Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Darihal Rokok - The Road to Sekolah Menengah Yusof Ishak

Picture this.  In 1967 an Indian graduate and a Chinese graduate from the University of Singapore, both holders of a Teaching Bursary were directed by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to take up their posts as teachers in the Tamil medium and Chinese medium schools, respectively.  No, they would not be teaching in English ( their language of instruction since primary school), but in the vernacular - or their mother tongues!

I do not think any policy maker or bureaucrat in the MOE would have dared to suggest such an undertaking. It would have ended in tears, both for the graduate-teachers and especially for their students.  

Within a week of leaving University in 1967, I received a letter asking me to report to the MOE.  I knew it would be about my posting, my first school, my first job!!  At last I would be a bona fide working member of society.  It meant we could now persuade my Abah who had had a heart problem since I was in Sixth Form, to retire. 

At the Ministry, I was told which room to go to.  I met this bureaucrat, a Malay man somewhere in his fifties, I think.  His reaction to my presence verged between severity and haughtiness.  We spoke - in English - about the usual details, of my previous schools and my subjects in University.  Then he dropped the bombshell.  I was to report for duty at Sekolah Menengah Yusof  Ishak the next day.  I must have looked very bewildered so he added that I would be teaching in the Malay medium.  I looked even more aghast and I exclaimed, "How am I to teach in Malay?  Malay is not my medium of learning.  I have been in the English medium from Primary One!"

He was then standing by his office window.  "Senang", he said as he nonchalantly removed a packet of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, "Just say 'Ini rokok!' to your class".

"But, Che'gu, I'm not teaching about 'Rokok', am I?"

That was the first sign of my bolshie attitude, my rebellious make-up and that did not bode well for me and my future career in the Ministry of Education.  Call that what you want, but I don't suffer fools.  His posture and his behaviour were very, very unprofessional and unbecoming for an Inche Guru.  That was my introduction to my first Malay bureaucrat and Malay language professional.  With that nasty taste in my mouth I started my teaching career in the Malay medium of Sekolah Menengah Yusof  Ishak in February 1967.

So, I duly reported for work and here I have to confess that I did not make a good impression on my new colleagues.  I drove into the school  in my new, second-hand MG Midget.  Nothing remarkable because there was another teacher Che'Gu Suradi who had an  Austin Sprite and the Principal Mr Charles Lazaroo drove a Triumph Spitfire.

How the spouse remembered me from the old days.  But he was an atypical male who knows nowt about cars!  He cannot tell the difference between the kopiak  Morris Minor for learner drivers and my terror-on-four-wheels, the MG Midget.

But I faced a problem.  I was female!   Not only that, I was young, drawing a salary second only to the Principal's, and a free and blithe spirit to boot!    Of my two Principals in YISS,  Mr Charles Lazaroo was the best.   He understood me and helped me in adjusting to a  teaching career that was rife with prejudice, double standards and indiligence.   Mr Lazaroo was a pianist, a composer and a musician and he had no over-riding ambition for himself.   He wrote the school song for YISS and when the kids sang that song after his departure, I could not hold back the tears.

In his time I was called twice into his Office.   I had been supervised by an Inspector from the MOE for my confirmation ( in my post) and he made a  complaint to Mr Lazaroo about me.   I explained to Mr Lazaroo that this Inspector told me off from his seat at the back of the class that teaching my students to measure the length of a river on a topographic map by using a thread or a string was not good enough.  I said to Mr Lazaroo that any School Inspector worth his salt should not reprimand a teacher in full view of the students in the class.    He should call the teacher aside privately.    That was what I learned when I was doing my teacher-training.    In response to his crassness, from the front of the classroom I asked Mr Tan,   " Can you advise me on another method?"     Mr Tan had nothing to contribute.    On hearing  my version Mr Lazaroo smiled and assured me that I have nothing to worry about being confirmed in my teaching appointment.

Just after I had completed my NCC Officer's Training at Maju Camp, I had to make another visit to the Principal's Office.  Mr Lazaroo had a piece of paper in front of him and he said,  "Do you want to know your Final Report?"  I nodded.  He continued, " It says you would make a very good Officer but you're not obedient."  He gave me a knowing smile as if to say,  "So what?"   He's a good egg, dear Mr Lazaroo.    When - in 1970/ 1971(?) - he was transferred to be Director of Music at the MOE, I knew he would be happier than he was as a School Principal.    But for me, YISS would never be the same again.  There came a new order, a new regime of ambitious men and women.   And as I came to learn, there's nothing more pathetic and nasty than a bunch of opportunistic and ambitious teachers/educators - of both the male and female variety.     Self-serving opportunism may work in corporate politics; it's not good when you are responsible for bringing up impressionable children.

The next part will be about my time at the Teachers'Training College and about how I was 'trained' - jumping through silly hoops and dancing to all kinds of demanding tunes..

