Survival Comes First: This is how Malaysia’s education system should be improved.

Survival comes first.

This phrase above is one many of you have heard of. I believe Malaysia’s education system should be improved based on these three defining words.

Lately, our government has been coming up with many changes in the KSSM syllabus, which, although fortunately has nothing to do with me as I have just started university, is having a great impact on my younger brother. He is quite unluckily studying Form 4 this year – the year subject to much excited experimentation ever since he was in his primary school years. This batch were always freshmen when it came to their studies; they would struggle to familiarize themselves with the new implementations, and whoops, new changes to your syllabus again, sorry about that. You’ve just got to deal with it.

For my SPM last year, the second last year of the old syllabus KBSM (I am two years older than my brother), already had had a few unnecessary subjects. I took 10 subjects, which includes Mandarin in my case. But there were a few subjects such as Moral, Sejarah (history), and certain elements in the Malay and Chinese subjects such as KOMSAS and “ancient Chinese” (Malay and Chinese literature) that… when I have ascended to university and look back at, now, I find it difficult to understand why we ever had to study those subjects. Now, there is apparently a new addition to the KSSM syllabus, which is the translation of classical Malay to modern Malay.

Sure, it’s important to learn good morals and values. Indeed, education about the body is imperative. Yes, learning languages and its evolution is always useful, may even be interesting. True, if history is not taught and remembered, how will we learn from past mistakes? How can we effectively culture in our children curiosity about the future if we have zero knowledge of the past?

However, as I do more reading and exploration in this unique time of Covid-19, I see less and less purpose in keeping ourselves learned scholars of ancient text and reading textbook graphics on how to do gymnastics with balls and ribbons. Is it more important that we memorize our riddled past until we can recite it off the tops of our heads, or that we learn what will help us survive now?

What are our priorities now, right NOW?


You are taking a walk with your child and they are going to step into a hole that might twist their ankle badly. It’s happening now! Any moment now! One more inch! Will you warn your child of the hole and how to avoid it in the future, or begin telling the story of when their great-grandfather stepped into a similar hole many decades ago?

Your child steps into the hole and sprains their ankle. You chastise them furiously. Next time, read more stories about your great-grandfather! You demand, and thrust a great book into their hands filled with his ancestor’s mishaps. A heavy book, too big for the child to see where they are going.

“And of course,” you go on, ignoring your exhausted young son or daughter, weighed down by the enormous book, “it will also be highly useful if you could learn ancient Greek, the language your great-grandfather happened to be using when calling for a lady nearby, when he cried for her help, to get him out of the hole he fell into – “

Your child steps into another hole and breaks their leg.


This is why, chase the future first before you pursue the past. It’s difficult to live without past memories, but impossible to survive without future plans.

It is now the hype of our era, with Covid-19 impeding life activities, the worst global warming in the last five years, and far too many of the trouble human beings bring upon themselves are due to not knowing or not realizing basic things. Yet our politicians now bite and snap at each other while the children of our future cramp their tired minds with our ancestors glories and mistakes.

Instead, teach our new generation how to avoid the online and phone call scams that are so easy to fall for. Teach them how to fight for their own entitlements, and the rights of others. Educate them on the importance of personal and medical insurance. Allow them ample opportunity for observations of anything and everything (of good nature), and let them take away the lessons. Teach them the perils of the “real life out there”. If the situation leaves us no choice but be “quanranteens” in primary and secondary school education until our syllabus finally becomes what really matters at university, by which time most of our youth is lost, then show us what real life is, in the confines of your home. Instead of implying that “real life” is a curtain that only opens when we leave high school or even beyond university, tear down the drapes and guide us in imagining real life. It is, in fact, the very age of global digitalization.

Answer our questions on why things happen. When your child, teenage son / daughter, or young student asks questions, don’t brush them aside. Understanding why is the key to improving tolerance of strange environments, tolerance of people who look and sound different, tolerance of complex issues that are difficult to solve. It is also the key to setting curiosity and motivation on fire.

Most of all, teach our new generation how to make their own choices. The right choices. And they will be able to do that, based on their understanding of why it is the right or wrong thing to do.

We will then automatically culture good moral values, exercise more for our own health and learn from past mistakes based on critical judgment.

Humans need not and should not be constantly only told what to do – it may very well have the opposite effect. They need to be taught how to know what to do.

Although this write up is also an object of my frustration with the education system, but here is the real message I want you to take away: learning anything of good nature is beneficial, to some extent. However, it is not about which are the correct subjects to learn, but about which subjects are more important.

Especially in this very moment, we don’t have time for marginally useful things. We need the cure, now.

Survival comes first.

~Rachel Tan Hui Xin, 11 September 2020.

College study tips: Is it easier to remember, or to forget?

Light Bulb
Credits: Pixabay

Remembering, the bane of all doctors and a highly significant contributor to their success in medical school and beyond.

