ISTIMEWA - an eight-letter word that a Std 4 pupil couldn't read! Istimewa is Special in English but there was nothing special in Faizudin whom I met yesterday when he dropped in with his friends to my house for Raya.
I've been sitting with my junior guests when they came for Raya. Angah would prepare the drinks and the kueh and I'll sit with them to chit-chat. It has been a habit in the last week or so to ask these children how their schooling were.
I'd ask them how they fare in their studies. Of the 50-odd children who dropped by, I've met only two boys who seemed to be doing well, reading the newspapers and magazines with confidence. And able to converse reasonably well too. Most of them are in primary school while a handful are in lower secondary.
It's this age group that makes the Raya rounds. Those who are older wouldn't visit houses of people they don't know.
Faizudin was in his Chelsea jersey, bought by his father for Raya. He sat in one corner enjoying his root beer when I asked him about his studies. He wasn't talkative at all, unlike the others who were joking and chatting non-stop.
Faizudin's father is a driver and his mother is a full-time housewife. He has 2 other siblings. He was looking at the pictures in a magazine when I asked him to read aloud. He just sat there, staring at the first word, not uttering anything. When I put my arm around him, he whispered that he couldn't read.
I just couldn't understand it. Here's a Std 4 pupil and he couldn't read a word! Who's responsible for this? His parents? The school? The education system? All of the above? What will happen to this boy when he grows up? Doesn't his parents know and realise that their son couldn't read? Didn't the teacher in school spot this? Nobody cares?
Adoi! I don't know what to make of the situation. My conversation with these boys always reveal the same facts - their parents work day and night to make a living; they play all day; they go to a school nor far from their flats; they went back to their kampong every Raya; they can't speak English; they enjoy television programmes; most want to be soldiers or policemen when they grow up.
My chat with them also revealed they all have a minimum of two new shirts for Raya. Very few of them have new shoes. And most of their parents bought nothing new for themselves for Raya.
It was almost deja vu for me. I went through the same Raya when I was a boy. But I was lucky I guess. I lived in a tough neighbourhood where everyone knows each other, and we played and studied together. Our parents were coolies and labourers, and none of us were spared the rod if we were not with our school books as night falls.
I guess times have changed. Faizudin will have to realise soon that he's got a long way ahead of him. I don't see a future in him unless his parents or teachers realise the small boy has a major problem.