Mission schools with student, teacher shortage struggle for relevance

Noel AchariamUpdated one week ago · Published on 24 Dec 2017 7:00AM · 0 comments

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Malaysian Federation of Lasallian Alumni Associations president Michael Simon says lower academic standards is one reason for the low student enrolment at the mission schools today. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, December 24, 2017.

GUARDIANS of mission schools in the country believe that the institutions that groomed a generation of Malaysians, including some of the country’s top leaders, are still relevant today.

But faced with the changing landscape of Malaysian education, missions schools will have to review their strategy or risk being phased out by declining student enrolment and shortage of experienced teaching staff, said Malaysian Federation of Lasallian Alumni Associations president Michael Simon.

“There are now fewer mission schools, although the reduction is not drastic,” said Simon.

There are 13 mission authorities which own mission schools in the country. They have set up councils and boards to oversee the running of the schools.

The mission authorities are under the Malaysian Catholic Education Council, Methodist Council of Education, Anglican Mission Schools Board, Presbyterian Education Board, and Christian Brethren Education Board.

At last count, there are 433 mission schools with a total student population of 240,000 in Malaysia.

Dwindling population

Simon said one of the main problems many mission schools were facing was lower student enrolment.

“This is because the government has set up many schools in the housing schemes.

“Parents now feel that it is a hassle to send their children to St Johns Institution, for example, in Kuala Lumpur, because of traffic congestion.

SMK La Salle Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur was founded in 1953. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, December 24, 2017.

“What they do is send their children to school near their homes so they don’t have to worry about after getting stuck in traffic.”

Simon said that another cause of dwindling students was dropping academic standards at many mission schools.

“Many mission schools were among the top schools in Malaysia but not anymore. That speaks volumes about the current education standards,” he said.

“SMK Aminuddin Baki in Kuala Lumpur used to be where students go to resit their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia certificate.

“Now it’s a premier school and Victoria Institution and St Johns are no more premier schools.

“We understand that the government is doing its best, but at the end of the day, it is the delivery of education,” he said.

No more schools of choice

Malayan Christian School Council general secretary Tay Choon Neo agreed that mission schools, once high-achieving institutions, are no longer the schools of choice.

She blames the erosion of education standards on the mission schools’ inability to pick their teachers, as hiring is the purview of the Education Department.

“The teachers are employed by the Education Ministry and not the church.

“It all began when the government took over the schools; the mission authorities have slowly lost control over 20 years.

Tay said one of the concerns was that there were not enough Christian staff to maintain the Christian ethos and culture of the mission schools.

“Once it becomes a government school, its Christian ethos and character are gone,” she said.

Tay said the government should consider posting Christian teachers to mission schools so that they could carry out activities and organise Christian society and clubs.

“We can only suggest the appointment of Christian teachers, but there is a lack of them.”

Not enough money

Simon said funding and upkeep of the schools, some of which were more than a 100 years old, was another problem.

“Every year the mission schools prepares a wish list and give it to the state Education Department.

“In 2013 the government set up a fund for mission school and each year an allocation is given.

“St Johns, which is over 110 years old, gets RM100,000 to RM150,000. Another old school is St Xavier’s in Penang, which is 167 years old.”

He said that as government-aided schools, they must secure a large part of the funds for maintenance from private donors and fund-raising activities.

“The government also doesn’t give the schools much for utility bills; they pay RM5,000 a month but utility bills have gone up to RM10,000 because all the rooms are air-conditioned.

“That’s when the Parent-Teacher Association and Old Boys Association have to top up with fundraising activities.

“This has been going on for the last 10 years. The Education Ministry has to be more responsible as most of the mission schools are very old,” he said.

Simon said that while most of the existing mission schools were “still functioning” today, the mission authorities needed to review their strategy to reclaim the “original ethos, heritage, and culture” of the schools.

He said mission schools could apply to become either private or international schools, while still adopting the local curriculum, citing the example of St John’s International, which had adopted an international syllabus.

He said such a move would not only return the power of hiring its own teachers to the school, but also meet the requirements of today’s parents.

“It’s time for the brothers and sisters to rethink our strategy and decide,” he said . – December 24, 2017.