Honestly speaking. I am Hokkien educated

Yesterday, a mother with 2 kids sitting next to my dining table approached me and asked why I'm teaching my kids Hokkien language and not Mandarin? She asked me if I'm Chinese or English educated.

For the uninitiated, the Malaysians of Chinese ancestry have this habit of asking each other if one is educated in English/Malay medium school or Chinese medium school.

Her question put my brain into motion and I started to think about my own childhood education. What am I? Am I English or Sekolah Kebangsaan education stream student or educated in Chinese medium school? After a pause, I told her that I'm Hokkien educated.

Almost instantaneously she turned dumbfounded(傻眼) and walked away shaking her head. Thanks to that, I'm able to continue having dinner with my kids in peace.

my education "stack"

My education "stack" - Hokkien at home and others at schools.

First few Hokkien words that I learned as a toddler

First few Hokkien words that I learned as a toddler.

My own childhood education

Baby to teenager stage:

My mother and father talked to each other in Hokkien and Mandarin at home. Mostly Hokkien. My grandparents - 100% Hokkien.

Kindergartens stage:

Looking back, I knew that I have "Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder" (ADHD) and changed a few kindergartens. My mother told me that I'm unable to pay attention and always try to escape the confine of the school's compound. Back then in the 80's, there are no proper diagnosis of ADHD, the usual "treatment" was ear pulling combined with "rotan" (cane) whacking the buttock. The only way my mother can get me to sit still is by putting me in front of a computer and that's how I learned programming by myself starting with Turbo Pascal.

Things are so different today. There are schools or teachers that specialized in handling ADHD students. There are Montessori and Waldorf school systems as well.

Primary schools:

Notice that I use plural instead of singular here. I attended 2 primary schools. One is Saint Anthony Teluk Intan primary school in the daytime and another one is 中正夜校(Chung Chen Free Night School) during the night.

At Saint Anthony Primary school during the day, I learnt Bahasa Malaysia, English, English-Math system and Jawi up to primary 2. I don't know what caused the Malaysian Education Ministry to stop Jawi lesson back then. I think it is ok to know Jawi even I'm not from Malay parentage. I learnt that the atmosphere is more relaxing and less homework to do. We all talked in our own mother tongues and the teachers have to implement some sort of punishment system to get us to speak English. Such as getting a stroke of "rotan"(cane) if we were caught speaking non-English words during English class.

All my classmates are in the same age group as me, I learnt about the gentleness and kindness shown by my Malay teachers in teaching. If you ever ask me a good thing about Malays, I would say that patient is their virtue. Of course, there are always a few nasty and impatient ones. But, life is too short for hate.... better to concentrate on the good and positive things of life.

saint anthony teluk intan

Saint Anthony Primary school Teluk Intan

Chung Chen Free Night School location in Google Map

Chung Chen Free Night School location in Google Map

At Chung Chen(Zhōngzhèng), I learnt about moral(道德), the Chinese-Math system and the "brutal" methods employed by Chinese teachers to get us in memorizing Chinese characters. If my grades didn't make it, I have to stay back and repeat the entire year(留班). I learned that the Chinese-Math measurements and calculation methods are different from English-Math. Calculating price discount is slightly faster in Chinese-math. Things in Chinese seemed to focus on fast and optimization. Even the Chinese characters for chopsticks (筷子) has the character fast(快).

My classmates' age varies ... some slightly older, some younger and my class monitor was already 32-years old when I'm was 8 back then. Talking about my class monitor... he worked in the wet market selling vegetables during the day and attend school at night. He came from a poor family background and didn't attend school when he was younger. Attending the free night school was the only education he had.

Another schoolmates comprised of a mother and her two sons. All of them went through the 6 years of primary school classes together.

My teachers... some young ladies, some old ladies, some old and young men. All of them have their own days jobs to make a living. They teach at Chung Chen at night. My school fee is about 20 ringgit for every six months. My Mandarin teacher sells cigarettes around town with a tri-cycle during the day. He is also the guy that killed my interest in continuing my education in Chung Chen....more about this later.

Why I'm Hokkien and not English/Malay/Mandarin-educated.

