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ImageAn opinion expressed by Dato' Lim Keng Kay

This is a repeat article which we published earlier ... nevertheless still very relevant to our Cause.

For 118 years since its founding in 1852 the LaSalle schools in the country operated as private schools, collecting school fees, hiring, training and dismissing staff and with full autonomy to decide on enrolment, curriculum and policy so long as they remain within the broad guide lines set by the authorities of the day. Apart from setting high education standards, these La Salle schools used to provide a holistic education, which ensured that young children grow up with high moral and ethical values. The students’ past achievements are well acknowledged.

In 1970, when the majority of lay teachers opted to join Government service, the LaSalle Brothers lost their grip over the 40 odd mission schools in the country. Over night, they became public schools when the Reverend Brothers ceded administrative and financial control of these schools to the Ministry of Education (MOE). Since then the influence of the LaSalle Brothers in these schools has been in gradual decline, due to broken promises, low recruitment and retirement of Brothers as the years go by. Some retired Brothers continue to bravely fight a rearguard battle to project LaSalle values to student leaders through special and formative programs. But, with only a handful of Brothers remaining in the active service of more than 40 schools strung out over the length and breadth of Malaysia, their influence is bound to decline further in the coming years.

Each mission school utilized by the MOE is allocated an annual grant that is often insufficient for maintenance, refurbishment and expansion to keep up with the expanding enrolment. Hitherto, the alumni could always be relied upon to “promptly respond to our duty’s sweet call”. Lotteries, subscription dinners and golf competitions were popular means adopted by the alumni to raise funds in order “to render with joy her Alma Mater her due”.
Despite the efforts of the Brothers and the alumni, we still encounter stories of collapsing roofs and ceilings, cracking walls and leaking floors. Could it be that the rot that has set in, is beginning to get out of control? At a time when the La Salle bond is expected to weaken along with the diminishing presence of the Brothers, the burden of maintenance and refurbishment can only increase as the buildings age further. What is to become of these magnificent buildings, constructed the last 155 years out of the sacrifices, blood and sweat of hundreds of Brothers of all nationalities, and from the donations of grateful parents and past students? Will they one day in the not too distant future be abandoned or handed to the MOE to do as they please? And will they some day stand only as monuments, to remind us of the La Salle legacy and heritage?

Is this a pessimistic, an alarmist or even a doomsday view? Perhaps not if one examines the plight of our sister Convents that do not have such strong alumni support. It is common knowledge that while still under MOE control, parts of some Convents especially those in smaller towns have been abandoned and cordoned off as being unsafe for occupation. Due to the decline in religious vocations, which is happening worldwide, mission schools in at least one European country were forced to go through a painful process of restructuring recently. This can also happen in Malaysia one day.

What then are our options? There is no going back to the good old days of the 1970s, 1960s or 1950s. That is for sure. While the La Salle bond remains strong and the spirit is still burning bright, this may be an opportune time to recover a few of these schools from the MOE to be revived as private schools with a La Salle dimension. Admittedly the alumni, constituted today as social entities, do not have the financial capacity, personnel or organizational infrastructure to participate directly in such a revival. The Reverend Brothers must therefore take the initiative. The re-opening of private La Salle schools is one project that is bound to stir the imagination and the enthusiasm of alumni members. It is also a project that each and every alumni member can relate to and from which they can see long-term benefits for their children and grand children in future. Their participation and support is therefore assured. This is also the type of project that the Reverend Brothers are familiar with. As private schools they would be able to participate directly or indirectly as trainers, advisers, consultants and as teachers even.

Every new initiative carries with it an element of risk. It is difficult to predict the MOE reaction but if the project complements the MOE’s efforts, it should be well received. Statistically, since less than one percent (-1%) of the school population is attending private schools today, there should be room for much more especially in population centers. Per capita income has also increased from minus M$2,000 in 1970 to plus M$20,000 in 2007, with families getting smaller and hence with more disposable income for education. Primary and secondary education although nominally free is actually not so, as almost 80% of students, particularly in urban areas, attend tuition classes of one sort or another. They are expensive. Hence a good private school, which adopts a holistic approach to education, backed by a reputable brand and a proven delivery system, will always be in demand. This is exactly what a private La Salle school is.

Dato’ Lim KengKay (Ipoh)

Note: Dato' Lim Keng Khay is an illustrious La Sallian, a product of the St. Michael's Institution, Ipoh. He contributes much to the development of Lasallian education, his Alma Mater in particular. He was a past president of the Old Michaelians' Association. As a staunch supporter of the Lasallian Cause, he devotes much time in seeking ways to preserve the Lasallian Heritage for posterity. He believes that setting up a private Lasallian School would be the ideal answer; and we agree with him wholeheartedly.

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