Sunday, February 15, 2009

What's in a name?

I wasn't even aware that Victoria Institution or VI had changed its name to Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Victoria until I read this article in the Star which reported that VI has gotten back its old name - VI.

It reminded me of the time when I heard that some idiots in the MOE wanted to change the name of my alma mater, La Salle PJ, to Sekolah Menangah Jalan Chantek. This was some time back. This suggestion was greeted with howls of protests from the old boys and I'm very glad that it was never carried out. I'm guessing that some idiotic civil servants in MOE thought that they could get away with this name change by retaining the name Victoria in the 'new' name. I'm guessing that the VI old boys network and the VI PTA had something to do with getting the old name back.

Is it important to retain the names of schools such as VI or La Salle or St Edwards or Penang Free or St Xavier's? Aren't they reminders of a colonial past which we should abandon as we move forward as a free and independent country that should shake ourselves from our colonial shackles? I think this is a bit of overkill. I think that it's part of the overall strategy within the Malaysian government that seeks to 'erase' the past so that the 'victors' can rewrite history and refashion the country in a form more befitting to what they think the country should look like - bland and monolithic. Before you accuse me of being a conspiracy theorist, remember that things don't happen by accident in Malaysia, even if many of us think that many parts of the Malaysian civil service are incompetent. Most, if not all, policy decisions are taken deliberately, usually with some agenda of 'nation building' behind it. Anyone remember what the former name of Jalan Maharaja Lela was?

Similarly, trying to change the name of La Salle into Sekolah Menengah Jalan Chantek was an attempt by the MOE to get rid of any sign or vestige of the 'Christian' heritage that is associated with many of the top secondary schools in Malaysia. Some may say - so what? Will changing the name of a school result in the decrease in the teaching or academic standards of a school? Most of my friends would say that the academic standards in many of these former 'brother' and 'sister' schools have decreased since the Jesuit brothers and the nuns were 'eased' out of the administration and leadership positions in these schools. I would agree with them.

But being a La Sallian still means something, at least to the old boys. It represents a certain school spirit and standing up for certain values. If you take away that name, you take away what little association these schools still have with those values - values such as academic excellence coupled with social responsibility and camaraderie.

I'm not saying that only former 'brother' and 'sister' schools can have this kind of spirit and camaraderie. I know of many friends from Sultan Abdul Samad or Samadians, Bukit Bintang Boys School and SM Damansara Jaya (DJians) who are equally passionate about their old schools and being part of the old boys and old girls network. But if you change the names of these schools to something random (like a street name), I'm sure that many of the alumni from these schools would protest as well.

But being a La Sallian has value beyond these shores. You share certain traditions and norms with other people who have gone through a similar education experience in other Jesuit schools around the world. For example, I was surprised to find out through the TV that the Notre Dame 'Fight Song' is the same song as La Salle's school rally - Cheer Cheer and Courage Display, All you La Sallians join in the fray.

And of course, there's a brand name attached to a school as well. In Malaysia, La Salle, VI, St Joseph's, Bukit Bintang, Assunta, Convent Bukit Nanas, Penang Free, St. Xavier (in Penang and in Seremban), King Edward and St. George's (in Taiping), SMDJ and Sultan Abdul Samad (in PJ), Chung Ling (in Penang), VI and the venerable Malay College (MCKK) all have a certain 'shine' attached to them at least in the context of Malaysia. Change the name and you lose the 'shine' associated with the school that has been built up over many years. Wonder if any of the MOE bureaucrats would dare suggest that MCKK's name be changed to Sekolah Residential Kuala Kangsar or something like that?

Finally, changing a school's name will definitely have a monetary cost. Old boys and girls will not be so willing to contribute financially to a school. I for one would not feel compelled to make donations to a school called Sekolah Menangah Jalan Chantek as opposed to Sekolah Menangah La Salle PJ. I'm sure many old boys will feel the same way. If the bureaucrats want to take control of the school, they can have it. Just don't expect me to give anything come canteen day. (Wah, a bit emotional here) Also, one may lose some of the 'network' effects if the school name is changed. There are active La Sallian gatherings and networks all over Malaysia. I'm sure that one would feel less connected to future graduates if the names of all the La Salle schools in Malaysia were changed to whichever street they happen to be located on.

On an unrelated note, I was glad to read about how the PIBG in SMK Subang Utama (SMKSU) stood firm and invited old girl and former head prefect and now Subang Jaya state assemblywoman, Hannah Yeoh, back to her school for a gotong royong project. Her 'ban' from attending functions in schools in her constituency came apparently came from a directive from the MOE.

Okay, enough of my rants. Time for you guys to chip in with your comments.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

In the spirit of BM-ising names, let's start with UMNO.

Anonymous said...

You didn't mention MGS and ACS, Ipoh, sniff sniff. And other distinguished Ipoh schools. Collectively produced the likes of Michelle Yeoh, Mano Maniam, Yeoh Jin Leng, Patrick Teoh, Lat, Alan D. Blight, and so on and so forth.

Typical KL blind spot :-)

(Only half joking, lah)

Anonymous said...

If I am not mistaken I think you meant "St Paul Institution" in Seremban... never heard of St Xavier... =.="

Anonymous said...

I was caught by surprise when ex VI turn politician/Minister mention that VI was the oldest english school in the country. History never lie .... Penang Free School aka PFS, Penang founded in 1816 is THE OLDEST English in Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

this blog is for haters, anti-government, and best of all - for losers!!

WY Kam 甘永元 said...

Anon at 2/16/2009 10:46:00 PM, you got to understand, this minister is umno trained too. so, after many years in politics, he probably forgets all his proper Grammar. I think he is meant to say "one of the oldest". :)

Viva victoria.

and Anon at 2/17/2009 12:31:00 AM is simply crazy or delusional at best.

Chiew said...

Originally, I heard that the 3 famous schools in KL ,which are V.I, St. John's Institution and Methodist Boys' School were slated for a name change, possibly under that same proposal to change LaSalle to SMK Jalan Chantek.

Following the roads the schools were located at,

VI - SMK Jalan Hang Tuah
MBS - SMK Jalan Hang Jebat

Then came the problem with St. John's Institution.

SMK Jalan Gereja

So I guess the whole plan was scrapped since we still know those schools as VI, SJI and MBS...

Mel said...

Viva VI.

Anonymous said...

I think the exercise of changing names of schools is equivalent to "ethnic cleansing"

Anonymous said...

Jalan Maharajalela was originally Jalan Birch. Someone in charge of renaming KL roads back in the 60s had a rather ironic sense of humour. You see, Birch, the British Resident in Perak in the nineteenth century, was murdered by none other than Maharajalela !!

Anonymous said...

..Malaysia should be changed / retained back to Tanah Melayu !

Anonymous said...

There is a major error in your article. The Jesuits never founded any schools in Malaysia. The La Sallian schools were founded by the Dr La Salle Brothers (Brothers of the Christian Schools or FSC). The founder of this order was St John Baptist de la Salle.

Anonymous said...

MOE have too much free time to concern bout small tiny things, like schools' name changing and so on..wonder why they corncern bout the names too much.