PERHAPS it is timely that the Education Ministry revamps its policies on non-civil servant teachers in Malaysian primary and secondary schools. Case in point would be the missionary schools, because such institutions still need the services of its lay people or Christian Brothers.
St Xavier’s Institution (Public domain; source: Wikipedia)One example would be St Xavier’s Institution (SXI) in Penang, which has maintained the tradition of the Lasallian Brothers as Brother directors or principals for the past 156 years. The retirement of Brother Paul Ho, SXI’s 29th Brother director, would mark the end of the line of Brother principals in Malaysia.
Brother Anthony Rogers, Brother Director of Malaysia, remarked in a Sunday Star interview published on 26 Oct 2008 that “SXI was the first school in the nation to be administered and fully owned by the Brothers, and it can be called the epicentre of spreading the La Salle vision of educating the young.”
The Christian Brothers have to retire at the mandatory age of 55, as set by the ministry. To retire at this age would surely be a waste of one’s talent, especially when it involves the Lasallian Brothers, who have tirelessly promoted primary and secondary education even before Malaysia’s formation. Selfless, truly passionate and devoted to educating students, these Brothers do not receive a salary but only a small monthly allowance of several hundred ringgit.
The Lasallian education system has moulded hundreds of thousands of students for many generations since 1852, and in fact, the network of such missionary schools stretches from Penang all the way to East Malaysia. From 1852 to 1965, the Lasallian Brothers built 46 schools in Peninsular Malaysia, and were also given 10 more in Sabah and Sarawak to administer by the Catholic Bishop.
The Lasallian network comprises notable and illustrious schools such as SXI, St Michael’s Institution in Ipoh, St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur, St Paul’s in Seremban, St Francis in Malacca and St Joseph’s in Kuching. These schools set the foundations in education for poor and needy students, including orphans, even before the establishment of the Federated Malay States.
Contrary to popular belief, missionary schools do not indoctrinate or convert students to Christianity, but were instead the first formal institutions in the country to promote nationhood, moral education, and loyalty to the country.
St Michael’s in Ipoh (Public domain, source: Wikipedia) Stressing on the importance of English and moral values, such schools have produced many holistic students who are not only proficient in the language but are also academically inclined. Many have since emerged as leaders in their own right, and have played a significant part in the development of Malaysia past and present.
The Lasallian Brothers are first-class educators and disciplinarians who did not discriminate against students based on colour or creed. Many have been in Malaysia for more than 50 years and have left their country of origin to live here permanently. In fact, many of the Christian Brothers are more Malaysian than most of the Malaysians I know, but their applications for full citizenship have been rejected by the Malaysian government for reasons unknown.
Until today, the Brothers’ social contributions are still unrecognised by the Malaysian government. Instead, the government has seen such missionary schools as colonial relics and a threat to national schools. Many of the present missionary schools are still partially aided and do not receive government funding for maintenance and equipment. As a result, the students and teachers, including the Lasallian Brothers, have had to tirelessly run fundraising campaigns.
Ho is, however, positive about the future developments of the Lasallian Brothers and sees it as the beginning rather than the end of an era. In the same Sunday Star interview, he is reported to have said: “It’s moving and we have left our legacy. We hope that in whatever we have done, we have given the people what was expected. That is our yardstick of what a school should be.
“After all, we only came here to give education to the people of Malaysia, and at the end of the day, we have done our job.”
Statue of St John Bapist De La Salle of the Lasallian Brothers (Public domain; source: Wikipedia)
The question that arises is, if the Malaysian government can raise the retirement age for teachers to 58 years old, why can’t the same be applicable for the Christian Brothers who number fewer than 15?
Currently, all missionary schools have to follow the ministry’s policy with regards to retirement. Perhaps the ministry should consider allowing the Lasallian Brothers to continue administering their own missionary schools with no restrictions. There is nothing for the ministry to lose, and it’s definitely a win-win situation for the ministry, teachers, parents, and ultimately, the students of such schools.