I returned from KL not long ago, and we stopped for 20 minutes or so at a rest area in Pagoh. Knowing a pizza bargain awaited me there, I made my order and returned 10 minutes later. Although I had paid the cashier, the cook had made my order to a much larger size. Not wanting to wait longer, I told the cashier that I would take it. Armed with a calculator and aided by a colleague, the buttons of the calculator were punched with confusion. All was needed was to subtract the higher price by the lower price. I smiled. I have seen this many times since my childhood.
Finally, the cashier mentioned an amount which I knew was wrong. “That’s too low,” I said. I calculated mentally and then paid the exact amount, which was a couple of ringgit higher. Even as a child, I would do the same with an abang selling karipap (currypuff). In the end, these confused ones would smile in embarrassment or disbelief but relieved they did not lose some money. Although armed with a calculator, they were unsure of what the simple mathematical equations were.
Not long after, I received the above message from a weak student I was teaching. I smiled again. This time it was one of genuine joy. You see – one of the joys of teaching occurs when a habitual failure breaks the enslaving chains of failure. I have 5 kids in this Math tuition class. This girl is the third of the 4 failing kids who has broken her fail-at-Math cycle in less than a year. She had been adamant that she would never pass Math just a few weeks earlier. Though I believe she is not yet out of the woods, I loved hearing her claim that she had broken through. This, to me, is crucial for it represents a child breaking a negative self-belief down. [Although the one student who did not have a problem with Math told me a few days later that he had broken through (ie. he scored an A-star finally), the joy in me is far greater when a failure sheds his negative self and embraces his new self of “I-can-do-it!”]
I have been told by well-meaning friends not to be critical of our Malay-Muslim self-help groups. Well, Surah Asr of the Qur’an teaches me otherwise. 4 key characteristics are prerequisites for success here and in the hereafter. They are belief, doing good, speaking truth (ie. being critical) and being patient. This Mathematics glass ceiling over the Malay-Muslim community has been there for too long. It is time to break it for good. It is by no accident that a significant number of habitual Math failures under me can pass Math well within a 1 to 2 year period. There exists a clear approach of empowering weak learners to succeed in Math. It is either our self-help groups know about this or they don't. From the stagnant rates of improvement at Math, it indicates that our self-help groups do not know.