Hi, I'm Ken Vin.
To whoever who's reading this, i thought i share this very inspiring article about what school was like for this individual. It very much reflected my personal experience of school and what happened after that.

Give it a read especially if you are in secondary school.
I hope it changes your habits, inspires you to greater heights and not go through exactly what I went through.


By Lim Su Ann

this post originally started out as a post titled Swollen Eye Thoughts. the puffiness under my eyes is preventing me from comfortably completing my take-home final which is due in 6 hours, so i thought i’d write a post about the stuff i’ve been thinking about during this time-out. it started with the jubilant announcement that my ticket for a flight home has been confirmed, and that i will be home on Christmas Eve, and that i have so many things i want to do. then i started talking about some other random things, which segued into my thoughts on the readings for my take-home final. upon reflection, i realized that these thoughts warranted a post of their own, so i’ve removed everything else. and i dedicate this post to all the high school students reading this :) and anyone who cares about education.

a huge part of my take-home final is about Paul Willis’ book Learning to Labour, which is primarily a case study of working class schoolboys and their attitudes towards school. the blue collar background of these boys reinforce that manual labour is more important than academics, and they aim to identify with the working adult world by adopting adult characteristics like smoking, drinking, sex and racism. in these things, they find their masculinity and superiority. by contrast, they pit their dominion against the people who are different: women and the goody-goody, attentive, studious, white collar schoolboys they call ‘earholes’. they objectify women, even at that age, and feminize the earholes — both women and earholes are weaker compared to them.

it was a very moving and disturbing case study, because it reminded me so much of my high school experience. due to our streaming system, there was a huge divide in the batches of students produced — there was us, the academic nerdy ones of the A class who sucked up to teachers; and there was them, the cool, free-spirited, sporty, anti-nerd gu wak zais of B class and beyond. i remember the names they called us, and the names we called them in return. they used to make fun of us for intently reading our textbooks during morning assembly, and we used to retaliate by imitating their wannabe swaggers and ‘lala-ness’. it’s such a wide and sad divide, and looking back, it’s astounding how much spite can exist in children. how do we learn these things? another case study that i have to read for my final is the effect of teachers’ treatments on the creation of these divides. this is why streaming should be abolished. never do this to children — never make them feel like they are in the ‘third class’, ‘fourth class’, ‘last class’ and place them at a self-fulfilling and measurable distance from being the best. i utterly detest what this system does to people. how can they put in place such a cruel guideline to identifying oneself, and then say things like, “it will push students to improve”? how about, no, it does not push students to improve; instead it places them on a slippery slope of hopelessness and encourages them to give up because of how far away you place the prize? likewise, never put children in the first class and allow them to grow up thinking that they are better than others just because they can memorize an entire textbook and score 98%’s. what happens to their self confidence when they are placed in a situation where success is defined by more than just grades, and then fail because they simply haven’t been taught to think about success in different terms? what happens to collective morals if kids believe that humans can have values placed on them just by means of purely quantitative measures like GPAs?

with all the time i spend reviewing applications from students who are applying to colleges in the US, i’m definitely seeing a pattern among the kids who think of themselves as the high achievers of their respective schools. or at least, the ones who are told that they are the high achievers of their school. what’s the problematic pattern? the bulk of them are boring. is it a problem that even the cream of the crop, the best of the best, are boring? definitely. sorry, guys, i dont mean any offense against you — this is a direct attack at the system that we’ve all been placed in. let’s talk this out.

i dont know how it was in your schools, but in my school, you could only join one Persatuan and one Badan Beruniform. mine was the Interact Club and the Boys Brigade. there were so many other clubs i wanted to join — the Hospitality Club, the Drama Club, the English Debating and Literary Society … okay maybe that’s it, because the choices were just that banal. the first problem is that we had a limitation to the number of societies that we could join. this is bad. i think that if people have more than one interest, the school should encourage this and allow for the possibility of joining more than one club. this assists students in deciding for themselves what is important to them, encourages real passion, and creates opportunities for leadership and making a difference. sure, these things are entirely possible within just one club, but does it happen if you constrain kids to choosing only one club, which is very likely to be the one that all their friends want to join? if kids don’t have a firsthand experience of other things, how do they know what they like?

