Wednesday, February 7, 2007

This used to be my playground

How do you motivate the internet-era child to give boarding school a try?

It was so easy then. In the 70s, it was every school children’s dream to go to a boarding school, including yours truly. MCKK was top of the list then for every boy while Tunku Khursiah was every girl’s dream. But you need to get 5As in Penilaian Darjah 5.

During those days, in King Edward VII-1 primary school in Taiping, only one student got 5As (Zakri Mohd Khir, my best friend) to qualify for MCKK and another got 4As (Cheong Gim Leong), and may be another 5 got 3As, including this writer, unlike nowadays may be the whole school could get 5As. So how did mere mortals, like this writer, get into boarding school?

SRJK King Edward VII-1 Taiping where this writer kicked his first rugby ball. I love KE and the oldcolonial school building. It's very grand with the century old raintrees on the side. It's so green and shady unlike MRSM KB which is so barren. Then again, this is Taiping - the wettest town in Malaysia.

When a teacher dropped by in our Std 6 class to announce about MRSM entrance test, the reaction was,” MRSM? What’s that?” But for someone who had announced his intention that he was going to a “sekolah asmara” (and I were relentlessly teased by my sister for that gaffe), that was a dream come true.

We had to sit for the exam at one school, somewhere near Kg Boyan, I think. (Do you remember exactly where, Aya?) The exam started just before zohor – I remember that well because aruah Bapak insisted that we performed the prayer first. To be honest, I was furious with him as I was 15 minutes late for the exam. But no problem, they let me sat for it without any hassle. And in hindsight, aruah Bapak was so right, as always. Yes Sir, I should have known better.
I was told later by him later that I came out 4th in the exam that was sat by students from the whole district of Larut Matang – he has his way to find out, being a government officer at Taiping's District Office. He also told me that two girls were ahead of me – could you be one of them, Aya?

Back then, the motivation to go to a boarding school was great. It was so prestigious to go to one – for the student and the family. You can perhaps count boarding schools with your fingers and year in year out you would hear how well they (the boarding schools) would do in LCE/SRP and MCE/SPM. I am sure aruah Bapak and Mak wanted it as much as I did.

Aruah Bapak and Mak had always emphasized on education for all their kids. They may not be university graduates themselves but aruah Bapak passed his senior ‘Cambridge’ and mum, despite the fact that she didn’t finished her high school, was better educated in English Literature than this writer!

I come from a family of 13. Now that’s one big family even by yesteryears’ standard. But in 1975 (when I was in Std 6), there were only 9 of us. While typically one would think that it was a bit crowded, that was not the case, as I remember it. We stayed in a reasonably-sized government bungalow with big compound - big enough for 5 rambutan trees, 2 mango trees, and 2 durian trees. We can play football and rounders with three rambutan trees and a mango tree forming the four bases. (For some reasons, the compound was within the Aulong Police Station so it was very secured with Police Sentry saluting us whenever we go home, until about 1978 I think when it was demarcated.)

I must also add that we could see the tin dredge from our living room - may be about 500 m away from our house. The tin dredge was a sight-to-behold at night, due to its bright lighting especially against the dark Maxwell Hill with its flickering light at the top as the backdrop.

Tin Dredge – This is not the one in Aulong, unfortunately. It was dismantled and the tin mine is a now housing area

So family or space was not a motivation for me then. I was sharing a room with a brother, and I think I could have studied at home without much problem. The only ‘problem’ could be noise as many of my siblings were small, and I believe we even have a baby sister that year. May be, but definitely it was the prestigious thingy that got me going. (Of course then MRSM was an unknown entity until KB76ers came along! , masuk bakul ni.)

I am sure that facility-wise, MRSM KB had so much more facilities than aruah Bapak or SM King Edward VII could provide. The teachers had been excellent, and the competition provided by my schoolmates were great. In hindsight, I would not have it any other way.

SMJK King Edward VII – my school for 3 weeks while waiting for my date with destiny on the 24th January 1976

I don’t know, what else could be our other motivations then to go to boarding school? May be someone can enlighten me. Li, Shema? Suri perhaps?

Anyway, back to 2007, the situation is so much different. MARA have about 40 MRSM throughout Malaysia, and I am sure the Education Ministry have more boarding schools. It is no longer as prestigious now as it was back then to go to boarding schools.

With his own room, computer, and internet connection 24/7 and his mother, always at his behest, it is difficult to convince Arif that he should give MRSM a try and queue to take his bath and for food and do his own laundry. “What about my piano exam in June?” he asked me. No, he has yet to find out about the laundry. “I’ll go and pick you up from MRSM the day before the practical”, was my reply. “Are you sure there is a piano for me to practice in MRSM?” he retorted. Well I remember us singing along lagu Maktab during assembly with Doris playing the piano (and Kak Rosilawati conducting, as if we were all graduates of Julliard or Berkerly and knew how to interpret her hand waves!) during those days, so there must be one. Wishful thinking on my part, I must admit.

Another potential problem for him is food. For someone who does not eat rice, and would need his daily doses of cheese and pizza, that will be his biggest headache. Especially that Pengkalan Hulu is really far from civilization and civilization in this case is Domino’s or Pizza Hut, from Arif’s perspective.

He will also be missing the opportunity to fly his RC on the weekend. I have told him his brother and I would take over and fly it for him, much to his chagrin!

I really want him to go - to be independent (he is 16 this year, 3 years older than I was when I went to Kota Bharu), and to be able to compete with the really good students. He needs the competition. It is time for him to get out of his cocoon and experience the world.
Of course the teachers are very motivated to get the best out of each student. I know that and I had experienced it. And I know Arif needs that, a lot. He said so. So MRSM would be perfect for him, from this perspective.

He has had some advice from Cikgu Dr Fatanah during the Raya open house recently. I am sure her words would stick to his mind – give MRSM a try.

Cikgu Dr Fatanah with Arif. She is my former Geography teacher, and former Pengetua MRSM Jasin and a recipient of Maal Hijrah award at the national level in 2002. She was seen here discussing Arif's options to him - to go or to not go..

I know I will miss him and so will his brother and mum, but like Sting says, if you love somebody, you must set them free! I hope he is right.

I don’t know much about MRSM in 2007. My view of MRSM was that of my experience in the 70s and it may be distorted by now. I am sure it has changed but I am sure in the quality of education, it has not.


  1. It's an emotional post. I know Dr Fatanah, she was my principal back in Jasin. Everything in MRSM is excellent, it's a good platform to go further. Let us proud to be a part of the big family.

  2. Dear Farah, Thanks for dropping by and fore your comment. MRSM gave us the foundation, that's for sure.