CHANGE – (a short story)

by S.R.

It was an undisputed fact that Cikgu Wong and Cikgu Wahab were the best teachers of Sekolah Kebangsaan Kampung Senik. It was also a fact that neither of them would ever be promoted to the coveted post of a headmaster. For the two scholarly gentlemen, who had taught with unwavering dedication for more than two decades, were unschooled in the art of politicking. To put it simply, Cikgu Wong and Cikgu Wahab were first class educationists and rotten bureaucrats.

Lesser individuals would have become embittered by the humiliation of being constantly passed over for promotions. Not Cikgu Wong and Cikgu Wahab.

Cikgu Wong, a mathematics genius with an entrepreneurial bent, set up a tuition centre from the comfort of his home. The monthly revenues from his centre far outstripped his meager teaching wages. Best of all, it was tax free.

Cikgu Wahab, a language teacher by profession and an altruistic philosopher by nature, diverted his energies to writing poetry and tutoring his weaker students for free.

Both men were quietly satisfied with their existence, until the advent of Cikgu Zainab in their lives. Cikgu Zainab made a memorable entrance at a mundane morning meeting of all the teachers, in the poorly ventilated staff room.

“I am your new headmistress,” screamed Cikgu Zainab.

“I don’t know how things were done in this school before but now you are all answerable to me! This school will be run my way! Do you hear me?”

Cikgu Zainab was heard not only by the teachers, but also by the entire student population who had converged at the school podium, a good hundred metres away from the staff room.

It soon became clear, Cikgu Zainab never spoke, she merely screamed. Cikgu Wong and Cikgu Wahab resolved then and there, never to linger unnecessarily in her presence. Unfortunately for them, there was no escaping Cikgu Zainab, for she would summon all and sundry to what seemed like an endless series of meetings.

“Teachers!” she would shriek over the megaphone.

“You are all required to urgently convene at the staff room now!”

The first time it happened, Cikgu Wong and Cikgu Wahab fearing the occurrence of a calamity of epic proportions rushed to the staff room

“Teachers!” hollered Cikgu Zainab.
“I value punctuality! I notice from the attendance register all of you come to school just in time before the school bell rings. I want you all in at least fifteen minutes before the scheduled school hours! Do you all hear me?”

Exactly two days after issuing this edict, Cikgu Zainab issued yet another one.

“Teachers! I notice that there is no written agenda available when a staff meeting is held! Without a written agenda, precious time is wasted whenever we hold a meeting! Therefore, to make sure that time is spent usefully, I have prepared an agenda of all the items I wish to discuss at the next meeting! The purpose of today’s meeting is to ensure that you are all aware of the agenda for our next meeting. We will now go through this list, do you hear me?”

These constant interruptions evolved into a daily affair. While Cikgu Wong despaired of these meaningless intrusions into his valuable teaching time, Cikgu Wahab consoled himself with the reasoning that all events, however meaningless, occurred for a greater purpose. And it was at one such meeting that it became clear to him.

“Teachers! Your record books lack visual presentation! Henceforth you will use different coloured inks to record data! Your lesson plan for the month will be in black, daily lesson plans in dark blue, light blue is not permitted, students’ data in deep red__”

Cikgu Wahab, a champion of true education, could contain himself no longer.

“This is nonsense!” he shouted.

Cikgu Zainab was shocked into silence.

“The purpose of coming to school is to teach and not to develop fancy coloured record books to please some bureaucrat!”

Puan Zainab recovered enough to screech,

“How dare you question my authority!”

Growing more purposeful by the minute, Cikgu Wahab, retaliated,

“I dare! People like you have ruined our teaching profession, with your petty rules and nonsensical red tape, totally unconnected to productivity!”

In an ideal world, Cikgu Wahab’s heroic outburst would have been met overwhelming support, repudiating the rule of tyrannical educators. Instead, all the other members of that noble profession, huddled closer together, away from Cikgu Wahab, to avoid being identified as his conspirator. Bereft of his colleagues’ support, Cikgu Wahab stormed out of the staff room and returned to his teaching pursuits.

