So about three weeks ago, schools all around my country- Malaysia- reopened, which meant that life was starting to go back to normal. Well, as normal as it can get with the ‘new norm’ of being extremely health-conscious. I’m going to talk about my experience, as it has very much been a culture shock.
I’m a senior, so that means I'm supposed to be sitting for an important national exam from October to November of this year. However, because of COVID-19, my country had a lockdown that lasted for about 3 months, and so the exam has been delayed to January and February next year. In the Malaysian Education System, there are 3 national exams that a student is required to take, and because the other two don’t necessarily determine your future, they were canceled. With that, on the 24th of June, only students who were going to take SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia- the exam I’m taking), would return to school. We had a two-week notice for the date that school was set to be reopened, and two weeks have never gone by faster.
There are 6 classes per year at my school, and they’re separated into 2 science stream classes (classes that take Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Additional Maths, Accounting, and Computer Science), and 4 art stream classes (classes that take Visual Arts, Geography and Business). I’m in one of the science classes, and there are 21 students in my class, including myself. Initially, the Ministry of Education (MOE) had decided that there would only be 17 students in a class, and so the 2 science classes would be split into 3. However, that wasn’t the case as my school had some officers from the local Education Department come in to have an evaluation and they had deemed it alright for the science classes to remain as is. However, this isn’t the case for the art stream students as they have considerably more students in a class (around 30-40), so they’ve been separated into 2 or 3 classes. Now, there are 11 classes in my year.
The seating arrangement of the classes has changed as well. Pre-lockdown, my class was arranged into four groups, with 5-6 students making up a group. Now, we’ve got this every-man-for-themselves arrangement going on, where there are no more groups. We had our seats pre-determined, and we were mostly arranged following alphabetical order. This wasn’t too weird though, because this is the exact seating arrangement we had for school exams. Of course, we all had to be arranged 1 meter apart from each other. Group presentations during classes aren’t allowed, and the teachers have a set area in front of the class where they are allowed to walk around while they teach.
We’ve stopped carrying out co-curricular activities (even if the MOE allows schools to restart them soon, I’m sure the school would use it for extra classes for my year), and we don’t carry out Physical Education classes now. Pre-lockdown, the PE teacher wouldn’t really care about what we were doing, as long as they saw us running around. Usually, my classmates and I would play the games we used to play as kids, but we can’t do that anymore.
For all the four (and a quarter) years I’ve been in high school, I’ve gone to school at 6 AM and gone home at 6 PM (insane, I know). Now, I only have to be at school by 7 AM and I go home at 1:55 PM (we all know it’s really just 2 PM, I have no idea who the school is trying to fool). There are time intervals of 5 minutes for when every two classes are supposed to leave class so that there’s breathing room and everyone won’t go home at the same time. As for the pick-up site at my school, there are only two areas open: the bus stop and the front gate. I have no idea what the situation is like at the bus stop because I haven’t gone there to be picked up since school reopened, but the site at the front gate is extremely packed. The waiting area is basically an open hall that is right in front of the front gate, and spots where students are allowed to stand are marked with red tape (all of which is 1 meter apart).
Upon arrival, there are stations for each class where students have their temperatures taken by teachers, and they’ll have to sign in their attendance. We used to have daily assemblies before classes, but now we just go straight to class.
As for the breaks, all students are encouraged to bring their own meals from home. If a student wants to get their food from the school canteen, they’ll have to pre-order their meals a day before, and during the break, they’ll go down to the school canteen and get it. Speaking of breaks, before the lockdown, my teachers were very strict about students not eating in their classrooms. We used to have prefects standing guard at every staircase to make sure all students were out of their classes during recess, and that they wouldn’t enter their classes until 5 minutes before recess ended. Now, our teachers stand guard outside our classes, making sure we do not leave our classes during our breaks.
This has got to be the funniest of all the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that the MOE has set out. Basically, students are only allowed to move in one direction per pathway, and that means going around a complete block to go to the restroom and back. On the first day itself, I had to go to the teacher’s room to hand in some of my work, and I had to circle the block twice just to go to the teacher’s room and return to my classroom. A couple of days before my school reopened, my school had posted Youtube tutorials of which pathways to take to get to certain places in the school, and watching my teachers play the role of students was pretty cute and amusing.
I have friends from other classes who I haven’t seen or met since the reopening of school, mostly because we’re confined to the walls of our own classes throughout the day. I used to spend my recess with some of my friends from other classes, but I barely see them anymore. Lots of school events have been canceled, such as our annual Mini Concert (in which my friends and I were supposed to perform!), and another annual religious event which I hold near and dear to my heart because my friends and I have been performers for this event since it was first held.
Before all of this, when classes were over and students were waiting to go home or for their extra-curricular activities to start, they’d be scattered all around the school. They’d do their homework together, or they’d just hang out and talk. Students would also sit together in groups with a guitar or a ukelele and they would sing songs together. The boys in my class used to come together during these breaks and they’d solve their Rubix cubes.
Even in class, it’s hard to talk to my friends because they’re all so far away from me. I’m pretty friendly with everyone in my class, though, so I don’t hate where I am. My classmates and I used to do TikTok dances and challenges together, and we’d record them all on a laptop camera, and I would look back on these videos a couple of times a week during quarantine. Of course, that isn’t really possible anymore.
It was definitely weird at first, but now I’ve gotten pretty used to it. There are a lot of things I know I’ve missed out on because of the lockdown- the Mini Concert being one of them, as just before the lockdown started, my band and I were already planning our outfits so we wouldn’t look like an uncoordinated mess onstage. It’s also horrible that this had to happen during my senior year, but I realize that I’m lucky that my school year ends at the end of the year instead of in the middle of it, so I still get to make some memories with my friends.
Going back to school has been very tiring. Even though I go home earlier now, I still barely have time to complete my homework and do my own self-revision on top of all of that. I’m still trying to figure out why that is, because I was extra particular about not ruining my sleep schedule during quarantine, so there wasn’t a drastic change in my body clock. I even found my online classes tiring during the quarantine. Personally, I thought that online classes were way harder than in-person classes, so now that I’m back in school, I find that I have an easier time understanding what my teachers are teaching.
Next week, all high school students will return to school, and it’s going to be very packed. The timing will also change, so I’ll be going home at 3:30 PM. The school’s been split into two sessions, but there’s a window where the two sessions overlap, so I have no idea how that’s going to go. All I can do is cross my fingers and hope that things don’t get too chaotic.
This is just my experience in going back to school, and I know that I don’t speak for everyone from every school. However, I just thought that it’d be something interesting to share, and that it might give other people an idea of what school may be like once theirs reopens. I hope that you found this fascinating! :)