Thursday, March 21, 2013

Today

"I was going about my day when I came across a cuboid-shaped black box. I touched it and got transported through a portal. I saw very bright lights and found myself in a strange city. I asked the people there where that place was and they told me it was Malaysia. The year was 2095. So I asked why am I not in school? They said there are no schools. No such thing as schools. And then I noticed (but kept it to myself) that the people were wearing handphones as shoes. And they were playing games on their shoes!"

Caitlin dreamed this last night. That part about schools not existing in 2095 definitely reflects her current sentiment about school. She currently doesn't like going to school because the friends she likes are no longer in the same class as her. They have switched over to the international syllabus which the school has started offering this year, while she remains in the local syllabus. She doesn't like studying Bahasa Malaysia. She wants to study literature, history and geography (besides English, science and math), and all subjects in the English language. She is not looking forward to taking the UPSR, the standardised government exam for Year 6. She said she had a tummy ache this morning and is skipping school today ...

And what about me? Yeah, I have dreams (or are they worries?) too about the future. Meanwhile, the current reality about life in general, and C's education is a dark cloud with a yet-to-be found silver lining. But I have hope, and I need to put out the laundry now.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kidzania - C's first visit

Last Saturday, more than one year after Kidzania's launch in February 2012, Caitlin got to experience this kid's edutainment indoor theme park that everyone in town has been raving about. Firstly, the entrance fee was quite a deterrent for our single-income family -- RM60 for Malaysian kids above four years, RM35 for adults who are required to accompany children below eight years, higher fee for non-Malaysians. When it first launched, I felt that it was rather pricey but now I can see why and feel that it is quite justified considering that other theme parks here and overseas also cost as much, if not more. If C had not pestered us for it, I don't think I would have made a conscious effort to take her there as to me, this place is not a must-see, must-go kind of place.

Secondly, I kept hearing that due to its popularity, it's always very, very crowded, especially on weekends, school and public holidays, and I simply hate going to crowded places. That meant that there'll be queues everywhere all the time -- queue to enter, queue to participate in the activities, queue at food outlet, maybe even queue at the toilet. Having to queue for everything just takes the enjoyment out of going to such places and wastes a lot of time. The opening hours during non-peak periods (weekdays, and if you're lucky, certain weekends) are between 10am to 5pm, while during peak days, there are two sessions i.e. 10am-3pm and 4pm-9pm. I guess this is to help them manage the crowd and capacity for each activity.

According to its website, "KidZania Kuala Lumpur is an indoor family edutainment centre which offers an interactive learning and entertainment experience for kids in a kid-sized city to deliver the first-of-its-kind edutainment fun. The KidZania experience is about real-life experiences, empowering, inspiring and educating kids through role-play."

Kidzania has over 90 interactive and fun learning activities at more than 60 establishments. What the kids do is go to the various establishments they would like to try their hand at the particular career offered there, for e.g. the dental clinic to be a dentist, and get paid for the work they did, in Kidzania's national currency, kidZos (notes) and Zents (coins). They can also spend their 'money' at the establishments, for e.g. at the hair salon where C got her hair tied into pigtails.

We were lucky that last Satuday was not a peak day in Kidzania's calendar. I had purchased the tickets online a few days before (you can buy it there too if you don't mind queueing) so when we arrived, we headed over to 'Air Asia terminal" (main lobby entrance) to get the 'boarding pass' and wrist tag.

Kidzania Kuala Lumpur International Airport showing locations of other Kidzania cities around the world
 
 Ticketing counter
 
Wrist tag

Among the careers C participated in were news reader, dentist, bricklayer, secret agent, baker (made real Oreo cookies), chocolatier (Cadbury chocolate factory), supermarket cashier, security guard delivering money to the bank, and telecommunications engineer. After earning and spending her money, she went to the bank to open an account and deposited the balance. They gave her an ATM (which actually works apparently) so that the next time she visits Kidzania, she can withdraw her kidZos from the ATM and use it. In between the activities, she took a lunch break at the 'food court' there. You pay with real RM currency when you buy food there. Food sold is kid-friendly. To give you an idea of pricing, a plate of spaghetti costs RM15.

 A little firefighter working hard at putting out a blazing inferno

She spent a total of about five hours there. For peak days where they have two sessions, you are required to leave one hour before the next session begins.

C enjoyed herself that day with two of her cousins and would like to go again to try out other activities, one of which is to learn how to drive a car. You can also go to medical school to get certified as a doctor. If you do that, you earn more kidZos when you work as a doctor at the clinic/hospital.

In my opinion, Kidzania is an interactive fun place for kids to experience role-play in an environment that is as real as it can get, which will be hard to replicate at home. There is a little bit of learning involved although at a superficial level. I guess that's because each activity is limited to a certain period of time for a limited number of kids each time.