Now Cikgu Wong, who had the good fortune of being blessed with chicken pox while this staff room soap opera was being enacted, returned to school two weeks later, only to find Cikgu Wahab reduced to the status of a social pariah. Teachers and staff, including the janitor, went out of their way to avoid him.

“I say Wahab! What happened?”

“This school is being run by a power crazy woman and everyone is too afraid to do anything about it!” came the bitter reply.

“Come! Come!” said Cikgu Wong gently.

“They need to survive this system, the younger teachers, especially! They are completely at her mercy! Look at the bright side of things! You only have a few years to serve before retirement!”

“And,” added Cikgu Wong positively,

“She has probably forgotten the whole thing by now!”

Cikgu Wong’s optimism was misplaced as Cikgu Zainab had an especially vindictive streak. Cikgu Wahab found himself saddled with the task of teaching History and Art.

“I know nothing about History or Art!” he protested to the Senior Assistant, the next in line to Cikgu Zainab.

“I am a language teacher and have been one for the past twenty five years! What’s more, my students are facing critical exams shortly! You can’t deprive them at this last minute! ”

His protests were futile. Depressed, Cikgu Wahab plodded through his lessons, as best as he could. His sad plight did not go unnoticed. Cikgu Wahab found an unexpected ally in his students, who detested Cikgu Zainab, with equal if not greater fervour. While Cikgu Zainab raved and ranted at the teachers in the relative comfort of the staff room, the students were forced to assemble daily under the blazing sun to receive her verbal onslaught. A few enterprising pupils even invested in earplugs.

Bound by their mutual dislike, a close affinity developed between master and student.

“Cikgu, you should be the headmaster, not GG!”

GG, as Cikgu Wahab found out, was the nom de guerre for Cikgu Zainab and not some exotic dancer. It stood for ‘Gurubesar Gila’.

“Yes Cikgu, there is no one who teaches or cares for us like you, except for Cikgu Wong! Both of you should be in charge!”

Cikgu Wahab smiled sadly.

Fate had dictated that he would remain a school teacher for the whole of his working life. He would nevertheless face the capriciousness of fate like a man.

Cikgu Wahab threw himself into a poetry writing frenzy and continued to tutor an even greater number of students. Most of them were his former pupils who were unable to tolerate their present language teacher. That teacher, who had formerly taught them History and Art, had eagerly agreed to the teaching of languages, despite her lack of proficiency in the subject matter. She was due for a promotion in the forthcoming year and was unwilling to jeopardize her position.

Now that same fate which had reduced Cikgu Wahab to a persona non grata one day unexpectedly invoked change.

“Teachers! I have received news that the school inspectors will pay us a visit anytime within the next fortnight! We will immediately embark on a school beatification project! Do you hear me?”

Overnight, teachers and pupils alike were reduced to the status of sweepers, cleaners, gardeners and painters. The students naturally rejoiced at the welcome holiday from academic rigours. A few conscientious teachers feverishly rescheduled their lesson plans, although the prospect of them completing the syllabus in time for the year-end exams appeared dim. The majority of the teachers however, took comfort in the fact that their school largely functioned as a social joint. Real teaching took place in tuition centres.

The only teachers who refused to swerve from the upright path of academia were Cikgu Wong and Cikgu Wahab.

Cikgu Wong produced a medical certificate, conveniently signed by his nephew, a prominent doctor at the local government hospital, which pronounced him to be unfit for extreme physical assertion of any kind.

“Well, what will you do then?” screamed Cikgu Zainab.

“Teach I suppose,” he replied sweetly.

“The final year pupils are facing their public exams in four weeks. They could do with a little extra coaching.”

Cikgu Zainab was not about to give up.

“Very well!” she snapped, reluctantly.

“You can continue teaching but first, I have some typing for you to do! You can type out a memo for me, photocopy it and distribute it to all the students, do you hear me?”

