Saturday, April 28, 2007

Reviving Missionary Schools

I was very intrigued to read this Mkini report on the CCM's (Council of Churches Malaysia) push to want to revive missionary schools in Malaysia. Being a product of a missionary school, La Salle PJ, I am naturally sympathetic to this plan.

Missionary schools were generally recognized as schools where one could receive a good education because the disciplinary standards were high, the teachers were generally motivated and could teach well, the standard of English was relatively high and the 'brothers' and 'sisters' (priests and nuns) created an environment that was highly conducive to learning. Most of us are familiar with some of these schools - La Salle, St. Xavier, Anglo-Chinese, Bukit Bintang, the many Convent schools - and many of us continue to be supportive alumni members.

It is widely acknowledge that the standards of education in many of these missionary schools have gone down the tubes and have lost the distinctiveness which made them highly conducive environments for learning. They were slowly but surely 'nationalized' when the brothers and sisters who were running these schools reached retirement age and were 'replaced' by headmasters and teachers from the civil service . Many of these replacements did not have a clue in regards to the 'culture' in these missionary schools. Hence they did not have a clue as to how to perpetuate this 'culture' of learning. The older, more experienced teachers slowly began to retire in these missionary schools and they were replaced by inexperienced teachers who were trained mostly in the teacher training colleges. The 'busing' in of more and more outside students, many of them from asrama schools, also contributed to the rapid loss of the 'character' of these missionary schools.

With this in mind, what can organizations like the CCM and Catholic 'organizations' like the Jesuit priests who started the La Salle schools do to restore the quality of education in our national schools?

I think they have to leverage their strengths in a few key areas, namely:

1) The ability of these organizations to use their know how based on their previous experience of running these schools. This includes the ability to restore a sense of discipline among students as well as respect for teachers and the culture of learning and in the recruitment of new teachers and retaining old ones.

2) The ability of these organizations to harness the collective energies of the alumnus. While many of these old alumni still contribute to these schools financially or if their kids are in these schools, through the PTAs, but they could definitely play a larger role for example in being on a board of trustees which has some say in how these schools are being run. Also, one can argue that many more alumni members would want to step up and contribute if they see that there was a concentrated effort to restore the character of these missionary schools.

3) The ability of these organizations to show that missionary schools can be run in a way which is professional and in a way which values education without being overtly religious. I went to La Salle PJ primary and secondary from Standard 1 to Form 3 and in no way did I feel as if Catholicism was being 'promoted' at least not overtly. I did go for Cathechism classes in primary school but that was something optional.

But to do some of these things, the Ministry of Education has to sign off. While the likelihood of this happening is very small, for the sake of argument, let's look at a few areas in which there needs to be greater flexibility in regards to how these schools will be run if its missionary 'character' is to be restored. Let's assume that the CCM together with some Catholic organizations gets the MOE to allow them a greater say in how these former missionary schools are run. What are some of the considerations that need to be taken into account?

1)Who is to give the proper input?
- Many of the Jesuit priests, nuns and the early founders of these schools have either passed away or retired. While their experience can be used / consulted, long term and regular input needs to be given by a different group of people. I suggest that some sort of board of trustees comprising distinguished alumni, parents of current students and possibly reputable MOE appointees (just to make them feel more comfortable) should be given some amount of power in regards to running these schools.

2) What kind of jurisdiction is needed?
- I think that these missionary schools should be given some flexibility in the hiring of teachers (outside of the MOE system perhaps), some flexibility in the curriculum, charging extra fees to pay for better teachers and facilities (means tested so as not to exclude poor students) as well as some control over who gets into these schools (some sort of admission criteria). The intended outcome is that a school which is multi-racial, comprising mostly of local, above average students, with good teachers and interesting curriculum (beyond the mandated syllabus) and an environment of learning and discipline.

Of course, all this is just talk given that the MOE is not likely to want to cede control over these schools. But it's good to put a few things on the table for discussion sake, in case any space opens up in how the government thinks of organizing education policy.