How often do you try to recall something, only to realize the memory is already long faded and too late to trace back? Even worse, sometimes it feels as if it’s at the tip of your mind and you just. Can’t. Remember.

How often do you make silly mistakes, or do your brain cells feel completely drained, as you struggle to remember?

It certainly must be more difficult to remember.

But is it really?

Say I give you a polynomial equation: 9x^5/9+6x^4/2+x^3/5+7x^2/4+9x+8 = 0, and I ask you to memorize and repeat it back to me in five seconds. Then I ask you to try and forget a formula you’ve known from before – say the root-finding quadratic formula, in five seconds.

Does that first polynomial equation look easy to digest at all? Yet try as you might, you will find it ironically easier to memorize at least partially that polynomial jargon than trying to forget the quadratic formula that you have learnt before.

I am sure the concept of the above paragraph is nothing new to you. However, I am trying to put into concise terms to explain why we cannot give a blanket (general) answer to the question: “is it easier to remember or to forget”. We don’t remember things better just because it’s shorter and less complicated. It also depends on period of exposure – in other words, how long you’ve known it.

We are only human and are not able to over-compromise sleep or take in more knowledge than we possibly can a day. To excel in life, we must make connections with the things we learn. In this case, the transferable skill here is applying what you’ve learnt about memory from this blogpost to your study strategy!

It is learning to expose yourself, regularly but at the appropriate time, to the information you need to absorb. This is done through the well-known method called “spatial recollection“.

Spatial recollection is a scientifically proven method of recalling information through a series of carefully timed re-viewing of the information you need to absorb. It is said that when you’re trying to memorize something, you need to read and reread it the most times in the beginning, then once a week, then once a month perhaps. The neurons in our brains somehow process information in this manner.

Therefore in the beginning, it is crucial to pick your material up and go through it more than once at least. After that, your brain has a stronger hold on the information and it becomes less likely that you will forget it.

I have tried this method and found that it works greatly for me. Try this out in your study strategy, and I’m sure it will do wonders for you!

Learning Raya words the fun way (Selamat Eid Mubarak Everyone!)

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Credits: FreeImages

Today, the 24th of May, is a big day for all Muslims – it’s Hari Raya, the day where the month-long fast is broken!

Selamat Hari Raya to all my Muslim friends, and others who may also be celebrating the Muslim new year. May you be forgiven of your apparent and latent sins (Zahir dan Batin), and be blessed throughout your new year.

Above all, may life be full of happiness for all of you, Muslim or non-Muslim!

After having spent two months working at the Covid 19 frontlines of a hospital, I have met many Malay colleagues who were friendly and very fun to work with. Since I have collected their contacts over time, it has delighted me to see that all of them have been enjoying Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Eid Mubarak) and the puasa (fasting) month to the fullest, even while working at the Emergency Unit of the hospital, and then at home united with their families, not forgetting to take the necessary preventive actions such as wearing face masks.

To the non-Muslim Malaysians just like myself (or anyone interesting in learning!), it is good and can be fun to learn some of the Malay – specifically Raya – phrases your Muslim friends are using that you may not understand. Not only will it help us understand the Muslims better, it can also be quite interesting to learn! Here are just a couple of terms that I’ve learnt from reading my ex-colleagues Whatsapp statuses:

Terms commonly used during Raya season:

P.s. Admit it. You’re bored by this point, and you’re going to close this tab. Do not fear, for I, Rachel Tan HX, am here to make everything fun for you to read! So read on…. or close the page. 😛

Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Eid Mubarak

Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Eid Mubarak are both used to refer to the same day, which is the Muslim New Year. However, have you ever wondered what “Aidilfitri” meant, or are you simply pronouncing it by muscle memory, like you would say “Abracadabra”, the word used by magicians when performing a magic trick? (In fact, Abracadabra has a meaning, too. I will tell you its awesome meaning soon.)

“Aidifitri” means “To return to the pure, innocent original state that Muslims believe all humans are both with.” Hari Raya Aidilfitri, then, literally means “the day of celebrating the return to the original state”. This original state supposedly refers to being washed of all sin and pollution.

What about “Eid Mubarak”? “Eid” is the Arabic term for feast. “Mubarak” means “blessed”. This “blessed feast” is held on the Eid Mubarak, which when put into context becomes “festival of breaking the fast”.

Therefore, we can say Hari Raya for Muslims is the day where they are cleansed of their sins and where they can break their month-long fast.

Maaf Zahir Dan Batin

Are Zahir and Batin names of historical Islamic followers? That’s what I thought at first, but I was so wrong. Don’t think too much, as we say. It is actually very simple to understand.

“Zahir” refers to “the sins that are obvious”. This refers to crimes committed, including stealing and deception.

