Monday, 18 February 2013

Jalan Kayu Primary School (JKPS)—In Memorium

As promised in my first blog post, here are some of my memories of my primary school, JKPS, which no longer exists.
Apparently, someone forgot to register me for primary school and so there was a mad dash to get me admitted somewhere as the year started. Unfortunately, all the ``popular” schools within a few kilometres* were already full and so I was sent to JKPS which happily accepted me. (Of course I had no clue then why some schools were popular and some weren’t).
(*Actually, “few miles” rather than ``few kilometres” would be historically accurate since the metric system was just about to be implemented then: In fact we spent quite some time memorising the conversion between imperial and metric units in primary school…memorised them so well that I still remember the numbers!)
JKPS was a mixed school. The boys wore white shirts with khaki shorts while the girls had a khaki pinafore with a white blouse. Cloth school badges were sewn onto the shirt pocket/pinafore.

The Students
It was a “neighbourhood school”: Many of the students came from nearby farms, rubber plantations, shop-houses or the few housing estates. Other than one or two “mat sallehs (=ang mos)” and other rarities, the rest were all local Malay, Chinese or Indian kids.
I remember the school bus would take a long winding trip through all sorts of exotic places as it dropped off its passengers. It was like an adventure trip everyday.
I also recall once visiting some of my classmates who lived in a kampong in the middle of one of a rubber plantation within thirty minutes walking distance of the school. You had to follow a dirt trail from the main road (Jalan Kayu) for some distance before it suddenly opened into a clearing which had some atap huts. Water came from wells and kerosene lamps were used for lighting. I believe the ponds nearby were used for washing and swimming.

Some of the boy students were quite rough and rowdy, getting into all sorts of mischief, some even joining gangs which engaged in harassment, extortion, petty theft or vandalism.
But this was the ``good old days” and the teachers did not hesitate to dish out ``appropriate” physical punishment, or refer the matter to the feared discipline master. The punishments ranged from a whack on the knuckles with a wooden ruler, caning on the palms, caning on buttocks in the principal’s office, to public caning on the buttocks during school assembly for the most serious offences such as vandalism or theft.
One short lady teacher was greatly feared for her temper and rather unexpected forms of punishment. There was another male teacher who also had an unusual punishment: He loved (I guess) to twist, with both hands, the cheeks of ``naughty” boys.

The Teachers
There were some very good teachers there who tried their best to teach the students, and also cared for their welfare. I recall one art teacher who used to complete some of the art projects of the students if they could not meet the deadline; I think it was meant as encouragement.
Some teachers even gave tips to the students for running errands, such as staying back after school to tidy the class-room or help with some minor administrative stuff.
I recall a teacher, who had a craving for fish and chips, asking me once to get her a packet from across the road during recess. Of course we were not supposed to go out of the school compound but I think there was a minor thrill in breaking the rules with the complicity of a teacher. The gate might have been closed during school time but there were loop-holes (I don’t recall if I got a tip.)

Mathematics, English, Science and Second Language were the examinable subjects. I took Malay as my second language because it was the easiest among the three choices (none being my native language) but I had to struggle through it. I still have memories of not understanding most of what was said by the Malay teacher in one of my early classes: In the end I survived, even did well, by pure memory work.
We also had classes on other topics like art and music. We were made to buy and learn to play the ``recorder”, a windpipe that could be dismantled (photo in first games link below). ``Mary had a little lamb” is all that I remember and can still play J.
I enjoyed mathematics but didn’t get excited about science until Pr5 when I made a shocking discovery, described below.

Naturally, before the start of the school day, during recess, and after school ended, we played games; and sometimes even in the classroomJ.
A popular group game which did not require any props but involved lots of running and yelling was ``Police and Thief”. Some games which used ``props” included various games of marbles (glass or the white stone types), ``mini” cards, chapteh, and football. A game popular with the girls was ``five stones”. None of the games required batteries!
Here are some links to photos and descriptions:

Health and Social education
Once in a while we were made to brush our teeth in school, in front of our teacher. We had to bring our toothbrush and toothpaste, line up in front of a long drain and get into it with the teacher reminding us how to do it right and why we had to do it.
Subsidised milk was also provided as nourishment. It came in plastic packets and you had a choice of plain, strawberry or chocolate flavours.

