The Ideal School

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I was horrified when I first read the above issue. I have been following the issue quite closely and pray that justice would be served for the sake of all parties involved.

What I couldn’t understand was why Ustaz Kazim then lodged a police report against Wardina and Syed Azmi?  Why had he accused them of ‘mencemar nama baik beliau’ when they never mentioned his name or his Maahad Tahfiz in their facebook posts? Granted, they did highlight the issue of sexual abuse in one Maahad Tahfiz in Malaysia, but the actual name of the Maahad Tahfiz was never mentioned. It was Astro Awani who had mentioned the specific Maahad Tahfiz in relation to the sexual abuse allegation.

Are we supposed to sweep issues like this under the carpet and allow sexual predators in our society to run amok despoiling our kids?

The reaction of Ustaz Kazim Elias disappoints me but I guess I should not be so surprised. As I have mentioned before, there are very few religious leaders in Malaysia that I actually trust and respect. Ustaz Kazim was not in the list, anyway.

It’s so typical that when ‘orang awam’ say the truth or question something against a religious figure, they would be labeled as ‘arrogant’, ‘angkuh’ etc etc. It makes my blood boil, sometimes. Anyone who questions your authority is angkuh, is it? Ugh!

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***  

“Kak Long, have you chosen a school for Eshan? Would it be an all-boys school or a co-ed?” I asked my elder sister one day.

My sister is a statistician and she teaches in UPSI in Tanjung Malim. (Her doctorate was in medical statistics and she always told me that I should write a paper and collaborate with her. We always fantasize that one fine day we would produce a paper “Azmee, Azmee, et al.” Hahah)

There really isn’t much choice of schools around Tanjung Malim, alas.

I did not ask whether she wanted to put my nephew in a Maahad Tahfiz or sekolah agama because I knew that would not be an option.

I don’t think my family is secular. I think we are religious in our own way. We have faith and we practice the basic tenets of Rukun Islam. However, we believed after we understood. We have problems accepting things just because it was spoken by someone without any proof or reasoning. (and some teachers can never get it). By the way, believing without really understanding, is not real faith, anyway right? So how worthy is that sort of belief in the eyes of God? God Himself had emphasized and reemphasized “afala tatafakkarun”. Tidakkah kamu berfikir? God did not ask you to have automatic faith and mindless obedience. He wanted your mind to be engaged as well. You have to wonder, and think, and find out. And only then you can be firm in your belief. You can’t just read the Quran in arabic without ever bothering to read the translation, and then suddenly think that ‘reading Quran everyday’ is good enough.  Granted, it is better than not reading the Quran at all. But God did not reveal the Quran to our prophet so that you can sing the words in rhythms without understanding the message that you are meant to internalize in your daily living.

When things don’t make sense, you have to find out! How can you justify how much research you have done for your thesis, painstakingly making sure that every sentence in your thesis has been checked out and properly referenced and all the evidence scientifically documented…. and yet for something as important as your religion and faith, you can simply believe just by hearing some ustaz/ustazah say something that doesn’t make sense.

Would Allah be proud with that sort of mindless belief, you think?

I don’t know how a religious school function. But I trust SMAP Labu and SMAP Kajang kind of religious school rather than private Maahad Tahfizs. (I might be biased out of my ignorance in how they function. But after the recent issue of Ustaz Kazim’s Maahad Tahfiz sexual abuse scandal, I get even more hypercritical towards these sorts of religious schools)

My sister and my brother-in-law trained their kids to be inquisitive. I cannot imagine any traditional religious teachers would be able to cope with Eshan and Aayra’s questions. Aayren is still an infant and thus I could not yet discern her temperament, but if she took after her elder brother and sister, she too would be a handful to handle. Between Eshan and Aayra, I worried about Aayra more because she is the rebel. At 3 years old, she could stand her ground like nobody’s business.The harsher you are with Aayra, the more stubborn she becomes. She is easily won over by praises and soft words, though. So I would always tell her how beautiful she is and what lovely hair she has, appealing to her vanity. Hahaha. It works every time.

