"Where are your classmates?"
"They have gone out."
"Do you know where they are?"
Several shook their heads. Others just smiled. Nobody volunteered to answer.
I looked at their young and eager faces. All intelligent young men and women. They can read and write well. However, they don't always go to school to learn academic stuff; some want to be popular, others are interested in the opposite sex. Their favourite past time in school seems to be testing the teacher's patience to the limit.
"All right, let's not waste time. We'll start now."
And immediately I became the manager and facilitator for a group of fourteen-year-old adolescents whose only way to keep them from mischief is to make them busy with learning tasks.
Playing truant is one of the disciplinary problems in secondary schools. The lack of space in some schools have forced schools to be held in two sessions, with the lower forms in the afternoon. As the afternoon session begins at 1pm and ends at 6.30pm, the Muslim students need to perform their zohor and asar prayers at school. Unfortunately the education system doesn't seem to have any special allocation for prayer times because to do so would mean forcing the students and teachers to leave for home at 7pm. It is difficult to control the students who give the excuse of performing their prayer to skip lessons. They enjoy the thrill of cheating. They thought that they were smart but they aren't. The 'rotan-logy' (caning) and expulsion from school don't seem to work with these naughty ones. They aren't afraid. I suppose in their minds, if they can't be popular by being the A-scorers, they can be well-known by being the naughty ones.
"Where were you yesterday? Why weren't you in class?"
" I went to the surau (prayer hall) with my friends."
"Oh really? What were you doing there?"
Silence and a sheepish grin from the tall Muslim student. " Smoke."
"You smoked at the surau? Is the surau the place for smoking? Tell me, what is the real use for a surau?"
Another sheepish grin.
"What a shame. You are actually an intelligent boy but you have misused the intelligence God give you. Your friends in class learnt something new yesterday while you were trying to ask for an early death by smoking at the surau which is used for Muslim prayers. Who is the loser here? Does your mother know that you skip lessons?"
"Yes, she does and she scolded me yesterday. Teacher, I promise I won't do it again."
"Don't make promises to me. Make them to yourself and to Allah. You've cheated your own self by skipping your lessons. I don't stand to lose if you are not in class. You lose because your friends will be getting cleverer as I'd be teaching them."
"Teacher, I won't do it again, I promise."
"All right. However, you cannot leave the classroom during my lessons, you hear? You lied to me once, you'd have to gain back my trust."
He was a good student yesterday. He was in class and did his work properly. . For his own good, I hoped he will continue to be so.