Reviving the caring project

A project that saw some positive outcomes in schools years ago, is being brought back to instil good values among students.

THE Education Ministry mooted the Caring School idea in 1995 and The Star stepped forward to support it by featuring The Star Caring School: We Hear You column in its Education pullout on Sundays. It also held various kinds of competitions related to the project.

The paper also had a column called From The D-G.

The objective was to encourage the public to write letters on education matters and as the serving Education director-general then, I answered all letters through the column as best as I could.

There was no dodging the queries that were put forth because by doing so, there would be doubts on the concept of caring.

There were many complaints and I passed them on to the relevant sections of the ministry to investigate and to provide reports so that I would be able to respond accurately in the column.

There were personal matters as well. I recall a case of a physically challenged schoolgirl who had complained that nobody cared to solve her problem despite the many pleas to the authorities.

I responded immediately in the column by assuring her that the problem would be sorted out. The problem was resolved, and even before I could write about the happy outcome in the column, The Star published the schoolgirl’s thank you letter stating that her request was attended to.

I must say that the salutary effect of the column was that I received fewer complaints from the public. The officers became more efficient at sorting out matters and resolving them.

The caring school project was predicated on the grounds that caring can work wonders.

It can heal the physically and emotionally injured. It can bring relief and comfort when all else is lost. It can soothe wounded feelings.

It can restore confidence when all else seems hopeless. It can give love and care where none existed.

It can drive a sense of responsibility and a desire to do good among the students. It can create a sense of solidarity and unity among students, especially among the multi-racial student population of the schools.

Above all, it can reduce truancy, indiscipline and other forms of inappropriate behaviour. In fact, the caring school initiative did just that.

Encouraged by what the concept of “caring” could do, the Education Ministry was the first to boldly declare the idea of “zero defect”. We had many zero initiatives then: zero truancy, zero indiscipline, zero public complaints, and more.

I do not claim we were successful in achieving zero defect completely. But it had the salutary effect of creating awareness. We could boldly declare the initiative in public. I must state we had a great team.

No directive

It must be stated that the caring school project was built on consensus. It was not an administrative directive. The decision was taken after consultation with those involved in implementing the idea. Schools were not told what to do. They were left to their own creative devices to implement the idea.

Result? There were, I must say, a profusion of ideas. There were schools that celebrated the birthdays of students during the weekly school assembly.

The birthday boys and girls would be invited on stage by the school head, after which the birthday song that would be belted out with much gusto by those at the assembly. This would be followed by cheers and handshakes. Their friends would then go on stage to wish them and present gifts. The students felt they belonged, were noticed and loved.

A primary school headmistress reported to me of her school’s “hug a child a day” initiative. As each child entered the classroom the teacher would give him or her a hug.

At first the pupils were quite bewildered by the behaviour of the teachers. But it did not take them long to get used to the idea. Students would patiently queue up to get the hug from their teacher.

I was also informed of a secondary school where the teachers voluntarily prepared breakfast for their students.

What a creative idea! This school was so serious about caring that it organised a parent-teacher retreat to discuss how best to implement the caring initiative.

I must mention that the school was plagued with problems. Teachers of the school feared for their personal safety and the safety of their vehicles. Even though the school was situated in a large city, teaching in that school was considered a “hardship posting”.

At the retreat, a consensus was reached that teachers and parents would take turns to prepare breakfast for the students.

They felt that the love between students and their teachers could bloom with a full stomach.

When it was first implemented, students found it strange to find their teachers beckoning them with a warm smile to partake of the breakfast that was laid out on the school canteen tables. There were very few takers at first. But when the students realised that the breakfast was for real and not a one-off thing, these sessions became a full house affair.

The breakfast strategy had a salutary impact. Indiscipline in that school went down to zero.

It was zero defect in every sense of the word. Students showed a great deal of respect towards their teachers. Vandalism was completely absent.

It was a happy ending and it all boiled down to the magic of caring!

It must be pointed out that the caring concept was not entirely a teacher-driven initiative. Students got the hang of the idea too and came out with great ideas of their own.

I received reports of students organising small groups to visit teachers who were unable to come to school due to illness.

This was not the only heart-warming gesture. I had also received reports of students who visited hospitals and old folks homes to give cheer to the bedridden and the elderly.

It warmed my heart to see all this happening among our young charges. That was caring personified, shared by all, participated by all, and for the good of all.

Let me take this opportunity to commend SP Setia Foundation for warming up to the idea of the caring school programme and agreeing to embrace the project as part of the foundation’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiative.