With Aayra, I am worried that teachers would not understand her  and would construe her silent contemplation as quiet protest or her sincere inquisition as her loud mutiny.

With Eshan, I am worried that he would be bullied. He is so mild-mannered, and so easy-going. When one kid at his taska had slapped his cheek, he did not cry or hit back. Instead he asked “why did you hit me?”, as though it was something to be intellectually curious about. The same thing happened when Aayra hit Eshan. Eshan would frown and said “Why Aayra hit Eshan? Eshan tak buat Aayra pun. Aayra ni lahh….” Then he continued to play like nothing happened.

I had never asked my sisters why they hit me when we were children. I just retaliated straight away. We would hit each other until one of us cried or my parents broke up the fight. Usually, I wasn’t the one who cried. It would always be my younger sister who cried first, and then I would be the one who seemed guilty because I hadn’t cried. I had told my parents once, “I can cry too, then you have to scold her also.” Hahha. (I was quite sarcastic. But what I really meant was, if someone is right on the basis of who ends up crying, then everyone would compete to cry first so that she would appear to be the victim.) 

You see, I am afraid if Eshan goes to an all-boys school, he would turn every fight into an intellectual quest and would try to reason with his opponent instead of hitting back. I really like the fact that Eshan is a clever boy and is always so curious and such a wonderful, good-mannered sweetheart. I admire anyone who is intelligent and smart and inquisitive… but I would rather have that person survives to live another day so that he/ she can continue to be intelligent, smart and inquisitive. If you die, your intelligent-smart-and-inquisitive self would cease to exist anyway. 

So, I told my Kak Long one day, “I think Eshan and Aayra should learn martial arts; you know, Taekwondo or Judo. Not silat, though. Silat sometimes have nonsensical ritual with their tok guru asking them to oil their body with a special oil that has been ‘jampi-serapah-ed’. That’s just insane. But Taekwondo or Judo should be fine. They don’t have all these funny mystical rituals.” As always, I was giving her unsolicited free advice which my Kak Long listened quite patiently without really committing herself to it. She was simply humoring her opinionated little sister. Hahah.

You see, I believe in the value of being able to take care of yourselves, for both boys and girls. Once, it was a Prophetic tradition to teach every kid “memanah, berenang dan menunggang kuda”.

In a hadith narrated from Ibn Umar (R.A) in which our beloved Prophet said ”Teach your children swimming, archery and horse riding”. In Sahih Muslim, the Prophet (s) said,  “Practice archery and horseback riding.” The Prophet (s) said “Any action without the remembrance of Allah is either a diversion or heedlessness except four acts: walking from target to target (during archery practice), training a horse, . . . , and learning to swim.”

Archery, for self-defense and battle-skills. Swimming, for survival in water. Riding, for practical purpose of movement and also for survival.

Nowadays, not everyone can swim (including yours truly, alas!). And Archery is almost obsolete as people don’t go around carrying their bows and arrows anymore except during Sports Events. Once upon a time, the Malays carried Keris everywhere, slipping it in between the folds of their sampin at their waists. And it was considered a part of their normal attire when they went out of their house. I am sure at that time, being proficient in wielding a Keris is considered the norm in the Malay Society then. Now, guns have replaced bows and arrows when it comes to self-defense, but not everyone is trained or licensed to carry one. So we are left with only martial arts and perhaps a pocket knife for self-defense. (I always carry a pocket knife in my bag or in my pocket whenever I go out. So be warned. Hahaha)

Thank God that we still practice the modern equivalent of horse riding in this age, as most people are expected to be able to drive nowadays (Having said that, our poor sisters in Saudi Arabia are still legally prohibited to drive. In this age, that’s just crazy). But the norm that everyone should be able to swim and defend themselves are no longer taken that seriously.

You go to a driving school after SPM to learn to drive and that is like a culture in our society. All your friends do it and if you are the only one not going to driving school, you would feel seriously left out. 

But martial arts training and swimming classes are not the norm anymore and subject to affordability rather than being looked at as a necessity; which is different from the way we treat the matter of going to a driving school. That has to change.

