Category Archives: career

Troika of Exceptional Educators and Leaders

La Salle School Brickfields was blessed to have such personalities at the helm

Recently, there was a guest blog post by Denis Armstrong on my blog site that had a relatively simple heading: La Salle School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. It was an incredibly nostalgic, interesting and factual sharing of the early days of this school and of that particular era in the days when the country was known as Malaya.

Denis Armstrong also shared some wonderful photographs from that era. These included photos of some of the pioneer teachers at the school as well as some photos of the school when it was first built in the fifties. That this then nondescript, small school could rise above its grim situation and become a school to reckon with is now the stuff of legends.

However, no history of La Salle Brickfields can be complete without some mention being made of the incredible troika of educators and outstanding leaders.

Overwhelming Response to the Blog Post

This blog post had an overwhelming, positive response. To date over 2,711 individuals have read that particular blog post. It is a clear indication of the great interest that many old boys and even residents of Brickfields have on the subject matter.

However, no history of La Salle Brickfields can be complete without some mention being made of the incredible troika of educators and outstanding leaders. These individuals gave so much of themselves in leading La Salle School Brickfields to much success not just in academic matters but also in sports, games, athletics and extra-mural activities.

The Troika

The troika consisted of Rev. Bro. Gaston, headmaster of La Salle Primary School 1, S. Ratnasingam, headmaster of La Salle Primary School 2 and Albert Rozario who succeeded Rev Bro Gaston as headmaster of the school. All three leaders have since passed on but they have collectively left behind, to their credit, a great legacy.

Group photo of teachers from the three schools

Group photo of teachers from the three schools: La Salle Brickfields Primary School 1, La Salle Brickfields Primary School 2 and La Salle  Brickfields Secondary School ( 1976 )

There are two more individuals who also contributed significantly to La Salle School being a success story. They are Denis Armstrong, the extraordinarily talented athletics coach and strict disciplinarian who later became the supervisor of La Salle Secondary School. The next person is L A Fernandez, an able administrator and a confident as well as a humourous public speaker who later succeeded S Ratnasingam as headmaster of the school.

  1. Ratnasingam – A Charismatic Leader

In a troika, all the three individuals are supposed to be of equal status. However, in my opinion, S. Ratnasingam, who always chose to wear a bowtie, was the undisputed leader of the pack. Ratnasingam, a Normal Class trained teacher had the vision, the drive and the will to unite all three schools. In this effort, the troika succeeded brilliantly.

Mr & Mrs S Ratnasingam

Mr & Mrs S Ratnasingam

At that time and even now, it is quite common to see the headmasters of schools sharing the same premises being unnecessarily petty and small minded. Instead of pooling resources and being prudent, these small minded individuals insist on being difficult and are overly bureaucratic.

With the troika firmly in place there was unity in purpose and much was achieved at La Salle Brickfields during that golden era.

To his everlasting credit, Ratnasingam generously made time to undertake other civic and community-related responsibilities willingly. He was no mere pen pusher or a laid back, stodgy bureaucrat. He was mainly responsible for building a new 2 storey block for La Salle Brickfields. By his actions and his approach, he stood head and shoulders over the other headmasters of his time by being a leader who could inspire his team.

Ratnasingam also served a stint as Boy Scout Commissioner for Kuala Lumpur. In addition, he made time to serve as an adviser to the Juvenile Court in Kuala Lumpur for a number of years.

S Ratnasingam as Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur Scouts

S Ratnasingam as Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur Scouts

In retirement, Ratnasingam stayed true to his DNA! He continued to contribute his time and effort behind the scenes to the Kuala Lumpur Befrienders.

Albert Rozario – A Leader with a Human Touch

Like S Ratnasingam, Albert Rozario was also a Normal Class trained teacher. Later on, he attended and successfully completed a year-long course at the Specialist Teachers’ Training Institute (STTI) in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. He achieved a distinction grade in his field of specialisation i.e. Physical Education. Albert Rozario was also a good swimmer and a keen gymnast.

