January 14th, 2016

When you are old...

On one of my weekend drives to nowhere around this beautiful country, I stopped one late afternoon at a roadside stall somewhere deep inside central Pahang. What was planned as just a stop to wet my dry throat turned into another lesson in life.

The stall was manned by a frail old lady who moved about with the help of a rattan walking stick. As she was preparing the drink I asked for, I looked around and saw a small house behind the stall where she lived.

There was a bench overlooking a pond next to the house where I pictured she would sit every evening to watch the day’s last lights. As she handed me my cup of tea that afternoon, I saw she had prepared one for herself and so invited her to sit with me. She came over and we talked.

Many years ago she and her then young husband came to a Felda land scheme not far from the place but left to start the food stall after the last of her three children made it through school and later left for the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur, and when she and her husband could no longer afford the hard work in the oil palm plantation.

They started the food stall but her husband died several years later of a kidney ailment.

Since then, the old lady has been accompanied only by her beloved orange cat which that afternoon that we shared the table, laid fast asleep on the floor.

As she looked towards the road over the rim of her teacup, the old lady reminisced about her younger days, how she and her husband toiled the land to put their children to school so they would never have to go through the hardship their parents went through and that they would have a brighter future.

Now that all three of her children have made it and are living comfortable lives in the city, the lady said she was the happiest mum alive. “My husband and I have done our part. I miss him every now and then but I cherish memories of the many good years we spent together raising our children.”

Her children come to visit sometimes although she said she did not expect them to. “They have their own lives and children of their own now. And besides, they call me quite often,” she said.

The stall keeps her occupied during the day as lorry drivers on their long distance journeys along the Kuantan-­Segamat route break their journey there. But as the place was otherwise isolated,

I wondered whether she was afraid during the nights. That was when she became rather philosophical, telling me that one must not complain too much about what life throws at us.

“One day I will leave too. And if it is fated that this must be where it will all end, then I am more than ready. I have lived a fulfilling life. We had nothing when we arrived at the land scheme.

All that we ever wanted then was to send our children to school. They returned our efforts by all of them going to university in the end. My husband and I were so happy,” she said.

When they first opened the food stall, friends from the land scheme frequented the place and they enjoyed talking about their younger days in the plantation.

But since then many of them have either passed on or had become too old to make their way to her place. When the time came for me to continue my journey, I said goodbye to her and wished her the best. She reminded me to drive carefully and to stop there if ever I’d pass that way again.

As I looked into the rearview mirror before turning back onto the road south, I saw her bending down to pick up what by then was the love of her life, her orange cat.

A few weeks later, a friend who was also an avid traveller forwarded me a video clip. It was about getting old.

In the clip were several reminders about the inevitable and how as mere mortals one may prepare for the evening years.
I share with you here what was in the video clip which was simply titled “when you are old”.

WHEN you are old, spend as much time as possible with your other half. Remember, one of you will most likely leave first and the one left behind will only have memories to cherish.

WHEN you are old, there will come a time when even getting to your front door will be a challenge. So, while you still can, visit as many places as possible.

WHEN you are old, stop worrying about your children. They will make their own fortunes. Just make sure you have settled all your dues before you go so they will not have to bear any and that you will be able to leave without regret.

WHEN you are old, seize every opportunity to be with old friends, former classmates and former colleagues. There will be fewer such opportunities as time goes by. Running water does not flow back and so it is with life.

WHEN you are old, treat sickness with optimism. Whether you’re rich or poor, everyone goes through the process of birth, aging, sickness and death. There are no exceptions. That is life.

The video clip brought my mind back to the old lady at the food stall as there were some things in the video clip that were like those that she told me that afternoon we met.

I could not help but felt thankful that even in her modest self and in that place in the middle of nowhere, lessons were aplenty.  

When Tun Razak met Toh Puan Rahah ...

On the evening of March 23, 1975, the then prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein threw a dinner at his official residence at Sri Taman to mark the wedding of his political secretary, Annuar Jusoh. My wife, Hamidah, and I were sitting at the same table as Tun Razak and his wife, Toh Puan Rahah Noah, as well as other guests, including the then Malayan Banking Bhd chairman Tan Sri Taib Andak, the then Dewan Negara president Tan Sri Ong Yoke Lin and his wife, Puan Sri Dr Aishah Ong, Umno stalwart Tun Syed Nasir Ismail, his wife and Daiman Jamaluddin, who was the then Customs director-general and relative of the bride-to-be. Conversation at the table was light-hearted, and the guests were in a celebratory mood.

