Turning SM Tunku Abdul Rahman around

LAST year, SM Tunku Abdul Rahman (STAR), Ipoh, made the headlines last year for the wrong reasons. The school expelled 20 students for forming a “high council” that bullied and terrorised the juniors. Among other things, the group ragged and extorted money from the students. It is hard enough maintaining discipline in regular schools, doing so at residential schools is a lot more demanding as it is a 24-hour job. No one knows this better than STAR principal Arrifin Abdul Rahman who was brought in to turn the school around. S. INDRAMALAR speaks to the veteran teacher who has made his mark in the past year, and in the process won the respect and co-operation of his students, teachers, peers and ministry officials.  


“DISCIPLINE cannot be negotiated and must be enforced consistently all year long. Maintaining discipline cannot be a seasonal activity that is stepped up only when a death or some other incident occurs. Unfortunately, that is how it is.  

“When something like the death of SM Agama Datuk Klana Petra Maamor student Mohd Farid Ibrahim happens, everyone will be kelam kabut (confused), a committee will be set up to investigate the case and come up with solutions, etc. Then, things will die down ? until another unpleasant incident happens. 

“We have to make this an on-going and collaborative effort. By collaborative I mean that the school principal must work with teachers, parents, the security guards at the school, old boys of the school and the community to make sure discipline is enforced. 

“What you must understand is that in residential schools, the 'negative' activities only begin after midnight. The seniors or bullies will wake up at midnight, an hour after lights out, and they will go after all the boys that they have an issue with. The bullies would have identified their victims earlier on in the day – juniors who have in some way or other upset them. 

“These activities will go on until the seniors are tired, often until three or four in the morning! This is how the high council started and operated.  

“It was hard to control or monitor their activities because of the time they operated; the wardens and teachers would all be asleep by this time. 


Stern action 

“Our task was to figure out how we can effectively monitor the situation and find ways to curb these activities. It was too much for one person to do and so we enlisted the corporation of everyone. We had a roster drawn up and started monitoring students' more closely.  

“At night, the guard would be given the responsibility of conducting hourly spot checks at every room or dorm to make sure the students were in bed. If there was an empty bed, the student concerned would have to explain where he was and the only acceptable excuse was if he went to the bathroom.  

“If students were caught talking or hanging out after the lights out, they would have to explain themselves as it could lead to unwanted trouble like the meetings of the 'high council'. Every morning, the night guard will have to submit a report on his rounds to me.  

“Another thing I wanted to make sure of was that any act of indiscipline, no matter how small, would be dealt with immediately. This way the students will know we mean business. As soon as we get whiff of some activity, we investigate and take action. If we have to separate naughty students, we will do it. Whatever it takes. You cannot let things simmer because small things can develop into serious problems in no time at all and soon you will find there is a culture of gangsterism in school. By this time, it will be really hard to correct the situation.  

“It takes a committed principal, one with strong leadership capabilities and a passion for helping mould and educate kids to make this work. Residential school heads must be strong and although you (school heads) will sometimes face strong opposition (on the methods used to ensure discipline), you must be convinced of your objectives. If you have proof that the student is up to no good and show that you really want to help, you will get more support than opposition. 


Always on call 

“Most people do not realise that teachers at residential schools are at work more or less 24 hours a day. In a regular day school, teachers work from 7 am to maybe 4.30 pm; in residential schools, teachers are basically on call 24 hours a day. 

“Take my schedule for example. My day at school starts at 5.30am when I am at the dorms to wake the boys up and say prayers with them. At 6.30am I go home for breakfast and to change and am back in school by 7am. Assembly starts at 7.05 and until 2pm, I am at the school.  

“At about 2.15pm I go home for lunch, pray and take a quick nap and am back in school again at 3.15pm, seeing to things, finishing up and sorting up things, or such. At about 5pm I go home to rest for a couple of hours and am back at school at 7.20 to join the students in their evening prayer.  

“After the prayer I go back for dinner and maybe to watch a little television. This is not the end of my day though as I go back into school at about 10pm to make sure all the students are in bed and things in order. 

After that I maybe have a cup of tea with the guards or teachers who are around and go home at about midnight. And the next day, it all begins again at 5am. 

“The pay we get is the same as the others, the allowances are minimal but the sacrifice (teachers have to make) is great. 

This is not to excuse residential school teachers from not enforcing discipline or keeping their students away from trouble but I think appreciation and some consideration from the public and the authorities will be very welcomed. 

“At the same time, teachers at residential schools must regard their jobs as a promotion of sorts as you have been selected to teach and mould the brightest of our young students. 

“At the end of the day, no one's job is easy. Every job has its challenges and with education, teachers and principals must realise the important role they play in society.” 

Related Stories:Nip bullying in the bud Horror behind closed dorms 

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