Here’s part 5, from UV.


Episode 5 – Schooling in Ipoh

After two years with the brightest of ACS for this batch of students which included Yee Woon Chee, Nga Tung See and others who constantly hogged the first and second place in the form, my various extra-curricular activities took its toll on me.  In the crucial Lower Certificate Examination (Form 3) year I went to the ‘B’ class again.

In Form 1 and 2 I had Mr. Rasathurai  for Mathematics.  Incidentally, he was the son of the Head Master of the TR ACS Branch school.  Later I understand, Mr. Rasathurai’s daughter became a teacher too and I think I met her once in Taiping when I was giving a talk to one of the schools there.  Mr. Rasathurai was a fantastic Mathematics teacher but his jokes were even more fantastic.  He would not fail to crack a joke every time he is in class and until today we can always recall some of them and oft-time we would use it whenever we are called upon to do some Master of Ceremony work. 

In Form 3B in 1960 I was taught Mathematics by Mr. Balagopal.  He is most noted for his bicycle and simple rattan woven bag.  This greying, almost bald Indian gentleman would come into the class in a no-nonsense manner and would solve Mathematics problems rapidly on the blackboard for us to jot down, those who couldn’t solve them the previous day.  Then he would stop half-way and asked some of us to complete the solution.  Most of us couldn’t or would try and make some awful mistakes and he would be at at back, rubbing it with his open palm a few times before raising it to slam it hard down on our back!  It would usually be accompanied with the words, “Idiot, it is?”  Then we know for sure it isn’t the right solution!  However, one would never forget how to solve a problem let it be Arithmetic, Algebra or Geometry after that whacking!

Mr. Balagopal gave me a strong foundation both in Mathematics and Mathematics 2 and it helped me qualify the next year for Four Science A.  I have him to thank for this but I never pursued a career later in life that would require my using my Mathematical skills.

In Form 3B too we were blessed with Mr. Oh Boon Lian, our Geography teacher.  No one would dare play the fool in his class.  He wasn’t Mr. Quah Guan Teik who would cry when boys do not pay attention to his lessons.  You pay attention to every word that comes out of Mr. Oh’s mouth when he is in class, so I missed nothing during his lessons.  That was the start of my interest in Geography.  In those days we had to learn all the Southern Continents and the whole of South East Asia for the LCE Geography syllabus.  That is why today; those from that era could tell you the capitals of practically every country in South America, Africa and States in the Continent of Australia and New Zealand.

The Lower Certificate of Education Examination was a major hurdle to cross.  It would decide whether you continue in Form Four in the Science or Arts stream.  Most of us would sit for seven subjects.  Others may also offer languages like Chinese, Tamil and Punjabi.  O yes, I took up Latin in Form 1 and 2 but learned more to take punches for not being able to conjugate Latin verbs from our teacher who taught us during Saturday mornings for free!  Some of you might recall him.  He was the one instrumental for the start of Berita ACS! (No, not Mr. Jamit Singh)

When I visited Venice, Florence and Rome after I retired, I recalled some of the words I learned in Latin class but it did not help me at all when I was lost in Rome and luckily English was such a universal language, I was able to find my way back to my residence using it.

Science always intrigues me since Form 1 when Mr. Low Kum Wai started teaching us.  He would make science come to life with all his stories of how to apply Science to our daily lives.  I can never forget his lesson on friction when he described how  he nailed nails into the sole of his clog and when cycling fast at nigh down the road he would let it glide over the surface of the road and would leave a trial of sparks to attract the attention of young girls!  That’s Mr. Low Kum Wai and his Science lessons.  How can one ever forget the facts with such a tale to fascinate you?

History was boring as usual.  With the ‘What is Bronze’ teacher (see Episode 2) spending the whole year asking us to define bronze as the main part of our History lesson in Standard Four, I never took a liking to History in school.  All we need do then was to buy a revision guide book written by a particular Indian gentleman (not a teacher in ACS) and memorize it and we are sure to pass!  I did that for Form 5 too and even scored an A!

However, History was still the British version unlike what we have today.  We learned Colonial History and History of the British Empire.  We learned about Ancient Civilizations.  We learned very little of Malaysian/Malayan History as there was so little of it except from book written by Englishmen!  Parameswaran was a Hindu Prince then and Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat were heroes!  I have often been involved in arguments with younger people over this!  They do not learn what I learned in the past about these same characters!

In this episode I tried to give you an idea of what being in lower secondary was like.  It was not so much the subject matter but who your teacher was that made you remember enough facts to pass your crucial examination!  The teaching methods (Pedagogy) may be unique but it was effective, at least, for me.  Learning was fun despite the threat of a major examination.  Why so?  It was so because our teachers made it fun!  Even the whacking on the back with reprimands of “Idiots” and “stupid rascal” never deterred us from wanting to study and perform well.

What has changed today?  Should a teacher lay a finger on a pupil the press will make a big issue out of it, police reports would be made and politicians will cry blue murder.  I too have cried for the ‘blood’ of some teachers who went beyond the point of decency in handling students (especially girl students).  Times have changed and teachers no longer can do what their own teachers did.  I would accept a lot of things teachers did to my son but I don’t think he would accept the same being done to his children.

Do we call those days when I was in Lower Secondary school the ‘good old days’ or the ‘bad old days’?  It depends on who is reading this.  You share your comments on this, please.