When we decided to transfer Isaac from a private school to government school, our main concern was diversity. Or rather, the lack of thereof.
As you might already know, I come from a multiracial family. Hubs is Chinese and I am well, rojak. So our kids are multiracial. However, we raise our children as Chinese as we could possibly do (it is a choice - something I promised to my husband and his family). By this, I meant, we try to instill the Chinese culture in them whenever it benefits them.
So I was worried that schooling in such Malay-environment school, Isaac could be victim of racism and bullying.
When Isaac was four, we enrolled him in a preschool where there was a good mixture of races. He learnt about leadership skills, empathy, and understanding. His days were spent sitting around singing songs in 4 different languages, painting Malaysian flags and story telling. It was perfect.
And when he was seven, we sent him to a good private school where he continued mixing with all races. But last year, hubs and I decided to transfer him to a school nearer to hubs’ office – due to traveling factor and financial issue.
What we didn’t know was – this school that we put him in was a little bit racist.
I noticed all was not right one day when I picked him up after school. Isaac has always been a child who loves to chat in the car. We find out the best stuff in the car. Sometimes we even go around the block just one more time so we can get the end of a good story. That day was no different.
“How was school today?” I asked
“It was okay,” he sighed.
“Just okay? What’s that?”
“I think I need to change my name.”
“Oh yeah? Why is that?”
“Teacher said that Isaac is not an Islam name. I need to change it if I want to mix with everyone. And everyone is Malay. So I don’t have any other friends.”
“What?” I felt myself jerk the steering wheel. “Did teacher really say that?” I started to question if he was telling me the truth.
“Yes, and I need to wear long pants too. She said short pants are for Chinese or Indian.”
The wheel jerked again and I almost drove off the road this time. Shit! Are you kidding me? By this time, I almost made a u-turn back to school.
I pulled to the curb, where I could park. I turned in my seat and faced, my sweet, innocent, open minded, brave child.
“Okay, look. This is rubbish. Isaac is a good name. It means laughter. Mummy was the one who gave you this name. Don’t you like it?”
“Yes, I like my name.”
“Names were given to distinguish you from the other. Whether it is Abdullah or John, as long as it doesn’t mean bad, then it is okay. It doesn’t mean when you have an English name, you are not a Muslim. And I always tell you that you are a Chinese. Chinese is a race. It is not a religion. And being a Chinese does not mean you cannot be Muslim. Again, Chinese, Malay or Indian do not matter. We are all Malaysians. You are in school to learn, right?”
“I know, but…” he sighed again. "But I won't have any friend."
"Why is being Chinese an issue anyway?" I sighed.
“It is okay, baby. I will speak to your teacher. I will not tolerate such remark from a teacher. As for you, young man, do not let people around you change the way you feel about yourself. They can say anything. But you know how Mummy and Daddy want to raise you.”
The next day, I called the teacher and told her about what Isaac told me. She didn’t say much. All she said was, most kids in the class were Malays. And she didn’t want to confuse them.
I told her that there was nothing to be confused about. That Isaac Lim was his name and as for wearing long pants, I told her there was no such rule stated when we enrolled him into the school, that he could not wear shorts. If she wasn’t feeling comfortable for a nine year old boy to wear short pants – revealing his aurat, I asked her to please show me the official school policy. She never did, until today.
I also found out that the school was divided into two sections. SK I & SK II. Where Isaac is studying is full with Malay kids. The other, a good mixture of Chinese and Indians. I was really unhappy. I called Jabatan Pendidikan Daerah to inquire on why did they enroll Isaac into an all Malay school when the next building had a better mixture of kids, they did not want to comment.
We did not change his school because he has only one more year left. We did not want to confuse him and cause him trouble adapting again so we just chose to keep quiet and pray that the education system will get better and that they stop segregating students based on race and religion.