I am what I am…

Nope! This is not going to be a post about the current controversy about the student of mixed Iban and Chinese parentage. There are enough people making a lot of noise in the local newspapers and elsewhere but so far, it seems that they are all like dogs barking at the moon.

Now, to look at what’s on my mind at the moment, let us start at the very beginning. When I was in school, we had to sit for an examination in Primary 6 and those who failed would not be able to go to Form 1 unless they went to the private schools. There were a number at the time – Rejang Secondary School at the end of Tiong Hua Road, Sibu Secondary School where the Sibu Medical Centre presently is, Ling Chu Ming School near Kin Orient Plaza (Sing Kwong Supermarket) and Chew Geok Lin School.

At the end of Form 3, we had the Sarawak Junior Examination and more of those who did not make the grade would go to the private schools and likewise, after the Senior Cambridge Examination at the end of Form 5. These days, everybody makes it all the way, it seems…and consequently, those private schools went out of business.

When we were in Form 3, we were asked whether we wanted to go to the arts stream or the science stream, should we make it through the Sarawak Junior Examination. Thus we would have to decide where our strengths lay and choose wisely. In Singapore at one time, they would stream the students in Year 3 while in primary school – into the arts, science or technical stream. There were people who felt that it was too early considering that there were late-bloomers who would unfortunately through no fault of theirs, be stuck in say, the technical stream.

I, of course, opted for the arts stream as I was never good at Mathematics and Science. In the Senior Cambridge Examination, I got a 3 for General Science, much to my surprise…and 7 for Health Science, I think and I just managed to pass General Mathematics with a miserable 8. It was pretty obvious that if I had gone to the science stream, I would have sealed my doom there and then. Kaput!!!

But these days, they look at the PMR Examination results to stream the students into arts or science and in the end, those with “better” results end up in the science side…and the left-overs are unceremoniously bundled off to the arts stream. This has given rise to the stigma that if you go to the art stream, you are  a “gong kia” (stupid kid) and people refer to the arts classes as the “gong kia pan” (classes for stupid kids) and everybody who’s anybody dreads going to those.

There are a few considerations that one needs to ponder upon when deciding whether to go to the arts or the science stream…and it is not as simple as merely looking at the PMR Examination results or complying blindly just because it is some government policy that there must be  a certain percentage in the science stream…

News headline

There are also some over-ambitious parents who, in the pursuit of their own selfish dreams of having a doctor or an engineer or an accountant and the like in the family, would force their kids to go to the science stream and then send them for tuition classes morning, afternoon and night. I have seen with my own eyes, students eating their dinner in the car after having finished one lesson at one centre, on their way to the next one. I actually tried taking a photograph of one not too long ago but it did not come out well owing to the tinted glass of the cars. I really wonder what kind of lives such children have and more importantly, what kind of people they will grow up to be.

I helped my daughter with her Mathematics all through primary school, patiently (though not all the time) explaining and guiding her, and even while she was in the lower secondary classes despite the fact that I barely made it through the subject myself in Form 5…and I could tell that she was exactly like me – not good at the subject and definitely not science stream material. But she got straight As in the PMR Examination (and the UPSR Examination too) and ended up in the best science class in Form 4. I advised her against it but she insisted that she wanted to give it a try.

The second day of school, she said she needed to go for tuition for her Science and Mathematics subjects so I took her to the centre where I was teaching and enrolled her there. She attended one class that afternoon. The next morning, she woke up crying saying that she wanted to drop out of school. Eventually, I found out that she could not make head or tail of what was taught in the school nor the tuition centre…and she finally agreed to go to an arts class. A good friend of hers, another top student, followed suit…and both of them did well in the SPM Examination unlike those other friends of theirs who remained in the science stream.

I do not know exactly what the other girl got but my daughter got As in all subjects except English Literature which she had to take on her own as it was not offered by the school. Perhaps she had her mind set on becoming an English teacher already by then. But one thing I do know is that the other girl went on to do Form 6 and emerged as one of the top students, with straight As in the STPM Examination.

Likewise, there have been a number of students in my former school who insisted on going to the arts stream in Form 4 and in the end, did very well – which probably would not have been the case, if they had stayed in the science side. I will not touch on the horrendous problems arising in the schools that had stemmed from bored, restless and unmotivated students who had been “forced” to study the dreaded Science and Mathematics subjects…and there were those who failed to make the grade even despite the incredibly low passing marks.

To use an analogy, I cannot simply say I want to cook this today! I would need to see whether I have the ingredients or not, whether they can be made available or whether I can afford them. If not, I would just have to abort the idea until such and such a time, when it is possible for me to do so. I am what I am and you are what you are…and there are things that cannot be compelled. There are many considerations that ought to be made and many things that should or should not be done, but the last thing anyone should do is to base the crucial decision on the one-off public examination results. In your folly, it is the students’ future that you are playing with…and perhaps, even destroying!