Friday, 5 September 2008

Post Script: The VI Spirit

After 38 years since our last meeting, I now have a closer glimpse of what went on under that stern demeanour. Trepidation and awe had melted to understanding and fondness for a man who once ruled with an iron fist. Recollecting the fear instilled by him those days, I never heard his words of wisdom uttered in Assembly, as I probably was wondering if the 'Blue Shirts' would pick me up for a skirt too short or heels too high. Those days, 'they' were deemed the extension Muru.

One may ask, does terror enable learning? It maybe discipline to the teacher but it is reflected as terror to the student. Perhaps in this day and age of Generation Y, small doses of challenge discipline, or shall we call it challenge, is preferred. We as parents have contributed our fare share of overindulgence of our children to make them what they are. Today's' kids would not survive a Muru era I think.

Listening to him now (as a fully grown adult or a senior citizen as he addressed us that night) as he justified his harsh actions in the name of discipline, one could not but respect the man for his candour and fortitude. His sense of humour, when shared, is endearing. It is no wonder then, of the closely knitted friendships established even after students left school. Mellowed with experience and wisdom, it only seems natural that he choose to document his thoughts on Malaysian education, past, present and future in a book as obviously his passion for quality in education still occupies a large part of his life.

He surmised that although pass rates and the numbers of A's achieved by individual students' had increased since the 70's, the end product seemed to be somewhat wanting. Having been a teacher of Pathology at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya since the eighties, I echo this sentiment. As a direct result of the changes in language policy in schools and universities, there had been a gradual but definite deterioration in the ability of students' to communicate effectively, in any language for that matter. Changing trends in assessment methodology where multiple-choice questions are favoured over open-ended questions are commonly blamed or even worse lowering the pass mark. This, however, should not be the case if quality assurance measures are in place and upheld by all. What about the commitment of teachers and students alike?

Mr Murugasu invited contributions from Old Boys about a subject close to their hearts, "What is the VI spirit?" Being privy to a reliable source, I relate a true story about a concerned Old Boys Association of School S, that raised the issue of deteriorating standards in academic and sports performance to the MOE. Based on an extensive survey conducted by the OBA, feedback from students, teachers and old boys revealed that the drop in performance over the years was due to poor leadership by a spate of close-minded HM's and a small band of like-minded teachers where religious instruction and activities were overemphasised at the expense of academic excellence and sports. In addition, residential facilities were found to be in a deplorable state with overcrowding and basically health/fire-hazards waiting to happen. How horrifying is that? And to think it went on for all that time unchecked. The matter was investigated by MOE. The errant HM and teachers were replaced and a major review of selection of HM's for residential schools was initiated. Now that's a show of spirit!

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