Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Of the Pencil and Knowledge...

The Pencil is one of the most versatile writing tools ever invented. No matter how advance our writing tools have progressed, the humble pencil is still in use till these days.

When I first start going to school in 1946, just after the war, there was no pencil around and for writing we were given a Slate and a Slate writer. These are the only tools that we kids had when learning of how to write. Using the Slate writer we would write on the Slate and then we would erase it with a damn cloth or just by using our finger. It was only some years later that our generation of school children were introduced to the pencil, which made it easy to write on paper in the form of book. And till these days I would still use the pencil from time to time to write on paper. Amazing that after all the years and the new inventions of writing tools, like the fountain pen, the ball pen and other tools we still have not let go of the pencil.

It is a simple writing tool and yet it is through using this tool that we had managed to acquire knowledge. From learning to write the first means of calculation to writing words that translate our thoughts into writing, which made it possible for others to read our thoughts. Eventually books are written and printed that could be read by others and preserved as record of our civilization. It all started with this humble and simple tool we call Pencil. Above is an image of pencils taken using the Macro lens.


louis said...


I am tempted to say that when i began school we had to chisel our hieroglyphics into stone tablets...but I just missed that era, and like you, my first writing medium was that very type of slate in your picture. We called the writing instrument that went with it a "slate pencil", so there's another aspect to your "pencils". The memory of its screeching sound as we laboriously wrote our ABC's still sends a shiver down my spine.
I am told that i used my slate for another purpose, namely to hit one of my classmates over the head one day. But that is probably an "urban myth" since I have always been a peace-loving guy :)
It is reported that Apple might have called the iPad the "iSlate".

Pat said...

I had the very same slate, Pak Idrus!!! I remember it so well - yes, it's screeching sound, and even the smell of it! One side was lined, for our ABC's and the other had squares, for our numbers.

That was lonnnnnnnnnnnnnng ago, indeedy! Hahahah!

Wan Sharif said...

I believed I was the last batch of my primary school that used "papan selit" back in 1960.. We have to use water to erase all the writing after each class.. It was fashionable then for my friend to use "jambu air" as an eraser.. there were some who went a little bit further and took the watery part of wild orchid that grow on the bark of coconut tree.. those show-off children..he,he

~CovertOperations78~ said...

When I read all the comments above, I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. I thought you were all kidding about the slates... and then I read it twice and realised that everyone was dead serious.

Martin Lee said...

Yes, indeed we used pencils, and for our first standard 5 exam, we were introduced the 2B pencils specially for the objective questions. We had fanciful pencils attached with rabbit shape eraser with moving eyes. Subsequently pencils with bells were made available but they made so much noise in the class that the teacher banned such kind of pencils.

Only remember black board with white chalks. Sometimes the teachers used the chalk or even the duster to throw at students fell asleep or gossiping too much! I still consider that was a very rude act!

Pak Idrus said...

Louis thanks for the visit and sharing your thoughts on those wonder years when we were kid, just out of the cave. Probably that story about bashing the other kids with the slate could be true but then we were just kids and our understanding of the world was so different from the adult, moreover we are just out of the cave and given our first Laptop/iPad before even Steve or Bill Gate were born; it was indeed a tool that we are expected to experiment and experiment we did and some with unexpected result!

Anyway we all had other uses of the slate other then using to learn to write. Like you I was creative too at that time, on the way to school I would flung the slate on the dew covered grass and get it clean by the dew or aimed it a birds. Thinking back I never broke any and that iPad or laptop need no software at all. The hardware itself could be use instantly the way we like best.

It was the only tool we take to school, no books, no nothing and of course no homework, except we were expected to remember how to multiply numbers in our head. At school we were tested and if failed get a Rotan [cane] on the palm of your hand. We do really scared of getting Rotan and up till now I would relate to my grand kids of been Rotan for not doing my homework and they all just laugh.

Well it was really fun learning with that slate and glad to hear that you too were using this wonderful tool of our generation, the precursor of the Laptop.

Have a nice day.

Pak Idrus said...

Pat, thanks for the visit and sharing your thoughts on the subject of this posting especially the slate.