Note the capacity, duration and height restriction for certain activities
 
Like many theme parks, they take photographs of your kids participating in the various activities and offer them for sale. You are not obligated to purchase any but if you wish, one picture costs RM15. After purchasing the picture, they provide you with a link to download soft copies for free, as stated in the brochure they give you (see picture below). That's quite a good idea. I wish other theme parks offer this benefit so that we could at least have a soft copy saved in the event the expensive hard copy gets torn, fades or lost.
 


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Homeschooling

Yesterday, I listened to a radio interview of two homeschooling parents who are among the pioneers of homeschooling in Malaysia. They started homeschooling their two sons 15 years ago and both boys are now in college/university. They provided clarification on basic questions about homeschooling and shared their experience and knowledge. Here is the podcast if you'd like to have a lsiten.

I'm also awed by this story. How does one have so many children and successfully raise and homeschool all of them? And study for an engineering degree too?! I guess if you love your family, you will find a way. Both husband and wife need to work together to make it work. And it would help if family and friends are supportive of your decision to homeschool without making uninformed judgments and comments. One of my fears if we decide to homeschool C is that I may lack the courage to face negative comments by certain parties who do not understand this system of education.

The homeschooling concept is more common in the US so it's accepted more easily. Although it is growing in Malaysia, Asian parents and grandparents are not convinced and could even be mortified that the children are not getting a 'proper' education if homeschooled. They have no confidence that the parents have enough knowledge or skills to teach, believing that qualified teachers at schools can do a better job with a structured curriculum. Many also think that being homeschooled means you lack socialisation and are not in touch with the real world.

If you click on the link, there's the tv news clip about it that helps you see how things work for this family of seven children. I've also copied and pasted the text here.

AURORA - When you're in a family with seven kids, you need to be quick at the dinner table. You need to be patient with your siblings. But, you don't always need more than one letter for everyone's name.

"Jayde, Jeven, Jhia, Jarec, Jake, Jenna, and Jordan," said Janelle Henderson, mother of seven. "And, my siblings and I are all Js. So, everyone in my entire family starts with J."

Everyone, except dad.

"My name is Wayde Henderson, Junior. I have a "J" in my name," Wayde Henderson said.

The Henderson family likes to do things a little differently than most. Not only does Janelle Henderson have to keep up with the whereabouts of all seven kids, she homeschooled all of them.

"I've been homeschooling for 21 years now," Janelle said. "There was a time where I worked all night and came home and homeschooled my kids in the day."

Janelle tries to play the role of mom and teacher while drilling her kids on math equations and spelling tests. She says the homeschooling happened by accident. While shopping at a school supply store, she heard the store owner talking about it, which piqued her interest.

That's when she decided, homeschooling could work for her family.

"I just took it very seriously that I really have to make sure they're getting everything they need to know," Janelle said.

So far, it appears to be working. All of the older kids have gone on to college at the age of 16.

"What people say is impossible really isn't," Janelle said.

Jarec and Jake currently take classes at the Community College of Aurora.

"I've been excited for college since I was probably three or four," Jarec, 18 said.

The three oldest siblings went on to 4-year colleges to get bachelor's degrees and more.

"I don't think there was ever a time where I didn't know I was going to college," Jhia, the third oldest of the seven, said. "Growing up in this house, it was always expected that you were going to finish school and go to college."

Janelle believes strongly in sending her kids to community college first. She says not only is it saving her "hundreds of thousands of dollars," allowing her to kids to have a full education, she says it's a natural transition from homeschooling.

"I just think that community college gives you the opportunity to graduate into adult life," Janelle said. "Without community college, it would've been a different path."

All of her children have high expectations. They are seeking careers such architecture or engineering after receiving their college degrees.

"I want them to have a story to tell," Janelle said.

When you're in a family with seven kids who are involved in sports and other extra-curricular activities, mom says, you better have an organized schedule.

"While we're doing this, Jhia's at school. Jeven's at school. Jayde's at work," Janelle said. "I actually have on the computer, like a detailed a schedule of where everybody is."

Jake says he is still amazed that it can all work.

"To me, it seems stressful for my parents," Jake said.

So, each kid helps with a different chore everyday to help. They prepare half the meals. They take each other to and from basketball practice. All this while dad works three jobs including counseling folks at the Denver Rescue Mission.

"That's my way of supporting the family by doing whatever is needed and what it takes," Wayde said.

And, even though the family does not have a lot of money, Janelle says her kids belong in school instead of working to help the finances.

"I don't think it's my kids' job to support the family," Janelle said. "I think if we decided to have seven kids, it's our job to support the family."

In the meantime, Janelle also works on getting her master's degree in mechanical engineering from Metro State University of Denver.

"You only live once. I don't want to be like 60 saying, I never did anything," Janelle said.

When you're in a family with seven kids, you expect the house to be loud. That is not the case at the Hendersons.

"It's actually not very loud at our house at all," Jake said. "We were raised not to be loud and obnoxious."

Janelle says if all seven kids were boisterous, it would feel like the house would explode.

"I'm not going to have a crazy household," Janelle said. "I am simply not going to have it."

The kids say mom rules the roost with a system of tough love and laughter.

"It's like you will do what you have to do," Jarec said.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Friday, March 1, 2013

Scrambled thoughts on education options

Since the change in C's classroom environment and her school's transition to becoming an international school, I've been pondering a little more about the future of her education and the options available.

I would like to believe that the definition of being 'highly educated' does not necessarily have to be limited to having gone through years of 'schooling' and having succeeded in getting a piece of paper from a well-known institution of higher learning. And the definition of being 'successful' in life is not equal to having a high-salaried job or business, status, and tons of material wealth, although these could be part of the equation in this materialistic world.

Having said this, I am not against higher education or 'success' as we need to be practical and realistic that there is a need for a reasonable level of education and material wealth in order to live relatively comfortably and be of value to society. I simply want to view education as something beyond mass schooling for a certain number of years simply for the purpose of getting ahead in this competitive world. What's all the knowledge, money and fame if you don't have good morals, values, meaningful relationships, love, joy and peace, for example? You can be educated in nuclear science or art history in university but it's the School of Life that completes you as an upright, compassionate, decent human being...

I'm not sure if I'm making any sense with all these disjointed thoughts. I'm not very good at expressing my thoughts about this currently as they encompass various issues and everything seems like a big ball of entangled wool! And my vocabulary and writing skills are not superb enough to present a clear, concise and organised post of such 'deep' matters in a blog... Anyway, this is my place to put my thoughts, regardless of whether anyone reads or understands what I'm saying.

C is currently in Year 5. Next year, she will be sitting for the UPSR examination, a public exam that all schoolchildren studying the Malaysian syllabus, be it in government (sekolah kebangsaan), Chinese or Tamil  (sekolah jenis kebangsaan) schools, are required to take, before proceeding to Form 1 (secondary school). Once C completes UPSR, if she remains in her current school, she will be studying the IGCSE syllabus. If she were to leave this current school, we will have several options: public school (sekolah kebangsaan/local syllabus), private school that offers local syllabus, private/international school that offers international syllabus, homeschooling (ideally at home, or at a 'homeschool' centre).

Back in the day during my time in the 20th century, we either went to kebangsaan schools, mission schools, Chinese or Tamil schools to study the Malaysian syllabus from primary to secondary. Any 'international' education we got would have to be at tertiary level if our family could afford to send us overseas or if we were good enough to get a loan or scholarship. There were hardly any private schools and international schools were only reserved for foreigners/expatriate children. There were only a handful of private pre-university colleges to help you prepare for entry to universities overseas, as well as only six local universities when it was my time to pursue tertiary education.

Things have changed now in the 21st century. Education is big business. From enrichment classes of all kinds for babies and toddlers to all sorts of pre-school teaching and learning methods, private and international schools and colleges, twinning programmes, online courses, short-term courses, professional courses, vocational schools, local campuses of prestigious foreign schools and universities with boarding facilites....the list goes on. We are spoiled for choice, especially if we have the means to afford these for our children. And even if we don't have the means, we will find ways to provide the best for our kids.

In our parents' generation, as long as we, their children, went to school and finished at least our secondary school education and found a reasonably good job thereafter, they felt they have fulfilled their responsibility. Sending us for what is now termed as enrichment classes such as piano, violin or ballet (the popular activities during my time) was something only the middle class would think of doing. Now, every parent would map out their child's education journey the moment he starts reciting the alphabet. Every kid, rich or poor, is now attending some extra lesson outside of school. Even the schools are offering such lessons for a fee in the name of providing extra-curricular activities. Now you can get taekwondo, voice, art, gymnastics, fencing, piano or even ukelele lessons at school as long as you sign up and pay. During my time, extra-curricular encompassed only athletics practice, badminton, netball, hockey, clubs such as Girl Guides, drama and theater, language and religious societies, etc. No extra charge.

Sigh, life and decisions for children's education seemed much simpler then. Now with so many choices, it's a challenge to decide what you think is best for your child taking into consideration her interests, aptitude, how you view education and life, and what you can afford in terms of time, money and other resources.....

Public? Private? Local? International? Homeschool? Unschool?

It would also be less of a challenge if  this country's education system is not a political circus and of desirable quality... This is one of the main reasons why many parents try to look for better alternatives.