One of the oldest schools in Kuala Lumpur, Maxwell School is also one of the few surviving colonial-era buildings, with an architectural style that bears similarities to the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and Sultan Abdul Samad building.
Maxwell School (now SMK Maxwell) had a notorious reputation for being a “gangster school” in the 1960s, and it took an outstanding individual to turn it all around.
As one of the oldest schools in Kuala Lumpur prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, former Maxwellians want to commemorate the man who brought the school from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs – the late P. Nadarajah.
Nadarajah was the longest-serving principal of Maxwell School, taking the helm from 1968 to 1979, and was best known as a steadfast disciplinarian among his students.
But as his wife Ivy Chia recalls, there was one thing he noticed about the students early on in his term that convinced him that they were not a lost cause.
“There was a Form Four student who was paraplegic and his classmates used to carry him from class to class upstairs and downstairs.
“To me, that showed that this was a caring lot, so what are we talking of gangsters?” Nadarajah wrote in an open letter to all former Maxwellians while he was still alive in 2007.
According to Chia, Nadarajah recognised that the root cause of the school’s poor academics was the fact that most of the students were from poor families where the parents had to work hard just to get by.
He recognised that their difficult upbringing had resulted in an overall lack of self-esteem, attention and kindness shown to them.
She said Nadarajah loved all kinds of sports, so his strategy in shaping the Maxwell students was to first focus on excelling in sports, which could provide an outlet for the students to exert themselves and create a competitive spirit.
“The students had a lot of pride over what their sports teams achieved, and when they had high self-esteem from this, they started to get good academic results as well,” said Chia.
She said Nadarajah had to be strict and frequently used the cane in school to keep students’ discipline in check, and he would often come home exhausted from caning so many students.
But behind the caning, she said he would always listen to students and talk with them.
Former students have told her that they could never communicate with their own parents, but they could always communicate with him.
“At home, he was always soft-spoken, gentle and quiet.
“He was always so busy because helping his school and society were his priorities.
“He could not be an accountant, so he promised that he would be the best teacher he could ever be,” she said, adding that he was so dedicated to teaching that even on the day before he passed away peacefully in 2010, he was marking tuition books.
Nadarajah’s legacy is being kept alive by a group of Maxwell alumni who created the P. Nadarajah Award Fund in 2005, which rewards the school’s top-scoring SPM and STPM students every year.
“Our reason for starting this fund was so that we could remember this great man, who was a very good disciplinarian,” said P. Nadarajah Award Fund secretary Soh Chee Beng.
“He was willing to go the extra mile to transform the school. We hope Malaysia will always have great teachers like Nadarajah,” he added.