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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Old Versus New (Promised) Malaysia


Malaysiakini.com June 28, 2007

Two school events, both widely reported, took place last week. One was the Speech Day at Malay College Kuala Kangsar, and the other, the graduation exercise at Kolej Yayasan UEM. The difference in the two events serves as a good metaphor distinguishing the old Malaysia from what I hope is the promise of a new one.

The ceremony at Kuala Kangsar was graced by no less than the King, the Raja Muda of Perak (the school’s Governing Board Chair), and the Minister of Education. You could not get a more distinguished company of visitors than that. Meanwhile KYUEM had such nondescript corporate figures as UEM Chairman Ahmad Tajuddin Ali and its Foundation Trustee, Sheriff Kassim, in attendance.

At Malay College’s Speech Day, there was no mention of the achievements of the graduating students, specifically which great universities they would be attending. There was a reason for this noticeable absence. None of the students qualified for university admission directly. They would first have to go to a “finishing school” elsewhere.

The headmaster at KYUEM proudly announced that 11 of his 183 graduates would be heading for either Oxford or Cambridge. In the preceding year, a fourth of his students secured admissions to Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, and London School of Economics, an achievement any British grammar school would be very proud of. In the area where it counts, in fact the only valid currency for a school – the quality of its graduates – KYUEM easily trumps the venerable MCKK.

It is revealing that the item that received the biggest applause (according to a news report) was the King’s announcement that the minister had approved a new hall for MCKK! In his speech, the King suggested that other schools emulate MCKK. I respectfully suggest to His Majesty that Malay College should instead emulate KYUEM.

The Old Malay of MCKK

MCKK, established over 100 years ago, had pretensions of being the “Eton of the East.” It is formal, resistant to change, and slavishly hanging on to “traditions.” Even the school motto is in affected Latin, Fiat Sapienta Virtus. Query the school’s alumni, students and teachers; few would know what it means. In short, Malay College epitomizes the old Malay ethos, obsessed with symbols and pretensions but devoid of substance.

KYUEM on the other hand is less than a decade old. Its mission statement, or motto if you will, is elegant in its simplicity and clarity, “To Educate, Not Simply Teach.” No pompous Latin phrases. And they – trustees, teachers, and students – have done an excellent job at it. They embody the good and the promise of a new Malaysia. Specifically, those Malays at KYUEM are my model of Melayu Baru (New Malay).

Before elucidating further the differences between MCKK and KYUEM, it is important to note that despite their “college” labels, both institutions are basically residential secondary schools. In case of Malay College, it is not even that. Since its graduates cannot enter university directly, MCKK is essentially a glorified middle school.

The foremost difference is that MCKK is a public institution, totally dependent on the allocations from the ministry. Despite its roster of luminaries as “old boys,” their contributions to the school are miniscule to nonexistent. The only time they visit their alma mater is to harass the headmaster for decisions they do not like.

KYUEM is a private institution, dependent on tuition and donations for its survival. As such, it has to produce to satisfy its customers – students and their parents. The school is not interested how many sultans, ministers and other luminaries it counts among its alumni rather which universities will accept its students next year. Malay College is fixated with its past, Kolej UEM is confidently poised for the future.

Malay College is an all-Malay institution; KYUEM’s student body reflects the rich diversity of Malaysian society. Malay College students would carry their cultural insularity into their adult life. KYUEM’s students on the other hand have a much richer and more meaningful learning and living environment because of the diversified enrollment. They would definitely be better prepared for this globalized world.

Examine the Leadership

While everyone in an organization contributes to its success, the crucial differentiating point is leadership. KYUEM trustees are from the business world, individuals attuned to recognizing a need in society and then fulfilling it. In contrast, the Minister of Education appoints MCKK’s governing board. They are thus men with the mindset that there is no problem that a government cannot solve. The sinister corollary to this is that the government must control everything; it knows what is best for you and me, and our children.

Consequently, MCKK’s curriculum follows that the ministry’s rigid prescription, right down to the textbooks. KYUEM opted for global standards and chose the best traditions of British grammar schools. When there are no locals with sufficient experience with such a system, the trustees do not hesitate in hiring an expatriate. They do not have any negative lingering anti-colonial hang ups, or fear that the hiring of a foreigner would be viewed as a slight on the abilities of the natives. Those trustees are interested only in what is best for their students.

KYUEM’s outgoing headmaster, Richard Small, is an Oxford graduate; his successor, John Horsfall, is a product of Cambridge and a PhD-holder to boot. I gleaned these facts from the news reports of the graduation exercise. In contrast, at Malay College’s Speech Day there was no mention of who was the headmaster. That was the degree of respect the headmaster commanded, or was accorded. The King and the other distinguished visitors hogged the limelight. They were obviously more important than the headmaster, teachers, or students.

I am certain that the MCKK’s headmaster must glow in having the King, Raja Muda and the Minister grace his school’s function. Richard Small on the hand could hardly contain his pride in his students’ achievements. How revealing of the different priorities at the two institutions!