Meanwhile, Cikgu Wahab wrapped in his cocoon of isolation, continued to teach the odd pupil who dared to attend his class. Fortunately for them, Cikgu Zainab was far too busy supervising the school’s refurbishment process to notice this transgression.

The school gradually transformed into an impressive structure, replete with a resort-like feel, thanks to expensive potted palms donated by a teacher who was famous for her lacklustre teaching skills. Another teacher, famous for her absenteeism, had the foresight to sew eye-catching embroidered lace curtains with matching cushion covers and table runners for Cikgu Zainab’s room. The room strongly resembled a bridal boutique. Cikgu Zainab immediately made a decision to vigorously recommend both of them for promotions.

Sekolah Kebangsaan Kampung Senik, all primed and primped up, was now ready for its important visitors from the Education Department.

Indeed, to Mr. Bhagavan Singh, the elderly education inspector and his young and enthusiastic assistant, Cik Kamilia, the facade of the school was awe-inspiring.

“It’s beautifully kept, like a five-star hotel!” whispered his assistant.

Mr. Singh nodded, impressed.

The headmistress must be doing a fantastic job, he thought to himself.

However, no sooner had he entered the school’s threshold, Mr. Singh’s instincts alerted him to the fact that something was not quite right. Mr. Singh, famous for rooting out dirt on wayward schools immediately discerned the cause.

“ It’s far too quiet Kamilia. Pupils are never this quiet!”

Mr. Singh was right. The school, silent as a morgue, was devoid of the raucous voices of students. Not a single student seemed to be in sight. Mr. Singh, a great fan of Sherlock Holmes, decided to employ the art of stealth to identify the cause of this eery silence. Moving quickly from class to class with his assistant, as discreetly as possible, he found all of them to be empty, except for lessons being conducted as usual, by Cikgu Wong and Cikgu Wahab.

Cikgu Wong was busy expounding the mysteries of algebra to a bunch of unusually earnest pupils, who were determined to score a distinction in the forthcoming public exams. Cikgu Wahab’s faithful followers were no less enthusiastic. They too were deeply engrossed in his explanations, absorbing the finer nuances of literature. Neither party noticed the school inspectors. Cikgu Zainab’s routine disturbances had rendered them immune to outside influences.

These examples of academic devotion pleased Mr. Singh. However, he could not ignore the mysterious disappearance of the rest of the students. Even his youthful assistant, inexperienced as she was, was baffled by this anomaly.

“Sir, only two classes seem to be going on in this school! The other pupils seem to have gone missing!”

Mr. Singh decided it was time to ferret out all the teaching staff, including Cikgu Zainab. Chaos prevailed. Opinions were offered as to the wholesale truancy by the rest of the students while Cikgu Zainab hung back, uncharacteristically meek.

Cikgu Wahab and Cikgu Wong who thought themselves above the petty feelings of revenge found it impossible not to gloat over Cikgu Zainab’s increasing discomfiture as she was interrogated by the relentless Mr. Singh.

“But Cikgu! Where are all the other students? What is happening in this school?”

“I__I__” she stammered.

Cikgu Zainab tried her very best to appeal to Mr. Singh’s tender side. Alternating between a show of tears and pathetic whimpers and sniffs, she gave a stellar performance of emotional sentiments that would have put any award-winning actress of Korean soap operas to shame. Cikgu Wong and Cikgu Wahab cringed at the disgraceful and highly unprofessional display of theatrical behaviour.

Mr. Singh, an upright man, was far from amused by this appalling spectacle. It only served to stoke his temper and convinced him that Sekolah Kebangsaan Kampung Senik was not a beacon of educational excellence, that it originally appeared to be. Vowing to get to the bottom of things, he and his assistant left. Sekolah Kebangsaan Kampung Senik, in the hands of the diligent Mr. Singh, was about to undergo a transformation beyond its cosmetic make over.

“ I say Wahab, but you are looking happier these days!”

Cikgu Wahab smiled warmly at Cikgu Wong. With Cikgu Zainab no longer at the helm of the school, peace and education had returned at last.

