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?

Doug Belshaw’s 10 ‘Home Truths’ about Schooling and Education

Education blogger Doug Belshaw posits his musings about schooling and education, at least in the traditional systems:

1. For there to be ‘good’ parents there must be ‘bad’ parents. The same is true of teachers.
2. It is almost impossible to effect a fundamental change in worldview in an individual whom you see as part of a class of ~30 for less than an hour per week.
3. To learn how to ride a bicycle you have to take the stabilisers off at some point. In the same way, Internet safety cannot be taught effectively in an artificially closed, filtered, environment.
4. More content ? more achievement.
5. Being good at passing examinations does not mean an individual will be of benefit of society or ‘flourish’ (in an Aristotelian sense)
6. Technology often serves to magnify talents and, moreover, weaknesses in pedagogy.
7. If some pilots knew the same about flying as some teachers know about ‘real’ teaching, the aircraft would never get to its destination.
8. It may be a cliché to cite time-motion studies that show that the majority of time in school, children are waiting for something to happen. This does not mean, however, that the situation has been rectified.
9. If the school is a business, then each department should know how the others fit into corporate aims and philosophies. If it is not, and is child-centred, it needs to have a holistic approach. Either way, most schools need to improve communication between subject areas.
10. One of the chief functions of schools in the 21st century is to babysit children for ever-increasing periods of time (think: extended schools).

#5 is especially noteworthy, at least for Malaysian attitudes.