Thursday, January 20, 2011

Life in a Boarding School

The Form 4 students in my school have started getting offers to enter boarding schools. Their excitement made me remember my own experience attending a boarding school when I was at their age (16).

I had always wanted to study in one. The desire probably stemmed from reading Enid Blyton's Malory Towers and St. Clare's series one too many times. I was fascinated by the idea of a school picturesquely perched on a cliff, surrounded by the sea, where the students wear spiffy uniforms, pay lacrosse, have midnight feasts, enjoy horse-back riding and put up plays at the end of the year. I mean Mallory Towers was the coolest school ever before Hogwarts came along.

So, I was over the moon when I received the offer to study at MRSM Jasin (renamed MRSM Tun Ghafar Baba in 2006). And though it's nothing like what I had (unrealistically) imagined, the 2 years (2001-2002) I had spent there was one of the best times of my life.

I didn't fit in right away. The school has a rigorous academic programme in place. And I, far from being the studious type, struggled. I couldn't cope with the overwhelming amount of homework assigned. Other students seemed so driven while I was more laid back. I remember calling home using a payphone (mobile phones were prohibited) a week after registering, crying uncontrollably, begging for my parents to come and fetch me home. I just hated the place!

Things gradually got better. I made friends and fell into the school routine. In a boarding school, you hardly have any time for leisure. Your whole day is structured from the moment you wake up until 'lights out' at 11pm. Back then, we didn't even have access to TV or the internet except during IT lessons. But some students did squeeze in some TV time in the evenings, watching popular Latin American soap operas at the canteen (I remember Rosalinda & Yo Soy Betty La Fea being all the rage back then).

There were many other things that took time to get used to. Communal bathroom was one. Living in a boarding school does make you appreciate the comforts and luxuries of home that you previously took for granted.

Further, you learn to stand on your own 2 feet. You wash your own clothes by hand, do your own shopping on outings, participate in the weekly gotong-royong, fend for yourself when you're sick, etc.

Your roommates and classmates will become more than friends. They are like family. My best friend in Jasin was Hasnoor. She sat next to me in class and we got into all sorts of scrapes together. When we were in Form 5, we were often late for the daily roll call. As a result, we were sentenced to jalan itik, ketuk ketampi and other medieval punishments that are now outlawed. Hahaha. I learned that if you're going to get into trouble, it's best to have an accomplice. That way, you can face the repercussions together. So thanks Hasnoor for being the perfect partner-in-crime :)

And since we were always late for breakfast, Hasnoor and I often tapau-ed the food from the canteen and ate them in the classroom. We always took a big portion so that we could share the food with our classmates. During lessons, the food container would be passed discreetly around the class for all to enjoy.

There were no midnight feasts, but we had durian feasts when the fruit was in season. And for Biology class, we had to catch our own frogs for dissection. Fortunately, the boys in our class gallantly took charge of this operation.

Boarding schools also provide a more conducive learning environment. The smaller class size allows teachers to give each student a more personalized attention. My class consisted of only 26 students but some public schools have up to 50 students per class! 50!!

I love the 2 years I had spent there. But times have changed. Boarding school may not be the best choice for everyone in this time and age. Life there can be quite insulated. You hardly get in touch with what's happening in the outside world.

I guess boarding schools and public schools afford different sets of experiences; but neither one is more superior than the other.

Would I recommend my students to go to a boarding school? I would say, YES but they would need to toughen up a bit. Some students can adjust to the lifestyle straightaway while others will require more time but in the end, everyone will love their school and have fond memories of their stay there.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Song of Sparrows

Karim works at an ostrich farm outside of Tehran, Iran. He leads a simple and contented life with his family in his small house, until one day when one of the ostriches runs away. Karim is blamed for the loss and is fired from the farm. Soon after, he travels to the city in order to repair his elder daughter’s hearing aid but finds himself mistaken for a motorcycle taxi driver. Thus begins his new profession: ferrying people and goods through heavy traffic. But the people and material goods that he deals with daily starts to transform Karim’s generous and honest nature, much to the distress of his wife and children. It is up to those closest to him to restore the values that he had once cherished...(synopsis taken from here)

Karim's family leads a simple but happy life together. Their tender, funny and precious family moments are beautifully captured by the director, Majid Majidi. I just love scenes like the children jostling one another to clean Karim's bike and draw on his leg cast. The children are so adorable especially Hussein.

