I WANT to share a story with you. It is about nine-year-old Alif* who lives in my neighbourhood.
He asked me recently if I knew the previous occupants of the double-storey house that his family had moved into recently.
He said that he was afraid to live in the house as there were ghosts under the staircase which could see him from between the gaps of the stairs.
My response to that was that since I was much older and had yet to meet one (ghost), it was unlikely that he would meet any at such a young age.
I could sense his relief and realised how physically small he was.
He said that he lived in the house with his father (who was often out of town for work) and his 12-year-old brother and maid, who is like a mother to them.
To change the subject, I asked him about school.
“Oh,” he complained, “I’m so tired of all the teachers who keep telling me to ‘study, study, study’! They scold me all the time when I am slow.
“Why can’t they leave me alone?” he said, looking dejected.
I asked him if he had a bad day at school to which he said “yes” softly.
“I’m sure you’ve had a bad day,” I said quickly, “but not all your teachers scold you, right?”
He thought for a moment and said, “My Bahasa Melayu, Pendidikan Islam and English teachers are okay ... they don’t yell at me.”
“How do you feel,” I asked, “about the others?”
“Oh, I feel kecil hati (hurt) when they cane or scold me.”
The Malay phrase kecil hati, if translated literally, seems to be the most appropriate term to describe this situation.
One does feel “small-hearted” when reprimanded.
If you’re a child with no mother to listen to your woes and feel your pain, it must be hard.
It is not easy for one to to deal with emotional issues without the support, love and comforting presence of a mother.
“What do you do when you feel kecil hati with them?”
“The more they do it, the ‘smaller’ I feel but I don’t show it ... I don’t care.
“They are horrible and I don’t like them at all.”
He quickly turned his face away but I could see the hurt in his eyes.
I quickly diverted his attention to his favourite TV programmes and the types of food he enjoyed, but that didn’t cheer him up much.
Just before he left, the well-mannered boy kissed my hand, saying “Okay, Aunty, I have to go”, and walked out, a forlorn figure less than 1m tall. I felt sorry for him.
I then thought of the current school system and what the Standard Curriculum for Primary Schools (KSSR), which is the standard primary school syllabus introduced this year, had to offer children like Alif.
The syllabus was drawn up after looking into the curriculum standards in the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia and the Scandinavian countries.
There are six areas of holistic development emphasised in the KSSR which include communication, spiritual attitude and values, humanitarianism, literacy in Science and Technology, physical development and personal development.
Teachers are supposed to focus on pupil-centred activities and fun learning.
They are expected to devise activities that children like and enjoy, in order to develop critical and creative thinking, communicational flair as well as literacy, numeracy, ICT and reasoning skills.
The key words are “activity and project-based learning”, incorporating a sense of joy and discovery.
While all this sounds so wonderful, will all teachers respond the right way to this call for change?
I am not sure, but it must be pointed out that teachers should remember that they have been duly trained to adapt their nurturing and teaching roles to accommodate the new expectations.
They must also take note that the “play” element should become an interesting avenue to explore the differences in learning styles among children of diverse backgrounds and interests.
As a child in the late sixties, I played incessantly after school. All those years of play made me a very creative thinker. Children today lack this.
It is hard to try to change primary school teachers who are not accustomed to think creatively. And, if they aren’t the nurturing type in the first place, will the change in syllabus affect them positively?
I have another neighbour whose son will be in Year One next year. Should he ask me whether our education system will guarantee a “holistic development” for his child, I can only tell him to pray and hope that his child will be lucky enough to get dedicated teachers with the right attitude. We can understand and sympathise if a young child is traumatised by ghosts at home, but does he need to be tormented and undergo further pain at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and nurture him at school?