the second problem is the utterly poor execution of these club activities. most of the time, you just do, without much thinking. in my school, CoCo time as we lovingly called it, was a time of chilling out, or doing unfinished homework, or pontenging. i cant speak for other clubs, but from what i saw, most clubs didn’t do much. in the Interact Club, we were fairly vibrant albeit for many wrong reasons. one day i will tell you all the story of that stupid monstrous flag we had to make out of recycled items because Sri Garden wanted their name in the Malaysian Book of Records. how is this community service or charity? Sri Garden is this how you teach children what is important to society? hold on to this thought — it will come back. but for now let’s talk more about execution of activities. i’m not sure who comes up with What To Do, but even the teacher advisors who were supposed to lead the clubs were very bored and just sat around grading homework. sometimes they plan out a lot of lawatan sambil belajar without actually having the trip by the end of the schoolyear. sometimes they make us watch silly videos and do marching in fancy platoon names like in Boys Brigade. most of the time we don’t do much, let alone anything significant. how many of us really took away anything meaningful from our high school extracurriculars, especiallyif we were not part of the executive board? essentially, student whittle away all this time that the school sets apart for extracurriculars, and they waste all these opportunities to do significant things and develop themselves in an arena outside of schoolwork. because of poor execution, people don’t take these things seriously. kids know what wastes their time, and this exacerbates the problem of ponteng and being bored by school, simply because they are just not engaged by what is going on. i was in the English, Debating and Literary society for a couple of years, but not once did i ever think that i could be a debater. the thought was just never put in my head, because all we did in that society was go over grammar rules, and randomly selected poetry if we were lucky. when my wonderful English teacher asked me to try out for the school debate team in Form 4, i remember how i profusely refused because i didnt think i could do it. he forced me, would not take no for an answer, and now here i am. here i am, loving debate :) thank you encik iskhandar — you made such a huge difference in my life just by doing that.

as an aside, i want to say something quick about teachers. i am aware of the stiff teaching culture, and i know the bureaucratic process of formation for being a teacher, and i know how they can be so insufferably boring at times. but teachers are such amazing wells of information and inspiration. again, it is the constraints of this horrible system we are allplaced in. even the teachers are bored by the system. we always think that teachers are just there to impart formally structured education onto us, but by virtue of being teachers, they can have some of the most exciting and intelligent personal lives. i learned the most from my English teachers in my one-on-one chats with them at their desk, during ‘free period’ when teachers had no work to give us or any lesson plan to carry out. learning how to write informal letters was boring (please lah you think kids don’t write to penpals in their free time is it?), but curiously eying the book my Std 2 English teacher Puan Sushela was reading during free period (Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck) led to a conversation about literature that was infinitely educational. Miss Mabel, whom everyone makes fun of, often carried beautiful weathered paperbacks with her that she would read in the staff room — i would try to commit to memory the titles of those books, so that i could borrow them from the library later that day. i remember most of all Mr James’ angry outburst in Standard 6: about how it is SO WRONG to say, ‘teacher, i never do my homework’. “what do you mean you NEVER do? what kind of lousy english is this? ‘never’ means you’ve never ever done homework in your life! you mean to say you ‘did not do’ your homework! remember this for life!” and another angry outburst — “pronounce IMPORTANT properly! eem-POHT-tant. otherwise it sounds like IMPOTENT, and that is NOT something you want to say to people!”

what else? Encik Sahari was such a painful stickler as a disciplinarian, but i came across some syairs that he wrote in the earlier days of his career, and what resplendent lyrics he was capable of! i wished that i had the opportunity to get to know him better as a teacher and a mentor. speaking of mentors — Puan Goh, my Std 1 class teacher, was perhaps the biggest influence on the first years of my formal education. i dont know what she did, but she just did something. i think it was simply the belief that she had in me, and how she would tell me what she thought i should strive to achieve. you know how at some point, we have to all take turns to say what we want to be when we grow up? i think i said i wanted to be a teacher. she later laughed and said, Su Ann, you should be a lawyer. that light-hearted comment got me thinking for years and years. Encik Iskhandar (of debate team dictatorship) told me the same thing when i mentioned to him my interest in pursuing a degree in political science and economics. he told me not to waste my gift for rhetoric and the written word, that i should do law or mass comm because it will make me happy. i remember thinking to myself then, what kind of teacher tells a student to choose mass communications over economics? but what am i doing now? searching for internships in media agencies, because i want to. what am i considering? dropping my economics major for a sociology major. it’s funny how life turns out. our teachers are so much more than we give them credit for.

