The Realities of Teaching In Malaysia

I remember not too long ago, when I was still a young strapping handsome lad with the strange haircuts sitting in a dysfunctional sauna-like lecture hall in an obscure teachers training institute which name I had to mouth to taxi drivers like a child with down syndrome & would eventually give up & say UM.
Back then I was carefree, I've completed most of my courses effortlessly & would continue to glide gracefully through the rest of the degree.

There was one thing the lecturers would resonate in the middle of a lecture even when they were talking about something completely unrelated. I would usually zone in for this little moment & then zone out again as the lecturer went back to reading from powerpoint slide to powerpoint silde.

Students are really good at that. When you talk about something really important that they must know, they are quiet & they look at you as if they're actually listening & nod when you ask if they understood but underneath that thick skull of theirs YOU KNOW the boys are thinking about sex & the girls... who knows what. I'm not a girl.
But when you decide to talk sheet, they lean forward & stare at you with gleaming eyes while licking all the sheet from your hands as if you were the bloody gingerbread man. When you go back on track, they retreat back into their risqué fantasies & such. Bloody baskets.

You're bloody doing it right now. I was about to say something bloody profound & you're probably thinking about how perverted I must have been as a college student.
To tell you the truth. I am STILL perverted.
ALL men are. The 70% who say they aren't, are lying.
I can't help it. The 24hr supply of testosterone from not 1 but 2 healthy sacks made me.
Actually, girls like perverted men. It's a fact.
Anyway, that's a topic for another day.

Back to the lecturers. Instead of waggling their tongues about pedagogies or theories which are subjective & incomplete, they would sometimes say something plainly simply true.
The best one is most definitely this one:
"When you enter the classroom, your degree is useless. What you have learned here & overseas will be useless. You will need to improvise. Furthermore, you will have to use your wits & cunning to outsmart those little innocent-looking uniformed demons who are out there to test you and torment your very existence."
Of course, they didn't say the last bit. I added it for effect. Although, they did give us a few hint hints.
If I do become a teacher trainer one day (which I hope not), I will be as vivid & blunt in my description of the profession & all it's 'challenges'.
Any future teachers want to have me as a lecturer?

Your degree is useless. It's true.
For the first few months. I tried to apply what I've learned from famous imbeciles like Piaget, Vygotsky & Gardner.
Towards the end of a mind bending first year, I decided that Skinner was the king of them all.
Screw student-centred multiplely intelligent classrooms.
Who cares if a student can paint or sing or lead or even speak eloquent English.
All Malaysians care about is something fondly known as exam.

Just say the word & you'll have everyone's attention. Especially the parents. And your principal.
If you can stare into a crystal bowl & accurately forecast the exam papers, many will worship you & pay generously for their children to have a seat in your temple every week. Many will even spread your religion & convert other parents who are sending their children to lesser religions.

The pen & the paper. Reading & writing.
These are the foundations of the Malaysian assessment system & the education system has understandably & expectantly evolved accordingly over the years.
Can you believe that we measure the morality of our students through a written exam?!

There are students with multiple intelligences who will not do well in the education system (due to its favouritism of linguistically intelligent students) but will go on to lead successful lives in the world.
Let me name a few names just to look more intelligent than you are. Like for example, Bill Gates, Einstein, maybe Jimmy Choo & definitely this dude..
However, teachers are helpless. They have to force every student to be linguistically competent so that they can blunder through university and be clerks, typists or teachers like me.
Who needs singers, designers & engineers?

Literacy is important. Everybody needs to know how to read or write.
However, everybody knows that, in order to succeed in this world, there is much more that you need.
Assessment is important. As we can see every year, it is a prime motivator for academic pursuit.
However, we need to consider whether the forms of assessment are appropriate or accurate.

I am somewhat happy that our education ministry is looking into abolishing the UPSR & PMR exams.
At the same time I am alarmed because from my observation of their policies & the past actions they have taken, I have very little faith that they have what it takes to make a real difference.
I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised instead of scoffing at a newspaper one day after reading about a new system that is more absurd than the previous one.

I am a teacher who wants to teach.
Show me that I am doing something good & I will bleed for it.
As I add on the years in experience, I find that my job gets easier & easier.
At the end of the day, I'm teaching my students to be exam literate instead of English literate.
I'm teaching the tips & tricks of examinations instead of the wonders & boundless limits of expression.

I don't mind extra work as long as it has purpose & fruitfulness.
A purpose to better those little ones sitting in my classroom hoping to learn something useful.
A fruit that will open up their minds & free them to pursue their highest heights.
It's better than filling up endless amounts of paperwork just to please a few inspectors who couldn't careless how poetic your students are under your care.

Welcome to Malaysia.
Surprise me.


  1. totally agreed! our education system is very exam-oriented, what we learn in school is just how to ace an exam and i realized this great disadvantage being overseas because my course is not based on written exams (which we have learnt so well to swallow+vomit valuable exam tips) malaysians can score and top the written papers but anything outside that and we fall, puzzled as we could not understand why swallowing and vomiting doesn't work anymore.

    cheers to ur post and good luck educating students your way!

  2. Anonymous26/9/10 06:36

    "Your degree is useless." I always say that it's just a passport for you to get in. Once you're in, it is WHO you are that makes the difference not what piece of paper you have. Lots of 1st Class Hons, people, masters and permanent-head-damaged people out there - all shitty, all crap. Of course there are the good ones...but it is not merely due to their paper qualifications...

    P.S. Very long. Will come back and read the rest when I'm free. Hehehehehe!!!!

