I was 8 years old when my family moved to New Zealand and even though I returned to Malaysia when I was almost 11 years old, I have to say my schooling experience over there had a great impact on me as a child. When I first started school over there the first thing I noticed was that the learning environment is much, much more relaxed that how it is in Malaysia. Education in Malaysia (and I suppose in most Asian countries) is more inclined towards teaching children the art of discipline and the importance of obedience. I remember the amount of books I had to carry to school and how fierce many teachers were. We learned how to memorise our text books instead of really understanding them. Back in my school it was all about getting good grades and hardly about appreciating the knowledge that we were getting from our books and lessons. This is how it is from primary school all the way through to secondary school. I'm pretty sure most Malaysian kids had the same experience.
In contrast, I think the New Zealand or Western education system nurtures creativity because even as children we were encouraged to think for ourselves and express ourselves. I remember this one time when the Olympics were on all the kids in my class were given a sport to research about and then present in class. I had to write about ice skating and it was a sport I barely knew about so I made several trips to the library to learn research the history of the sport and find out who were the famous ice skaters and the technology of ice skating shoes (that's quite a bit of work for an 9 year old!). Each of us were also assigned to a country and we had to keep track of how many medals they were winning. I think every week we had to do some sort of public speaking in front of everyone in class. Sometimes we had to write a speech about about a specific topic and other times we made impromptu speeches. So as you can see, primary school in New Zealand wasn't about giving students a hard time. Yes we had homework and all kinds of activities but it was fun and educational at the same time. Plus, all those speeches we had to make were great courage and confidence building exercises! I even read in my journal that we once had a disabled person, Mr. de Geest, as a guest speaker who came to our class and spoke about his disabilities that are known as thalidomide birth defects. I learned that even though he wasn't born with arms he was a normal person who had his own special talents too as he knew how to do beautiful paintings with his feet. There was even a time when we had to come up with our own 20-page magazine and I remember having so much fun coming up with the content and drawing pictures. I guess my love for writing and creativity started from there. Feel free to read some of my work, just watch out for the spelling and grammar mistakes that were made by 9 year old me!
When I came back to Malaysia at the age of 10 I was more outspoken than many of my classmates. I made friends really easily too. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for me to re-learn the ways of the Malaysian education system as I became shy and unconfident after a year. Being an individual wasn't encouraged and authority lines were always clearly defined. It wasn't just the teachers but even the prefects had a way of making students feel small and powerless. No one is allowed to speak in class unless they are spoken to... however, in high school my schoolmates and I were pretty naughty and we even made some of our teachers cry because there were times we just wouldn't stop chattering during lessons. Perhaps it was payback for all those times in primary school when we felt undermined! But believe me, we always got in trouble after that. Anyway, for the most part we were pretty good students who were always afraid of consequences. When I went back to New Zealand at the age of 16 it was tough adjusting back to their education system... but that's a whole different story.
I personally think the best way to educate a child is by combining the two systems and achieving a good balance of the two. If it's too much fun, they're not going to learn anything and if it's too restrictive they won't be able to grow as creative individuals who have confidence in themselves. It's important not to stifle a child because it's natural for them to explore the world they live in. They should be able to enjoy their childhood and feel safe around the people they spend most of their time with. Children need to be exposed to positive ideas in order for them to have a positive outlook on life. This is where I think the Malaysian education system is flawed. Just based on my experience, I felt many of my primary school teachers in Malaysia instilled a lot of fear in me whereas my teachers in New Zealand were more approachable and kind. Malaysians are too focused on achieving specific grades that they forget the true meaning of education. However I do agree that kids should learn about discipline from a young age as well. Like I said, balance the two and it'll almost be perfect! At the end of the day, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity of experiencing the best of both worlds. My parents were academicians themselves so they were very education-oriented. I can see myself being the same with my own kids someday. One of the first things I want when I have my own home and kids inshaAllah, is a room where my kids can play, read books, colour, build with Legos and just be themselves! I'm more excited about this edu-play room than I am about any other part of my dream house...
[Photo taken from eHow.com]