He had an affable personality and was pretty down to earth in his relationships with the teachers and admin staff. He also possessed a keen and sympathetic understanding of human nature and this was put to good use when he had to counsel a few individuals who had committed some malpractice.

Albert Rozario and Rev Bro Gaston

Albert Rozario and Rev Bro Gaston

Albert was also a talented administrator and a headmaster who readily supported his teachers’ efforts. He was also equally quick to recognise good performance. I can vouch for both – his strong support and due recognition during my 15 years of service at La Salle Brickfields.

Sometime in 1965, he successfully underwent a major operation, while at La Salle Brickfields, to remove an ailing kidney. He survived for more than 50 years with just one kidney.

Albert Rozario was married to a teacher, Mary who later became a headmistress at St Theresa’s Primary Convent, conveniently situated next door to La Salle Brickfields. They had eight children.

In view of his physical education qualifications and related abilities, he also served with considerable energy and enthusiasm for about three years as the Organiser for Physical Education at the Selangor Education Department.

One of his unique skills was his uncanny ability to get a teacher to undertake a difficult task. His approach was disarmingly unique: He would not summon you to meet him. Instead, he would casually accost you as you walked along the passageway to your class. As he reached you, he would put a friendly arm on your shoulder and then make the request – it was never an order or a directive. No one could ever turn down such a friendly approach!

Rev Bro Gaston – Good Rapid Writing Promoter

I remember meeting Rev Bro Gaston when I first reported for duty at La Salle Brickfields Secondary School in 1966. We exchanged pleasantries and indulged briefly in some small talk. However, over the years I, unfortunately, did not have much interaction with him.

Many old boys fondly remember this genial gentleman with a ready smile for introducing them to Good Rapid Writing – an activity forever associated with him.

Rev Bro Gaston was not very much involved in the day to day administration of the school, leaving that important task to his able senior assistant ( deputy headmaster ), Albert Rozario. But he was a familiar sight in his smart white robe along the corridors and classrooms of La Salle Brickfields – both the primary schools as well as the secondary school.

Many old boys fondly remember this genial gentleman with a ready smile for introducing them to Good Rapid Writing – an activity forever associated with him.

This was a mission of crucial importance to Rev Bro Gaston because he believed that good rapid writing was a much-needed skill that students needed to master.

He emphasised the formation of each alphabet in a smooth flowing movement. A former student and an education professional himself, Loh Kok Khuan described it as: speed, modernity and poetry in motion! Loh Kok Khuan also mentioned that some alphabets seemed to resemble rockets and racing cars and that those were the heady years when the US was aiming to land a man on the moon.

Rev Bro Gaston was the master trainer in this field and he went around the many classes teaching the skills with a passion that was contagious. To encourage and motivate the boys to take this training seriously, he organised competitions in good rapid writing from time to time.

The prize was a Parker pen – a quality pen in those days that many could not afford. Kok Khuan also revealed that a classmate who excelled in this good rapid writing and in the process won many Parker pens much to the chagrin of his fellow classmates is Chang Hoe Yoon. By some strange coincidence, Hoe Yoon subsequently qualified as an engineer and worked for a reputable regional airline.

Rev Bro Gaston was also responsible for promoting the Ukulele musical instrument.

He encouraged the boys to take up this small, four–stringed guitar-like musical instrument. For the record, the Ukulele was introduced from Portugal into the Hawaiian Islands in about 1879.

After his retirement, he returned to Canada. He was not in the best of health when S Ratnasingam decided to pay him a visit. He was overjoyed by this unexpected visit from an old colleague and dear friend and perked up considerably. Rev Bro Gaston even made a brief visit to Malaysia later.

La Salle Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur was indeed very fortunate to have had such visionary and caring leaders during those formative years before and after Malaya gained its independence. They may have moved on but the teachers and many old boys do have wonderful memories to treasure.


Important to Honour Your Solemn Commitment

Distinguishing Mark of a Person of Integrity

I recently read a news item in one of the mainstream English language newspapers where it was reported that a staggering 410,500 individuals owe the National Higher Education Fund in Malaysia a whopping RM 6.84 billion.

