The ones left behind

I’ve been talking about really positive stories of kids inspiring me everyday, so I thought I’d like to share something else I see in school. I’d like to paint a more..realistic picture of the kinds of challenges plaguing schools like mine (and many more in this country).

I teach Form 1 and 2 kids so they’re 13 to 14 years old. My kids are still young and very much..how should I say this..they’re more untainted. Although some of my Form 1 kids are very very naughty and they have the potential to go on to be terrible troublemakers a few years later, they’re still manageable now and I can still control them.

However, I definitely can’t say the same for the older kids. I enter Form 4 and 5 classes all the time as a substitute teacher, and I teach if they want me to but most of the time I end up just sitting down to chat with some of the kids. I always ask them how they feel about school, what they want to do after finishing school, what are their aspirations, their family background etc. Most of their stories are quite sad but I do try to maintain a certain degree of skepticism too with their sob stories cause they could lie sometimes.

Anyway, there are these two kids that stood out to me. One of them was A. He is the older brother of one of my students (who’s a pretty good student) and this A is in the “last” class. He told me he used to be as smart as his younger brother too but as the years go by, his results got worse and worse and he’s now in the last class and labelled as someone who can’t study anymore. In fact he himself told me that he can’t study anymore. He skips school all the time because he has to work to support his brother, his grandmother and himself since their parents had left them. He gets RM35 a day from working 10 hours in the farm.

A is a really funny kid actually and I love talking to him. He likes singing to the latest English songs and I was surprised that he could understand me perfectly even if I speak English with him. He said he wants to do so many things after finishing school, but he just doesn’t know if he can with his results (he usually fails all his subjects except English).

Then there’s this other kid, B. B is in the last class in Form Five and has always been in the last class for many years. When I spoke to him about his aspirations, he doesn’t have any because he told me he just “doesn’t know how or what to do”. He said he wants to study, but he doesn’t know how since he has never studied before all his life! He lives with his grandparents and nobody cares if he studies or not, so he just…doesn’t. He’s 17 now and realizes that he probably will fail all his subjects in SPM, but there’s nothing he could do because all his friends are in similar predicament as well and it doesn’t really matter anyway in this village.

I talked to him about many things, about having bigger goals and doing something bigger and going beyond the village etc, but he seemed really pessimistic. I can’t blame him at all, because that’s all he has ever been exposed to.

I’m sharing these two stories because they have been running in my head for a while. I’m glad I’m teaching Form 1 because I feel like I can still change things for them, I can still help them. For the older kids, they seem so resigned to their fate and the teachers around them have also subconsciously stopped trying with them. I can’t blame neither of them because I HAVE tried teaching them and it’s just really really hard. They have fallen so deep into the cracks of the failure of the system, and I think it takes a lot more than a teacher who cares to help them get out.

I walked into a form 5 class who’s having their exam today and I see half of them sleeping and half of them trying to do their papers but to no avail. The average passing rate for this class is 40%. 40%! Only 40% of them pass their papers! Not even an A but pass. What is going to happen to them when they finish school only with a pass? What is going to happen to the OTHER 60%?

All this makes me so upset! How did these kids got to where they are today without anyone noticing? Without anyone caring? There are tons and tons of them in my school, and this is such a prevalent issue in all schools in this country, especially in areas outside klang valley.  What does it take to help them? Can they even be helped anymore?

Honestly, I feel so helpless for them. I want to help, but I have my own kids to worry about first. I don’t want my kids to end up in that deep dark abyss and I want to get them out of the rut as soon as possible but even that is proving to be very difficult. So I guess in a way, these older kids’ stories, despite making me feel really sad and helpless, are inspiring me to help my younger kids.

But what’s going to happen to the older kids?

I guess they are just left with the way they have been for many years. They become the faceless part of the society, uncared for, uninspired, and life for them is just waking up each day and trying to make ends meet. They’re victims of the circumstances they were born in and the whole cycle just repeats itself with every generation.

This realization made me really sad today.