Friday, April 13, 2012

Malaysian Education: Need for Change?

I've recently become a part of the Parent Support Group of my children's school. Parent Support Group is another name for the PTA or the PIBG, the group of parents who work with the school on behalf of all the other parents.
We are having the kick-off meeting on Saturday and one of the items on the agenda is "Delivery of School Lessons", so I took this opportunity to ask my own kids what they thought about the lesson delivery in their current school compared to what they have experienced in Saudi and Dubai.

"Over here, only the teachers are allowed to talk. They never ask your opinion. In Dubai, we were the ones doing most of the talking. There were more discussions".
"Homework was fun! I was so excited to do my homework when I was in school in Saudi/Dubai. Homework here feels like a chore.. it's all writing and more writing"
"You know that's not really true ... you did get a few assignments to make movies and diagrams"
"yeah, that's true ... but for subjects like Math, they gave us assignments like 'Build your own Amusement Park' and you were taught how to keep track of cost and revenue and how to calculate your profit and loss, how to estimate how many workers, rides, and food stalls you need. That was FUN. Over here it's all exercises."
"Yeah and there was that enterprise week where I got to create my own island resort and wore a suit and I gave a presentation"
"And remember that Rainforest concert? We got to sing or act out what we learnt about the rainforest in class, to the whole school! And we made an aboriginal masks during art. That was fun."
"Why can't they do these things over here?"

Having experienced 'Malaysian Schooling' for roughly 6 months now, I think I now know why.
This has probably been said before, but our education system is too exam oriented. Worse, it is geared to reward students who can answer questions in a fixed format. Interprate the question differently or answer it a little differently, or perhaps use different or the wrong or unfamiliar word, and you lose points. So students have no choice but to learn how to interprate the question and how to answer the questions in a specific way, to maximize the points you receive.
Compound that with a public that sizes up schools based on exam results alone, you get schools that are forced to spend more time training students on how to answer questions to maximize points, instead of teaching them how to learn and apply the knowledge. Teachers have no time to make learning fun, because they are too restricted by this system.
Our children are being taught how to swallow facts and figures whole and spew it out in neat little packages that conform to the examiners format. They are being judged on how well they do that. The judges are the local 'good schools', the colleges, the universities, the employers.

In my opinion, our students need to learn more about how to GAIN AND APPLY knowledge than how to RETAIN knowledge.

In this day an age, what you are learning today is probably obsolete yesterday. The advent of technology has made it easy for you to extract information. There is really no need for us to test our students on how much they know and can remember, because that skill is no longer required. What is more important is to test them on their skill in getting information, on mining data, on deducting facts and figures and how logically and creatively they can apply that knowledge.

Want to know when the Portugese invaded Melaka? Just google it. Want to know why? Wiki. Want to know what the Melakans could've done to prevent the invasion? Now, *that* is something worth spending time pondering, discussing and concluding about.

You think questions like that is waaay to advanced for our young students? Think again.
At 11 years old, the students in Ilham's Year 7 class in Jumeirah College Dubai were talking about the Battle of Hastings (go wiki it). They were asked, why do you think the Normans won, taking into account not only the size of the battling forces, but also the demographic of the forces, the tools and weapons they had, the geography of the area and other extenuating circumstances. They were also asked, what could the Engish have done to win it?
With this one question (eh, two), they were not only able to apply their power of deduction and assumption, they also applied their skill in clear and persuasive writing.
Budak darjah lima hokay.
Now, don't you dare say Mat Salleh kids are better than Malaysian kids. I think Malaysian kids were just never given the opportunity.

And that's only the subject of Sejarah (History). I am sure there are many other ways where we could encourage our students to be creative in applying the knowledge that they have learnt in all the other subjects.

Unfortunately, the local 'good schools', universities, colleges and employers do not look at or for these skills when they are evaluating applicants. The first thing they look at are the results on paper. That is such a shame. Perhaps that is why you find that most successful people in the world nowadays are those that did not do so well in school or go to the best schools. Perhaps these organizations need to stop looking at only the exam results and look deeper into the applicants' skills instead, if they want truly the best people in their institution.

