PRACTISING moderation can help preserve harmony in the country and it must start from school, said retired educationist Datuk Kum Boo.
He said this way, we could achieve a common vision and destiny, stressing that it was important for Malaysians to ensure peace and prosperity.
The 93-year-old, who is best remembered as a pioneer educationist, has seen the nation through war and peace.
He is also one of the oldest surviving Universiti Malaya alumnus.
Kum, a former Education Ministry director of schools, retired from government service in 1978 to head the school of technology in Tunku Abdul Rahman College (now Tunku Abdul Rahman University College).
Recollecting the time when he was education adviser to the National Operation Council, an emergency restorative body formed to restore order after the May 13 riots, Kum said he suggested that the police cadet corps be introduced as part of an extracurricular activity in schools nationwide.
“This was so that students would not get involved in riots,” said Kum.
Until today, he believes young people still have respect for law and order and the best mentors are found in the many police stations located near schools.
Today, at his Taman Mayang residence in Petaling Jaya, where he lives with his 79-year-old wife Mah Gaik Hong, Kum continues to insist that common sense must prevail if education is to thrive.
He cites the current situation of how some parents have expressed unhappiness that some schools have lowered their passing mark to 40%.
But Kum’s main point is how we have come to label our children as no good after their examination grades.
Even as far back as 1949, when the father of four was just starting out as a maths and science teacher in Victoria Institution, Kum was dismayed to enter a class only for the students to tell him they were “donkeys”, an association to denote they were dimwits.
He was further chagrined to find out that it was a teacher who had called them this.
“So, I told them they were not donkeys but monkeys,” recalled Kum, explaining the principle that if society were to label a child, they should opt for the positive.
In this case, the monkey might be associated with mischief but it was also intelligent.
Kum is also from the school of thought that a healthy child’s intelligence is largely due to environment, not genetics.
Kum once prompted a journalist to remark that it was the first time the Education Ministry had advised teachers on what to wear in a classroom on national scale.
This was when he suggested in 1970 that in class, men were to forsake Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts and that lady teachers, heavily made-up to look like film stars, be a thing of the past.
He recalled a time in the 1970s when the prevailing thought was it would be pointless to introduce indigenous and rural students to maths and science.
His move was to take them out of their environment and have them placed in residential schools, modelling the system after Eton College, an English independent boarding school for boys in Eton, Berkshire.
“You are looking at the results today,” smiled Kum.
Kum, whose main occupation now entails looking after his one-year-old grandson Wong Yee Hong, said it was his great love for children that drove him into the education line.
In Kum’s books, young people will thrive if they are given due attention.
As for how Yee Hong will benefit by having a “super teacher” in his grandfather, Kum said it would be unwise to stick to the ancient adage that wisdom is the sole proprietorship of the elders.
“When I was little, if I wanted to see what London was like, I would have to wait 30 years.
“Now we can see how it looks like with just a few taps (on the smartphone).
“In this age of information, our children could be much more learned than the elder generation,” he said.