“ I have a going-away present for you.”

Cikgu Wong held out a piece of paper. Puzzled, Cikgu Wahab reached out for the paper and scanned its contents.

“So, this is why__” he gasped.

“Exactly!” chuckled Cikgu Wong.

“Surely, you were not behind it Wong!”

“Me? Oh no! It was purely a mistake! You see, that Zainab had the cheek to ask me to type a memo__ to all the students! Especially when she has a typist for clerical work!”

“So, it was our typist? I can’t believe he did this!”

“No, no, he was too busy painting a wall, on her instructions. Actually, since I’m no good with computers, I asked a bunch of students to help me out.”

“The students? They typed this?”

“It’s amazing what kids can do with computers these days! Apparently, they scanned the contents of an earlier memo written by her, changed the date, printed the thing out and sent it to all parents!”

“But that’s fraud!”

“Wahab, the students don’t see it that way! They claim it’s a genuine error! You see, the contents of the earlier memo was almost identical to her latest memo. Except of course, the error in the last line. You know, where it says pupils must not attend school”.

“I don’t understand! What error?”

“ The earlier memo ended with a ‘pupils need not attend’statement. The mistake was, the pupils substituted the word ‘need’ with ‘must’ but forgot to delete the word ‘not’!”

Cikgu Wahab, understood. The memorandum which was to have read “students must attend school” instead conveyed the message “students must not attend school”.

“But Wong, it is still not right! You can’t justify their wrongdoing!”

“Actually, I am championing their cause! Look Wahab, no one intended for this to happen. Who would have thought that a simple linguistic error would have caused a toxic headmistress to be transferred out of the system?”

“Will you name the students?”

“No, I won’t. They have confessed to me and as a gentleman, I take full responsibility for this bizarre turn of events!”

“Is that why you are resigning?”

“That and partly because I have been offered an excellent opportunity to franchise my tuition centre. Say, I don’t suppose you would like to join me? Good people are hard to come by these days!”

“No, “ said Cikgu Wahab resolutely.

“I belong here.”

“Yes you do,” agreed Cikgu Wong, as he took leave of his friend, the new headmaster of Sekolah Kebangsaan Kampung Senik.

  1. #1 by Godfather on Saturday, 9 November 2013 - 7:38 pm

    This is not how the story ended. It ended with Puan Zainab being conferred a datukship, and made boss of Mr Singh. Everybody lives happily ever after.

  2. #2 by cinaindiamelayubersatu on Saturday, 9 November 2013 - 8:18 pm

    Apa kata suruh shuhaimi modified sikit kemudian buat filem? Tajuknya : Alahai, sekolahku sekolahmu jua…

  3. #3 by Godfather on Saturday, 9 November 2013 - 8:56 pm

    My wife said I got my facts wrong. Puan Zainab did get her datukship but was transferred to the ministry of agriculture where she had the good fortune to meet with the then minister, a certain Mr Moo. Datuk Zainab then received a grant of 100 million to rear alpine sheep in Bolehland. The costs of maintaining the sheep in air conditioned premises resulted in a quadrupling of costs and Mr Moo then approved a further grant of 300 million.

    When queried in parliament, Mr Moo declared that no one should question the grant to Datuk Zainab. “She sacrificed so much for the country. Why should anyone begrudge a bumiputra the chance to be an entrepreneur? ” The entire BN troops rose to applaud Mr Moo.

    • #4 by cemerlang on Saturday, 9 November 2013 - 11:57 pm

      You don’t question. You will get your last wishes. Everyone knows the real reason why. Well, the game is still on. Everyone also knows the real reason.

  4. #5 by boh-liao on Saturday, 9 November 2013 - 11:55 pm

    What kind of fairy tale is dis?
    C’mon lah, nowadays, where got a Mr Singh holding education inspector post in the MOE 1? Oredi asked 2 go back 2 India lor
    Bluff also must b realistic 1 mah

    • #6 by cemerlang on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 4:40 pm

      If you can be Harry Potter with the magical wand, what would you do ?

