Police, park and ride, and prayers to Mecca

24th October 1997 at 01:00
For the Primary 7 children of Brunstane Primary, Edinburgh, the word "commonwealth" evoked images of the Kuala Lumpur Games and peace. Asked what it meant to them, their responses ranged from: "Kuala Lumpur Games 1998" to "Groups of countries working together to have peace in the world". Closer to home they were reminded of the preparations for the meeting: "Lots of security - RAF, army, police" and "Road restrictions. Park and Ride".

On the subject of their chosen Commonwealth country, Malaysia, the children were experts. Teacher and deputy head Patricia Brown is taken aback by how much her class is able to pour out to the reporter who has just landed on them. They know that top spinning and kite flying are national sports. Smoking and spitting in public are not, since they result in instant fines in this country of more stringent laws. Young imaginations envisaged people out of favour being found hanging from ropes over a snake pit.

Four religions hold sway, but all creeds attend school together, which is from the age of seven, the age at which they also start learning English.

Pupils were able to wish me "Good morning and welcome" in Malaysian, as well as recite the 5.45am Call from the Minaret, which beckons people to pray to Mecca. "Come to prayer. Come to success. God is so great. Prayer is better than sleep."

On a practical level they learned Malaysian songs, talked to Malaysian students, visited a museum to see tiles and carpets and the Botanic Gardens to see trees with mini bananas.

Back at base they experimented with shadow puppets and made Malaysian houses out of cereal boxes, papier mache rice bowls and Batik fabric. All this on top of lessons about rubber plantations.

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