I know changing the school system would be an arduous long-winded process that will probably take years of writing and presenting working papers, cabinet debates, minister slanderings, illicit videos, handbag purchases and what not. So, I am not hoping much.
I do hope that we, as parents, could do little-little things within our own school, or even within our own household, to make not just learning, but the the application of knowledge, more fun and exciting for our children.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Getting my eye poked

As I mentioned before, I needed an injection in my right eye to fix the lesion/macular degeneration on my retina.
I chose the drug Avastin, which is 12 times cheaper than Lucentis (google it if you want), and the doctor only does the procedure for this drug on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
My original appointment was on Thursday, but earlier in the week, one of Taufik's drill bits broke apart while drilling granite formation and that meant he could not miss the early morning meetings with customers, and on top of that he had another mid morning meeting on Thursday which he could not miss. He requested that I change the appointment to Wednesday instead, because or else, he would not be able to go to the hospital with me.
So I called the hospital asking if it was possible for me to change the appointment, but unfortunately wednesday's appointment was full. I asked them to just put me on a waiting list if there is any, Manalah tahu ada orang kensel ke..
But they didnt call me back.
Upon Taufik's insistence, I called up the hospital again on Tuesday 6pm, not hoping too high for a positive response, since it was after office hours. Surprisingly, the nurse said, "There is a place for you, you can come tomorrow morning". Yay!

After dropping off Taufik at the LRT station (he could not miss the early morning meeting) and my kids at school, I again parked my car, rode the LRT to Asia Jaya, walked to THONEH and got registered by 8:30am. By 9a.m. I was brought to the DayCare Centre where I was asked to put on a robe over my clothes, take off my tudung to put on a hair net (ini kira darurat lah kan?) and was bought into this huge waiting room with comfortable lounge chairs.
The nurses tested my blood sugar and blood pressure, and gave me the OK to go. They put an X over my right eyebrow, cleaned my eyes and served me kaya toast and milo (coz I didnt have time to grab breakfast). Only then did I find out how close I was to not getting my injection that day. There was another lady that had failed her blood pressure test and could not go through the procedure today, and I was taking her place. Subhanallah, I was *this* (gap between thumb and forefinger) close to being sent home empty handed. Alhamdulillah Alhamdulillah.
While waiting for my turn, i received an sms that Taufik had arrived and was waiting outside. I was relieved and felt comfort in knowing he was out there even though he was not allowed to come inside the operating theatre with me.
My turn came just as I had finished eating my toast and had 2 sips of Milo. I followed the blue blob I identified as the nurse (coz I was almost blind without my glasses on) into the operating theatre and she asked me to lie down on a gurney.
On my right, Dr. Gayatri was administering the injection on another patient and as I lay there reciting all the Qur'anic verses I knew, I was also eavesdropping. I overheard the word "slight hemorrhage" and heard Dr. Gayatri telling the patient to sit up without opening his eyes. A vision of bleeding eyes came into my mind.
Robbi Yasser walatu 'Asser, Ya Kareeem!!!
Oh Allah Please make it easy!
It was then my turn.
The nurse put a piece of paper, with a hole to expose only my right eye, over my face. She asked me to close my eyes and swabbed around my right eye. She then asked me to open my eyes to administer the local anesthetic, but some of the liquid she had swabbed with went into my eye and it stung, so I couldn't open it. Panic lah kejap. The doctor suggested that I blink rapidly while the nurse put the anesthetic drops, and alhamdulillah that worked. She administered a second drop, just in case.
The doctor than asked me to look straight ahead, as she put a clamp over my eyelids to stop it from closing up while she does the injection. She then told me to look to the top left. Good thing I had impaired vision on that eye, coz I couldn't really see whatever she was holding. She said, "Okay now you are going to feel a slight pressure on your eye ya..." and so I felt a slight pressure, and "Okay all done!" she said.
"What??? That's it??" I asked.
"Yup! And you were all anxious for nothing", She laughed at me.
When I got up from the gurney, I noticed a block spot at the bottom of my vision, but otherwise, everything else felt fine, Alhamdulillah :)
After the nurses checked that I was okay, they let me take off the robe and put on my tudung, and I went out to meet Taufik. I was told to wait in front of the doctor's office for a post-op consultation, but Taufik and I went to have some breakfast at the canteen first before we went to see the doctor.
The anesthesia was starting to wear off by then and my eyes felt a little sore. Not unlike the feeling of an eye infection, or if it were to be poked by something, which it had been.
This was the first time Taufik (or someone other than me) talked to the doctor about my case, so Dr. Gayatri took the time to explain what's going on and how this medicine is going to help me. I was to see her again on Monday for a follow up, and after a month she'll do another OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) and decide whether I need more treatments. I were to continue putting on eyedrops till monday.

