Saturday, 19 January 2013

The "Misunderstood" Kids - We are not stupid, we are just misunderstood.

This blogpost is an English translation from Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysia's National Language), also written by the same author, Sue - Versi asli dalam Bahasa Malaysia di sini


The Malaysian national education sistem's core is based on one mission - that is for children aged 7 to 12 to be able stay in primary (elementary) school, which is made compulsory by law, and upon completing six years in primary school, the child should be able to achieve basic skills like Reading, Writing and Counting/Arithmetic. In Bahasa Malaysia, they are called the 3M - Membaca, Menulis dan Mengira, which translates to Reading, Writing and Counting - the '-ing' in English is equivalent to 'Me-' in Bahasa Malaysia.

As far as I know, the 3M concept has been incorporated in Malaysia's education stem since the 'Learning' era before everything was standardised to 'Education'.

I would like to share some anecdotes on the Malaysian education system, especially the primary (elementary) school education in Malaysia.

Not every student age 7 (on 31 December of that year or on Jan 1 the following year), who started Primary One (Standard One knows how to read or write. Despite the trend for children to start going to pre-school before their Primary School years start at the age of 7, there are stil some families who cannot afford to send their kids to pre-school. Hence, in some areas, there are teachers who have to deal with a big gap of the level of Mastery of the 3M skills among students.

I still remember, our teachers would beam with pride when their 'good' students could write all the 26 letters in the alphabets and pronounce all the syllables in the words without any flaws. When some students kept quiet, they will be called 'stupid' and ridiculed in many manners. When I think back, I shudder to ponder on the possible trauma and psychological effects on these students who are laughed at by the whole class just because they are labelled as 'stupid' or dumb. Some teachers (only a fraction, not all), tend to laugh and ridicule others who cannot fulfill the society's requirements of 'normal' which is the basic learning standards like reading and writing properly. If the students are slower a little bit in academic performance, they will surely be laughed at and called 'stupid'.

Why am I moved to write this article?

I HAVE A GOOD FRIEND, let's call her Madam A, who shared with me her tale of her son's 'predicament' not too long ago.

Her son, N, cannot talk as a normal 6-year-old.

"Trust me, Sue, we have sought out government specialist clinic, underwent tests and our kid is normal, he is not autistic. He is only delayed in speech. Many people commented that we are irresponsible parents, we fail to teach our son to talk. However, N's elder sisters had no speech delay. We do not want our son to be like this!

"The most hurtful is when people leer at our son when he uttered incomprehensible words like 'ya ya ta ta' while pointing to something that caught his attention. To add salt to injury, There was once when a doctor acted as if our son. N, is mentally ill," lamented Madam A.

Madam A is concerned that her son N will be labelled as stupid in primary school when he is 7 in 2013.

Some teachers (not all, perhaps only a fraction) are of the habit to be impatient at slow students, some even go to the extent of scolding the words "stupid and fools" in front of the rest of the class.

This brought back memories from over 20 years ago. There was a boy named Larry who moved to our school in Standard Four from a village school. Being a school in town, our standards of education were on quite on par with those from the city. We were shocked when Larry could barely read and write. At age 10, he only knew all 26 alphabets and could not string the letters together. It was painstaking just watching him read a single word, "S-A sa Y-A ya, saya". Of course he was laughed at and he laughed at himself as well. According to my classmates, Larry returned to his village after Standard Six and there is no more news from him after that.

There are always a small fraction of children like N and Larry, yet they are not considered seriously impaired that they needed to be classified 'mentally retarded'.

How can we provide equal education opportunity for these kids in Malaysia, or as a matter of fact, in the whole world? Like in Larry's case, the remedial teacher helped to nurture him to a certain extent where he could spell out basic words and make simple sentences in that short few years (age 10-12).

Teachers cannot afford to spend more time on slower students so the 'slow' are usually left behind while 'the normal ones' are focused upon by the teachers.

This post is NOT meant to lash out at anyone, just to share some thoughts.

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