Countless times, we are being told that the education system in Malaysia is in a terrible state. Rigid, outdated, and racist are among the reasons why some parents has opted for vernacular education and private schools. Mind the high cost of education, parents only want the best for their off springs. It would be the wet dreams of any Malaysians, to have a world class education, where all Malaysians regardless of their colour and creed, are able to enjoy equal opportunity to develop their academic talents. Nowadays, racism has inflicting such a deep scar in each of us Malaysians that distrust between each races has been on the increase ever since.

I was raise as a young girl that is different that most children in my environment. Interracial marriage is rare in Malaysia, despite that we have the best of fusion food from each ethnicity. I once ate roti prata (it’s the original name for roti canai) in Myanmar, it tasted horrible. So coming back to interracial marriage, my parents came from a rather mixed background themselves too. Back then, race wasn’t such a big deal compare to now. My mom was born by an Indonesian father from Sumatera and a Serani/Portuguese Eurasian Mother. While my dad was born by Hokkien parents, though his father’s mother (my great grandmother) was a Siam from Songkla. Such rich heritage I had in my blood was forced to be diluted and forgotten by the education system I received.

I was schooled in a Chinese vernacular school – Lee Rubber Primary School. Back then, it was a humble wooden school, with dedicated teachers earning less than they had in national schools. There was an urban myth that our school area was the bloody place where Chinese Communist were prosecuted by the Japanese. I still remember, some of the students told me they saw ghost at the rubber tree plantation next to our school. I never believe it though I was scared whenever I pass by the school corridor next to the plantation. My school was founded by someone called Lee Kong Chian (李光前) a rich businessman (one of the richest in South East Asia during his time) that donated his old rubber factory as Lee Rubber Primary School. Later I found out our school founder contributed a lot in fighting with the Japanese in early Malaya politics.

I was a shy girl back then, I was never fitted in any of the race groups, some even shun me off. Thus, I was always alone, minding my own business. Maybe not many people know, but in my school (which is in the Gombak area), had a sizeble number of non-chinese, there were Malays, Indians and Orang Asli. I don’t know why, I have difficulty in forming friendships with them. I always consider other races as the pure bloods, like the Aryan in Hitler’s Germany. They seemed to be more comfortable to mix with their own type of skin colour and bitched about other races (as what they learned from their parents and community). Ever since young, I was a thinker, I’d rather be alone and do my homework or reading during recess, and attentively listen in class learning. I still remember I got first placed in my class when the teacher announced the report card result. I was immediately transferred to the premier elite class.

I tasted my first bitter pill of racism in primary school. Everyday riding the school bus was a scary thought, I got phobia and bad dreams. It was a suffering that deeply scarred my childhood, being a young 7-9 year old kid, I cried everyday, the Chinese girls in the bus ride find enjoyment in bullying me and calling me names, just because I wasn’t a ‘pure blood’. While in school, the Malay girls would spread rumors about me and ignored me. I had a nice Chinese neighbour girl friend back then, where we used to play together, but because of my ‘race’, she had to pretend not to be my friend in school, it deeply hurt me a lot but I was understanding enough to continue be her friend in our neighbourhood. While one of my best Malay friend stopped talking to me when other Malay girls started to talk behind my back. That explains my introvert nature back in primary school, I was a misfits in a ‘pure blood’ world, later books and ideas became my best friends.

Starting from the age of 10 years old, where I was placed in an all elite class, I began to meteorically thrive in academics. I was such a good kid that I got excellent UPSR results and among the top 10 in the whole school. The nature of a Chinese vernacular school is different, here everything is exam-oriented. Everyday there’s all sorts of quizzes, facts-memorizing and exams. School work was like Mount. Everest. During long holidays, students from Chinese school usually had the least fun as we were given tons of ‘holiday school work’. It has a carrot and stick approach, in fact almost no carrot at all, just sticks. Every mistakes we did, we were caned. This resulted most of us from Chinese school to be super-obedient, perfectionist, lacked of individuality and lacked of creativity. But on a bright side, we learn about discipline and hard working. This was the time where I started to make friends, the students in elite class were very much like me, bookworm and introvert. We enjoy mostly discussing about school, exams and homework. Due to my intelligence, I was no longer bullied, though some of the Chinese students may have negative perceptions about me, but at that age I was wise enough to choose my friends. I never wanted to impress anyone, so I made friends with students who genuinely like me.

My second taste of racism was the school trip to Singapore. My friends insisted me to go, and pay the RM100, my parents already gave me the green light. But the teachers and school barred me to join my peers to Singapore, I was sad but kept my feelings to myself. I was touched that my friends actually went to the teacher and begged for me to go, but the teacher said i can’t because I was a ‘muslim’, as the food may not be halal for me. Thinking back, I felt the teachers and school were very much ignorant, if food is such a huge matter for muslim to the extend where I was barred to Singapore for an innocent school trip, it shows how shallow our community at understanding each other. Should anyone be barred for getting equal opportunity to enjoy a good fun time with his/her classmates due to his/her birth religion/ethnicity?? A big NO. That’s a heck of racism.