The couple were engaged for nine months and were chaperoned the few times they met.
Hussein told Taib that it was time for Tun Razak to be married and he wanted Taib to find his son a suitable bride. Tun Razak was then working as state secretary of Pahang. Hussein’s only caveat was that his future daughter-in-law had to be from Johor.

Arranged marriages were the norm at the time, and Taib, who was already married with four children, agreed to take on the task.

A few days later, Taib brought Tun Razak to Convent Holy Infant Jesus in Johor Baru on the pretext of picking up his daughter, Kalsom. Taib’s real intent was to let Tun Razak catch a glimpse of Toh Puan Rahah, then a 19-year-old Form Five student at the same school.

Toh Puan Rahah was the youngest child of Mohamad Noah Omar, who was the then Johor Umno chairman. Tun Razak must have been smitten by the sight of Toh Puan Rahah because not long after the visit to the school, Taib and his wife visited Toh Puan Rahah’s parents to make a formal marriage proposal on his behalf.

As Toh Puan Rahah told others later, when her parents showed her a photograph of her suitor, she thought he looked slim and handsome. She accepted the proposal.

The two were engaged for nine months and were strictly chaperoned the few times they were able to meet during that period. When Taib finished telling the story, Tun Razak told his guests that it had not just been his father who wanted him to marry.

Pahang Sultan Abu Bakar Riayatuddin Al-Muadzam Shah had also told him that it was time for him to settle down. The sultan had pointed out that as all the state’s district officers were married, it was sumbang (inappropriate) for Tun Razak, as state secretary, to remain a bachelor.

Tun Razak and Toh Puan Rahah married on Sept 4, 1952, and went on to have five sons, including Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

In an essay she contributed to the book Tun Abdul Razak: A Personal Portrait, Toh Puan Rahah described her husband’s down-to-earth nature.

“He was always kind and so calm, very seldom ruffled,” she wrote. “There was a lot of give and take between us. He hardly ever raised his voice — not to me, not to his children and, certainly, not to the household staff. He would advise rather than reprimand, showing us where we went wrong. He won our hearts, and it was easy to win his.”

By the time Tun Razak died in 1976, the couple had been married for 24 years.

The writer, a trustee of the Tun Razak Foundation, was the first director-general of the Implementation, Coordination and Development Administration Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department, responsible for monitoring the progress of programmes and projects under the New Economic Policy, reporting directly to the prime minister. He was also Tun Razak’s special assistant

Changes coming too quickly

HERE we go again. The Education Ministry has proposed another change to the examination system — it wants to amend the current format of the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) to 40 per cent school-based and 60 per cent examination-based assessment, similar to the Form Three Assessment (PT3).

In explaining the rationale behind the move, its minister, Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid, said it was to prevent over-competitiveness among pupils.

Success cannot be measured based on academic performance alone, as achievements in curriculum and psychometry, among others, are important as well. The ministry “was almost ready to implement this proposal, but it has been postponed...

We can try to resubmit the proposal, and if accepted, it will be implemented”.

The ministry hopes to seek the views of stakeholders on the proposal in stages this year, and if they and a majority of the public agree, the plan could come into effect in between one and two years’ time. Examinations Syndicate director Datin Nawal Salleh had, last year, announced that UPSR candidates in national schools would sit for a minimum of six papers beginning this year, while those in vernacular schools would sit for eight.

The English Language paper will be split into two — Comprehension and Written — to help pupils boost their proficiency.

The ministry’s latest intention has provoked another round of argument over school exams and the vitality of Malaysia’s national school system. Why transform UPSR now?

Common sense dictates that the ministry should concentrate on refining PT3, which replaced the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examination last year. PMR, which was introduced in 1993 to take the place of the Sijil Rendah Pelajaran examination, was held for the last time in 2013.

The school-based assessment system was introduced in primary schools in 2011 and in secondary schools the following year.

The UPSR announcement came against a backdrop of growing unhappiness over the implementation of PT3. It was done hastily, and students could not cope with the new system, said National Union of the Teaching Profession president Hashim Adnan.

The ministry must give teachers time to become familiar with the new way of doing things. The thinking is that it should focus on improving PT3 and not rush to alter another system.

We wonder if the decision-makers considered the impact of their UPSR amendment proposal on young learners.

