May 16, 2012

A History of My Education

Unlike Mothers' or Fathers' Days, which are too hyped about and profit-driven nowadays, teachers' day is celebrated on different days in different countries. And since it is illegal to punish students because they forget about teachers' day, it is of no significant commercial opportunities to florists or bakers.
The Malaysian teachers' day is celebrated on May 16 to coincide with the endorsement of the Razak Report, the framework that shaped Malaysian education to what it is today.
Over the 12 years of primary and secondary schooling in Malaysia, I was lucky to have a lot of good teachers along the way - both my parents were teachers, for one. While most instilled knowledge and noble virtues, others liberated us with ideas, visions, and skills that changed our lives forever.
Some may argue that teachers no longer enjoy the respect society endowed them, and younger parents expect their children to learn everything in school from behaving to wearing underpants - it is indisputable that teachers are the pillars to a nation's future.

I did not enjoy primary school. Like many Chinese parents mine enrolled me into this huge, well-known and arrogant "top-performing" school with 50 in a class. Since I was brought up in an English-speaking kindergarten and enjoyed the liberties of wandering where I liked, I was reprimanded for trespassing into the staffroom with my "wand" (30 cm wooden ruler) chasing Death Eaters. According to Mum I was extremely talkative, and I have yearly breakdowns when I decided I have better things than homework and started hiding them behind the cupboards.
Chinese schoolteachers - they'd do everything for obedience and discipline. My parents got plenty of calls from my form teachers and I was never chosen to represent in anything. Not even my class graduation tour.
I was ready to give up on Chinese schooling but then I went into Chung Ling High School. Oh dear, an all-boys, Chinese high school. Surprisingly, Chung Ling's liberal approach and accommodating faculties changed my mind on what Chinese education stood for. We are encouraged to explore what we deemed interesting, and the school always has financial backups for our undertakings. Nothing is ever too awkward or time-consuming - and I made the most of it with a science project (sawdust into tiles), a surveyors' competition (we flew to KL on MAS for the national finals), nailing 99th percentile in UNSW Maths, and an outstanding graduate. It was there that I met some of my life-changing mentors, friends, and experiences of a lifetime. And we all had fun.
As much as I think after-school tuition is unhealthy, I had plenty back then. Some tuition classes you're there just to meet your crush, some there because you really sucked at the subject, and some for the inspiring teachers. I have my English tuition teacher to thank - her 2 essays per week was why I can naturally express myself here today. My science teacher, armed with a battalion of documentaries, chemicals (potassium nitrate), and a microscope in her "classroom" on a second-floor shoplot, instilled the love of science in all of us. We make stink bombs that reeked the entire block of rotten garlic, saw our own sperm ("whoever doesn't bring next week you'll buy from your friends for 50 dollars"), and went to Redang and Perhentian islands for the school holidays.
As I'm approaching my final year of medical school I can't help but recall the wonderful moments back then. When I was rejected funds for my trip to Boston I recall how Ms. Aw nonchalantly said "don't worry about KL. It's settled." When I gave English tutoring I remember all the phrases Mrs. Kuan drilled into us. Chinese proverbs and proses by Ms. Tan (my Taiwanese friends still make fun of my confused mix now and then). When we graduated they promised university would be even more fun. But turns out mine isn't very much.
So, to all the teachers that made every students' childhood and adolescence worth remembering: Happy teachers' day!