On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Ray of sunshine for the good old schools

For a start, the ministry will draw up a list of schools which are
100 years and above and which have produced students who have excelled
both in the classroom and outside.

The announcement has sparked
off a lot of excitement among former students of well-known schools
like St Xavier's Institution in Penang, the Methodist Girls School in
Malacca and the St Michael's Institution in Ipoh.

Unlike the
newer schools which are now named after districts and roads, old
schools like these had history and tradition and the students show
their loyalty and pride. The St Francis Institution in Malacca, for
example, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

My alma
mater, SXI, started off as an attap hut which was destroyed
during  World World II. The 153-year-old school brings fond
memories to many.

We had much respect for the brothers despite
their uncompromising emphasis on discipline. We never dared complained
to our parents after a good whack from the fearsome Brother Michael
Paulin Blais, nicknamed lau hor or "tiger" in Hokkien.

The teachers were a committed lot and they gave us an all-round education where we were encouraged to develop our own potential.

of us used to distinguish ourselves from our friends in the Chinese
schools because of our strong command in English and, most of all, the
freedom to express ourselves.

Despite being a Catholic school,
the brothers never stopped students from dancing to pop songs in the
annual talent show organised by the school's Literary, Drama and
Debating Society.

The school even had an editorial board which
produced a monthly newsletter. We were allowed to write critical
articles on the school. Many of the writers went on to become

SXI produced distinguished sons such as the late
Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee, the first Penang Chief Minister, the late
composer Jimmy Boey and the late The Star journalist Datuk Khor Cheang

The contemporary leaders include Finance Minister II Tan
Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Deputy Heritage Minister Datuk Wong Kam Hoong
and DAP leader Karpal Singh.

Many of us can still recall the
rivalry we had with the Penang Free School, another premier school. The
intensity of our rivalry sometimes broke out into fights during
football and hockey matches.

But many of these schools have
suffered much neglect over the years, especially due to the lack of
funds. The roof in many parts of SXI, which is the first in the country
run by the La Salle Brothers, is leaking and there is a need to improve
the infrastructure.

Many fund-raising projects have been carried out by the old boys but it has not been easy.

the physical problems, there is also the issue of the character and
tradition of these schools. In some schools, with the brothers and
sisters no longer in charge, changes are sometimes made for the
flimsiest of reasons or worse, the prejudices of the principals.

The names of sports houses, usually named after distinguished La Salle educators, for example, have been replaced by "colours".

the one thing that makes these schools stand out is the environment
that allowed us to make many good friends of all races and religions.

The brothers never made any attempt to convert us. All they wanted was to make us become educated, loyal and honest Malaysians.