It must be said that the decision to implement the proposal was arrived at consensually and voluntarily.

There were many other options available but SP Setia Foundation, especially the senior management, elected to go for the caring school project.

I would like to share the reasons for this choice.

The ministry was the first to initiate the caring school project. It was successful, but after some years the project took a back seat.

Given the altruistic nature of the project, SP Setia Foundation feels the need to add value and push it to a new level by tapping its latent possibilities.

Perhaps the pivotal factor that made this focus on caring so compelling is the current tendency of the various racial groups in this country to “go their own ways” and regard other groups with indifference, if not with hostility.

Sowing seeds of unity

Lack of caring can only get worse if persons in the different communities do not have opportunities to interact and get to know one another. It is indisputable that there are incipient cracks in the tender fabric of racial unity. This is amply reflected by the ever-growing expressions of disquiet by deeply concerned citizens.

Many feel that the crack of discord, if allowed to widen, can lead to further deterioration of relationships thus precipitating dire consequences.

It is in consideration of this critical matter that SP Setia Foundation felt called upon to embark on this project and sow the seeds of unity and caring among the young ones in schools.

In this regard, the foundation wants to provide assistance to disadvantaged pupils in the country and those affected by diseases and natural disasters.

It also hopes to assist Malaysians who are underprivileged, disabled or critically ill.

The foundation’s other objective is to promote national unity through education, sports, culture or the arts, particularly among the youth of various races.

It has identified three schools - a national school and a Chinese and Tamil school, and will be the foundation’s first step forward. We at the foundation do not want to be ambitious. We will add on as we make progress.

The schools that we have chosen are disadvantaged in many respects. They have been deliberately selected so that we can, as a corporate body, do our bit to improve their overall status. There are many things that we want to do to promote these schools as exemplars for national development.

The egg trust

For example, to nurture a sense of social responsibility and trust we introduced, as a start, the egg trust scheme by which eggs were given in trust to the students, to care for them during their waking (and also sleeping) hours. They had to always carry “the trust” with them and look after them at all times.

Breaking an egg would be regarded as breaking a trust. It’s a very simple idea but with profound meaning and impact. The students may not fully understand the intrinsic value of this symbolic initiative. Never mind.

The idea is to instil in the students the generic notion of trust. Teachers have been asked to embark on other symbolic activities. Over time, the students will catch the idea. Remember! Values are not taught but caught! We want our future citizens in these schools to “catch” the noble values of trust and responsibility.

To encourage unity among the schools of the various races, we have plans to embark on shared activities to promote a sense of oneness in diversity.

Schools will embark on common sports activities; they will not compete with each other.

The three schools will be encouraged to have a common sports day and their students will be integrated thus moderating the identification of race with school type.

In this manner students will be cheering their amalgamated teams, or if you like, their unity teams.

These ideas will be presented to the three schools and they will be encouraged to use their creativity to plan activities that will promote unity and the overall improvement of the schools.

A basic strategy of this initiative is to draw on the power of a universal archetype: the idea of family.

The three schools will become one family in spirit. We would like them to feel that “I have a Chinese, Malay and Indian brother and sister in another school. I know them and I care for them. They are family”.

It must be pointed out that the unity initiatives will not and is not intended to downgrade the unique features of each school. They will not lose their identities.

The schools shall remain Sekolah Kebangsaan, Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (C) and Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (T). They will not lose their fundamental identities. The aim is to achieve unity in diversity by celebrating differences and promoting trust, understanding and caring.

In these initiatives, we will engage all in the common quest for unity and overall development of the schools. We will continually engage the school heads, teachers, the Board of Governors and parents. All initiatives will be based on consensus.

The company is out to do good and not fabricate discord, suspicion or misunderstanding.

We welcomed with open hearts 35 SJK (C) schools under the leadership of Deputy Education Minister Datuk Mary Yap, who joined us at the recent launching of the SP Setia Caring School programme.

The deputy minister managed to get 35 schools to take part. Now that she is the programme’s patron, we will certainly make wondrous achievements.

It is good that both the public and private sectors are working together to also promote unity.

Unity is strength and we can begin the process of building a strong united Malaysian nation among the young ones in our schools. Let us give them a great nation, at peace with itself and sustained by love and care for each other.

We owe it to the children that we bring to this world. They have a right to demand that we leave behind a great and peaceful nation.

The writer, Tan Sri Dr Wan Zahid Noordin, is chairman of SP Setia Foundation. He can be reached at

wan zahid , sp setia foundation