Now that <abbr title=”Firstborn son”>Long</abbr> had graduated from kindergarten, the next step for us was to find a grade school for him. We decided the best option would be the Islamic public grade school, often called the madrassah around here. Lest we hastily jump to images of rows of boys rocking back and forth over Qurans all the livelong day, let me elaborate. It is a public school, supported by the government. It follows the standard goverment curriculum, which at the first grade level is Malaysian language, English, math, science, music, art, and phys ed, but in addition, the students also learn Arabic and Islam. Islam is taught in Malay using the Jawi script, so they get that too. Starting in second grade, there is an afternoon session that teaches fardhul ain. (Fardhul ain, often translated as obligatory knowledge, is all the basic stuff every muslim should know: how to pray, how to take wudhu, pillars of the faith, etc. which means I’ve got about a year and counting before I’m surpassed in knowledge by my kid.) It’s an integrated curriculum. The availability of a school like this is among the top reasons I am happy to raise my kids here in Malaysia.
To get in, Long had to take a test. An entrance exam for first grade! Good lord, what could they test him on? The day came, and I took him to the school. What a scene! There were kids in tears, kids clutching fearfully to their parent’s hands or pantlegs, kids racing like mad around the compound as everyone waited for the exam to begin. I left Long in the hands of his kindergarten teacher who was there coordinating her recent alumni for the test. After a quick sarapan pagi I came back and sat in the courtyard to wait. From where I sat, I could see all the classroom doors through the open-air corridors around me. There sure seemed to be a lot of commotion in the corridors. As I sat, I realized what it was: an unending stream of children running out of their exam rooms to the toilet. Kids were running out of every single classroom door and making for the john and running back, skirts hiked up to the knees, hands on their heads to keep their songkok from falling off. It was a riot. So I figured, that’s what they must be testing: if you can show up at the school without crying, hold your urine, and sit still in your chair for an hour, you’re in. Well, I’m happy to say he was up that much. He started school last month.