Early Education in UK
We had many good experiences during our stay in UK and many are still fresh in memories. Among others, I’m sure that the kids would agree with me that they enjoyed primary schools in Newcastle more than the ones that they attended in Malaysia.
When we arrived in UK, my eldest son Faiz was then 5 years old. With a year in Tadika Amal in Kuala Lumpur, he began schooling at Westgate Primary School, a walking distance from our flat on Stanton Street. Every morning, we would accompany him to school and handed him over to the class teacher, and similarly, in the afternoon, we took him from the teacher, either from the classroom or from the school yards if we were slightly late. The teachers would be waiting until the guardians arrived to fetch their kids. It was very personal and we liked it a lot.
Later, when we moved to Wingrove Garden, Faiz was transferred to Wingrove Garden Primary school, located one block away. We can even see the school yard from our kitchen as our flat was on the top floor. Faisal and Anas also started schooling in Wingrove Garden.
In Newcastle (in those days), children from 5-10 years were enrolled in primary school (First school), 11-13 years in Middle School and at the age of 14 they became a high school students. Sometimes, the later two were organised as one comprehensive school, thus having pupils from 11-19 years old.
When we came home in 1994, the kids had difficulties in adjusting to the school system as all of them started schooling in UK. Two of them went through tougher experiences. It was not that the teachers were bad or anything like that, it was just the classroom environment was so different. It was so serious that the kids found it hard to adjust. The eldest was a bit lucky as he was sent to Sekolah Rendah Islam Al-Amin Kuala Lumpur where kids of similar experiences were common. Since Anas failed to get a place in SRI Al-Amin, we sent both Anas and Faisal to SK Taman Kosas, Ampang. They enrolled into year 1 and 2 respectively.
One major difficulty that they faced was the command of Malay language. Since the teachers spoke very fast, many times they misunderstood them, resulting in various degree of scolding, depending on their luck. They came home really depressed and frustrated. It took them a few months before they settled down and get accustomed to the new learning environment. Well, they were used to hugging or patting in the back by the teachers rather than having one standing in front of a class room holding a yard long wooden ruler. They were also used to sitting on the floor in a circle while listening to stories relayed by the teacher or classmates, rather than sitting in specified seat in rows of chairs and tables configuration. Nevertheless, I was grateful to Anas’s class teacher by the name of Rasidah who was very helpful in getting him to cope with the change. For about a month, I had to frequent the school every morning.
The differences (My observation)
Why was it so different? Well, there are many factors. These are just some that I could think of at this moment.
i. Class Size. First of all, the class size in UK was smaller, thus giving more chance for the teacher to interact with the kids.
ii. Experiential Learning. Many of components of their education were implemented through experiential learning and role-plays, thus fun and exciting. I think, there was also less emphasis in examination. In Malaysia, we are more accustomed to one-way teaching, and the aura is formal. We have added some project-based assignments in some of the courses, but teachings are still largely a one-way traffic. I remember that one of my son complained of being sent out of the classroom for arguing about some astronomic facts that he thought the teacher got them wrong. Critical and lateral thinking are sometimes not welcome here.
iii. Class Setting. The setting of each classroom varied depending on the creativity of teachers and children. I remember that they had birds and hens hatching eggs in their nest and fish aquariums etc in the class room. The children were made to commit as caretakers for cleanings and feedings etc. The setting were also rearranged from time to time to eliminate dullness and boredom.
iv. Interests. The teachers took personal interest in each of his/her pupil. This was the thing that I really admired. I think, they really liked what they were doing. Today, 16 years after we left Newcastle, Faisal is still in communication with one of his class teacher, Ms Jackson.
We have read much comments on our education system in local newspapers and I think, we have many people who understood the issue better than I am. Regretfully, I think actions were too slow to notice. It is okay to be slow as long as we are steadily progressing, but unfortunately, not only that it is slow, it is also seasonal.The focus was also given on the content and not the process. We had many curriculum changes, but not the method of deliveries. In short, it was the book dealers and printers who benefited more from the changes introduced and not the children.
Perhaps my grandchildren would have the opportunity to enjoy learning better than their parents. Still hopeful…