Rites of Passage

We don’t really have all that many rites of passages in Malaysia.

Each religion and culture has their own rites, sure. But there aren’t really that many that apply to the whole country.

Take graduations, for example. In many countries (particularly Western ones) high school students are sent off with a ceremony – acknowledging their effort, celebrating their success, and having someone from their community pass on a few words of wisdom as part of the graduation speech.

In Malaysia, you do your SPM/STPM, and that’s it. Yeah sure, three months later you pick up your results, but there isn’t much of a ceremony there. There aren’t any workshops, classes, or speeches on how to live as an adult. How to manage outside the boundaries of school. How to take care of yourself. Some private schools in metro areas do have proms and graduations, but not many can afford them – and they’re often glitz and glamour.

It’s not a wonder that quite a number of Malaysian students can’t deal with failure (such as the not-perfect results sheets or not getting a scholarship), or that they don’t often take risks and explore unorthodox territory. They have not been entrusted with the skills and knowledge of moving forward, moving on.

We coddle them and spoonfeed them throughout their school years, expecting them to always bow to authority, follow rules, go on the straight and narrow. Then we thrust them into the real world with nary a Goodbye, where they have to make their own rules and authority – and they have no idea where to go.

It’s not so much that they can’t think for themselves, or that they’re not able to be independent. I feel that the larger problem is that we don’t allow them to do so – we shelter them from the myriad of challenges of the world, making them believe that the world only operates on grade scales, and so they can’t deal with its complexities. It’s so alien to the tight school environment.

I propose that we introduce a Rite of Passage in school, after SPM or STPM. Something to herald their completion of 11-13 years of formal schooling. Something to give them support for the later years.

Let’s educate our students on life after school. (I did this and it was majorly successful.) Let’s give them some time for them to stop thinking about exams and try something else instead – an arts week, or a fun excursion, something different. Let’s build up strong alumni networks that support these students no matter what. Let’s provide resources for these students to tap into once they leave school.

And when the chaos of exams is over, let’s throw them a party, a celebration to commemorate their achievements – not just academic, but also personal – and their selves. Give them time to relax. Acknowledge the greatness that lies within them. Reaffirm that no matter what the exam scores say, they will still be OK. Send them off, and wish them luck.

How can we build a Rite of Passage for our school students?

3 Responses

  1. Hi! The link on facebook caught my attention 🙂

    The Rite of Passage that you are proposing may be a dream-come-true for many students, especially those who don’t believe in the need to achieve as many A’s as possibles in exams, but considering the bureaucracy involved in such matters, it will not be easy to do something like that in government schools. Independent and private schools, more likely (trust me, I once planned to have a program like that for research purposes).

    Then also, we will have to challenge the society’s traditional opinion of the education system (not a very easy matter to go against parents and teachers). How would they see the Rite of Passage to be? The most optimistic assumption would be they would herald it as a fresh change and accept that it would contribute to the students’ holistic growth. Still, I bet the majority would see it as an excuse to party. Not just parents or teachers, I suppose there are also other students out there who would not be supportive of such things, thinking it to be a waste of time.

    After all, Malaysian culture is quite bound by traditional thinking to a certain degree.

    Might it be better if the Rite of Passage thing was continuous and consistent throughout the years of formal schooling instead of just an individual event after SPM or STPM? I think before we start proposing having a Rite of Passage, we have to deal with society’s perception first. Which is obviously not going to be easy to do, but its not impossible.

    Just my two cents’ worth 😉

  2. I always figured National Service would have made a neat rite of passage, if done correctly. Unfortunately we have issues with the people in authourity, so that’s problematic. It sounds like such a great idea – get out, meet new people, get some exercise, do shit besides sit at home. But parents will find their way to slither their kids out of NS, and I’ve had young friends who really wanted to go for it, only to have their parents postpone it for “further education”.

  3. I subscribe fully to your ideas! We have lost this culture of rite of passage and initiation in the west and need to reclaim it! I also agree that the place to do it is in the schooling system!
    A colleague and I have developed a year long program that is taught at year 9 level (14/15 years old) here in Australia. We will also be training schools in the US in 2009. The program is called The Rite Journey (www.theritejourney.com.au) and uses the hero’s journey steps to celebrate this transition point in a young person’s life. The schools running the program are noticing the powerful effect it has on individuals, families and even school culture.
    I honestly believe it is the way forward! And indeed…every child has a right to their culture providing them with this process.
    Please check out our website for more information if you are interested! And feel free to contact us if there is some interest in your country!

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