On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Surprise exclusions in top schools list

IT’S a huge disappointment. Most of us who come from premier schools must have wondered why the list of top 20 high performing schools, presumably the country’s best, excluded our alma maters.

The top names that were missing included Penang Free School (PFS), St Michael’s Institution, Victoria Institution (VI), St Xavier’s Institution (SXI), St John’s Institution and Bukit Mertajam High School.

So are schools that perform well in examinations like Chung Ling High School and Jit Sin High School.

Over in Sabah and Sarawak, the grumblings are equally loud. From Sabah, for example, the Tshung Tsin Secondary School, All Saints and the Kota Kinabalu Secondary School must surely be wondering why they were left out.

In Sarawak, my colleagues insist that St Joseph Secondary School, St Thomas Secondary School and Kolej Tun Datu Tuanku Haji Bujang are deserving names.

Established schools, especially the missionary schools, have produced some of the country’s prominent figures.

These former students remain active in contributing to the well-being of the schools, particularly in fund-raising.

The Chung Ling old boys have the best network with associations all over the world. No Malaysian school can match theirs.

Lost shine

The top 20 list was decided on six criteria – excellent academic achievement, well-known alumni, consistent participation in national and international level competitions, linkages with colleges and universities, networks with other local and international schools, and having measured against national and international benchmarks.

These were the standards that were used for the selection of the High Performance Schools (HPS) for education.

The first batch has been announced and as expected, it has kicked up a storm, which would lead to better competition, if one looks at it positively.

A debate over the list would also encourage schools to take a hard look at themselves and their rivals.

At least 30 more schools would be named next year and 50 by 2012, to make up a total of 100 in three years.

The minus point is that these top 20 schools would now be perceived as the cream and would attract stronger enrolment – it would defeat the elitism of the country’s then premier schools.

Schools like SXI, VI and PFS have lost their shine simply because of the ruling that students must come from nearby locations.

In the past, these schools attracted students from all over the state and those with ties to the schools, especially their parents, were given preferences which strengthened the old schoolboy ties.

For example, at one point, almost all the top editors of The Star came from SXI. Of the seven group chief editors of the newspaper, four came from SXI.

In the 1970s, your alma mater was an important criterion for employment, especially for some big employers in Penang.

The same could be said about employers in Kuala Lumpur, where old boy rivalry conti­nued to exist, even decades after they had left school.

Such was the strong bond among the alumni. That was when schools were named after personalities and not street names or locations.

Those were the days when the motto of many schools, especially missionary ones, were in Latin. A simple letter from the Brother Director then was powerful enough to get you a place in Harvard or Cambridge – that was how strong the international connections were.

But that elitist era is over. The Govern­ment rightly wanted to treat all schools as equals but in the process, the identity and the history of these schools were weakened.

By the 1980s, the residential schools were built and with the financial backing of the government, there was no way the normal secondary schools could compete with them.

Past glories

The residential schools were simply like the elite British boarding schools with the best teachers and facilities. Today, these residential schools dominate the top 20 list.

The Malay College Kuala Kangsar, essentially a boarding school started by the British to produce the Malay elites, has remained on the list. Certainly, there would be no dispute over its standing.

Likewise, Tunku Kurshiah College in Seremban.

Painful as it may be to the former students of the established schools, some are merely living on the glories of the past.

Despite their strong history, many have lost out in their performance in the public examinations to the newer schools.

But the HPS list is a serious matter. It is not just a matter of prestige and recognition.

There’s the RM700,000 financial incentive on top of each school’s annual allocation from the Government. A whopping RM20mil has been set aside for these schools.

While the schools named must fight to keep their positions, the Government should also expect other schools and the public to challenge how these schools were chosen.