Monday, March 18, 2013

Of Missionary and Government Schools in Malaysia: Some Thoughts

                                                                           The Old Seremban Convent                                                                                                                             

Almost everyone has some emotional attachment to their alma mater irrespective of whether it is a sekolah pondok, a university, college or school. I too have strong sentiments in the matter and to date think very highly of  all of my mine - the Muar High School, MPIK and The University of Iowa..  As such it is not uncommon to see those who had studied in the missionary schools of Malaysia to also speak fondly of them.  Both my sisters ( 85 and 76 yrs old) and daughters attended the Convent of The Holy Infant Jesus and would of course not say anything unfavorable of their alma maters and would instead speak accolades of them and take up a defensive stance if anything negative is to be said of their convent schools....even now
                                              The Old St. Paul’s Institution Seremban

The problem in Malaysia is when one tends to overrate his or her school. Before 1965 when a common school uniform was introduced nationwide all schools lost their identities.  The minister of education at that time was Khir Johari. The old names were retained but uniforms were standardized with the turquoise blue pinafores and khaki green pants.  Later on the baju kurung versions which crept in with especially the Malay medium schools of the 70's are now almost standard wear for Malay girls plus the tudong. 

Perhaps it was the government of the day’s idea to play down the prominence of the bigger and longer established town schools in Malaysia and to make the rural students of other “lesser” and newly established schools feel less inferior. It was also a time when Malaysia saw the unprecedented building and establishment of both new primary and secondary schools nationwide. It is not my point to comment on this move of uniform change but suffice it to say that it did “kill off” the uniqueness of long established schools and traditions.  Of course today, this move can be seen as a futile one if not stupid as it did diminish the pride and sense of belonging to a particular school.  In fact there has been a reversal of sorts with increased elitism in Malaysian education. What is now happening is the opposite trend when we have built and established elite schools and even special MARA schools and others with fully-boarding facilities. And of late its worse when we hear of sekolah pintar, sekolah this and sekolah that. The original spirit of the 1965 has been, therefore, defeated in purpose of making all schools same and uniform..... a futility from the start.

                                                                       Convent Girls in Their Old Blue Pinafore Uniforms

In government schools of the 50’s the boys wore navy blue shorts and white shirts. In contrast, the missionary school boys traditionally wore white shorts and white shirts.  This differentiated them pretty well. The Chinese schools had their own distinct uniforms too.  The girls in government schools wore a green pinafore while those from the convents wore blue ones.

There was immense rivalry between the mission schools and government schools in almost every field from academics to sports and games.  In Seremban the traditional foes were KGV and SPI who were quite evenly matched with SPI having a lead in hockey while KGV was better in rugby. In Muar where I was schooled, it was a no fight situation at all between St. Andrews and our High School which was an obvious winner in all fields from academics to sports and games.  I am pretty sure that it would have been about the same in all the major towns in Malaysia such as Penang, Ipoh, Taiping and KL.

                                                          The Uniforms of Today

There are still many missionary schools around who do have some autonomy especially if they own the land and buildings but are fully government aided. However, the nuns and brothers are no more. They have quit. In Seremban both the Convent and the SPI buildings of yesteryears are gone. The land and buildings of SPI were negotiated for and bought over by some housing and development company which offered an alternative site in Lobak for the secondary school and Taman Bukit Emas for the SPI primary.  This happened in the late 70’s. The Seremban Convent did not initially agree to move or accept any commercial initiatives. Finally, the Convent nuns did sell off the property and actually shut down the school. The developers built another school for the displaced students from the Seremban Convent in the Taman Bukit Emas vicinity too and it became known as SMJK Puteri. This took place almost 10 years later in the late 80's.

Not many people are not aware of these commercial initiatives and often blame the government in their ignorance for the shutdown of such missionary schools.  The government of course did give its consent. In any case SPI and the Convent were dead smack in the middle of Seremban town centre and caused massive jams even at that point in time when car ownership was nothing like the extent that it is today.


Pa Alisya said...


I googled photo of St Paul Institution and was linked to your blog. Can I use the old SPI photo for my Seremban FB update?


Pa Alisya said...


I googled for St Paul Institution and was linked to your blog. Can I make use of the old SPI photo to share in Seremban FB?

Thanks in advance.



Sure. Go ahead