Sad to say, I didn't complete my entire "session" of primary Chinese school. I left Chung Chen shy of 1 year before graduating - without the "school leaving certificate". Why? Maybe because I got slapped for some odd reasons. Once by my science teacher... I was having my resit test with 3 other students because of earlier sickness. Three of us were sitting in the front row desks while she was announcing something to the entire class. While writing down my answers on the paper, she suddenly slapped me and said something gibberish... kinda of accusing me of not paying attention. Err... I was paying attention on the paper she just asked me to do! However, later on I found out she felt guilty herself and went to my father's shop to apologize to my mother the next day. Ok, I forgave her for that.

The straw that broke the camel's back for me is when I was accused of cheating in Mandarin paper. I remembered that I studied hard for that paper and scored 100%. Instead of being praised, that cigarettes peddler-cum-teacher accused me of cheating in front of the class. Maybe historically, I'm not known as a 100% boy or just not the blue-eyed boy for him. Perhaps also because I'm ADHD or better known back then as someone that keep looking out the windows and not paying attention. I'm more curious about the world outside classroom and eager to learn via experience instead of sitting in front of desk for hours.

I remember braving up myself and told my father that I wanted to quit Chung Chen. Maybe back then I was unable to express myself properly and this infuriated my father and my mother was upset with my decision. My eldest sister just came back from Singapore and she tried her best to talk me out of quitting. Nevertheless, I made up my mind and quit. Today, I didn't get the school leaving certificate for remembrance, just the report cards with blue and red ink remarks.

Now, please don't me wrong. There are kind and good Chinese teachers as well that are patient in educating me. I really cherish their efforts and will always remember them.

Looking back, I can't honestly tell that mother with 2 kids that I'm educated in English/Malay medium school or Chinese medium school. I realized that my own education "stack" comprised of Hokkien as the foundation and on top of it are Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and English. This is why I am Hokkien educated. I don't have a Chinese school certificate as proof and I lost my UPSR exam result certificate. Deep down I still a Hokkien-lang. (Hokkien person)

Hokkien and Cantonese language is known to me as the languages that I can learn without sitting for examination. In teaching my kids Hokkien now, my kids are learning from Ms. Ong Kar Ling YouTube channel. and Astro Hua Hee Dai. Making sure that their education "stack" has Hokkien as the foundation and become multilingual later like myself.

Another way of looking at it, I am glad that I didn't get the school leaving certificate.

Because I didn't "complete" my Chinese education.... I was more determine to self-study(自學) to improve my Mandarin. With guidance from my Chinese-educated parents, I started reading from comic books and news article to improve myself. Did I stop my Chinese education after leaving Chung Chen primary school? No, I'm still learning today. I still practice learning by copying from books(抄書) and from YouTube. I keep on learning even when people branded me as "banana". It is my own education, not theirs... ignore them.

Ok to be poor, but cannot be poor in education!

Chinese proverb - Ok to be poor, but cannot be poor in education!

Image credit : http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_47ba136d0100jq4l.html


Languages aside, the most important lesson that I learned back in both schools is ..... that I learnt as a kid to know that I'm stupid or not up to mark from the teachers and grading system. Academically well students will be rewarded and those that did not so well are destined to the lower ranks of society. Only now as an adult that I learnt about the horror of Prussian education system and the original sinister goals behind it. It took me quite a while to unlearn and untangle all the brainwashing that ... if a kid didn't do well academically... he or she will be stupid for life.

Now, if you're unable to teach Hokkien, Cantonese or whatever your original mother tongue is to your kids. There's nothing to worry or blame yourself. Teach them whatever you can and raise them as upright and good people.


  1. I always bring my kids to a kind Malay lady convenient shop to eat ice-cream and another Malay man pet shop. This is to let them practice their Bahasa Melayu.

  2. Apart from Hokkien, I'm going to teach my kids about finance, investing and doing business early in their life.

  3. Preview image taken from https://www.quora.com/Do-native-Hokkien-speakers-ever-learn-how-to-write-in-Hokkien



  See also : Responsible parenting tip. Teach your own mother tongue to your kids.

By Adam Ng(黃武俊)

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