Tuesday, January 03, 2006


TALES OF TWO SYSTEMS – 3rd January 2006

Today is undoubtedly one of the most difficult in my life, because, like tens of thousands of Malaysian parents, I sent my children to standard one. But the strange thing was I honestly did not know how difficult it could be, until I had to go through the process with my wife.

The whole bitter sweet experience began the night before, when we had to try hard to get our children to go to bed early to prepare for the next bright new day when they would enter standard one in a Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan ( “ SRJK” ) or better known as a vernacular school just like I did forty years ago.

I remember then, on my first day in school, my mother walked me to the SRJK in Brickfields; there was no traffic jam, no pushing and shoving. Forty years later, there is still this same SRJK catering to the expanded population with the same basic facilities utilized way beyond capacity, bursting at the seams. Such a school typically accepts enrollment way beyond reasonable teacher-student ratios and creatively has a SRJK II or basically an afternoon school using the same facility.

Our children were assigned to the afternoon school which starts at 1:05pm, but during the pre school briefing, we were advised to ensure that our children report to the school before 12:45pm to avoid clashes with the dismissal of the morning school.

We figured that we would have to leave our home before 11.30am and therefore my poor children had to have their “lunch” latest 11am. By the time we reached the school, the scene was unbelievable! There were numerous school buses around, many were waiting to pick up the children from the morning school and many were just arriving sending in the children for the afternoon school. There were even more private vehicles around for the same reasons. The result was simply spectacular, massive dead locked jams in the whole vicinity. Everywhere around, I saw stressed out expressions not solely due to the prospect of leaving one’s child in school for the first time.

My wife sent our children in while I drove our car further away to avoid causing more congestion; she came out later to take over the car and I went in to see how our children were coping.

As the morning school was still in progress, the children of the afternoon school were all made to sit passively on the floor of the assembly hall according to their respective classes. It then dawned on me that our children today do not have my joy of going to school early and having a whale of a time playing with school mates in the field or in the canteen exchanging smuggled-in nasi lemak some forty years ago.

I went to my children, hugged and kissed them, telling them how proud I was feeling, in witnessing their first step towards this grand notion of education which I passionately promised would lead them into wonderful careers of their choice.

Then I reluctantly walked away from them. As I looked back into the assembly hall and seeing the images of my children sitting on the floor with so many other children while waiting for the morning school to vacate their classrooms, I could not suppress my frustration any further, tears started to roll.

What have we done for our children? Within such close proximity to the Twin Towers, we, the dutiful taxpayers have to go through hellish traffic jams to send our children to such a congested facility. Our children had no space at all to play, mingle or interact with each other.

What have we done for our children? Why were there no expansion of facilities and streamlining of infrastructure in and around such a good and reputable school?

The whole issue boils down to our ruling government’s aspiration of, and stubbornness in promoting a single failed education system under our Sekolah Kebangsaan ( ‘SK” ).

Now that I am experiencing the pain, I began to wonder what happened to some of my peers who are now MPs or even in the Cabinet, do they not experience the inconvenience, anguish and trauma of such unreasonable reality? I do know that they too, send their children to vernacular schools if not private or international schools.

What are we doing to our children? Are we not telling them slowly and painfully that the education system endowed upon them as decided by their parents is not welcome by the government? And who is able to help me in explaining why?

Is there really no room for SRJK and SK to co-exist, to compete on a level playing field for the betterment of our beloved country?

As pointed out by the MP of Kota Bahru, Zaid Ibrahim ( NST 3rd Jan 2006 Comment – Let Constitutional Court Have The Final Say ), by a stroke of the pen, our Government incorporated Syariah courts to co-exist with our civil courts. By a stroke of the pen our Government also introduced Islamic Banking to co-exist with the existing conventional banking.

In China, even the Communists allowed capitalist systems of governments in HK and Macau to co-exist with the larger socialist one in the mainland.

What are we doing to our children? How far can our beloved country progress in an increasingly competitive globalised world with so many of our politicians still lacking in confidence in urgently resolving this destructively perpetuated dilemma on education facing such a wide spectrum of our society?

Education today has to be a liberal means to enlighten the people bringing out the best in them and to connect our society to that of the larger globalised world. In fact, the narrow view of the Government to use education as a tool to influence the people towards a certain direction for clear political reasons will be inherently regressive and unwise.

We owe it to our children to be responsible in offering them a decent environment to study in. Unless we confront the issue pragmatically, it will be increasingly easier to justify the massive brain drain that we are currently suffering.

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