  5. #7 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 8:12 am

    Everyone wants to do well (in the past or present) except in present there is big hype about NKRA / KPI based on educational blue print and use of technology top down from Education Ministry- which results in those, esp head master/mistress & senior assistant, wanting to look good to secure further promotion loading the teachers with all kinds of unnecessary duties and tasks, extending their working hours (teachers get up early at 6am to go back at 3-4 pm) until they are de-motivated and too tired to teach. It doesn’t help when those promoted or transferred to the helm of school and in charge of generous allocations from Ministry are seen catching on the get rich corrupt attitude permeating wider society to buy a lot of things for the schools with belakang payments from suppliers.

  6. #8 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 8:12 am

    To survive all want to play smart and look good (on paper, filling up data to meet the KPIs) and politik by bodeking & ingratiating superiors than really do good ie teach with dedication and become work horse for those who politik to gain promotion. (Equally politicking to undermine the much hated politicking headmistress by adding the word “not” next to must to get her into trouble becomes thinkable). Students skive as the disaffected teachers fail to inspire. Those who want to learn get more information from technology/internet just as those who want to play, as there are more distractions from technology/internet, smart phones etc. Plus the fact standard of English has plummeted, the whole system of education goes kaput, good in form to look at on surface but not working at its core.

  7. #10 by tak tahan on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 8:53 am

    All the male students and teachers should flash their cannons to the headmistress.Teach the bitch a lesson not to be so haughty and tell her straight in her face that she not behave like that else all will boycott her,simple as that !

    • #11 by cemerlang on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 3:23 pm

      Peer learning. Peer teaching. Interactive learning.

  8. #12 by drngsc on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 10:32 am

    Hi Kit, are things so boring that we have resorted to story telling?

    How about going on a roadshow to teach all Malaysians about he good and ails of GST?

  9. #13 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 10:36 am

    The cynicism and scepticism on the comments of this piece does not reflect an irresponsible respond on the part of Malaysia but rather a realistic idea of the challenge this nation faces.

    The literal truth is this nation’s intangible fabric was destroyed by past generation apathy and lack of action to stop Mahathirism and his UMNO B. Yours and my parents generation deemed it more important “compromise”, “moderation” and focus on materialism i.e. “development” to the destruction of the very software that holds and binds a nation together. At the very least, they were irresponsible to neglect the things needed and responsible for these cynicism and scepticism today.

    There is no point writing stories of moral triumph that is without lessons of paying heavy prices. You want to fix this nation, the price is heavy – those “moderation” and “development” prices were SNACK OIL and real price has yet to be paid. We need stories of HEART-BREAKING & SHOCKING PAIN to motivate and spread the lesson of realistic cost of change. Not natural justice without unexpected pain and price.

  10. #14 by omeqiu on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 12:24 pm

    Boring. Been there, done that!

  11. #15 by Sallang on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 1:01 pm

    This is a true story, but the names have been changed.
    There was a stage where many headmasters were being replaced by headmistresses.
    Schools were competing one another, stupid heads compete for beauty, some have mini zoos in the school compound, making the school compound so cramped up. Of course having a small prayer house, or surau is common.
    If the MoE build schools complete with link fencing, why then must the head of the school turn it to concrete wall fencing?
    So corruption begins in school.

  12. #16 by tak tahan on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 3:34 pm

    Might as well make it official residential house cum school.Got many rooms and playground for children and grandchildren to accommodate.Cleaner,guard,electricity and water also paid for.Canteen a place to cook for big family some more ? Hahahahahaha

  13. #17 by tak tahan on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 3:41 pm

    Kamalanathan to come weekly and supervise.Kiss all the toilet bowl to make them shine to start new business day tomorrow for all and sundry.Wakakakaka

  14. #18 by Di Shi Jiu on Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 7:55 pm

    Definitely a fairy tale :)

    It can never happen in an UMNO/BN Malaysia today – never.

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