Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Educationists' Elitism and Incentives

Written by johnleemk on 3:24:03 pm Apr 28, 2007.
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One remarkable thing about Malaysian schools is how they are segregated. No, not in that sense, although we do segregate our young by sending them to different schools, but in the sense that faculty and students do not share the same facilities.

Teachers and students may share the same classroom. But when it comes to fulfilling the basic needs of eating and excreting, teachers and students end up with remarkably different facilities.

In most (if not all) public schools, students and teachers use different toilets. Woe to the student which sets foot in the teachers' privy, for it is the teachers', and the teachers' alone.

Similarly, even though teachers and students dine in the same canteen, they are not subject to the same dining experience. While students queue for their food, I have rarely (if ever) seen a teacher in the line for buying food.

And while students sit down to dine in the crowded ambience of the noisy main canteen, the teachers typically have their own room all to themselves. What goes on in this room, and how the teachers eat, I cannot say; in all my years in school, this (together with the teachers' toilets) was the room I most feared to enter.

Of course, any attempt to desegregate the schools has been subject to much criticism from the teachers. Recently, it was suggested that the segregation of toilets end. This proposal was met with consternation by the National Union of the Teaching Profession, which viewed it as a mark of disrespect to teachers.

This segregation is considered normal by Malaysians; until I read of that proposal, I had even forgotten that it was remarkable at all. But I remember that my mother always found this segregation very strange.

In casual conversation one day, she mentioned she found it extremely odd that our teachers ate in a separate room. Being a Filipino, she was brought up in a very different school system, and considered it the norm for teachers to eat with students.

At the time, I thought this little egalitarian factoid was just that — a factoid. But after reflection, it seems to me that this segregation actually is rather detrimental to how our schools' facilities are run.

If teachers are not subject to the same system they subject our students to, if they do not understand how our students live, they cannot effectively run the schools. It's as simple as that.

But as long as they use artificially clean toilets, and artificially peaceful teachers' dining rooms, they cannot relate to the student experience at all. They cannot even relate to or socialise with their students, since they don't see them outside the classroom environment.

The result is a poorer educational experience for all. Students don't get the chance to form a strong rapport with the people who educate them, and at the same time, they are forced to undergo an experience that the teachers themselves are not willing to go through.

I remember that when I was in school, any efforts to reform the canteen or clean up the toilets were not liable to make much headway. At best, the teachers might mount a half-hearted toilet cleanliness campaign.

And why would they want to do anything more? Even though their job might be to impose discipline, they had no real incentive to do so. They were not going to have smell unflushed shit or walk past sanitary pad graffiti if their efforts to clean up the toilets failed.

That is why it is so important we desegregate our public schools in this sense, and make the learning experience a little more egalitarian. If our teachers are going to subject our students to something, they should be willing to subject themselves to it as well; at the very least, it would improve the social bonds between faculty and students, and at best, it would result in a better educational experience for all.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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