2006-05-07 03:28:43 UTC
07 May 2006
THE LONG, LONG RIDE
By LAU MEISAN
Every morning, 5,000 Malaysian students cross the Causeway to go to
schools in Singapore. Their day starts as early as 3am as they need to
beat the traffic congestion, reports LAU MEISAN.
JOHOR BARU:Like any nine-year- old, Jeremy Tan would like to sleep a
little longer. But he cannot.
It is 4.50am and it is time to wake up for school across the Causeway.
Jeremy is one of the thousands of schoolchildren in Johor known as the
A more apt description, however, would be the "Sleepy Kids" or the
Many schoolchildren here, some as young as seven, get up as early as
4am to beat the traffic congestion at the Causeway and make it on time
to school in Singapore.
This daily routine, five days a week, would take a toll even on
adults, but these children take it all in their stride in the pursuit
of a supposedly better education in the republic.
Not only do they have to sacrifice their sleep, they also battle the
notorious Causeway traffic jam.
It is not uncommon to see the children walk a kilometre to the
Immigration checkpoint in Woodlands whenever their school buses are
caught in the peak-hour jams.
Lugging heavy schoolbags and files, they make their way in the
pre-dawn hours together with thousands of Malaysian workers.
The journey is at times fraught with peril as inconsiderate
motorcyclists whizz into their lanes, while pickpockets and thieves
wait to pounce on unsuspecting victims. The children also have to
contend with factory buses and lorries.
"I am used to this routine," said Jeremy, a Primary Three student of
Woodlands Ring Primary School.
"But if there is no traffic jam, I would remain in the bus and sleep.
I sleep a lot as I wake up very early."
No official figures are available, but it is estimated that no fewer
than 5,000 Malaysian students cross the Causeway daily.
The primary school pupils usually travel in school buses while the
older children take public transport. More than 110,000 commuters,
including some 40,000 motorists, cross to Singapore every morning. The
peak-hour traffic congestion starts around 4.30am and ends about 10am.
The traffic congestion in recent weeks has been of major concern to
the students as many of them are having their mid-term examinations
and cannot afford to be late for school.
To ensure that they make it on time , some are forced to wake up as
early as 3am.
The congestion is worsened by more stringent Immigration and Customs
checks at Woodlands ahead of the Singapore general election yesterday.
There has also been a significant increase in the number of workers on
motorcycles who go to Singapore daily.
The motorcycles cut into the car and bus lanes, making it impossible
for the school buses to move.
Worse, there are no traffic police at the Malaysian side of the
Causeway to regulate traffic flow.
One parent, concerned for the safety of her 12-year-old daughter, now
makes it a point to accompany her until Woodlands.
"Its okay if the children are late for school once in a while due to
the traffic jams," said Gao It Wan. "But they are taking their exams
now. I dont want her to be late. So I have decided to accompany her."
Gao, a housewife from Serene Park, a mere 2km away from the Johor
checkpoint, now joins her daughter in the school bus which arrives at
their home at 5am.
It takes 30 minutes to reach the Causeway. "It is a shocking sight,"
said Gao. "The motorcycles are in the thousands. It is frightening to
see these children making their way through the heavy traffic."
A New Sunday Times team, joining Gao and her daughter on the bus,
found it stressful and confusing as everybody got down from the bus
and started walking towards Woodlands. The children had no choice as
motorcycles filled all the lanes.
The early morning air was thick with exhaust fumes.
As there is no designated pedestrian walkway, the students weave in
and out between the plastic barricades separating motorists and heavy
Street lighting is also poor, with huge potholes in the road.
Lau Soi Wa, a school bus driver, said the traffic congestion was the
worst he had experienced in his 30 years of ferrying Malaysian
students to schools in Singapore.
Schools in Singapore start at 7.10am. Lau said in the last few weeks,
it was 8am by the time he reached the Woodlands checkpoint.
Johor Baru (South) acting traffic chief Assistant Superintendent Harun
Idris acknowledged the problem, but said there was nothing much he
could do due to the sheer volume of traffic on the Causeway. "We are
talking about 40,000 motorcycles at any one time. This is not an easy
problem to resolve."
'Sacrificing sleep for sake of better education'
JOHOR BARU: Waking up at 4.45am to get ready for school is the norm
for Liu Yuan Hao, 9, one of the 5,000-odd pupils here who commute
daily across the Causeway to study in Singapore.
Yuan Hao, a Primary Three pupil of the Si Ling School in Woodlands,
has 30 minutes to wash up and eat his breakfast at his home in Serene
Park before he boards the school bus at 5.20am.
School starts at 7.10am and Yuan Hao is back home by 1pm. By then, he
is so tired that he immediately hits the sack even before taking his
Sleep deprivation is the biggest problem affecting these children,
some of whom are as young as seven.
Asked if he is worn out by the travelling, Yuan Hao said: "No",
followed by a long yawn.
But still, Yuan Haos businessman father Liu Han Yu, 42, has no
regrets about sending his children to school in Singapore.
Liu said the Singapore education system is better at preparing pupils
for further education abroad.
To register a Malaysian student in Singapore, parents have to pay a
biennial donation of S$1,000 (RM2,270) to the Ministry of Education.
In addition, there is also the monthly school fees $90 (primary
school), $130 (secondary) and $280 (junior college).
School bus fares to Singapore are from RM180 to RM300, depending on
the type of transport and the distance covered.
Ng Hui Jie, 12, spends his time on the bus doing his revision because
of the intense competition in Singapore schools.
The boy, who studies at Marsiling Primary School, lives in Taman Sri
Tebrau and boards the schoolbus at 5am.
Most Malaysian students have done remarkably well in their studies.
It is no secret that Malaysians usually emerge as the best students in
the Primary School Leaving Certificate examinations.
Teachers and headmasters attribute this to the hard work and
perseverance of the students, saying that unlike Singaporeans who take
education for granted, Malaysians appreciate the chance to make it
good in a foreign country.
*************From Uncle Yap**************
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