One of my bucket list is to learn Taekwondo. I wanted to learn when I was a kid but at that time my father was at the early stage of his career where all the money must be poured back into the business. The Taekwondo attire itself cost a small fortune. And the monthly payment cost too much for my father at that time. If my father allowed me to learn Taekwondo, then he would have to allow my other sisters to learn as well because they would say “Tak aci, ayah bagi untuk kak ngah boleh. Awat kami tak boleh?” hahah. Our household is a fair household. My father couldn’t allow one child one thing and refuse another child the same thing. It just didn’t happen. In the rare times it did happen, we’d raised a ruckus! Hahaha.

Between all five of us my youngest sister was the only one trained in Taekwondo because she grew up when the household money was not that tight. But she did not continue the training when she got into her secondary school.

***

Choosing School

I have always thought that for boys, a co-ed school is advantageous to their emotional health and educational growth compared to an all-boys school.

But for girls, it would be the other way around. For girls, a single-sex school is much more beneficial than a co-ed school.

I have mentioned before that all five of us sisters spent a very large chunk of our schooling years in an all girls-school of Sultanah Asma.  From the age of 7 years old until 15 years old, my Kak Long, myself and my younger sister Izati went to Sekolah Rendah Sultanah Asma and Sekolah Menengah Sultanah Asma, before we finally continued our upper secondary school in MRSM.  Whereas, my two youngest sister spent all their schooling years in Sultanah Asma only. We are all a product of an all-girls school and we like how we turn out to be.

When I went to MRSM Langkawi, I had a serious culture shock. I felt that teachers paid more attention to boys. Of course male teachers could not (and should not) pay attention to girls (just imagine the sort of malicious gossips that would ensue). But even female teachers gave more attention to boys. I was not used to that, coming from Asma. I felt that girls could not shine in a co-ed environment even if they were much better. If girls were too loud or too brazen and too forthright, they would seem like a different species. In Asma, loud, forthright, brazen girls get to be on top. But that would not be the case in a co-ed school. That was tough adjustment, for awhile. But I got used to it.

I believe that a single-sex environment  confers the most benefits for girls because they get to be the best version of themselves there. It is not surprising why for non-residential schools, an all-girls school always emerge to be the best in the state compared to an all-boys school or a co-ed school. Sultanah Asma has always been the best in the state among non-residential schools, beating KSAH (an all boys school) and other co-ed schools in Kedah. Methodist Girls School is the best school in Penang. Tengku Khursiah College and STF are some other examples of good all-girls residential schools.

Of course during my SPM year, MRSM Langkawi was the best in the country even though it was a co-ed school. But remember, they had pooled best students all over the country into MRSM and that explained why residential co-ed school can do better than an all-girls school. All-girls non-residential schools don’t always get to choose their students in the same manner.

My younger sister Alida had taught English in both an all-girls school and a co-ed school and she noticed the difference in the attitude of girls between those schools. She taught at Sekolah Kebangsaan Infant Jesus Convent (a cluster school) in Johor Bharu once and she loved it there.

“I loved teaching girls in Convent. They were active. They answered question promptly. They participated freely. I miss my time teaching there.  Nowadays aku mengajar kat sekolah co-ed ni…aku sendiri notice yang aku lagi pay attention to boys. Aku bukan sengaja tak mau pay attention to girls. But boys respond to my question in class. Walaupun jawapan diorang kadang-kadang entah apa-apa, but something is better than nothing. Even their wrong answers can promote further discussion.”

“Tak ada budak perempuan yang pandai ke kat sekolah hang ni? Takkan semua soalan hang, budak lelaki ja yang jawab?” I just could not compute the situation where only boys answer questions and participate in class. I was so used to thinking that girls are much more intelligent than boys. It was so totally different from my own experience in Asma. I may sit at the back of the class, but I got my share of attention from teachers. I could not imagine a class where all the girls were just listening passively.

