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Monday, September 15, 2014

Education in Malaysia: A Teacher's Perspective

Written by Izz Adha, first published as his public Facebook post last week. It has gone viral on Facebook with more than 13,000 likes and 8,000 shares to date. Have something to say? Send us your guest post and get published here.

Hari ini saya mengamuk di sekolah. This is not who I am. You will never see me this way again. Usually, if I am mad, I will disappear. Today, I sent three girls to the principal and called the parents of three boys. These are the problematic students from the first day I was here. They don't listen, they enter and leave the class as they want, they don't do homework, they don't do classwork, they don't do group work, they talk as they please, there is absolutely no manner in them, they don't go to surau for prayers, they bully other students, they make fun of other students, they choose to leave the class, and walk by every 5 minutes to scream over the door to disturb the class.

You know who they are?
The girls are a PPD and teachers' daughters
The boys are nelayan and social workers' sons.

One of their dads came to school after I talked to his wife on the phone. He said "He never says he had homework, and he always says that everything is well in school." I showed him his mark (21, failed) and his worksheet that I collected every day after class. Blank. Empty. I told him, "I am not toying with you. He doesn't care and do his homework. I am not mad that he didn't do the work; I am disappointed that he did not put an effort." to which the father replied "He's so kind at home." Other teachers who taught his son jumped to the opportunity to tell him the truth too. He was shocked.

The girls, on the other hand, cried, begging the principal not to call their fathers because who they are at home are the opposite of who they really are outside. Mind you that these are some of the most problematic students in the school yet none of their parents know about it.

Before this fiasco, I was teaching them how to write an essay and asked them to write an essay. They asked me to translate every single word. Cikgu, "Yang" apa? Cikgu "Dengan" apa? Cikgu "melaksanakan" apa? Cikgu macam mana nak mula karangan?

What did they learn in primary school? Why are their basics so poor? It is utterly difficult to prepare them for PT3 while having to teach them basics again that they were supposed to know, at the very least, during their six years in primary school.

How do you explain the complexity of this problem?

It is shocking to me because I came from good schools. I came from good primary school, then a good SBP, good middle school, and finally at a good MRSM. This experience was not expected, and I am thankful that I entered good schools. I am thankful that my mom humiliated me at report card days by telling everything about me, and exchanged numbers with teacher and called them every month — I am thankful for this. It is shocking to me because I came from schools, which environments built my interest to learn. It is shocking to me because my primary school provided me with ample and strong basics. As I write this, it is not to say that other teachers are not good, or other schools are not as good as my schools. What I mean is: I came from an environment that cultivates learning since I was a kid. I never thought of this situation before. It is a surprise to me because I never thought there are people out there who don't think education is important.

One of the teachers said to me; This is shocking to you because you come from a good school, and you are smart. This will not be surprising if you come from schools like ours.

So, how do you explain the complexity of this problem?

Are the teachers to be blamed?
Are the parents to be blamed?
The system?
The students?
The primary school teachers?
The Ministers?

Where do we even begin?

The teachers are giving up,
The parents are hopeless,
The system is troublesome,
The environments are demotivating,
The students lack interest.

I am not joking: a teacher confessed that she is teaching because of the money — and she is not the only one. I am not kidding: A few teachers gave up — and they are not the only teachers giving up.

My fear is that we are too busy building a better nation, by working harder, by creating better system, by raising the benchmark, and then quietly, without anyone noticing, we are demolishing every essence of education from its core; from home to school, from students to teachers.

The complexity of this matter demotivates and disappoints me — a fake teacher for a few months. What do you think of the real teachers who have taught for 15-30 years?

If everyone is to be blamed, then why we start with only one or two factors? A quote from an Ustaz I talked today: Kalau bumbung tirih (bocor), kita tak boleh dok letak timba kat lantai, kita kena tukar bumbung."

- - - - - -

First of all, I am not complaining. I am a temporary teacher who works during summer break, and I am leaving this school in 3 days. I am still studying. This is not complaining, this implies that I am worried about this situation. I volunteered to teach at different places before during breaks — from refugee camps to orphanage but the situations were different — because they don't have the privilege to learn hence an extra effort to acquire knowledge. However, that is not the case here. Some of them really don't want to learn. When something like that occur, you have to wonder what are the reasons someone doesn't want to learn?

Secondly, I am not blaming anybody but I am questioning everybody. Are we playing the roles we are supposed to play — as parents, as teachers, as students, as ministers? While there is an abundance of good teachers, students, parents, ministers out there, it doesn't mean that all of them are good. We are focusing on the problem right now, not to compare nor to compete on who is better. While the numbers of good students are increasing, that doesn't mean we have to ignore those who cannot perform.

Thirdly, I acknowledge the fact that they are various types of students, and I can't expect everyone to succeed in education. I acknowledge the truth that not everybody were born smart. Kids have different IQ and EQ, therefore, I am not expecting them to sit still and study. What I am expecting out of these students is an interest to learn — whatever that is. If you want to be a mechanic, then show your passion for that. If you want to cook, learn and cultivate your interest from now. I don't expect my students to be doctors and lawyers. I don't. My problem is different: They don't want to learn at all. Don't respect anybody. They don't even care.