Anonymous said...

YAY!!! I get to correct Kian Ming....

Many of these schools, at least the catholic ones are not founded by the Jesuits, but the Brothers of the Christian schools.....commonly known as the La Salle Brothers, their names end with FSC. Others include the Marist brothers, the IJ sisters, the Cannosian sisters, not forgetting other anglican and methodist missionaries too.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Wood is right - the Jesuits are a separate Order and as far as I know have not founded any schools in Malaysia.

The point about control can be debated - for years (even now) the MoE has resisted giving full assistance to mission schools based on the argument that the land and buildings do not belong to the Government, yet insist on full control. The Churches could, in theory, take back the land and buildings and hire their own staff.

As for the ethos - I am sorry, but a mission school cannot be a mission school unless there are some religious elements to its character. Obviously this shouldn't and must not go as far as proselytisation, but steps like restoring the symbols, statues, the occasional service would go a long way. Along with this should come values such as dedication, hard work etc. that were so prized in the mission schools of yesteryear. As most of the teachers these days haven't a clue what a mission school education is and are hardly exemplary in terms of professionalism, maybe the hiring of foreign missionaries could be considered. At the very least - the head should be a Christian of the same denomination as the sponsoring church. The willy-nilly destruction of school characters by lay heads (sadly all those guilty have been Muslims) cannot be allowed to continue.

Perhaps we can look to Singapore as an example - their mission schools seem to be doing OK and religion still plays some role in the life of the school, despite many of them having lay heads.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Very beautiful indeed, Aston.

Anonymous said...

I must say that I'm totally supporting the revival of 'authentic' missionary schools.

Through my secondary school life, I've been to a 'missionary school' which was said to be 'one of the best in town.' I still remembered how happy I was when I received a confirmation letter of enrollment to that particular school.

Few years have passed...

Looking back at my naivity, I seem so foolish to be happy.
I'm still confused as to why my school still had the fame of great academics while having lived through the forms, I'm embarrased.

My school should have lost it's academic fame decades ago, My English teacher gave me the similar type of grammar work which I've been taught in Form 1(not to say it's bad) but it's more of what they feel like teaching on that day itself. There is no course planner, no usage of English textbooks.

No such thing as better English in missionary schools. Some students can hardly converse in English when they have been taught even from primary school.

Thats just English by the way.

I won't touch on other problems for today's sake. Just frustrated to think of my history.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with extremely frustrated student. Having been a product of a 'missionary school', it's so true that missionary schools have lost it's glory days. The scenario is exactly the same I've experienced throughout my high school life. You have my empathy.

I must say that we should 'evangelise' one school at a time. Let the school have it's own administration and enrollment, as in total control of the school (like private school) oversee by CCM.

We then can a nation where hope comes alive. No hope for now.

Bob K said...

I am a mission school end-product, back when there was still some residual elements of what made a mission school what it was. It was primarily at the tail end though .. a period that saw the relocation of the chapel, the introduction of the doa, etc.

I am naturally intrigued by this suggestion. The only thing that concerns me is why is there a need to revert back to the English medium? Why not retain the Malay language medium but excel in producing all-rounded wholistic students? There's too much cultural imperialism already :P

Anonymous said...

Reviving them? I don't think the government would approve it. Refurbish probably. Instead of being passimistic about this, I would like to see the detail proposal to the government. You might not know whether these leaders really have a good proposal or not by judging from what is written by some journalist.

Auggydaley said...

student was right. the least they can do is to appoint principals who are from the same denonmination to head a mission school for a particular denomination.

i was not from a mission school, but being a Christian, i am all for the reviving of the mission school. It is quite sad that the catholic mission schools have been left with the Muslim principals. i heard there is a Malaysian Catholic Education Council. could n't they do something about our La Sallian and Convent schools?

Anonymous said...

Yes, i fully supported the idea of reviving missionary schools. But before that, planning is important. We don't want to give any opportunity to the government to work in the dark against it, as they usually did.