The movie shows that you really don't need to have a lot of material possessions in order to be happy.

Though it was Reza Naji who won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Karim (in the 2008 Berlin Film Festival), I was more taken with Hamid Aghazi's Hussein. He provides most of the movie's comic moments when he stubbornly insists on cleaning up an abandoned water-storage area. This results in him being chased all over the place by his father.

Barring this one act of disobedience, Hussein and his two sisters are the most wonderful kids you'll ever come across.

Haniyeh pretends that her hearing aid is working fine so that her father need not buy her a costly new one. Hussein works hard (until his palms become calloused) to earn some money and gives the whole of his salary to his mom. And later he bought an orange juice for his father while they were waiting in the hot afternoon sun.

The above incidents and several more made Karim realise his mistakes. Mistakes that most of us fall prey to when we imagine that money can buy happiness.

In 'The World Book of Happiness' (ISBN: 978-981-275-243-7), there's a chapter which deals with this particular issue.

Ercih Kirchler, a professor of psychology at the University of Vienna, wrote that; "money has little capacity to make us happy, and that happiness gained through material wealth fades quickly".

He also said that, "happiness originates from satisfying, loving relationships and reliable and trustworthy friends; from the ability to enjoy the pleasures of life; and from a meaningful and socially relevant job".

We've been told from young that money cannot buy happiness but few of us really do believe it. I mean who doesn't want a bigger paycheck, right?

Humans are such that "if people had enough gold to fill two deep valleys, they would wish to have a third (valley)" (Hadith reported by Muslim, Bukhari).

But watching this movie will make you realise that we already have everything we need in order to be happy :)

[photos taken from:]

The Song of Sparrows is now showing in GSC Cinemas (International Screens)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Teach for Malaysia

While I was browsing HuffingtonPost this morning, this headline caught my eyes: Depression at Work: 10 Careers with High Rates of Depression. My immediate thought was; teaching has got to be one of them! And sure enough, teachers appeared at number 6 with this description:

The demands on teachers seem to be constantly growing. Many work after school and then take work home.
In many areas, they learn to do a lot with a little.
"There are pressures from many different audiences -- the kids, their parents, and the schools trying to meet standards, all (of which) have different demands," Willard says. "This can make it difficult for teachers to do their thing and remember the reason they got started in the field.”

Hardly the stuff you want to read with only a day left before school reopens...

Later that day however, my sister told me about the Teach For Malaysia programme. I looked it up on the internet as soon as I reached home.

In a nutshell, the programme aims to enlist university graduates to teach in high-need areas in Malaysia for 2 years.

Teach For Malaysia is part of the Teach For All network which has chapters in 16 countries all over the world.

My mood was lifted after perusing the sites. They made me remember why I had chosen to teach in the first place. Like all potential Teach-For-Malaysia recruits, I had the same lofty ideas about making a positive difference in the world. But as explained by the Depression-at-Work article, the idealism fades when one is consumed by work, its pressures, frustrations and the accompanying stress.

This entry is not meant to pour cold water on the initiative. Rather, I really hope that the programme will be a smashing success. Educating the future generation is a big responsibility and we need all the help that we can get.

I do need to warn interested applicants though. The classrooms that you'll be teaching in will not be so ideal as portrayed in the video.

I mean, you're unlikely to get a classroom full of well-behaved, angelic-looking, eager-to-learn kids.

Maybe it's because I teach in a secondary school but the students that I normally encounter are prone to be disruptive and they don't look quite as eager.

In fact, to quote Frank McCourt in Teacher Man; "In every class there's a pest put on earth to test you". Haha.

But it's okay. They'll grow on you and you'll grow on them :)

And despite of all the occupational hazards associated with it, you'll learn to love teaching as well.

Oh, and another thing, you won't look as smart and immaculate as the teachers in the video look. More often than not, you'll look tired, overworked and harassed. Haha.

Again, that comes with the job ;)

Seriously, do apply to Teach For Malaysia despite my fear mongering. Why? Because... (to quote Albert Schweitzer)

"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve"