Since we’ve met the 11.45 am deadline, I need a little break from all those translations and with Hamza Yusuf in the other tab on you.tube, I think a blog entry would help to clear my already cluttered mind, no?
Was chatting on gmail with a fellow teacher friend just now while waiting for my translated piece to be edited by my partner, about the issue of form over substance, and one of the vices of our community ( in this context, we were talking about the Malay community in SG ).Our years of teaching had made us realized that probably, the progress of the Malays are not as rapid as the Chinese back home is due to the fact that the community generally still values the importance of ‘form’ over ‘substance’, i.e the tangible, over the intangible.
For example, back when I was teaching in a Chinese school, my Chinese colleagues and even the students’ parents would scrimp and save just so that they can provide their children with the best educational opportunities available, because education is indeed the top priority in their community. “Biar papa asal anak boleh belajar, tak apa.” That’s the mentality of the Chinese that I knew. Near my parent’s house, there is a secondary school whose motto is ‘Ilmu Penyuloh Hidop’ and whenever I passed the school to go to the market etc, I loved looking at the school crest with the motto written in the old Malay spelling and bringing about a very deep meaning. It reflects the worldview of the Chinese there.
Many times, in my school, we had really academically weak Malay students and often, we called upon the parents for ‘meet the teacher sessions’ to help them deal with what they can do to help their children improve in their studies. Usually, we would suggest sending their kids for tuition, enrichment classes etc. The usual response is usually ‘ susahlah… akak tak kerja, anak 3/4 tak mampu bayar tuition.. nak harapkan bapak dia sorang tanggung mana mampu nak tuitionkan 4 anak’ etc and likewise excuses. But then, ironically, the same Malay parents were seen driving to school ( cars are freaking expensive in SG by the way, and unlike here, one does NOT need a car to get around, what with the super excellent transport system ), or wear ‘barang kemas yang sungguh menyilaukan mata cikgu-cikgu memandang’.
Sometimes our principal made us pay them home visits to see the situation on why their children were under performing. I have had many ‘terkebil-kebil‘ moments at these homes. Tak mampu hantar anak pegi tuition/enrichment classes/beli buku tambahan, tapi renovate rumah–fuyooo!!! Boleh beli kereta, boleh beli bling-bling, TAPI tak mampu melabur untuk keperluan anak belajar. Tidak ada duit untuk ilmu, tapi tersangat mampu untuk bergaya– Would be the thoughts swirling in my head during my ‘terkebil-kebil’ moments.
If Tun Dr Mahathir wrote about the Malay Dilemma in 1970, I think I have enough compilations of the Malay Teachers Dilemma. Imagine this, we entered the profession with lofty ideals on helping the community. But many times, I ( personally) felt–back then, totally disillusioned on having to stay back in school and give free tuition and extra classes to weak Malay students, burning my free time away because they ‘cannot afford tuition and enrichment classes’ but watched the parents stylishly fetch their kids after the free sessions which we gave while sacrificing our free time.
That’s what we meant earlier with the differences between the priorities of the Malays vs the Chinese. Of course, the Malays in Singapore have evolved and we can safely say that they have progressed say since independence? But at what rate? Probably if it is a race, let’s say if the Malays and Chinese communities are given the same resources to progress, upon ‘on your mark get set go’ ala Survivor show, we would know which group would strategize better and finish the race earlier.
The situation doesn’t seem to make much of a turning point with my generation of parents either. The priority towards form is still prevalent in the community. Like who has the most expensive prams, who has the most expensive car seat, who buys cot from where, who shops where and what. Which mum carries an LV diaper bag is also an issue in the current Malay mummies of my generation. Sad and shallow, but true.
Very seldom issues are raised in our community about saving up to go to which school or which teaching methodology is the best now etc. Unlike the Chinese. I have Chinese friends, who, while the Malay parents are busy comparing cots and car seats and whatever else branded, during their pregnancies, they are already looking for properties near to the preferred good schools, scouting around for the kindys that offer them the best early childhood education etc. Such is their value towards the very important intangible substance i.e knowledge– which our community is still quite far away from emulating.
Recently, an acquaintance sought my advise on how to help her mildly ADHD child cope in primary school. I told her that research shows that ADHD has many correlations with the child’s diet and his daily ‘play time’ activities. I suggested to her that she tries to change his diet by feeding him good organic food sans the chemicals which could potentially worsened his situation and to stop him from playing the PSP which he is hooked onto. Her response? ‘ Alarrr semua budak lain main PSP nanti dia takde kesian pulak.. and organic food is expensive ok… kumpul duit tu boleh beli LV bag sey end of the year…!’ The last I check, she ain’t blond, she’s Malay. Maybe that explains😛