After meeting the doctor, one of the nurses explained to me about post-op care for my eyes. I cannot get water or soap into my eyes for 2 days, so that means no washing my face or shampooing my hair. I were to put antibiotic drops every 2 hours that day and every four hours the following days till monday. I were to call the hospital immediately if my eye get really irritated or red, if I start to suddenly see a lot of 'floaters' (black spots) in my vision, or if my vision gets worse.
haiyo so meng-kancheong-kan.
I seek protection and healing from Allah.

After settling the bills, Taufik and I walked to the AsiaJaya LRT Station. He asked me, "Erm, are you okay to drive?"
"I can drive as well as a one-eyed man can", I said.
"Coz I have to get back to work lah... ", he said.
"Hm... okay", I was a bit dejected, but what to do.
"You're gonna be driving dalam taman tu je from SS3/43 to SS3/44 aje kan?", I think he was trying to assure himself more than he was trying to assure me.
"Ok, see you at home lah nanti". :P
"Erm, you come pick me up at the LRT station ya?"

So I did as I was told (you don't fool around with your eyes) and took my wudhu musafir-style (i.e. wet my hands and spread water around my face, as opposed to the malaysian-stye, splash macam nak mandi), making sure no water or soap gets into my eyes. Good thing I had washed my hair on Wednesday morning, so it wasnt that bad when I finally got to shampoo on Friday.

By Saturday I was actually seing improvement in my vision. There was still that gray blob, but it was getting lighter grey, and more transluscent. I could almost see the outline of my hand when I waved it in front of my face, when previously it would dissapear behind the blob. Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah.

When I went to see the doctor yesterday (monday), I told the nurse that did the eye chart test that even though I still could not read the letters, at least now I could see that there is a chart there. Dr. Gayatri scoped my eye and said she sees a fading of the lesion and that is very encouraging. Alhamdulillah!
So she made me an appointment for Wednesday 25th April (3 more weeks). I am to administer the antibiotic drops into my right eye 3 days prior to the appointment. If the OCT results show that I require another dose of Avastin, she will give me the injection straight away.
She also asked me to monitor the vision in my left eye and to come right away if I see deteriotarion in its quality. I know now to do so, and not wait till I see the grey blob.

Alhamdulillah, I am happy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The world through my eyes recently

During the beginning of the school holidays (around 10th of March) recently, I discovered that my vision was a little different. I started seeing things like this:

At first I thought perhaps my contact lenses were just dirty, so I took it off and made sure I cleaned it properly. But when I woke up the next morning, it was still slightly blurry. So I opened up a fresh pair of contact lenses, but my vision still did not improve.
So I decided to do a simple experiment, by closing one eye and looking only through the other. This was what I discovered:
Vision through my left eye looked like this-

Vision through my right eye looked like this:

I had a blind spot on my right eye.