Of this amount, RM 2.84 billion was from borrowers who had never bothered to repay a cent thus far to the NHEF since the programme was introduced. The report also mentioned that the remaining RM 4.05 billion in arrears is from borrowers who are paying their dues.

Indifferent to their Legal and Moral Obligations

This is shocking news on many fronts.

I am simply appalled by the indifference of these individuals to their legal and moral obligations. In addition, it reveals rather starkly a lack of integrity, the mother of all virtues, in these individuals.

These graduates are not keeping to their part of the bargain when the loan was first offered to these individuals. They seem to shrug off this responsibility with an air of casual indifference.

A reputation takes time to build and if early on in your career, you choose to self destruct in this manner, it is a wholly ill considered move.

In the process, they also inadvertently reveal to current and potential employers that they are not individuals who can be trusted! What a damning indictment!

It Behoves You to Reciprocate

These individuals who have received loans and benefited from higher education as a result, have conveniently forgotten that a much needed loan was offered to them in the first place. When someone or some organisation assists you in your time of need, it behoves you to reciprocate that act.

A loan has to be repaid if one has any principles…………no ifs and buts about that. And when you do not do so, you consciously sully your own reputation. A reputation takes time to build and if early on in your career, you choose to self destruct in this manner, it is a wholly ill considered move.

Extremely Wary of Standing as Guarantors

No wonder many Malaysians are extremely wary of being guarantors when colleagues, relatives and friends approach them. The number of shameless individuals without an ounce of personal dignity, who choose not to repay is very difficult to comprehend.

These individuals approach you with all manner of sob stories and even give you their solemn promise to repay but this is all a scam to deceive you. They have no intention whatsoever of repaying that loan. They had just taken mean advantage of your kindness and goodness of heart.

Therefore, it pays to listen to the great William Shakespeare  (Hamlet) who gave us this advice: Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry ‘.

These same individuals, I believe, have not cultivated a ‘ working ‘ conscience ( their conscience is in a comatose state  ) or even a sense of personal pride. Where are the values that they hold to guide them in life, love and career situations?

What Message are These Individuals Sending?

It is imperative that these individuals pay back their loans in a timely manner in order that other deserving candidates too can be considered for such assistance.

What message are these so called graduates sending to NHEF, their families, their employers and society at large by this wilful disregard to honour the terms of that loan agreement?

Revealing Their True Character

Finally, their current employers, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector, should be alerted to this matter. By this casual and irresponsible disregard for their solemn obligations they have revealed their true character.

It is time we Malaysians get back to the good old fashioned values of yesteryear that have stood the test of time. Your word and your commitment must be taken seriously.

Good to be in the Civil Service?

Another Perspective to this Statement

Recently a reader of a main stream English language newspaper wrote a letter to the editor of that publication extolling the benefits of being in the civil service. His letter when published in the newspaper’s Letters page was titled: Good to be in the civil service.

Pension after Retirement

The main thrust of the writer’s case is that there is a pension to look forward to after retirement. He also cites the case of a friend who resigned from government service to go into business with a like-minded colleague. This business arrangement unfortunately ran into serious problems and the friendship too suffered as a result.

The letter also cautions others to ‘ think twice ‘ before resigning from government service. The writer also mentions that his friend is bitter about the decision he made and wishes that he had thought twice before resigning. Now he is apparently paying the price for that decision by continuing to work even at the age of sixty five because he has no pension.

Another Discerning Look at the Issue

I would like to offer a different perspective to the issue.

As most people are aware, venturing into business is always going to be a risky proposition. The percentage of those who actually succeeded is very small. This is a worldwide phenomenon.

Much too often, individuals go into business without a proper preparation and the necessary due diligence. They are all fired up with their ability to sell or market a product or service and are less likely to listen to sound advice from those in the know.

Civil Service Has Lost Its Lustre

The Malaysian civil service was once one of the best in the region. This was so especially after independence and till the late seventies. Many well qualified candidates chose to be in government service and only opted for the private sector if that was not possible. These civil servants performed at a professional level on a consistent basis and were generally highly regarded.

