Form vs Substance

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😛

7 thoughts on “Form vs Substance

  1. Good entry. Thank you for writing it.

    I do have chinese friends who are into branded stuff and are forever shopping, but they do not do so at the expense of the children’s education.

    I learnt so much abt the changes in the education system through my colleagues here at work..abt the gifted programme, the IB programme, the direct admission etc. And of course, while you cannot deny that genes play a part, these ladies (all lawyers by the way) do not rest on their laurels. They do all sorts of things (legitimate) of course to ensure that their kids go to a good school.

    Someone wrote to the ST forum a couple of months back to share that he is of the opinion that what differentiates students who do well and those who don’t are the aspirations of the parents for their children. I agree with him.

    We Malays are happy and contented if our children get into the polytechnic. That’s our target for our children. Or some others just hope that their children go to school and stay out of trouble.

    It is the mindset of our malays. We do not thrive on competition. We start getting all emotional and green with envy when someone does better than us and we do all sorts of things to bring them down, rather than see it as healthy competition.

    And we are also not hungry enough to achieve what other races have achieved. This, I still cannot figure out why.

  2. Rozas we’re on the same wavelength. n u too perciclan. its very mucha choice malay parents make..n its so true what rozas said about malay parents being happy enough if their children make it to polytechnic…so so true.

    the spirit for competition is not there for reasons which I’d better not say.

    anyway I just wanted to lol Perciclian when you mentioned ‘ friend from Denver’ !! how did you know? you must have very powerful eyesight because I was squinting at the photo with my nose on the screen and couldn’t see ‘denver’ there! You got me there lolol

    I was also about to ask you where SG was but now I know.. lol

    btw nice entry! :))

  3. it’s very sad. true that academic success does not equate to success in life, but i sometimes wonder if we worry about ‘stressing’ our kids, are we instead giving them a crutch/excuse to underperform..

    there was a lot of discussion on ST forum about what decides the performance of our children. is it the educational background? the economic background? i think the key thing is parental expectations and aspirations.

    there are a lot of kids who do well who come from HDB and economically disadvantaged families, and for them, it’s their parents’s aspirations that motivates them. the tricky part is for the middle class kids, if they get things so easily and no high aspirations is put out for them by the parents, i wonder what is it they will reach out and work for, if they can be easily contented.

  4. i really love this post too btw😉

    it is a sore point for me when i see our kids underperforming..and with it too i am always thankful that i have a job that can ‘help’ our Malay kids to be good academically. i really do feel for them here and am especially proud if they do well =)

  5. Hi Rozas

    And we are also not hungry enough to achieve what other races have achieved. This, I still cannot figure out why.

    Perhaps it has to do with the Malays being easily contented people? That once they can show that they are of a higher social standings via the tangible things that they can flash, then tak payah struggle banyak-banyak.. bersyukur aje. I personally feel that the concept of ‘syukur’ and ‘redha’ has been misunderstood too much by the Malays that they begin to use it as an excuse of non or below par performance… ( I feel lah, tak tau betul ke tidak heh …😛 )

  6. Zurin,

    anyway I just wanted to lol Perciclian when you mentioned ‘ friend from Denver’ !! how did you know? you must have very powerful eyesight because I was squinting at the photo with my nose on the screen and couldn’t see ‘denver’ there! You got me there lolol

    Hahaha, I am trained to pay attention to details. LOL

  7. Is,

    there are a lot of kids who do well who come from HDB and economically disadvantaged families, and for them, it’s their parents’s aspirations that motivates them. the tricky part is for the middle class kids, if they get things so easily and no high aspirations is put out for them by the parents, i wonder what is it they will reach out and work for, if they can be easily contented.

    I find this to be extremely true here in my current neighborhood. ( Sorry Zurin I just need to use this as an example: takde mengena dengan mana-mana orang in our neighbourhood ok ? hehe ). In this neighborhood especially on the other side from where I am, there are some filthy rich Malays, the kind where in SG, it would take like ten well to do Malays to make one rich one in this neighborhood. Some of the kids I meet during some tuition sessions or activities and I wouldn’t say they excel well in their studies. Like they are very contented, tak belajar betul pun mak bapak kaya– so tak payah struggle punya case, so like buat apa susah susah belajar kan?
    However, in the same neighbourhood, I have also known well-to-do Chinese from the same side as the well to do Malays ( we are renting from the cheaper houses,😛 ) whose kids really struggle at tuition and even though their parents are well to do business owners, I never see them resting their laurels… and I really admire their diligence!

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