Conserving the last educational enclaves of Kuala Lumpur


OVER the last few decades, we have seen the systematic removal of some of the country’s finest schools in the inner city areas of Kuala Lumpur to make way for projects that serve high-end shoppers, the business community and elite residents.

Bukit Bintang Girl’s School, St Mary’s, St Gabriel, La Salle KL, Peel Road Convent and Cochrane Road School all made way for high-end shopping malls, luxury housing, trade centres and mixed developments.

While the extension of the land lease for Convent Bukit Nanas has been announced by the Prime Minister’s Office (“PMO: Land lease for Convent Bukit Nanas extended by 60 years”, The Star, April 22; online at bit.ly/star_cbn), the original decision by the Federal Territories Land and Mines Office not to extend the lease speaks of yet another attempt to obliterate the brilliant academic and social history of a girls’ school in KL.

That decision is disconcerting as the school and its unique Victorian Gothic architecture is a historic icon established in 1899. Along with St John’s Institution a stone’s throw away, it is sited next to one of the last green lungs left in the inner city, the pristine Bukit Nanas forest reserve – it might have been renamed KL Forest Eco-Park but it will always remain Bukit Nanas to those of us who were born and raised in the city.

Unfortunately, a significant portion of the reserve was lopped off to make way for a cable car project which never took off in the end. I remember, as one of the thousands of CBN girls who waited with friends at the foothills of the forest reserve before and after school, how shocked and distressed I was when this happened.

The soul of a city lies not in its skyscrapers, highways and business centres but in its heritage enclaves, public spaces and conducive environments for the socialisation of youth.

These inner-city schools also provide green spaces in the city with their sport fields and gardens. At Bukit Nanas, the security and privacy of the enclave rendered a safe haven for young girls after school and those staying back and returning for games and events.These heritage schools also have long academic and social histories, having produced some of the finest professionals, diplomats and politicians of past eras. Looking back, thousands of men and women have precious social memories of school life in the inner city, most yet to be recorded. These recollections contribute vital inputs to the nation’s communal history.

Many of us spent whole childhoods at CBN, from Standard One to Form Six. We experienced a syllabus with strong Irish and English content in literature and poetry and a Malaysian syllabus that engaged students with vibrant local literature and history. We felt our teachers cared for us not only as students but as future leaders of the country. We were trained to excel and to lead and to give rather than receive, and were given total freedom to organise school events and charitable initiatives.

Schools like CBN capture the spirit and culture of a vibrant, living city. They enrich the nurturing and empowerment of youth.

City planners, architects, environmentalists and conservationists should now rally together and ensure that these holistic comprehensive environments for the education of young girls and boys remain, body and soul, in the heart of KL’s heritage enclaves.

“Simple in virtue, steadfast in duty.”

PROF EMERITA DATUK SERI DR WAZIR JAHAN KARIM , Penang

Note: The letter writer is an anthropologist and conservationist.

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