English has always been my favourite subject, I was lucky enough to realize its importance early in life as fluency in English is regarded as highly valuable in the competitive job market. All thanks to my father who understood the importance of Mandarin (by sending me to Chinese school) and English (by speaking to me and my brothers in English at home). In high school, English was ‘kacang putih’ for me, I can easily score high marks without doing any studying, while my peers struggled to grasp the language all throughout high school. In fact I love English so much that I was most active in English Language Society, joining Choral Speaking, debate, public speaking, fund raising, create Newsletters, acted in Drama, joined workshops, etc. The fact that those who joined the English Language Society were ‘misfits’ like me, it was one of my fondest memory in high school. We would be the only group that was multi-racial, speaking English and it was the only time in my school life where I was comfortable being who I am, without being judged by my skin colour and religious background.

High school was a total different ball-game, I was studying in Chong Hwa High School. Books became my best friends. I changed in high school, I didn’t thrive in sciences, instead I was better at Languages. I remember going to the library everyday – not doing my homework or studying for exams, but reading the vast collect of old, worn out books our humble library had. My mind was well-nourished with ideas and views that I never learnt in class, nor was it expected for us to even know about it. The school and teachers were busy making sure we excelled in the exam, while students were spending all their time studying for subjects that they will never use anywhere in their lives. It was a sad truth. The education system had became so dry and single-minded that it was successful in making almost 99% of the students feel like they were a bunch of losers, stupid assholes.

When I was younger, my parents were not rich, thus I never had the luxury to go to expensive tuition, buying a computer or even books. Instead, I gain most of my knowledge through reading books in the library. I would spent hours in the library after school, reading interesting novels, psychology, history, foreign magazines (Time, Reader’s Digest, Discovery, etc), old literatures, current issues/politics (I read newspapers everyday) and philosophy. I think, I learnt more in the library reading by myself that I learnt from anywhere in the classroom. That’s where I formed my own opinion about life and learning about the world. One of the book that I remember until now is a novel about a group of athletes that was stranded in the cold snowy mountain in Chile when their plane crashed, they resorted to eat the body of their dead friends in order to survive. The account was very chilling, but a few of them managed to survived and rescued, lived to tell the story to the world. And you know what? The novel was written based on a true story!

The sad truth was our school didn’t see the value of upgrading the library, adding new books to the shelf, and increasing the capacity of the library. Thus, I read almost all the books by the end of my Form 5. Perhaps those books has no value in exam-scoring. My sciences were bad, I had no interest in learning science, though I love the chemistry experiments, biology field research and study group with my friends. I still remember I got real enjoyment in dissecting a frog, mixing chemical compounds and digging worms. Again, the school was not equipped with good science lab, so sometimes we weren’t able to do many experiments, thus the teachers would just merely asked us to memorize and re-write all the facts she wrote on the blackboard. The education system has always emphasizes on exam-scoring and facts-memorizing, while for people like me, I learn better when the learning method sparks creativity, curiosity and discovery, not blind faith. Perhaps I wasn’t interested in memorizing formulas and facts, I flunked in almost all my sciences in SPM (except Biology). My dad was amused when he saw I got A in Modern Maths and E in Add Maths. I told my dad I hate formulas.

Not many people realized that the number of Chinese students taking Mandarin subject in SPM has increasingly dropped. The subject is hard because it’s literature, but I took it anyway because I do love Mandarin. I was even interviewed by my journalist friend who wrote an article in a youth magazine “Xue Hai” in an attempt by the Chinese educationists to encourage Chinese students to take the language in SPM. I got a C in Chinese SPM by the way. I do feel Mandarin is an important language as China is rising globally as an important economic power.

I was also very active in school when it comes to sports. I may not be athlete material, but I was hooked on tennis. It was also one of the extremely rare club (aside from English Language Society) where all races joined. I enjoyed the rush of euphoria whenever I swing the tennis racket hard to hit the ball. I think tennis is great sport because it taught me to never give up in life. Another thing interesting about our tennis team is due to our mixed-racial team, we unanimously spoke Mandarin with each other as if we were all Chinese native. During Tennis Competition, usually our Chong Hwa team would turn heads when they see us of blacks, brown, olive and yellow spoke together in Mandarin cheerfully. It was one of those fun awkward moment.

Lastly, the most racist encounter institutionalized I knew was the Agama Class (Islamic religious class). Our teacher, a beautiful young lady had the heart of an evil witch. She openly said racist comments on the Chinese and Indians – for example, asking us to not reply the ‘salam’ given by non-muslim and telling us that how dirty they are. She was also extremely narrow-minded, forcing muslim girls to don the tudung, while mocked harsh words to those that didn’t comply. She’s ultimately wasn’t popular among the Muslim students, as she would forced us to obediently submit to whatever rubbish she was teaching us. I remember clearly an event in the Agama Class, it was a propaganda of her absolute ignorance about the Sept 11 terrorist news. She thought the class were stupid enough to swallow her views that it was a huge conspiracy against Islam by the Jews, that not a single Jew died in the Towers, that it was a lie thousands of people died (she said only a few died), that we must support the Jihad of Osama Bin Laden. Thank god me and another boy were brave enough to counter her argument as everything she said was just full of rubbish, she got so angry at us that she thought we were deviants against Islam.

Now, going back to the main theme of this article, the Education System. Through my own personal experience, I feel that there’s just so many loop holes, to the extend where I am not surprised seeing the rise in segregation, racism, incompetence, blind obidience and shallow-mindedness among young people. The education system is definitely not fit for the reality of the current society. With such sub-standard education, Malaysia could only produce mediocre young people with cave-mentality. Well, I will write a whole story in another article on our tertiary education. It is another sad, laughable truth.