Smitten by a unconquerable fear of science and maths

29 November 1998

Well in my case, virtually the whole school community was aware of my fear for algebra. I had no alternative. I was herded into algebra, geometry and the science subjects. I wished they had allowed me to study either French, Arabic, Mandarin, Latin - even Welsh instead of algebra, geometry, chemistry, biology and physics. It would have done me some good.

I don't seem to have any relationship with science, maths and computers! I would not blame the teaching method then even if it was no "great shakes" but it was not bad. It was I who was poor! Science or math lessons was reverie time for me, of starring blank at the black board and sometimes, hallucinating! Like listening to sermons in Arabic in Mecca. In mosques in New York sermons are both in English and Arabic.

I always enjoy doing what I understand and that includes praying.

Most of my classmates - not that they were geniuses (far from it in or after school) - found it not too difficult to study mathematics and science. Perhaps, they had the right attitude which I lacked. Not when it concerned those hated subjects.

Art was another hopeless subject. But no one could accuse me of lacking interest in history (considered very good), English literature (very good) and quite acceptable in Malay, English and geography.

In British public schools, where my three children had gone, it was a school rule that each student should write home at least once a week. At MCKK, we did not have such a rule, so I only wrote home when I needed extra money or my father's permission to stay with friends during short term holidays.

My interest in politics and journalism started early, and by Form Four and Form Five they developed into a passion. I sent greeting cards to Colonel Gamal Nasser of Egypt and President Sukarno for which I received acknowledgments with thanks. I became elated, as were my circle of friends, in the same way. I suppose, the present students would get great pleasure if their letters were responded by Nelson Mandela, Madona, Sharon Stone, Leonardo DiCaprio or, the Spicegirls.

Writing political essays for Wall newspapers (at MCKK, senior forms have Wall newspapers) and the Fifth Form 1954 class magazine, Calamy (the pen), was a good substitute and a welcome escape from my inordinate fear of algebra, chemistry and the likes.

As they say what will be will be, so I put my negative thoughts about Algebra and science out of my head and concentrated instead on history, English literature, geography, English and Malay, and, not unexpectedly, I failed the Cambridge School Certificate examination.

I did not feel all that bad when I failed because I had expected it, besides I had enormously enjoyed myself throughout the six years I was at the college.

If things had worked differently at school. I often wonder where I would now be. Anybody not seen in a BMW or Mercedez sports car by 30 would be seen as a failure in life!

(Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad is our Special Envoy to the United States.)

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )