Reporter: Joon Sim 方俊心
Translated by:Ho Can Hao
Silat was the last activity before lunch on that day. The silat teachers asked children to divide into pairs and they practiced defending skills demonstrated before by exchanging the side of attack and defence. As there could not be without real strength and speed during practicing martial art, workers had been quite concerned whether these children would take no action, or worse, waged a real fight; after all, they had not really been familiar with each other, not to mention there were even language barriers among some of them.
There was this interesting pair of Malay and Chinese. At the beginning, they seemed quite reluctant to even have body contact with another. Perhaps after their gradual engaging in the practice, they did it more unrestrainedly and eventually practising so feverishly as if they did not even intend to stop. Despite the remaining language barrier, something was lifted off from them; the tension was relieved by their innocent smiles.
Our age of social media bears witness to the amplification of ethnic differences and conflicts as these ideas could be spread with ease either by computer or our ingenious gadgets. Even in reality, our space of living, dining, praying or even education have been so detached from each other, substantially lessening the opportunities to get along with our brethren. Although we, Malaysians, always say that we need to transcend the ethnic boundaries, how could we really achieve this under such circumstances? We have no clue at all, have we?
It was under this background that Force4Serdang took the initiative to conduct a social experiment to promote our national integration. This whole brand-new programme was called Education for All, aiming to provide tuition for children from different ethnic backgrounds. At the end of the last year, they had already conducted five sessions. They planned to host around 16 or 18 sessions in this year, albeit with their limited budget, making contribution to our common goal by taking actions; actions are unfortunately rarely seen in this country despite its plethora of slogans.
Multiplication? A Piece of Cake!
The last session of the first series of EDU4ALL, with the theme of Fun with Maths, was held at the IKRAM Community Centre in Serdang. Dr Yun Fah Chang, the Head of Department Mathematical and Actuarial Sciences of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman was invited for this session in which children were asked to play multiplication game.
How could learning multiplication be a game? Papers and pencils, and a command of multiplication table and techniques are enough to do the trick! No matter how large the figure involved is, be it multiplication of two or three digit numbers, an answer could be easily calculated by employing Dr. Chang’s magical way!
There was another interesting story during math session. When Dr. Chang asked “who can recite eight times table?” a tiny Chinese boy confidently raised his hand high into the air. Yet, when he was asked to recite it in front of all children, he could only murmur hesitantly as he was struggling to express himself in Bahasa Malaysia. At the end, the teacher could only ask him to write the multiplication table on the white board. He seemed a little bit uneasy; every word he wrote was so tiny, as if there was a colony of ants crawling on the white board.
Bridging the Gap
Right after Fun with Math was the Silat session instructed by two sturdy teachers. These children were formed into two groups according to their genders and then divided into pairs, practising basic skills demonstrated by teachers. The boy who was asked to recite multiplication table was paired up with a Malay boy.
Such interaction was no more but a common occurrence decades ago; we used to have meals at a same tuck shop around twenty years ago, and even live in a same village around forty years ago. As for today, it takes a whole lot of effort to organise such a face-to-face session transcending different groups. As a result, children are not the only people who feel awkward and the struggle for overcoming such feeling; adults feel it as well.
That was in 2014 when Robert Kang Hui first organised a session for food distribution to the needy in flat area of Serdang. As most of the volunteers were Chinese, the predominantly Malay residents seemed quite uncertain to receive those food. Learning from the lesson, he recruited multi-ethnic volunteers when he initiated another similar session again; 200 sets of meal were given out just within 20 minutes.
Robert’s experience was an important lesson to Teo Ann Siang, who coordinated the sessions of EDU4ALL afterwards. Teo realised that they could manage to attract multi-ethnic participants from different ethnicities only if worker themselves were also from different backgrounds. Therefore, five different civil society organisations, i.e. Learning for All, IKRAM, Youth Section of KLSCAH, Tamil foundation, and GBM, were invited to take part in the preparation of Force4Serdang. Such diverse composition of committee members and workers was anticipated to make participants more comfortable for joining their activities.
Let’s do it together!
After Silat training, the whole session were over and children were free to enjoy titbits, some of which were provided by workers or parents. Parents came in one after another as children were eating and frolicking. They sat in a circle, sharing their thought on their experiences of taking part in Edu4all.
Shahrul Aman Mohd Saari, the vice president of central executive committee and the president of the Youth Development Committee of IKRAM, turned up in the sharing session. He expressed his concern that there has been an increasing alienation among different ethnic groups, so much so that any sign of ethnic conflict could easily stir up the tension, which is undoubtedly detrimental to our nation. He hoped that every Malaysian could be united regardless of their own ethnicities and so activities of EDU4All would definitely be supported by IKRAM.
The chief representative of IKRAM in Force4Serdang, Hussaini Khairudinini, said that, “IKRAM has always been attempting to figure out a way to encouraging multi-ethnic cooperation. We managed to find out a way to do it after joining GBM. Whenever we host an activity, I would be in charge of coordinating with Malays while Robert with his Chinese counterpart. We could only be able to have multi-ethnic participants if we do it together. ”
While the main purpose of these activities was to provide a platform for multi-ethnic interaction, parents thought they served educational purposes very well. Indra, whose children took part in four sessions of Edu4All, said that she encouraged her children to participate in it for he can learn new things, meet more friends, and overcome shyness in public.
A Coalition for Empowering Disadvantaged Students
After reflecting on their previous activities, the second series of EDU4ALL has commenced two weeks ago. They received appropriations, with a sum of less than RM8,000 from their member organisations. They hoped that they could make the most of the fund by conducting around 16 or 18 sessions, with most of them being outdoor learning, e.g. visiting zoo and science museum etc. in order to intrigue children’s learning interest. Acknowledging that Edu4All only received a limited fund appropriated by other civil society organisations yet managed to do wondrous works, we could not help but wonder how inefficient our social resources are utilised in our society.
Teo Ann Siang, the general coordinator, said, “Our volunteers have no transport allowance and sometimes they will even donate their own money to buy stuff like water, food, and teaching materials.” Although they do not receive public donation, they are “more than welcome to receive water and stationeries nevertheless.”
Fore4Serdang will also strengthen its relationship with Learning For All. Should children encounter any problem, they could resolve the problem by asking assistance from IKRAM or Tamil Foundation. There was such a case; a pair of parents concede to send their children to school only after heeding the advice from an Imam of IKRAM.
With all our differences, education in this country is indeed a rather complex conundrum. We hope that everyone could find their way to untangle the intricacies and make their own contribution wherever it is possible.