Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Missionary schools model for 1 Malaysia?

Malaysia's 6th PM, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, is a product of St. John's Institution in KL. Recently, he went back to his alma mater and proclaimed that the missionary school model represents what he sees in his 1 Malaysia vision. I'll reproduce the full article from the Malaysian Insider below and comment after that.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 — A visit to his Christian alma mater was used today by Datuk Seri Najib Razak to drive home his vision of 1 Malaysia which was officially launched at Dataran Merdeka earlier this morning.

The prime minister, who officiated the opening of the Conference of Christian Mission Schools in Malaysia at the St John’s Institution here, paid tribute to mission schools and their role in nation building.

He said mission schools had a special ethos which promote unity, very much like his vision of 1 Malaysia.

Najib is led by the school captain, as he walks to the St.John's school hall for the conference.
“The ethos of mission schools shaped the values and beliefs of students which is in line with 1 Malaysia.”

He said that part and parcel of the concept of 1 Malaysia was to accept diversity and a plural society as a heritage and strength instead of a source of problems.

“1 Malaysia goes beyond tolerance but accepts diversity,” he said, adding that it would be achieved if Malaysians could look beyond race, colour and religions.

“I am convinced it we continue on this path Malaysia can be stronger.”

Najib said that St John's had provided him the sound grounding which eventually made him the prime minister of Malaysia.

He said that returning to the school had brought back special memories, including the times he walked up the hill (Jalan Bukit Nanas) to the school with his heavy bag and playing pranks with his friends.

He also joked that his father gave him a promotion, enrolling him straight into Standard Two at St John’s Primary School, where he spent five years, and a further three years at St John’s Secondary.

He paid tribute to the former and present teachers of the school and even called out to a La Salle Christian Brother in the crowd, who was his former teacher.

This was the scene earlier when Najib entered his alma mater accompanied by the famous St.John's school band.
Najib also took the occasion to have a swipe at Victoria Institution, the traditional rivals of St John’s.

“We are even better than the ‘other school’ in KL,” he joked.
He closed his speech with a special announcement, saying that he would officially declare his old school a National Heritage Site on July 12.

I won't go into the debate on what 1 Malaysia means exactly.

Rather, I want to make a couple of observations:

(i) I think it's a good thing that Najib is planning to declare SJI as a National Heritage Site next month. Hopefully this means that the school will not be torn down to make way for a shopping center, the way BBGS was torn down because it was located in prime real estate.

(ii) More importantly, I think the spirit and nature of many of the missionary schools in Malaysia, including SJI, has changed since the time when Najib was in school. The 'nationalization' of these schools which includes putting in headmasters and headmistresses which have no conception of the philosophy of the missionary schools or the La Sallian tradition and many attempts by MOE officials to 'de-Christianize' these schools have led to a drop in standards, both academic and disciplinary.

It is not enough to just say that the philosophy of the missionary schools capture the spirit of what 1 Malaysia means but Najib has to act in such a way to ensure that this spirit is returned to the missionary schools and promoted in other national schools.

One possible way, which Dr. Goh Cheng Teik has recommended, is to bring back the brothers into the school boards of the various La Salle schools to that their influence is still felt.

Other ways include emphasizing a culture and spirit which respects diversity and inclusiveness in the teacher training schools so that the teachers and headmasters can teach as well as practice what it means to respect all religions and races.

I'm not sure about the educational background of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the current Minister of Education, but hopefully he can pick up on what Najib has said and will make this an important priority in his agenda.


Anonymous said...

It is encouraging to see the leaders of Malaysia start to see diversity as a strength instead of a problem. I was in a mission school for all my secondary education, eventhough we were not Catholics, we were given full opportunities in school leadership positions. There were even Muslim classes for the Muslim students in a Catholic school, when the rest of us went for Moral class or Catholism. Most of the time we had the same classes, school activities -- we played together and learn together, there was very little religious over tone in whatever we did.
The big mess Malaysia is in now with the education system, is due to the misguided assumption that everyone has to be the same to achieve unity. We can have unity with diversity, especially when each party is allowed to develop their full potential and bring the opportunity to share with the rest of the community.
Allowing diversity will also minimize the impact of policy mistakes. The same strategies has been used successfully in plant breeding and project management in large MNCs on new product development.
If we can let everyone in Malaysia to develop his/her full potential instead of limiting them by our policies, Malaysia will be in a much better position to compete internationally. We can bring hope to everyone and let the conversation be how to be best in what one does, rather than who gets what -- as it is now.

Frank Chong

Anonymous said...

wah frank....u trust politician words so easily...

Old Fart said...

There is a curriculum that is set,. Success is measured at the end of it through examinations. Does it have to be that the process of achieving it got to also be centrally controlled?

The final examination does not determine the educational ethos nor does it stipulate the learning pedagogy.

For a start what needs to be promoted is for communities to determine the kind of learning ethos they want. The Mission Schools can be one community. Is it possible to work out a mechanism where these communities be given back the control over their schools? Management and all. Sure they subscribe to preparing their students to take the national curriculum But how they go about achieving this, it should not be the Ministry of Education's concern. Indeed if today national education in the country is in shambles the MOE alone can take credit for it.

We are talking of trying to gain some level of credibility and some level of standard for the products of our educational system. Why on earth are we still looking at it as a National endeavour that has to be controlled from the Centre? That has already failed. why can't we decide on the desirable standards and let the various communities work out their own way of achieving it? With community level competition you can hope for advancements taking place right across the country. Surely if, assuming the Mission Schools begin to set higher standards, surely whoever is responsible for the other community based schools, they will want to better it. The winner is the nation and the winner are the next generation students.

Teh continuati9on of the present system only feeds the weak, teh sorry minded and the sick politicians and the bigoted.