April 3rd, 2012

Continuing the tradition of mission schools

Mission schools are as ‘Malaysian’ as can be. We really ought to be applauding, supporting and promoting their work as they are indeed an asset to our country.

THE canteen of an all-girl mission school in Ipoh is a riot of noise as the students throng to their favourite stalls. Shared by both the secondary and primary schools, it’s situated between the two institutions.

This school can trace its lineage back to an educational institution founded in 1895 by British missionaries, although it only assumed its current name in 1959.

In 2010, it was named one of the Sekolah Harapan Negara.

The secondary school is in the slightly grander, older buildings dating from the 1920s while the primary school is in the 1950s structure alongside the assembly hall.

Recess is staggered and the girls eat at different times.

The racial mix is striking, with Malay, Indian and Chinese students in almost equal measure.

I’m looking on, from the teachers’ dining room where I’m sitting with the enthusiastic and chatty senior teachers – all of whom are women.

“You could say that curriculum is our core business,” says one headmistress.

“I’ve been teaching for 30 years – of which 25 were spent in mission schools.

“I learned a great deal from the old teachers from the mission back in the 1980s. Their administration was no nonsense and yet we’d all have fun. Committee meetings were far shorter in those days!

“Still, I have a very active board and they have a strong sense of tradition. They’re very particular about our results and reputation.

“I personally prefer having a strong board. They provide a check and balance. They also help with fund-raising and are always monitoring our enrolment to ensure we’re preserving the character and tradition of the school.”

Tradition and continuity are important for the mission schools.

One of the teachers I spoke to was an oldgirl at the school from 1969 to 1980 before heading off to Teachers Training College and returning in 1985.

All in all, she has spent 38 years at the school, both as a pupil and a teacher.

Mission schools have played a central role in the story of education in Malaysia.

The first “missionary” school is arguably the Penang Free School, founded by an English Anglican clergyman in 1816.

This was followed by the Roman Catholic’s St Xavier’s Institution and Convent Light Street in 1852, also in Penang.

Since then, it is estimated that there are now 462 mission schools in Malaysia, including 227 in peninsular Malaysia and 235 in Sabah and Sarawak.

Among the famous schools were the Convent Bukit Nanas, St John’s Institution of Kuala Lumpur as well as St Michael’s and Methodist Girls’ School of Ipoh.

Mission schools have educated countless of Malaysians regardless of race, religion or class.

The distinguished alumni from mission schools include several of our prime ministers (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is an old boy of St John’s), ministers, corporate captains, sports stars and artistes.

Still, many have bemoaned the perceived decline of mission schools in tandem with education in Malaysia in general.

As history will show, most mission schools became partially-aided schools in the 1970s, which meant that the Education Ministry supplied and paid the teaching staff plus operating costs, while the various churches retained ownership of the land and buildings.

Beyond the usual debate over the medium of instruction and quality of teaching, there have been criticisms that the schools have lost their distinctive Christian character.

On the other hand, some feel that this ethos remains unduly pronounced.

Indeed, questions of the appointment of head teachers and restrictions to non-Muslim religious activities in the schools have been the cause of much bitterness to certain alumni and parents alike.

Visiting the mission school in Ipoh, amid its leafy surroundings, however, I got a sense that many of these schools are fighting to maintain their identities while reflecting a truly Malaysian identity.

It helps that while the Anglican and Roman Catholic missionary schools have suffered due to the ageing and declining membership of their various religious orders, the lay-based boards of schools like the one in Ipoh remain very active.

In a sense, mission schools are accomplishing what our national-stream schools have failed to deliver.

For one thing, they’re largely multiracial: the student body of the premier girls’ school that I visited in Ipoh is 33.5% Malay, 36.4% Chinese, 26.9% Indian and 3.2% others, almost neatly mirroring the ethnic composition of peninsular Malaysia.

As my editor Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai says: “Mission schools provide a neutral platform for all the races to meet and interact.”

Their students are also accomplished both academically (the UPSR pass rate has been above 90% for the last five years, and in 2006, 40% of their students achieved 5As) and in extra-curricular activities (the school has had noted success in games, including swimming).

Mission schools are as “Malaysian” as can be. We really ought to be applauding, supporting and promoting their work as they are indeed an asset to our country.


Source: The STAR Home News Opinion Tuesday April 3, 2012

Truancy: Poor Bahasa Malaysia skills the root cause

I REFER to "Truancy among schoolchildren rampant" (NST, March, 30). Last year, 8,266 truancy cases were reported in primary schools and 10,488 in secondary schools. Of these, 58.85 per cent involved students in rural areas.

Factors contributing to truancy include, inadequate infrastructure (especially in rural areas), poverty, lack of interest  in studies, too much focus on academic performance, imbalance in physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development, "one-method-fits-all" teaching approach and lack of commitment.

Let me share my experiences, thoughts and understanding of this issue.