P.S.  Just to mention an interesting addendum in my career.  A colleague expressed interest in what I did at the University especially with regard to my favourite subject Political Science.  He asked if he could read some of my essays.  I handed over a couple.  A few weeks later he asked, "Hey Maznoor, would you like to join the PAP?"   I gave him a look which said, "Over my dead body!".  He walked away.  I never got back my essays.  He had a brother holding quite a responsible post in the Singapore Government - a sort of Political Secretary, a safe post for a Malay in the PAP.    Did I make a mistake then?    Should I have taken this golden opportunity?    Imagine what I could have made for myself!  I wonder what Mr Lazaroo would say to that!

Perhaps this was the  Rokok  that I had to draw from my pocket.  Burn, baby, burn!


Anonymous said...

As salaamualikum dear ma'am,

Would you agree that the culture and language of the Malays in Singapore, particularly, as well as the nation's multiculturalism, could be well served today if the Ministry would reinstate our YISS, Tun Seri Lanang and Sang Nila Utama as mainstream schools open to all our children, yet administered by Malay Muslim principals? They and their multicultural staff will be responsible for enhancing and sponsoring the Malay language & culture, but also the traditional understanding of Islam in the Nusantara viz. a viz. the way of the Sufis - a wholistic pedagogy. Non-Muslims of course would have their own tailored co-curriculums in school.

Such schools will become magnets for students of many races as well as foreigners too, who will find in them an excellent educational environment that reverberates with the Nusantara culture in synchrony with the modern sciences and contemporary subjects.

The way it is today, our Malay children are pitiably disconnected from their mother tongue and traditional forms of devotions, swept away as it were by the tide of global secularism, and virulent strains of Islamic expressions.
I hope ma'am, that you would pass a good word to anyone in high appointments who might contribute to making a difference in this respect.

Anonymous said...

As Salam Cikgu

I truly enjoyed this piece. I wish I could read that essay related to your favourite subject i.e Political Science?
How's the weather in Leicester? I went to visit my son in France last week and managed present a short paper in Bonn, Germany. I wish I can take a walk at Victoria Park again especially in autumn.
I really want you to meet my students once you're back in Malaysia. In sha Allah. Take care Cikgu.


Anonymous said...

Othman Wok, LKY's sidekick must be admiring you at that time.....

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Anon Nov 5 3.50pm

Salam and thank you for your comment. It reflects a very serious and deep concern for "our Malay children ... disconnected from their mother tongue...."

I share your views absolutely and wholeheartedly. These have been preying on the old lady's mind for many, many years.

But certainly the hope expressed in your first paragraph will not see the light of day AND will not achieve the aspirations you expect. Look at Malaysia's
'Bahasa Malaysia' policy. It has not united the 'multicultural society', it has not achieved the academic and world standard of education. The children at the bottom half and of course the top half are no more savvy and sharp and knowledgeable than their forefathers of 50 years ago. They know how to tweet their mobile phones, adept at rapid text messages (or should I write msg?), catch up with the latest food and fashion (both ideas and attire) from the west and the middle east, consume and waste the world's resources as if there's no tomorrow and then imitate the street protests from abroad (with all the attendant yells and outfit) in the name of democracy and liberty. Do they know the meaning, the history and the connotations of democracy in the first place? With full bellies and ostentatious material possessions, do they know or care for those less endowed than them?

We can be well-educated in our secular knowledge, our language and culture and our religion - but if there's no room and no heart for justice for those in dire need
and circumstances - here in their homeland and in the other parts of the world, it will all have been a waste of time and effort. I have seen too much of that in my career and in my seven decades.

My dear Anon, in my life I have been a maverick and a 'thorn in the side of the authorities, most certainly I do not move in the circle of the movers and shakers in society.

But I so undersand and empathise with your concerns and I hope that you will be able to see them them through, one day.

Your heart is in the right place. Bless you.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Fatimah,

Thank you. 'Twould be nice if you could have popped in into ole Leicester from Bonn. The leaves at Victoria Park were a lovely golden brown and scrunchy for the shoes.

As for meeting your students .. hmm .. you know, young people are not interested in what ole fogies like me have to say - they are wrapped up in their own world and their young ways. Still, we shall see..InsyaAllah.

By the way, did you give me your e-mail address some months ago? If you did, well, I think I've misplaced it.

Once again, thank you Fatimah and Vicky Park says hello!

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Anonymous 3.26 pm,

Thank you for the comment. And no thank you - I would not want Othman Wok or any of LKY's sidekicks to admire me then, and now or ever!

One can only be useful to some authorities - or one can allow oneself to be used by the powers that be. Admiration does not come into the picture at all. And I do not subscribe to any of the above facets.

Anyway, you can read about Othman Wok in my life as a teacher in Sekolah Menengah Yusof Ishak - in my coming posting.