STUFFING BAGS AND STONE BOARDS
I could still remember the atmosphere one day before the start of the Grade 1 school term at Malay Boys School, Padang Rengas, Perak in 1951. It was during the British colonial period, a year before Queen Elizabeth was crowned as Queen Of England. I could still remember very well the date when Queen Elizabeth was crowned. It was 'Coronation Day', I took part in the parade at school to celebrate the historic day which is similar to the festival celebrated by children in Great Britain. That's how great the colonial era was!.....
The whole village knew that I and some other village children ( of the same age as Ngah, Isa will start Grade 1 schooling. And indeed it was the culture of the people of my village at that time to scare the children who wanted to start school. There are children who do not want to go to school because of 'threats' and 'pressure' conveyed by wrong 'informants'.
For a week before the school term opened, I heard 'discordant voices' that 'advised' me not to go to school. "Teachers are fierce...don't play" was one of the "advice" given to me. Indeed, at that time the school teachers were mostly fierce. They could use canes and 'hands' to punish the students. However, no one was injured as a result of the punishment. I've never heard of any of the students having bloody wounds as a result of the punishment imposed by the teacher. In fact, many students still love their old teacher even though he is no longer in this world.
Every time I go to Pak Alang Brahim's shop, there are 'comments' and questions in the form of 'advice' given by them. I am not the only one who has experienced such a situation. Well, Isa experienced the same situation.. In fact, Khalid did not go to school for the rest of his life. It may be due to the 'advice' received at Pak Alang Ibrahim's shop or due to other factors. But what is clear is that Khalid did not go to school until he was at the age of fifteen.. Finally he worked as a stone breaker in a stone breaker factory at the foot of Gunung Pondok.
Khalid is not the only one from my village to experience such a situation. Many more. Only a few people have the opportunity to enjoy the world of school. Various reasons are highlighted. What is clear is that at that time awareness of the importance of education did not exist and most parents only cared about their children to help them in the rice fields or tapping rubber.
Every time I go to Mr. Alang Brahim's store, I will surely receive various 'advice' from the visitors who are in Mr. Alang Brahim's store related to the world of schooling that I will encounter. The question I will definitely receive is whether my right hand is long enough to reach my left ear through the crown of my head. If you have not been able to do so, then you are not yet 'qualified' to enter Grade One. Such is the ‘condition’ to enter Grade One and not age. We children believe in such 'conditions'.
I am confident with the 'requirement' because most of my friends who are in Grade One have all been able to meet the 'requirement'. Can reach the left ear using the right hand. Only a few pupil in the Grade One class at that time were six years old. More than half were over six years old. And some may reach the age of ten or twelve. And the British colonialists were indeed 'good-hearted' allowing overage (Malay) children to enter Grade One and start school. However, the purpose of the British to provide opportunities for Malay children to get an education was only 'to make them better farmers than their parents'. That's what R.O Wintedt said, a British officer who served in the colonial era.
In fact, there was no school preparation that needed to be prepared at that time. The important thing is that my late mother and father always gave me confidence as if trying to give me a boost and denied the 'advice' given by the 'advisers' who were always at Pak Alang Brahim's shop. Sometimes I also wonder why Malays always play the role of weakening someone's spirit, especially in an effort to bring good. This can be observed in most fields that Malays want to venture into. More debilitating than encouraging.
If it wasn't for the strong spirit given by my late mother, father, grandpa, I might have been the same as Khalid who didn't go to school and ended up working at the Pechah Batu factory at the foot of Gunung Pondok. Fortunately, my late mother and father never budged even an inch from their desire and ambition to teach me.
What need to bring to school is a piece of stone board and a pen, a writing material made of stone as well. That's all. There were no notebooks or textbooks. There is none. And Opah's contribution for my school preparation is a 'bag' made of mengkuang that she ‘produced’ herself. That was my school bag until I was in third grade. Every year Opah will prepare a mengkuang bag that he has just woven.
The crowing of chickens wakes us up as a family. And I 'marched' with Opah towards the well which is not far from our house, to bathe in the morning. After having breakfast with sweet potato stew for breakfast, I left to 'split' the morning fog with my father, traveling to a new world - the world of schooling.
20 September 2023