and MORE WORKBOOKS! sigh

Laura was struggling with her homework 'coz she didn't understand what she was supposed to do. I helped her whenever I could by going through dictionary with her and guiding her but I get stumped too as I did not learn Mandarin in school. Several times I told her to ask her teacher the next day. She said she won't 'coz her teacher won't answer her questions, in fact will scold her for asking. A teacher who does not encourage her students to ask when they do not understand? Hmmm... Maybe something got lost in translation. After all, my daughter is 7 1/2 and may not convey fully what the teacher said or she chose the wrong time to ask. When I had a word with the teacher, I asked if Laura asked when she doesn't understand. Her teacher launched into a long explanation on her style of teaching.

She DOES NOT encourage her students to ask questions. There are 46 students in her class, so if everyone of them came up to her personally to ask questions, she does not have time to do much else. When she's teaching, her students are expected to give 100% attention and understand. Then they're given homework to do.

Hello, Ms Teacher. As you said, there are 46 students in your class. Do you expect every single one of them to be at the same level of understanding? They are 7-8 year olds and they are expected to pay full attention and be able to understand every single thing you teach? Wouldn't it be better if the students asked you questions so they learn better? They ask you questions so you can gauge how much you've taught is understood.

Laura has been known to wake up crying in the morning because she thought she had missed out on some homework. Any homework not done will result in marks deducted from her moral exams. Any students who skip school without a valid reason or MC will also have marks deducted. The teachers wield canes at the assembly hall to get the children to behave. The children are taught to fear their teachers. To do their homework or face punishment. Sit down, listen and shut up! That's the message being put across to these children. My daughter told me she's happy 'coz it's "the 5th day her teacher hadn't scolded her". Aiyooo!

I am very frustrated with the education system at the moment. Frustrated with how the children are so bogged down with homework they do not have time to be children. Frustrated at how Laura gets so stressed out when she thinks she's forgotten to do her homework. Frustrated that children's enthusiasm for learning is getting systematically squashed and replaced with learning through fear. Frustrated with the way languages is taught. That's another post! So much emphasis on passing examinations. I constantly remind Laura that examination is a way for the teachers to access how much the students understood what had been taught so far. Do the teachers and the school remember that?

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8 Comments:

Blogger Esther said...

I'm currently studying overseas and I am so grateful. Incredibly grateful. Prior to this, I spent my entire life in the Malaysian education system and I don't remember a time when I actually looked forward to learning. I hated a lot of my teachers because they were judgmental and biased. And some only cared about their salary.

Now I'm in college, I really enjoy learning from my professors and I know that their doors are always open for me for almost anything.

My children will never be in the Malaysian education system. I want them to enjoy learning and learn to flourish.

But I have to say I am thankful for being multilingual. And someday if I can make a difference, I'd like to change the education system in Malaysia but that might be a silly thought, especially since I'm non-bumi.

We shall see!

3:36 am  
Blogger Min said...

You are fortunate have the opportunity to experience a different system of education. I am assuming you went to a chinese-medium school too when you say you're multilingual.

Everyone of us can make a difference, whether bumi or not. First and foremost, we are Malaysians. No matter what politicians try to say, Malaysia is our country and we need to remember that. Now that you have seen how things can be done differently, that knowledge will be valuable.

8:08 pm  
Blogger megaman said...

The education your child get is as good as the teachers assigned to educate your children.

This is the result of a worldwide study done on identifying what makes an effective and good educators.

It concluded that the amount of money spent on school facilities and factors other than the training and quality of the educators is not relevant at all to the quality of education. In other words, it doesn't matter how much $$$ you spent on education, it your teacher sucks, your education sucks as well.

Singapore, Japan and the Scandinavian countries have got the formula right. Japan encourages experience transfer from older more experienced teachers to younger teachers through mentor-mentee programs and sharing discussions. Singapore has a strict and formalized selection program for their teachers. Norway is the best, only Masters graduate are allowed to teach in primary school. In fact, their selection is so strict that only the best in terms of qualification and aptitude is allowed to teach and the selection is even more stringent for primary level educators than other levels. Thus, teachers are highly regarded in all these countries.

Looking at our own, I feel very sad as the best and most experienced teachers retire one by one to be replaced by less than suitable candidates. The education system has degraded into a form of antiquated recite-memorize-reurgitate system.
We need to put the real teachers and educators back in charge of the schools. Kick the politicians and power play out. Get the best and most qualified persons as teachers. Accept no others.

I rather have not enough good enthusiastic qualified teachers than loads of unqualified teachers. Only then we can restore some respect and prestige back to this noble profession.

10:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe you should send Laura to a school in Singapore. think she'll do much better there!

1:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think in singapore its even worse its more kiasu. the point is in many aisan countries its all abt exams, never about the joy of learning. Kids never develope and most importantly mature very late.

at uni my friends who went to international school had a much more wholesome education. did fun stuff, learn practical stuff and of course enjoyed their learning process. but i agree its also the learning style in the international schools. but even if this relaxed learning environment can we be sure that we wont be kiasu parents ???

the thing is i feel its the parents who hv started this kiasu exam thing, exams wil be there no matter which country. but i dont see wester parents sending their kids for tuition was age 6 nor do i see any 5-6 yr old telling their paretns i want tuition. im some way we hv created this competetiveness.

yes life is tough and we need to do well , but then again u do well its not like u r gonna get a scholarship... wrong color ! might as well enjoy the ride.

10:34 pm  
Blogger Min said...

Politicians should come out from under the tempurung so they'll realize what's happening with the country.

Malaysians are partly to blame. Most Malaysians take the easy way out and be apathetic. "Like that one lah. How to change?" If more people make noise, there will be change!

3:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i've been thinking hard whether to send my daughter to a chinese school too cos we both doesn't speak or write mandarin.

she 2 1/2 years old now only speaks english at home...we don't want to send her to international school too.

help!! if there's any advise from you on some preparations or learning school for mandarin and at which age i should start her on is very much appreciated, min. :D

a clueless mum.

yee

7:52 pm  
Blogger Min said...

Yee, I find attending classes at Bao Bei great at increasing my children's vocabulary. Check out their website and you can also send your daughter for a 1 week free trial before you sign up. http://www.baobei.com.my/

Before deciding to send your child to a Chinese school, you need to be very clear why you want her to go to a Chinese school. It is a lot of pressure on children and TONS OF HOMEWORK!

8:35 pm  

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