You must have got an advance version of Slate since the one I was using is only one sided and has no line at all, the other side is mostly rough. The screeching sound it made indeed was 'music' to our ears, perhaps just like the Walkman of today.

Well glad that you too enjoy the excitement of using this early version of the Laptop. Yes as for me it was so very long ago, I was then just seven years old.

Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

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Unknown said...

Hmm, I never thought of the pencil as versatile; as far as I can see, the pencil has only one use - to leave erasable impressions, be it writing or drawing, on paper with. Well of course you can also use it as a projectile to throw back at the teacher who threw the duster at you but that would be an act of mutiny, not recommended. Axiom: When teacher throws, it is an act of authority; when pupil throws, it is an act of rebellion.

Pak Idrus said...

Wan Sharif, thanks for the visit and sharing your knowledge of the Slate and reminding me that at that time in the Malays school it was call 'Papan Selit, appropriately translated to mean the Slate unlike now they translated the computer Mouse to Tertikus, to me it should be just Maus.

It look like it continue to be use until your time. Anyway to me it was a useful tool that let me to learn the alphabet and numbers in my early school years. Well as for erasing it, the kids at that time were genius to invent tools to use as an eraser, like you said Jambu Air or whatever they could find to erased the writing after it is done with.

Thanks Wan for reminding me of the name in Malay Papan Selit. Have a nice day.

Pak Idrus said...

~Covert_Operations'78~, Ee Lynn thanks for the visit and sharing your astonishment as to the use of the Slate in our school days. Kids at that time were imaginative as well, so when we got our first Laptop the Slate, we start using it in many ways until it was upgrade to using the Book and the Pencil.

I am indeed glad that you now know how the caveman did in school in those bygone days.

Have a nice day and take care.

Pak Idrus said...

Martin Lee, thanks for the visit and sharing your experiences with the Pencil. Yes I too remember the 2B pencil and up till now I do not know what the 2B mean. I supposed you could englithen us with that. Anyway the 2B pencil is still in use till these days. Now adays the pencil comes in many sizes and with many fancy attachment but it is still with the same uses.

As for the Slate I believe your generation did not get to use this tablet sort of an early computer without any software. Like what most comments above, it is indeed a unique tools for writing and I believe if you look around you could still get it, perhaps to use as a notice board in the kitchen, like we do with the white board now.

Have a nice day.

Pak Idrus said...

Anonymous[7:11AM]thanks for the visit and I am glad that this posting is of use to your college works.

Have a nice day.

Pak Idrus said...

Zaharan Razak, thanks for the visit and sharing your valuable knowledge on the subject of this posting. Well, to me the pencil is versatile since it could be used in more than one ways. With your imput it made more so.

Anyhow with the advice coming from a Sifu of Journalism I had to be very careful in selecting words to use in my writing, lest it might give a wrong interpretation of my thoughts.

Anyway I thought that the pencil is versatile since it has many uses and had survived it uses throughout the years.

Have a nice day.

Martin Lee said...

We normally use HB grade pencil instead of BB. H denotes hardness while B stands for black. The more B's would mean darker and softer type of pencils.

My generation did not use slate before but it was common for us to learn to write on sandy ground in the village. The sandy floor in front of our house formed the natural slate where we practised our writing or caligraphy!

Pak Idrus said...

Martin Lee, thanks for the return visit and sharing your thoughts on the subject of this posting.

Like you we often used the ground in front of our house to write or to draw things. At time we would dig up holes to play congkak or to draw line to play teng teng.

Thanks for the additional information regarding the pencil.

Have a nice day.

MANDALAY said...

I am one of those who started Malay School at the age of 5 and I did use the slate. We walked to school then ..out from the kampong and cross the Alor Gajah field. The trick to soften the slate was to wipe it with the early morning dew from the grass in that field.

MANDALAY said...

Am one of those who used the slate in a Malay School @ 5 yrs old. We walked to school then together with my bro and other relations from the kampong. When we crossed the Alor Gajah field the older kids would wipe the slates with the dew from the grass on the field. I did the same too. It was meant to soften the slate!