Schools and Multi-culturalism

(My column in The Edge Financial Daily published on  21 September 2010. The actual article in the print could contain some editorial changes)

School years represent the best part of my memory up until now. Once, I used to complain to a teacher who was very close to me (one Miss Liew Lai Chun) that I couldn’t wait to leave school. I didn’t believe her then when she said most people would miss their school days as they grow older, but she was proven right about 10 years later.

The experience at school usually leaves a permanent mark on our worldview because it takes place during our most formative years. Therefore the people we encounter, the lessons we take to our hearts, the memories we keep from our experience in schools play a pivotal role in shaping our outlook.

I suppose many people recognise this, hence the never ending debate on the impact of different types of schools in our education system on national unity. I do not want to dwell on this now (perhaps at a later time), yet most people can agree that schools have a special place in our society when it comes to forging the right understanding and mutual respect among the various communities.

It was with this in mind that my jaw dropped and my eyes bulged when I read news reports on alleged racist behaviours of certain school heads that shocked the nation recently.

No matter what was the background that led to the incidents, there can be no excuse for it. I am fully aware of the warped sympathy that some quarters may extend to the school heads especially when it was viewed from a racial perspective, yet it was an act most condemnable of anyone from a teaching profession.

In my case, the disgust also stems from my experience growing up in a fully residential school for Malay boys in Kuala Kangsar (some said that it is a taboo to fully spell out Malay College Kuala Kangsar, but what the heck). At a first glance, a school like MCKK has all the ingredients to produce bigots and racists in the country if one considers that the students do not have multi-racial encounters with other fellow students.

But that is where sometimes I think the debate on the role of schools in forging national unity get skewed a bit, because too much focus has been given on the need to provide multi-racial encounters among fellow students as a prerequisite to cement trust and mutual understanding. Looking back, perhaps the policy makers should also consider that much of the multi-racial experience encountered in yesteryears in schools was actually provided by the teaching faculty.

I do not have a data to support this, but I feel teachers are more effective and in a better position to inculcate the sense of togetherness, mutual understanding and respect that each student should have for each other. Good teachers always inspire their students and their good deeds will be remembered for many years to come – growing up with a band of teachers from different races who had held our hands in our most formative years, should do more to prepare any Malaysian child to have a non-racist worldview as they enter adulthood; better than the practice of forcing the sharing of sports facilities to encourage encounters among multi-racial students (as tested with Vision School concept). It is certainly better and more effective than any kind of sloganeering that the top public relations firm can conjure up (wink wink).

That is why anyone in their right mind should feel outraged with the alleged incidents and the authorities must have the moral courage to send a clear signal. Teaching profession is noble and teachers are our hope for the future, especially in accomplishing a task as challenging as forging national unity. It is bad enough that perhaps there is no concerted effort to do this at school nowadays (teachers are too busy with paper works and various examinations to conduct!); it is unforgivable when it is the school head who brings racism to school when he/she should be the one cultivating multi-culturalism.

I attribute much of my current worldview to the good multi-racial teachers I have in Kuala Kangsar. At the earlier part of the 90s, the non-Malay teachers formed a significant portion of the faculty. The school headmaster (Datuk Rashdi Ramlan, his last position was Deputy Director for Education) took the conscious effort to make sure that the teaching faculty had the right racial and gender mix.

So it became very normal that our non-Malay teachers treated us for buka puasa or Chinese New Year, or we sent cards to our Indian teachers during festivities. We spent a lot of days and weeks at tournaments with teachers of different backgrounds. For so many decades, the best of the best teachers that Malay College old boys would remember and include in our gatherings are representative of the rich variety in Malaysia – students would remember Dr Esther Danial, or Miss Liew Lai Chun, or Mr Tan Gim Hoe, or Dr Syed Azhan or En Shamsuddin, or Miss Grace Manikam in the same breath without any thought of the different race backgrounds.

Apart from providing a multi-cultural experience that builds the trust of other communities among us, we also learnt of the different work ethics and style from our teachers of the different races. Some were more meticulous than others, some were more casual and some played the facilitator roles all the time – it was this variety in work ethics and style that allowed us to pick the best of best from our teachers and understand that in a multi-cultural society, differences should be celebrated because they complement each other.