“Batin” refers to “the sins that are hidden”. This refers to bad intentions and evil thoughts, even if you do not act on it. If you act on it, it becomes Zahir.

“Maaf Zahir and Batin” is the Muslim way of asking for forgiveness for all committed and hidden sins.

Khutbah and Ameen

Khutbah: sermon, a religious talk that may or may not be in the form of a prayer

Ameen: the Muslim variation of “Amen” for Christianity, which means “may it be so”, uttered after a prayer.

Those are a couple of terms used during the Raya season. Learning a new language can be really fun at times! If you’re thinking of taking up a new language, go for it. It will take time, but if you enjoy the process, it will be worth it, no matter how much effort it takes at first.

And NOW….. What does “Abracadabra” really mean? Is it really just gibberish made up of the first four alphabets – a, b, c, d?

In Hebrew, Abracadabra translates to….

“I will create as I speak.”

The Choice Between When To Live And When To Remember

Fairy lights and me
17 August 2019
Credits: Blog Author, Rachel Tan HX, 17

When I was younger, I used to have shockingly good memory, the ability to remember unexpected details such as the exact page I read that line or a dream I had in my sleep five years ago. My parents agreed that my two strengths were diligence and memory; I was less adept at thinking out of the box.

As I grew up, I found I remembered less and less, or at least I stopped noticing any impressive memories I had of the past. In fact, I noticed I was forgetting a lot, though that applies more to short-term memory: telling myself not to make that mistake and then making it seconds after, or forgetting a math concept I just learnt yesterday.

I am not sure what causes this phenomenon, or why my memory has “deteriorated” slightly as I grew. Perhaps it is the pressure my father constantly put on me to “learn faster, read faster, absorb faster, be more efficient” until my hastiness has messed with my eye for detail; or perhaps it is simply biological.

Nevertheless, this has posed a bit problem and frustration for me. These days, I can no longer remember things with the crystal-clarityness I used to have.

This has caused me to tighten my grip on my pen, to hold my notebook at bay with the intention of writing down everything remotely interesting I have seen or experienced.

My Diary Notebook
22 February 2020
Credits: Blog Author, Rachel HuiXin, 17

Still, this mild “short-term-memory-loss” has disappointed me a bit, for a big part due to the volume of things I want to remember, and for another my perceived lacking of experiences compared to others around me, at least during my secondary school years. The amount of all the little events I wanted to remember sprained my wrist, and my unrest mind when a pen or notebook wasn’t available; my lacking in enriching experiences made me eager to collect memories to relive during the long periods of time when I have nothing much to experience.

I previously believed that when I wrote in my diary, I was having fun; but after giving it some thought I am not sure “fun” is the best word for it. If you see me scribbling furiously in my diary, it may seem as though I am enjoying myself. The problem is when you consider the situation from a different point of view, I also cannot be at peace until I record the moment.

During my time with my retail colleagues and customers, there was a one hour break in between working, and I could sit on a bench and quickly record down many of the fun things that happened that day. During my time with my healthcare colleagues and patients, however, I was on shift work and there were no breaks in between. There were so many things to learn, catch up with, and make sure everything goes smoothly that it would be inappropriate to start scribbling in your diary at the hospital’s registration counter. Therefore after some struggling with digital recording of some experiences in my phone memo, I stopped doing so and decided to focus on the experience.

The crux of the matter now comes: choosing not to write these experiences down and instead be more in the present is equivalent to choosing to live that moment properly, BUT conceding to the fact that the moment very likely cannot be relived. Focusing on the experience gives you the delusion that you will remember even better, but from my experience at least, that is not true. What you write down is what you will remember the clearest years later, with all the keywords to jog your memory. No matter how much focus you put into an experience that is not written down, it becomes a blurry blanket memory very soon. It may not even take a year, or even a few months, to become that way.

Memory Loss Due Image & Photo (Free Trial) | Bigstock
Credits: BigStock photos

But how can one’s pen keep up with time? The only way would be to selectively pen down memories.

It is your choice, however, how you would like it to be: #1 being always there and in future recalling everything in a blur of equal level, or #2 living some and remembering some (therefore missing some experiences during the periods of time you choose to write). Some people are content with the former and sometimes I envy them, because I cannot be at peace if I leave myself to forget. For me it is a constant war between trying to be present, and ensuring the piece of memory lives on.

I choose #2 all the time. I did #1 out of necessity for my time as a Patient Care Assistant, but until now I find it difficult to be content without at least some records of cool things to remember. I will definitely try to put down as much as I can while the memory is still fresh in my mind, but I know I can never catch up with two months of experience, and more to come.

Free forgetfulness Stock Photos -
Beautiful Blue Forget-Me-Nots
Credits: Stockvault

All I know is that the feeling of obligation to remember will forever be a burden I will carry; but I can learn to enjoy myself in the process, to find a balance between being present and recalling great things. 🙂