but back to the problems of clubs and societies — the third. :) the third problem is that students have limited to no agency at all in terms of how clubs were run, or the stuff that those clubs did, or, well, anything at all. if students are encouraged to think outside of the box, and are given some authority to decide what they want to do with their time, they can and will come up with so many more exciting things than some stuffy administration so far removed from the micro-level of students. in looking at the resumes of malaysian students applying to US colleges, they all do the same things — grade 8 piano, president of debate society, troop leader of pengakap, editor of school newspaper, prefect, church cell group leader. the bullet points of these things are vague and boring — raised X amount of money for charity (which?), led X amount of students, wrote two articles for school newspaper. the rare kid will have won international debate competitions, or represented Malaysia in the International Math Olympiad, but sometimes even these speak little more than stuff you inadvertently fell into, or what your parents forced you to do. it is even rarer that you find someone who did significant volunteer work outside of school requirements (you can always tell when they skew it to seem like they did it on their own volition), even rarer do you find someone who founded a club or society because they wanted to address an issue. i am often very shocked to see kids putting on their very beautifully formatted resume stuff like, ‘President of Arts Society – in charge of decorating hall during Teachers Day celebration’. it is arguable that these achievements have their own charm on a college application resume, but is this really all that you have done as the president of an arts society? why does no one challenge these things? why does no one stand up and say,teacher, all this stuff is very boring, may we please do something more exciting? this is where i remind you of that atrocious recycled materials flag that we had to create as an Interact Club project. just because your school thinks it’s very cool to use your community project allocation to build some pointless gargantuan flag spanning 10 badminton courts, and encourages you to start eatings lots of McDonalds to collect the red and white paper cups and fries packets to build the flag stripes with, it doesn’t mean you should do it. if you think a project is bogus, speak up, and remind the adminstration respectfully (i.e. not like me — i was incredibly obnoxious about how pointless i thought the flag was; sorry, SSG Interact Club! but we could have done so much more) what you think community service should be.

it’s easy to say that we can all break out of the system if we truly wanted, but it is not really that easy if we don’t know that we can do it, if we are scared, if we don’t know what is out there. i want to appeal to any students reading this, to try. to push boundaries. i’m not saying that you should do all these things to apply to top world colleges, cos god knows that the ivy league and oxbridge can be so overrated, but i’m saying you should do these things to firstly, forcefully make your schooling years an opportunity to give yourself a more exciting and vibrant life; and secondly, to give your individual actions and ideas more impact. malaysia needs a lot of change, and we can all start small by doing big — or starting big by doing small :) propose things to your school, then go out there and do it. challenge rules and policies that hinder your ability as a person. join all this stuff that fascinates you; appeal to join more than one club or society that piques your interest. dont be lazy, dont be disrespectful, dont be indifferent. form a club. form a student council. revolutionize the way your school or your community is run. think about the existent problems that no one thinks to fix. be the one who inspires other people to try and improve things. above all, DONT do these things for your resume, but instead for goals that are bigger and more meaningful than just some silly brag-sheet. okay? :)

dont be another me, who did a lot of boring things and was so disenchanted with school that i didnt even want to try to do much else. dont be another first-class student, who thinks that they’re smarter than everyone else because they are in 5 Anggerik or 5 Sains 1. dont be another last-class student, who gives up because of how far goals are inadvertently placed from them. just be someone who knows what’s good, and then go out there and get it.

i am currently reading on Twitter about how Malaysia just won the gold medal for the SEA games. @eyeris is providing many excited blow-by-blows, and @kimberlycun tweeted about how she heard a burst of applause from the mamak downstairs. these things warm my heart. sports and music have such power to unify throngs of people under a common identity, and i always wondered why in malaysia, our sports teams and musicians are instead so widely disparaged and unsupported. we can’t say that it’s a form of disapproval towards government protectionism and biases, because that isnt general across both the sports and music squads. could it be a post-colonial effect on the collective local self-esteem? or an association of anything Malaysian to all the rot within our administration? perhaps we all like malaysian food so much because it is a thing of the masses, and not a domain of the government. would we like nasi lemak less if they started subsidizing sambal or accorded jurisdiction over Nasi Lemak Making to some minister’s portfolio? it’s so different being Malaysian back home, and being Malaysian far away. when one is here, on a different planet, everything Malaysian is focused into one intensely bright spot of identity. it becomes a very simple reference to who you are, with no caveats or conditions. this far away, Malaysians are just Malaysians. the constructs of racial categorization are very efficiently diminished – it’s now the Malaysian bubble bumping around with the American bubble, the South African bubble, the German bubble, and of course, the very closely competitive Singaporean bubble. no such thing as Malays, Chinese, Indian, DLL when you exit the Matrix. how may we transpose this evolution to the place we all came from?

congratulations to the Malaysia football team — an anak bangsa sends warm love from this tanah orang barat yang penuh dengan budaya kuning!