For the past few years, I spent time managing MCKK hockey team with my ex-teachers, Mr Thaman Singh and Mr N Jeyapala. It strengthens my conviction that our multi-culturalism is the best asset that we have to survive in this century, because looking at these two 60-year old teachers spending retirement money and time for a bunch of Malay boys whom they never know, is a testimony of how this country back then was built on that foundation of multi-culturalism.

We may have strayed a bit over the last 3 decades, but if we can begin building the trust all over again it will not be long before we get back to our foundation. That process must begin in school and every single teacher and parent has a big role to play to mould the right worldview for our children.

There is no place for racist teachers in our schools, if we ever want to achieve this.

6 thoughts on “Schools and Multi-culturalism”

  1. Raf, MCKK & sek kebangsaan oklah ada multi racial teachers. Kalau sek jenis keb, brp kerat je multi racial teachers?

    Dahlah students semua 1 bangsa, teachers pun semua 1 bangsa. Sek rendah belajar kat srjkc, sek men pun chinese, uni pun ambil chinese medium, bila masa nak kenal mesra dgn bangsa2 lain? Camna nak kenal hati budi masing2?

  2. saudara rafizi,
    spot on.

    di kala kita semua menuding jari kepada kegagalan para pelajar untuk menyesuaikan diri dengan pelajar-pelajar dari kaum yang lain, kita sebenarnya terlupa bahawa kumpulan tenaga pengajar juga sama peri pentingnya peranan mereka.

    perlu juga saya maklum disini, salah satu punca yang menyumbang kepada kemerosotan tersebut adalah profesion perguruan ini sering dijadikan pilihan terakhir khususnya kepada para graduan yang memilih jalan mudah dan gagal mendapatkan pekerjaan setara dengan kelayakan akademik mereka (sadly, kebanyakannya dari kaum Melayu). dan ini, perlu dihentikan serta merta. sekiranya dibiarkan merebak, akan timbul satu golongan guru yang tidak dedikasi dan tiada minat mengajar. Mangsanya? sudah tentu generasi muda akan datang.

  3. No racist teacher will survive in a multicultural school. That’s why the government opt for 1 school for all.

    Unfortunately, one race had rejected the idea for the fear of losing their race identity. Of course, to protect their race identity and to remain isolate from the masses is not considered racist except when other races are doing the same.

    It’s good to know from your story above that the idea of unity should start from the very beginning of our childhood. That’s why I take the stand that those who oppose having the same school system are hypocrites when they talk about equality in other less crucial aspect.

    That include the call for action only to the malay extremism, not to other race who provoke it.

    (For those who didn’t know, provocation starts when a person deny to learn, sit and talk with other race even as a child. That implies a racial consideration has taken place and this is an insult to unity.)

    Of course what comes after that is only the reaction. Especially from an educationist who support one school for all and later being insulted by a racist.

    And now you only want her to be punished instead among all the racists out there? Is it because she’s a Malay?

    Rafizi, you should’ve had your angle right. I know you have the capability.

    If you still have doubt, check out Singapore’s first step to unity. They don’t talk crap about protecting race interest in school.

  4. daim is back?

    If there’s an award for the best dressed wolf in sheep’s skin, you can be sure of only one winner – Tun Daim Zainuddin. The former finance minister is perhaps the politician former Prime Minister Mahathir least has to worry simply because Daim was not an ambitious politician. Daim loves money and young women more than anything else and this includes power that comes with the position as Finance Minister. And Mahathir was freaking comfortable with such person. Furthermore Mahathir and Daim were intimate friends from the same village in Alor Setar. Daim was so influential during Mahathir’s administration that Musa Hitam, Deputy Prime Minister, couldn’t get Mahathir’s attention when Musa commented about Daim’s dealings in awarding huge projects to his cronies such as Tajuddin Ramli, Halim Saad, Wan Azmi, Samsuddin Hassan, Rashid Hussain, Amin Shah and others.

    Daim, the Mr Moneybags of UMNO, can easily become the richest man in Malaysia if his wealth is openly declared. During his day as the Finance Minister, Daim persuaded Mahathir for absolute power in running the Economic Planning Unit and the nation’s Treasury. In short projects were awarded directly to “preferred” companies aka cronies. As Finance Minister, Daim practically ordered banks to lend money to any companies he desired. Daim and his cronies also profited tremendously from shares allocated from company listing (IPO) on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.