Over time, many changes took place. The mix of factors, political and otherwise, has to a lot to do with the slow decay and decline in the civil service. Quality candidates these days choose to look for opportunities in the growing private sector. More MNCs are now operating in Malaysia and these companies are on the look out for candidates of calibre.

Prepare to Forego Challenges and Promotions

One friend who left government service in the seventies put it quite bluntly: ‘ To get this pension, one should be willing to forego the challenges and the development of one’ latent potential.

One must also be prepared to forego promotions when less deserving candidates are fast tracked because of other unknown considerations! In addition, in order to get this pension one must endure mind numbing boredom, mediocrity and bureaucracy for years ‘.

In Life, Love and Career Situations There are No Guarantees

Yes, of course, do think twice or even thrice. Once you have made that all important decision, do not ever look back with regret. Instead look forward with confidence. I too was offered this advice by a good friend when he heard that I was contemplating resigning from government service after having put in 19 years.

That friend meant well. However, I chose to go ahead because to me that was a major decision I was prepared to make after all the relevant factors were considered. This is because I truly believe that in life, love and career situations there are no guarantees.

Courage and Confidence come from Within

President Ronald Regan once famously remarked after a space tragedy in the United States: ‘ The world belongs to the brave and the bold ‘. Courage and confidence unfortunately cannot be purchased from the neighbourhood convenience store! These qualities come wholly from within.

Before embarking on that significant and life changing move to the private sector, one must prepare adequately for it by continuous self education…as a life long pursuit and passion. You should also carry out a proper and realistic audit of your strengths and weaknesses and determine if you have what it takes to not only survive but make it in the private sector. There must also be that willingness to ‘ stretch ‘ yourself and the ability to work long hours as well as work smart.

The key to continuing success in the private sector is your ability to give your employer even more value on a consistent basis.

Give Your Employer Even More Value

The key to continuing success in the private sector is your ability to give your employer even more value on a consistent basis. Additionally, it is also your willingness to undertake urgent assignments and projects as required by your employer.

And when you do so willingly and with competence and flair, you will be noticed and recognised in an appropriate manner. And when there are promotions to be made, you will be on the shortlist.

In the private sector, as I discovered, you are measured among other factors, by Key Performance Indicators ( KPIs ). If you meet or exceed these KPIs on a regular and consistent basis, you are quick to be recognised and rewarded.

Deliver Excellent Results on a Consistent Basis

Unlike in the civil service where so much emphasis is placed on your entry level qualifications and you are then placed in a special salary grade, the private sector is focused more on your ability to deliver excellent results on a regular basis.

I am pleased to report that many of my friends and colleagues have made the transition to the private sector with considerable success. A few have, I admit, faltered because they lost focus, grew careless and impatient and subsequently gave up much too soon.

Quick to Recognise and Reward

In my case, I worked for two major international accounting institutes for over 18 years. I certainly enjoyed the challenges that came my way. My bosses here in Malaysia as well as those in London were very supportive throughout my years of service.

So too were the members and students of these international accounting institutes. Both these bodies were also quick to recognise and subsequently reward me with perks, privileges and significant salary increases on a regular basis.

Enjoyed Teaching at La Salle Brickfields

I must admit, however, that I did enjoy teaching at La Salle Secondary School, Brickfields, in Kuala Lumpur for 15 years.

The teaching chores, the camaraderie and the fellowship with teaching colleagues, the wide variety of extra mural activities with students, and the La Sallian traditions and ethos were a real delight.

Relished the Excitement, Professionalism and Satisfaction

What I particularly relished was the excitement, professionalism and satisfaction of embarking on new challenges and worthwhile initiatives while in the private sector. There was none of that repetitive, boring and soul destroying bureaucratic activities on the other side of the fence.

For sure, there were risks to be faced and I had my share too. But in such times, one should remain resolute, flexible and be prepared to think out of the box in facing such situations. It was, for me, an adrenaline rush of a delightful kind.

In short, even after thinking twice, leaving for the private sector was the best career decision of my life. If you can make it in the private sector, managing your finances in the post retirement phase should be a cinch …if you are disciplined. Moreover, it is merely a case of ‘ cutting your coat according to your cloth’.