My eldest girl, Jane, turned 7 this year. She started Primary One. There was no doubt in our mind which type of school for her. It had to be Chinese School aka SJKC (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina), of course. With the poor state of our national schools as well as the horror stories one hears about the flip flop of the syllabus plus the laziness of the teachers, most Malaysian Chinese parents will send their kids to SJKC. In fact, in the school we signed her into, I often saw many Malay and Indian students. Malays and Indians studying Chinese! This was uncommon, indeed - or perhaps, it was more common than you think.
Unfortunately, 2 months after she went to this SJKC(*), we pulled her out. Yep, we decided that Chinese school was not suitable for her. Every night she came back crying and was in fear of going to school. Every morning, she needed 30-40 minutes of prep talk before she agreed to go school. Every day she had this worried and extreme stress look on her face. When she came back in the evening, she immediately started her homework. She did her homework even while eating dinner. She was so fearful of her Bahasa Teacher, who ironically is a Chinese, that she would even chanted her ejaan (spelling) while in sleep.
She was terrified of the Bahasa Teacher who used cane to threaten the students. When she had 4 out of 8 correct spellings, she was punished - she had to stand up with two hands up on the air. One time, she forgot to bring her exercise book and was asked to stand outside the class. Actually, it's not just the Bahasa teacher. Even the Mandarin Teacher, which was her class teacher (and this teacher was one of the better ones) would also lash out milder punishment as a way to force the children to improve.
There was no joy in studying anymore. A Primary One kid were being drilled and grilled to be perfect in her school work. Every day is a day of endless grinding - writing and writing and writing so that they remembered the words - be it English, Bahasa or Mandarin.
One evening, she had a meltdown. She started screaming. Her old symptoms of fear, which used to grip her when she was a baby, was back. We knew, in that instance, that this meltdown was due to stress. Adults would break down when they had too much stress, what more a child of 7. The following day, we stopped sending her to school. Her spirits immediately changed. You could see relieve in her face when she knew she did not have to go back to school.
We spoke to many parents of the same school. One parent said that her son, who is now in Primary Two, is always in tears when doing homework. There was so much homework to do and they had to do it because of the fear instilled since young.
The other parents' son was in Primary Four and they pulled him out because they didn't think it was the proper way to educate the young. They told us that 30% of her son's friends were pulled out of the school as well. They said that if we thought there was a lot of homework at Primary One, it would get worse in Primary Three and Four. If we were thinking of pulling out, now is the time to do it. Why wait till Primary Four?
If the state of our national school was bad, Chinese school was the extreme opposites. What choices do we have? Private schools? International schools? These cost a bomb! Home schooling? We were quite lost at that time.
(*) I wanted to add that there are also many types of SJKC and Sekolah Kebangsaan. There are the normal ones, the Cluster Schools (Sekolah Kluster Kecemerlangan) and, I found out much later, there are the High Performance Schools (Sekolah Berprestasi Tinggi). The school will proudly show their status in their signage if they are Cluster Schools. This SJKC which Jane went into is a Cluster School. We enrolled her there because it's about 1km from our home.
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