“Ada, tapi tak ramai girls yang bother nak participate. Girls in co-ed school is not as loud… bukan macam kita kat Asma dulu. Kita dulu, lagi funny than boys kot. Teachers were entertained by our antics when we were in Asma. Tapi, kalau in co-ed school memang boys dominate the fun department. Girls terlebih pemalu. Kadang-kadang aku suruh depa buat kerja berkumpulan saja pun, girls dok buat malu-malu. Aku pun naik geram. Aku suruh buat kerja, bukan suruh kahwin pun! Hang nak malu apa?! Adoiii!”

I laughed out loud! Oh My God, can you imagine! Kids at the age of 7-8 years old already feel ‘malu-malu’ with boys? I mean like….what the hell weh? Like my sister said, “orang suruh buat kerja, bukan suruh kahwin!” Hahah.

So that’s the problem for girls in a co-ed school! They become too self-conscious, too much and too soon! Which hinders their educational development. And they would learn different values… that it is normal for boys to get more attention than girls. That it is normal for boys to hoard all the praises in academic performance. Sometimes the performance of girls no matter how much better than boys, were not acknowledged because girls don’t brag about their successes. But boys do that nonchalantly and pass it off as a joke. Arrogant boys are considered macho. But if girls show even the slightest dominance, that girl is considered attention-seeking.

Girls in Asma never had to worry about all those things! We be ourselves. Tak ada malu-malu. If we fight, we really fight. Tak ada control ayu! And that’s why my best friend is an Asmarian too. And I usually can relate to girls who are assertive, frank and forthright and able to do a great job in doing her responsibilities (regardless of which school they went) and those are the ones I would be close with. I am not that good with women who are too soft-spoken and too weak-willed. I cannot understand them. Friendship is out of the question with women like this. I would end up feeling stressed because they don’t settle their problems and only cry ad nauseum, ad infinitum. I don’t like women who cry in public, and I resent anyone trying to gain sympathy after fighting with her colleague at the workplace, by crying in public (which I had witnessed a few times in my career as a doctor). Some women can be really manipulative with their tears and they are usually these soft-spoken, lady-like women; making ‘loud, frank, assertive’ women like us appear evil in contrast when we fight with them. Hahah. (True story. So I learn to not fight with soft-spoken women. I think of them the way  I think of childish toddlers. We don’t fight with toddlers because they are not up to our standard in verbal argument. When they lose, they will cry. So they become the victim, and we end up being the evil stepmother in contrast.)

The whole situation translates to me that a co-ed school is not at all beneficial to girls! I would never place any daughters I have in a co-ed school, especially not at the primary school level. I want them to learn to be free to express themselves without feeling self-conscious, first. I want them to learn that girls can be as brave, as intelligent, as funny and as interesting and engaging as boys, first. I want them to know that girls can do just as much of a good job as boys in being the head prefect, the class monitor, the club presidents and the public speakers as boys (and sometimes even better). Once they have grasped those values, only then I would allow them to go to a co-ed school, so that even when the teachers pay more attention to boys they would know that it isn’t something wrong with them, but it is the environment that makes it so. (The environment involving the social construct that places all top leadership roles to boys. The social construct that looks at assertive, tough females as ‘difficult’ whereas, assertive, tough males are considered ‘strong’. Etc, etc.)

But for Boys….

There are too many incidents of rape/sodomy among boys (especially in residential schools)  for me to feel comfortable for boys to go to an all-boys school. Who knows what sort of homosexual tendency he would develop?! I couldn’t bear thinking any of my sons or nephews would turn out that way.

Besides, there is no academic need for boys to be in an all-boys school (unlike the situation for girls). As my younger sister had told me in our numerous discussions, boys shine in a co-ed environment, anyway. Teachers naturally pay attention to boys than girls because they are more active and louder than girls. So why risk having boys in an all-boys school when there is no academic benefit to it, anyway? Other than MCKK (which was not that good compared to TKC), there were not many good all-boys school, anyway. See? There is no academic benefit in placing your boys in an all-boys school because most all-boys schools are not that good (unlike the situation in all-girls schools). 

So there is only left the risk of them being bullied or developing homosexual tendencies after a sexual encounter with their peers of the same gender. (I shudder in my boots, just thinking about it).

I am not saying that there is no incidence of lesbianism in Asma. There had been rumours to such incidence, even during my time. But most girls outgrow that sort of tendencies, eventually. Most tomboys that I knew back then, are more lady-like than me now. (not that it takes a lot to be more lady-like than me. But I have never been a tomboy, at least). Furthermore, girls don’t usually like just any type of girls. They actually like girls that look like boys…which really means that they actually really like boys. For example, the most populour girl in Asma during my time was a tomboyish, androgynous Police Cadet Sergeant (who gave commands during our marching practice). Head girls, prefects, best students, sportsperson, school singers and school debaters also got a lot of admirers during my time… but only if they also looked like boys. So ….really. I won’t be too worried about it.

Some ‘relationship’ between these girls do get intense. Tears, jealousies, break-ups, all those emotional turmoils… you name it, we have it! But, very rarely do they get physical or sexual. Unlike with boys! 

I used to be approached for ‘adik angkat-kakak angkat’ relationship when I was in Asma. But I never entertained those things because such relationship requires investment in time and money. Some of these adik-angkats expected gifts, for God’s sake! I might as well buy a novel for myself rather than spend some money on an ‘adik’ that I already have a lot at home (THREE younger sisters is a lot, hahha. Whenever I fought with my sisters, I would feel that my mother should have stopped at two, making me the last child). Those who have never been in an all-girls school will never understand these ‘female crushes’ girls usually have, but they were quite normal. Ask any TKCians, or STFians or Asmarians or anyone who used to attend an all-girls school. There was even an article talking about “11 things that only Malaysian Girls Who Went To An All Girls Schools Will Ever Understand”, and the number one item on that list is ‘female crushes’. Yup! Weird but true!  If you are interested to read the article, CLICK H.E.RE

The risk of developing homosexual tendency and being the victim of sexual abuse is even higher if these boys are put in a hostel (even the hostel of a co-ed school, because the hostel would still be single sex; only the school is co-ed). 

Putting your son in a hostel without your son knowing basic self-defense skill is very risky. I really think it is imperative to teach your sons martial arts. (I talked about this multiple times with my sisters, as I have mentioned) I would abandon music class, tennis class, riding class (now that we have cars, riding is no longer that important) or even swimming class in favour of martial arts class. If you don’t have that much money to spend for all these extra-curricular activities for your children and you can only choose one, choose martial arts. It does not only teach your kids fighting skill and survival, but also mental and physical discipline, concentration and self-control. It even boosts their self-esteem and therefore they are less likely to be bullied. (There is such a thing as a ‘bullied personality’. Some people are more picked on than others because they have that sort of personality that makes them a target). I would not send a boy to a residential school without making sure he can survive there. That would be irresponsible.

Regarding Residential School….

I don’t think it is a great idea to allow them to go to a residential school at the age of 13 years old.

My Kak Long and I was quite upset when my father refused to consider the idea of us applying for SBP/MRSM when we were 12 years old. We wanted to apply for SBP/MRSM because most of our friends had applied for them as well and we didn’t want to be left out. My Kak Long got an offer to MRSM after her UPSR result had come out. But my father said “13 tahun kecik lagi. Ayah tak mau anak-anak pisah dengan ayah awal sangat. Tunggu 16 tahun”. I remembered how my sister waited for my father to change his mind, but he never did.

So when my time came, I did not even bother applying because, having learned from my sister’s experience, I knew my father would never allow me to go into SBP/MRSM at the age of 13 years old (I knew my father would not change his mind for me, because then my sister would ‘ungkit’, “Tak Aci! Kenapa Kak Long dulu tak boleh?” I guess, sometimes, it is not always beneficial to be fair all the time. hahaha)  I was very jealous when I saw how some of my friends were offered various schools around the country such as Kolej Yayasan Saad, STF, TKC. I just swallowed and endured the envy.

But a few years later, I came to know the wisdom behind that decision.

