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Archive for November 10th, 2011

This afternoon, I was at the school gate waiting to fetch Alexandra home as usual.

As soon as the bell rang, the classroom doors were thrown wide open. Children were seen rushing out, my daughter among them.

I saw her skipping merrily across the field towards me; she had something dangling from her hand.

 Her eyes were sparkling with anticipation and she broke into a girlish giggle as she held it up for me to see.

“Look what I’ve got, mommy – the music teacher just distributed out our costumes,” she said happily.

It was a set of pretty dress – a long-sleeved cream-colored silk blouse, a glittering vest and a black skirt, all nicely packed inside a plastic bag.

“She said they belonged to the school and told us to take good care of them. We are supposed to wear them tomorrow,” Alexandra continued breathlessly. She looked like an excited bride eager to put on her wedding gown!

She was in Year Six and this will be her last year in primary school, having sat for her UPSR examinations in September.

Little wonder my child was a picture of excitement. She will be on stage tomorrow, which was her graduation day. In her school, every pupil in Year Six is required to take part in some performances; be it singing, dancing or short sketches. Yes, everyone will be included, one hundred and sixty of them. They will perform in batches for the parents and teachers at the school hall.

“Everyone will have something fond to remember. No one will be left out,” her music teacher told them. She had spent a month training them to sing, dance and act out some comedies.

“My music teacher asked the parents to send these costumes for dry cleaning after tomorrow and return them by next week before the school holiday begin,” she informed me.

“Make sure to get it done as these costumes will be used again and again by other students in the coming years. They are recycled items,” my daughter stressed.

“Okay,” I nodded and smiled at her as I took over the package.

I’m very glad for my girl. She had it fairer than me, so far.

From Year One to Year Six, she was given ample opportunities to be a school librarian, to represent her school in English story-telling competitions annually and took part in a host of other activities on the ground that she shown interests and has the capabilities.

I was not so lucky. I was a veteran victim of “favoritism” syndrome by the time I turned ten.

A few of my primary school teachers practiced “favoritism.” They have a ready pool of pupils who were their pets or favorites. From this pool, these pupils were selected as class monitors, school prefects and librarians, athletes to take part in Sports Day or actors to act on Concert Day. Thus, you will see the same faces, year after year.

Some of you may wonder who these privileged or selected few are. They are normally the top students occupying the first three places in class, daughters of some rich families, and daughters of other teachers in the same school or those with pretty faces.

At the other end of the spectrum will be those never-do wells, daughters from poor families or simply those with a face that will turn you off. In these teacher’s eyes, you just do not exist if you are from this group.

Yes, please don’t laugh. It was like this in my class when I was in Methodist Girl’s Primary School Ipoh, some forty years ago.

When I was in Standard Four, my music teacher was looking for a group of girls to sing some Christmas songs. We are having a short sketch of the birth of Jesus Christ for the end year concert. Her favorite students had already taken up the lead roles of Joseph, Mary and the three wise men before the rest of us were even aware of the concert.

She was looking for “extras” to sing and I raised my hand to volunteer as I loved to sing then. Many girls raised their hands too.

Instead of auditioning me for my singing ability, she just shot me down there and then in a very hostile manner. With a pair of contemptuous eyes and a distorted face, she shouted crudely at me, “Put your hand down, I’m sure your father could not afford the lace dress, who asks him to be so poor?” and the whole matter was closed on me right in the face without a chance for me to appeal.

I put my hand down dejectedly and watched on while she picked a group of my classmates instead. She then herded these chosen ones to the music room to practice on the singing.

When I reached home that day, I told my parents how I was turned down at school by the music teacher. My father looked sad.

“It’s alright,” he stroked my hair softly and put his hand over my young shoulder to comfort me.

“Never mind, your teacher was right anyway. It’s true. I do not have enough money to buy you a new dress. Maybe next time when I had earned enough money, you can take part,” he said while gently wiping away my tears.

“I heard from your mother that you wanted a new pencil-case. Perhaps I can get one for you. It only costs a few cents,” he continued, trying hard to soothe my sobbing.

He looked and sounded very awkward with this offer but there was nothing else he could do to console a disappointed child.

My mother shook her head in disbelief. “Then let the rich girls act while the poor girls watch!” she said angrily at such injustice.

 That same evening, I got a new plastic pencil-case as compensation.

I ended up sitting on the floor of the school hall along with other girls who were excluded out. We were the daughters of the lowly scissors sharpener, the trishaw rider or the odd job laborers. Also among us were those who always came out last in class, some slow learners who were often taunted as “Stupid Ass” or “Bodoh” or “Useless Potato.” Then there were also a few whose faces do not warrant a second glance. Yes, we are like a bunch of outcasts.

While the parents of the participants sat on one side, beaming with pride on seeing their daughters as princesses, fairies or butterflies floating gracefully on the stage in shinning costumes heavily bejeweled with beads and colorful sequins, we were told to cheer and clap for them from where we sat.

This is only one of the example of discriminations I was subjected to during my primary school days. There were a few others.

Unknown to the teachers and parents, it was from here the seeds of low self-esteem were germinated. Small things in life do affect people’s behavior.

 It took some self help and positive thinking books for me, many years later, when I was an adult, to step out from the shadow of a misfit.

I am really grateful Alexandra does not have to go through this.

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