Someone wrote among the comments "Kalau dah susah sangat jadi cikgu, kenapa tak berhenti je? Tau la gaji tinggi dan banyak cuti." Let me tell you something; This is not about the money. Right now, they paid me RM54/day. I have my own bakery and my own business. I have my parents' money. I have scholarships. If I want money, I don't have to be a teacher. This is not about money. This is about the education, and by default; it is about our future.

Teacher's Thoughts on Malaysia's Education System

When I was in primary school, my teacher gave me the first step into the world. She pushed to speak English. She pushed to conduct choral speaking; she made me join public speaking. She made me compete in dancing, boria, storytelling or science exhibition competition — and everything she did make me who I am today and allow me to experience the world differently. All I want, by writing this post, or by teaching, is to give the same experience to my students so they too, could experience the same things. Our students, no matter how smart they are on papers, are lacking skills in general. Thinking skills, speaking skills, writing skills, communication skills and other skills and these skills can only be installed and developed by giving everyone a fair chance to experience it themselves. If you want to be a sprinter, you don't think about sprinting on the track. You have to go to the field and run. If you want to be a writer, you cannot sit and think about writing, you have to write. Similarly, if we want our students to think outside what the examination questions are, we have to make them think outside the perimeter of textbooks by doing things. We need to give them the space they needed.

- - - - - -

I don't care about results. They can fail all they want. What's important to me is the knowledge. When you no longer want to seek knowledge — what is the purpose of living? Islam starts with Iqra'!, bacalah, read. If Nabi Muhammad (p.b.u.h) refused to read thousands of years ago, there would be no Islam today.

We are discussing on higher ground here; knowledge. One, anyone, must always learn. Learning and seeking knowledge is a continuous work. If we are not trained to seek, respect and love knowledge, we will grow up as someone who blindly follows instructions.

I've written many thoughts on education previously but as a student and as an observer. The reason I applied to be a teacher this time around is to see the system and the management from a different point of view; a view of a teacher.

- - - - - -

To all of you; Parents, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunties, grandparents, friends, seniors--anyone, who is related to a student, as you come home from work today, ask them about school. Ask them about homework. Ask them about each and every subject. Ask them about their teachers. Ask them about their interest. Get to know your sons and daughters. Then, tomorrow, or after the school holidays, call their teachers, visit their school and meet the teachers themselves. Ask them about your children. Ask them about their weaknesses and strength. Ask them what can you do to help. Ask them about their marks. Contact each other and keep updated.

There is a lot of work to be done and let's do it together.

(I'm a "he," by the way. Somehow, a lot of you think I am a woman.)
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  1. Thank u .. U are good techer

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Last year, I spent 3 months working as replacement teacher and I too, see the same problems. The bureaucracy of the education system, teachers that have no absolute interest in teaching (though, there are some that are really devoted to their students of which, gain my respect) and the crazy headmaster/mistress that focus entirely on the school getting certain grade so they can have bonuses. The children in the primary school are gullible, naive and thinks that teachers hung the moon for them. To demolish their trust by crushing their spark of curiosity and interest in learning should be a crime. I am not pointing finger at anyone. It should be a responsibility for all: the ministers, parents, teachers and society. Because in the end, we are the product of our environment and that those children... are the future for our nation.


  3. I have the exact feeling when I was teaching as a part time teacher for 6 months in a primary school. I have really tried so hard to correct these students’ mentalities and kept stressing on the importance on education to them. Some listen but some don’t even care. I believe it is the parents’ responsibilities as some students replied me, “ Just leave me alone, my parents don’t even care about me; and who are you to teach or punish me?”
    It was a terrible start for me, indeed. But I’ve learnt if you really want to change them, you really have to spend time, going into their hearts, understand them and change them. Do not give up on them, even they do anything disrespectful to you. I’ve got bitten by a Year 4 girl until my finger bleed. It was so painful until my tears came down. I felt that I was working in a zoo for the moment. I was so helpless and feel like giving up.
    But when time passed, the students will start to change. Even though not much, but I can see that. There was a boy who once didn’t even bother to sit down during my class, now even handed in the homework I asked them to do. I don’t mind them doing wrong, as long as they have tried.
    I am passionate to become a teacher, even the salary is so low (RM800/month). However it is really difficult to teach students who don’t even bother. I now quit becoming a primary school teacher to pursue my degree. To all teachers who have tried and still trying, I respect all of you from deep inside my heart.

  4. Good experience and constant motivation can only get dedicated teachers to stay on. School Authorities should lend a hand on helping dedicated teachers

  5. Hello,
    I'm an undergraduate and I have an assignment which requires me to interview or having a chat with Malaysian teacher.

    So, I would like to ask you a question: "What are writing problems faced by Malaysian writing teachers?"

    I would like to thanks you in advanced for your time. I really hope that you can help me answering the question above.
    Thank you.

    My email address: n.a.mardhiahazman@gmail.com


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