I don’t think I could survive residential schools at 13. I was too immature (even though at that time, I thought I could handle it!). When I first went into MRSM Langkawi at the age of 16, I hated the hostel environment. How some students simply took your things in the room without asking your permission first. And how crowded the toilet became in the morning and in the Maghrib time. And how noisy some of them were at night. And the hostel rules drove me loco! (Suka hati aku lah aku tak mau riadah. Kenapa nak buat rule macam ni? Semua benda pun kau nak atur untuk aku, for what?)

I was also quite stressed with their habit of asking to share my bottled water. I just…haih…I could not stand sharing my bottled water. I did not even share like that with my siblings! I would never drink from the same bottle again afterwards, unless I have cleaned the bottle and refilled the water. But later, another friend would ask for my water again, just after I have cleaned and refilled the bottle. I wanted to cry because it was so frustrating! But at the same time, I did not have the heart to refuse them my water. I just felt really stressed because I couldn’t say  “Why don’t you have your own water!! Get your own bottle, come on! What if I don’t have water, then what are you going to do? Are you simply going to go thirsty throughout the night? Might as well have your own, isn’t it?”

I am usually pretty assertive… I am even quite garang. But only towards those who I think have crossed certain boundaries and certain principles or those who tried to bully me. To me, those people deserve my put-downs because they are the ones who behave badly, first…. I am only retaliating. But I am not at all capable of saying what I feel when a person hasn’t done anything really bad…in this case, she just needed water. How could I refuse? It was very stressful… this thing of sharing bottled water, you could not imagine. (It’s because I have this thing orang Kedah called ‘pancin’; macam geli share bekas orang, I guess. I was this way since I was a small child. My younger sister Izati, has the same ‘pancin’ tendency like me. But instead of suffering silently, she actually told her friend, “Okey, you can have my water. Tapi make sure hang minum jangan kena mulut. Tuang air dari jauh”. Hahha. So, if you think I am frank and forthright, my sister is even worse than me. But the good thing is her friend actually didn’t mind and just did as she asked, pouring the water without touching the mouthpiece. My ‘pancin’ tendency has become better over the years… but still….I prefer not to share my food and drinks. Makan ramai-ramai dalam talam….lagilah aku stress!)

But those were the experiences that forced me to learn how to interact with people socially. How to compromise and reach a middle ground.  How to survive in a communal environment when things are not ideal. I learned to sleep in the noise. I learned to be less possessive of my things and at the same time learned to hide things that I didn’t want to share. I learned to be less rigid with personal boundaries. In the case of the bottled water, I simply decided to have two bottles in the room. One for me and one for the rest who asked.

So, residential school can be a good learning experience….but perhaps, not too soon. Or else, your children might end up fighting with other kids because of their immaturity at that time and therefore would not enjoy the hostel experience at all. I only just able to restrain myself from fighting with my roommates because I was more patient at 16 and had understood certain social expectations. At 13, I wouldn’t be like that.

***

So choose your kids’ school wisely. A good educational environment helps your kids to grow into the sort of adults your can be proud of. In fact, when you are choosing schools for your kids, it is almost like choosing how their future would be shaped.

My father was very resourceful about choosing our schools. When we first came back from Kelantan, we did not live anywhere in Jalan Langgar or anywhere in the vicinity of Asma, initially. My father moved into Lorong Titi Siam so that he could register my Kak Long into Asma. Later, when we have moved to another area far away from Jalan Langgar, my father did not change his address in the IC and still used our previous address so that he could register me into Asma. Later, after he had to change the address in his IC, he still insisted that all my younger sisters be placed in Asma, regardless. He told the Guru Besar that “semua kakak dia duduk di Asma, saya nak adik pun duduk kat Asma. Senang saya nak hantar pergi sekolah” when actually we went to school by the school bus. Hahha. Most of the time, my father got what he wanted because he wouldn’t stop insisting and would throw his weight around until he got what he wanted.

And that was how it went that all five of us received our early education in an all-girls school and we loved it.

Even though I spent my last two years of schooling in MRSM Langkawi, Asma remained my most beloved school. 

So parents, have a deep thought before deciding on your kids’ school, where habits are formed, characters are shaped, values are internalized, self-esteems are nurtured and life-long friendships are made. Your kids will certainly be thankful to you.

2 thoughts on “The Ideal School

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