The Malay-Muslim community in Singapore has made significant progress in the field of academia. Attesting to this, it’s no longer a rare sight to see hijab-wearing women on polytechnic and university campuses throughout our little island. It is also no longer shocking when Muslims come out tops in national exams, as one girl did for the PSLEs a couple of years ago.
However, this recent upward trend, though promising, is by no means a cause for celebration or the proverbial pat on the back. Statistically, Malays are still behind their Indian and Chinese peers in terms of passing rates at all levels. They still lead the pack in terms of percentage of school dropouts.
Many reasons have been put forth as to why this disparaging disparity exists. Some blame genetics, others claim that the typical Malay family is generally more easy-going and laidback in pursuing the child’s academic excellence, preferring instead to focus on other aspects of their development. Some have even suggested that being smart is difficult, if not impossible, given the financial plight of many Malays.
Personally, I’m tempted to think that the problem stems from the common practice of that old saying, Rumahku Syurgaku, which roughly translates to mean “My home, my heaven.” It’s not that I find the phrase to be fundamentally wrong; it’s just that people have been known to interpret its meaning to suit their lifestyle. Allow me to explain.
The archetypal Malay home is an oasis of comfort. The living room is usually decked with sofas, curtains, cushions and carpets. There’s always a pleasant lemony scent hanging in the air as if emanating from the fake flowers which adorn every corner of the home, from living room to bedroom to bathroom. The design and upkeep of this archetypal Malay home is very much the domain of women, with one glaring exception: the choice of home entertainment.
I am always amazed by the one constant in ninety-nine percent of all Malay-Muslim homes I visit; the presence of a huge television, often of the flat-screened plasma variety. No matter what the economic background of the family, it seems only normal for Dad to spend thousands on a top-of-the-line television set, complete with a DVD player and surround-sound speakers.
This exorbitant behaviour when spending for the home, all sheepishly defended in the name of Rumahku Syurgaku, has resulted in several inconvenient truths. Many children find it difficult to study at home. Ayah, stressed from work, chooses to drown his sorrows in another round of home karaoke. Ibu decides to turn up the television’s volume to the maximum, eager to hear every syllable of dialog of her favourite Indonesian drama.
At times, this problem produces another headache. Parents, eager not to allow the television to affect the studies of their children (and equally eager to continue keeping the television on for karaoke), may instruct their younglings to study in their respective bedrooms, behind closed doors. They give their kids personal computers, plugged into bedroom sockets and wired to the internet, and provide study tables next to their beds, all in hopes that their children will diligently revise schoolwork and use the power of Google for research and study purposes. Forgive me for being blunt, but if ever there was an idea more stupid than giving guns to monkeys, this must be it.
What then is the solution to bridge the ‘grade-point’ gap, mentioned earlier in this article? What can Malay-Muslim families do to help their kids excel at all levels in school? For starters, the home, preferably the living room, needs to be morphed from a comfortable zone for rest and relaxation to an environment suited for reading and study. This shift may involve several expensive processes, namely;
Throwing out the television (or breaking it apart to see how it works).
Providing ample space for a home office, including ergonomic chairs, good lighting and computer equipment. This investment will go a long way in helping kids with school projects, assuming the home office is placed within the family living room thereby allowing Ayah and Ibu to spy check on what Junior’s been surfing.
Assembling shelves which run from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall. Fill shelves with books on a diverse range of topics ranging from languages, logic and philosophy, history, astronomy, physical sciences, biology and geography. When the members of the family no longer have the television to fill up their time, they’ll turn to books.
Storing educational magazines in lid boxes for easy access.
Doing away with surroundings deemed “too comfortable.” Studies have shown that the human brain begins to lose focus once the body feels relaxed. This probably explains why one feels tired and sleepy whenever studying on a couch or bed.
Of course, all these home improvement measures mean nothing if the children of the family are simply not motivated to study. Parents too, have a big part in influencing this. Imagine if the family set aside a time each day to read or study together. Surely, such steps would be beneficial to son or daughter, even if parents are completely clueless as to how to tutor them.
On another note altogether, the first line of the Quran revealed to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was to read, in the name of the Lord Who created – Created man from a clot. If we think that as parents our duty is to feed and clothe our children and to keep them safe from harm, then surely, we must also provide them with the means to read.
As IKEA puts it, “you don’t have to be rich to be clever.”
Shahnawaz Abdul Hamid
The writer is currently “studying” mechanical engineering at a university, and hopes to one day hang his degree from the wall of his very own sarabat stall. He often is accused of being unambitious, especially when asked on what his dream job is, which he sincerely answers as any job which is a 20-minute bicycle ride from his home in Sengkang. He sometimes cracks his recently-shaved bald head wondering why getting married in Singapore has to be such a costly affair, why doing a hundred – albeit meaningless – things a day is now a national pastime, why sleeping before 10 is considered early. He is a big fan of Magiclean wipers, cheese prata and sunsets.