    At one time Daim Zainuddin was so powerful (and greedy) that his boss, Mahathir, was speechless when confronted by not only Chairman of Japan’s banks but also former Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that Daim Zainuddin’s demand on the quantum of commissions was simply outrages. Daim was so influential politically and monetary that he can influence the ups and downs of the local stock exchange. Eventually Mahathir had to relieve Daim Zainuddin of his position lest the PM wish the whole world to know about the irregularities.

    Of course Daim Zainuddin was linked to many scandals over his journey in wealth accumulation. Daim was allegedly illegally acquired 40.7% of UMBC in 1984 while he was already Finance Minister. He also owned substantial stake via nominees in previously Development & Commercial Bank, Rashid Hussain Berhad, Bank of Commerce, United Asian Bank, Southern Bank, and Ban Hin Lee Bank before their mergers in the 1990s when he was still Finance Minister. Daim’s name is also linked in the RM8 billion controversial electrified double-tracking railway project spanning from Gemas to Johor Baru. It seems CREC (China Railways Engineering Corp.), a Chinese company that has Daim Zainuddin’s finger-prints and was awarded the Letter of Intent, is fighting tooth and nail with Najib’s administration because the PM wanted the project to be awarded to another company. Najib’s crony and golf buddy Tan Kay Hock was allegedly asking RM500 million commission of which RM200 million was for Najib’s family.

    One of his cronies, Tajuddin Ramli, recently created havoc when he exposed that it was former prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin who instructed him to buy shares in Malaysia Airline System (KLSE: MAS, stock-code 3786) to help Bank Negara (Central Bank) recover from foreign exchange losses in 1994. And now another (Daim) crony tycoon Halim Saad who was bailed out in the 1997/1998 Asia financial crisis is making headlines in the local stock market.

    Halim Saad controlled now defunct Renong Group which in turns owned PLUS and UEM Group Berhad. Both PLUS and UEM are now owned by Khazanah. It was reported that Halim and Daim are the man behind Asas Serba, a company which proposed to tale over 25 toll expressways in the Peninsular Malaysia. Asas Serba has offered 20% cut in toll rates in its RM50 billion bid for the acquisition as a carrot to lure the ruling government to accept the proposal. Politically this is attractive since the government could cheer the voters while the government could save RM114 billion (from 2010 until 2038) in a lopsided agreement that allows the concessionaires to raise toll rates every 3-years.

    The contender was from Syed Mokhtar Albukhary, one of Najib’s many cronies, who is offering RM45 billion to take over all assets of highway concessions with a 10% toll reduction across the board. The proposal also includes a promise not to increase toll rates in the remaining years of the concession. The whispers on the street were that Syed Mokhtar is already monopolize the nation’s sugar (that’s right, Robert Kuok no longer the Sugar King) and rice industry so should the same person be crowned the Highway King as well?

    However out of all the concessions, the biggest is PLUS Expressway Berhad (KLSE: PLUS: stock-code 5052) which is also the only toll operator owned by the government. But there’re more questions than the excitements about the PLUS possible acquisitions:

    1. Why is the government rushing to cash-out their “cash-cow”? Does the de-facto ruling government somehow know they would lose in the next general election?

    2. Isn’t RM50 billion too costly a price to pay, not to mention difficulty in finding that amount of funds? 3. Will other highway operators willing to sell their respective cash-cows? 4. Is RM50 billion sufficient to acquire all the 25 expressways considering the bidders need to pay attractive premiums in order for the concessionaires (especially PLUS and Litrak) to let go of their goose that is laying golden eggs? 5. If history were to repeat itself, will Santa Claus Halim Saad (or Syed Mokhtar) need another bailout at a later stage considering they do not have expertise in highway maintenance? 6. If Asas Serba can offer 20% cut in toll rate and still able to make profit, why can’t the ruling government do the same?

    A low-profile Daim Zainuddin who is known to be a great tactician does not seems to be bother about funding. After all he owns Swiss-based ICB (International Commercial Bank) Group via Daim Limited’s 61.3% stake and if he desires he just need to pull his political connection strings to secure the funds. Daim plans his moves silently and with great care. Nobody should be surprise if he has the backing of Mahathir to return to the corporate scene. And does the return of Daim Zainuddin from overseas means the alleged RM3 billion cash in RM500 and RM1000 notes siphoned out to Indonesia has been successfully brought back and converted into “usable money” ready to be used

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