La Salle, Convent, ACS, etc, time to revive the spirit!

Anonymous said...

As a former student of La Salle PJ, all i can say is that I fully support the idea of the school going back to the La Salle Brothers control. Ever since the first Malay headmistress was appointed when I was in Form 3, we saw the rapid Islamisation of the way the school was being run, even when the majority of students were non-Malay. I still remember vividly the day when she marched into our classroom during Moral Studies and launched into a racist diatribe against the Chinese - and our moral teacher could only look on helplessly. After finishing Form 5, gangsterism got a firm footing in La Salle, with the notorious "Sup pat (18)" gang being quite dominant with Science-stream students and prefects among their recruits. Try asking anyone nowadays what they think of La Salle PJ, and most will say "gangster school". It is no longer the school where parents will claim to live in Section 5 just to get their kids in. It is no longer the school where La Sallians took pride being La Sallians.

lil star said...

I went to Assunta after Sr. Enda had retired, but I thought it was amazing anyway. When I was there, we had 3 different headmistresses, some better than others. I think there is a board of governors who can suggest (or maybe even veto) a new head.

The thing I loved best about Assunta was the intense school spirit. The songs, the clubs, the military band, the cheerleaders, etc. Granted, it was not for everyone and some kids must have found the relentless chirpy Catholicism and Englishness of it all quite trying. But for me (being neither Muslim or Christian), it was opportunity, encouragement and libertarianism all rolled in one. Discipline was less important than creativity, passion and drive. I wish everyone could have had the chance I had.

Anonymous said...

I am a product of an Anglican missionary school (St. Mary's in the heart of KL for 11 years), and then Form Six in St. John's Institution. Since most of my outside school friends were from missionary schools as well (Convent Bukit Nenas, Bukit Bintang Girls' School, Methodist Boys' School, Victoria Institution), I did not stop to think that we had such a great education (within and without the classroom) because we WERE in missionary schools.

There was always positive peer pressure to excel academically, of course. But the things I remember most about my schooling was the tremendous school spirit to do one's best in any area. We had such a rich extra-curricular roster: debates, school plays, sports, Good Neighbors' Club, library, music....the list goes on.

The teachers were by and large really dedicated and cared a lot for our well-being. They seemed to be proud to be part of the school.

I am now in the US and my older child is in public elementary school here. There is little school spirit nor the rich heritage of decades of excellence and effort produced by a school. Our school badge represented so much back then.

Good, good times.

Collin Michael Nunis said...

The Jesuits run some of the better universities in the United States and if there's one thing i know, they're not quick to wear their religion on their sleeves. The only Christianity that they know is excellence. I do wish they had Jesuit varsities here.

keropok lekor said...

Dear all,

I agree with Bob K and also "extremely frustrated student", I may be biased, since I never went to a mission school.

I was a bit skeptical and disturbed with the article whereby leaders talking about the "good old days" of mission education.

It seems to me that by implying the superiority of the 'good old days', we are downplaying the role of which our system today had contributed to our society.

Why revert to English medium when the vernacular education has already work well in indigenizing knowledge, reducing illiteracy and bridging the gap between the marginalised (materially, socially and geographically) and the upper middle class of the society?

Would a revival of the 'classical model' of Malaysian mission school create a new type of elitism, which is exclusive to school children who come from urban, educated, middle-upper class, english speaking families? Wouldn't elitism contradict the spirit of serving the poor and needy, held by these religious orders?

As a Christian I think I should not think of ourselves higher than others, nor should we create exclusivity. I think there is other comparable good national schools around in the country like MCKK, Tunku Kurshiah, SMDU, school for the blind, Orang Asli school, Sekolah Agama Rakyats, Chinese New Village schools, Vivekananda etc. that do equally good job in educating our rakyat in our different local contexts. Some of them may not be the best performing schools, but they certainly do the noble job of educating and imparting knowledge to the common people.

I may be wrong. My full response is at