MadNoor's Weblog

Living a Malaysian Life

Secondary School

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This week the twins started secondary school. Here, with the UK education system, it’s called Year 7. A lot of work has been put in preparing the children for this jump, with orientations and class visits since the last school year. Apparently, there is quite a big jump from primary to secondary with regards to responsibility level that is expected from the children as they make the move.

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Getting ready for the first day of school. The first lesson is PE so they are required to go to school in their sports kit. Dina wasn’t happy with her short skirt, she being quite a conservative dresser. After a week, she started wearing leggings as well. 

One of the initiatives that the school has introduced is use of tablets, with the newly minted Year 7’s getting their grubby little hands on Windows 10 tablets and stylus. The school is working closely with Microsoft on the move to the realms of paperless classrooms, with Onenote being touted as the main application for schoolwork. 2 days was set aside to set up the devices, and after much consternation from parents (mainly due to cost of the hardware, concerns on security, reliability and practicality of devices), the long term trial is ongoing.

Other than new devices, new shoes and school bags, we also had to get the twins a couple of lunch bags. After looking around for awhile for bags that ticks all the requirements, we finally found some really good ones from Decathlon. It has multiple compartments and comes along with containers that can be used to store different categories of food items. Whilst primary children are required to bring their own lunches, canteen access not available for them, the secondary children have the option of buying their lunches. When you take into account that a slice of Pizza costs 10 Dhs at the canteen, bringing your own food to school is perhaps not only a healthy alternative, but definitely an economical one as well.

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Icad and his classmates before going off to their Year 6 graduation celebration.

I recall my first memories of school quite vividly; they were good ones. I have always enjoyed the first days of a new school year, the process of buying notebooks, utensils and the wonderful smell of new textbooks, crisp and clear, with a promise of all the knowledge that they will impart. Ok, so maybe I was a little bit of a nerd back then 🙂

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Dina with her mates at the graduation do.

When I was 8 we were staying at my grandma’s house, and in the cold early mornings, my mother would wake up even earlier to boil water so that we won’t have to shiver ourselves taking our baths before school. Uniforms would have been pressed and laid out nicely over the bed for us to put on, with school shoes, washed over the weekend and covered with a layer of liquid chalk to make them look ‘whiter than white’, as the advertisements promise.

My mum would have lunch packed for us, normally some fried rice and a bottle of cold Ribena in a plastic container. She would also give us some pocket money for the day, to buy some knick knacks and drinks either before or after school at the canteen. The first amount of money that we got was 30 cents I believe. Back then, in 1979, that was a lot of money for a school kid.

On the way to the bus stop, we will pass by this neighbour ‘Makcik’ who had opened a nasi lemak stall, a venture to assist her family in an economically depressed period of the country. Her nasi lemak will be steaming, with the pungent smell of chilli red sambal intermixing with the smell of pandan from the rice and the banana leaf that was covering it all. The first time I bought one, for about half of my daily allowance, I wanted to have a plastic bag to carry it in. Back then, plastic bags were still somewhat of a novelty. My sister, at 10, slightly older, but a lot more mature than the 2 years difference might suggest, admonished me as the bags would mean extra cost for the makcik.

We soon moved house after that, closer to the city and to new schools, among the best ones in the country at that time. My dad had to visit the education ministry many times and write countless letters of request and appeal to secure us a place in the schools that he wanted.

Moving schools is quite a stressful affair for children, and I was not keen on the move. In the little village school that I was placed till we resolved the school matter, I quickly became the best student, the best sportsman and thanks to the two above, the most popular kid in school. When I shared my apprehension with my dad, he said something which I have used many times since when faced with a difficult decision. He said “No matter how good a driver you are, you can only go as fast as the car that you drive. In the new school, you may not be the fastest, but you will definitely go faster than if you just stayed here”.

Mum kept her routine of packing lunch for school, either fried rice or noodles, with some vegetable, eggs and some meat. While the rest of the school had their meals at the canteen, I would often sit by myself at the large school steps eating my meal. A few guys (it was an all boys school), would smell my lunch and remark how lucky I was to have such a nice meal prepared for everyday.

I did not feel lucky…the opposite in fact. I kept asking mum if instead of a meal I could have the money to eat at the canteen with the rest of my friends. My mum kept saying how the meal that she was providing me was so much for nutritious, clean and economical as compared to what I could get at the school.

Now, after 35 years, I see how foolish I was and how right my friends were. I was really lucky to have a mum who cared enough to wake up early every morning to prepare her children lunch packs that was delicious, warm and individually prepared for. It would have been so much simpler to have just given us the pocket money instead.

I hope my children don’t need that much time to realise how fortunate they are. Thank you Mum, thank you Wife.

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Check out the hair and the white specs!

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Author: madnoor

An expat family in Dubai.

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