How do they feel about assessments, marks and comments? Did anyone bother to ask them?

Clearly, young learners have different needs compared with adult ones — they react differently to stress and get distracted easily, for example — and thus, it is necessary to factor in such differences when assessing them.

While the ministry’s desire to move away from the 100 per cent exam-based format is commendable, it is too soon.

Yes, we need to foster collaboration rather than competition in classrooms to help pupils feel connected, and kindle their love of learning by using real-life experience, current events and other lively sources of knowledge instead of depending on textbook information.

Lawmakers must take steps to encourage this, but they must give schools time to put earlier reforms in place before announcing the next move.

Black sheep exist in every school

OUR teachers are, by and large, a committed and dedicated lot. I have written letters acknowledging, praising and thanking some of my teachers who had shown exceptional passion, devotion and sacrifice, and had achieved success in the course of their duties.

These teachers were very much admired, appreciated and celebrated by their charges and schools. Nevertheless, as in all professions, there is a small number of “black sheep” in the teaching fraternity.

I would not be honest if I say I have not come across any during my tenure in education. They were there then and they prevail in today’s school scene.

For a change, I want to write about these “black sheep” teachers. I do not aim to expose, shame or condemn any (some could have already retired), but with the hope that they or their “types”, on reading this, will repent and amend their ways.

While there are many good teachers in our schools, there are also some who are neither dedicated nor committed.
In addition, new and young administrators in schools can take a cue from these anecdotal experiences and be better equipped to tend their flock.


I was the new senior assistant of a suburban secondary school. In my first week, I was taken on a familiarisation tour of the school. When we reached the library, the teacher in charge s received us.

As we proceeded, we came to a side table stacked with new books, an inventory file, catalogue cards, tape, scissors and other writing and marking equipment.

The teacher explained that he was cataloguing the new books before shelving them.

The table was his work station. He seemed satisfied to have the chance to expound his work to his seniors. I thanked and gave him words of encouragement before we moved on.

A few weeks later, I went to the library again on my own. Surprise! The contents on that side table were exactly as they were when I last saw them.

Apparently, it was a “demonstration” table to show off the teacher’s “work” to visitors. In reality, very little cataloguing was done.


A specific teacher had somehow got himself free from teaching the last period everyday. When the timetable was released, he would laboriously engage with other teachers if he needed to exchange the last teaching period for an earlier one.

Then, everyday, half an hour or so before school was over, he would drive his car close to the school gate, park there with the engine running and sit inside the air-conditioned car.

The moment the school bell rang, his car would be the first to leave the compound. He would rush through lunch and drive to a tuition centre in time for his afternoon session.

He also tried to squeeze in more sessions before the day was out. So, to him, time in essence was money! Wasn’t this teacher akin to doing full-time job in his part-time job, and a part-time job in his full-time job?

I would not say he was dedicated in either.


In the earlier days, teachers’ handouts, test and exam papers had to be cyclostyled to produce the numbers required. The school office had a special corner equipped with cyclostyle machines for this purpose. One or two office staff members were assigned to the task.

During exam season, the laboratory staff members might be roped in to help.  There was this teacher who consistently requested for more copies of the printout than her class’ or classes’ number of students.

An alert office staff brought this to my attention. When asked to explain, she first defended herself by saying she needed more copies in case there were faulty copies.

Then, she admitted that the extra copies were for her tuition classes outside.

After that,  the office decided to list all the class enrolment figures and paste it in the printing room. That way, they were able to check the copies ordered against the enrolment numbers.


This teacher was a department-head in his former school before he was transferred to my school, and held the same position. He was all eager to take on the challenge.

Soon, he informed us that he had understudied the school in matters of his department, and was ready to present to the school administration team his well-thought-out five-year blueprint for his department.

He was most welcome to do so.

Equipped with PowerPoint slides and notes, he launched himself into an eloquent presentation: his rationale, objectives, purposes, aims, long- and short-term projections, programmes, projects and activities.

All went well until it came to a slide where the name of his former school popped up in the midst of statements. That was it. It was a goreng show, something adopted from his previous briefings.

It was not really what he had said: that he had understudied the school situation. His careless mistake had put paid to what he promised, although, overall, that blueprint was not totally without merit.

We have many good teachers in our schools. However, as administrators, we need to separate the chaff from the wheat. Honour only those who have proven their worth.