Leadership alone is not enough. The students do not see the trustees and headmaster every day in the classrooms. It is the teachers who are there for the students. “The most important learner in the classroom,” noted Headmaster Small, “is the teacher, because if the teacher is not constantly learning and changing, how can he be a competent role model for student learners.”

The caliber of the faculty at KYUEM is impressive, many with graduate degrees including PhDs. Its biology teacher, Norhayati Zainudin, is a graduate in Veterinary Medicine from a local university.

Impressive degrees mean nothing if the teacher cannot teach. My biology teacher at Malay College had a PhD from a Punjabi university. He was next to useless. Fortunately, my physics and chemistry teachers in the persons of Mr. Malhotra and Mr. Norton more than took up the slack in teaching and guiding us.

Readers might be puzzled to know where I garner these facts about KYUEM. Easy, from its website (http://www.kyuem.edu.my/). It has a wealth of information useful not only for potential students but also for web visitors like me.

I tried to surf Malay College’s website. The operative word there is “tried.” There are many such sites claiming to be the “official” website, many hosted by “freebie” servers and consequently cluttered with advertising banners. On one site, its “Students Achievements” page was last updated in 1999!

Malay College is embarking on its “Sayong Project,” billed to take it into the new century. MCKK is also eagerly seeking ties with residential schools in other countries. I humbly suggest that MCKK looked closer to home, just a few miles south at Lembah Beringin.

Malay College epitomizes the feudal Malay system still very much alive under the veneer of modernity. Meanwhile those folks at Lembah Beringin represent the new Malaysia, confident of their heritage and at ease with the modern world.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Bakri,

Perbandingan yang dibuat di antara MCKK dan KYUEM ada seperti perbandingan Epal dan Oren.

Ini adalah kerana di MCKK, pelajarnya adalah terdiri daripada pelajar tingkatan 1 hingga 5 dan Peperiksaan terakhir yang di duduki adalah SPM (lebih kurang taraf GCE 'O' Level).

Manakala di KYUEM pelajarnya adalah lepasan SPM dan mereka mengambil 'A' level sebagai peperiksaan terakhir.

Oleh yang demikian tidak hairanlah lulusan dari MCKK terpaksa pergi ke 'other prepatory school' sebelum ke University. Saya percaya ada juga pelajar KYUEM ini yang asalnya dari MCKK juga sebelum melanjutkan pelajaran ke seberang laut.

Jika memerlukan penjelasan lanjut sila hubungi saya di drshahnunahmad@yahoo.com.sg

1:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comment, Dr Shahnun.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, having attended KYUEM, I support Bakri's view, however, it is not totally fair to compare the two. MCKK of the yesteryears are not the same as today.Of late, MCKK produces arrogant students who bathe in the glory of their golden days. Those days when most leaders of Malaysia hailed from the Eton of the East are over. Undoubtedly MCKK boys are smart but their arrogance is the one allowing them to fall flat on their feet later. In KYUEM, everyone is taught to be humble, whether u r a minister's son or a labourer's daughter. Grades are the only discriminating element, not family background. Hence, everyone works hard and learn to respect others equally. Furthermore, THE INTER-RACIAL environment in KYUEM provides better competition and nurture greater bonds between the races. Thus, MCKK must look into KYUEM as a role model just like other schools, notably SAS and TKC.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Raja Iskandar Shah said...

i am a former student of mckk from the 80s. even at that point, half of the sponsored students that the jpa sent to study in the public schools in the uk were from mckk and tkc. though the number of sponsored students were small, it did reflect the level of competitiveness from among the mckk boys. my batch also produced the top student for the spm examinations, and also a student who failed the exams. i went to radley college then on to the university of bristol.
taking everything into perspective, it is not just about mckk v kyuem. it is about moe going to rot. how bad is it ? enough to warrant the terengganu state government taking direct intervention on its own premier and elite schools. certainly enough to justify an mckk old boy to set up kyuem.

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Senor M Bakri Musa with due respect

Why are you comparing MCKK [a secondory school up to Form 5 Level] and KYUEM [a pre university college specialising in A Levels]. These 2 institutions are meant for different students category. Students leaving MCKK do not enter direct into degree courses in universities so it is impossible for the Pengetua or Principal [please do not use the word Headmaster for secondory schools in Malaysia] to announce who among the students managed to secure places at prestigous universities. On the other hand KYUEM students on passing well in their A levels will embark straightaway doing degree courses in universities. So it is quite possible for KYUEM to announce names of students who have secured places in prestigous universities.

This sort of comparison coming from an ex MCKK student is beyond comprehension. Clearly you have had your facts distorted. Maybe you have mixed up with KYS [Kolej Yayasan Saad], a private college in Melaka which cater for students from F1 until F5.

Mr Norton taught me Chemistry as well but Mr Mehrotra didnt teach me during my days at MCKK. So fellow old MCOB please get your facts right before making comparison. Dr Shahnunahmad has indicated his willingness for further clarification since you are basically comparing an apple with a orange.

Adios senor.

7:06 AM  

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