The joys of Domestic Science


  • Education
  • Sunday, 11 Jul 2004

WOULD you believe it – I still have the book we used to write recipes in at school? Under the subject of Domestic Science (DS), we were all ordered to buy a hardcover 200-page book, which we began to fill with hand-written recipes.  

Beginning in Form One, the book was carried through the years until we sat for the Domestic Science paper in the SRP (Sijil Rendah Pelajaran) examination in Form Three. 

My book is still as good as new. Frankly, I still refer to it when I make local delicacies like kuih ketayap or kuih koci.  

What’s more, I was one of the students taught by none other than Susan Manickam and Puan Robayah – the very same stalwart writers of the DS textbooks of that era.  

We were guided, scolded, moulded, cajoled, reminded, trained and corrected by these lady teachers. They made sure our rice didn't burn in the pot and our queen cakes were soft and spongy.  

Oh, how I remember those days when we donned the aprons we had sewed ourselves and headed to the DS room to embark on cooking, cleaning, ironing and serving. What fun we had! Oh yes, and what anxiety resided in our hearts when the food didn’t turn out well. What care we took to place the doilies just right and how concerned we grew about the fate of our rock buns in the oven.  

If you’re not of the DS generation, you will have no idea how we were trained during these sessions. Our flower arrangements had to be just right – we were taught painstakingly how to mix, match and arrange blossoms, stalks and leaves. 

We were taught how to wash, starch and iron. For instance, when we ironed a tablecloth, we had to make sure that no wrinkle remained. 

We also had to make sure that we used the right crockery and cooking utensils. Our hair had to be tied and smoothed away from the forehead with a nice little cap.  

Our hands had to be clean and we had to be careful our sweat 

didn’t drip onto the food as we whipped up eggs in the right mixing bowl using the right tool.  

Flour, we were reminded, was never beaten but always folded into the creamy mixture for making cakes. Butter was cut. It had to be cold and so too our hands if we were using the rubbing-in method. 

I mean, today’s generation of Kemahiran Hidup (Living Skills) girls may carry a textbook that proudly proclaims, Teras dan Elektif Ekonomi Rumah Tangga (Home Economics Core and Elective), but frankly speaking, my daughter who took the subject has turned all of 16 but has never stepped into a kitchen at school since Form One.  

Perhaps it’s the fault of the two schools she attended during her Form One to Form Three years or that of the Living Skills syllabus but this I know – despite taking a subject that purportedly teaches some form of Domestic Science, she can barely differentiate between a tablespoon and a dessertspoon. 

Theoretically, I guess she knows about the calorific values of foods. I have also seen her preparing a portfolio on colour schemes for various rooms. For this stint of interior decorating, she roped in her sister, who was cajoled into cutting up all the magazines they could find. For a short while, we were all engaged in her work, commenting on it and helping her choose the right fonts for printing out the finished product.  

Then there was the time she had to sew a spongy cloth cover for a wooden tissue box they made in woodwork class. I recall that I had to go away on a course and when I returned, to my amazement, the cover was all done and already sewn. Her father had taken it to a tailor and got it done for her. So much for enterprise!  

As far as any training in the kitchen is concerned, I think it is going to be up to me to work out a programme for her. I don’t think I can depend on the Living Skills syllabus at school. 

This is one of the reasons why some of us who have teenage daughters sit down together and sigh in unison. You can call us the older generation but we certainly lament the passing of the DS era. At least then, girls were taught how to cook, sew and learn a host of useful household tips.  

This may not be true of all schools but it seems to us that today’s girls get an “A” in Living Skills with very little practical experience to their training stints. They don’t go through the drill we went through – neither the planning nor the practical. 

I can still remember making cocoa in Form One while my daughter needs to think awhile before she can tell me the difference between boiling and poaching.  

The answer, I think, lies in the fact that when we took DS, it was not a dull, dry subject but one through which we learned skills useful in life.  

No doubt there was an exam but when I look back to the days I took DS at school, it is not the exam I recall but rather all the periods we spent cooking, baking, cleaning and sewing. And, of course, the fun we had. Just a little wish from us of the DS era – couldn’t they bring the subject back? 

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