My eldest son is now 11 years old. He has been attending kindergarten since the age of four and public primary school since the age of seven, like many other children in Malaysia. This year, there was a bit of what I would call “the UPSR fiasco”. Although alleged occurring for ‘years’, leaks in the UPSR papers for science and English has led to the Ministry rescheduling both papers at the end of this month. There was mainly anger from other parents on facebook regarding the resit, and I feel their pain. I wonder why this ‘problem’ had not been dealt with adequately in the past, and why is it that only now the ministry is taking action on the matter. Anyways, that is a separate issue altogether. I just had to get it off my chest before continuing.

I hope and pray that next year, the UPSR exams will be as uneventful as possible.

Before and ever since my first child was born, I have been employed in various medically related jobs. Initially, like all other doctors, I spent some years practicing medicine in the government sector. After I had my second child, I felt that I wanted to spend more time at so that I can be with my children more. I did still want to work, I love having a job, having time a way from home, being productive and financially independent are important to me too. I wanted both, to have a great family and a pursuit I enjoyed and believed in.

Practising medicine however, can be pretty demanding. Before I had kids, I was spending about 70 hours per week in a hospital building. In winter, you hardly get to see any sun at all for most of the week. It was not easy, but since my husband was doing the same thing, and my parents (plus late dad) were living in another country, it was still a tolerable existence. Having children changed my paradigm and after we relocated back home a few years later, I decided to venture into lecturing (still in a medical school), and back then I certainly did not regret that choice.

Leaving the public medical school and joining a private one was in hindsight a good choice, but it brought it’s own set of pressures and the workload was certainly much, much more. By then, the third addition to the family was born, Daddy’s little girl who is now in kindergarten. It was only last year that I decided to re-enter medical practice on the private side, that I have time to spend with my children and really look at what they have been learning in school.

When I was in fulltime employment and really busy, I had tried many different educational services available such as Shichida, Kumon, Maths monkey and home tuition for my children, on top of the government primary school and religious school or KAFA, once they are seven years old. I even considered sending them to private primary school and had surveyed a few ‘within commutable distance’, but my other half decided it was not the best thing for our children. For various reasons, I was unable to continue with any of the services mentioned above. Perhaps a story for another post.

Then, earlier this year, I became pregnant again, and decided to take time off from work completely, so that I can rest and focus on finishing my MBA dissertation, plus I had more time to look into my children’s studies. We attended the school’s program earlier this year to find out also about the school situation, as there have been changes since the new headmistress was appointed.

Everyone should know that there are only five subjects for the UPSR, Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Melayu, English, Science and Mathematics. It’s important that parents (if you are the only other person outside school who is responsible for your child’s education) and students be aware of the format of the exam papers.

Since my son needs most practice for Bahasa Malaysia compared to the other subjects, we’ll digress more on this today. There are two papers for BM, “Pemahaman” or comprehension and “Penulisan” or writing. There are many relatively cheap practice books that one can buy from bookstores, cost range usually between RM3-8, where one can get samples of exam papers. Comprehension is made up of 40 questions, all multiple choice with one best answer out of four. The writing paper on the other hand is allocated a much longer time, with three parts, A, B and C. This paper is 1 hour and 15 minutes long. In part A, students are shown a picture scenario and are asked to make five relevant sentences based on the picture. Common snapshots are scenes from school and daily life. Part B is an essay which should not be more than 80 words. Usually, there are three different topics to choose from. Part C is about moral values (nilai murni) where children are given a passage and asked to pick out five moral values described in the story.

Sounds complicated perhaps, but it isn’t really. Some of the challenges we face at the moment are motivation, as in, how does one motivate a child to learn? One of my children just loves to learn, it is his nature. He is very attentive and focused and is always at the top of his class whether or not he receives any extra help. My other child however, is a more hands-on person and likes to learn by doing. So we must create a rewards system and give them some incentive for putting in effort. It does not have to be expensive or cost much, simple things like giving stars on a chart and other forms of recognition are easy enough to do. A certain amount of stars can then be reimbursed for a treat of what the child wants for example a gift or a sushi lunch or dinner (what ever the child values or enjoys).

The second challenge is handwriting (for the writing paper). Again, look for and reward handwriting that is desirable. Practice is vital.

Then comes the actual challenge, helping the children to master the language. It is good to know the format and the syllabus, and to actually learn with your child, then you will know how to help them. For example, knowing what level of vocabulary the exam demands will help you point out and use the necessary words in daily life rather than it just being something your child reads in the textbooks. Marking their work will also help pinpoint any weaknesses that can be improved, for example those already mentioned above. But please don’t just focus on the weaknesses, first, look for what they have done right and make sure you acknowledge that. I love to write encouraging remarks like “very good, excellent, well done” when they deserve it but you can also be specific like “nice handwriting, very engaging story, good opening for the essay” etc.

Reading widely is important too, and nowadays we are not restricted to hard copy of books. Do get your children to look up stories and useful articles on the internet that you can discuss together. Hope this is useful. Will write more as I learn more.