Becoming a School Prefect
The prefects were mostly girls because, I think, compared to the boys there were many more of them who were well-behaved and so made suitable candidates. But probably, to ensure ``gender equality” or to handle the rowdier boys, the powers-that-be did try to make some of the boys into school prefects. One day, my next-seatmate and I were suddenly deputised and given red ties.
As I recall, we two were not keen, but since we didn’t have much of a choice, we got on with our task. I think our main duty (or so I remember) was asking others to pick up litter anytime we noticed any (there was a lot within the school compound). The other occasional duty was to raise the flag during anthem time.

Shocking Discoveries
The first four years or so were completely carefree. I don’t recall studying for anything and I think we were reminded just a day or two before any test/exam to bring our pencil/eraser etc.
But I noticed that prizes were awarded a few weeks after final exams to students who had done well and an obvious pattern emerged: The winners were all girls and usually always the same few!
One day I overheard a conversation between two of them which shed much light on the mystery: One of the top students was asking the other on how much she had studied for the examination. This was shocking news to me: The idea that one studied for an examination!! That thought had never occurred to me, and no one, no parent or teacher (as far as I recall) had even suggested such a possibility.
So I decided to give it a try in Primary 5, spending a few days before the examination going through the textbooks (studying!). The result was miraculous: I made it to the top three in class. This came as a surprise to everyone and upset the status quo, as no boys had previously ventured anywhere near the top of the class.
Very quickly, studying and the associated rewards and attention became addictive. In hindsight, I might have over done it in the following few years (decades?)J.
I made another shocking discovery around the same time (in Pr 5 or 6) as my discovery of ``studying for exams”. One Saturday, when we were having our ECA (=extra-curricular activity, nowadays renamed as CCA= co-curricular activity), me and my friend decided to investigate a very quiet classroom, whose windows and doors were mysteriously shut, but into which we had noticed some students enter. We pried open a window to spy and were surprised to find many girls quietly sitting at desks reading books: We had just discovered the school library!
I never knew the school had a library. When I approached the teacher in-charge to be admitted into the library she was somewhat hesitant, as I recall: No boys had ever shown any interest in the library before and she might have suspected that I was up to some mischief. Eventually she did let me in and I happily indulged myself in the books I found there.
There were so many exciting things to read, especially the books on science and discovery that had exciting subjects not in the boring school texts. Some of us even spent long hours copying, verbatim and in long-hand, important passages from such books; photocopying was unheard of in those days (the first time I used a photocopy machine was in secondary school and it cost about 20 cents a page then—about the cost of a roti-prata meal.).

PSLE was a big deal then, as it is now. As part of the process, we were asked to choose in advance, in order of preference, four or so secondary schools as options. My parents told me to ask the form teacher for suggestions. My form teacher, Mrs. Ong, suggested I apply, as my first choice, to the ``boys-in-white” school which was then at its new campus at Grange Road (It has since shifted to a ``newer” campus).
I was told it was the best boys school, so naturally I thought that for my second, third etc choices I should choose other top ranked schools. But my dad had a different logic: He said that if I could not get into the top school then there was not much point trying for all those other top-rank schools which were so far from home; I would just have to settle for some school nearby.
So the stakes were high, so to speak. However, inhabiting a small pond, I was pretty confident of myself and could not imagine there being many other applicants (I had to imagine, as I had no experience of the reality). Yet, Malay was my weak point and gave me some pause.
Soon word spread among the teachers of JKPS that ``some student had chosen THE school as an option”. I had become a curiosity. I remember one of them asking me whether I was really capable and reminding me how difficult it was and that I might be taking a big risk in putting THAT school as my first choice.
Even the school principal was curious enough to come over and talk to me one day (yes, remarkably, she came over). I began to realise how big a deal it was: Apparently no one (I think) had made such a brazen application before in JKPS.
So I got down to it: I studied, studied and studied, making my own revision notes, assessment sheets (inspired by the limited ones available) and a study timetable. (Tuition was rare in those days and my parents were not pushing).   
I remember results day. Something was in the air. Someone hinted that he heard something from the school clerk but it was vague and unreliable. Each class got their results and posting read out to them from the form teacher. I waited as each name was read out. It was not in any order I could discern. I was still confident but getting a bit nervous. Mrs. Ong made me wait till the end for the news. It was good.


Looking back, I feel the time at JKPS  was relatively carefree, enjoyable and  exciting.
For various reasons, I have not put down all my memories of JKPS and have not provided all details. Maybe they will be in another post somewhere, someday day :).


After completing this entry I discovered a site with many photos of old Jalan Kayu and the school:
Photos of Jalan Kayu Primary School