  3. Anonymous26/9/10 13:25 it all now. Every word is true, I agree 100% with everything...right from the beginning where you talked about your lecturers and your tertiary studies...right down to the present and the crappy system.

    But do the best you can...and pat yourself on the back for every little good thing you do - no one is going to pat it for you; it's a dog-eats-dog out there, everyone with their own vested selfish interests. Hang on in there - they need REAL teachers like you which I'm afraid is rare today, a gem that's real hard to find. Good luck...

  4. I agree with what you said : Your degree is useless.

    Thank you for being so passionate about teaching. This world needs more teachers like you. I've met far too many teachers who slouch during classes, constantly looking at their watches or the nearby clock to check what time it is so that they can go home. Not many teachers want to teach, impart knowledge and love.

    And we are thankful for the few who do, the few like you. =)

    Thank you very much. =)

  5. to me expectations is the problem.. expectations vary .. the students, teachers, parents .. their expectations r different. every day in class is a new day with new challenges .. the problem for me is how not to be become jaded and think like I know it all or i been there or something like that. generally students respond to positive vibes and react negatively to negative vibes

  6. ah, the exam vs education dilemma.

    I wish I was like you, smooth sailing through my education degree. heck, I think I did, by skipping classes (I do this ALOT)and not studying for my exams, Lord knows how much I hated exams, especially essays, countless, pointless education essays to be produce as per the useless pp slides.

    Now I lecture physics in a matriculation college, and I get my students, I get their lack of interest and will to take up such a challenging and demanding course, I get the fact that they CANNOT DO IT and DON'T WANT TO DO IT because they don't see the point.

    I really like physics and I love talking about it, but the exams, the routine, the RUSH RUSH RUSH. Is killing physics for all of us here. In reference to your gaming habit it's like knowing all the cheat codes but forgetting them immediately after the level!!

    I cannot afford to linger and expound on the power of the knowledge my students are learning, because I have to rush for an EXAM. and like it or not it's the EXAM that matters.

    oh and I think that I did well in my exams because I have always loved languages, and learn the best linguistically when being taught by a good orator with insight. (Good orators are easy to find in tuition centres in KL). I think I would like to have had an English teacher like you, I remember being bored like nobody business during english classes.

    Jon: Some of us look at our watches because WE HAVE TOO MUCH TO TEACH AND NOT ENOUGH TIME!!!! RUSH RUSH RUSH!

  7. yeah, could not agree more with you. they dont care wthr tje Orang asli manage to read ladybird series(after a lot of work has been done). they only care about upsr result.... they keep asking us to produce excellent student but yhey fail to tell us the how...

  8. Helen: I cant really do things my way. I have to follow the system or my students will miss out. After all, all people will look at is your result slip & not your latest eloquently written blog post from your award winning blog.

    However, being the free-spirit I am, I will do things I want to do. Like my English Language Society & all their activities. Then again, that's on top of my other duties which equals extra burden.

    Arthur: If they do not take care of this gem, I'm afraid this gem might go in search of greener pastures.

    I'm equipping myself for greater things in the future. If Malaysia cannot provide, others will.

    Jon: Cant blame them.
    Teaching is thought of as an easy profession. Many get in for the supposed easiness & they leave school early to go to tuition & make millions.
    They want to teach... for money... not for people.

    I'm currently working for my students & to gain experience.
    If this trend continues, I think I'm going to be really poor.
    Pity my wife & children. hahaha~~

    Beng: Students have to know that you care & everything you do is for their own good. They also need to see good results from what you have taught them. That seems to work for me.

    I think I give off a lot of negative vibes. I'm not the teacher you will see smiling all the time. I might even be the teacher you scoot off quickly from.

    But you can be sure that I'm looking out for you & I care for you. Follow my way & your results will be better too.

    SuitLin: I find it amusing that students in the matriculation system struggle with their subjects.
    Just imagine if they were to take Form 6... there'd be dead meat.

    Anyway, keep up the good work!

    Warid: You're the teacher with the degree... You figure out how based on your interpretation of the education philosophy, the syllabus, student ability & student interest.

    Either that or teach them how to score in the exam. That seems to please everybody.

  9. I am sure you are an effective teacher. :) thanks for dropping over at mylongkang

  10. Girls think about sex too. Not on a daily basis though. I know a good example.

    Our education system may have worked in the 1950s, but it sucks now. There, enough said.

  11. Beng: No worries!

    Vio: We need someone with balls on top to get the real changes in place. Nowadays, those idiots only know now to make cosmetic changes that look good but is actually useless in helping students.

  12. Tell the truth even it is unpalatable..

  13. Hey Ah Kam! After reading this particular post, i couldn't agree more on this! It just good to know that there are English language teachers who feel the same way as i do! i think you should be working in CDC! :)

    Hope you can share more on your Sidang Redaksi and ELS activities.. Im holding that post too this year! (and still need a lot of learning)


  14. Bmsia: You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. This is not something new.
    Yet everyone is happy to let it be & celebrate their 'achievements' from the system.

    Others follow suit & point fingers at the ministry.
    Few are like me, we work a lot harder to make sure that our students get a little bit extra.

    Chris: I dont want to be in the CDC. Many of the people in gov depts work on a top-down basis. This means they will only do something when there is an order from a superior. Meanwhile, just sit back & enjoy the kuih-muih.

    As a teacher I have more options. I can make a difference in the lives of students & get promoted faster via GC.
    Heck, I could even be a Principal one day.

    Keep checking back for updates on the ELS.
    Unfortunately, I will not be talking much about school magazines anymore.
    Maybe one last post about how I do it. MAYBE.


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