I FEEL compelled to respond to the letter “Capitalise on MCKK Brand” (The Star, May 3) on the modelling of national schools on the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) and/or privatising MCKK to achieve greater heights.
The article resonated with me as I am part of the stigma. My children are in international school although that wasn’t the plan. I am a product of the national school system. My eldest child was meant to enrol in a national school. National schools are incubators for national integration, where the myriad cultures, populations and languages represent the melting pot we call Malaysia. Or so I thought. My daughter’s incoming class comprised two Indians, zero Chinese or other races, and 197 Malays. For a school 4km away from KLCC, I pray that it wasn’t a true reflection of the country’s education system. And I made the decision to pull my daughter out of the school and never looked back.
Prof Datuk Dr Ahmad Ibrahim attributed the increased enrolment in international schools to a multitude of factors, most of which relate to responsible parents. My own personal reason, however, was slightly unique: I desired for my children to appreciate diversity and celebrate the differences.
International schools allow children to grow and learn beyond the academic-centric syllabus and to be “themselves”. The students are not defined by their race, religion, grades or strict academic milestones. Instead, they are taught to be proud of individual achievements no matter how small. Difference in cultures and religions are celebrated; school-level Malaysian festivals are part of the calendar that students look forward to and participate in actively. Co-curricular activities are mandatory to instil the confidence that excellence is beyond the classroom. Three languages (Malay, English and Mandarin) are part of the syllabus, giving students an earlier introduction to the intricate yet real fabric of this country.
It is almost narcissistic perhaps to think that such values and qualities that prevail in international schools are prevalent in MCKK for it to be a model school. After all, MCKK was meant to groom selected Malays (elites) with a system designed to maximise the opportunities available to them all the way to tertiary education to jump-start their careers.
Assuming this, however, would make us complicit to the real issues. Educational institutions established before independence – Penang Free School, King Edward VII Taiping, Victoria Institution and MCKK just to name a few – transcend politics and changing government policies. It took decades for the internal development of ingrained culture in the schools and the students to occur, and the early stages of the development were heavily influenced by British administrators who put heavy emphasis on holistic education beyond traditional classroom, grade-based achievements.
Alumni from any of these prestigious educational institutions will affirm that what they learned in school is beyond academics (after proudly declaring their school affiliation, of course). They were groomed to value diversity and differences. They were taught that for Malaysia to progress, world-class politicians, corporate captains, teachers, and public officers were as essential as brilliant academics, scientists and doctors and that the skills and personalities to be honed for each were different.
The most valuable player for the school in winning the state rugby tournament would be celebrated as much as the student achieving straight As in the SPM examination. Aspiring school-level speakers and debaters would receive similar support from the school as its best academic students. Success and achievements came in different forms and the students charted their own path.
Above all, they were taught that any team could only progress so far if they were divided. Leadership, teamwork and cultural integration were essential components of the experience. The camaraderie established transcended petty squabbles – a source of countless jokes when reminiscing – which became parlayed to greater significance two to three decades later as the students matured to become industry leaders and ministers. This is what we should emulate for the future of our children. If privatisation of schools in the country is what it takes, so be it.
Yes, I am an old boy of the Malay College Kuala Kangsar and I say that with pride.
IKRAM ISKANDAR ABD RAHIM
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