It was in the middle of the year 2001, almost ten years ago but I still remember it as if it was only yesterday. My fellow Kampung Jambu students and I were in King Edward primary school, eagerly waiting for our turn to recite our choral speaking in front of hundreds of other primary school students from all around the Larut, Matang and Selama district.
The girls from Convent Kota were on stage. Their facial expression was point on, their voices: crystal clear, their body language: in perfect unison, their accent: pure Queen English. Everyone in the hall were silent, admiring their recital with zero distraction. After all, this school had a reputation for not only winning every English-language competition, but for also making the state of Perak proud on the national level. These girls on stage, or rather their predecessor, have earned the right to be feared at such events. They had been customarily trained to excel on this platform.
But I remember how my schoolmates and I reacted to this. We were in no way let down by the Convent girls' brilliant recital. We had practiced for months, out teacher correcting each and every one of our facial expressions and speech. But I, being a nervous wreck, quickly panicked. The Convent girls' recital was on recycling. And ours' was on Roald Dahl's version of Cinderella. What if they got extra points for reciting something more intellectual than our bedtime story themed one? And how were we going to beat that accent?
I was nervous, but I was not even close to loosing hope. Unlike the kids from the school who were going to perform after us. They were lined up behind us, and I head their conversation. They were from a relatively rural area in Matang. One could tell they were not from the urban town site like the most of us from their the untidiness of their uniforms. From what I heard, most of them did not feel like performing at all and felt it was much better if they went home. It turned out their teacher never mentioned anything about not moving hands during a choral speaking recital, nor were they told about moving in unison. Each had practices a body language and movement of their own. Goodness!
So, once the Convent girls were done, it was our turn, followed by the Matang kids. The results came as no surprise. My school got third place while the Convent school won first prize.
It was a sore battle. We were put up against schools completely out of out league. If Kampung Jambu, an urban national school where Malay is predominantly the lingua franca, could not compete against these missionary and convent schools where English is mostly used by the students at home and at school, what else the poor rural Malay and vernacular schools? It was sad.
I am merely a citizen. I can do nothing more than point out my opinions. Rather than seeing the hopes and aspirations of kids from rural backgrounds being crushed like this, the more sane idea would be to put those from elite schools up against those from their own league, and the others up those from their own level of achievement as well, rather than have divide schools up according to zones and districts, where rural schools are forced to confront urban schools.