It wasn't a completely blind spot, coz through it I could still see colors, but of course it still alarmed me. If I blink my eye really rapidly, I could actually see the shape of the 'spot', like a paint splatter in my eye. One night I even spent almost half an hour closing my left eye and moving my index finger across my right eye like a windshield wiper to see its shape more clearly and also to watch my finger 'dissapear'. tee hee.

I wanted to get it checked, but it being a school holiday, it was impossible to leave the kids home alone while I go to the hospital, plus there were that 2 days that we were supposed to not have water.

I can't remember what I did on the monday, the first day school started, but I only managed to go to the Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital (THONEH) on Tuesday morning. Not knowing what tests they were gonna do, and not liking to drive to unfamiliar places (especially with impaired eyesight), I drove to SS3/43, parked my car, walked to the LRT station to catch the train to Asia Jaya station and from there it was short walk to THONEH.

They did the usual pre-limenary eye test with the chart and when they closed my left eye, all I could see was a grey spot and I told them. Dr. Pavina showed me a paper with square grids on them and asked me to draw the 'spot' and I did.
She asked me questions about my eyesight. How shortsighted am I (-5.0 on both eyes). How long have I been wearing glasses (since I was 17). How long have I been wearing contact lenses (since I was 20). When did I last have my eyes checked (I think the last time we came home, which was 2 years ago?). Was my vision distorted then (I have always had astigmatism, so if it was, I wouldn't have noticed it was this bad till last week).
She then put my head into this contraption and took a really close look into my eyes. She told me she saw what the problem was. I asked whether it was external or internal, realy hoping it was just something growing on my cornea and it could be scraped or lasered off somehow. Unfortunately, she said it was internal.
She brought me to see a more experienced Dr. Saras for a second opinion. Dr Saras scoped, prodded and examined my eye and gave me the same verdict. (note: Dr. Pavina is waaaay gentler than Dr. Saras. omg.)

They gave me eyedrops to dilate my pupils and sent me for Opthalmic Photography and Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT).
Opthamlmic Photography takes pictures of my retina, the inside wall of my eyes.
OCT is this really cool machine that actually takes a cross-sectional picture of the layers of the retina. I distracted myself from the grim possibilities of my ailment by asking the technician to explain how the machine works. You can google it if you want. It's pretty cool. :)
The only hard part with both procedures is trying to keep your eyes open without blinking and having blinding bright light flashing in your eyes. Not comfortable at all. The technicians were pretty nice though. They told me ,"don't blink, ya, don't blink" while taking pictures, then "okay blink now! blink, blink!" in between pictures.

The pictures showed that I have a lesion on my right retina, in a shape that matches what I had been tracing with my fingers one night a week ago. What is more alarming is, they see signs that it might also occur in my left eye. So they sent me to see another doctor, a retina specialist, Dr. Gayatri.
Dr. Gayatri looked at my case and decided to do an FFA (urm not sure what it's short for), but basically they inject a dye in my bloodstream and take pictures of my eye to see how the blood is flowing around the lesion. I were to come the next morning for the FFA.

So the next morning after sending the kids to school (yes, I still had to drive them to school. How?), I parked and rode the LRT again to THONEH.
They administered the pupil dialating eyedrops, put an IV on my left hand, and brought me to the Opthalmic Photography room. The test was pretty simple - I sat in front of the contraption that holds my head still and a camera points directly at my eye. The moment they inject the dye via the IV, they start taking pictures of the inside of my eye. My retina was like America's Next Top Retina. It was like flash flash flash. I felt like it took forever to finish, even though it was actually only about 5-7 minutes.
I was told to drink lots of water to flush out the dye and not to be suprised to find my pee bright yellow.

Dr. Gayatri examined the FFA results for a bit and then gave me the prognosis.
My retina is damaged and 'leaking' due to the stress from my extreme shortsightedness. I asked her if Lasik would help to reduce the stress, she said not really, because it's actually my mis-shapen eyeball that it causing my shortsightedness and stretching my retina and thus causing it to strain and damage it.
Fortunately, there is treatment for it. The medicine is, however, administered by injection of the eyeball.
Here's where I started to freak out in my head a bit.

