Mr Education Minister, put the Tiger spirit in school and watch education bloom

There’s something called the Tiger spirit, familiar to those from Taiping, and to teams which have locked horns with King Edward VII School, Taiping. This Tiger spirit was very evident at the annual dinner of the old boys of King Edward VII School (KE7) held at a hotel in Taiping last Saturday.

The essence of the Tiger spirit is joie de vivre, courage, challenging yourself to be better, and respecting everyone regardless of race or religion. As KE7 parent-teacher association chairman Lim Ka Huat never tires of telling students and new teachers: “Remember, King Edwards is colour blind.”

And all those who were enjoying the company and the food, all those who were reminiscing about old times, all those who were reigniting friendships or making new friends were, I believe, full of this Tiger spirit. Of course, the tongues of some old tigers were lifted by the spirit in their glass, not just the Tiger spirit.

Those who spoke reminded the old boys, especially the younger ex-students, to always remember the Tiger spirit and not to be influenced by what was happening in society today – fear and suspicion of each other. KE7, they said, had a tradition and this tradition must not be thrown to the winds.

KE7 began as the Central School with 13 pupils in 1883. As the school population increased, a new building was constructed and opened by the then Sultan of Perak, Sultan Idris Mursyidul Azam Syah on Jan 19, 1906. The students are known as Tigers, the tiger being the emblem of the school.

Dr Muhammad Gowdh, one of those who spoke that night, reminded everyone in no uncertain terms that KE7 was beyond race and religion and that no one should bring their insecurities and idiocies to the school or the old boys association. Perhaps, like me, he felt that younger Tigers might not be benefiting from the broader world-view that we had, resulting in a narrowing of minds; or that some not-so-young Tigers, influenced by the politics of divisiveness, were losing the Tiger spirit.

Once a Tiger, always a Tiger, he roared, repeating one of the most popular phrases that unites old boys of the school.

A view of the old boys enjoying food and friendship at the King Edward VII School Taiping reunion dinner on April 20. On the extreme right is former old boys association secretary V Sivanathan Vello and next to him is KE7 PTA chairman Lim Ka Huat.

Dr Gowdh is known for adding some spice to his speeches and he did not disappoint, although it was very toned down compared with previous years. He told everyone that he had been warned not to make ribald jokes, but since not adding spice to a speech would go against tradition, he let fly a couple of jokes.

Not to be outdone, the sprightly Dr Joginder Singh, just 83, and a former professor of radiology at Universiti Malaya, regaled the old boys with more jokes. When Prof Jo, as he is popularly known, goes on stage, old boys know they are in for some jokes that may not be digestible to the growing legion of “sensitive” Malaysians.

The president of the Old Edwardians Association Malaysia, Mohaideen Ishack, however, did not venture into dangerous waters, in keeping with his position. He briefed everyone on some of the association’s activities and reminded them to keep the bonds of friendship growing and the school flag flying “as long as the Taiping hill stands”, which happens to be part of a refrain of the school song.

I renewed friendships with several old Tigers, including some whom I had not seen since I left school. I studied there from Standard 1 to Form 6.

The beauty of old boys’ reunion dinners lies in the camaraderie, the sense of brotherhood. There is a sense of shared tradition, of shared experience, of shared humanity. And I felt it deeply as I said hello and shook hands or hugged numerous old boys – with nostalgia pervading the air.

This is what schools should engender: a bond of friendship with everyone, not just members of your race; a spirit of give-and-take, not selfishness.

There was great fun that night. And all of us there, especially those who were in school before the 1980s, remembered that we had had great fun in school too.

Mohaideen Ishack.

Today, however, school has become too stuffy. There’s simply no fun. Among the studious crowd, there must be some rascals as well. KE7 has its share of outstanding scholars and superb sportsmen, and you’ll find that many of them were also rascals in school.

Students must be allowed to be up to mischief now and then; that’s part of the growing up process. However, parents and teachers onwards of 1980 have killed the fun of school life.

And instead of bringing students of various races together, school is widening the fissure due to short-sighted policies or overzealous, one-eye closed implementation aimed at winning elections, not making the nation better. It is sheer stupidity, of course. Then they have the gall to ask: where did we go wrong?

When I was schooling, everyone was equal in school. If you did well, you’d meet success; if you didn’t, you’d meet the cane of KE7 principal Mr Long Heng Hua. His cane did not differentiate between a Malay, Chinese or Indian backside. A backside was a backside.

Either way, you came out a better person. In fact Mr Long was one of the major topics of nostalgic conversation at the dinner.

Today, you don’t have headmasters of caliber like I did. Ask anyone who went to school between 1950 and 1980 and you almost certainly will hear how fun school was, and how great their teachers were. Today, there’s a horrendous shortage of competent teachers. Mediocrity will breed mediocrity, not a Nobel Prize winner.

Today, students are made to feel they are different in school itself. Some are made to feel they are not equal to others. Government policies since the late 1970s, especially the manner in which they have been implemented, continue to divide Malaysians right from school. How to you expect bonding and mutual respect under such conditions?

The thing is those making the policies know where the problem lies but do not have the Tiger spirit to put things right: they don’t have the courage and neither do they have the eyes to look beyond race and religion and see all students – irrespective of race – as fellow citizens, wards under their charge.

But if the powers-that-be really don’t know, they can always ask my former classmate Prof Madya Jamil Ahmad or Mohaideen or Dr Gowdh, or Prof Jo or Kah Huat. These guys know how to put a Tiger in anyone’s tank.

Policy makers, politicians and many Malaysians today are living under a shadow of fear and mistrust, unlike the old boys of KE7. We live “under the shadow of the great”, or Magni Nominis Umbra, which is the school motto.

I seriously think Education Minister Maszlee Malik should look at the history of the old premier schools – such as KE7, Penang Free School, Victoria Institution and Malay College – in planning and implementing policies. KE7 , for instance, can teach him how to inculcate the Tiger spirit in schools.

A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.