The board of governors in mission schools must be vigilant to ensure that their unique character is preserved, writes SIMRIT KAUR.
UNLIKE fully-aided schools, mission schools still enjoy some form of autonomy through the board of governors.
Originally, the main responsibility of the board was to source for good teachers and principals – it had the power to hire and fire.
Today, with all teachers being civil servants, the board has a more consultative role but still acts on behalf of the churches or missions who own the school.
To ensure that the board plays its role effectively, the Malaysian Christian Schools Council (MCSC) organised a seminar recently on The Roles and Responsibilities of the School Board of Governors.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Hon Choon Kim, who opened the seminar, said the board's role is to assist schools in terms of development and to give advice and encouragement to students and staff.
Unlike fully-aided schools, mission schools do not receive money for the upkeep of their buildings although the government does provide grants when possible.
Participants at the seminar said mission schools suffer from the anak angkat (adopted child) syndrome in terms of financial allocation from the ministry.
Hon conceded that government funding for mission schools each year is not enough to meet their needs, although the allocation had increased.
“In 2001, the ministry disbursed RM789,000; this increased to RM3.67mil last year. This year, to date, the Government has given grants worth RM1.27mil to five schools – SM Assunta, Petaling Jaya; SM St Andrew, Muar; SK Convent 2, Klang; SM La Salle, Klang; and SM St Patrick, Sabah.
Datuk Stanley Isaacs, chairman of the board of governors of SK and SMK St Mary, Kuala Lumpur, said both schools had yet to receive the RM250,000 promised by the Government.
“The point is that financial grants should not be a one-off thing but should be given on a yearly basis as the needs of our students are on-going,” he added.
The chairperson of every board, nominated by the church or religious order, has a duty to ensure that board meetings are called regularly. Members comprise parents, old boys/girls, and government and church representatives.
MCSC chairman Gloriosa Rajendran listed several expectations the mission authorities have of the board:
This is a tall order and in the present climate seems unlikely to be met. Having a supportive principal helps but the reality is that there are very few Christians in the teaching profession.
The function and existence of the board also depends in large measure on the cooperation of the school principal. Unfortunately, many primary mission schools are finding it difficult to get suitable headmasters who are former students of mission schools and who value its history and character.
Rajendran said board members must play an active and meaningful role by attending school functions such as Speech Days and Sports Days so that they can “become involved in the life of the school.”
She said: “The most positive way board members can express their concern and love for the school is to become involved with the needs of the teachers and students. I remember how grateful I was for old furniture from a board member's office.
“In another school the church ladies provided uniforms and shoes for poor girls; while in the same school a member of the board who was a state badminton player used to coach the girls.”
Seminar participant Gerald Lee, chairman of the Archdiocesan Education Council, Kuching noted the board is virtually powerless as it has no say in the intake of students and the appointment of teachers and the principal. “The only thing the board is good at is raising funds.”
When the Education Act 1965 was repealed by the Education Act 1996, the MCSC worked on a new Instrument of Government for government-assisted schools to guide the board in its operations.
“It was devised in keeping with the new Education Act and it has been a great disappointment that until today we have had no formal acceptance of this document which was completed in 1997,'' said Rajendran.
The board of governors is considered the guardian of a mission school. One of its responsibilities is to preserve the special ethos and traditions of such schools.
Rajendran said the board should allow for change that is good for progress but guard the school structure and character from radical revision.
She said school songs and special days are sometimes quietly forgotten without the church realising that something very precious is being eroded.
“If the board is not watchful and involved, they would not know about the silent inroads made into the character and traditions of the school.”
Participants suggested that other mission schools take a leaf from the La Salle schools, described as being at the forefront of heritage education.
“Heritage clubs should be formed with old boys acting as advisers. The board of governors should be as concerned about preserving the school ethos as it is with physical development.'' said SM St Michael principal Louis Rozario Doss.
SM Convent Bukit Nanas principal Alice George said the potential for the board to do good in schools in enormous, “especially as custodians in preserving the schools' heritage and traditions.”
The appointment of suitable heads is a key consideration in preserving the character of mission schools.
Rajendran says that the principle of maximum consultation, whereby the church authorities are consulted before a candidate is appointed to head a mission school, must be upheld.
“If we have a good head at the board, he or she will inform us of a pending transfer or retirement. Then we are able to take the necessary action to find a replacement.”
However, Rajendran acknowledges mission schools are fast running short of good, committed teachers who are senior enough and in the promotion line. Often the candidate proposed by the board is rejected on that basis.
Mission schools these days no longer fulfil a missionary purpose. For all practical purposes, they are like any other government school. Few churches are involved in the life of the school anymore, even those that share the same compound.
Recognising that mission authorities are fighting an uphill battle in preserving the shape of present mission schools, many, including MCSC exco member Dr Hannah Pillay, argue that it may be time for a new mission.
What form and shape should the mission schools take? Should they be retained? Should the education mission of the church be re-conceptualised? These were some of the questions debated at the seminar.
Christian schools in Malaysia date back to the early 19th century, when the colonial government did not adequately meet the need for education.
However, the character of mission schools was changed forever in the 1960s through the acceptance of government aid to fund operating expenditure and teacher salaries.
This led to an erosion of rights for mission schools, including the acceptance of Islam as the only religion that could be taught within the time-table using government funds, Dr Pillay said at the seminar.
She said the time has come to reassess the original ideals of the missionaries and to look at new ventures by using the resources of the church and mission bodies for other purposes.
“Primary and secondary education is now the responsibility of the Government. We need to re-look at the school's original mission to serve the marginalised, but not just in terms of poverty. Maybe we should look at providing vocational education.
“Presently 30% of students don’t fit into the academic mainstream. They are the new disadvantaged community.”
She said the church may need to accept new realities in Malaysia if it still wants to be involved in education. “It's not about preaching the gospel but meeting the real needs of the community.
“Setting up private schools will only meet the needs of the middle class and would not be consistent with the mission and Christian ideals.''
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