An open letter to my generation – A different kind of freedom to fight for 

We lament the state of our country’s education system, but we leave the teaching of our next generation of citizens to “other people” – people who in our minds have less going on for them than us. 

Abel Cheah, TMI 

I am scribbling the draft of what you are now reading on a piece of scrap paper at the back of a dark, stuffy classroom, where I teach my Form 1 students. It’s their second English Diagnostic test this year, the reason for the unusual calm that has befallen what would otherwise be a raucous group of pubescent boys and girls.

A kid comes up to me with his test paper in his hand – “Sir, ini betul kah?” His sentence re-arrangement attempt reads like this: “after she saw, a running cat mouse”. I don’t help him because it’s his assessment, but I try to remind him of the countless Subject-Verb Agreement lessons we’ve had over the past year.

This is but one example of the reality of the English proficiency outside our urban-middle-class- comfort-bubbles. Many of my secondary school students read at kindergarten level, and many are around eight years behind academically.

In 5 years, these Form 1 students will leave their school, but they won’t have the grades to qualify for university admissions or even government funded scholarships – unless some intervention is done.

In 10 years, these students will add to the ever increasing number of unemployed persons in our country, giving birth to children who have a 60% likelihood of continuing on the same life trajectory and cycle of poverty.

Meanwhile, over in the cities, we, the urban and educated, are becoming increasingly paranoid with the ever rising instances of snatch thefts, assault, murder and rape. The blame game seems to shift between the police force, the government and the fashion choices of the woman on the street. But these crimes are simply symptoms of a deeper problem: the education level in our country.

It was Victor Hugo who said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison”. Bodies of research point to the relationship between education and crime; in the US it was found that correctional populations (criminals) report a lower educational attainment, with an estimated 40% of state prison inmates having not completed high school or its equivalent, while only 18% of the general population failed to attain high school graduation.

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