What went wrong in our schools?

While browsing through old articles, i stumbled upon this one:

At the sound of the engine, my late father, who was returning home from work, stood at attention. Others who were cycling got off their bikes and did not move until the Austin A40 went past.

I watched this drama unfold almost every other day - circa 1956.

I remember these scenes vividly as it gave me early impressions and would have a great impact on me decades later. Innocently, I asked my mother what it was all about. She said: “Ithu Vellakaran vatcha sattam.” (This is the law of the white man).

When the estate manager was on the move, everything else came to a standstill. The mandore would chide even children if they did not give the manager his due respect.

I was considered lucky because my dad was an estate conductor or kerani as they used to call him, but for the other workers, they were at the mercy of the management and its systems.

Being the son of the kerani, I was forbidden to go to the “labour lines” as they used to call the one-room wooden houses that housed Indian immigrants brought here to tap rubber.

That was my first glimpse of apartheid a’la Malaya, and fortunately, I was never to see such class polarisation and discrimination, when the family moved out of Ebor Estate in Batu Tiga, to Klang.

In town, the initial adaptation was difficult because the boys in the neighbourhood spoke English and I had spent two years in the estate Tamil school.

But those I befriended had no inhibitions. We studied together; walked to school together and played together. No one, let alone my friends who came from the Special Malay Class to join me in Standard Four classified me as kaum pendatang.

I learnt to sing Negara Ku with others, with Mrs Nora Eu on the piano. We did not have to raise flags or write slogans to show our patriotism.

We were all Malayans and we never saw any barriers - racial or religious - in our interaction.

While I was representing the school in the oratory contests and debates which were open to only non-Malays during the Bulan Bahasa Kebangsaan, the Indian Muslims and Pakistanis, in order to take part, proudly gave their full names including son of or daughter of - not bin or binti.

Today, the same people have conveniently dropped those words and assimilated themselves with the majority. I have no problems with that. Good for them that they have learnt how to work around the system.

We had two Abdul Halims in class and in order to avoid confusion, we called one Halim Kichap - referring to skin tone - and he had no qualms about that.

We learnt about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Francis Drake, Christopher Columbus, Gandhi, Mohamed Ali Jinnah and the like.

We were taught that a Javanese Hindu named Parameswara founded Malacca, but we are now told that someone is trying to re-write history by obliterating his name from textbooks.

My Standard Six teacher, B. M. Das, used the cane sparingly and those who had contemplated complaining to their parents were politely told that “if your father comes to school to complain, you can sit at the back of the class and watch me teach”.

There were only 13 “A” graders in the trial exams before the government exams proper.

“If there are more than 13 who pass with an A, I’ll eat your shoes,” he ventured. Our class produced 33 and it goes to show how teachers used to motivate the pupils. Das never ate our shoes and we never asked him to!

In secondary school, we had inter-class games, inter-house games and inter-school games. We all got involved. When the class was playing, everyone was on the field - cheering the team on.

Besides, everyone was encouraged to join the literary and debating society or other extra-mural activities, as they were called. But then, there were no computer labs or clubs.

We never identified ourselves by race and the only “segregation” came when we had to attend “Pupil’s Own Language” classes in the afternoon. Everyone ate from each other’s tah pau from home, and nothing was taboo.

In Form Two, our literature teacher P.K. Singh made us read a book a week, and then write a synopsis and identify 10 new words that we had learnt. It was this that helped our generation excel in the language.

Cikgu Idris, who taught us Bahasa Kebangsaan, told us that letters should end with Wassalam, an Arabic form of greeting which has now taken religious connotations.

We had the like of Lee Mun Yew and D. R. Daniel as headmasters of two schools - Klang High School and Anglo Chinese School respectively - which had a strong rivalry be it on the playing field or the debating halls.

They were there when the inter-school matches were played, and of course, like all school sports days, the main event was the inter-school relay.

Fifty years on and as a parent of a school-going child, I wonder how these great school days just disappeared and how well-versed they are with some famous names and places. Thanks to the Internet, some children know that the American Independence Day falls on July 4 or that Captain Tasman sailed to Australia with a boatload of convicts and that at one time, the sun never set on the Great British Empire.

What went wrong? Why are children now embroiled in colour, creed and religion at such a young age?

We are blaming the schools for all the ills that afflict society. Can it be changed? Can we go back to the times when we gained so much knowledge within six hours? Can we re-live the times when you had to fight tooth and nail to find a place in the school football team?

I don’t have the answers, but as the nation turns 50 tomorrow, our policymakers should put on their thinking caps for a solution.

Happy Merdeka!

Fikirkan sejenak…

Source: http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=19192