"You're gonna inject. my. eyeball??" I asked.
"It's actually a relatively painless procedure" (relative to what? poking your eye with a fork??)
"We are going to numb your eyes before the injection and really, all you would feel is something similar to an ant bite" she tried to assure me.
"Like an ant bite. on. my. eyes!!", I was NOT assured.

I wasn't about to dwell on the horrible images it brought up, so I decided to change the subject to cost.
I have the choice between 2 drugs - one that is extremely expensive, and another that is just expensive. The former was designed specifically for this ailment (aha! So I wasn't the only one with this problem) and therefore has had a lot of money pumped into its research and development, hence the cost. The latter, however was accidently discovered to have the same effect with the same effectiveness, without having to go through all the R&D costs. I consulted my financier a.k.a. husband and we decided on the latter.
I have an appointment to get my eyes poked next Thursday. Taufik will be taking the day off to hold my hand, Insya-Allah.

Make du'a for me!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Am Are I

If you want to do the MRI, you have to be prepared to wait.
Because if your case is not urgent, read: if your head is not going to explode or something, then you would have to wait till after everyone who has made an appointment before you or whose head was going to explode to go through the test before it gets to your turn.
The doctor requested for my MRI at around noon, and my turn only came almost 7 hours later. Good thing I was admitted into a room, so at least I could lie down and watch Amazing Race while I wait.

The attendant wheeled me down to the Imaging room and I was interviewed first. The nurse asked me if I knew what an MRI is, and I said I've seen it on TV ;) I was asked if I was claustrophobic and if I have had any kind of implants, did I work with metal grinders etc. Basically they just wanted to know if I had anything metal in my body that would affect the magnetic resonance. I had taken out anything metal on my body, including the pin that was holding my headscarf. Good thing I was wearing a lycra Selendang Saudah, so it was easy to wrap it around my head and keep it in place without a pin. I was told to change into the gown provided and to remove everything else except my underwear.

Okay, here I would like to digress a bit and complain.
Why is it that someone does not design a muslimah-friendly hospital gown? The one I had to wear had short sleeves and it reached only a little below the knee. I had to ask for a blanket to wear like a sarong to hide my legs. And what's with the ties? How in the world was I supposed to tie it anyways? I think there are things called 'velcro' nowadays.

So after I have figured out how to wear my gown, I went into the Imaging room to face this behemoth of a machine. It looked like a really huge pencil sharpener. I was asked to lie down and the imaging guy explained to me how I shouldnt move, how long it'd take and gave me a button to push in case I wanted the test to stop for any reason. I prayed to god I would not need to use it, coz wouldn't that mean I'd have to repeat the test again? He gave me ear plugs to dull the noise, told me to lie down, wedged sponges on the side of my head to reduce movement and closed this star wars-like visor over my face.

I closed my eyes and imagined just that - that I was going on a trip to the outerspace. I tried not to think about the enclosed space and put pictures of wide open sky in my head instead. It also helped that the first sound I heard after I had stopped moving inside was like a single note from a electric bass guitar. Just like the sound the spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind made. It helped feed my planetary trip fantasy I had going on. That single note was repeated for a few minutes before it stopped and changed rythm.

After what felt like quite a while, I realized that I was breathing very shallowly. Maybe I had forgotten how to breathe!? I tried hard to not panic and concentrate on my breathing. I almost wanted to press the button, but the thought of having to do the test over kept me from doing so. If I back out now, who knows whether I'd have the courage to do it again? So I braved myself and recited all the surahs that I memorized. Unfortunately it didn't take too long to go through all of them (*hangs head in shame*). Alhamdulillah, though, after several rounds of surahs and Robbi Yasser walatu asser (God is the Great Giver of Ease and will make it easy) I calmed down and decided to just enjoy the rock show.

