By Mariam Mokhtar
Two mothers whose children attend a mission school were livid. This time, they were not angry with the quality of teaching, the curriculum or the lack of sports and extracurricular activities; but were disappointed that the school authorities and education department had allowed the fabric of the school and the furniture in the classrooms, to degrade.
It is a story which is common not just in Ipoh, but also in mission schools throughout the nation. It is not just a phenomenon peculiar to peninsular Malaysia, but is also common in East Malaysia.
The mothers opined that there were cracks in the school walls, broken doors and windows, and evidence of termite infestation. The desks and chairs were old and in terrible condition. The state of the toilets was equally disgraceful. One mother claimed that her daughter would wait to go home, rather than use any of the toilets in the school.
In general, the school had an air of neglect and disrepair.
Both mothers lamented that the school and grounds, were in stark contrast to the conditions when they attended the same schools, albeit a few decades earlier.
The first mother said, “We took great pride in our classroom. If it was our turn to be on duty, our first chore when we arrived was to make sure the blackboard was clean and our form-teacher’s table and chair were tidy, before assembly.
“We’d check that the wastepaper bin was empty and give the window panes a quick flick with the feather duster. I think I took more pains to tidy the classroom than my room at home.”
The second mother added her recollections: “We worked in pairs. If the first girl did the dusting, the second would make sure the desks and chairs were in straight lines. Any litter on the floor was cleared away.
“We had a sense of belonging then. The classroom was our “home” for the academic year and it helped if we kept it looking smart and clean.
“If only you could imagine our sense of achievement and joy when the form-teacher walked in for the first lesson, and congratulated us on a tidy classroom.”
In 2008, the Deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong acknowledged the contributions that had been made by the various mission schools set up by the Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, and Presbyterian churches in the last 150 years. Many had helped establish the education standards of Malaya.
According to him, there are 410 mission schools of which 289 were primary schools and 121 secondary schools.
Wee said, “These schools, each with their different heritage, have contributed much to the building of an ethos that should rightly be reflected in all schools in Malaysia…started by Christian missionaries, (mission schools) strove to provide education for all the people in the country regardless of race, religion, creed and social class or gender.”
He praised the mission schools for providing education to women: “In many towns, mission schools broke barriers by offering education to young women. The history of these schools often records stories of how the founders went into homes to persuade parents that the education of women was a worthwhile cause, which ultimately would benefit society and the nation at large.”
Many of our mission schools are about a hundred years old and the mission authorities have given permission for all properties, land and buildings, to be used by the Education Ministry without any rental charges.
Despite that, many parents and teachers are worried by the condition of these mission schools and would like to urge the ministry to improve the maintenance, and upkeep of the structure and facilities of these mission schools, without delay.
One of the mothers said, “My neighbour’s children attend a government school (SMK) where the facilities are far superior to those of the mission school.
“Nevertheless, the education the mission schools offered did not differentiate between students of different race, religion, status or culture. After all, these mission schools have generated several leaders in the political, commercial and social sectors.
“So, is it too much to ask that the mission schools deserve some tender loving care?”