Thursday, May 29, 2014

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.

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