Coz it was just like a rock show! There wasn't much variety in the notes, but the rythm was there. Some bits sounded like drum beats, some sounded like feedback, some sounded like the "paa paa paa" of an electric guitar. Towards the end of the test was quite entertaining, coz it went "tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap" then "paa paa paa paa paa paa paa paa", over and over. I almost tapped my feet. I even got the courage to open my eyes a bit to take a peek at the inside of the pencil sharpener. All I could see was the frames of my visor and white, white, white. I closed my eyes and didn't think much about it anymore coz my nose was starting to itch.

So there I was. stuck in this hole and my nose was itching and I really really really wanted to scratch it but was too scared that I'd move too much and would have to do everything all over again and as much as I had enjoyed the 'rock concert', I don't think I could stand another 30 minutes of it. With the grace of God, everything stopped and they took me out and I was told the test was done! Alhamdulillah, I could now scratch my nose! lol

So I changed and went back to my room. The whole thing took about 45minutes. About 2 hours later the doctor came to tell me my MRI looks clear, so there's really nothing to worry about. Next time I have a headache I should just take a panadol and sleep it off. Next time I have a cold, just take it easy and don't work too hard (heh. Easier said than done). She suggested a blood test to rule out anything else.

I was glad they didn't find anything in the MRI. I was prepared for all possibilities, but I was glad it was all clear, just so that I didn't have to go through the pencil sharpener again. ;)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What went down on Sunday?


For the past few years I have been getting headaches that coincides with the crimson tide. So last Saturday was no different, except that towards the evening I also developed a cold. So I took Claratyne, and closer to my bedtime I took a panadol, with hopes that the next morning I'd have slept it all off.
Woke up, still with a headache and a runny nose, teary eyes and all. After taking a shower did not alleviate the pain, I knew that breakfast was gonna be a little slow today. So I ate an apple before starting on the sausages, beans and eggs. Ilham and Ihsan came home from their sleepover at nenek's asking whether they could go with MakLong to KL, I said no. Still nursing my headache, I got the boys to help me out with breakfast. Ihsan was cooking sausages while I was peeling some shallots and garlic for the baked beans. One minute I was rinsing the knife, next minute it was like the end of a silent movie, where the bright circle in the middle of the dark screen got smaller and smaller until everything was black. Next thing I knew, Taufik was repeatingly calling out my name and I was lying on the floor.

Taufik then brought me to the hospital with Anis, leaving the older boys at home to watch over Izani and his cousins (who came for a sleepover the night before). Riding up and down the elevator made me so woozy that by the time we got to the emergency room and Taufik got me registered, I had puked out bits of apple all over the floor.
I felt awful, but it was actually a blessing, coz I caught the nurse's attention and they admitted me into the Resus room straight away. (tee hee)

So the doctor came to see me, asked me what happened, I told him. He called the Neurologist and she asked me the same questions, did some tests just like I saw on ER/Grey's/House (follow my finger, touch my finger, touch your nose etc etc). She checked my head for bumps, but there weren't any. I think I fell bum first coz it hurt a bit. (Shows you which part of my body is heaviest... ha ha). She calls my headaches 'migraines' but I am kinda reluctant to call it that, coz I've seen friends with migraines, and I don't think mine are *that* bad. She thinks it's nothing, I fainted most probably coz I was trying to do too much after taking anti-histamines that usually requires resting coz it knocks you out. But if we want to be sure, we can either do a CAT scan or an MRI, the latter being more accurate but it requires me being admitted into the hospital because the test and its results take a while. We decided we might as well do the MRI since we're already there.

While waiting for my room to be ready, I managed to take a nap in the ER and woke up feeling a bit better, even though it still felt like there were rocks in my head.

Of course when you get admitted into the hospital, things sound more serious than it actually is. The whole family stopped by to visit and all. I hope they were not too dissapointed that I wasn't as sick as they thought I was. ha ha ha.

Tomorrow I'll tell you all about my MRI experience. It was quite interesting ;)