Truants running away in Kuching as a police patrol car approaches with sirens blaring to deter them from playing truant.
Pic by Nadim Bokhari

 Broadly, there are two groups of truants -- the intentional truants, who have ready access to school, but nevertheless choose to play truant; and  the unintentional truants, who find it difficult to access school, particularly  in rural and remote areas.

 The former group is well endowed with all schooling facilities and their families do not need a helping hand financially.

 The opposite is true for the latter. They are the children of the urban and rural poor  who may have to be absent from school to help their families. Also, in some instances, the nearest school is too far for them without proper transport.

 For the unintentional truants, collaboration  with other ministries and bodies is  required to improve the   amenities and  living standards of the families concerned.

 For the intentional truants, the schools and Education Ministry can do much to reduce and eliminate the problem.

 I tend to believe that most   primary school truants fall in the unintentional group, while the secondary school truants are mainly intentional truants.

 This letter focuses on the intentional truants.

 First, it is agreed that the  lack of interest and commitment in studying is the main reason. But, what causes this loss of interest and commitment?

 It is the students' inadequate proficiency in the main medium of instruction which is Bahasa Malaysia (BM) in secondary schools.

 Many students from  Chinese and Tamil primary schools are found to be wanting in their command of BM when entering secondary school. For some, a year in Remove Class does not help "remove" the cumulative effects  of their six-year neglect of the language while in primary school.

 When they can't understand the lessons, their interest to study wanes and before long, they are totally lost in their classes.  It becomes   torture to stay   in class for hours every day of the week.

After being repeatedly reprimanded for their mischief and misbehaviour, these students start to disappear from class.

 There is, therefore, an urgent need to strengthen the proficiency of BM among students in vernacular schools.

 I strongly advocate that vernacular school students should have the same BM syllabus and BM papers in their Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah as students in national schools.

 Vernacular schools should realise the urgency and need for their pupils to master BM at a higher level. Students from these schools should pride themselves in their proficiency in both BM and Chinese or Tamil.

 Advocates  of vernacular education should think and plan beyond the six-year time frame for their students.

The present practice of leaving the "catching-up" in BM to be done in secondary school  is an injustice to the students and a major cause for their truancy.

 Second, enrolling students who lack interest in studying in vocational schools or in classes with vocational or trade subjects in normal schools has  been cited as a way to arrest truancy.

 But, is this the panacea? Are we just treating the symptoms and not the cause?

 The poor command of the language of instruction is the cause for the loss of interest in their studies. Be mindful also that in secondary schools, vocational and trade subjects are taught in BM.

 What is there to guarantee that after the initial euphoria over  the practical sessions incorporated in these subjects, these students will not  lose interest again because they cannot follow the theory part of the subjects?

  Overcoming truancy is  very much a  joint endeavour by the Education Ministry, schools, students and parents.

 Liong Kam Chong, Seremban, Negri Sembilan

Source: New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 03 April 2012

Education: Five ways to a better system

MUCH has been said about our system producing rote learners and sadly, this is quite true. Students simply carry knowledge. If I could substitute it with an analogy, they are simply lorries laden with goods.

They do not apply the knowledge  they have in their lives.

As a Form  Five student, I read with great interest about the plans of the Education Ministry to gather feedback to improve our education system. I have seen the improvements that the ministry has embarked on, especially with the  use of information and communications and technology.

 A total revamp is too idealistic because in the end, education simply boils down to the teacher-student relationship.

But surely there are things  we can do to improve it:

TEACHERS should be given more time to teach, perhaps by pushing the year-end examinations further to the last week of school. Sometimes, teachers  struggle to cover the syllabus. This might affect the quality of  teaching;

REVISE the schedule. There are subjects which do not really require long hours. For example, language subjects do not really need many classes;

ACTIVITY-ORIENTED learning  for  language subjects. I don't think we  want that many grammar experts, but we want people who are fluent in the language. Such activities are more relevant than just classes. Perhaps  schools should be made to organise language weeks which have such activities;

MAKE   the best use of the Sivik dan Kewarganegaraan subject. I think this subject should be made  broader and it does not need textbooks or else  the teaching would become too rigid. Maybe it should take on a mentor-mentee approach.   Teachers should just be given guidelines. For example, the teacher could touch on current issues, give advice to  students, give motivational talks or  give the students newspapers. We would also be spared the talk of introducing a new subject to students whenever an issue crops up, such as  sexuality education; and,

 GIVE     more vigour to  co-curricular  activities. Students should be engaged in the setting up of clubs  instead of being stuck with the ones set up by their school and  ministry.    Give them clubs they can enjoy and make them enthusiastic about them. Encourage them to plan activities of their own and give points for this. This would  allow more student participation  instead of just depending on competitions held at  inter-school level.

I. Amir, Kajang, Selangor

Source: New Straits Times Letters to the Editors Tuesday, April 03, 2012